Introduction: Imagine 2049 Time Capsule

About: Scott Kildall is an new media artist and researcher. He works at Autodesk, Pier 9 and is an artist-in-residence with the SETI Institute
On January 12th, 2013, I buried the "Imagine 2049 Time Capsule" at the New York Hall of Science. The capsule contains hundreds of ideas for Future Inventions, which were submitted by the public over the course of four months. Examples include a Smell Recorder, an Interspecies Communicator, and of course, many flying cars. This exercise in future-thinking, asks us to consider the long-term effects of our material existence (more documentation is at

In the process, I learned more about time capsules that I thought was possible and if you are thinking of burying your own, check out this Instructable.

Step 1: Decide When the Capsule Will Be Opened

While this seems likean most obvious question, it also has the most far-reaching implications for any time capsule project. I chose the year 2049 for many reasons. When 2049 rolls around I may be alive or I may be dead — like Schrödinger's Cat. My art projects often embody some sort of uncertainty.

2049 is also a symbolic year (at least in the United States), which will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Gold Rush and the exciting times of the Wild West. For the Imagine 2049 project, I assumed the personna of a prospector from the future and dressed accordingly.

The time capsule will be opened just after the projected Singularity of 2045. Four years after machines have taken over the world will be a perfect time to assess human desires from the past.

A side note: One of the most exciting time capsule projects ever was the Westinghouse Time Capsules, which were buried in both the 1939 and 1964 at the World's Fair in Queens. They are scheduled to be opened in 6939, five thousand years after the first one was sealed.

Step 2: Decide Where the Capsule Will Be Buried

The capsule should be placed in a secure site. From this list of The Most Wanted Time Capsules, we can glean that thievery can be a huge problem. For example, the Bicentennial Wagon Train Time Capsule, which contained 22 million signatures of various Americans, was scheduled to be buried in 1976. The rumor is that someone stole the capsule from an unattended van in the bicentennial wagon train. It was taken before even being buried. Point being that you want to make sure that the whereabouts are reasonably secure from theft.

The "Imagine 2049 Time Capsule" is buried at the grounds of the New York Hall of Science (near the site of the Westinghouse Capsules), right at the edge of rocket park. It is in a relatively secure area, inside the fenced-in area of NYSCI.

Step 3: Get a Stainless Steel or Aluminum Container

During the time your time capsule is underground, natural elements — primarily water and micro-organisms — will attack the vessel. Metal is a solid material will be more durable than plastic, which can puncture or damage. Stainless steel or aluminum also won't rust or corrode like steel. Copper and other non-ferrous metals will also work but will tarnish and are expensive. Do yourself a favor and get something both solid and protective. Find a container that has a tight seal.

Step 4: Now, Personalize It

A metal container by itself is unexciting. I added three fins which I water-jet cut with the logo "2049" and then TIG-welded them onto the original cylinder. Now it looks like a rocket and fits the theme of the Rocket Park. I even made a spare, just so I have my own souvenir.

Step 5: Gather the Contents

For the "Imagine 2049 Time Capsule", visitors to the New York Hall of Science could submit an idea for an invention which would help the future. This was part of an art show called "ReGeneration", which featured works about sustainability, immigration, and urbanization, through the intersection of art, science and technology.

I received over 1000 submissions. Many were garbage — scribbles, graffiti and about 60 people just wrote a "Flying Car".  I also created a simple online submission form for those that couldn't visit in person. Some of my favorites were impossible inventions like the "Virtual Music Chairs" submitted by Christy Chan or the "Smell Recorder", where you could record odors, similar to an audio or video recording and play them back decades later.

Step 6: Protect the Contents

I selected the best 125 submissions to be placed in the capsule and enclosed each inside a plastic baggie, then carefully arranged them inside the container. Even if moisture penetrates the capsule, the submitted inventions should be safe. I also placed several anti-moisture packets in the container to help alleviate water infiltration.

Step 7: Seal the Exterior

Before the final burial, you'll want to seal the exterior with something that won't degrade over time. Most tape will corrode. Glue may or may not survive the elements. I melted candle wax into the gap in the between the canister and the lid, which will certainly help protect the contents.

Step 8: Bury It

I performed the time capsule burial in front of about 40 people, who braved a brisk January day. The NYSCI groundskeepers had pre-dug a hole, which was about 5 feet deep and I placed the capsule inside of it. I dressed in my "future prospector" outfit, which consisted of a custom-made hat, and an old welding jacket, blue jeans and steel-toed boots. Filling the hole took a lot longer than I had planned and made me sweaty and tired, but all in a good day's work.

Step 9: Mark It and Document the GPS Location

This is the most important step as it is easy to lose track of time capsules after the original participants die or forget where it was buried. Natural processes can shift the soil and property can change hands over decades. For the "Imagine 2049 Time Capsule", I placed a physical marker, a laser-etched granite stone at the burial site.

Using a GPS app on a mobile phone, I recorded the location of the Imagine 2049 Time Capsule, which is:
Latitude: 40 degree  44.888' N
Longitude: -73 degrees 51.134' W

Finally, I put the GPS location in my will and instructed my heirs to unearth the capsule in 2049, in the case that I am dead or otherwise incapacitated for the opening.

Let's see what happens in 2049!