10 ’80s Tech Inventions That Never Really Took Off

Including a vibrating sauna, an all-in-one credit card, a van that converts into a sports car and more
"The Private Eye, from Reflection Technology, is a video monitor that contains a servo-driven LED array. Result: The tiny one-inch screen produces an image comparable with that of a conventional 12-inch display," we wrote in December, 1989. We've been promised this technology for decades but the head-mounted display has yet to find its place among the mainstream array of personal electronic accessories. Numerous attempts have been made. Forgettable ones include the virtual reality mask worn by Pierce Brosnan's character in the 1992 motion picture "The Lawnmower Man" and Nintendo's ill-fated "Virtual Boy" gaming console in 1995. Back then, many users complained the headset made them nauseous and it wasn't worth the expense. Though more recently, Google is looking into the head-mounted display business, dubbing their attempt "Project Glass." Resembling a pair of reading glasses with lenses replaced by a heads-up display, "Google Glasses" are expected to become available by early 2014 for the cost of a smart phone.

Life in 2013 isn’t that much different from life in the 1980s. There are no flying cars. There are no floating cloud cities. There is no teleportation or interstellar space travel.

But what we do have in abundance are those quirky little inventions that make life just that tiny bit easier: affordable cell phones, GPS systems, high-speed internet, debit cards, frost-free freezers, budget airlines and longer-lasting batteries to name a few.

And then there are the inventions that never really took off.

The difficulty of predicting the future is that those predictions are often based on present technology. When Jules Verne wrote the novel “Paris in the Twentieth Century” in 1863, he envisioned the Paris of 1960 filled with glass sky-scrapers, high-speed trains, petrol-fuelled cars and even a worldwide “telegraphic” communications network. However, the main character still writes with a feathered quill pen.

You can look at a lot of inventions from the 1980s that way: futuristic solutions to problems we just don’t have today (and maybe never did). Herewith are 10 ’80s technological innovations that never became as integral to our daily lives as their inventors surely would’ve liked, lifted from the pages of Popular Science.

David M. Green is a comedian, writer and game show host from Melbourne, Australia. His TV quiz show “31 Questions” airs on stations around Australia and New Zealand and is available on YouTube. Season 2 is currently in pre-production for debut in mid 2013. Follow him on Twitter.