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Friday, November 9, 2012

Best Inventions of 2012

Indoor Clouds


That’s not Photoshop. The Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde has developed a way to create a small, perfect white cloud in the middle of a room. It requires meticulous planning: the temperature, humidity and lighting all have to be just so. Once everything is ready, Smilde summons the cloud out of the air using a fog machine. It lasts only moments, but the effect is dramatic and strangely moving. It evokes both the surrealism of Magritte and the classical beauty of the old masters while reminding us of the ephemerality of art and nature.

Civilization Starter Kit

Price: Free

Marcin Jakubowski built a tractor in six days. Then he told the world how to do it: he made the designs, the budget and an instructional video available free online. A farmer and technologist and the founder of Open Source Ecology, Jakubowski has identified the 50 most important machines required for modern life—from the soil pulverizer to the oven—and is working to make a prototype of a low-cost DIY version of each so that anyone anywhere can build them. “If we can lower the barriers to farming, building and manufacturing,” he says, “then we can unleash massive amounts of human potential.”

Motion-Activated Screwdriver

Price: $40

The sensors found in smart phones and Nintendo Wii controllers have migrated into Black & Decker’s cordless 4v MAX Gyro, billed as the world’s first motion-activated screwdriver. Tilt it right by a mere quarter of an inch and it screws clockwise to tighten; left, and it turns counterclockwise—all thanks to an internal gyroscope that senses wrist motions, which are measured by a small microprocessor that turns those movements into changes in the drill’s speed and direction.


Price: 25¢ per bottle (estimated)

Five MIT students and their professor Kripa Varanasi have come up with a way to make a surface that anything will slide off—from ketchup out of bottles to ice off airplane wings. The plant-based product adds a microscopic slippery coating to almost any material—glass, ceramic, metal or plastic. Heinz ketchup bottles already use this invention if you haven't noticed.

OraQuick Home HIV Test

Price: $40

With just a swab of saliva and 20 minutes, OraQuick can identify the antibodies that signal HIV infection. It’s the first DIY test for HIV—the same one that health professionals use but without the trip to a doctor’s office or the need to wait days for results. The kit includes a 24-hour help line and resources for dealing with a positive result.

Where to buy:

Eliodomestico Solar Water Distiller

Price: $50

Freelance designer Gabriele Diamanti created this solar-powered distiller for use in coastal areas in the third world that are deprived of freshwater. It is half as expensive and 67% more efficient than existing models, and his hope is that local manufacturers will adopt the open-source design and mass-produce it for local populations.

Enable Talk Gloves

Price: $75

Four Ukrainian students have created gloves that allow speech- and hearing-impaired people to communicate with those who don’t use or understand sign language. The gloves are equipped with sensors that recognize sign language and translate it into text on a smart phone, which then converts the text to spoken words.


Price: $59.99

Remember Tamagotchi? A new toy from Bandai, the company that gave us that classic virtual pet, goes even further. Download the TechPet app, dock an iPhone in the robotic doggy frame, and turn your phone into the cartoon face of a canine that’s eager to be fed via touchscreen. This puppy even recognizes gestures and verbal commands via the phone’s camera and microphone.

Nike Flyknit Racer

Price: $150

By knitting thread into a single layer to fit around your foot—instead of cutting and sewing together multiple materials—engineers at Nike not only made this sneaker lighter (just 5.6 oz., or 160 g) but also gave it a precision fit: the weave alternately grips and gives despite the absence of liners or reinforcements. Plus, it’s eco-friendly, with less waste left on the factory floor.

Self-inflating tires

Price: $200 each (estimated)

As soon as the pressure in these Goodyear tires (which don’t have an official retail price yet) gets too low, they know it. An internal pressure regulator opens to allow air to flow into a pumping tube, and as the wheel turns, the flattened part helps squeeze air from the tube through an inlet valve into the tire. Once the air pressure hits an optimal level, the regulator closes—all without the driver’s realizing anything was wrong.

Bounce Imaging

Price: $500 (estimated)

An MIT student and an Army Ranger have come up with a way to provide first responders with the kind of technology elite SEAL teams have. To give firefighters and cops a full picture of a burning building or a hostage situation, the baseball-size orb is tossed into the area. Its six cameras snap pictures while its sensors detect air quality, temperature, radiation and other hazards. It then beams the data to mobile devices.

Body Armor for Women

Price: $555

Women are not small men. Finally realizing this, the U.S. military is testing body armor designed expressly for a woman’s body. Current designs are too loose and too long, leaving gaps that might make some women more vulnerable to bullets and shrapnel. Even a men’s extra-small is too big for 85% of female troops. The 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade will test the new armor during an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

Sony RX100 Digital Camera

Price: $649.99

Digital cameras have been getting smaller and more capable every year, but that trend took a huge leap forward in 2012 with the Sony RX100, which bridges the gap between point-and-shoots and pro-quality digital SLRs. Sony’s innovative design and 1-in. (2.5 cm) sensor allow the camera to take flawless photos even though it’s 20% slimmer than your average digital SLR—small enough to fit in your pocket.

(More Inventions to Post)

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