6 Bizarre Contraptions That Will Give You Animal Powers
Since time immemorial, mankind has striven to emulate nature's most powerful of beasts. This is probably because, without all our stabby/burny/shooty tools, Homo sapiens tend to come in somewhere between groundhogs and an overripe avocado in terms of squishy defenselessness. And though we've evolved to where the only times we tend to encounter these animals is when David Attenborough is narrating something on a cable network, the desire to be like them has not diminished in the slightest.
Thankfully, modern technology is now available that allows us to experience what it's really like to be a powerful carnivore, a swift marsupial, or a wall-crawling insect. And maybe we'll someday find a way to do those things without looking like an escaped mental patient. But until that day comes, I guess we'll have to make do with ...
A Helmet That Gives You Creature Vision
Who among us hasn't nurtured the dream of someday being able to look through the eyes of a giraffe, chameleon, or hammerhead shark? Nobody, then? Really? Me neither. But apparently, those gooftastic helmets up there let you do just that.
Then there's this one, which allows you to see the world as the inbred cousin the Cylons don't like to talk about.
The brainchild of design artists Anne Cleary and Denis Connelly, these "meta-perceptual" helmets are as simple in terms of design as they are complicated to explain when you're caught wearing one in a public restroom. By "placing peep-holes in the right places, then using mirrors to beam the light straight into your eyeballs," they allow one the opportunity to see the world in "hyper-stereo and wide peripheral visions," just like some of our differently-eyeballed animal friends. There's even one that simulates horse vision, which seems perfect for those with a My Little Pony / Japanese robot anime / Eyes Wide Shut triple combo fetish.
It's also a great way for making bathroom attendants even more unsettling than normal.
If you can get through all the artsy-fartsy jibberjab on their website:
Wearing the helmets, the visitor becomes a hybrid creature himself, part human, part machine, part animal, but also: part work of art. A work of art that challenges those who contemplate the helmet -- from the inside or from the outside -- to take a new perspective on the world.
The creators do eventually explain their motives and goals. They also describe the project (by way of yet more horn-rimmed, turtleneck-friendly exposition) as "the ultimate chapter in our exploration of what we call 'observer participation,' a notion that the artwork is only brought to life by the act of looking." As opposed to all those museums that make you fumble around and fondle statues in the dark, I guess.
Though the shininess may instigate a bear mauling, at least they'll keep most of the head intact for cryogenic purposes.
So far, these helmets have only been making the rounds of European museums. But they should be coming to the U.S. at some point in the not-too-distant future, just in case you'd like to know what it's like to walk around wearing a colander that's been welded to a couple of periscopes on your head. I just hope they can resist the urge to sacrifice their artistic integrity when someone from Disney shows up with a sackload of cash and a plan to use their inventions as part of a gritty new Animal Kingdom Safari reboot.
An interactive "Cecil the Lion's Zany Poaching Adventure" ride shouldn't be all that shocking, considering these are the same people who gave us Bambi.
The Man Who Would Be Goat
Thomas Thwaites of the U.K. desired desperately to know what life would be like if he were a goat, for reasons which I'm almost positive weren't sexual in nature. So he came up with some prosthetic, ungulate-themed arms and legs, and even planned to have a fake stomach constructed that would have allowed him to eat grass. That last part of the plan fell through, unfortunately -- I'm guessing after he was unable to find any contractors who didn't immediately shoo his silly ass out of the office. Still, with enough jerry-rigged gear to become sufficiently goatlike, he proceeded to spend days as part of a herd, while someone apparently followed him around to take pictures as he frolicked up and down the verdant slopes.
"Pssst. You're embarrassing all of us."
So why did Thwaites do this? Well, as a self-described designer "of the speculative sort" (and proponent of transhumanism), he wanted to show that technology, in addition to potentially allowing humans to one day evolve into higher life forms, might also be used to "de-evolve" into something "calmer and simpler." Thwaites initially wanted to become an elephant for the project, but gave up on that idea after the mechanics involved in pulling something like that off proved a bit too problematic. And after visiting a shaman who told him "you're an idiot." So it was the ruminant life for him, and after somehow managing to both convince a zoologist to help him design the necessary apparatus and receive grant funding, it was off to the Swiss Alps for three days of ... doing whatever the fuck goats do. Eating, shitting, and screaming, presumably.
Seen here, demonstrating his dedication to authenticity by eating his own shirt.
Things were a little tougher than he imagined, as the weather conditions and the effort involved in walking around like the world's saddest Cirque du Soleil performer took their toll on his physical well-being. There was also the matter of the goats themselves, who saw him as an interloper and probably held him in a similar regard as that aforementioned shaman. But after putting in the necessary hours, Thwaites learned enough goat etiquette to eventually be accepted among them, achieving his goal and proving his original thesis: "I guess desires aren't necessarily to become super intelligent."
Either that or the goats just realized that this guy would definitely give them a good chance of getting away when the wolves show up.
Shoes That Let You Run Like A Beast
After watching a nature documentary on kangaroos at the age of 12, Englishman Keahi Seymour was inspired. Not like most children, whose inspiration would be to get that bullshit off the screen ASAP and switch the channel over to some cartoons -- he wanted nothing more than to bound around like the hoppiest marsupial in the Outback. And by crikey, he went and did it. Just look at this madness:
It was so much like something a crazy person would do on a drunken dare that Australia made him an honorary citizen.
Noting the fact that 'roos use their Achilles tendons like springs, Seymour believed he could replicate that bounciness paradigm in a shoe. Later, he expanded his scope to include the anatomical advantages of other species, like cheetahs and ostriches, then developed his first prototype out of "old Rollerblade boots, steel tubing, and bungee cords." While it seems like Reebok missed a great opportunity here to scoop this guy up and make him "vice president in charge of crazy bullshit" or something, it nonetheless worked out just fine. And that's because after five years and 200 revisions, Seymour finally came up with what he now calls the "bionic boot": a shoe which allows the wearer to run at speeds of 25 mph and "feel like a superhuman" in the process.
A kangaroo-based superhero? Sign me up! Wait ... um ... OK, scratch that.
Seymour isn't done tinkering with his design, and says that he has another prototype in the works that will increase the top speed to 40 mph, which is juuust shy of an actual kangaroo's abilities. His dream is to eventually make it so that people can sproing about the landscape at a sustained 70 mph, which would be enough to thoroughly embarrass a cheetah. And that certainly makes sense, since at least cheetah-based superheroes/supervillains tend to be a little easier on the eyes.
Now he just needs to need to find a way to incorporate gigantic tits and a waist the size of a number 2 pencil.
But does all that running around on the ground sound just too exhausting? Well, maybe you'd rather take to the skies instead, with ...
The Virtual Bird Machine
Are you among those who are of the opinion that the new Oculus Rift virtual reality technology is going to be a gigantic bust of a clusterfuck, and at best might enjoy a brief theme park popularity before sliding rapidly into oblivion? If you are, I'm not sure if the "Birdly Machine" will change your mind about that, but you certainly can't say the people responsible for it didn't give it the old college try. At this point in history, it's the most realistic bird simulator ever made, even though it looks like some sort of cruel practical joke Cold War cosmonauts used to play on the new guy during training.
For extra realism, you can hire a guy to whack you with a bat to simulate a collision with a sliding glass door.
Yes, by hooking yourself up to this device, which allows you to view a computer-generated landscape from overhead while controlling your movements via flapping a pair of mechanical wings, you can now experience what it would be like to live as a poorly-rendered albatross. As a bonus, the contraption includes a fan to further enhance the feeling of flight, along with ... a smell generator. You know, just in case your lifelong dream was to be a landfill seagull. It's definitely an impressive concept, and hopefully the designers will one day be able to secure enough funding so that they can get the graphics to where they don't look like a cutscene from Goldeneye.
A version in which you could control a bald eagle and crap on Communists would have been a big hit in the '80s.
The students who came up with Birdly have high hopes for their creation, and believe it will be the next step in the "VR revolution." Reviewers have described it as "the augmented-reality flight-simulating installation we've been waiting for since Da Vinci drew up the schematics for his Icarusian gliders." In contrast to that flowery leg-hump of an assessment, the inventors themselves explain the mechanics involved thusly: "The participant can control the simulator with his hands and arms, which directly correlates to the wings and the primary feathers of the bird. Those inputs are reflected in the flight model of the bird and displayed physically by the simulator through nick, roll and heave movements."
When talking about virtual reality, past experience tells us that you probably shouldn't mention the word "heave."
OK, I have to admit that Birdly sounds like it could be pretty awesome. How cool would it be to dive after prey like a hawk, or cut through the night like an owl? And depending on how effective that smell generator is, a vulture simulator would be a great way to explain to the kids why grandpa doesn't like to talk about what he did during the war.
Related: The 6 Most Disturbingly Evil Birds
The Vacuum-Powered Fly Simulator
Even though researchers have recently come up with a reasonable facsimile of gecko feet that could one day allow people to scale buildings Mission-Impossible-style, the military is still constantly on the lookout for new ways to traverse obstacles that won't potentially make soldiers look like a spastic Scientologist. When the U.S. Air Force needed a few fresh ideas for this sort of project, they turned to the nation's best source for combining wacky stunts with a total defiance of the known realities of basic physics: Utah college students.
It can get a little uncomfortable when the straps give you a magic underwear wedgie.
Yes, I know. Two LDS jokes in a row just happened, and I apologize for that. No one religion has a monopoly on kooky notions, after all. Plus, you should know that I ran that paragraph past a Mormon friend of mine, and he was totally fine with it, as were all 40 of his wives. Anyways, during a recent design contest, the "Ascending Aggies" of Utah State University stole the show with the PVAC (Personal Vacuum Assisted Climber) system, a device that allows one to scurry up sheer surfaces purely via the power of suck.
A strategy likely borrowed from Duke.
It's exactly what it looks like, if what you you think you're looking at is a pair a vacuum cleaners strapped to some dude's back. There's a little more to it than that, though, and during the demonstration, each of the motors "created suction with a three-stage impeller, were powered by seven lithium-polymer batteries, and created a seal against the wall using connected handheld pads lined with closed-cell foam." Then, in order to actually get up the wall, "a pressure release lever on each pad allowed it to be secured against the wall when being used by the climber to pull themselves up, then released so it could be lifted higher." If that sounds like a lot of work, that's because it is. But the advantage of using suction is that you can scamper up a wider variety of surfaces, including brick and stucco.
Proving yet again the superiority of nerds in the field of panty raiding.
So while the technology probably isn't enough to keep Spider-Man up at night with anxiety nightmares, the Air Force liked the idea well enough to award the Aggies $100,000 to continue development. Now, that's a lot of money to place in the hands of college students, especially when you consider how easily this idea could be converted to bong purposes, but at least one team member appears to have his eyes on the future: "It was fun to work on our design and then come up with a unique solution. I've showed potential employers what I've been working on and they are in disbelief."
"Especially the folks at that breast pump factory I put in an application with."
The Mecha Shark Submarine
The late, beloved Jacques Cousteau was more than just a famed oceanic explorer. He was an inventor too, and is co-credited for the creation of the aqualung (sharing the honor with that bearded weirdo who plays the flute on one leg, I think.) His son Fabien is an inventor as well, but the creation that junior's most known for seems a bit less "boon to ocean divers," and more along the lines of "Aquaman nemesis." To be more clear, what he did was build a mini submarine that looks just like a goddamn shark.
Just look at those eyes. Lifeless, black, like a doll's ... oh, right.
Blowing right through $100,000 of what I hope wasn't the entirety of a trust fund, Fabien is responsible for the construction of "Troy," a 14-foot-long submersible / great white simulacrum. It's built to move through the water just like a real shark would, with its swishing tail providing all the propulsion instead of a noisy propeller. Also just like many actual sharks, it's big enough to fit at least one adult human inside.
It's just like that scene from the Ace Ventura sequel, only more graphic, should any nearby sharks see one of your appendages dangling from the butthole.
The name "Troy" is a reference to the Trojan horse of legend, which is applicable, since the stated purpose of the thing is to trick real sharks into letting the operator get as close to them as possible for research purposes (and absolutely not to affix a mind-controlling chip in the furtherance of creating a toothy minion army). Sure, call me an paranoid alarmist for repeatedly suggesting the man might have aspirations of comic book villainy, but explain to me this: Why did he felt the need to include bulletproof plastic in the design? Oh right, sharks. Well, he does admit that his inspiration for building a sharkmobile in the first place came from this:
OK, so Tintin wasn't exactly a supervillain. But he sure as shit wasn't any saint, either.
E. Reid Ross also runs himself over with riding mowers in the name of research over at Man Cave Daily. Feel free to follow him on Twitter here.
You read this article! So why aren't you strapped into a crazy exoskeleton yet? If these beastly rigs didn't do it for you, then perhaps 7 Real Suits That Will Soon Make The World A Cooler Place or any of The 12 Most Insane Things You Can Buy On The Internet will.
And whether or not you're willing to cyborg it up, a future of super robots awaits us all! That's why 5 Real-World Mechs Straight Out Of Science Fiction are already here, and all that's left to do is predict How The Inevitable Human-Robot War Will Start.
In the meantime, follow Cracked on Facebook before our profiles are humanity's last vestige and robots wonder why we "Liked" strings of text.