YOUR WORLD OF TOMORROW + Roomba (Nov, 1959)

HECK? Really? HECK? That’s the best they could come up with? What exactly does kid mean in this context? Baby goat?

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By James C. G. Conniff

RADIOS as small as sugar cubes. Typewriters that print letters as fast as you can dictate them.

A memory storage plate smaller and thinner than a postage stamp—a shoe-box full of them will store and produce any one of a million facts in seconds.

An automated house with electronic devices that awaken you in the morning, make your bed, prepare your breakfast, clean house and make it burglar-proof while you are out.

All of these electronic miracles are in existence. They are products of the David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton, N. J., and scientists of the Radio Corporation of America are working today to make them available to you tomorrow.

Let’s examine the automated house and its amazing Home Electronic Center, which consists of a miniaturized system of all-electronic mechanisms already lab-tested at Princeton. This system will let your wife run her home by push-buttons in a few short years. For example, with this Home Electronic Center setup your wife will dial the electronic controls the night before to wake you gently to music in the morning. The system will shut the window when you get up or turn up the heat or air conditioning. In the bathroom you’ll put your chin into what looks like the lower half of a catcher’s mask upholstered in flexible, multi- perforated metal. It is a soundless electronic abrasion shaver which will adapt to the contours of your face for a fast, clean, sting-free shave. Meanwhile your shower is running at your preferred temperature.

RCA engineers call this wonder system the Home Electronic Center Kid, or HECK. While your wife snoozes on, silent HECK is busy preparing your breakfast—chilled juice, hot coffee, eggs and toast—which will be served by HECK as you approach the kitchen table.

You eat in a room suffused with electronic sunshine, even in the coldest weather. A tilt-up, table-top Telefax reports world news in text and pictures while HECK clears the outside walks of snow via buried heat grids. An electronically-activated servo mechanism opens the garage doors and warms up the car.

When your wife finally gets up, HECK has already done your dishes and tidied up and will do the same for her. While she enjoys a breakfast, HECK silently sorts and washes the laundry, dries it and folds it before dusting the house by electronic precipitation.

HECK will make the beds and quietly dispose of all garbage via machinery and deep underground tanks. All your wife has to do, besides keeping pantry and freezer loaded, is insert punched menu cards to have HECK come up with a simple snack or an elaborate dinner at a pre-set time. An ingenious delayed-transmission unit stores current to run this automatic household for 24 hours in case of power failure.

HECK will record telephone messages while you’re out and turn up the electroluminescent panel-lighting to welcome you home after dark. A simple but thief-proof key-and-IBM-card arrangement permits HECK to receive goods and pay de-liverymen by check during your absence. HECK will instantly signal for police if burglars try to break in when you are out or sound an alarm in case of fire.

A mobile radio-controlled unit to trim grass and hedges, powered by wafer-thin atomic batteries and responsive to HECK’s command, is also planned for this dream house.

There are also a host of other startling electronic wonders designed to make life easier and more pleasant for you in the future.

Video cameras, for example, are already being miniaturized to the size of a package of frozen food for widespread home and industry use: nursery-watching, quality control in mass production, detection of pilferers, on-the-job training, etc.

To speed up the working of electronic computers which assist in such discoveries, the RCA lab recently devised a memory storage plate smaller and thinner than a four-cent postage stamp. It has 256 tiny holes in it and can keep a million facts on file and produce them in any combination or alone in milli-seconds.

But it is probably in the field of human health that the David Sarnoff Research Center will make its greatest contributions. General Sarnoff, Board Chairman of RCA, fully expects increased use of television to give any patient seriously in need of it the benefit of consultation among medical giants anywhere on earth. The marvels of our day, like artificial hearts and lungs and kidneys are, in Sarnoff’s view, merely the forerunners of an electronic age soon to be upon us when they will be miniaturized and individualized to such a degree as to become “familiar as artificial teeth or hearing aids.”

We will have sensitive electronic massagers to bring back life to paralyzed muscles. Artificial limbs set with tiny but powerful instruments, now in the development stage, will take advantage of the least nerve twitch to make those limbs perform with a measure of ease and gracefulness rivaling that of nature.

Two amazing proofs of how successful this determined invasion of the human body may be have recently emerged from Princeton Center. One is a tiny radio broadcasting station, about as big as a medium-size pill. Doctor has you swallow it while he listens to its signalled account of how you’re doing inside. At the end of the examination, he removes it by pulling it up on a silk thread with little discomfort to you.

The other: a device to make blind men see. It is about the size of a cigarette filter and is a light-sensitive instrument which tells not only where light is coming from but how strong it is.

Set like a stone in a finger-ring, it will guide the hand of a blind person to a pre- arranged light source to perform routine tasks, such as running a switchboard or operating simple machinery. The light cell reacts to a glowing lamp—say for an incoming call—with a not unpleasant earphone hum which diminishes when the ring comes near and stops altogether when the hand wearing it is at the right spot.

“Some day,” says Sarnoff, “we hope to make available a cheap but effective electronic tool to render the print on a page as a language of signals in earphones. When that day comes, the blind will also ‘read.’ ”

These are just some of the electronic miracles that you will live to see. They are in the labs today. They will be in your home tomorrow.

  1. Myles says: December 18, 200812:14 pm

    I’m interested in how the mechanical maid (roomba) was supposed to work. From the picture it looks like there was a prototype. I have a roomba and it is only useful because there is onboard computer giving it some sense.

    Those dinners prepared by HECK sound awful as I am pretty sure they are just heating up frozen or reconstituted food. It is hard to see how a lot of these devices could work, like sorting dishes, without computer assistance.

    How many guys want to stick their face in a shaver? It would make for a good horror movie though when it goes wrong.

  2. slim says: December 18, 20082:05 pm

    Check out page 188 and the last paragraph on 1960 cars.
    “America is a big country with big car needs”
    “Unless we have a depression of major size”

  3. Chuck says: December 18, 20082:53 pm

    I like the “Make $1000 a Month” ad on the last page for the carbon tetrachloride fire extinguisher. One could probably take that $1000 and hedge the bet by investing in the newly-discovered kidney dialysis machine…

  4. Charlene says: December 18, 20084:35 pm

    “Some day,” says Sarnoff, “we hope to make available a cheap but effective electronic tool to render the print on a page as a language of signals in earphones. When that day comes, the blind will also ‘read.’ ”

    Like the human voice?

  5. Mike says: December 18, 20084:59 pm

    slim…. 60 cents a gallon gasoline!

  6. foobah says: December 19, 200812:51 am

    This HECK is straight from The Jetsons cartoon (or is this where the creators of The Jetsons got their animated ideas?)

    But no “Rosie” the Robot maid. Instead, a limited Roomba substitute.

  7. hwertz says: December 19, 20082:49 am

    ““Some day,” says Sarnoff, “we hope to make available a cheap but effective electronic tool to render the print on a page as a language of signals in earphones. When that day comes, the blind will also ‘read.’ ”

    Like the human voice?”

    This is a Kurzweil reader.

    He came up with the first design in 1975, it was washing machine sized and cost about $50,000. It would scan a page and read it as text.

    I’ve seen two newer models at the surplus I worked at…
    One was a Kurzweil Personal Reader model 7315, this had a large scanner, wired to a “lunchbox”, with a third part being this like 20 button control panel that would clip onto the unit. The lunchbox had a Sun SPARC of some type (it would have been around 25mhz), and a DECTalk. It scanned FAST, but then it’d take about 45 seconds for the SPARC to do OCR (optical character recognition) on the page before it started talking. Once it was talking you could put on the next page and it’d read it. These were about $10,000 new in 1988 or so.

    The other was like a chunky scanner, the seperate computer had been integrated into the scanner body.. these are from the 1990s sometimes, and were maybe $4,000 new. This one did the OCR in about 15 seconds.. I think it was still a SPARC+DECTalk, but maybe a 90mhz SPARC or so instead of the 25.

    (These both came in just about 2005 or so, it took a few weeks for word to get out we had them then they went to a good use for some blind people.)

    The last seperate Kurzweil they sold was 2006 vintage, handheld, and about $1,000, and far less for software that just runs on a PC.

    Now as long as you’ve got 50MB it can run on a PDA or phone, modern phones are 200-266mhz for a normal one, and like 400-600mhz for PDAs and fancy phones.

    This HECK sounds like it could certainly be done now. You know, if I wouldn’t be killed by the power bill, those heated sidewalks would be great about now… I’m supposed to get 1/2″ of ice and 6″ snow overnight, it’d save some chipping 😎

  8. Larry says: December 20, 20086:59 pm

    every thing in this article exists in one form or another today.

    Myles- There are Intelligent Ovens on the market that will prepare food for you in a way. You put your roast in before you leave for work, the oven enters refrigeration mode to keep it fresh all day, and then at a preset time, the oven kicks in and cooks the meal. If it finishes cooking before you’re home, the range goes into a warming mode for up to two hours. If you’re really late, it will then go back into refrigeration mode to keep the food from going bad. It wont actually prepare the roast but its pretty close to the idea in this article.

    hwertz- The heated walks/drives are being put in a lot of new construction. To put it simply they run a PVC tube back and forth and then pour cement over it. the tube then leads to a water heater which circulates warm/hot liquid (like glycol) I found this link for a company that installs them…

  9. David Moisan says: December 20, 200810:41 pm

    Nuvistors were actually produced; you can find them in old UHF tuners and test equipment.

  10. Toronto says: December 20, 200810:59 pm

    Larry – the building I park my bike outside has heated stairs near the racks.

    Yesterday, we had a snowstorm here, and after I walked up the stairs, I had to walk through some snow. Hot water on your soles followed by icy snow is a good recipe for instant iced shoes.

    But they do do a good job of keeping the stairs free from lawsuits.

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