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Ahead of their Time: Ignored Innovations of the Past.



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Human Flight PicI was evesdropping on a conversation about fiber optics at work today. The point being made was that we’ve had basic fiber-optic technology since the late 1800s, and it sparked my interest. I walked over to the cubicle of discussion and listened more closely while Frank described a demonstration from 1870 that proved the ability to direct light through a clear, flexible material. I went back to my own desk to look it up and, sure enough, John Tyndall did exactly that in 1870. From there, I started looking around the interwebs to find out what other modern technology may have actually been old ideas. Without getting into some of the freaky stuff, here’s what I found:

Fiber-Optics:
As I said already, John Tyndall figured out Fiber Optics in the late 1800s. His expiriment dealt with passing light through an arcing stream of water and observing how the light stayed within the stream even as it curved. If you take a hose and fill it with water and then cap both ends off with glass, you pretty much have a primitive fiber-optic cable that will carry sunlight around a corner or into a dark room.

Wireless Communications:
In 1880, Alexander Graham Bell came up with a gadget that he called a “photophone” that was able to transmit the human voice over a distance of 200 meters. Not only was it a form of wireless communication, but the transmitter didn’t even require power. In a nutshell, he used light directed at a diaphram in the transmitter that would vibrate when you spoke into it. This vibration manipulated the intinsity of light that was reflected towards a parabolic receiving dish, which used a battery and a light-sensitive resistor to convert the light back into an audio signal. We’re talking about an optical data link capable of two-way wireless communications back in the 1800′s, which is pretty darn cool.

Batteries:
This one’s been over-used on history shows and I almost didn’t want to mention it because of that, but it’s neat enough that I can’t ignore it. I’m talking about the so-called “Baghdad Battery” that was discovered in the 1930s. This guy dates all the way back to the first century AD. Consisting of a terractta pot with a copper and iron core, this battery would theoretically be filled with vinigar and used for gold plating some silver stuff. It’s hard to say exactly what they were for, but they’re still pretty cool.

Human Flight:
This is one of the more highly debated subjects, but it looks like the basic principals of human flight were proven in 1010 AD by an English monk called Eilmer of Malmesbury. Sure, plenty of “ideas” about flight have been around for ages, but this guy actually jumped off of a building and was able to glide for about 200 meters. Unfortunately, he didn’t figure out that a glider should have a tail to balance it out until he broke his legs and couldn’t walk anymore. Still, his findings are recorded and he was right. 900 years later, the Wright brothers figured out the same thing.



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