The oddest inventions of 2017
Inventing often involves thinking outside the box, so it's hardly surprising that many creations that break from the traditional mold can be considered odd or wacky – initially, at least. Whether any of the following are likely to follow in the footsteps of once-derided products like the bendy straw and change the world remains to be seen, but to borrow a phrase from another oddball invention, for most of the following devices it's probably "outlook not so good."
Portable devices tell us where to go, alert us when we're running late and, in this case, notify you when you're on the nose. Billed as the "world's first smell visualization checker" the pocket-sized KunKun (or "sniff sniff") sensor works with a smartphone app to identify and analyze unseemly odors such as stale cooking grease and sweat. Unfortunately, it's only available in Japan, so the rest of us will just have to continue relying on sideways looks from long-suffering office colleagues.
Fashion accessories and robots don't usually get mentioned in the same sentence, but a collaboration from MIT and designers from London's Royal College of Art thinks there's a future in this match. The idea is that the tiny magnetically-driven robots could become dynamic additions to garments, like a broach that moves from place to place, or could be used for practical purpose like tightening a drawstring on your hood when you step into the wind.
Blessed are the chipmakers
Can artificial intelligence help us get in touch with a higher intelligence? Earlier this year that theory was put to the test when a robotic "priest" named "BlessU-2" was enrolled to offer digitized blessings to patrons of the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau in the German town of Wittenberg. Will it get you past the pearly gates? We're not too sure, but as intended, it did start a conversation about AI's role in our spiritual future.
The Japanese love their noodles. Many also love slurping them, which is said to improve their taste. The downside? Apparently, some (maily foreigners) don't appreciate the noise and, the Japanese being the Japanese, have turned to technology to provide a solution. The result is the Otohiko noise-cancelling fork, which instead of borrowing noise-cancelling headphone technology and generating an antiphase sound wave to cancel out the slurping noise, plays a sound designed to drown it out. To our ears it actually ends up sounding like a toilet flushing and is likely to attract more attention – slurp away we say!
Give me a hand – or a thumb
You'd have to say that evolution has done a pretty good job with the human body. But that's not to say there isn't room for improvement. For some unsatisfied folk, that means an extra limb or two, or maybe another digit. MetaLimbs gives you two extra arms that can be controlled via your knees and feet, while Youbionic is selling – for €1,799 (US$2,100) – the Double Hand, which turns one hand into two. On the other hand, we have the Third Thumb, which is also controlled via the feet, but which remains just a concept.
Home décor under a cloud
One of the basic functions of a house is to keep out the weather, but Brooklyn-based designer Richard Clarkson has been bringing the outdoors inside for a few years now with his artificial cloud designs. His most recent effort was the Floating Cloud lamp, which is made from hypoallergenic polyester fiber and floats over its base using magnetic levitation. A lithium-ion battery, microphone and different colored LEDs are embedded in the cloud so that it can flicker in different colors in response to noises in the room because, well, just because, we guess.
Brush faster dammit!
There must be a lot people frustrated at the current state of affairs when it comes to brushing and flossing your teeth if the number of devices designed to speed up the processes we saw in 2017 is anything to go by. First, we had the Amabrush device, which resembled a mouthguard and promised an all-teeth brush in just 10 seconds, but that wasn't fast enough for the makers of the Unico, which took a similar approach but promised to get the job done in just three seconds. And for the flossing side of the equation we had Blizzident's 3D-Flosser, which is designed to get into all those gaps between the teeth with one bit. What will we do with all that extra free time?
Can't somebody else dunk it?
Dunking a teabag isn't exactly what you'd call a high-intensity activity. But that hasn't stopped Dorian Damon devoting a lot of time and effort designing and building an automatic dunking machine that will take care of the job for him. Apparently inspired by the breakfast-making machine in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Tea Dunker falls well short of the capabilities of that fictional contraption, but will help you brew up your morning cuppa at the flick of a switch – albeit with a bit of noise thanks to its motor and chains.
A brush with unnecessariness
Wireless connectivity and a companion app are today what small LCD clocks were to the 70s – crammed into just about every product you could imagine, and some you couldn't. Falling in the latter camp is the Kérastase Hair Coach, a "smart" hairbrush for those who need some extra coaching brushing their tresses. With an inbuilt microphone, accelerometer and gyroscope to identify brush patterns and strokes, three-axis load cells that measure the force being applied to the hair and scalp, and conductivity sensors to detect whether it's brushing wet or dry hair, the brush pairs wirelessly to a smartphone where the companion app will provide handy brush-related feedback.
On your bike, come rain or shine
Riding your bike in the rain isn't many people's idea of a good time, but the Under-Cover is designed to help keep you dry. It's a bike umbrella (bumbrella?), that attaches to the bike's handlebars and is elongated on one side that also features a hole that the rider can poke their head through and into an integrated waterproof hood. It's not the first bike umbrella we've come across, but as with previous efforts, the Under-Cover doesn't look set to take off – not unless there's a strong wind blowing.
These are just a few examples from a year that had more than its fair share of wackiness. Let us know your favorite oddball invention, either from the list above or something we've missed, in the comments.