Technology fit for an April Fool

In the spirit of April Fools’ Day, we explore some technology that seems too unbelievable to be true, but is 100 per cent real.

For the past few years, big technology companies have liked to play around on that special day in April, publicising products that end up being entirely false. For example, Samsung showcased the fabricated Internet of Trousers (get it?), a pair of jeans equipped with Wi-Fly, that send a notification to your smartphone when your flies are undone. Google’s driverless bicycle last year still has some of us baffled. Debuting on 1 April 2016, Amsterdam was host to Google’s new mode of transport, which didn’t need any pedalling and kept itself upright. There hasn’t been any news about it since that time, though. Many believe the date a coincidence and Google are working on it as we speak. Others think the search engine giant is just a cheeky joker.
Yet, some technology we think of as some kind of joke – whether it’s too ridiculous to believe, or seemingly impossible – actually exists. In celebration of April Fools’ Day, let’s have a look at what we found.

Active denial system

If you didn’t know what this was by its name, that’s okay, I didn’t either. I thought it was some sort of scheme to help if you’re being prosecuted and you have to deny everything, but don’t want to be lazy about it.
Yet, like the powers of Superman without the weird external pants, the Active Denial System (ADS) is actually a heat ray. It normally sits on military vehicles and looks mighty scary. However, it is a non-lethal directed-energy weapon from the United States.
ADS was made for perimeter security, controlling crowds and ‘area denial’ – essentially, you run away from the ray because it makes you feel like you’re literally on fire and your guts are boiling inside you, but it’s not supposed to cause lasting damage or side effects. In 2010, the ADS was deployed with the US military in the Afghanistan War, but it never saw combat. In the same year, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department said it wished to ‘operationally evaluate’ the heat ray during prisoner fights and other prison conflict.
China and Russia have worked on their own heat/pain rays in recent years, too.

Selective hearing earbuds

Here One wireless earbuds, which cost around $300 a pair, actually let you manipulate sounds in your environment so you can selectively tune in to what you want to hear and reduce noises you don’t. Just like a moody teenager.
From start-up Doppler Labs, the earbuds have ‘Real-World Sound Control’, allowing you to adjust the volume of the world around you, hone into certain sounds, amplify speech of others in loud environments, and mix live music in real time.
It also does all that you’d expect from a techy pair of wireless headphones, like music streaming and touch-controlled phone calls.
The company is still tweaking the product – it is working on extending the poor two-hour battery life – but the Here One seems to be a pretty unbelievable gadget. On paper at least.

Measuring Big Ben’s bong

Because why not?
Engineers from the University of Leicester recently mapped the vibrations of London’s most famous bell to try and discover why it produces such a ‘harmonious’ sound.
The team are part of the Advanced Structural Dynamics Evaluation Centre (ASDEC) at the university, and measured four of Ben’s chimes from 9am until noon.
Working with the BBC, the ASDEC engineers measured the structural dynamics of Big Ben in an unprecedented level of detail after being given exclusive access to the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster.
Using two scanning laser Doppler vibrometers, they created a 3D computer model of Big Ben, and then used lasers to map vibrations in the metal as the bell bonged. For some reason. Sometimes I think that people in the creative team at the BBC run out of ideas.
The team said that by using scanners instead of sensors, they characterised Big Ben without touching it, collecting high-
density vibration measurements without any loss of accuracy or precision.
Martin Cockrill, a technical specialist from the university’s Department of Engineering, who leads ASDEC’s measurement team said: “Aside from technical aspects, one of the most challenging parts of the job was carrying all of our equipment up the 334 steps of the spiral staircase to the belfry. Then to get everything set up before the first chime, we were literally working against the clock.” Chortle.
They were able to get over 500 measurements across the bell’s surface, which they couldn’t have done with previous technologies.
The clock tower is officially known as Elizabeth Tower, renamed to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.
The super-exciting findings were revealed in a BBC4 documentary early in March called ‘Sound Waves: The Symphony of Physics’. I bet you all tuned in to watch the riveting experiment.


Google’s driverless bicycle seems like a thing of the past, now that the flying bike is in town.
The single-seat aircraft from manufacturer Hoversurf can lift a person in the air with full passenger control.
The Scorpion-3 ‘hoverbike’ uses drone quadcopter technology and a typical motorbike design to let the rider control the aircraft like riding a (motor)bike, for up to 27 minutes.
This sounds so much better than Marty McFly’s hoverboard.
According to Scorpion-3’s makers, it can get you 10 metres up in the air, carry up to 19 stone (120kg) in weight and hit speeds of 30mph. There’s a safety mechanism built in though, so riders can’t go too crazy on it.
For $150,000, I expected more. Like a heat ray that beams out of its headlights.
The creators hope that this kind of product will be the future of transport, replacing cars as the obvious choice of travel, but for now its just for extreme sport.

VR smell-o-vision

Virtual Reality (VR) isn’t hitting the headlines as much as it was last year. It probably has to do with the fact that it’s like a child with a new toy – once they’ve played with it a few times, it all gets a bit boring. The media just isn’t that interested anymore.
It’s a shame, because VR is quietly developing into something quite extraordinary, with new products and add-ons surfacing all the time, like VR shoes from Japanese firm Cerevo, which make you feel like you’re walking the terrain of the virtual worlds you explore.
As well as touch, scent is also a big deal if you want to get even more immersed into your favourite fantasy world.
FeelReal has an add-on which is easily mounted onto your VR headset and according to the website, “maximizes your virtual reality presence and allows you to explore virtual worlds using smells and simulated effects of wind, heat, water mist, and vibration.” There’s also a handy odour generator with seven removable smell cartridges, which you can change depending on the game or film. It’s almost like smell-o-vision.
So you can have a kind of 4D cinematic experience in your own home, but you have to wear a kind of claustrophobia-inducing mask/motorbike-type helmet.
There are lots of scents available such as the sea, strawberries, hay grass and the jungle. There’s even an aphrodisiac smell, whatever that is.
The FeelReal mask is wireless so you’ll be able to hobble around on your Cerevo shoes, smelling the virtual world around you in your living room. You can even choose a meat scent, for all your VR barbeque needs. Or burning enemies, depending on your mood.
Pop on the headset, have some stink vaporised onto your face and smell the coffee or fire. Or feet.

Hushme voice muffler

The name of this product reminds me of that lullaby: ‘Hush little baby don’t say a word, if you keep talking on your phone I’ll put this weird mask on your face and make you sound like R2D2 instead”. Never heard of it? Me neither.
Hushme is marketed as the “world’s first voice mask for mobile phones”. It’s supposed to protect speech privacy, and has wireless headphones with a microphone so you can use it as a hands-free system. Actually, you look a little bit like a gagged person as the Hushme covers your mouth. It muffles your voice and can also cover it up with the strange and probably unnecessary ‘voice masking mode’. You pick a sound such as Darth Vader, a squirrel (?), the wind or a Minion (even more annoying than a regular human voice) and that is the noise you make instead. Great add-on, Hushme/mask to annoy everyone around you while looking like Bane from Batman.
There’s another use for it too – it has built-in speakers, so when the self-awareness kicks in and you realise you look like a numpty, you can use it as speaker for your music. Neat.



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