Thursday, 29 November 2018


10 Futuristic Technologies Of ‘Avatar’ That We Already Have
By Brian Molinari,
Listverse, 29 November 2018.

After almost a decade, James Cameron’s Avatar has become a must-see film for any movie lover. Being the highest-grossing movie of all time and winner of three Oscars, the success of Avatar allowed it to have four more sequels coming over the next few years. Beyond its revolutionary technical aspects, the film generated a popular interest for the amazing technological and natural elements that are described in the history of two worlds: the Earth and Pandora.

The story of the film takes place in the year 2154. The Earth is overcrowded with indifferent and greedy people, and we begin to look for solutions to our problems in other places in the universe. During the course of the movie, we witness the immense technological advances that humans have achieved - machines and devices that we have only seen in sci-fi works for a long time.

However, the incredible part is that even when the plot takes place within a century and a half, we already have many of those advances. Some time ago, we showed you the real equivalent of Pandora’s life-forms on our own planet. So now it is time to see that much of the futuristic technology of the film is already within our reach. In fact, the future of Avatar may be much closer to our present than we could imagine.

10. Exopack (Oxygen-Filtering Device)

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Scientific details in the plot of Avatar state that Pandora’s atmosphere contains large amounts of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. For this reason, if a human breathes naturally in that atmosphere, he will die intoxicated in a few minutes.

So humans in Pandora need to use a device called “exopack.” This equipment consists of a breathing mask connected to a mechanism that filters oxygen from the air while eliminating toxic gases. Thus, the person using the exopack can breathe fresh air without the need to carry oxygen tanks.

The truth is that this technology already exists, and we have devices capable of constantly filtering the air from other substances to breathe it. The creator of this technology is the Israeli company Like-A-Fish Technologies, founded in 2001.

Traditional diving suits have oxygen tanks that need to be recharged after some time. So Like-A-Fish Technologies created an underwater breathing system without tanks, which directly extracts the air dispersed in the seawater. Such air represents 2 percent of the total volume of the water body, so the device works continuously for as long as its batteries last.

The creators of the project have already thought about expanding the uses of this promising technology - for example, to provide breathable air in hermetic environments. With a little more development, we could make this device become a full-fledged exopack.[1]

9. Giant Robotic Vehicles

To perform mining operations on Pandora, Avatar describes that humans use unmanned vehicles with the height of a small building and remotely controlled by an operator. From excavators to dump trucks, these vehicles are very similar to the huge mining trucks currently used in large mines.

The difference is that the most advanced mining vehicles of our time still do not reach the full level of automation of the machines in the movie. They even have cabins for drivers if an eventuality arises. Well, it was like that until recently, but we have finally built vehicles - both gigantic and unmanned - that are similar to those in James Cameron’s movie.

Since 2008, Japanese company Komatsu has been commercializing a system of autonomous mining trucks which have already carried millions of tons of material in places like Australia and Chile. However, in 2016, the company presented a prototype of haul truck both autonomous and cabless, just like the mining vehicles in Avatar. The truck is fully electric, and an operator can drive it using wireless controls.[2]

But the resemblance to the machines of the movie does not end there. Komatsu’s remotely controlled truck also has a monstrous size, with its 15 meters (49 ft) in length and load capacity of 230 tons. Although the launch date of this truck has not been fixed, Komatsu says it plans to commercialize it “in the near future.” Then we can take it to a distant moon to load it with rocks.

8. Transparent Displays

From televisions to ads, including monitors and tablets, almost all communication devices displayed in Avatar have fully transparent screens. The idea of having transparent TVs or cell phones has been the dream of many people for decades. It is even believed to be the previous step to more advanced technologies such as midair holograms.

For a long time, science struggled to create such devices, capable of projecting clear images when necessary but being crystalline like glass at the same time. And after many attempts, it finally seems that it has been achieved.

Traditional displays such as LEDs and LCDs generate images using something called backlight, which in essence is a bright, white screen on the back of the device. The light it emits then passes through small crystals on the front of the display that filter the light according to the color needed to form the image.

Therefore, common digital screens are dark and opaque. They need the backlight screen to emit the image you see. However, we then created the so-called organic LEDs (OLEDs). An OLED screen is made up of millions of small diodes, each of which emits its own light. So, in this case, the backlight is no longer necessary and an OLED screen no longer needs to be opaque.

The technology of transparent OLEDs has been around for several years with sizes ranging from a window to a cell phone screen. In recent times, the most recognized companies in the sector began to publicly present their own transparent displays.[3]

Nevertheless, something even more revolutionary is the technology of transparent touch screens. In 2016, a company called TechRobotix presented a transparent 140-centimeter (55 in) touch screen and the result is as futuristic as what Avatar could show you.

7. Advanced Rotorcraft

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A tilt-rotor aircraft has propeller engines capable of rotating their positions independently of the rest of the vehicle. Thus, this aircraft is able to take off vertically like a helicopter, tilt its rotors, and advance like an airplane.

For this reason, tilt-rotor aircraft are faster than a conventional helicopter as the speed of the latter is limited by the angle of inclination of the entire vehicle. In Avatar, the military in Pandora use tilt-rotor vehicles called Scorpion, twin-turbine aircraft both fast and agile.

The official story of the movie says that Scorpion Gunships were created in the mid-21st century, almost a century before the events in Pandora. For that reason, these vehicles are among the least advanced technology of the 2009 film and we already have similar aircraft in operation.

Although such vehicles are still inferior to those of Avatar in technology and performance, we have created tilt-rotor prototypes in recent times that are capable of competing even with a sci-fi aircraft. Let’s see, for example, the case of the Italian company AgustaWestland, which in 2013 officially presented a tilt-rotor aircraft called Project Zero.[4]

The “Project Zero” vehicle is fully electric and is powered by two propeller turbines, which can tilt more than 90 degrees. These turbines allow the vehicle to take off vertically and hover in the air. In cruise mode, the aircraft glides with its wings and the propellers themselves can function as wind turbines to recharge the batteries.

Its futuristic design is unlike any other operational aircraft, and the creators of the project state that this vehicle could be used in missions on Mars. Curious fact: Another aircraft of the movie, the four-turbine “Dragon” gunship, has a great resemblance to an American experimental vehicle, the Bell X-22, developed in 1966.

6. Levitation Device

If you try to put a magnet on top of another to see if it floats, you will see that it is impossible. No matter how hard you try, the magnetic fields of inert objects make them unable to align. So the magnets attract or repel each other.

However, in Avatar, we can see how one of the characters in the movie plays with a piece of metal floating on a magnetic levitation device. The key is that this piece of metal is the precious “unobtanium,” a hypothetical superconducting metal and, of course, the MacGuffin of the movie. This is where real physics comes into play, and the phenomenon seen in the film becomes plausible even for us.

Unlike other conventional metals, a superconductor is a metal that conducts electricity without any resistance. Currently, all known superconductors must be frozen at very low temperatures to function as such.

However, the unobtanium of Avatar is a room-temperature superconductor, which in reality would be something like the Holy Grail for science. It happens that if you place a magnet on a frozen superconducting metal, the magnet will float without problems and will remain stable.[5]

This is called superconducting levitation and is currently an experiment repeated many times in laboratories around the world. So the levitation device you see in Avatar is nothing more than a fancy magnet lifting a superexpensive metal.

But what if the object you want to lift is not magnetic or metallic?

Do not worry because scientists from the United Kingdom created a device capable of levitating all kinds of objects by sound waves. The so-called “sonic tractor beam” is generated by multiple mini-speakers that emit ultrasonic waves.

If an object is placed at the point of intersection of these waves, it will float inert in the air. So we still do not find unobtanium, yet we can make things fly in the meantime.

5. Laryngophones

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While on the battlefield, several characters of the movie use a special communication device attached to their throats called Aircom Headset. When they press this device, they can remotely communicate with each other.

In reality, we call this device “throat microphone” or laryngophone. In environments where there is a lot of background noise, conventional microphones cannot properly capture the person’s voice as these receive any sound wave that travels through the air.

Instead, throat microphones consist of one or more sound receivers placed directly on the larynx of the person so that these microphones capture only the vibrations the person produces when speaking. When using laryngophones, no other external sound interferes with communication.

Throat microphones are certainly a technology we have had for a long time. In fact, the invention of these devices dates back to the 1930s when they were incorporated into flight suits. Later, the Nazis used them during World War II.

Nowadays, many military and security forces in the world use laryngophones to communicate in extreme conditions. Of course, not all of these devices have lightweight and advanced designs like those of Avatar.

For example, we can see an advanced throat microphone created by the company iASUS Concepts. This microphone has a compact and ergonomic design. The most notable thing is that it completely cancels the ambient noise without losing the quality of the person’s voice.[6]

The laryngophone is one of the technologies of Avatar that we have best developed to date, but it is no less impressive.

4. Giant Manned Robots

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Undoubtedly, AMP Suits are among the most iconic technologies of Avatar. These advanced vehicles are giant manned robots driven by soldiers to use heavy weapons and carry large objects. Being 4 meters (13 ft) tall, an AMP Suit can handle weapons such as handheld cannons, flamethrowers, and giant knives.

It is understandable that we do not believe this type of machine exists today. We usually do not see a giant robot walking down the street. But incredibly, science has already created the AMP Suit and the result seems straight out of a high-budget movie.

In 2014, South Korean company Hankook Mirae began working on a prototype of a giant bipedal robot called Method, which would be controlled from the inside by an operator. In early 2017, a more advanced version of the robot, Method-2, was publicly presented.

The Method-2 is a manned robot measuring 4 meters (13 ft) tall, just like its counterpart from Avatar. With a weight of 1.6 tons and a cost of $100 million, the design of the Method-2 is very similar to that of an AMP Suit. This is because its designer is a concept artist who also worked on high-budget films such as Transformers. The arms of the pilot inside the robot are connected to mechanisms that move the limbs of the machine in real time.

For now, the movements of the legs are remotely controlled by other operators. But that could change in the near future as Hankook Mirae plans to release updated and more futuristic versions of the robot.[7]

According to the company itself, future uses of the Method robot will range from rescue missions to military operations. It has even been proposed that these robots could be used to patrol the border between the two Koreas.

3. Handheld Super-Flamethrower

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Flamethrowers have been widely used over time by civilians and the military. The Nazis used them, Russians used them, even farmers used them. According to Avatar, soldiers on other planets will also continue to use them. In the final battle of the movie, human soldiers use powerful flamethrowers to make their way through the dense jungle of Pandora.

These super-flamethrowers are capable of covering great distances with their scorching jets of flame. The best part is that they are portable. Pressurized fuel is stored directly inside the lightweight casing of the device, so it is not necessary to carry extra fuel tanks like a conventional flamethrower. If this technology seems a bit advanced for our time, well, we already have it, too.

Let’s first consider the famous flamethrower of The Boring Company launched earlier this year. Although it has a fancy design close to that of Avatar flamethrowers, its range of fire is so limited that it does not exceed 3 meters (10 ft). For this reason, it is often more compared to a propane torch than to a flamethrower.

So let’s move on to a stronger version. An American company managed to develop an advanced handheld device called the XM42-M flamethrower. This portable flamethrower has an aluminum body and is powered by liquid fuel, thus avoiding the use of gas tanks. The powerful device has a range of more than 9 meters (30 ft) with a simple but practical design that can be equipped with laser sights.[8]

The most interesting thing is that both flamethrowers are commercial products created for civilian use. In fact, flamethrowers are generally prohibited for military use. So, if Pandora really exists, it should be more worried about civilians with flamethrowers than about soldiers.

2. Suborbital Aircraft

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The film shows that after arriving at Pandora, humans descend from their orbiting interstellar spacecraft to the Moon’s surface by using a suborbital vehicle called Valkyrie. This aircraft has the ability to fly into outer space and reenter the atmosphere in one piece.

Although our classic space shuttles look similar to the Valkyrie, the former relied on external rockets and single-use parts to propel themselves into space. Instead, the Valkyrie propels by itself.

This does not mean that we do not have the technology of suborbital aircraft. In fact, we can mention several types of vehicles specially created to go to space and return just as the Valkyrie would do it.

As early as 1959, the United States Air Force developed the X-15, an experimental aircraft capable of suborbital flights. During its 199 test flights, the X-15 reached a flight height of almost 108 kilometers (67 mi). Beyond 100 kilometers (62 mi), it was already in outer space. After that, the spacecraft could glide and land without difficulty.

Several decades later, in 2004, another vehicle called SpaceShipOne achieved the same results. A special plane took SpaceShipOne up to 15 kilometers (9 mi) high after which both vehicles separated. From there, the spaceplane continued to climb by itself all the way up to more than 100 kilometers (62 mi), thanks to its rocket engine.[9]

Its landing process was similar to that of the X-15. As an interesting detail, another plane called Boeing X-20 had the same suborbital capabilities of the aforementioned vehicles. Although this project was canceled in 1963 just before completing the first prototype, its design was going to be very similar to the Valkyrie from Avatar.

1. De-Extinction Technology

Photo credit: National Geographic

At the beginning of the film, while we are still on Earth, we can see a newscast of the future projected on a wall. In the newscast, it is stated that Bengal tigers have been revived by cloning after being extinct for a century. This process is real and is known as de-extinction, the recovery of an extinct species by cloning its individuals through another near relative species.

De-extinction is a very complex process because it involves using cells of the extinct being to artificially fertilize a near relative with them. It is an advanced and very expensive technique. But in our century, we have made great progress in this field. Moreover, we have already brought extinct species back to life.

In 2003, a Spanish-French scientific team revived a type of wild goat called bucardo whose species had become extinct three years earlier. By implanting the cell nucleus of a bucardo into an empty goat egg, scientists were able to artificially fertilize the latter.

After some time, the first cloned bucardo was born, thus representing the first extinct species revived by cloning. Sadly, the bucardo died a few minutes after birth due to a lung failure.[10]

All this happened a decade and a half ago. But now, with more advanced knowledge in cloning and genetic engineering, scientists believe that de-extinction is already completely viable. According to a report, we can finally bring back mammoths in the next few years.

What is missing now to revive more extinct species is not technology but financial support. With the reduced interest of the authorities in de-extinction, the most promising way of economic support for this technology would be tourist parks with cloned specimens of extinct species.

Top image: Still from the movie Avatar. Credit:

[Source: Listverse.]


5 things to know about the Mars InSight Lander
By Michael d'Estries,
Mother Nature Network, 26 November 2018.

After nearly six years of development and 80 million miles cruising through space, NASA's Mars InSight finally touched down on the red planet on Nov. 26. Unlike other robotic science labs on Mars, Insight - which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - will stay put, using its various instruments to probe the planet's internal secrets.

"We know a lot about the surface of Mars, we know a lot about its atmosphere and even about its ionosphere," said Bruce Banerdt, the mission's principal investigator, in a video. "But we don’t know very much about what goes on a mile below the surface, much less 2,000 miles below the surface."

Below are a few highlights for a mission that, if successful, will provide us with the first internal vital signs of an alien world.

1. InSight's '7 minutes of terror'


On Nov. 26 shortly before 3 p.m. EST, InSight began its 80-mile-high journey through Mars' atmosphere and to its surface - a trial referred to by NASA engineers as "7 minutes of terror." During this critical moment in its mission, any number of missteps can doom the spacecraft.

"Although we've done it before, landing on Mars is hard, and this mission is no different," Rob Manning, chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a video. "It takes thousands of steps to go from the top of the atmosphere to the surface, and each one of them has to work perfectly to be a successful mission."

While NASA itself has a strong track record of landing spacecraft on Mars, the success rate across all missions to the red planet is still only 40 percent.


After hitting the Martian atmosphere at precisely the right angle of 12 degrees, Insight's heat shield protected the spacecraft from temperatures over 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit as it slowed from 13,000 mph to 1,000 mph. A supersonic parachute then deployed, the heat shield jettisoned, and then - at an altitude of about a mile - its descent engines fired.

"The last thing that has to happen is that, on the moment of contact, the engines have to shut down immediately," Manning said. "If they don't, the vehicle will tip over."

With all of this taking place over the course of less than seven minutes, it's no wonder that everyone at NASA was holding their breath during the descent phase.

2. It's based off the Mars Phoenix Lander


InSight builds upon the successful engineering behind the Phoenix Mars Lander. That mission, the first to successfully land in a Martian polar region, lasted from May 2008 to November 2008.

While Phoenix was designed to seek out water and environments suitable for microbial life on Mars, InSight will probe Mars' internal secrets. By touching down near the equator, it's also hoped that the lander's two 7-foot-wide solar panels will benefit from longer days and higher angles of sunlight. To that end, NASA expects InSight to last at least one Martian year (two Earth years) before possibly succumbing to the region's harsh environment.

"Hopefully it will last a lot longer than that," Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the AFP.

3. Home will be 'the biggest parking lot on Mars'


While NASA generally chooses regions with intriguing surface geology to study, for the first time they're much more interested in what they can't see. InSight descended on an 81-mile-long, 17-mile-wide region on Mars called Elysium Planitia. According to InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt, the site is perfectly unremarkable.

"If Elysium Planitia were a salad, it would consist of romaine lettuce and kale - no dressing," he said in a statement. "If it were an ice cream, it would be vanilla."

Elysium Planitia was chosen from 22 finalists, ultimately beating out the competition thanks to its low elevation, relative flatness, low wind and relative lack of surface rocks. As Banerdt adds, the real excitement will come from studying what's happening beneath the lander.

"While I'm looking forward to those first images from the surface, I am even more eager to see the first data sets revealing what is happening deep below our landing pads," he said. "The beauty of this mission is happening below the surface. Elysium Planitia is perfect."

4. Taking the pulse of Mars


Almost immediately after InSight touches down and unfurls its solar arrays, an 8-foot robotic arm will begin unpacking a variety of scientific instruments to analyze Mars' vital signs. These include a seismometer (the first placed on another planet) for tracking Marsquakes and a self-hammering "mole" that will burrow up to 16 feet into the ground and record Mars' internal temperature.

"Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of this planet has never been observed before," Banerdt told NPR. "And we're going to go and observe it with our seismometer and with our heat flow probe for the very first time."

In addition to sensors to record wind and temperature at Elysium Planitia, as well as two cameras for monitoring both the site and the lander's instruments, InSight will also use its X-band radio to provide precise measurements of Mars' rotation and build on previous estimates regarding its core. Scientists are hopeful this data will further help our understanding of how terrestrial planets form.

"How we get from a ball of featureless rock into a planet that may or may not support life is a key question," Banerdt told CBS News. "And these processes that do this all happen in the first few tens of millions of years. We'd like to be able to understand what happened, and the clues to that are in the structure of the planet that gets set up in these early years."

5. 2.4 million names on InSight


Accompanying InSight to Mars will be no less than 2.4 million names. Over the course of two campaigns, NASA asked the public to submit either their own names, or names of loved ones, to be etched onto two microchips embedded on the surface of InSight. A total of 2,429,807 names ended up being gathered, with each etched using an electron beam to cut letters only 1/1000 the width of a human hair.

"Mars continues to excite space enthusiasts of all ages," Banerdt said. "This opportunity lets them become a part of the spacecraft that will study the inside of the Red Planet."

Top image: An artist illustration of  The Mars InSight robotic lander that will probe and study the internal structure of the red planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.


The Word of the Year Is… Misinformation
By Dave Parrackr,
Make Use Of, 27 November 2018.

It’s that time of year when various publications decide their “…” of the year. And in the case of dictionaries it’s the word of the year. has decided that its word of the year for 2018 is “misinformation.” Which, ironically, isn’t misinformation.

When Disinformation Becomes Misinformation

Misinformation is a word that, according to, has been around since the 1500s. However, its use has spread in recent years thanks to the spread of misinformation being disseminated via biased news sources and social media users. defines misinformation as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” Which separates it from disinformation, which is described as “deliberately misleading or biased information.”

While disinformation is the source of a lot of issues we’re now seeing in society, misinformation is making things worse. And this is mainly because social media users share things without checking the veracity of the information first.

This blind spreading of misinformation has had some real-life consequences. Elections have been influenced by people believing what they read. People’s health has been affected by scare stories. And individuals have been targeted over rumors started online.


This is why has chosen misinformation as its word of the year. And why we all, each and every one of us, needs to do better in this area. It doesn’t take long to check facts before reposting, retweeting, or sharing something you want to be true.

How to Stop the Spread of Misinformation

Credit: geralt/Pixabay’s runners-up include “representation,” as in the representation of ethnic minorities, “self-made,” as in Kendal Jenner being a self-made billionaire, and “backlash,” as in the celebrity of the day experiencing a backlash over something they said.

In terms of misinformation it’s up to us to plot its downfall. Which unfortunately requires a little homework. First, teach yourself how to spot fake news. Next, bookmark these unbiased fact-checking websites. And finally, learn to trust your instincts!

Explore more about: Dictionary, Fake News.

Top image credit: John Davey/Flickr.

[Source: Make Use Of.]

Tuesday, 27 November 2018


10 of the Most Heavily Guarded Places on Earth
By Pauli Poisuo,
Toptenz, 25 November 2018.

There are many places that are famous for being so secretive and well-protected that you can never visit them. This list is not about them. This is about the really well-guarded places - ones that are so secret that you may not have even heard about them. Let’s take a look at 10 of our favorites…

10. Iron Mountain


On surface, Iron Mountain is a nothing more than a huge storage company. However, they have one particular crown jewel in their collection: Just a few miles from Pittsburgh lies the Iron Mountain Vault of Butler County. It’s a giant underground complex built in an abandoned limestone mine, and it hosts a truly mind-boggling amount of treasure. Within its confines, the truly powerful people and institutions store the things they want to keep really safe. The company protects its clients’ confidentiality, but if you think of a really big name, there’s a good chance that they probably have some secrets stowed away here. Bill Gates stores the 27 million physical images of the Corbis Image collection here. The Smithsonian stores many of its records in the vaults, and other clients include several movie studios and, of course, the Government.

It’s easy to see why the Iron Mountain vault is such a massive hit among the wealthy and safety-conscious. The complex is harder to enter than the White House. 2,700 people work in this vast network of white corridors that look like they’re from a James Bond movie. The vault has its own five-engine fire department, and 125 massive, well-protected vaults that are artificially cooled with 50-degree water from an underground lake.

9. HavenCo


You might have heard of Sealand, a small WWII-era anti-aircraft platform in the international waters of North Sea that became a micronation in 1967. Thanks to its lawless, grey area nature and fairly secure physical location, Sealand has been a home for all sorts of shady operators, from pirate radio broadcasters to the Pirate Bay and possibly even Wikileaks. Still, perhaps the strangest operation that has ever graced its deck is HavenCo.

Sean Hastings and Ryan Lacke founded HavenCo in 2000 to act as a safe haven for all sorts of data operators. In their own words, their aim was to create “the world’s first truly offshore, almost-anything-goes electronic data haven - a place that occupies a tantalizing gray zone between what’s legal and what’s…possible.” Creating a data haven into one of the most difficult-to-reach places on earth was a brilliant, if mildly unnerving concept that was at the time hailed as potentially revolutionary. However, there was a problem. In fact, there were many problems.

First and foremost of them was the fact that Sealand has always been on extremely shaky legal ground. It has no allies or international recognition, so although it is very isolated and well-protected by its remote location, any fool who can climb onboard is technically free to take over. In fact, it’s likely that the only reason it hasn’t been attacked a dozen times over is the fact that the United Kingdom is just 12 miles away and would probably take offense. Another difficult nut to crack was the sad fact that the only kind of content that their owners couldn’t (or wouldn’t) host anywhere else was the kind of content that was very, very illegal. This in turn meant that it would just be a matter of time before just about every country on Earth took a good look at HavenCo, and ganged up on Sealand.

Perhaps this is why Sealand quietly “nationalized” HavenCo just two years after its founding, and moved all its data hosting services to mainland UK a few years later.

8. ADX Florence


ADX Florence, aka The Administrative Maximum Facility, is the toughest and most secure “supermax” prison in the United States. It’s the sort of place that is custom designed to hold supervillains, and in a way, that’s exactly what it does. This is where the country stores the criminals it wants to completely and utterly cut away from the outside world, and its famous inmates are a truly mind-boggling parade of terrorists and maniacs. You only need to look at the “bomber” category of prisoners to get an idea of their general notoriety: There’s Ramzi Yousef, the man behind the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who carried on his work as a co-conspirator of 9/11. There’s the “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and even the Boston Marathon bomber.

ADX is known as the “Alcatzar of the Rockies,” and like its namesake, it’s virtually inescapable. Heavily armed patrols and massive gun towers watch the prisoners’ every move, and huge walls with razor wire do their level best to block away the mountains. And that’s just for the one hour per day when the prisoners are allowed to stretch their feet. For the other 23 hours, the vast majority of them are locked away in their tiny, 7-by-12-foot concrete cells, specifically designed so they can’t move any furniture or even see the sky from the window. Everything is designed with control in mind, and it’s so effective that one former warden describes ADX as “life after death”…and, in fact, much worse than death.

Perhaps the nastiest trick ADX pulls on its prisoners is the very first one. They arrive in prison buses or helicopters, taking in the beautiful landscape of the Rocky Mountains. And then, they get inside the concrete hell that blocks all of that beauty from their view, and realize: That was the last time they’d ever see such scenes again.

7. Bank of England Gold Vault


Everyone knows about Fort Knox, where the US stores its gold reserves. The Bank of England gold vault is basically that, but for the United Kingdom…and with far more style. A classy, imposing structure in the middle of London’s Threadneedle street, this 1734 building has guarded a significant chunk of the country’s gold bullion for literal centuries. The bank building is known as “Old Lady,” and it’s considered to be so difficult to break into that there’s a popular saying: “Safe as the Bank of England.” The building’s walls are 8 feet thick, its safety measures are top-notch, and even its keys are foot-long monstrosities…which are used in conjunction with ultramodern voice activation lock technology, naturally.

Although generally considered impossible to enter without permission, the Bank of England has been breached once. In 1836, the bank’s directors received a mysterious letter that told them to meet its writer in the gold bullion room at night. They decided to see what this was all about, and were extremely surprised when the writer dislodged a few floorboards and casually appeared through the floor, right at the agreed hour. He was a sewer worker, and had noticed that a certain drain ran directly underneath the vault. Fortunately for the bank managers, the man didn’t use his knowledge for evil, and instead chose to warn them about this security issue. The bank rewarded the man with £800 (roughly $100,000 in today’s cash), and presumably blocked the drain immediately afterward, just in case.

6. Tumen River


On paper, Tumen River is a pretty poor excuse for a river. Its 320 miles are mostly pollution-tainted water and sad, swampy marshland. However, its geopolitical location has made it one of the most important, well-guarded bodies of water in the world. It happens to be the border river to not two, but three countries that are not exactly known for their easy-going attitudes: North Korea, China, and Russia.

Instead of the usual “thalweg principle” of drawing the country borders by the deepest point of the border river, a number of treaties, disputes and Russia’s acute need to maintain direct access to the Sea of Japan have turned Tumen River into a strange layer cake of criss-crossing borders. There’s one particularly odd stretch where the Chinese border extends as a tiny sliver in the middle of the river, while Russia and North Korea hold the shores. So if you were to swim across, you’d first go through a mile of North Korean waters, then a 300-foot channel of Chinese water, and then enter Russian waters.

Tumen River’s eccentric borders, tactical location and the fact that many North Koreans use it as an escape route from their country have made it one of the most guarded rivers in the world. Of course, being a body of water, it’s still one of the less fortified sections of the North Korea-China border, and escapes across the river are so common that the nearest Chinese city is now one-third Korean-speaking. North Korean officials are trying to fight this by guarding the river even more ferociously. In 2017, Pyongyang reportedly banned all citizens from going within 500 feet of the river, regardless of the fact that many of them do need water for things like laundry and living.

5. Bold Lane Car Park


In 2003, a science magazine published a study that determined the safest places in the world. Most of the list was what you’d expect: Fort Knox, Air Force One, and other famous places like that. However, one entry made even the most experienced science list connoisseurs do a double take: A humble car park in Derby, UK, known as Bold Lane Car Park.

Bold Lane Car Park was designed by Ken Wigley, an agricultural engineer who had a chip on his shoulder from the time his car window was smashed and his stereo was stolen in an airport car park. This is why he designed Bold Lane to be a very hostile place for car thieves and vandals. The multi-story car park has all the usual frills, such as CCTV cameras, barcode tickets, panic buttons and controlled entry doors. However, it also has a very clever, computer-controlled motion sensor system that spots if a parked car moves, and if the computer determines that this should not be happening, the site goes into full lockdown. Not that this happens a lot, because at Bold Lane, the cars that should be staying put will stay put. In fact, drivers are specifically requested to secure their parking bay with a numerical code that the system links with their ticket so it can recognize if the driver has left the car park or has returned to it by linking the bay number with a ticket.

But what if a thief just walks in, wrecks the ticket machine and drives through the control gates after hot-wiring your car? Don’t worry, Wigley thought of that, too: Pedestrians can’t gain access to the car park unless they have the ticket from when their car entered.

4. The Greenbrier


The Greenbrier resort has been a popular gathering place for the rich and famous socialites since the late 18th century. Its fine premises, the nearby White Sulphur Springs, and the legendary Old White golf course built in 1914 have all attracted wealthy visitors over the years. But the Greenbrier used to have hidden depths…literally. Because of its luxury and relative proximity to Washington DC, the government has often used it for various purposes. During WWII, the Greenbrier housed Axis diplomats at the request of the State Department. Then, it was converted to a massive hospital that treated over 24,000 soldiers during the war. And that was just the beginning.

In 1958, the government secretly leased part of the Greenbrier’s West Virginia Wing, and started covertly constructing a large bunker underneath it. The 112,544-square-foot “emergency relocation center” was built 720 feet into the hillside. It took three years to complete, and could accommodate 1,100 people: the entire US Congress and the support staff it took to keep them alive. It had a 25-ton blast door that could, however, be opened with just 50 pounds of pressure. It had giant water tanks, purification equipment, a power plant, top-notch healthcare facilities and a communications area for  TV and audio production. It even had full-size meeting rooms for both House and Senate.

For 30 years, the bunker remained a secret. It was constantly updated and maintained by a tiny group of undercover government employees, posing as a small audiovisual support service company called Forsythe Associates. There’s a good chance that this might still be the case. However, a crucial point for a facility like this is that its location remains a secret. And so it did, for more than three decades.

On May 31, 1992, The Washington Post published an article which exposed the facility. As a direct result, the US government began de-commissioning The Bunker and ended the lease agreement with The Greenbrier in 1995. Now, should you wish to visit, you can get a tour of the facility.

3. The Swiss Vaults

The Swiss famously make excellent chocolate, watches and cheese, but what really sets them apart is their banking system. A classic aspect of this is their ultra-secure vaults. You’ve probably seen movies where a character visits a Swiss bank’s underground safety locker vault that might look a lot like the one above, which belongs to Credit Suisse.

Switzerland has a vault for everything. There are secretive alpine gold stashes where tiny metal doors leading into mountain tunnels once used by the military are protected by serious-looking men in bulletproof vests. Private asset management companies offer increasingly strange supervillain vaults under airports, and in hyper-secure deep-mountain locations (“access by helicopter or private plane”). There’s even a decommissioned military bunker where people can store their Bitcoins as personalized, physical cryptographic keys.

2. The Mormon Church’s Secret Vaults


The Mormons, aka The Church of the Latter-Day Saints, have a massive secret vault in Utah. This sounds pretty ominous even before you hear that the site is called Granite Mountain. It’s easy to suspect supervillain shenanigans when a religious group starts setting up Iron Mountain-style mountain bases, but according to the Mormons themselves there is nothing nefarious going on. They’ve even opened the complex for a virtual tour.

Despite its remoteness and the fact that they don’t exactly welcome unannounced visitors, the 50 on-site workers have precious little time to plot for world domination. They’re too busy digitizing and archiving their material: The largest collection of family history information in the world, which Utah Mormons have been gathering since the 1930s. We’re talking about 35 billion images of genealogical information, most of it contained on fragile material such as 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. It also stores material that the church sees “key to church operations, leadership and history.”

The reason why the site is fairly closed and well-protected is simple: People destroy things. Just the dust from your blue jeans can do terrible things to fragile archived materials, and constantly marching curious people through the facility would make it borderline impossible to control the temperature.

1. Vatican Secret Archives


While we’re on the subject of religions and their secret stashes, it’s impossible not to mention the Vatican Secret Archives. This grandiose collection of some of the most interesting documents and artifacts not only contains 12 centuries’ worth of history - it contains the very things history was made with. The archives are not actually as secret as legend has it - “secretum” actually means “private” in Latin, Vatican’s language of choice. Still, a private archive in the most heavily fortified part of Vatican doesn’t exactly seem like open door policy, especially since its indexes are not public and even dedicated scholars can’t reach them until they’re 75 years old.

The archives’ main point is to house the Pope’s official paperwork and correspondence, along with other documents related to the Holy See. Of course, this means that it is full of original documents that shaped history, so the people who wish to access it have to go through a very careful vetting process. In recent years, the Vatican has tried to be a bit more open about the Archives. They’ve allowed journalists to tour the complex, and even held a public exhibition of selected works in 2012. Still, the Archives continue to hold plenty of secrets. For one, Vatican refuses to release any documents that are dated after 1939. This may or may not mean that they’re sitting on some stuff that indicates that the WWII-era Pope, Pius XII, quietly collaborated with Hitler when he didn’t speak up against the Holocaust.

Top image: Swiss banks' underground storage facilities. Credit: Pierre-Henry Muller/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Toptenz. Top image added.]