With this blighted year finally drawing to a close, it’s time to review our favorite products that didn’t manage to launch this year. Vaporware was a many-splendored thing this year, with entries from the usual suspects (gaming hardware, video games) and the highly unusual (when was the last time you heard about a multi-billion dollar corporation pulling a shrug emoji and hoping no one noticed?) From the ignominious to the merely pathetic, we’ve rounded up this years’ “best” entries.
The Coleco Retro Chameleon
The Coleco Chameleon was supposed to be a new retro gaming console, and the antidote to compulsory DLC. It was a cartridge-based console proposed by RetroVGS, that would ship newly made games that didn’t need DLC to be complete, and wouldn’t require firmware updates to be stable. Under the hood, we were told, it used an FPGA to hardware emulate whatever system your game was from, so it’d play just like it did on the original hardware. Project leads name-dropped SNES, Intellivision, Atari. When the Chameleon was released, we’d be able to buy system-specific controllers and even adapters for previously owned game cartridges so they’d play on the Chameleon, so the retro gaming experience would be even more immersive. After a failed IndieGoGo campaign, Coleco even lent its name to the Chameleon project, hoping for a retro-gaming renaissance.
There were red flags aplenty, even at the start. Sure, there totally won’t be any legal problems getting one bit of hardware licensed and spec’d out to play games from everyone else’s systems. Nor will there be any difficulties breaking into the console market and creating a totally new gaming ecosystem that requires siphoning away the existing userbase of Sega and Nintendo.
When it came time to cough up some hardware, though, the real problems began. First there was a “prototype” circuit board that turned out to be cardboard. Then the FPGA turned into a handwavey AMD SOC, ostensibly to streamline the design and cut costs. Then their showing at the Toy Fair in New York raised major suspicions about the project’s legitimacy, when they apparently fielded a badly obfuscated SNES, gaffer’s-taped into an Atari Jaguar shell with still-visible hardwired SNES controllers, and claimed it was a functioning build of the Chameleon. Pressed for proof, RetroVGS posted a photo on their Facebook page, which the Internet quickly determined was a PCI video capture card inside a plastic clamshell. RetroVGS quickly retracted the photo, but it was too late. Coleco got wind of it and pulled their name from the project, and with that, the writing was on the wall.
Update: They posted a picture on Facebook that turned out to be an old PCI capture card. Do not support these people pic.twitter.com/2A1tyLZ4bm
— Frank Cifaldi (@frankcifaldi) March 1, 2016
Everyone hates needles, so let’s minimize the agony of blood tests by only taking a single drop of blood. That was the seductive sales pitch for Theranos Labs’ blood testing tech, called Edison. But for the same reasons that when you increase gain on a CB radio, you get more signal but also more noise, the Edison micro-arrays were doomed to fail from the start. They took blood from capillaries, which is different than venous blood and more variable drop-to-drop, and then they had to dilute the tiny blood samples so much that the analytes were lost in the solution. Both of these problems compromised test results.
Papers and employee reports raised suspicions of misconduct, but the whole house of cards fell when federal investigators turned the spotlight on the in-house affairs of Theranos. When their blood tests failed — which a third of them did — they quit using the Edison device entirely and resorted to buying other companies’ tests and using those. The FDA promptly banned Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes from operating a lab for two years.
In the aftermath, Theranos is reeling from lawsuits and criminal probes, and has abandoned its failed Edison device entirely, pivoting to its less ambitious miniLab device in an effort to pull out of freefall. Holmes may not have set out to defraud patients and customers, but she definitely gambled and lost. Walgreens is suing the company like a fat kid on cake.
No, Virginia, we did not build a perpetual motion machine, and the EmDrive does not violate the laws of physics. The EmDrive is a theoretical engine that would, if it worked, exploit the conical shape of its cavity and use the energy of focused microwave emissions to separate pairs of virtual particles along some undefined boundary, fling the unpaired virtual particles out the back of the cone, and thereby generate thrust. Its underlying research and ideas have (finally!) been published for peer review, and frankly, we need more eyes on this paper because it’s teetering on the fine line between breakthrough and bullshit. (No, it’s not — Ed)
Objections to the paper’s claims about the EmDrive come from all angles. There’s no clear theoretical workaround for the conservation of momentum here, and the virtual-particle ideas aren’t clearly articulated. They built a tiny tabletop scale model that only operated at 40-80W, but it’s supposed to run at megawatt levels, and they don’t address whether or not their model can be scaled up. The reported 1.6 μN of thrust achieved at their maximum 80W operating power might translate beautifully to the intended megawatt levels, or that tiny amount of force might just be a wobble in the uncertainty; they say they got 1.6 µN of thrust, but their own quoted experimental error is ±6 µN, guys.
In any case, their build needs to be tested by other scientists who don’t have ties to the project, and it’ll have to be tested at scale before we’ll be able to build it into spaceships and use it. We’re debugging. Until there’s been a great deal more peer review and external testing, I’m calling this well-meaning vaporware. If I’m wrong, I’ll be in good company.
The Turing Monolith Chaconne
3 SoCs. 18 GB of RAM. 768GB of storage. 32 seconds of battery life (just kidding, it uses a 120Wh fuel cell). Hacker-proof. TROLOLOLOL. Turing Phones are conceptware that totally redefine wishful thinking. In a recent newsletter, Turing hopefully waggled its apparent R&D cred, and teased a pair of outrageously ambitious mobile phones, the Turing Phone Cadenza and its “sibling” the Monolith Chaconne. To add some visual flair, they shopped a mockup of their phone onto an ESO artist’s illustration of Proxima b in orbit around Proxima Centauri, because space and planets and stuff. They didn’t even bother to credit it.
But I digress. The Monolith isn’t even on Turing’s website. Instead, there’s a thing called the Dark Wyvern, and a related DW Glaedr. Turing gave CNET prototypes of a Turing Phone to handle, and they’re anxious to collect preorders, but the prototypes were dummies running Android. Now Turing has no fewer than three theoretical devices in the works, and they’re apparently also conducting a project called the Outer Blueprint, which is supposed to “realize the next generation of mobile devices” by using a trio of Snapdragon 830s in parallel to give their phones the computing power to use robust AI. But the claimed specs keep reaching skyward, and the buzzwords and names keep dropping — and whatever it is they’re featuring on their glossy, content-free website, it’s always going to enter production real soon now, next year, for sure.
Are they crazy insane, or insane crazy? You decide:
With a growing need for sophisticated artificial intelligence, the computing power needed to facilitate the kind of AI we envision for consumers of all types is much more than what is currently available in the market. We also believe distributed computing is the way mobile technology is heading, hence our exploitation of the concept of multiple CPU integration.
TRI plans on connecting multiple CPUs via WiGig by implementing an ad-hoc driver to the 60GHz channel via on-board USB3.0. This complicated computing process stores a transient matrix in SSD of CPU(1), then it recomputes and shares the transient matrix with the other SSD of CPU(2) simultaneously. This results in the CPUs sharing their computing power in parallel. Such proprietary technology enables TRI to achieve never-seen-before computing power on a mobile device.
That’s our personal vaporware list for 2016 — got any products you think qualify? Sound off in the comments below.