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The alternative world of yesterday's future

Video phones, domed cities, insectoid robots — back in the past, the future looked pretty exciting. Here's a look at the world we could be living in, if the tech had only worked out
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By Matthew Broersma on
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1 of 10 Modernmechanix.com — A 1956 advertisement for Hughes Products

Video phone: 1956 advertisement for Hughes Products

Now that we know that the future is mainly about picking out which type of rubberised cover we want for our iPhone 4, yesterday's dreams of futures past are looking somewhat naive. Remember when the future was about jet cars? Or space planes that didn't involve Richard Branson? Or making friends with the highly cultivated, six-legged denizens of Pluto?

First of all, let's recall the video phone. Not the kind implemented in the iPhone 4, but the one where a technician came to your house and embedded a vacuum tube-powered black-and-white television set with attached 1950s-style TV camera into the wall of your office. This was meant to let you dial up your colleagues across town and marvel together at how cool it all was.

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2 of 10 Paramount Pictures/CBS

Teleportation: Star Trek

We all know about teleportation from Star Trek: it's where a special ray disassembles you into your component protons, neutrons and electrons and then carefully reassembles you in some other location, thus completely doing away with the need for costly special effects, as well as — in theory — the need for things like video phones.

In actual fact, the brains at a place called the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland have already taken a step towards real teleportation. So far they've only transferred a quantum state between two atoms one metre apart, and with an accuracy of only 90 percent. But hey, it's a start.

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3 of 10 Moller International, USA

Flying cars: Moller

There are actually a lot of real-life companies making flying cars, but, somehow, the things they come up with just don't seem as exciting as we thought they were going to be.

This flying car is made by a company called Moller and is their model from sometime in the 1970s or 80s, judging by the size of the chap's lapels. Their most recent version can lift 10 feet off the ground, fly for 90 minutes at a time and costs more than $90,000 (£56,000).

A company called PAL-V Europe is also promising to make a flying car, but their model still seems to be at the computer-graphics stage.

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4 of 10 Modernmechanix.com — Article from Everyday Science and Mechanics

Commuter rocket: Everyday Science and Mechanics

It's time to take transcontinental passenger flight to the next step: a Buck Rogers-style rocket that flies 700 miles off the ground and can take off from Berlin, cross the Atlantic and land in New York City in less than an hour.

This concept image dates from 1931, when the idea of German rockets raining down on New York still seemed like a neat idea.

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5 of 10 Modernmechanix.com — Article from Popular Mechanics

Robot waiters: Everyday Science and Mechanics

In the future, as seen in 1923, there will no longer be any need to pop round to Boots to buy slices of styrofoam filled with an unidentifiable food-like material. Instead, robots will deliver it to you on a wheeled tray as you sit rigidly in a hygienic compartment surrounded by flat-panel displays advertising cheap rocket trips across the Atlantic, the latest models of flying car and the VideoPhone 4.

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6 of 10 Modernmechanix.com — Article from Everyday Science and Mechanics

Anti-aging machine: Everyday Science and Mechanics

Gravity is the enemy of a youthful appearance. In the future, there will no longer be any need to embed artificial materials such as Botox into the skin to 'lift' those annoying wrinkles, according to this 1935 article. That's because regular sessions of being thrashed around and around at dangerously high speeds inside a centrifuge will mean that you always feel hale and hearty.

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7 of 10 Modernmechanix.com — Article from Everyday Science and Mechanics

Living capsule: Everyday Science and Mechanics

Imagine a future where the internet and teleworking are no longer necessary. Instead, we all own gigantic caravans the size of juggernauts, filled with all the conveniences of home and jammed with 1950s-style furniture and office equipment.

This handy living-working capsule will constantly transport us and our families around the world from one business meeting to another. For entertainment all we will need to do is peer out of the observation turret and try to figure out where we might happen to be at that moment.

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8 of 10 Modernmechanix.com — Article from Everyday Science and Mechanics

Domed city: Everyday Science and Mechanics

Enclosing major cities under plastic domes is just a good idea, some thought in 1968. Why? It doesn't matter. Let's just do it and we can figure out a good reason afterwards.

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9 of 10 Modernmechanix.com — Article from Everyday Science and Mechanics

Mechanical servants: Everyday Science and Mechanics

Getting ready for work in the morning can at times be a dull chore. The solution is obvious: we need sinister insectoid mechanical servants to cosset us at all times, combing our hair, putting our clothes on for us, shining our shoes and feeding us protein drinks, while they prepare our jet-car for takeoff and plan our next holiday at the sea-floor resort. Thank you, sinister insectoid mechanical servants.

This story from 1957 predicted that we would all own these robots by 1965.

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10 of 10 Donald E Davis — Commissioned by Nasa

Space colony: Everyday Science and Mechanics

Once every inch of the Earth's available land surface is covered with domed cities, 16-lane motorways, robot-operated protein farms and nuclear power plants, we may feel a longing for open space, green fields, fresh air and a natural way of life. But where could we possibly find these wide open spaces, these unspoilt vistas? Simple: inside a giant rotating orbital space colony.

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