The machine of progress can’t be stopped, but it does need to be tempered. You can’t go about innovating all willy nilly without testing your ideas. Whether it’s something as simple as a new recipe for brownies or as complex as quantum computing, we live in a world where everything needs to be (or at least should be) tested to perfect it.
When it comes to that brownie, testing it isn’t a hard process to figure out. Have a bite and see how it tastes. But there are some more unusual tests we’ve devised for very specific reasons and, weird though they me, they do stand up to scientific scrutiny.
10. Butt Shaped Robots Test Cell Phone Durability
About 67% of the people on Earth have cell phones, or somewhere north of 6 billion. Of those many billions of people, how many do you think stuff their phone in their back pocket when not using it? In one small poll of just under 3,000 people, about 7.8% kept their phone back there. Out of 6 billion, that would be 468 million. That’s a lot of phones against butts. And that’s why cell phone testing involves robot butts.
Part of the testing Samsung puts its new phones through to ensure durability involves being slipped into the back pocket of jeans worn by robot butts so the robots can sit down again and again and again to see how well the phones handle it.
That means, theoretically, you shouldn’t have to worry too much if you sit on your Samsung phone because a robot tried it out once already and survived. Unless you sit more aggressively than a robot.
9. Boeing Tests Wi-Fi on Planes with Potatoes
Pre-Covid there were close to 40 million flights per year around the world. The pandemic brought those numbers down considerably but they are creeping up again and, in any event, it’s safe to say there are a ton of planes in the air on any given day. With so many planes, and people, in the sky, you have to have faith that every aspect of a flight is very rigidly and scientifically tested to ensure maximum safety. And that brings us to potatoes.
Boeing used potatoes as part of the system it devised to test Wi-Fi on its airplanes. About 20,000 lb of them, in fact. The company needed to make sure that a plane, flying at hundreds of miles an hour, 35,000 feet in the air could distribute Wi-Fi evenly among passengers. And yeah, you could get real humans for this job but they need to be paid and to have breaks and all kinds of things. Potatoes, however, do not.
It turns out that potatoes interact with signals, such as Wi-Fi, in much the same way as a human body would. So plopping a sack of spuds in a seat is an easy way to see if the signal strength is dispersed evenly on a loaded plane.
8. Some Cities Test Their Water Supplies with Clams
Access to clean water is something a lot of people take for granted in parts of the developed world and when the infrastructure that provides it fails, it can be devastating. What many people don’t ever stop to look into is how that water is cleaned in the first place. There’s more than one method available and some places have opted for the unexpected method of using clams.
In parts of Poland, clams provide a reliable early warning system that something is wrong with the water. Clams are extremely sensitive to toxins and pollutants in the water. So clams are placed at a certain place in the water supply and monitored with tiny magnets and coils. If the water flow becomes polluted, say there’s an overabundance of heavy metals in it, the clams immediately close up to protect themselves. The coils and magnets create an observable change in the magnetic field to let scientists monitoring the water know something has happened.
In America, the same system is being used in cities like Minneapolis. There, mussels have been added to the water supply and the same theory works. When pollutants are detected, the molluscs set off the early warning. They’re so good at this, polluted water can be detected before it ever reaches household water supplies.
7. A Caloric Stimulation Test Can Help Detect Brain Damage
Brain damage can manifest in numerous ways and can range from the smallest tics to completely life changing alterations in personality or physical abilities. It can also be caused by anything from physical trauma to oxygen deprivation to parasites and more. So how do you even begin to test for something so complicated?
One common method is called the caloric stimulation test. The test is used to measure nerve function and although brain damage isn’t the only thing it can indicate, it’s definitely a test that can help make that diagnosis.
The way it works is remarkably non-invasive. A patient will have electrodes attached to their head near their eyes. Then cold water dripped into their ear. This is then followed by warm water. Eye movement needs to be monitored as the test is implemented. When cold water fills your ear, nerve signals will make your eyes move quickly side to side and away from the cold ear. The warm water will cause the eyes to move back. If your nerves are working properly, this is entirely unconscious movement.
If the results are abnormal, meaning eye movement isn’t what’s expected, further testing can be done to narrow down the cause.
6. Mice Are Forced to Swim to Test Antidepressants
Over 70 million antidepressants are prescribed every year, so it’s safe to say a lot of people are taking medications that are altering how their brains function. We’ve all likely heard of serious and negative drug side effects so it’s good to know how companies actually test these drugs to ensure they do what they’re supposed to do.
Before human trials begin with most drugs, animals are tested and antidepressants are no different. But how do you test for depression or the lack thereof in animals? With the forced swim test. Sometimes known as the behavioral despair test.
In this test, a mouse is placed in a container full of water from which they can’t escape. All they can do is swim. The mice are then observed to see how long they will spend trying to swim until they give up. Mice are given antidepressants and the time they spend immobile is measured. So, in a nutshell, an antidepressant is considered effective if it lessens the amount of time a mouse spends immobile. So the longer it can convince a mouse to try to save itself from drowning, the more effective it is.
5. Horseshoe Crab Blood is Used to Test for Bacteria in Vaccines
There’s a good chance that if you have been vaccinated against anything in the modern world, you owe a small debt of gratitude to the noble horseshoe crab that probably died as a result. These extremely ancient creatures have some unique blood. Not only is it bright blue, it’s invaluable in medical testing. Well, not literally invaluable. It costs about $60,000 a gallon.
These creatures have remained relatively unchanged for about 450 million years. And the reason their blood is so valuable is that it coagulates when exposed to certain toxins. That clotting feature is incredibly important in medical testing, like for vaccines, because it allows scientists to know if a sample has been contaminated. If the compound coagulates, then they know something went wrong. If it doesn’t, then the sample is pure so they can trust their results. This is integral for ensuring a valid vaccine or other medical treatment.
Unfortunately for the crabs, this means they need to be harvested and bled en masse. The goal is to only take some blood, about 30%, and leave the crabs with enough to survive, but often they will die as a result of the procedure, anyway.
4. The US Air Force Tested Ejector Seats on Live Bears
Any good action movie about Air Force pilots probably includes a scene with an adrenaline-pumping high speed emergency ejection. Ever wondered how they make sure those seats work? Back in the day they tested them with bears.
In 1950, when testing ejector seats in a jet that could go twice the speed of sound, the Air Force decided a drugged up bear was the best test subject. They used American and Himalayan black bears and all of the subjects survived the initial testing only to be dissected later.
Bears were actually a second choice for these tests. The first idea was hiring subjects out of unemployment lines. The animals became a better choice probably for a number of reasons but not the least of which was that they could immediately kill and autopsy them to look for internal injuries. Although it seems like the testing worked, they thankfully stopped the practice not long after.
3. Jets are Tested with a Chicken Cannon
Let’s say you’re on an airplane going across the country. The plane is climbing to altitude and runs into a flock of geese. How scared are you about what happens next? Because birds have downed planes before and people have died. So what does the aviation industry do to try to prepare for this?
Turns out the best way to test how a plane handles hitting birds is to hit it with birds. Jets are tested with cannons that fire chickens at them to see if the windshields and engines can handle the impact. Contrary to some rumors the chickens aren’t frozen, but it’s otherwise a true story. A chicken will be fired into a turbine at 180 miles per hour. For military aircraft it can get up to 400 miles per hour.
The first chicken cannon saw use back in 1968 and lasted until 2009 when it was replaced. It uses simple compressed air to fire an already killed chicken to test the planes.
2. An AI System is Being Designed to Diagnose Diseases Based on Toilet Sounds
In 2018, about 9.5 million people died from cancer. Year over year it claims more and more victims and while there are great strides in treatments and research, it’s obviously still taking a huge toll. Any technology that can assist in fighting, preventing or diagnosing can save lives. And now there’s a new advance in the fight that utilizes AI and the sounds you make on the toilet to hopefully catch early signs.
The technology is mostly theoretical at the moment with only a prototype having been developed, but the idea is it could listen to your various sounds and detect subtle variations or discrepancies that may indicate your insides are not working exactly as they are supposed to. The AI is sophisticated enough to pull out sounds that a human ear could never detect.
So what do you call a computer that listens to farts and other toilet noises for the betterment of mankind? Synthetic Human Acoustic Reproduction Testing. Or SHART. In 2022 they were working on an algorithm to help SHART detect cholera.
1. Google Nexus Tested If Sound Can Be Heard in Space
The movie Alien used the tagline “in space no one can hear you scream” and it really set a great tone for the film while also being scientifically accurate. Sound does not travel well in a vacuum. But hey, that doesn’t mean Google wasn’t willing to scientifically test the idea, anyway.
The Strand-1 satellite was launched in 2013, operated by a Google Nexus smartphone and a CubeSat computer. The operators decided to test that Alien theory by launching a Nexus phone into space with it to test its durability and also how well some recorded screams play in the void.
Mostly this was just a silly PR stunt because launching satellites is generally mundane stuff these days but, for what it’s worth, the screams were unheard because the physics of space don’t allow sound to travel thanks to a lack of molecules to carry it.