Where's the Flying Car? Yesterday's Dreams of Tomorrow

As kids we dreamed of the future, and filled it with flying cars, robot butlers and lunar vacations. How do yesterday's artistic visions of the future align with today's reality? By Ric Iglesias    

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    1918 - Monorail

    The August 1918 issue of Electrical Experimenter (tag line "Science and Invention"!) featured a cover story on this contraption, a crazy design for the monorail of the future. Contemporary designs seem far safer, though the passengers in this design certainly look happy. 
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    An article from the Chicago Sunday Tribune detailed the coming revolution in entertainment -- fairly accurately, at least for some devices. The article describes a "television recorder," that Westinghouse predicted would record tapes of TV shows and reproduce them "in three dimensions and color on screens as shallow as a picture."  Shown here, microfilm projection of books on the ceilings or walls, with electronic voices reading them.
    Chicago Tribune
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    "Modern man is still, in essentials, a savage," warned an article in a San Antonio newspaper. The article quotes Professor Joad, who believed civilization was on the verge of destroying itself. Note the robot soldier of the future, with a machine gun for a head. For more visions of the future, see Paleo-Future.com.
    The American Weekly
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    The "seadrome," proposed by inventor Edward R. Armstrong, was designed to connect America and Europe with a series of artificial islands. Armstrong imagined that seadromes would function as refueling stations and provide overnight accommodations for travelers. For more visions of the future, see Popular Science's gallery of the Future Then
    Popular Science
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    1933 - The Ray Gun

    The science fiction comic strip Buck Rogers is credited with bringing into popular media the concept of space exploration -- along with other futuristic ideas such as the ray gun. Though the military has developed truck-mounted lasers, handheld ray guns remain unrealistic. 
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    The future of New York was not just skyscrapers, according to this vintage image, but elevated traincars and roadways, not to mention some wacky flying contraptions. Little did they realize how tall New York would grow, or what would happen beneath the ground. 
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    1958 - Rocketry

    This cutaway illustration shows the Explorer I satellite, America's first scientific satellite launched aboard the Jupiter C launch vehicle on January 31, 1958. The Explorer I carried the radiation detection experiment designed by Dr. James Van Allen and discovered the Van Allen Radiation Belt -- modern rockets carry people, of course, not just experimental equipment. 
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    1956 - Intelligent Robots

    During the early 23rd century, the United Planets Cruiser C-57D has been sent to the planet Altair IV, 16 light-years from the Earth, to investigate the fate of a space expedition sent 20 years earlier to establish a colony. On board: the famous Robby the Robot. Contemporary robots are already far more advanced than these images -- and we're barely into the 21st century. 
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    1943 - Personal Helicopter

    Alex Tremulis, an industrial designer in the North American automotive industry, developed this concept of a personal helicopter while working for the United States Army Air Corps. Used much like a personal vehicle of today would be, this flying car would get people around without congesting already overcrowded roads and highways. Unfortunately, like many other concepts for flying cars, this one never really got off the ground. Paleo-Future
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    1958 - Farm Automation

    In the future, much of Old MacDonald's farm could be run by radio-controlled push buttons. A floating tower would oversee a swarm of robot implements and tractors which would be operated by electronic command. Paleo-Future
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    1964 - Rocket Pack

    At the 1964 World's Fair, Bell Aviation showed off this Rocket Pack. Contemporary attempts to create rocket packs are still in the works, such as the turbo-fan powered backpacks by Australian company Martin Aircraft. Paleo-Future
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    2008 - Green Megalopolis

    Visionary scientists and engineers have come up with solutions that will allow cities to boom without endangering our already-damaged environment. Features for the future's eco-friendly cities include electric pod cars, robot-controlled farms, and building facades that transport rainwater into purification centers. See more visions of futuristic cities from the 138-year archives of Popular Science. The Future Then
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    1964 - GM Concept Car

    General Motors' 1964 Runabout was a three-wheeled concept car that had a front wheel that could turn 180 degrees to allow parking in the tightest if spots while the rear end of the car contained two detachable shopping trolleys with wheels that would fold away when the trolley was parked in the vehicle. Paleo-Future
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    1958 - Police Car

    Already afraid of being pulled over by the police? Imagine if these "pogo" police vehicles were around. In order to better maneuver traffic, this police car concept would be positioned on a mechanical platform above giant tandem wheels and kept upright by gyroscopic action. This would've given the police a better vantage point while making it narrow enough to wheel through traffic. Paleo-Future
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    1939 - War Tank

    The tank of the future, or the "Land Battleship" as it was called, was suppose to spearhead the attack of future wars. Massively armored, the Land Battleship would've brushed aside ordinary tanks while its anti-aircraft guns repeled aerial attack and flame throwers would quell any resistance. Paleo-Future
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    1958-Push Button Education

    In response to the overcrowding of schools, a plan was devised that would allow students to be taught by the push of a few buttons. Pupils would answer questions by pushing buttons on special machines that would be geared for each individual student, allowing students to advance as rapidly as their abilities warrant. Teachers would be able to review progress reports on machines of their own. We might have realized this concept with on-line schools. Paleo-Future
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    1960-Wrist Watch TV

    Looks like another concept can get checked off the to-do list. Back in 1960's Major General Robert J. Wood, deputy chief of research and development, predicted that TVs would get down to the size of postage stamps and able to worn on wrist watches. Modern technology more than lived up to the prediction as television sets are seemingly placed anywhere anyone would want one. Paleo-Future
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    1950-Space Shuttle

    German-American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun developed a concept for a space shuttle that would make space travel easier for the crew. In case of emergencies, contour seats straighten automatically and enclosures snap shut forming sealed escape capsules that would allow passengers to safely abandon ship. Paleo-Future
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    1950-Space Capsule

    Once ejected out of Wernher von Braun's concept space shuttle, the descent of the capsule containing a single passenger would be controlled by four-foot steel mesh parachutes. At about 150 above the ground or water, a proximity fuse sets off a small rocket that further slows the rate of descent. Paleo-Future
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    While the desire for personal robot servants may be even older than the term robot itself, we have still yet to master the technology to turn that desire into a reality. All hope is not lost though, as constant advances in robotic technology are getting us closer to our own personal Rosie from The Jetsons. Paleo-Future
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    1939-Picture Phone

    The picturephone is one technology that's become reality -- at least somewhat, through webcams and videocameras. This photo, which is most probably not of a real device, shows General Motors executives communicating. It comes from the book "Exit to Tomorrow: World's Fair Architecture."  Paleo-Future
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    Dr. Martin Wagner suggested that cities completely rebuild themselves from the ground up instead of attempting to modernize neighborhoods. Wagner's city of the future would eliminate housing altogether so it could function efficiently as a center for business and pleasure. Government buildings, situated in the middle of cities, would be surrounded by "spokes" of museums, offices, and hotels. Spaces between buildings would be dedicated to parking lots and landing fields. See more visions of futuristic cities from the 138-year archives of Popular Science. The Future Then
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    Darrell C. Romick, a scientist in the Goodyeaer Aircraft Company's aerophysics department, presented his blueprint for a rotating, wheel-shaped city in space. The structure would not only house thousands of families, but its movements would simulate Earth's gravity. Pictured left is an artist's conception of Space City's construction. Crewmen wearing pressurized suits assemble cables to rockets, which serve as building units for an inhabitable space station. See more visions of futuristic cities from the 138-year archives of Popular Science. The Future Then
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    Sure, a Martian base housing 33 men isn't quite a metropolis, but it's a step in the right direction. A ring around plastic pod houses would capture solar heat, while wind generators would help power an artificial atmosphere. See more visions of futuristic cities from the 138-year archives of Popular Science. The Future Then
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    1970-Alaska's Glass Metropolis

    Seward's Success, while never built, was designed to enclose a community of 40,000 Alaskan residents beneath a climate-controlled glass dome. Since the proposed city didn't allow for cars, pedestrians would get around on moving sidewalks, bikes, and escalators. See more visions of futuristic cities from the 138-year archives of Popular Science. The Future Then
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    1925-The City of Wonder

    American architect Harvey Wiley Corbett predicted that by 1950, cities would use multi-level streets to deal with overcrowding. One level would be for pedestrians, two would be for traffic, and the bottom one would be for electric trains. The roofs of skyscrapers, which would themselves house playgrounds and schools, would serve as aircraft landing fields. See more visions of futuristic cities from the 138-year archives of Popular Science. The Future Then
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