Television, the telephone and many other great inventions throughout history were initially scoffed at before they went on to take the world by storm. That's not a likely scenario when it comes to the following list of oddball contraptions ... but you never know. In a nod to free-spirited thinking that's not beholden to suffocating notions of common sense or commercial success, here's our pick of the quirkiest inventions to hit Gizmag's pages throughout the year.
Hangtime in the hot tub
As what has to be the year's best (or worst) glamping accessory, the HydroHammock combines a hammock and a hot tub in one portable package. Built from sealed, high-tensile fabric, it can hold two people and up to 50 gallons (189 l) of hot (or cold) water. It may not be everyone's idea of roughing it in the great outdoors, but we've really warmed to it – as have enough backers to make the HydroHammock crowdfunding campaign a success.
Ok so it might not be all that practical around the home, but the mad-scientist in us really, really wants this. The Protopiper is a radical take on the humble tape gun that can be used as a 3D sketching tool to create life-size wireframe models, complete with hinges, bearings, and axles to give them opening doors, drawers, and movement. The result is both a useful tool for designers and the most awesome looking contraption since MacGyver hung up his paperclips.
An amazing – and at times, odd – procession of objects has emerged once again from 3D-printers throughout 2016: dreadnought guitars, lawn mowers, supercars, unmanned aircraft, jet engines, teeth, hair, turtle-beaks, titanium ribcages, rhinoceros horns and pancakes, yep pancakes. Due to the flat nature of its output, the PancakeBot might not technically fit the description of a 3D printer, but it follows the same process – create a design on computer, feed it into the machine, press "go" and watch as your creativity is given life. The added bonus here is that you get to it eat, but it's not all 21st century automation – you still have to flip the pancakes yourself.
When is a smart idea not a smart idea? This could be the answer. The one-of-a-kind Smart "Forgigs" is what happens when you cram five amplifiers, 16 loudspeakers and two 11.8-in subwoofers into one of the smallest cars going around. An ear-splitting maximum output of 5,720 W and 150 dB is what happens ... and no room for groceries.
Failing to make a splash
There's no doubt urinals have their place, and that place is in public toilets where they can accommodate a higher volume of patrons in a given area than individual cubicles can. That's not such a concern in the home, but that didn't stop Daniel Garvin creating the Main Drain, a one-person urinal that attaches to an existing toilet. Apparently most failed to see the merits of the design and Garvin's crowdfunding campaign fell well short of its goal.
The writing's on the wall
About the only time many people pick up a pen these days is to put their John Hancock on a credit card receipt, and even that is becoming a rare event. As a result, the handwriting of a large proportion of the population is approaching doctor-levels of illegibility, which makes us question the worth of a note written by a machine emulating one's particular style of scrawl. Admittedly, the Bond robot can also churn out letters in the styles of famous people, but that seems to fly in the face of the "personalized" letter Bond is aiming for. And how many people are likely to identify Nicola Tesla's handwriting style anyway?
Not nailing it
Patrick Priebe has made a habit of turning technology from fictional sources into reality, producing everything from a Spider-Man web shooter to a working model of the original Death Star. But this year he veered from his usual laser-based creations to bring Homer Simpson's electric hammer to life. Unfortunately, whereas Homer's animated effort suffered from too much power, Priebe's creation has the opposite problem and doesn't appear useful on anything but the softest of materials.
If you're looking for something that highlights your double chin or Cyrano-like nose then the fahz could be the answer. By personalizing the Rubin's vase optical illusion with the profiles of not just one, but up to 16 people, the fahz vase ends up looking like it was produced by someone still learning their way around a potter's wheel. But enough people liked the idea to see the fahz crowdfunding campaign reach over six times its goal and backers are now able to admire their profiles in vase form, so what do we know?
Ummm ... brella
Cycling through the rain isn't anyone's idea of a good time, and we've seen numerous attempts to protect riders from a downpour through the addition of a clear canopy, such as the Dryve and Veltop. These might be ok if there's no wind accompanying the rain, but could make handling a little difficult if there is. The LeafxPro is claimed to handle wind better than competing efforts thanks to a more aerodynamic design, but appears to do so at the expense of rain protection. So unless the rain is coming from head on, bits of you are still going to get wet.
The levitating lightbulb
One day we may look back and ask how humanity ever survived without magnetic levitation. From 500 km/h trains to hoverboards to Bluetooth speakers, this is a technology on the march. Now light bulbs have joined the fray. Flyte is a light globe that hovers freely above its base, combining levitation with wireless charging and, we should hope, conversation starting. Those doubting the practicality of such a contraption should note that the base could also be used as a wireless charging pad for your phone.
This list is by no means comprehensive when it comes to the left-field thinking we've encountered throughout the year, leaving plenty of room for some honorable mentions, such as a vertical record player, a luxury tank, a device that makes dead bait fish move, an unboiled egg and a smartphone controlled cradle.
So what's the wackiest gadget you've seen during the year? We'd love to hear about it via the comments section below.