Future Science: the Lazy Man’s Snow Shovel

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I’m starting a new occasional feature here, which I think of as my “Back to the Future” columns. It is a look at futuristic devices and predictions for the future, coming from various times and places in the past. Have we met or surpassed those visions of a golden tomorrow? Let’s find out.

Without further ado, then, I bring you….

Buck Rogers 1933

Today’s offering of future science comes to us from the February 16, 1953 issue of LIFE magazine.  Here we are introduced to an amazing labor saver just in time for winter snow:  that wonder of modern technology, the remote-controlled snow shovel!  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Remote-Controlled Snow Shovel from Reo Motors, 1953

Remote-Controlled Snow Shovel from Reo Motors, 1953

If the machine looks suspiciously like a lawn-mower, well, there’s a reason for that. Here’s what Life had to report:

Lazy Man’s Snow Shovel
Converted lawn mower that clears winter walks is guided by radio signals

Lazy men got some authoritative support recently when two physiology professors concluded that shoveling snow for 10 minutes is harder on the heart than running up 61 flights of stairs. They may get a good deal more comfort out of a new automatic shoveler that picks up snow from the sidewalk, tosses it 15 feet away while the operator sits snug inside his living room pushing three small buttons (above).

The shoveling machine is a Reo Motors’ version of its remote-control grass-cutter (“Lazy Man’s Mower,” LIFE, June 26, 1950).  Like the mower, it has a 1 3/4 hp motor and is steered by radio. When the switches are pressed in the living room, radio signals are beamed to the machine, picked up by its cone-shaped antenna and fed to electric relays which start, stop, or turn the plow. But while the plow looks like man’s best foul-weather friend, it may never go on the market. Reason:  it would have to sell for $1,000.

Well, no wonder that didn’t catch on. That’s equivalent to $8048.71 in 2008 dollars!  Still, aside from problems with snow deeper than 3″, and wheel-spinning on icy patches, it seemed to work just fine.

Where are these today, now that our tech has made some improvement?

Girl running the rig with the radio control unit in the snow.


About the Future Science graphic:

The nifty logo-ish graphic on this page is the cover of a Buck Rogers book from 1933, slightly edited by moi.  I may be adding other graphic themes after a while but generally I’ll have a smaller version of Buck or someone like him as a handy visual tag so you can spot Future Science columns at a glance.

As soon as I have some time for a little housekeeping around here, I’ll also open a gallery where older FS posts and artwork can hang out in one central location for easy browsing and bookmarking.

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Now, I have to laugh at that. The lawn-mower Roomba received so little attention I had no idea such a thing existed!

I think in re the problems dealing with slopes and other things that are combos of judgment calls + reflex adjustments for humans, we probably won't see significant inroads until we start using neural networks in small-scale AI type devices.

Gee, then a few decades after that we can have SkyNet… (!)

Considering how little attention the robotic lawn mower versions of the Roomba have gotten, I don’t think we’re going to see a Roomba-like snow blower any time soon.

The technological problem appears to be a matter of flatness. While room floors are truly flat, lawns are not. Thus the robotic lawnmowers have had lots of problems with slopes that a person pushing a lawnmower learns to deal with quite easily. I think a robotic snow blower will have the same difficulties, compounded by the problems inherent to snow.

😮 Dino,
Future Science news from the past is great!
What do you think are the 3 greatest discoveries in science of the past 50 years? For me it´s WWW, microwave (popcorn fast!) and airplane travel (I wanna be there Now!!).
I don´t miss the snow at all, but it sure was pretty to look at everything white.
till later,
grabbit, a rabbit who can´t keep her paws from touching everything!

ooo, the 3 greatest discoveries in science in the last 50 years? That’s a good question.

My short list right now is, biotechnology, satellite-based telecommunications, and the internet, because all of those have been so incredibly transformative for society and the world as a whole. But depending what criteria I use, other lists come to mind as well. I need to blog about that. This would be a great conversation starter.

grabbit, a rabbit who can´t keep her paws from touching everything!

That cracks me up, grabbit. 🙂

A drive-by rabbit visit to the Lizard Lair.
Gotta love it.


"then a few decades after that we can have SkyNet!"

Ha. That made me laugh out loud.

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