Some ideas break new ground, others are just destined to break. Creative minds can't always be saving the world, and what a boring place that world would be without all the bewilderment and fun that off-the-wall inventiveness brings. So in a nod to quirkiness and the spirit of human invention in its purest, unhinged form, here's our list of the top 10 things you don't need for Christmas this year (even if you do want them).
One serious smartwatch
Smartwatches have really hit their straps during 2014, but like overindulging in Christmas lunch, you can have too much of a good thing. Case in point is the Portal, a flexible wrist-mounted smartphone concept that slaps a 6-inch phablet made from flexible kevlar-reinforced polyurethane on your forearm. Despite falling just short on its Indiegogo funding goal, there is still a chance that the Portal will see the light of day. Way of the future or way too much? We'll let you be the judge on that one.
Music for mugs
Combining two products to form a new device is a well-treaded path, but sometimes the end result can be less than the sum of its parts. While few would argue that music and a frothy mug of ale don't go well together – particularly at this time of year – it appears most people don't think embedding a Bluetooth speaker into a beer stein is a winning combination. This is evidenced by the Dubstein, which can hold 395 ml (13 fl oz) of your chosen beverage and pump out audio via a pair of 3 W, 40 mm full-range neodymium speakers, falling short of its crowdfunding goal in July.
While a beverage can be enjoyed without music, it's a little harder to enjoy a cold one if it isn't actually cold. And come Christmas Day, fridge space can be at a premium. While those in areas where a white Christmas is a distinct possibility could simply leave the cans outside for a while at this time of year, those in warmer climes may have a harder time. Enter the eCool, a device which cools up to 24 standard sized cans at once by storing them underground. Inventive? Sure, but even aside from the fact that you need to dig a hole first, it's hard to see it replacing the bathtub full of ice as the chiller of choice for large household gatherings.
An invisible umbrella
Umbrellas, it seems to us, work quite well at their allotted task, but that hasn't stopped hordes of inventors trying to improve on the traditional design in recent years. Few, however, have gone as far as the designers of the Air umbrella, a device that employs a fan forced air shield to protect the holder from precipitation, meaning (theoretically) that you can stay dry without having to contend with the obligatory bent poles. Sure, we don't need it, but an invisible umbrella does sound fun … an attitude shared by the backers of the project's crowd funding campaign which blitzed its goals back in October. Those who do get their hands on one had better hope it's a passing storm though – the top of the line model has a battery life of just 30 minutes.
Shame of thrones
Depending on what gets served up at Christmas dinner, the pre-dinner stomach grumblings prompted by the aromas drifting from the kitchen can turn into post-dinner flatulence with equally evocative, yet less desirable, aromas. And with family under the roof for the day, the toilet can quickly become a biohazard zone inaccessible to anyone with the faintest sense of smell. To let toilet-goers breathe a little easier, both the Fresh Air Plus and Kohler Purefresh toilet seats feature a fan that sucks away the offensive odor. The Fresh Air Plus sends the stench outside through a dedicated tube, while the Kohler Purefresh directs it through a replaceable carbon filter and scent pack. OK, so it's not a necessity, but you may well be wishing for one of these babies come the end of Christmas Day.
A snow shoveling robot
If Daleks had dogs they may well look something like the the SnowBYTE. This semi-autonomous snowblower developed at Istanbul Technical University provides shoveling assistance to the snowbound by means of a hybrid AWD power train and on board camera system that allows it to be controlled within a 1-km (0.62-mile) range. And there's no rest for the SnowBYTE come summer – one of the two prototypes produced doubles as a lawnmower. Alas, while the idea seems to have merit, the SnowBYTE prototype became lost in the crowd funding drift, falling more than $35,000 short of its $36,000 goal on Kickstarter. An idea ahead of its time perhaps?
Whether it's Christmas dinner or a gathering at some other time of year, if you're hosting the event then you'll want your house to look its best. Even if you've managed to hide all the clutter usually strewn around the house under beds or behind doors, there's no hiding an untidy front lawn. The Honda Mean Mower can take care of that, setting the Guinness World Record as the world's fastest lawnmower with an average top speed over two runs of 187.6 kmh (116.57 mph). If you only have a few minutes warning before the in-laws arrive to drip scorn on the state of the garden, then there's a chance you might need this beauty, but most of us can probably get by with something that goes at a more leisurely pace.
A brewing storm
Thunderclouds and lightning may be very, very frightening to some, but many of us find them one of nature's most captivating spectacles. The Cloud by New Zealand-based designer Richard Clarkson provides an approximation of the thundercloud that can be enjoyed indoors thanks to embedding some color-changing lighting and a 2.1 speaker system inside some hypoallergenic fiberfill. Definitely a talking point, but it still can't begin to match the scale and beauty of the real thing – especially in bright light where the Cloud ends up looking like an oversized cotton ball.
BBQ to order
Do we need it? No. Do we want it? Hell yeah. The voice-activated Lynx Smart Grill fires up the burners and grabs grilling information from an online database to guide you through the cooking process, down to the best place to position the food. You will have to flip the steaks yourself, but you won't have to hover grill-side as the Smart Grill will provide the call to action via audio, visual and/or text message cues. So kick-back, relax and let the Internet of Things live up to some of its much-vaunted potential. The downside – the Smart Gill is still at prototype stage and isn't expected to hit the market until 2015 … and it will likely have a price tag in the vicinity of US$4,000 attached.
A listening ear
We're not sure whether Vincent Van Gogh wanted his ear back after he famously and tragically parted company with it shortly before Christmas in 1888, but we're almost certain the rest of us don't. Not so, according to Dutch artist Diemut Strebe, who has grown a living replica of the ear using genetic material from one of Van Gogh's direct descendants. The artist determined the shape of the ear by looking a historical photos then 3D-printed a mold and seeded it with Van Gogh's cells. The resulting ear was exhibited at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany and according to Strebe, it is a true living piece with a lifespan of 80 years or more. And in case you're wondering, no, this isn't the weirdest thing we've seen this year.