(Part of The Future: A Retrospective)
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could merely step into a phone booth and be converted from a nervous, insecure Clark Kent to a calm, self-assured Superman?" Indeed, this duality is a big part of the Superman mystique. Oh, you've got a product to tell us about. Frank Italiane of Environ Corporation has created what can only be called a sensory stimulation chamber. "Ionized air", "mood-changing aromas", "multidimensional audio", "learning behavioral techniques for stress management, personal motivation, career development, weight reduction..." This chamber gives physical form to every self-improvement buzzword of the late 80s and early 90s.
This looks the same as the "Environ Biofeedback System" which is in use at a couple facilities (including my alma mater, UCLA) as a stress treatment. "The first generation of Environ will be sold to hospitals, corporations, and other medical concerns," and it looks like that's as far as things got. Biofeedback chambers are very rare and maybe it's just me but the while idea seems kind of sketchy.
There's now an environmental consulting called "Environ". Their careers page says: "A career at ENVIRON provides the opportunity to collaborate with these exceptional professionals in the development of innovative solutions to our clients' health and environmental problems." It's the chance of a lifetime!
Sold through Hyou-know-Swho, the Mini Rover is a tiny car half the size of a golf cart. What is it good for? Future Stuff spins a fanciful tale of you being an English lord or Texan ranch owner and driving around your property in the little car. Left unexplained is why you'd want a little car instead of a regular-sized car that costs the same amount. You steer with the throttle. It runs on rechargable batteries. I find it very hard to take this seriously because now this sort of thing is a kids' toy ("The Mini Rover is not street legal.") There's a whole ecosystem of non-car work vehicles that people use instead: golf carts, forklifts, the other kind of cart that my grandparents had in their packing shed, etc.
Attempting to search for the Mini Rover today turns up much cooler vehicles for exploring the oceans or other planets.
|Gyro Exercise Machine|
Walk through the Greek section of town and you'll end up stuffed to the gills with gyros from roadside stands. How to work off all that tzatziki and sliced beef? The Gyro Exercise Machine is here to help. It's the sort of wacky sport equipment that Comedy Central would use as the basis for an ill-advised non-comedy show in the 1990s. It looks like a gyroscope with you in the middle, and it pulls you this way and that until you renounce your heresies.
"It's possible to do forward dives, back flips, lateral rotations, cartwheels, and more, all with the weightlessness of an astronaut in space." Sounds pretty fun, actually. Nowadays, Gyro North America is out of business and a Gyro ball is a dexterity toy that fits in the palm of your hand. However, I bet there are still human-sized gyro balls lurking in Camelot Fun Parks throughout the land.
|Solar Lighting System|
"Imagine growing flowers and vegetables in a room with no windows but with plenty of real sunlight." Flowers and vegetables, right. Dr. Kei Mori gives you the Himawari solar lighting system!
It's got a huge and very Japanese-looking "clear acrylic bubble, installed on the roof... contain[ing] nineteen hexagonal lenses. These lenses follow the path of the sun, much the way a sunflower does." Thanks to fiber optics (is there anything they can't do?), the sunlight is piped directly into the room of your choice. It's almost like having a window! "Light collected by one lens and sent through 130 feet of cable is equal to that of a 100-watt quartz-halogen bulb."
These are still being sold, and in some models the kaiju-movie-prop-looking acrylic bubble has been replaced by a simple sheet of plastic. Get one for your rumpus room! As of 1998, the cost was from $7000-$30,000/1998 ($8550-$36650/2007).
|Aquatic Exercise Machine|
"A swim-in-place mini-pool that will do for swimmers what the treadmill does for runners...[a] broad, even, adjustable current of water flows toward the swimmer, so that no matter how hard one swims, one goes nowhere." SwimEx is still around and still makes these pools, though I'm more familiar with the brand name "Endless Pool". A very accurate prediction—this invention gives you many of the advantages of a full swimming pool without the large footprint. Not so good for diving, though.
This is one of those products where the website tries really hard not to give you any pricing information, but it looks like the aquatic exercise machines start at $15-20k/2007 before installation.
|Home Body-Conditioning Spa|
"And now, for the man or woman who has everything, there's the Vibrosaun Body Conditioner, a space-age contraption that lets you shake, sweat, and sing along with Springsteen all at the same time." So it's a Springsteen concert? No, it's an Australian invention involving the following parts (all quoted from Future Stuff):
Looks and sounds like the Cellular regeneration and entertainment chamber from Star Trek. Yes, Vibrosaun is still around (caution: needless Flash and women in needless bikinis), and their product looks exactly like the mad Dr. Giger's invention. It's not exactly a huge hit, but there are spas that offer Vibrosaun treatments. I can't find cost info on the machines themselves, and Vibrosaun no longer has a US distributor.
It's been a while since we had something solar-powered ("Solar Lighting System" doesn't count because the sunlight wasn't powering anything, just being transmitted to another place). "The briefcase of the future... will hold a wide variety of business tools, all powered by solar energy," thanks to a "solar panel on the side of the briefcase." What will these tools be? "A lap-top computer, a cellular phone, and a fax machine." Yes, it's the first mention in Future Stuff of portable phones!
There are now solar backpacks and bags, at around $200/2007, for charging small electronic devices (but not lap-top computers). I can't find any solar-powered briefcases, but there are solar panels with a briefcase form factor, at around $250/2007, and those will charge your lap-top. Can't put anything in them though.
Mike Mercury and Supercart! Man and machine working in perfect harmony! "Supercart! With beauty and grace, as fast as could be, watch it fly through the air!" Sorry, kids, Supercart is just an electric pushcart designed (according to the illustration) to haul logs from the woodshed. Of course, I had to haul my share of logs from the woodshed when I was a kid, so maybe Supercart would have been more useful than a flying submersible car that could do more or less anything. Sour grapes either way.
Where are they now? Nowhere. I don't see any evidence that Supercart was ever sold. Watkins Inc. shows up again—they made the Portable Oven, and there's still nothing about them on the web. There's a company called Watkins but it's not based in Wichita and it's some kind of MLM country store business. Donavan Harpool, quoted in Future Stuff, left Watkins Inc. in 1996 to join Hub Supply, Inc..
Supercart is now the brand name of a toy-looking plastic shopping cart that "is an outstanding success wherever it appears." Thank you, Supercart!
|Rotating Home Observatory|
You had me at 'rotating'! "Galileo and his friends would have had a field day with the Sirius Observatory." Right before being forced to recant, no doubt. Not only does it disprove the Aristotelean conception of the heavens by demonstrating the revolution of Jupiter's moons, but the observatory itself rotates! If there's one thing the Inquisition hated back then, it was revolving things, and rotating things were not far behind.
Anyway, the product here is a fiberglass dome with rollers which you can stick a standard telescope in. Go inside and you can stargaze all night, rotating to track the thing you're taking a long-exposure picture of. Doesn't sound like much for six thousand bucks.
Another Hammacher Schlemmer product, but one so exclusive you can only buy it in Hammacher Schlemmer stores in New York, Chicago, or LA. The Sirius Observatory is made by "Sabre Yachts of Australia". Now there's a Sabre Yachts in Maine, and, just to make provenance more confusing, "Sabre" appears to be the name of a class of yacht. Fortunately, the observatory business has since been spun off into its own company. Cost of a cheap observatory is about $5000/2007.
|Automatic Pool Cover|
"This device will let you get the most out of your indoor-pool room." PS: Everyone in the future has an indoor-pool room. Set this elaborate device into motion and it sends the false plywood ceiling crashing slowly down onto your pool, creating a secondary carpeted floor that you can play hopscotch on or something. Great for killing James Bond, or setting up a bit of comic relief in It's A Wonderful Life. Despite the fact that the pool cover is "touted as a safety feature", I can't shake the thought of being pushed into the pool and drowned.
I can't find any information on Auto Pool Floor of Hancock Minnesota. Patent #4598506 is theirs, though. There are automatic pool covers today (as there were back in the 90s), but they're usually motors that run the length of your pool draping a plastic sheet over it.
"This 'pet' can obey fifteen commands, turn in different directions, pick up objects, and detect a human presence." In real life, we got Tamagotchi, and then not until 1996. The obvious incarnation of this idea is the Aibo, introduced in 1999 and discontinued in 2006, which cost $2500/1999 in 1999 and $1650/2001 in 2001 and I don't really want to find a whole bunch more price points.
The hypothetical robot dog was invented by William Holden (not the actor) and among other tasks "will issue a warning message to intruders." Presumably something like "Caution! This home contains many high-end pieces of electronic equipment, including me, the robot dog! Hey! Robot dog here!"
This document (source) is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Monday, March 31 2008, 00:26:30 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Wednesday, May 27 2015, 11:00:43 Nowhere Standard Time.