Technology Fails: 8 Extreme Electronic Disasters

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Let's face it: Technology seems made to stop working. Screens crack, circuits short, and power supplies abruptly conk out. It's all part of the complex and confounding ecosystem of electronics.

The worst, though, is when something really is built to break--and in the most extreme way. I'm talking fiery explosions, flying components, and acid-leaking compartments, all courtesy of bugs built right into ill-fated devices.

Sound far-fetched? Hey, we've seen some crazy stuff happen over the years. Some of it is astonishing; some of it is merely annoying. But all of it is extreme--and entirely too real.

We start with some good old-fashioned spontaneous combustion.

Combustible Computers

Laptop fire filmed at Los Angeles International Airport
Nothing screams "tech disaster" like a laptop on fire. Due to the intricacies of modern-day electronics, it takes only a minor manufacturing error to send your system up in flames--and not the kind generated by the jerks of online forums, either.

The most extreme example of fire-related fallout may be the massive series of recalls brought about by bad Sony batteries in 2006. Small shards of nickel made their way into the batteries' cells during production, causing numerous systems to overheat and sometimes catch fire. The recalls affected laptops sold by Dell, Hitachi, IBM, Lenovo, Toshiba, and even Apple.

By the end, a staggering 9.6 million laptop owners had been burned (figuratively speaking) by the failure, and Sony had spent nearly $430 million to replace all the defective units.

Lest you think I'm just blowing smoke up your ash, let me assure you that this danger was far from hypothetical. (Watch PC Pitstop simulate a laptop battery explosion where the temperatures soared to 1000 degrees.) A Sony-battery-powered laptop famously exploded and caught fire at the Los Angeles International Airport in 2007, and a traveler managed to catch the entire incident on tape.

Be warned: You will hear a few expletives shouted during some of the more dramatic moments. With a blast like that, I'd say they were warranted.

Fire risks have led to countless other laptop battery recalls over the years. Scientists are now working on developing a new material that could better protect the lithium ion technology and keep such short-circuiting from occurring.

Exploding iPhones

Apple's all about glitz and bang for its product launch events. Lately, however, the company has been making headlines for a different kind of spark. Reports surfaced in late July suggesting that numerous iPods and iPhones had erupted in flames and scalded their owners.

Soon after, word broke that the European Union had launched an inquiry into exploding iPods overseas. Apple reportedly claimed that some sort of improper handling led to the explosions, calling them "isolated incidents." A full investigation is currently under way.

The recent rash of complaints isn't the first time Apple's iPods and iPhones have come under fire. In March, an Ohio mother sued Apple over allegations that her 15-year-old son's iPod Touch had malfunctioned. The device, she said, exploded in the teenager's pants.

Speaking of explosions, did you hear about those new porn-star apps people are downloading?

Acid Rock

Guitar Hero controller
The avatar for Kurt Cobain may be making Guitar Hero headlines right now, but one year ago a far more corrosive controversy was connected to the product. Rage Wireless Guitars, a series of controllers sold for use with the game, were found to have circuit-board defects that could cause battery acid to leak outside the devices.

If you're not sure how severe of a problem that could be, just think about this: Over what area of the body do most people hold a guitar? Yeah...not the best place for a chemical burn. It actually happened to at least one person, too, according to reports filed with the manufacturer and published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

That's one disaster I'd suspect even the great Jimi Hendrix, famously fond of both acid and fiery guitar solos, wouldn't be willing to risk.

Next: The Red Ring of Death on Microsoft's Xbox 360

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