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?
HOW RCA IS PLANNING…. YOUR WORLD OF TOMORROW
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.