Potential technological advances are constantly changing with time. We have moved on to smaller screens, faster transmissions, and global connectivity – things that might have seemed unattainable in the past. But there were things in the past that, even today, might seem futuristic or are seen as modern technology. One such example would be video-calling. Even though this seems like a modern technological marvel, it has been around since the 1960s. It may not be as competitive as today’s technology, but it sure was a technology ahead of its time. We bring to you 10 such things from the past ahead of their time.
1. The Henderson Streamline motorcycles from the 1930s had all the requirements of a modern luxury vehicle. The detailing of the dashboard with chromed bezels, golden trims around the body, exhaust pipes that were fish-tailed, and the brown leather seat – all spoke of the future.
At first glance, this vehicle looks like an automobile that can attain immensely high speeds and maybe float off the ground and into the air! Although it looks quite futuristic, this is a motorcycle from the 20th-century known as the “Henderson Streamline.”
Henderson was one of the most famous brands of the golden motorcycle era. The brand was founded by two brothers, William and Tom Henderson. The Henderson bikes were a few of the fastest bikes around at that time. These motorcycles had aerodynamically shaped exteriors that promised continuous airflow for a smoother riding experience. The bikes were also equipped with “knee action devices” for seamless riding. Even the design of the dashboard layout is very much different and advanced when compared to a normal motorcycle.
Regarding specs, the motorcycle had a four-cylinder, 1300 cc engine that made the bike go as fast as 100 miles per hour. Considering the era in which the motorcycle was built, it was a huge leap in terms of speed. Everything that the motorcycle had, from the design of the body to the chromed dashboards and the luxurious leather seats, made Henderson Streamliners nothing short of the luxury vehicles that are currently in the market. (source)
2. Jet powered aérotrains were developed in France from 1965 to 1977. The train rode on an air cushion over a simple, reinforced concrete track at unprecedented speeds. It exactly resembled a hovercraft that travels on a guided path.
Who would have believed that there was a hovertrain in the 1960s? Developed as an experimental TACV, or Tracked Air Cushion Vehicle, the aérotrain was developed between 1965 and 1977 in France. Jean Bertin, the famous French inventor and scientist, was the mind behind aérotrains. Although the design of the aérotrain is quite similar to maglev trains, there is a slight difference.
Maglev trains levitate over an electromagnetic track. The aérotrains, on the other hand, rode on a cushion of air over a normal track. Basically, the aérotrains would just hover over a normal train track. Considering these trains were in the 1960s, the thought-process and the technology were quite futuristic. Since the train floated over the tracks, there was no friction, and so unprecedented speeds were in the cards.
Bertin built four prototypes of the train. The first was just a half-scale, 30-foot train that could carry only four passengers. His full-sized version was 75 feet long with a capacity of 80 passengers. The fourth prototype set a world record for speed achieved by air cushion vehicles – 267.4 miles per hour.
3. In the 1960s, Bell Labs created a picture phone where people could look at each other while talking on the phone. Video-calling is not so modern after all!
When the picture phone was first launched to the public by Bell Labs in 1964, people didn’t like it. It was bulky, and the image transmission was not without faults. People found the controls to be unfriendly, and the picture displayed to be too small. Bell Labs went back to work, and within six years, they produced a new model of the picture phone in 1970.
The picture phone worked by being connected to the central office with three standard wire pairs. One wire carried the video signal to one direction, while the other carried it to the opposite direction. The third wire was for the normal, two-way, voice call. This was easy when both the callers belonged to the same central office. There were a lot more complexities in case the callers belonged to different central offices.
The picture phone never became popular because it was way ahead of its time, and digital communication was at just coming into being. Data compression and microprocessors were not advanced, and the picture phone, as a result, was expensive. (1, 2)
4. In the 1990s, the Casio WQV-1 wrist-watch camera existed that enabled wearers to click photos with just their watch. The quality may not have been so great, but the concept was ahead of its time.
People are still waiting for Apple to come up with a camera solution for its Apple watches. the Apple watch doesn’t have a built-in camera. It needs to be connected to the camera on the iPhone to take photos. But in the 1990s, people were roaming around taking photos with just their watches!
The Casio WQV-1 wrist-watch camera was the first watch to have a built-in camera. The first design had many flaws in it. The buffering was slow, battery duration was not great, and only black and white images were possible. Casio came up with subsequent versions in the later years of the 1990s with better buffering, longer battery, and even colored images.
The “wrist cam” was only able to take postage-sized photos, 0.025 megapixels, which appeared grainy when transferred to a PC. Quality-wise, the camera was surpassed by even the worst camera phones. But concept-wise, this was a revolution. (source)
5. The TWA Flight Center at JFK is a marvel of mid-century design in the jet age, a sleek, futuristic place that resembles a bird in flight. It was architect Eero Saarinen’s final project and was launched in 1962.
The TWA Flight Center, also known as the Trans World Flight Center, is an airport terminal located at the JFK airport in New York. Eero Saarinen, a Finnish-born American architect, was the brain behind this spectacular structure. The design of the terminal was way ahead of its time. At first glance, it looks like a modern engineering marvel, and the information desk inside looks straight out of a sci-fi movie.
The design of the building gave the impression of a bird in flight. The roof had two, elongated, wing-like structures that depicted a bird with spread-out wings. Inside, the terminal has cavern-like arches with huge glass walls extending away from the building. The glass walls gave the impression of looking down on land after the flight has taken off. The entire terminal design was nothing like the airport terminals of that era which were very plain and standard concrete buildings. Saarinen’s TWA design stands out even today among the modernistic airports that have since been built.
The TWA Flight Center was one of the first terminals to be equipped with jetways, closed-circuit TVs, public address system located centrally, carousels, scales for baggage, and many other amenities that were not part of the airports at that time. Although the terminal ceased operations in 2001, it has been revamped into a luxury hotel in 2019. (1, 2)