5 Outrageous Engineering Design Ideas: Some Are Even True

Did you notice Adam and Jamie from Mythbusters joined us  at the big LiveWorx event earlier this month? Inspired by them, we thought we’d dig up a few of our favorite recent tales of unbelievable engineering design ideas and concepts. Some are true. Some are false. Some are true, but shouldn’t be. You’ll see what I mean….

1. Car headrests: Engineered to smash windows. It kind of makes sense. A rumor claimed that headrests in most cars were designed so that you can smash out a window with them if needed. True?

Nope.  Automakers say the reason for headrests are to prevent whiplash and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 202 “does not require automakers to manufacture head restraints specifically so that they can be used to break windows in emergencies.”

Still, it might make an interesting exercise to try with your simulation software, and you can certainly try it if you’re in a fix – it’s just not sanctioned.

2. Floppy disks: An integral part of the US nuclear weapons program. Wouldn’t it be great to have a job where you didn’t have to upgrade the design and technology of your products for a decade or four? While it would take off the pressure around the R&D lab, your public might not see it that way.

In fact, this recent announcement that the US nuclear weapons program is still using floppies simultaneously caused a shiver down the spine and sweaty palms among Americans. True?


Sophisticated nuclear systems are currently run by technology from the 1970s. Surprising when you consider that the U.S. government spends more than $60 billion dollars a year on maintaining the technology – more than three times as much as it spends on modern IT systems!

Floppy disk was a great engineering design idea--in its day.

3. Robots: They’re taking over the world. We found two cases of robot dominance where we had to dig a little deeper. One was a report that claimed Japanese have designed a robotic bear to aid in assisted suicides, while the other report claimed that a McDonald’s in the U.S. was completely run by robots. So many jokes, so little time.

The truth is absolutely “no” to both.

We have to admit, the “Suicide Bear” sounded like an impressive concept. Its robotic arms can carry up to 80 kg and its roller legs retract or extend from a base as needed to pick someone up out of bed or move through tight spaces.

But it’s not a death machine so much as automation used to provide nursing care for the elderly (as long as you’re nice to it?).

And robots making burgers? It’s not out of the question:

4. Airplane engines: Easy to fix with a seat belt. This seatbelt story is thankfully probably not true: An Air China flight’s engine was repaired and held together with a seatbelt between flights. And then it took off. That brings a whole new meaning to “fasten your seatbelts.” Though photos exist, there’s no proof it was real or from an actual flight.

The same straps used in your seatbelts repurposed for critical aviation fixes.

Intended use: Airline safety.  Not for use in repairing jet engines. Ever. (Photo: Wikimedia)

5. Lawn chair and balloons flight. We’ve saved our favorite for last – Lawnchair Larry. The story? Absolutely true. As you might recall, in the early 1980s, Larry took flight in a homemade “airship” – a patio chair with 45 helium-filled weather balloons. He soared to more than 15,000 feet in the air, from San Pedro to Los Angeles International Airport. He lasted 45 minutes in the sky and was promptly arrested when he landed.

How did he do it? Decades later, Adam and Jamie replicated the feat and verified that, yes, a lawn chair with balloons can actually fly. The challenge (faced by both Larry and the Mythbusters): how to descend.

So, who’s going to engineer and design the consumer version for the retail market?

Ready to make your ideas real, workable, and safe?

You don’t have to risk falling from a lawn chair in the sky to find out if your concepts will work. That’s what digital design software is for. Find out how Creo can help you create higher-quality products in less time (and with less risk to life and limb). Download our 7 Reasons to Design with PTC Creo to learn more.

7 Reasons to Design with PTC Creo