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Super 8, dirigibles and the old technology that just won’t stay dead

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

We’ve already seen how some old technologies refuse to die — the fax machine, 70mm film, the text message and Windows XP. Others come and go. The floppy disk. Telephone boxes. Pagers. Cathode ray tubes. The RS-232 printer port. While a few technologies seem to fall out of use and then stage an unlikely comeback.

For example, vinyl’s days seemed numbered after the introduction of the compact disc. But the format has thrived since. Sales have even gone up year-on-year since 2007. Talk to record collectors and they’ll tell you that, compared to modern digital formats, vinyl delivers a fuller, more authentic sound.

Polaroid, meanwhile, abandoned the instant film market in 2008, only to bounce back two years later with the Polaroid 300. At CES 2016, the company debuted the Polaroid Snap+ — a fun camera with a built-in printer that can output 2×3-inch full colour photos. This instant, click and print photography hopes to attract a whole new generation of fans.

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Instant photography is making a comeback with the Polaroid Snap+.

Even 8mm film has made a comeback. The 1965 Super 8 format once encouraged a legion of amateur filmmakers to make their own home movies, most notably Steven Spielberg. “For me, 8mm was the beginning of everything,” said the Academy Award-winning director at the launch of the Kodak Super 8 Revival Initiative. “When I think of 8mm, I think of the movies.”

Then there’s the stylus. For many people (of a certain age), these plastic pencils were synonymous with PDAs like the Palm Pilot, the Psion 5 and early Pocket PC/Windows Mobile devices like the Dell Axim and the HP iPAQ. But since the arrival of tablets and big-screen smartphones, the stylus has risen from the dead, remodelled and reinvented for a new digital age.

Like old Super 8, even incandescent light bulbs could be making a comeback. Classic electric bulbs (which heat up a wire filament to temperatures around 2,700 degrees Celsius) have long since been dethroned by more energy efficient fluorescent, halogen and LED lights. The problem is that most of the energy these old-fashioned bulbs use is wasted — 95% as heat, 5% as light.

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MIT is redesigning the wasteful incandescent lightbulb.

But researchers at MIT have discovered a way of capturing some of the wasted energy, reflecting it back to the filament to be re-absorbed and re-emitted as visible light. The team calls the process ‘light recycling’. “It recycles the energy that would otherwise be wasted,” said Marin Soljačić, professor of physics. It could pave the way for retro bulbs to make a return.

Technology is also helping to resurrect seemingly outdated ideas — 3D printing and 3D scanning is dragging traditional tailoring back into the mainstream, while Amazon opened a physical Amazon Books store in Seattle last year at a time when other bookstores are struggling to stay afloat.

And while the Ehang 184 Personal Flying Vehicle and the Hyperloop offer exciting glimpses at the possible future of travel, the 302 foot-long Airlander 10 dirigible harks back to the days of transatlantic Zeppelins and passenger blimps.

According to Hybrid Air Vehicles, the Airlander 10 is the “largest aircraft currently flying” and can “stay airborne for up to five days at a time.” Plans for this lighter-than-air, low carbon craft include communications, cargo carrying and a variety of survey and support roles.

Lastly, the BBC recently reported that the US Department of Defense system that co-ordinates the country’s nuclear missiles, bombers and tanker support aircraft runs “on an IBM Series-1 Computer — a 1970s computing system – and uses eight-inch floppy disks”. That’s 1960s technology!

There you have it, a few old technologies and concepts that had begun to fade away and yet have gained a new lease of life. We’ve said it before, good technology stands the test of time.

Main image: Copyright: Shutterstock/nito.

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