Safety

(Part of The Future: A Retrospective)


Fire Emergency Lifeline

Fire Emergency Lifeline
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost $40/1989 ($65/2007)

Fireman Ray Tannatta had seen one too many smoke-inhalation cases, especially aggravating when "[t]here's breathable air in the pipes under every sink in every bathroom." He invented the Llifeline (not a typo), described and diagrammed in Patent #4608975. It screws into your sink behind the U-bend, and when your apartment is on fire you retreat to the bathroom and breathe plumbing-air until help arrives.

Today the only trace I can find of Llifeline Services, Inc. is a once-public, now-defunct company called Llifeline Holdings. This is a pretty good idea, so what happened?

Patent #490715 provides a clue. It's a hugely complicated improvement that cites several problems with Tannatta's sink-based design: "the sink pipe, downstream of the water trap, must be structurally modified." The original design also "relies on the lungs of the user to cause a flow of plumbing vent line gas to the user's lungs." Man, patent writing is even more redundant than magazine writing.

Of course, patent #490715 doesn't exactly make claims to a category-killer, either. It's a lot more complicated than the Llifeline, and it seems to only work in high-rise buildings. It also involves getting air through the toilet, so a lot of people might choose smoke inhalation rather than survival and embarrassment. So these are all great ideas that aren't quite workable as products, though they'd work if you made one yourself in MacGyver desperation.


Panic-Alarm Wristwatch

Panic-Alarm Wristwatch
Odds 90%
Year 1991
Cost $30/1989 ($49/2007)

Nathan Fiegenblatt, who's a Melvin away from having a MAD Magazine character name, invented this watch that sounds an alarm when the wearer "opens the wristband."

I wasn't sure what "opens the wristband" meant, so I read the patent, which really makes it look like the alarm goes off whenever you're not wearing the watch. I've tried really hard to avoid making jokes about this, because it can't possibly be what Fiegenblatt had in mind, but I don't see any other way to interpret Figure 5 or the text of the patent. You could do a similar watch with a tear-off panic strip that's separate from the watchband, but Future Stuff raves that the alarm is triggered when "an attacker knocks [the watch] loose." Maybe he is a MAD Magazine character after all. Meanwhile, our "Cause for Alarm" department takes a look at The Lighter Side Of... Digital Watches!

Fiegenblatt "as yet has no manufacturer to produce" the watch, and that's the way it stayed. Assuming my ridiculous reading of the patent is correct, it's not hard to see why. Maybe he did plan ahead for the user never taking the watch off: it "will operate in a shower, while sleeping or driving, and while conducting business or playing sports." Something of an over-broad claim, I think. Do the high shear forces involved in conducting business render inferior alarm watches inoperative? Even if you never take the watch off, the idea is flawed, because the alarm will go off when you open up the wristband to put the watch on your wrist.


Bola-Snare

Bola-Snare
Odds 60%
Year 1994
Cost $60/1989 ($98/2007)

Not sure why this is under "Safety" and not "Danger", because the bola-snare causes danger and excitement! "This gas-operated device" fires "four Teflon balls, each at the end of ten feet of flax/nylon string... on contact, the twine wraps around the target like a spiderweb." A Batman tie-in could have made this the hot Christmas toy of 1994, but it was not to be. Like the Wind Weapon, the bola snare mostly shows up in discussion of games. And Batman. Did I mention Batman? No? That's possibly because... I'm Batman.

This looks to be the patent. Inventor R. J. Washington says, "The best thing about the Bola-Snare is that you protect yourself without seriously harming your target." He spins a tale of a woman apprehending a burglar in her kitchen. With Bola-Snare when she finds out that the burglar was actually her fridge-raiding husband, there is no emergency room trip, no bitter recrimination. A few bruises, some broken dishes, they laugh it off!


Electrical Shock Hazard Protector

Electrical Shock Hazard Protector
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost N/A

While the National Homebuilders Association was wasting their time on the House of the Future, the Leviton Manufacturing Company somehow found the time to come up with this non-bullshit idea. The Immersion Detector Circuit Interrupter makes it possible to build electronics that automatically shut off on contact with water. This prevents the all-too-common hair dryer in the bathtub scenario. It adds $5/1989 to the cost of any appliance that includes it. Here's the patent on an extension cord with one of these suckers built in, and here's what might be the original IDCI patent.

Future Stuff closes by mentioning: "If all electrical outlets were protected by Ground Fault Circuit Interrupers (GFCIs), there'd be no need for IDCIs." GFCIs, another gala production of Leviton, are the electrical outlets that have "RESET" and "TEST" buttons. They're very common in bathrooms and kitchens now, and so indeed there is little need for IDCIs.


Safe, No-Iron Cotton

Safe, No-Iron Cotton
Odds 90%
Year 1992
Cost N/A

Ah, the 1980s, a time when cotton shirts "were treated with formaldehyde to make them wrinkle resistant." Go figure--formaldehyde isn't that good for you, which is why they usually save it for when you're already dead. That's why the USDA came up with polycarboxylic acids as an alternate wrinkle-resister. Polycarboxylic acids don't sound that great either but then neither does deoxyribonucleic acid.

Here's a paper on polycarboxylic acids in textiles from sometime after 2001. Fortunately, there's USA Today to dumb the whole thing down for us. What actually replaced formaldehyde was a chemical called "dihydroxy dimethylol ethylene urea". And of course there's also nanotechnology; one of its only real-world applications as of 2008 is treating clothes to be wrinkle- and stain-resistant.

As always, my preferred alternative is to not care, and wear regular cotton.


Radon Extractor

Radon Extractor
Odds 100%
Year 1991
Cost $2000/1989 ($3300/2007)

Radon: The Silent Killer. Now, there's hope! Ultra-80s RAd Systems has developed RAdsorb-222, which "absorbs radon-contaminated air into charcoal filters, where the air is purified and the radon is trapped. The radioactive gas is then vented to the outdoors, where it is rendered harmless." What renders it harmless, you ask? Its own half-life of 3.8 days. Don't stand next to the vent. Eventually the radon decays into lead. Don't stand next to the vent.

The 222 in RAdsorb-222 stands for 222Rn, the deadly isotope of radon formed from the breakdown of radium, which in turn comes (eventually) from naturally occuring uranium deposits. For more on Radon, see this handy government pamphlet, "A Citizen's Guide to Radon", also available in Spanish as "El Radon", the Mexican wrestler.

All radon reduction techniques depend on venting the radon elsewhere, though if the radon's not too bad you can just seal cracks in your house. I see charcoal used in radon test kits but not in today's radon redirectors. RAd systems is defunct, having left behind only this technical paper.


The Vilest Taste

The Vilest Taste
Odds 100%
Year 1991
Cost $11/1989 ($18/2007) per pint for Ropel

How much more vile could this be? The answer is none. None more vile. Denatonium saccharide will lead the way into a bitter-tasting future. This is the first Future Stuff entry to give a patent number (4661504), and here's a contemporaneous NYT article on Automergic and the plans for the vile taste. The actual trademarked name is "Vile", which probably prevented a GI Joe character from being called Vile.

Denatonium compounds have long been used to denature alchohol; thus the name, I guess. Denatonium saccharide is now mainly used for that purpose, but Ropel (DS-based pest repellent) is still sold, though I couldn't find who makes it. I'm pretty Automergic is out of business or acquired, and the Ropel trademark ("Ro-Pel") was registered in 1983 by "Burlington Scientific Corporation Corporation"... and "Vile" seems never to have been registered as a trademark. I'm going to call the whole thing a front.


Phone Shields

Phone Shields
Odds 100%
Year 1990
Cost 3 for $30/1989 ($49/2007)

America doesn't have telephone sanitizers like the UK does, so it took Anthony Oliver to come up with the OliverShield. It's "a paper guard that adheres to the mouthpiece or earpiece of the phone you're using, to block out infectious viruses and bacteria." Not much here, in terms of functionality or still being around. It's a piece of paper, and nothing like it is on the market now. Not even courtesy napkins near public phones, like they have in the supermarket near the bagels.


Bear Repellent

Bear Repellent
Odds 100%
Year $12.95/1989 ($21/2007) and $29.95/1989 ($49/2006)
Cost

Why, yes, it is. Rather than pit your bare hands against HIS bear hands, try pepper spray ("a derivative of cayenne pepper"). This 1999 article makes it sound like inventor Bill Pounds invented pepper spray, similar to how Robin Hines might or might not have invented the laser range finder. He might have a good claim, since pepper spray was approved for law enforcement use around the time Future Stuff was published.

The difference between pepper spray for bears and pepper spray for people is the range: bearspray has a range of 30 meters compared to up to half that for personspray. Future Stuff says that Bushwhacker Backpack and Supply Company just needs to fill out some EPA paperwork and then they can claim it's "effective against bears." Well, they filled out the paperwork and now they're CounterAssault, devoted entirely to selling pepper spray to civilian, military, and law enforcement alike. And stuff to protect your gear from bears, those sold mainly to civilians. And reverse-engineering bears.

Today an 8 ounce canister of bear repellent will run you about $40/2007, about $10/2007 more than the Future Stuff predicted price. In many countries where private ownership of pepper spray is banned, you can still own bear repellent. Just dress your assailant in a bear costume after dropping them with the 30-foot capsaicin spray, and you'll be fine.


Homing Device Implant

Homing Device Implant
Odds 75%
Year 1992
Cost N/A

"An implantable homing device for humans!" This Future Stuff entry could go several different ways, and as always they choose the route of goggle-eyed early-1990s-Wired wonderment. Here's the patent.

Bond-villain-named inventor Daniel Man has the brilliant idea of using the homing device to locate kidnap victims, and the slightly less brilliant idea of using it to track Alzheimer's patients and prisoners on release programs. The signal detected through triangulation of cellular phone towers, or by three helicopters in the now-unlikely event that there are no nearby cell towers. Cool features include recharging "through the skin."

I'm guessing implantable homing devices were nothing new for animals (thus the Cookie Crisp-like "for humans!"), so I'm not going to count that as a predictive hit. This never really caught on "for humans", mainly due to shocking research which determined that homing device implants might be the mark of the Beast. Prisoner tracking is done with ankle bracelets.


This document (source) is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Monday, March 31 2008, 00:26:31 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Wednesday, July 30 2014, 11:00:03 Nowhere Standard Time.

Crummy is © 1996-2014 Leonard Richardson. Unless otherwise noted, all text licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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