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Never produced Technology
May 21, 2012 7:12 PM   Subscribe

What advanced technologies have been developed but shelved due to various concerns?

What are examples of advanced technologies that were developed but never produced?

EG the classic urban legend of the car that runs on water but is quashed by the gas company, or as in the movie Batman Begins, where Bruce Wayne gets many of his gadgets from Wayne Enterprises' products that never reached mass production. (The tumbler, the armored suit, the grapple gun. etc)
posted by Query to Technology (29 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, a real one would be breeder reactors. We know how to make them, and they would let us generate power from nuclear waste, which sounds good. Unfortunately, they generate fairly pure plutonium as a byproduct which is a political non-starter, so we never made any full-sized ones.
posted by Scientist at 7:22 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


from the article, thorium reactors are a technology not so much shelved as un-commercialized. i keep wondering what the catch is
posted by refractal at 7:23 PM on May 21, 2012


Nuclear powered aircraft and missiles
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:26 PM on May 21, 2012


NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application).
posted by Rob Rockets at 7:28 PM on May 21, 2012


Asbestos as a class. Incredibly useful stuff, other than that whole cancer thing. Indeed, there is a whole class of really useful compounds/chemiclas/elements/rocks that are no longer used once we realized exactly why "mad as a hatter" was a phrase.

The United Kingdom is the only nation to develop the ability to put objects into orbit and then abandon that technology. South Africa developed, and then dismantled, nuclear weapons.
posted by eriko at 7:47 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Neflix recommendation algorithm.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:56 PM on May 21, 2012


The Avro Arrow, a Canadian-built fighter jet, was way ahead of its time, until the Conservative Party shelved it for various political reasons (thanks Conservatives!).
posted by just_ducky at 8:06 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


the car that runs on water but is quashed by the gas company

Well, if "advanced technology" can be stretched to mean "scam" and "shelved" can also be stretched to mean "can't be done" then I guess we could start with the E-Cat.
posted by flabdablet at 8:06 PM on May 21, 2012


AT&T developed the fixed-line videophone in the 1960s, and had to shelve it due to lack of interest. They revamped the technology in the 1990s and it failed the second time round, until finally being surpassed by mobile video-calls and webcams.
posted by dontjumplarry at 8:11 PM on May 21, 2012


The Concorde. The US manned space program.
posted by gjc at 8:15 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Plasma loudspeakers.
posted by jade east at 8:39 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Concorde is a really good example. It goes over twice the speed of a 747 and if we ignore the many mechanical issues with the Concord the only reason you can't fly New York to Los Angeles in 2 hours and change is because commercial supersonic flight is banned over the US. People apparently don't like the sonic boom very much.
posted by GuyZero at 8:56 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Autonomous or driver-less car technology seems to have been around for a while already.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:15 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Damascus steel. It was an advanced technology for its time. The technique to forge it was lost by 1750 AD.

Heroin. Bayer marketed it as as cough suppressant and cure for morphine addiction before discovering it rapidly metabolizes into morphine in the body.

Thaildmoid. Originally developed for morning sickness in pregnant women before it was discovered it caused horrific birth defects.
posted by Carius at 9:25 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


We actually still use thalidomide, albeit much more carefully now. Says so in the first paragraph of that Wikipedia article.
posted by Scientist at 9:38 PM on May 21, 2012


The neutron bomb, the only weapon designed to kill a city's population with radiation while preserving structures (and thus known as the "capitalist bomb"). Developed in 1958, tested in 1963, and produced in limited quantities in the United States under Reagan. All warheads have been decommissioned since 1993 in the United States, and while other countries have the ability to deploy them, none is known to do so.

Project Orion, a spaceship designed to be propelled by exploding a series of nuclear bombs behind it.

In a similar vein, the XB-70 Valkyrie, the world's first nuclear powered aircraft.

They were widely produced, but the elimination of DDT and CFCs are widely considered to be some of the green movement's first successful campaigns.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:48 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


the zeppelin using hydrogen and or helium as lifting gas.
posted by Under the Sea at 9:49 PM on May 21, 2012


In a similar vein, the XB-70 Valkyrie, the world's first nuclear powered aircraft.

The XB-70 was not nuclear powered.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:55 PM on May 21, 2012


We actually still use thalidomide, albeit much more carefully now. Says so in the first paragraph of that Wikipedia article.

You are right. I was being sloppy. It is indeed still being used to treat other diseases. Please disregard thalidomide from the list.
posted by Carius at 10:18 PM on May 21, 2012


Thinking about it, heroin is still available even though it's restricted and not used as cough suppressant. Please disregard heroin from the list.
posted by Carius at 10:25 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually DDT use has not been eliminated - it is still used in disease prevention, while it's agricultural use was prohibited by the Stockholm Convention. (Resistance is making it less and less useful, though.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:34 PM on May 21, 2012


Human eugenics?

Bubble memory.

Single transistor SRAM, TRAM, ZRAM, eyc.
posted by rr at 10:51 PM on May 21, 2012


Orbital space habitats? Arguably not so much "abandoned" as "decided to be infeasible," but more perhaps for economic than technical reasons. Actually, you could say the same thing about most of the 60s and 70s-era proposals for Moon bases/colonies, too. Most of the proposals were at least technically reasonable, but the economics never made sense given the resources required.

There was a lot of Cold War military stuff proposed but never implemented. All of 'Star Wars' / SDI -- the parts that weren't just science fiction, anyway -- might count. I have some books from the late 80s showing "hunter-killer" satellites that were supposedly on the drawing board, seem plausible in terms of technology (it's a ball-bearing dispenser with a fancy name), and yet were never built.

It's theoretically possible, if there was a concerted effort and extrapolating from existing mining technology, to build long-distance underground trains running on parabolic tracks (shallow at the terminals and deeper at the center) such that they have very minimal energy consumption for the freight or passengers transported. Obviously there's no motivating reason for doing this, given cheap oil, but we could.

On a more realistic note, Jet trains have intrigued engineers for decades, and a few have been built, but the idea keeps getting shelved for various economic or technical reasons. We could probably have a working just-barely-subsonic intercity jet train using only existing technology, but again, the problem is who'd pay for it and why?
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:09 AM on May 22, 2012


The Fairey Rotodyne was a combination fixed-wing and rotary aircraft. Its rotor was powered by tip-jets. It came within a whisker of production but was canned by the British government.

I made an FPP about it a few years ago: An Ingenious Blend of Airplane and Helicopter.
posted by veedubya at 4:08 AM on May 22, 2012


DC, or Direct Current transmission of household electricity lost out to AC primarily because of the requirements for many too many transmission stations.
posted by Gungho at 5:44 AM on May 22, 2012


Project Babylon - cheap access to space for anything that's small enough and can withstand a couple of dozen g's (or hundreds? not sure). Really neat idea; wonder why no-one is building one.
posted by labberdasher at 1:41 PM on May 22, 2012


RISUG is a cheap and effective birth control method for men, invented over 30 years ago and still not approved for U.S. markets. It even helps prevent HIV transmission (!).

Hopefully we'll get it someday, though U.S companies are really dragging their feet on it due to low profit margins, as well as the perception that birth control is just for girls.
posted by susanvance at 6:00 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Concorde is a really good example. It goes over twice the speed of a 747 and if we ignore the many mechanical issues with the Concord the only reason you can't fly New York to Los Angeles in 2 hours and change is because commercial supersonic flight is banned over the US. People apparently don't like the sonic boom very much.

Its a very bad example. It was flown commercially for nearly 30 years.
Three factors worked against Concorde:

1) Limited range
2) Limited carrying capacity
3) Hopelessly uneconomic

They only ever flew commercially because of government subsidies.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:50 PM on May 22, 2012


Hopefully we'll get it someday, though U.S companies are really dragging their feet on it due to low profit margins, as well as the perception that birth control is just for girls.

Carcinogen concerns and a lack of phase 3 trials, yes. The profit margin likely has nothing to do with it as it would be eligible For exclusive distribution in the US to the company that drove it through FDA approval.
posted by rr at 1:41 PM on May 24, 2012


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