Weirdest inventions of 2019: From smart rocks to vertical TVs
You might be forgiven for looking at the technological wonders that surround us today and thinking “pack it in, inventing is over. We’ve finished.” But self-professed innovateurs and imagineers need something to do, even when the well of useful ideas is running dry. Here are the oddest and most questionable inventions of 2019.
This little piggy went to market
Inventing stuff takes time, so we’re just now seeing the fruits of ideas clearly spawned during the great Bitcoin boom of 2017 – more than a year after the inevitable crash killed mainstream interest in cryptocurrency.
Enter the Pigzbe wallet, by Primo Toys. This digital piggy bank is designed to teach kids as young as six the value of money – by obscuring it behind a currency the company just made up. Rather than paying kids actual money for doing chores, parents can swindle them with Wollo. Doing the dishes, for example, is a job Primo Toys says is worth 8 Wollo – and as long as little Billy doesn’t follow Forex too closely, he’ll never know that amounts to a measly 16 US cents.
In perhaps the most meta of lessons, the value of Wollo has steadily dived since Pigzbe launched in June, so crafty parents can sling their kids smaller and smaller rewards without them suspecting a thing. Capitalism!
Shoes with sole – and not much else
If Crocs felt too fashionable for you, then you’re in luck. The Link flip-shoe is pretty much guaranteed to turn heads – for better or worse.
The Link is little more than a rubbery sole that hugs the bottom, and only the bottom, of your feet. It’s meant to fill that same breezy summer role as a pair of flip-flops, but with a few supposed improvements.
You don’t have the eternal discomfort of a strap between your toes, and since it sticks to your foot better you can apparently run, cycle or skateboard in them just fine. The thick padding underneath is claimed to make them more supportive too.
And as far as we can tell from photos, those all seem like decent enough points. What we’re less sure about are the claims of “style” and being “always appropriate for work.” Either way, Link smashed its crowdfunding goal, so they might soon be part of every trendy jogger’s activewear ensemble.
Creep out your guests with a babbling robot
Picture this: you come home late at night, and find a man hanging on the wall with his head cracked open, revealing a soft, glowing brain. He stares at you with wide eyes and a toothy grin and in an inhuman voice says, “The doctor makes a surgical cut through the skull and screws to remove the nerve, and insert a tooth with short and frequent walks.”
You’ve just met Mr Typo, a bizarre and deeply unsettling piece of home decor by Love Hultén Design. He’s a wall-mounted speech synthesizer that will rearrange any text file you feed him and babble nightmarish nonsense made up of those words. You can crank up the creep factor by twiddling his eyeballs or prodding his teeth, which modulate his voice by shifting the pitch, reverb or chorus.
Mr Typo really needs to be heard to be truly appreciated for the freak he is, so here he is making recipes and surgery instructions sound like the fever dreams of a robotic demon.
(And yes, we’re aware that Mr Typo falls just outside our 2019 window, but he was too damn weird to leave out.)
Samsung’s vertical TV for millennials
Oh, millennials – always on their phones instead of doing more wholesome activities, like watching TV. Samsung’s solution? A vertical TV so they can watch their Instagram stories or Tik Toks or whatever on a bigger screen.
The Sero sports a 43-in QLED screen that stands upright, and connects to a user’s phone via NFC. That lets you stream vertical content straight to the TV, including videos and photos shot on phones, social media feeds, or games.
The thing is, though, most of that stuff is made for phones, and you have to wonder if it’s really worth the effort to throw your grainy Snapchats up on the living room TV. The Sero does rotate 90 degrees into a more useful landscape layout too, but with a US$1,630 price tag, you’re probably better off sinking your new TV funds into something bigger and sharper.
A moment of mindfulness
There’s no denying modern life is more stressful than ever – but an expensive glowing rock probably isn’t the answer.
The Moment Pebble is designed to be a meditative tool, letting users take a moment of mindfulness to “de-stress and re-energise before you continue with your day.” Doing so involves staring at your Pebble in your hand and controlling your breathing in time with the gently-pulsing lights inside.
That sounds like a lovely break in a busy day, and mindfulness itself is a healthy practice to follow. We’re just not sure you really need a US$78 rock to do it. The internet is full of valuable (and free) advice on how to set up a mindfulness routine, and honestly a particularly nice pebble from your garden will probably have the same effect.
Still, it’s always a safe bet that if entrepreneurs spot anything remotely resembling a hole in the market, they’ll invent something sellable to fill it.
Flying motorbikes are one of those sci-fi concepts every kid (okay, and adult) wanted to become real but assumed would be too much to hope for. But not so for some engineers! This year we saw not one but two separate concepts for flying motorbikes take off.
Jetpack Aviation announced the Speeder, a self-stabilizing flying “motorbike” powered by jet turbines. The company says the personal aircraft can reach top speeds of 150 mph (240 km/h), an altitude of 15,000 ft and offer up to 22 minutes flying time. While the only images are renders so far, the company seems confident enough to open pre-orders for the vehicle.
Meanwhile, French engineer Ludovic Lazareth was ready to show off his version in action, taking the Moto Volante to the skies – or at least to one meter off the ground, while tethered for safety. This is unquestionably cool already, but it’s made even more impressive by the fact that this is road-ready too. The idea is that you can drive it around like you would any bike, then pull over, press a button and freakin’ fly.
Okay, so maybe we won’t be playing out that fantasy any time soon, but still, we’re closer than we’ve ever been.
The all-encompassing electric toothbrush
Need to brush your teeth but only have exactly 20 seconds before you have to leave the house? The Encompass toothbrush has you covered (or dare we say encompassed?)
Rather than brushing with … well a brush, the Encompass uses a half-mouthpiece that you put toothpaste in and bite down on. That triggers an air bladder to repeatedly inflate and deflate, vibrating the bristles inside to clean all the teeth on that side of your mouth within 10 seconds. Repeat with the other side of the mouth and bam, you’ve saved yourself a minute and 40 seconds.
We can’t be sure how good a job it actually does at cleaning your teeth, but it was invented by Gerald Brewer – a former director at Sonicare – so there’s something backing it up.
It’s pretty common in airports to see people trying to sleep sitting up, or lying under chairs, or curled up in corners, with eye masks on. Wouldn’t it be nice to pitch a tent on the terminal floor? Well, try a Trollaby.
This canopy folds down to form a makeshift shelter that you can duck under for a little more privacy and comfort while you nap away the hours between delayed flights. With an optional inflatable mattress, the contraption connects to your suitcase for stability, which also means that any would-be thieves would wake you up with the zipper noise.
It’s also meant to pack down to about the size of a laptop, so it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle to carry while traveling – although that’s without the mattress.
What other new inventions on the weirder side of the slate have caught your eye this year? Let us know in the comments.