Saturday, January 5, 2008

Best Inventions of 2008



The trouble with most green-concept cars is that they require regular "refueling" with hard-to-get hydrogen or ethanol. The Venturi Eclectic runs solely on wind and solar power. Solar cells blanket the rooftop, and a wind turbine provides extra juice. When that's not enough, a backup electric outlet can recharge the three-seat Eclectic in five hours.
Available: 2008
http://www.venturi.fr/

Franco Vairani / MIT
Aiming for the sweet spot between the comfort of a private vehicle and the efficiency of public transportation, the City Car from MIT's Media Lab is a stackable electric car that can be checked out like a luggage cart at the airport, then returned to any station around the city. Electric motors in each wheel eliminate the need for a mechanical drivetrain, and these 5-ft.-long (1.5 m) two-seaters zip along at 55 m.p.h. (about 90 km/h).
Available: 2011
cities.media.mit.edu



The future of automotive technology may lie in the past. Bruce Crower, 77, an auto-racing designer with a thriving business in San Diego, has invented a hybrid steam engine in which water is sprayed into a traditional gasoline-powered cylinder, turning waste heat into usable energy. How much energy? Enough to travel 40% farther on a gallon of gas.
Available: Prototype
crower.com






Turns out DMV is actually a pleasant acronym in some parts of the globe. JR Hokkaido Railway Company began testing its Dual Mode Vehicle last April on a picturesque route along the Sea of Okhotsk in Japan's largest prefecture. When the perky yellow trolley runs out of rails in rural areas, it retracts its steel wheels and hits the road. The transition takes about 10 seconds. Initial demographic target: tourists.
Available: Testing ends Nov. 11
japanrail.com/pdf/news/DMV_Poster.pdf




Drawing on its aviation roots � Saab was founded by aircraft engineers � the two-seater Saab Aero X is a concept car that might make the future a little cleaner. Styled like a jet, with a cockpit canopy instead of doors, and fueled by a bioethanol V-6 engine, the car suggests a future without conventional dials, instead displaying information in 3-D graphics on its clear acrylic dashboard screen.
Available: Sometime down the road
saabusa.com/aerox




Electric cars are so 2006. French R&D firm MDI signed a deal this year with India's largest automaker, Tata Motors, to start manufacturing compressed-air-technology vehicles. These ultra-eco-friendly cars run on air, and the only thing they emit is colder, cleaner air. Another convenient feature: a built-in air compressor can be plugged in to refill the tanks within minutes.
Available: 2009
theaircar.com



Jim Coley / The Boeing Company

Delivery of the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a year away, but the 250-seater is still the most successful commercial jet in aviation history. Fifty clients expecting bigger windows, better air pressure and humidity and more legroom have ordered 710 planes, worth $120 billion. The 787's 50% composite structure makes it the greenest wide-body, using 20% less fuel than others its size.
Available: All Nippon Airways flights as of December '08; orders sold out till 2014
boeing.com/commercial/787family



Inspection
The wingspan of this prototype of the aircraft measures 21 feet.
Boeing


Boeing Phantom Works, with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory, has tested what it calls a "blended wing body," an 8.5%-scale prototype of what Boeing hopes will eventually be a fuel-efficient, quiet, high-capacity multipurpose jet for the military. The X-48B is destined for transport, bombing and intelligence. Wanna book a flight? Don't count on it ever going commercial.
Available: In 15 to 20 years
boeing.com



It's not just for show: WowWee's FlyTech Dragonfly may be the first remote-controlled toy to use flapping wings instead of a propeller to fly. Its carbon-fiber body makes it ultralight (it weighs just 1 oz., 0r 28 g) but sturdy enough to survive several crash landings while you work on your technique.

Available: Now

flytechonline.com



Mike Massee / Xcorps

It's hard to find a filling station in space, but it's easy to find methane, abundant on many planets and moons. NASA is taking advantage of that with a methane-fueled rocket (above and in tests at right). Future probes could save weight by carrying a little fuel, then gassing up en route�just like any long-distance traveler.
Available: Prototype
nasa.gov



Asia Kepka for TIME

With manned space exploration in the doldrums, maybe what NASA needs is a new outfit for its astronauts. Enter Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics at MIT, who is developing the Bio-Suit. It's a formfitting space suit made of elastic polymers that improve mobility. Because it applies pressure directly to the skin instead of pressurizing the air inside the suit, the way today's bulky suits do, it's also much lighter.
Available: 2016
mvl.mit.edu/EVA/biosuit/index.html





Lucky Imaging
Space-based telescopes like the Hubble are sharp and clear � no atmosphere in the way � but expensive. The Lucky Camera works with conventional telescopes, on the ground. It snaps up to 20 images per sec., sorts out the best ones and combines them into a picture sharper than the Hubble's at 1/50,000 the cost.
Available: Prototype; could be widely available by 2009
ast.cam.ac.uk/~optics/Lucky_Web_Site/






The HortiBot, designed by Rasmus Jorgensen and a team of Danish scientists at Aarhus University's Institute of Agricultural Engineering, spares farmhands the most tedious chore: weeding. As the bot winds through a field of crops � a camera keeps it on track, row by row � it identifies weeds based on the shape and orientation of their leaves. It can be rigged to spray or pull, farmer's choice.
Available: Prototype
hortibot.com




Even a garden-variety robot can memorize specific tasks. What sets Domo apart is its ability to recognize people and to sense and respond to its surroundings. Created by MIT's Aaron Edsinger and Jeff Weber, the bot can grasp your hands when you touch its spring-loaded ones and can place a cup on a counter. Its fine-tuned, eerily human eyes can see who's watching too.
Available: Prototype
people.csail.mit.edu/edsinger/domo.htm



Paramount / Shangri-la
How many dimensions does it take to tell a 1,000-year-old monster epic? Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf will slice through three, thanks to innovations in digital 3-D. The analog 3-D of old couldn't perfectly sync two images, disorienting moviegoers. Digital's precision has done away with the herky-jerkiness and heightened the feeling of being right there at the tip of Beowulf's blade.
Available: In theaters Nov. 16
beowulfmovie.com




Forget consumer diaries. Arbitron is shaking up the ratings industry with its Portable People Meter, a wearable gizmo that picks up identification codes embedded in the audio portion of a broadcast and automatically records what radio- or TV-station consumers are really flipping to.
Available: Now
arbitron.com





Researchers at Madrid's Carlos III University have devised a way for the hearing-impaired to stay with the program: Subtitle Glasses. The mini-display that hangs over the right lens picks up text that's transmitted to it wirelessly, timed to follow along with the movie.
Available: Prototype
cesya.es/en



Robert Gallagher
High-speed chases may be money shots in Hollywood, but everywhere else they're just dangerous. The StarChase Pursuit Management System uses a laser-guided launcher mounted on the front grill of a cop car to tag fleeing vehicles with a GPS tracking device. Then the fuzz can hang back as real-time location data are sent to police headquarters.
Available: Early 2008
starchase.org


The hunt for better non-lethal weaponry gained new urgency when several people died in recent years after being shocked by a Taser. The LED Incapacitator, funded by the Department of Homeland Security, is a novel alternative. When officers shine the flashlight-like device in a person's eyes, high-intensity LEDs, pulsating at varying rates, will make the suspect temporarily blind and dizzy.
Available: 2008
intopsys.com

Expensive, yes, but then again so are MRIs. The HITS helmet (for Head Impact Telemetry System) monitors the precise location and severity of impacts to little Johnny's noggin. After the high-tech headgear wirelessly uploads data�gleaned from the same sensors found in car airbags�to a PC, a Web-based analysis may suggest seeking medical attention. The goal is to help parents look for signs of a concussion; peace of mind not included.
Available November
riddell.com




The Espresso Book Machine�meaning "fast," not coffee�can churn out a 300-page paperback on demand, complete with color cover, in just 3 min. The $50,000 machine could transform libraries into minibookstores, making hard-to-find titles as accessible as cappuccinos. At $3 a book they might be cheaper too.
Available Now
ondemandbooks.com




Most people hate their alarm clock. That's why Eoin McNally and Ian Walton created the glo Pillow. Embedded with a grid of LEDs, it uses nothing but light to wake you up. About 40 min. before reveille, the programmable foam pillow starts glowing, gradually becoming brighter, to simulate a natural sunrise. This helps set your circadian rhythm and ease you into the day.
Available Prototype
embryo.ie/glo/index.html



Copyright Sony Corporation
How's this for eco-friendly: a battery that runs on sugar. Sony's bio cell, unveiled in mid-2008, uses glucose-digesting enzymes to extract electrons from any sugary solution (as with other batteries, the electrons flow around the circuit to generate electricity). Connect four of the 50-milliwatt cells, and you've got enough juice to keep your MP3 player humming.
Available Prototype
sony.net



Corey Mihailiuk for TIME
Did you hear the joke about the paperless office? Now that we've laid that myth to rest, scientist Paul Smith at Xerox Research Centre of Canada has made a real breakthrough with Erasable Paper. The paper is embedded with a material that changes color when exposed to light and is projected onto it by an inkless printer. The text disappears in 24 hours, so you can reuse the sheet.
Available Prototype
xerox.com/innovation/exp_paper.shtml



Frank Pringle, CEO of Global Resource Corp., has developed an emissions-free process that uses microwaves to pull fuel out of shale rock, tires and even plastic bottles. The extraction technology might also help recover oil that is stuck in muck inside hundreds of capped wells across the country.
Available Production unit in early 2008
globalresourcecorp.com




Bacillus pasteurii is one of the more useful bacteria you'll ever meet. Researchers have discovered a way to use it to turn sandy soil, treacherous during earthquakes, into stable ground. Mix urea, soil and calcium, inject a little bit o' bug and voil�*! The cementer bug feeds on urea and deposits calcite, which cements the soil together and turns shifting sand into sandstone.
Available In any meadow
sil.ucdavis.edu



John B. Carnett / Popular Science
Each year coal-fired power plants dump millions of tons of mercury-laced ash into landfills. Henry Liu has found a way to compress this waste into fly-ash bricks that are eco-friendlier than their clay counterparts. The bricks conserve energy (they're made at room temperature), and tests suggest they may even suck mercury out of the surrounding air.
Available 2009
greenestbrick.com



In April, the Tibetan Meteorological Bureau shot silver iodide particles into clouds above the Nagqu grasslands. The researchers hoped this cloud-seeding technology would produce vapors that would result in artificial snowfall. A few hours later, in a historic first, half an inch (1.3 cm) of white powder blanketed the plateau.
�Reported by Jodi Xu
Available Now




Jason DeCrow / AP Photo / The History Channel
Imagine a big new house with free heating�and cooling. Mike Sykes' Enertia Building System relies on thick wooden walls and a natural convection current to even out temperature extremes. For more on the winning entry in this year's Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge, whose co-sponsors include the History Channel and TIME, go to history.com/invent.




MIT
Some people look at a waterfall and see water. Other people�people who work at MIT's SENSEable City Laboratory�see a building material or a computer display. Or both. The walls of the Digital Water Pavilion at next year's Expo Zaragoza in Spain will be sheets of water flowing from computer-controlled nozzles that shape them into endlessly scrolling words and patterns.
Available Next summer
digitalwaterpavilion.com



Paul Sakuma / AP
The 18-story San Francisco Federal Building has an austere�not to say severe�fa�ade, but it's deceptive. It's really a machine for delivering sunlight and fresh air to the people who work there. Eighty-five percent of the work space gets natural sun, and windows manned by computer let in outside air to maintain the building's temperature with a minimum of air-conditioning. The structure uses a fraction of the energy a conventional office building would.
Available Now
morphosis.net



Philips
The styles you wear don't just express your personal taste, they convey a mood too. Philips' SKIN Probes use biometric sensors and lighting to pick up on your feelings and make them visible. The Bubelle dress (above) changes color depending on your mood. The Frisson bodysuit is covered with LEDs and fine copper hairs that light up when brushed or blown on.
Available Prototype
design.philips.com/probes/projects/dresses/index.p age

You know the feeling. You try on a shirt at the store and think you look pretty fly, but you need a second opinion. With Social Retailing, developed by IconNicholson and shown at Bloomingdale's in March, you can send a video to your friends' cell phones and instantly get their vote. You can also try on outfits virtually using a mirror that shows how fab they might look�or not.
Available 2008
iconnicholson.com



Max Brand
Now that tattoos are more popular than ever, it's about time there's a reliable way to get rid of them. After all, one in five people say they regret getting a tattoo in the first place. Freedom-2 ink is made of biodegradable dyes coated in plastic, instead of the heavy metals most dyes use, so tattoos can be removed with a single treatment. When a laser zaps the capsules, they break open, and your body safely reabsorbs the dye.
Available December
freedom2ink.com



Copyright Sony Corporation
Imagine a cell phone you could roll up like a sheet of paper, or a computer screen flexible enough to wrap around a pillar. This spring LG.Philips and Sony demonstrated flexible displays that can do just that. Both ultra-thin screens use organic leds that display 16.7 million colors. Flexible screens have been shown before, but these mark a step up in durability and quality, and bring us closer to a future when the unyieldingly rigid gadgets we now covet will be obsolete.
Available Prototypes
lgphilips-lcd.com



Intel engineers are slaves to Moore's Law: they have to keep packing more power into the same-size microchips. They've done it again with a new alloy that cuts down on electricity leakage, which is a big problem as transistors get smaller. The new 45-nanometer Core processor is so compact, you could fit 2 million of its transistors on the period at the end of this sentence.
Available By the end of the year
intel.com




When people talk about going wireless, they're usually talking about the kind of wires that involve data. But what if you could actually charge gadgets without a power cord? That fantasy became a reality in 2007 with devices like the WildCharger charging pad. Fit your cell phone (or whatever) with an adapter, put it on the pad, and it will power right up, as fast as it would with a wall plug.
Available Now
wildcharge.com




Fiber-optic cable has to lie fairly straight to carry a strong signal, so it's difficult and expensive to install in apartment buildings. Corning's ClearCurve works out this kink by adding a protective rail around the skinny glass core, so you can bend, twist and turn the lines in and out of tight corners without degrading the connection. The innovation has Verizon and other telecoms�ever eager to expand their data services to new addresses�jumping for joy.
Available By the end of the year
corning.com/opticalfiber




It's not the most powerful computer you'll ever buy, but it just might help save the world. That's the idea behind the XO Laptop, developed by Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab. The stripped-down machine with its sunlight-friendly screen is perfect for kids in the developing world, and the low price encourages governments to buy in bulk.
Available Now
laptop.org




Google Maps' Street View puts on the Web dynamic 360� panoramas of New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and a dozen other cities. Enter an address, and you can take a virtual stroll past buildings, landmarks and unsuspecting passersby who were caught on the scene by the all-seeing Google camera van.
Available Now
maps.google.com




Foot-ankle prostheses can be tiring to wear and produce an awkward, ungainly stride, but the PowerFoot One is the first with battery-powered springs that propel the wearer forward and create a more natural gait. Its built-in microprocessors and environmental sensors enable it to negotiate slopes, stairs and level ground with ease. Invented by Hugh Herr, a double amputee and MIT professor, the PowerFoot also recaptures the energy produced with each step.
Available Summer 2008
iwalkpro.com/products




Developing a mouse model for a disease is critical in helping researchers understand how it progresses. Scientists at Johns Hopkins have created a strain of mice that exhibit the brain changes and behavioral symptoms of schizophrenia. The mice show only a mild form of the disease but will help uncover the complex factors that contribute to the mental disorder.
Available Now
hopkinsmedicine.org/Psychiatry/sawalab/


If your blood type is O-negative, you may feel a bit like a vampire's victim every time you volunteer to donate a pint. That's because as a universal donor, your blood can be safely transfused to people of any blood type, making it the most valued commodity in the blood bank. That may soon change, now that Danish researchers have found a way to convert other blood types to O with the help of some bacteria. The scientists have isolated two enzymes made by the bugs that can chew away the sugar molecules that distinguish types A, B and AB-negative blood, essentially converting them to type O (the bacteria can't, however, eliminate the Rh proteins found on A, B and AB-positive blood). Testing of the resulting blood in human patients has just begun. If successful, the transformed blood could provide a steady supply and alleviate frequent shortages.
Available Testing under way
zymequest.com



CPR always looks so dramatic on TV hospital shows, but in reality, chest compressions are hard to get right, even for trained health professionals. Enter the CPR Glove, the senior-year design project of three undergraduate engineering students from McMaster University. Once you slip it on, the black neoprene glove, embedded with sensors and chips, talks you through the proper way to resuscitate by measuring the amount of pressure you exert with each compression as well as the frequency of your chest pumps. If you aren't pumping hard or fast enough, the glove instructs you to "compress faster."
Available Testing will begin in 2008
cprglove.com


For anyone who has battled breast cancer, the threat of recurring tumors is one that no treatment can completely eliminate�yet. But with Mamma-Print, a genetic test of a tumor's DNA, patients and doctors can get a better handle on how likely it is that the cancer will spread. The 70-gene screen, developed by Amsterdam-based Agendia, is the first test approved by the FDA that measures the activity of genes at work.
Available Approved in February
agendia.com



The Panasonic DMR-EZ47V ($330) plays and records to both DVD and VHS. It also copies footage from one format to the other, so you can finally digitize your old tapes. The unit converts video for an HDTV display over its HDMI connection, but for true high def, you'll need a Blu-Ray or an HD-DVD player. Which one? Depends on the movies you want to watch�the movie studios are split. Sigh.
panasonic.com





Why buy a six-piece system when there's one box that does it all? The Yamaha YSP-3000 (above and right, $1,200) delivers amazing "virtual" surround sound without a separate receiver or subwoofer. It's also not much bigger than a piece of firewood, so it can sit on a shelf with your TV set. Want to spend less? The Philips HTS8100 ($800) includes a DVD player slyly hidden behind the front panel.
yamaha.com; usa.philips.com



Fancy
Sony Bravia XBR5
It used to be that only plasma TVs could make Super Bowl action look sharp. Not anymore. This Sony LCD has twice the frame rate of earlier models, so motion looks smoother and more natural. It's also capable of displaying full 1,080p resolution inside its elegant glass frame.
52-in. (132 cm) screen, $4,800; sony.com/bravia

Cheap
Vizio GV42LFHDTV10A
Vizios offer excellent picture quality at unbeatable prices. The GV's four hdmi inputs let you keep more of your hd-compatible devices (DVD player, Xbox) plugged in round the clock. The audio isn't great, though, so you'll want to hook it up to a separate sound system.
42-in. (107 cm) screen, $1,400; vizio.com

Something Different
Toshiba Regza 46RF350U
Sometimes choosing a new TV comes down to size. Toshiba squeezes more screen into that wall unit with its new "supernarrow bezel" line (a mere 0.9 in. [2.3 cm] of shiny plastic surrounds the display). The skinny "sound strip" speakers are also effective and unobtrusive.
46-in. (117 cm) screen, $2,500; regzalcdtv.com


Mobile media mavens have the iPhone. For serious e-mail addicts, there's the Blackberry Curve. Both are beautiful�and expensive. For the rest of us, there's the Palm Centro ($99 with two-year Sprint contract). It has all the features you need in a smart phone: qwerty keyboard for Web browsing (Google Maps!), e-mail and text messaging, plus a memory slot and a 1.3-megapixel camera.
palm.com/centro




The Canon EOS 40D digital SLR ($1,500 with lens) is quick on the draw, even when snapping individual shots, but put it in continuous-shooting mode, and you can take up to 75 pics in one go, at a rate of 6.5 per sec.
canon.com
Cheap
RCA EZ201 Small Wonder
This no-frills pocket camcorder with a flip-out lcd screen has enough built-in memory to store an hour's worth of clips, and the microSD card slot lets you add more. A USB plug slides out of the top for quick uploads to your PC, and the basic button controls take no time to figure out.
$99; mysmallwonder.com

Something Different
Canon DC50 DVD camcorder
It's a bit pricey for a standard-definition digicam, but you get top-notch picture quality and rich color because of its extra-large image sensor. The DVD drive adds heft, but the mini discs will play in almost any DVD player, so when you mail one off to your parents, they'll know what to do.
$799; canon.com



The Kodak EasyShare V1253 (above, $300) shoots 12-megapixel images in wide-screen format (that's 16:9 aspect ratio in geekspeak), so your vacation pics display nicely on your HDTV (dock sold separately; $100). The 8-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S51c ($329) has built-in wi-fi, so you can e-mail snaps right from the camera or beam them to your Flickr account for friends, family and fans to enjoy immediately.
kodak.com; nikon.com



Cell phone needs a charge? Take a walk in the sun with this bag, and you're golden�and green. The solar panel in the Eclipse Fusion laptop bag (above, $200) is connected to the receiving end of a 12-volt cigarette-lighter adapter; you'll need the CLA plug that's compatible with your device to make it work. The Solio Hybrid 1000 portable panel ($80) also charges on the go, as does the HYmini ($80), which looks like a fan but captures and stores wind energy for two weeks.
eclipsesolargear.com; solio.com; hymini.com

9 comments:

  1. Very cool. I'm excited to see them in action!

    ReplyDelete
  2. SO AWESOME.

    Can't wait for the air-powered car to come in 2009. To stop pollution would be great, but these clean the air too!

    I feel like I'm watching a sci-fi- movie when I see these pictures, lol

    ReplyDelete
  3. yeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  5. Those are such awesome ideas! I wish I could just sit and think up something like those! lol

    ReplyDelete
  6. i like potatoes >..> =]

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is a fantastic presentation which captures what technology is all about. Thanks you for sharing and may you have many thought provoking conversations!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow! Awesome inventions! There surely are many new inventions nowadays but I hope that more health/medical inventions will be developed to help more people afflicted by various diseases worldwide.

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    ReplyDelete
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