When early man attached a stick to a sharpened piece of stone, he set in motion a trend in the creation of tools: the mashup. Eventually, the wheel would meet water, the transistor would meet the radio, the phone would meet the printer and airplane wings would meet the rocket.
In modern times, it's nearly impossible to touch a tool -- from watches to ballpoint pens to electric razors -- that doesn't combine at least a few different technologies.
Here, we present five of the most popular tech mashups that make work easier, playtime more fun and getting around more eco-friendly.
The humble lawnmower might not be the sexiest example of a technology mashup, but it's certainly one of the most ubiquitous. Originally a job reserved for goats and sheep, the gobbling up of grass was taken over by humans around 1830. That's around the time when an English engineer named Edwin Budding, while working in a textile mill, decided that the technology used to trim fabrics (known as carding) could also be applied to grass. Budding's lawnmower used a series of gears to transfer power from the wheels, on which the contraption rolled, to a cylinder that snipped the grass.
While ingenious, the machine was quite heavy. This led inventors to try to develop other means of rolling blades over a lawn. Horses wearing special boots to protect the grass were employed, and steam power was hitched to the wheels near the end of the 19th century. But the true breakthrough in American lawnmower history came in 1919, when a colonel named Edwin George mashed up two technologies: the internal combustion engine and the rotary push mower.
When engines got small, light and powerful enough in the 1930s, the blades were shifted from their cylinder position. They were redesigned to spin horizontally, giving shape to the machines that rumble across backyards today.
It's hard to believe that just over 50 years ago, a device that dangles from nearly everyone's ears today didn't even exist.
It wasn't until 1958 that two men -- John Koss and Martin Lange -- teamed up to create a record player that you could listen to with a pair of headphones. Devices for private listening had existed since the early 1900s, but they were primarily used for business applications. Interestingly, Koss and Lange's record player wasn't well received, but the headphones were. This sparked off an industry that would let kids around the country drown out the voices of their parents for decades to come.
The next major innovation in headphone development began when Dr. Amar Bose, the founder of the famous audio company that bears his name, flew from the U.S. to Europe in 1978 and realized that he couldn't enjoy the music from his headphones due to the steady roar of the airplane engines. The solution? A mashup that combined headphone technology with noise-cancelling technology. The headphones, which were released in 1988, work the same way all active noise-cancelling 'phones work today -- they not only receive sound waves from an audio device, but they transmit them, as well. Thanks to tiny microphones in each ear cup, ambient sound can be analyzed and then neutralized by a mirror-image sound wave transmitted from the headphones. It's a mashup responsible for many peaceful flights.
The car itself is, of course, a mashup of epic proportions -- from the computer systems and tires to the headlights and climate control systems. But the most recent and obvious combination of different technologies in an auto is the hybrid car.
Actually, the idea for gas and electric motors to exist in the same vehicle is not all that new. The very first car to combine them was created in 1898 by a man named Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) and was exhibited at the Paris exposition in 1900. For one reason or another, the electric car never received significant corporate or governmental funding for the next 60 years. That is, not until a Buick Skylark was converted into a hybrid car by two men working with funding from the EPA's clean car development program in the late '60s and early '70s. Even though the car passed the necessary standards, the project was scrapped. Theories abound as to why.
It wasn't until 1997 that Toyota finally introduced the world's first mass-market hybrid car -- the now extremely popular Prius, in which an electric motor powers the car at low speeds and a gas engine takes over as the car gets rolling.
Ever since Magnavox introduced the Odyssey in 1972, video game systems have mashed together increasingly complex technology to entertain us. From the photodiodes in light guns that shot cartoon ducks to the accelerometer in the Nintendo Wii, the industry has certainly come a long way from the uber-popular Pong that was released by Atari in 1975.
The most recent evolution of the game console -- and the one that by far mashes up the most tech in one home-sized toy box -- is the Xbox accessory called the Microsoft Kinect. Unlike every system that came before it, this one allows users to game with nothing but their own bodies; no controllers of any kind are required.
The technology that makes this possible was devised in Microsoft's lab in Cambridge, England, and it mashes up voice and face recognition technology, a 3D camera, an infrared depth-detection mechanism and an artificial intelligence computer system that helps the machine "learn" how individual bodies move.
But the mashing doesn't end inside the gaming system. Hackers are using the motion-sensing technology for other applications, such as the creation of 3-D images that can be rotated by the user, hands-free computer access and robot controls.
Perhaps more than any other commonly used technology, the cell phone represents the ultimate tech mashup. When it was released in 1973, the Motorola DynaTAC portable phone (fondly nicknamed "the brick") was thought revolutionary -- and it was. Even though it weighed 2.5 pounds (1.13 kilograms), held enough juice for just one hour of talk time, could only store 30 phone numbers and cost nearly $4,000, the brick began a process of miniaturizing communication technology that's still in motion today.
But phones have become much more than a way to communicate. Now, phones are also TVs, calculators, radios, recorders, maps, video game systems, alarm clocks, photo albums, music players and notepads. A typical smart phone today mashes together technologies like a GPS chip, gyroscope, accelerometer, light sensor, camera, vibrating motor, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi antenna, compass and, of course, a CPU that conducts this mini tech symphony and puts as much processing power in a user's hand as would have filled a room in 1973.
The mobile mashup looks set to continue well into the future with solar-powered phones, projector phones and even phone screens that can be controlled through eye movements in a process that mashes together humans and high tech, which is the most enduring mashup of all.
There are some cool new uses for old inventions. Visit HowStuffWorks to see 10 new uses for old inventions.
- American-Lawns.com. "History of the Lawn Mower." 2010. (March 7, 2011)http://www.american-lawns.com/history/history_mower.html
- Associated Press. "First cell phone a true 'brick'." Apr. 11, 2005. (March 3, 2011)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7432915/ns/technology_and_science-wireless/
- Barrier, Michael. "Life after near-death - Koss Corp. near bankruptcy." Nation's Business. August 1990. (March 8, 2011)http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1154/is_n8_v78/ai_9237565/
- BBC. "DynaTAC 8000X - the World's First Mobile Phone." July 3, 2003. (March 5, 2011)http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A1082521
- Beaumont, Claudine. "MWC: Eye-controlled mobile phone unveiled by DoCoMo." The Telegraph. Feb. 17, 2010. (March 2, 2011)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/mobile-phones/7251434/MWC-Eye-controlled-mobile-phone-unveiled-by-DoCoMo.html
- Beaumont, Claudine. "Puma unveils solar-powered phone." The Telegraph. Feb. 17, 2010. (March 1, 2011)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/mobile-phones/7251406/Puma-unveils-solar-powered-phone.html
- Berman, Bradley. "When Old Things Turn Into New Again." The New York Times. Oct. 24, 2007. (March 8, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/24/automobiles/autospecial/24history.html
- Derby Evening Telegraph. "The history of mobile phones." Sept. 16, 2008. (March 6, 2011)http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-17181517.html
- German, Kent. "A Motorola retrospective (photos)." CBS Interactive. Jan. 24, 2011. (March 4, 2011)http://reviews.cnet.com/2300-6454_7-10006345.html
- Hanlon, Mike. "Husqvarna's Robot Lawn Mower." Gizmag. (March 5, 2011)http://www.gizmag.com/husqvarnas-robot-lawn-mower/1275/
- Harris, William. "How Noise-cancelling Headphones Work." HowStuffWorks.com. Feb. 15, 2007. (March 6, 2011)http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/audio-music/noise-canceling-headphone.htm
- Hill, Simon. "When were the First Headphones Invented?" Bright Hub. Jan. 11, 2010. (March 7, 2011)http://www.brighthub.com/computing/hardware/articles/31558.aspx
- HowStuffWorks.com. "How does the light gun for a video game work?" April 1, 2000. (March 3, 2011)http://www.howstuffworks.com/question273.htm
- Johnson, Caitlin A. "The History Of The American Lawnmower: The Lawnmower Has Become a Symbol Of Americana, But It's From England." CBS News. June 1, 2008. (March 6, 2011)http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/08/19/sunday/main3182417.shtml
- Koss Corporation. "Koss Information: Koss Museum: 50's." (March 8, 2011)http://www.koss.com/koss/kossweb.nsf/kmuseum?openform&50s^Company
- Lamb, Robert. "How Reel Mowers Work." HowStuffWorks.com. May 19, 2008. (March 4, 2011)http://home.howstuffworks.com/reel-mower1.htm
- Paralumun New Age Village. "Lawn Mower History and Types." (March 1, 2011)http://www.paralumun.com/garmower.htm
- Ramzy, Austin. "On the Streets of China, Electric Bikes Are Swarming." Time. June 14, 2009. (March 4, 2011)http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1904334,00.html
- Rooney, Ben. "Key Kinect Technology Devised in Cambridge Lab." The Wall Street Journal. Nov. 8, 2010. (March 7, 2011)http://blogs.wsj.com/tech-europe/2010/11/08/key-kinect-technology-devised-in-cambridge-lab/
- Selleck, Evan. "Microsoft's Kinect Dismantled and Peered Into, Results Are Impressive." SlashGear. Aug. 6, 2010. (March 1, 2011)http://www.slashgear.com/microsofts-kinect-dismantled-and-peered-into-results-are-impressive-0696906/
- Techtopia. "The Anatomy of an iPhone." Feb. 11, 2011. (March 7, 2011)http://www.techotopia.com/index.php/The_Anatomy_of_an_iPhone
- thegameconsole.com. "Video Game Consoles (1970-1976)." (March 2, 2011)http://www.thegameconsole.com/videogames70.htm