The World’s Biggest Tech Fails: From Macs to Mars


Over the past few weeks, we have taken a look at different technologies and their financial and critical “bombing”, so to speak, from video game peripherals to format wars. However, there were a few special cases that didn’t easily fit into a category like the others. So we have the last tech fails piled into one miscellaneous category. Here we see failures from a wide variety of technologies and how they just didn’t live up to expectations, or were just a downright waste of money.

Everyone these days has an iPod or has owned an iPod or some Apple product, and rightfully so—the company has come up with some brilliant ideas. But back when Apple was just starting out, their ideas weren’t all financial or critical successes.

The Apple III was designed to be the great successor of the Apple II and was supposed to be the best business-oriented personal computer. However, Apple wasn’t able to deliver. The computer had a major heating issue, as it was built with no internal fan to dissipate heat and instead used a cast aluminum base that would act as a heat sink.

This heat sink didn’t regulate the heat well enough, and there were reports of illegible data on screens, melted floppy discs and even data chips dislodging from the motherboard. It was also priced much higher then many other competitors out there (between $4500 and $7800 US Dollars). Eventually it was discontinued and Apple moved on to bigger and better things.

If you were living on Mars during the September of 1999, you would have had a wonderful view. The Mars Orbiter was launched in December of 1998 and had traveled for 10 months to the red planet. It was designed to orbit the planet and take various readings including atmospheric readings, weather patterns, and the distribution of liquid on the planet.

All of which would have been great information if there hadn’t been a slight human error in the design of the space craft. Turns out the engineers used two different measurement systems (when they both should have been using the metric system). This caused a miscalculation in the Orbiter. It fell too close to the atmosphere and burst into flames. The incident was reviewed by NASA, who brushed it off as a mere error on the engineers’ part. It happens.

Speaking of burning up, ever heard of the AECL Therac 25 X-Ray? The Therac 25 was a radiation therapy machine that was designed by a Canadian company to help with—you guessed it—
radiation therapy. But another human error in its design and construction caused some major problems for the company.

The machine would produce a much too high concentration of radiation. In three cases, the patients had various radiation burns and would later die from radiation poisoning. It’s safe to say that the machine was quickly discontinued.

When the matter was further looked into, they found the errors: The machine was not independently reviewed, was not tested until it was assembled at the hospital, and the personnel hadn’t believed the patient’s initial discomfort to be genuine as they were confident in the machines abilities and its purpose. The good news is that this has become a staple for safety precautions in software engineering to ensure that something like this does not happen again.

Still, I’m sure that we’ll see many more tech fails to come. I would like to think we have the capacity to learn from out mistakes, but after researching these articles, I won’t hold my breath.


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