The Worst But Unusual Electronic Technology Fails

Technology! It’s made idiot and future proof, but sadly, let’s face it, however clever it is it’s never going to be fail proof. We can forgive minor malfunctions, like the Satnav that from time to time takes us on a more scenic route or the stubborn hotel door key that takes a hundred swipes before it will let us into our room. And we are prepared for the inevitable: the day when our TV burns out. But when technology does the unexpected, like spontaneously combusts, it’s unforgivable.

Here is a round-up of some technology fails that are unusual but all the same can happen…

Laptops on fire

Think before you scream the words “Flaming computer!” It might just do that. Laptops spontaneously catching fire led to a huge recall of Sony-manufactured laptop batteries from Dell and Apple Computers in 2006, followed by Toshiba and Lenovo.

Here’s one such incident (made all the more famous by YouTube) filmed at Los Angeles airport in 2007.

How can it happen?
Lithium-ion batteries house flammable liquid. During manufacturing tiny shards of nickel remain, which can puncture the separators (that keep the cathodes and anodes apart) and cause a short circuit. There is then a chance of one of three things occurring:

  • a spark being created which ignites the flammable liquid inside the battery
  • the temperature inside the battery rising rapidly causing it to explode
  • or rise slowly resulting in the battery melting or leaking the liquid inside it

In all 9.6 million batteries were recalled burning a hole in Sony’s pocket to the tune of $430 million.









 Aircraft malfunctions on planes

You can understand people getting seriously nervy about flying when the electronics failing on a plane is a possibility, however remote. Take the instance of a weather radar which broke mid flight on a Boeing 747-400 [flying from Los Angeles to Sydney, resulting in the pilot flying ‘blind’. Luckily a New Zealand flight was flying a short distance in front and able to relay the radar information throughout the stricken aircraft’s journey.










The Xbox 360 ‘Red Ring of Death’

Out now, the new ‘Red Ring of Death’ from Xbox 360. Joking aside it’s not a new game but the name given to a hardware fail that afflicted 5,000,000 Xbox 360 users. Three seemingly innocuous blinking red lights near the power button signalled something more serious,  namely general hardware failure.
It occurs when the motherboard the GPU sits on becomes loose after heating up. The vibration often loosens the soldering of the GPU causing the Xbox 360 to freeze up.

Microsoft reportedly spent $1 billion extending warranties and reimbursing customers who undertook repairs.





Smoking and exploding iPhones  

Reports of an iPhones 4 exploding on a plane to Sydney and another short-circuiting in the night on a bedside table in Brazil, causing it to spew smoke and let out sparks, sent shockwaves to concerned owners last year. The cause of the incident on the plane has yet to be identified but experts believe it may be down to the phone’s battery overheating or the device being a counterfeit.








Virtual Boy – virtual insanity

Nintendo promised us the first “portable gaming console with true 3D graphics” with the launch of the Virtual Boy in 1995. Sadly though, it didn’t quite live up to its hype. For a start, the device just wasn’t all that portable. Can you imagine any self-respecting teenager wearing this headgear in public? And the 3D effect wasn’t exactly edge of the seat stuff either. The device, which relied on two fast oscillating mirrors and LEDs creating a stereoscopic effect, fell well short of creating anything resembling 3D and to rival 2D gaming. Due to costs, the display was limited to just red and black with red LED lights chosen as they were the cheapest.

With many users complaining it made their eyes hurt bad and some feeling nauseous, it was no surprise that the Virtual Boy shortly met its demise.










Screenshot of the Mario Tennis Virtual Boy game


Segway safety recall

Anything described as self-balancing should maybe used with some degree of caution. But Segway gave the adopters of its futuristic personal transporter reason to worry in 2006 when it recalled all 23,500 of its devices. This was due to incidences of its wheels unexpectedly reverse direction, throwing off the rider and causing hand or wrist injuries. Segway offered its customers a free software upgrade to fix the problem. However, it is the second in a line of recalls for the PT. The first was in 2003 when depleted batteries caused riders to fall off.








It’s enough to switch you off buying any electronics gizmo for life but remember these incidences are all rare. So there’s no reason to be alarmed and be paranoid that your iPod is going to kill you off. Like Nick Ross used to say at the end of Crimewatch: “Don’t have nightmares, do sleep well.”


About Author | Amie is a passionate electronics components and technology enthusiast.  In her spare time she enjoys playing with fluke multimeters, microchips, capacitors and other electronic components in her spare time.

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