HTC Vive: Walk in a Virtual World
Virtual reality is not that real if you can’t walk around and interact with the world. The HTC Vive is the first virtual-reality system to offer that level of immersion. It uses two base stations to track your position as you move around a room. Hand controllers let you interact with objects in the virtual world (and throw them across the room, if you want). The Vive is powered by the new digital gaming distribution service, Steam, which was built by gaming powerhouse Valve. For now, Vive is still a developer edition, but HTC promises that the headset will hit shelves before the end of the year.
ZTE Spro 2: A Wireless Projector and Hotspot
Wiring a projector can quickly turn into a tangled mess with video cables, power cords, and ethernet cables. The ZTE Spro 2 kills cables altogether. It’s a portable 4G LTE hotspot, Android device, and wireless projector in one. The size of a book, the Spro 2 has a 5-inch touchscreen that runs the full Android OS, meaning you can project any app (such as Netflix and Instagram). The device can also provide Internet for up to 10 devices. From $400
GoPro Hero4 Black: The Smallest 4K Action Camera
The most popular action camera now shoots 4K video—and it’s still just the size of a Zippo lighter. The Hero4 Black records ultra-high-definition video at 30 frames per second and HD video at 120 frames per second—fast enough for detailed slow-motion. The camera pairs with an app that lets users frame shots or review footage on the go. The GoPro Hero4 Black has also been used to film parts of the feature film The Martian, and if it’s good enough for that, it’s probably good enough for you. $500
Meccano Meccanoid G15 KS: A DIY Robot You Can Talk To
The Meccanoid G15 KS is a build-it-yourself robot made from 1,223 parts that can rove around, crack jokes, and respond to questions. It’s controlled by a tiny computer and stands nearly 4 feet tall when constructed. Users operate Meccanoid using a voice-command system. They can teach it new moves by moving its limbs like a puppet or using a drag-and-drop avatar in its companion app. Makers can rebuild Meccanoid into any number of forms, including a scorpion, raptor, and more. $400
Philips Fidelio B5: Surround Sound in a Sound Bar
The Fidelio B5 looks like a regular sound bar, but the ends detach, so you can move them around the room, creating surround sound without the wires. Philips embedded a calibration system in each, so volume and balance self-adjust to provide the best sound possible. The two wireless speakers can also be moved to different rooms, morphing into portable Bluetooth speakers. That means you’ll spend your next movie night engulfed in sound rather than huddled around the television. $900
Red Epic Dragon: A Camera Built for the Future
The Epic Dragon by Red captures more detail than any other camera in the world. It’s the first to include a 6K image sensor—a higher resolution than most monitors can display—giving filmmakers more flexibility while editing. The quality is so good, scientists recently shuttled one to the International Space Station to film experiments. Head to NASA’s YouTube page for unbelievable footage from the ISS. From $24,000
Nvidia Shield: Blazing-Fast Media Console
There’s nothing worse than having your movie marathon rudely interrupted by image stuttering or buffering. That won’t happen with the Nvidia Shield. The first 4K streaming set-top box employs the world’s fastest mobile chip, Tegra X1, and gigabit ethernet to ensure it never hits a speed bump. It also doubles as a gaming console and runs on Android TV—so thousands of movies and games are already available. From $200
IMAX Laser: Best Way To Watch A Movie
IMAX has always offered a fully immersive cinema experience, but its projection system lacked a certain clarity. IMAX Laser fixes that problem. It provides the highest contrasts (and color range) of any projector ever. It also doubles the number of surround sound speakers in the theater to 12.
Sphero BB-8 A Star: A Star Wars Droid You Can Own
When The Force Awakens‘ trailer debuted this summer, the movie’s star robot, BB-8, rolled onto the screen and into our hearts. Now, it’s rolling into our living rooms. This 4-inch toy version has three modes: driving, which lets users direct the BB-8 using a joystick on your smartphone screen; holographic messaging, which uses the phone’s camera and an augmented-reality engine to turn videos into Star Wars holographic messages (like in A New Hope); and patrol, which automates BB-8, documenting any collisions in its app. $150
Samsung SUHD Series: A 4K Television For The Masses
The Samsung SUHD series matches the quality of sharpest TVs on the market—but at half the price. The trick is in the nanocrystals, which are layered on cheap-to-produce blue LEDs and allow more backlight to shine through to viewers. That means sharper contrasts, more-accurate color, and brighter images fill the screen. The SUHD series also uses an eight-core processor to power the TV’s smart operating system, letting users access Netflix, YouTube, and Playstation Now without the need for a set-top box. From $4,500
Sling TV: TV For Cord Cutters
Sling TV is a subscription service that lets users watch live and on-demand TV shows on Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Xbox One, Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, and some smart TVs. Popular channels like ESPN, CNN, and Cartoon Network can be streamed from anywhere in the U.S.—meaning the whole family will have something to watch. There are no DVR capabilities with Sling, but the upside is there are also no contracts. Starts at $20 per month
Star Wars Battlefront : Biggest Videogame Space Battle
For decades, Star Wars fans could only imagine what it might be like to battle in the snowy tundra of Hoth or the deserts of Tatooine. In Star Wars Battlefront, they can finally play out their favorite scenes (or rewrite history in this fictional universe). The game allows up to 40 players at a time, meaning there’s plenty of war zone action. Weapons include lightsabers, X-wings, AT-ATs, and speeder bikes. Oh, yeah. And you can play as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. May the Force be with you. $60
Boeing 777X: Ultra-Efficient Folding Wings
Wing size matters—bigger wings generate greater lift, which can improve an airplane’s fuel efficiency. With a 235-foot wingspan, one of the largest in the industry, Boeing’s new 777X twin-engine airliner will undercut its competitors in both fuel consumption and operating costs per seat. Thanks to their carbon-fiber composition, the wings are both strong and flexible—and the tips even fold up so today’s airports can accommodate their wider span.
Rosetta: Comets Finally Get Their Closeup
For the first time in history, humans put a spacecraft in orbit around a comet and, in another first, landed on it. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft traveled 10 years and nearly 4 billion miles to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Once it arrived in November 2014, the Philae lander descended to the comet’s surface, bounced, and came to rest in a dark area near the edge of a crater. Unable to recharge through its solar panels, Philae went into hibernation—but not before transmitting data about 67P’s makeup, internal structure, and wealth of organic molecules. As the comet hurtled toward the sun, the Rosetta orbiter stuck with it, observing as its frozen gases warmed and escaped into space. This data should provide valuable clues to the history of our solar system.
Sikorsky Aircraft S-97 Raider: Fastest Helicopter
Designed by Sikorsky as an attack and transport vehicle for the U.S. military, the S-97 Raider has a top speed of 276 miles per hour, nearly twice that of a conventional helicopter. It’s also quieter, can climb higher, has a smaller turning radius, and—thanks to a rigid coaxial rotor and pusher propeller—is more precise and maneuverable. The full-size vehicle, which can carry two crew members and six soldiers, took its maiden flight this May.
DHI Parcelcopter: Real-World Drone Delivery
In late 2014, shipping company DHL began making several deliveries a day to the remote North Sea island of Juist, Germany, dropping off medical supplies and other necessary goods. And for the first time in a real-world program, autonomous flying drones performed the work. The Parcelcopters persisted even in high winds, rain, snow, and cold temperatures. The pilot program proved that, in case of emergency, deliveries needn’t rely on pre-scheduled, human-operated services.
New Horizons: Voyage To Pluto
When New Horizons launched almost 10 years ago, our sharpest image of Pluto was a fuzzy ball. This summer, the mission’s flyby captured stunningly clear photos of the dwarf planet—and the never-before-seen heart-shaped area on its surface. In addition to cameras, New Horizons carries the most comprehensive suite of instruments ever sent to an unexplored world. The probe will study Pluto’s atmosphere and composition, and teach us more about how our solar system formed.
X-Avionics Xavion: The App That Will Make Emergency Landings
If its pilot passes out, an airplane is in serious trouble. But the new Xavion app from X-Avionics might save it. Used in conjunction with an autopilot interface, the app can take over a craft’s controls and guide it to a safe, albeit hard, landing. For an active pilot in an emergency situation, the app provides routes and beacons to the nearest airport, acting as a virtual co-pilot.
TriFan 600: Vertical Takeoff In A Civilian Airplane
For the executive who has everything, now there’s the TriFan 600, an airplane and helicopter in one. The six-seat concept will use three ducted fans to rise vertically like a helicopter. Once it’s airborne, two fans will pivot to generate forward momentum and provide lift so it can fly like a conventional jet. This August, after three years of development, XTI announced a crowdfunding campaign, which will cover a portion of the program’s costs and give potential buyers a chance to back it.
New Shepard: A Manned Rocket For Tourists
Blue Origin’s launch of New Shepard in April marked the first successful test of a vertically launched vehicle to lift tourists and researchers into suborbital space. The crew capsule separated from its booster, as planned, and parachuted safely back to Earth. The booster is designed to be reusable too, though a hydraulics failure prevented it from sticking the landing. Blue Origin has made New Shepard‘s BE-3 engine available for licensing, which means other companies could also use it to get off the ground.
Solar Impulse 2: Longest Solar-Powered Flight
Solar Impulse 2 has flown past a few world records in its quest to circumnavigate the globe. By spending nearly five days in the air this summer (117 hours and 52 minutes, to be exact), the plane made the longest nonstop flight by a solar-powered aircraft. Piloted by co-creator André Borschberg, it was also the longest solo flight ever. During the day, 17,248 solar cells provided power, and the airplane stored energy in lithium-polymer batteries to stay aloft through the night.
CICADA: Swarming Micro-Drones
Picture a paper airplane made of circuit boards, and you’ve just conjured a Close-In Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (CICADA)—an inexpensive, 2.5-ounce glider developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Dropped from midair and guided by a GPS system, the micro-UAV can adjust flaps on its wings to crash-land within feet of a target located miles away. In swarms of dozens, or even hundreds, CICADAs could serve as cameras, microphones, sensors, and weapons detectors, or form a communications network.
August Home Smart Lock: Never Lose Your Keys Again
The August Smart Lock unshackles your home from the tyranny of physical keys. The 3-inch cylinder fastens to the back of an existing deadbolt, leaving the outside appearance of your door unchanged. Once attached, a Bluetooth signal from your smartphone can flip the mechanism to unlock the door. A guest with a smartphone and an August app can enter once you’ve granted them access. No more passing out hard-copy keys, which are much harder to revoke—and easier to lose. The Smart Lock lets you pick days and times for guest entry, so the dog walker can get in only during lunch hours, or your weekend Airbnb guests lose access once their stay is over. If your guests don’t have smartphones, a Wi-Fi add-on allows you to buzz them in remotely. Plus, you can set the Smart Lock to bolt automatically every time the door shuts. And should anything fail, the old key still works. $229, plus $50 for remote connectivity
Turing Phone: Hack-Proof And Shatter-Proof
With just a single port and waterproofing inside and out, the Turing Phone is designed to be indestructible. For the shell, the company uses an alloy dubbed “liquidmorphium.” Because the molecules in liquidmorphium are arranged amorphously, rather than in the rigid structure of metals, the alloy is less prone to bending or breaking. The software is designed to be indestructible too. While no system is truly hack-proof, Turing has made breaching their flavor of Android so computationally expensive that they think hackers won’t bother trying. And when users dial other Turing Phones, the calls are fully encrypted end to end—no third-party authentication necessary. $740
Inrad Optics Stilbene Crystals: A Crystal That Detects Nuclear Radiation (No, Really)
Stilbene crystal is stable, safe, and glows purple—scintillates, technically—when it is in the presence of radioactive materials such as plutonium. Stilbene’s scintillating abilities were discovered in the 1940s, but optics manufacturer Inrad’s commercial version has just started appearing in prototype homeland-security detection devices.
Malloy Aeronautics: A Freakin’ Hoverbike
Mobility is a perpetual problem for soldiers on the ground, especially in the challenging terrain of today’s conflicts. Enter the hoverbike, a mash-up of a motorcycle and a quadcopter. Malloy Aeronautics has a working prototype, and this summer, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory contracted the company to test if the hoverbike could work for soldiers. Civilians might want them too: Malloy suggests it could find use among land inspectors and search-and-rescue teams.
Peerio: Easy, Secure Messaging
In our post-Snowden world, secure messaging is ever more appealing. The standard encryption method is PGP, or “Pretty Good Privacy.” It uses several layers of encryption to ensure messages can be read only by the intended recipient. But PGP can be tricky to set up. Enter Peerio, which provides easy-to-use PGP-level encryption for messages and file storage. Just download the software, have your would-be communicants do the same, set up a secure pass phrase, and chat away. Secretly. Free
Drone Shield: Ears, Not Eyes, In The Sky
At the Boston Marathon this year, the DroneShield team worked with city police to deploy 10 detectors that listen, rather than look, for potentially dangerous airborne threats delivered by drone. The unit cross-references audio it picks up with a library of drone sonic signatures, and sends an alert if it finds a match. DroneShield has installed its ears in the sky around office buildings, prisons, airports, and private homes.
BaDx: Smallest, Safest Anthrax Detector
Anthrax, a bacterial disease of grazing animals, can be a deadly terrorist tool. Now Sandia National Laboratories and security-technology company Aquila are making it simple to detect. They’re producing a credit-card-size lab-on-a-chip that’s akin to a pregnancy test: Inject a sample and wait a few hours for a line to appear. Because the test is portable, samples won’t accumulate in labs—which is a security risk. It will help ranchers around the world detect the disease in their livestock. Aquila, which is producing the tests in partnership with Sandia, began shipping units earlier this year and plans to adapt the technology for other bacteria like E. coli.
Anti-Theft Dots: Get Your Stuff Back
Cops across the country have rooms packed with stolen items but no way of locating their owners. Anti-Th eft Dots fix that. Th ey’re tiny nickel disks with identifying numbers chemically etched into them that link owners and property through a database. Th eir adhesive glows under black light, alerting cops to their presence, and can be applied to nearly anything: laptops, watches, TVs, and bikes. By year’s end, 2,000 police forces nationwide will support them. $33 per kit, which can mark 50 items
NYPD DAS Mobile: The App That Keeps Cops Safe
Relaying 911 information to cops on the beat—by radio—hasn’t changed in decades. But there’s only so much intel dispatchers can convey that way. This year, the New York City Police Department—the largest force in the United States—began sending ancillary data to some cops via smartphone. It’s the first police force in the country to do so. The app is secure, requiring a PIN code and an ID scan to log in. Cops get background intel on prior arrests and outstanding warrants at the dispatched address, or helpful details such as whether burglars typically enter it by the back door. For an officer on the street, such extra information can be lifesaving.
Tesla Motors Powerwall: Now You Can Supercharge Your Home
You’ve invested in solar panels to harvest energy from the sun, but without daisy-chaining an array of car batteries, you’ve got no way to store it. With the Powerwall, Tesla used its expertise manufacturing lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles to provide a sleek alternative. The 210-pound wall-mounted battery can store surplus energy from solar panels. But it can also automatically bank electricity from the grid during off-peak times, when rates are lowest. That way you can power your home—or charge your Model S—for pennies even when electricity is in highest demand. The company makes a 7 kWh battery for daily use, and a 10 kWh version that can double as a backup generator. From $3,000
Windstream Technology Solar Mill: An Alternative-Energy Powerhouse
With limited roof space, it’s often not possible for do-good homeowners to harness both solar and wind power. WindStream solved that problem by creating a hybrid system. A trio of corkscrew-shaped vertical-axis turbines turn below a photovoltaic panel, saving space. The system can generate 13 percent more energy than solar alone. $3,125
Bosch Power-Ready Wireless-Charging System: Tools Leading A Wireless Revolution
With its inductive-charging system, Bosch has made charging power tools effortless. Simply set the tool on its dock, and—voilà!—the electromagnetic field replenishes the battery. A full charge takes 50 minutes, but you may never need that: The batteries are lithium-ion, so you can top them off as you go. $200
Stack Downlight: A Bulb That Gets To Know You
What if your lights could understand their surroundings? Stack added occupancy- and ambient-light sensors to its LED Downlight bulbs. The result is a lightbulb with smarts: It can turn off when you leave a room and recognize when it’s morning in order to wake you up. To protect you, the system can even mimic your lighting habits when you’re away on vacation. Don’t like the schedule? You can custom-program it yourself with a companion app. $150 (for a starter pack of two bulbs and a hub; $60 for each additional bulb); ships in December.
Dyson Humidifier: The Ultimate Clean Machine
Humidifiers can often be breeding grounds for bacteria. But that doesn’t mean humans have to live with bone-dry air. Dyson’s new humidifier zaps bacteria with ultraviolet light, killing 99.9 percent. It also uses the same “air-multiplier” technology as the company’s fans, to ensure thorough room coverage. It’s the first humidifier to earn an asthma and allergy-friendly certification from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. $500
Leatherman Tread: First Wearable Multitool
After Leatherman’s president, Ben Rivera, got stopped at security at Disneyland for carrying a multitool, he decided to create one that you’d never need to leave at home—or even in a toolbox. Tread’s wearable design features 29 handy tools, such as Allen wrenches, screwdrivers, and a bottle opener. From $165
Briggs & Stratton EXi Series Engine: Never Change Your Oil Again
Manufacturers recommend you change your lawn mower’s engine oil every 25 hours of use. To eliminate that messy hassle, Briggs & Stratton built its new EXi Series Engine. The engine is designed to run cooler because oil breaks down more slowly at low temperatures. (It also features an improved air-filtration system to run cleaner.) Rather than change the oil, just top off periodically to maintain proper levels. In a year, you’ll end up using 73 percent less oil.
Channellock Rescue Tool: React Like A First Responder
Police officers and firefighters aren’t the only ones who have to grapple with emergencies. So why shouldn’t homeowners use the same multitool they do when confronted with a storm or fire? The Rescue Tool combines five tools, including a spanner wrench to tighten and loosen hose couplings, a prying tip that can help jimmy open a stuck window, and cutting edges that can snip wire. $50
Whirlpool HybridCare Heat-Pump Dryer: A Hybrid For Your Hamper
The average clothes dryer can consume as much energy per year as a refrigerator. To balance the scales, Whirlpool built a ventless heat-pump model. Instead of releasing hot, moist air, the HybridCare condenses the water internally. The dry air is then recirculated—reducing energy costs by 40 percent over standard dryers. $1,799
DeWalt Carbon-Fiber Composite Level: A Level That Won’t Give In To Pressure
Lightweight levels are typically made of aluminum. But over time—or with rough use—the material can deform and lose accuracy. That’s why DeWalt built a level from a carbon-fiber composite. It’s 35 percent lighter than aluminum counterparts and can absorb major impacts so it stays true to form. $100
Preventing the Next Pandemic
A new vaccine usually takes six to 10 years to go through clinical trials. The Ebola vaccine took only 10 months. When the West African outbreak was declared a global health emergency in August 2014, the World Health Organization fast-tracked the process. The vaccine, made by swapping proteins from Ebola into another virus, triggers an immune response that protects people from contracting the actual disease. To test its efficacy, health workers in Guinea used a “ring strategy” around the 100 confirmed Ebola cases in the country. First, doctors vaccinated roughly 4,000 adults who had come into contact with the infected patients. None got Ebola. For a control group, they vaccinated another approximately 3,500 people three weeks after identifying the latest infection. Only 16 contracted the disease. “The ring strategy hinges on vaccinating all contacts of a recently confirmed case, and their contacts in turn, virtually creating a firewall and stopping transmission in its tracks,” says Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s assistant director general for health systems and innovation, who led the R&D. The Ebola vaccine showed that scientists can develop and deploy lifesaving drugs quickly—in the future, preventing other diseases from going global.
Micra: The World’s Smallest Pacemaker
Doctors surgically implant most pacemakers in the chest and run wires from the device to the heart. The vitamin-size Micra can be threaded through the femoral vein into the heart with a catheter. Tines then attach to the heart to deliver electrical impulses directly. The battery lasts more than 10 years, and when it’s depleted, doctors can disable the device and insert another nearby. So far, the success rate in trials is 100 percent.
Human Epigenome Maps
June marked the release of the first map of the human epigenome: the chemical markers that tell your DNA what to express when. “Think of the genome as the hardware in your computer and the epigenome as the software,” says Joseph Ecker, director of the institute’s genomic analysis laboratory. Such a map will help scientists see what causes some cells to become liver cells and others heart cells—or malignant cancer cells. Understanding these mechanisms could enable scientists to reprogram them for bioengineering or to reveal new triggers for disease.
Biostamp: Health Stats That Stick
Wearables can be clunky. The BioStamp offers a stretchy alternative: an electronic device that sticks to your skin for up to a week, like a temporary tattoo. Thin sensors and circuits embedded in the adhesive-backed stamp measure biometrics like body temperature, movement, muscle activation, heart rate, and exposure to ultraviolet light. The device then relays this data to a wearer’s (or a doctor’s) cellphone via Bluetooth. Biostamps to check blood pressure and analyze sweat are in the works.
Fitguard: A “Check Engine” Light For Your Brain
A helmet is no longer an athlete’s only line of defense against a concussion or other brain injury. Sensors inside the FITGuard measure linear and rotational acceleration of the head. The mouth guard then sends that data to a coach’s phone or tablet on the sideline. When a player gets hit hard, LEDs light up to indicate he or she should sit out. On the bench, the associated app administers light-sensitivity and memory-loss tests to help determine the player’s likelihood of a concussion. $100
Eargo: The Most Comfortable Hearing Aid
Typical hard-plastic hearing aids block airflow and natural bass sounds. Eargo’s featherlike silicone fibers suspend the device in the ear canal, making it almost imperceptible. “Comfort is important because you wear it all day long, every single day,” says Raphael Michel, the company’s co-founder and CEO. A processor inside the device sends sound directly to the eardrum so you can better pinpoint the source. Bonus: The rechargeable battery never needs to be replaced. $1,980
Teixobactin: First New Antibiotic In Nearly 30 Years
Teixobactin can fight resistant strains of bacteria such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which (as its name suggests) causes tuberculosis. And because it binds to bacteria on two target regions, in contrast to most antibiotics’ one, bacteria are less likely to develop resistance to it. The drug candidate is still in the pipeline and works for only certain bacteria, but one of them is invasive MRSA, which some 75,000 Americans contract every year.
Xoft: Targeted Cancer Radiation In One Go
Radiation therapy for breast cancer can require eight weeks of near-daily trips to the hospital. A method called intraoperative radiation therapy takes less than 12 minutes total. During a patient’s tumor-removal surgery, a radiation oncologist delivers a single, concentrated dose of radiation. It aims to kill any malignant cells the surgery might have missed, and helps prevent cancer from returning during recovery. Two recent clinical trials have found it to be as effective as conventional radiation. Plus, a patient experiences fewer side effects and is able to get back to normal activities much sooner.
Medtronic Closed-Loop System: A Savior For Diabetics
More than a million people in the U.S. have Type 1 diabetes. They must constantly monitor their blood sugar and inject insulin to compensate for a subpar pancreas. Medtronic developed a system that uses an algorithm to automatically deliver an optimized dose, day or night. No mental math; no human error. “It’s essentially the same system that drives a thermostat or cruise control,” says Francine Kaufman, chief medical officer of the company’s diabetes group. “Except that biology is more difficult to control.”
Exvive3D: 3D-Printed Tissue
Even after drugs have passed animal tests, many fail in human trials due to kidney or liver toxicity. Organovo, which last year 3D-printed mini livers from human cells, can now synthesize individual mock kidneys. Each contains a number of different cell types in which drug effects can be tested. “Every single drug a pharmaceutical company develops has to be tested for safety in liver and kidney settings,” says Keith Murphy, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “Our system is meant to be the best and final test.”
Aim: A Monitor With Muscle
For gym rats, scales can show body weight, but not muscle condition or body fat—important measures of fitness. Aim does both. When placed on the skin, the device sends a weak electric current through the body. Since muscle and fat have different resistances, it can tell them apart. Aim determines the strength of a muscle relative to its size too, so you can see the direct effects of a workout (or a lazy streak). A medical-grade version can monitor the impact of degenerative diseases like muscular dystrophy or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). $149
Kolibree: A 3D-Motion Toothbrush
Even with the built-in timer on some electric toothbrushes, most people don’t brush for the full two minutes that dentists recommend. Kolibree is more foolproof; its 3D motion sensors show, in real-time, how well you’re scrubbing. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth to highlight problem areas and suggest improved brush motion or position. A connected game ensures kids will do more than just swallow the toothpaste. $149
Periscope: A Broadcast Network Of Your Own
The cameras in our pockets have granted amateurs all sorts of powers to reinvent themselves—first, as photographers and then as YouTube stars. Now with Periscope, anyone can become a broadcaster as well. The app makes live streaming events like the Black Lives Matter protests, raging wildfires, or even office antics as simple as pressing a button. The stream is accessible to anyone who also has the app installed on their mobile device. In the hands of journalists, Periscope has broadcast videos from the Syrian refugee crisis, putting a human face on a global crisis that for many is happening out of sight. Inevitably, it has also prompted privacy concerns and put more than one business model in jeopardy: Periscope was a popular way to illegally broadcast this year’s expensive pay-per-view boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Free.
Windows 10: The Windows We’ve Been Waiting For
“Easy” and “operating system” don’t tend to inhabit the same sentence, but Windows 10 could change that. The OS comes with face-scanning and fingerprint authentication for quick, secure logins. It also has Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant (think Siri for the Windows set), which can schedule meetings, check weather, or do Web searches all with a simple voice command. The OS runs on desktops, laptops, touchscreen tablets, and phones—making it even easier to switch between devices or use tablet-laptop hybrids. Free Upgrade.
Be My Eyes: A Smartphone App That Gives The Gift Of Sight
Phone cameras aren’t all that useful to someone who’s blind—not, at least, until Be My Eyes. The app, developed by the Danish Blind Society, connects visually impaired users to sighted ones. Through a live video feed, sighted users can decrypt unfamiliar street signs, expiration dates on food packages, or anything else that needs a quick visual assist. Since it launched in January, the app has helped 23,000 users over 100,000 times. Free.
Google Photos: Adding Google Smarts To Your Photo App
No longer must you endlessly scroll through digital photo albums: Google integrated search into its Photos app. Query France, and you’ll soon have every photo you ever took on that trip to Provence. You can do the same for your son. For his lifetime. Google’s assistant will then organize those photos for you. It will even turn them into animated gifs or correct lighting or contrast flaws automatically. Plus, the perks of the old version are still there: simple back-up, mega storage, and easy editing. Free.
IBM Watson: Team Up With A Supercomputer
The supercomputer that won Jeopardy! is now available to anyone. IBM expanded its developer ecosystem for Watson by adding advanced language, speech, and vision capabilities, making it easier for partners to tap into Watson’s cognitive-computing abilities to solve problems.
Hound: Nimble-Minded Digital Assistant
Instead of waiting to process a request or query until after you ask it, SoundHound’s Hound app sniffs out the results in real time. Thanks to natural language processing, it can also understand complex queries (“Show me four- or five-star hotels in Miami for two nights, starting on Friday, between $150 and $200 a night”), and it can build upon those results to more finely hone the answers you’re seeking. Free.
Pixar RenderMan: Create Your Own Toy Story For Family And Friends
Pixar‘s in-house 3D-rendering engine—used to create movies such as Toy Story and Up—was the first piece of software ever to earn an Oscar. More recently, the studio noticed there was a significant technology gap between public and professional software, so it released a consumer-friendly version of RenderMan. Intended for educational and personal use, the app is strictly prohibited for commercial purposes. Free.
Albedo100 Light-Reflective Spray: Paint That Can Save Your Life
When it comes to safety, staying visible at night is critical for runners, walkers, and cyclists. That’s why Swedish startup Albedo100 has developed a reflective spray that can be applied to clothes and bike parts. The spray is invisible during the day but shines like a highway street sign at night when it comes under the glare of headlights. The spray is benign, so it doesn’t damage materials or hurt your skin, and lasts about a week before wearing off. There’s even another version of the spray that’s safe enough to put directly on your pet’s fur. Albedo100 released both versions of the spray earlier this year, and a third that works especially well on metals will be out by the end of the year. It also collaborated with Swedish carmaker Volvo to market the spray under the name Life Paint, which they hope to one day sell in the United States. Never stress over Halloween night again. $19
Stower Candle Charger: Charge Your Phone With A Flame
The Candle Charger by Stower uses an open flame to charge your mobile device. Here’s how: You fill a small, specially constructed pot with water, place it on a stand, and set it over a burning fuel-canister candle. A USB cable attaches to the pot, providing a point of connection for your device. As the water boils, the temperature difference between the water and flame creates an electric current that charges your phone. It’s handy in the field but also in power outages. Plus you can then tell someone that you charged your phone with fire—because you did. $100
Voormi Fall Line Jacket With Core Construction
Unpredictable weather in the backcountry means you have to carry many different layers to deal with the elements. The Voormi Fall Line jacket does away with that. This wool zip-up keeps you warm and comfortable in cool weather but also keeps you dry if you get caught in the rain. The Colorado company calls this Core Construction technology. It knits water-resistant material within the wool into a single layer. This makes it possible to have water-resistant clothes in virtually any material, including cotton and nylon. Voormi released the jacket this fall.
Epson M-Tracer Golf Swing Analyzer: Golf Coach In Your Phone
Improving your golf swing is a lifelong pursuit—and an expensive one if you rely on a trainer or coach. The M-Tracer Golf Swing Analyzer and app put that expertise on your phone. A thumb-size “tracer” clips to your club and, as you swing, records 1,000 samples of movement per second and sends them to your phone. The resulting 360-degree 3D image reveals club speed, attack angle, and more. It also records and saves each swing so you can compare strokes as you go along and track your improvement. $250
Dainese D-Air Racing Misano Suit: Failproof Motorcycle Airbag Suit
Motorcycle airbag suits and jackets have been around for years and typically require a tether, attached to the bike, to deploy. That’s a problem if you’re not thrown from the bike during a spill, and if they don’t deploy quick enough. The D-Air is the first one in the U.S. that doesn’t require a tether. The suit uses a suite of sensors that detects movement of the body or an imminent crash to trigger airbag deployment. This all happens in just 30 milliseconds. Although it’s been available in Europe since 2012, it just reached the U.S. in September of this year. $2,500
Uvex Snowstrike VT Goggles: Fighter-Pilot Goggles For Skiers
Skiing over uneven terrain with obscured vision isn’t just annoying, it’s dangerous. The Snowstrike VT Goggles make it a problem of the past by using the same technology found in fighter-pilot helmets. The goggles have sensors that gauge the intensity of outside light and send signals to LCD crystals inside the lenses to change the shade accordingly. In a tenth of a second, the tint morphs to purple, blue, red, or clear. So while flying down slopes at high speeds, and in and out of shade, the wearer will never have a momentary lapse of clarity. The tint can also be changed manually. $500
Torquing Group Zano Self-Tracking Drone: A Drone That Snaps Your Selfies
Flying a camera-equipped drone while taking footage requires dexterity. A little slip could send your drone plummeting to Earth. The Zano is a tiny quadcopter with an HD camera that flies and shoots by itself. It does this by following your smartphone via Wi-Fi. Using GPS and a barometric pressure sensor to navigate and estimate altitude, it films you as you go about your vacation or your daily run. Presets can make it stay in one place, or track your every move. The little hummingbird-like drones started shipping to customers in November. From $310
MSR Guardian Purifier: Drink Water From A Mud Puddle
The U.S. military asked backcountry outfitter Mountain Safety Research (MSR) to create a device that could protect troops from waterborne illness anywhere they deploy. The company came up with the Guardian Purifier, which uses medical-grade fibers to block out dangerous pathogens, such as bacteria, protozoa, and viruses, along with particulate matter like sediment and silt. Also, the device never requires a cleaning: It uses about 10 percent of the water it pumps up to flush out the blocked contaminants. Now it’s available to you. It debuted in August 2015. $350
Avatech Avanet Cloud Platform/Mobile App: An App That Helps You Avoid Avalanches
Unstable snowpack and bad weather increase the dangers for climbers, hikers, and skiers in the mountains. To avoid being caught off-guard, mountain-safety company Avatech has built a mobile app that collects crowdsourced weather and snowpack information for backcountry enthusiasts to access in both hemispheres—and hike accordingly. From $5 per month
BMW 2016 7 Series: A New Wave In Driving
No longer will fumbling with a cellphone or reaching for a radio dial dangerously distract drivers. In October, BMW debuted the world’s first-ever gesture control in a car, allowing drivers to answer calls, use navigation, and adjust audio, all with conductorlike hand waves. That makes everyone safer. It also hints at the potential for hands-free driving. If that weren’t innovation enough, in U.S. models, BMW also took up to 190 pounds off the car’s weight, and improved fuel efficiency, by using carbon fiber in the chassis. That helps make the frame stiffer, which enhances performance. Luxury details also make the car feel like it belongs in a pricier class: Massage seats for rear passengers are helpful on long rides, LEDs in the moon roof mimic a starry sky, and programmable scents, like “woody,” emanate from the dash. $81,300
Oshkosh Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle: A Blast-Proof Truck
In August, Oshkosh won a $6.7 billion defense contract to deliver the first new combat truck in 30 years. The Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle has the ballistic protection of a light tank and the off-road agility of a Baja racer. It will replace the beloved (and hated) Humvee in coming years. The truck, which can carry more than the Humvee, uses bomb-resistant shaping and shielding similar to bigger and heavier tanks.
Cadillac CT6 Rear Camera Mirror: A Rear View That Sees It All
Among auto designers, rearview mirrors are rarely proving grounds for innovation. The new mirror in the CT6 stands apart. With the flick of a switch, drivers can convert it into an HD display. A camera captures a live stream from the car’s rear, which improves field of vision by 300 percent. The camera can enhance low-light scenes, manage brightness, and minimize glare. It’s a new way to see the road. Option $2,500
Volvo XC90: Safest Car On The Road
For a company that has built its name on safety, the Volvo XC90 is a signal achievement. The car acts like a co-pilot. With radar, cameras, and lane-drifting sensors, it will alert a distracted driver to pay attention, warn if you’re about to strike another vehicle, and take control to prevent a crash. And if the car leaves the road, the seat frames crumple downward and the seat belts tighten to reduce the risk of serious injury. $49,800
Tesla Motors Model X: Fastest SUV Ever
The Model X challenges pretty much every assumption about SUVs. It’s fast: It races from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds and tops out at 155 mph. It’s safe: The bottom-mounted battery panel gives it the lowest center of gravity (meaning less chance of rollover) of any SUV made. And it’s slick: Falcon wing doors and a curved windshield make sure you’ll be the envy of any driver—especially other soccer dads. Price Not Set
Acura 2017 NSX: A 190-MPH Hybrid
Hybrids are the new supercars—and Acura has just proved it. It has created a three-motor system for the NSX that maximizes handling, responsiveness, and fuel economy. It combines a midmounted twin-turbo V-6 engine with an electric motor—which delivers zero-delay acceleration—and with a motor at each front wheel. That provides precision power through a technique known as torque vectoring. So you have a car that jumps off the line and tackles turns like an IndyCar. $155,000
Kawasaki Ninja H2: First Supercharged Street Motorcycle
With the Ninja H2, Kawasaki has created the first supercharged consumer motorcycle—one of the fastest bikes on the road. Superchargers usually appear only on niche racing bikes. They work by pressurizing the air/fuel mixture before it enters the engine, creating a powerful combustion. But they tend to be big and heavy. Kawasaki made a light, compact unit with 3-D-printed parts. The bike can reach 186 mph—not that you’d see it coming. $25,000
Divergent Microfactories Blade: A 3-D-printed Supercar
Last May, Kevin Czinger created the Blade—the first high-performance supercar that uses 3-D-printed parts and a process that cuts typical auto-factory carbon emissions by up to 90 percent. By using carbon-fiber shafts and 3-D joints for the chassis, a car can be assembled in minutes. As founder of Divergent Microfactories, Czinger plans to open similar places for entrepreneurs to create their own car lines—for as little as $4 million.
Android Auto: Best Smartphone Interface
Automakers continued to roll out systems to streamline the link between car and smartphone this year. Android Auto wins. It uses voice commands to make calls, select music, and get directions. And its Google Maps offers lane guidance for tricky interchanges, the latest traffic data, and directions to the nearest coffee shop.
Audi RS 7 Race Pilot: Fastest Autonomous Car
For autonomous cars, speed is critical. Just like their human counterparts, robot drivers will need to respond instantly at high speeds to changing road conditions. Armed with sensors, cameras, GPS, and machine-learning software, Audi’s RS 7 autonomous sedan set a 149-mph speed record for a robo-car in October 2014.
Amazon Echo: HAL For Your Home
For a long time, artificial intelligence existed only in science fiction. Then it started to creep into industrial computers and even phones. Now, it’s coming to your home—and it’s coming in the form of a speaker. The Amazon Echo acts as an intelligent hub for the house, linking together other smart appliances with a voice interface. Once set up, it listens passively at all times. When someone says the wake word—Alexa—it snaps into action. For now, those actions are limited to simple operations, like reciting your calendar events, queuing up your favorite playlist, relaying weather or sports scores and, of course, ordering household items from Amazon. But those tasks won’t remain simple for long. In June, Amazon released the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), opening the platform to dozens of third-party services, devices, and apps, including WeMo, Philips Hue, Pandora, and Wink. Hal 9000, eat your heart out. $180
Google Glass may have pioneered augmented reality, but Microsoft HoloLens could well perfect it. The headset overlays digital images onto the user’s real-world view. You can turn your living room into a gaming studio or draw on physical objects. NASA astronauts on board the ISS are working with Microsoft to use HoloLens for research and repairs. The first developer kit ships in early 2016. $3,000
There’s nothing more annoying than having to untangle headphone cables, so HearNotes cut the cords. Its WireFree Earbuds work with a transmitter that plugs into a standard headphone jack and have a range of 50 feet. And you don’t have to worry about distortion. HearNotes uses Kleer Technology, which was built specifically to deliver lossless, uncompressed hi-fi stereo audio. $350
Raspberry Pi 2
Three years ago, when the first Raspberry Pi hit shelves, it was the perfect tool for learning to code, but not much else. Its meager 700 MHz processor and 512 MB of RAM were too weak to run meaningful programs. The Raspberry Pi 2 is six times faster than its predecessor and packs double the memory into the same credit-card size. In August, Microsoft released a Pi-friendly version of Windows 10, enabling more people to program, hack, and tinker. Best of all, the price is still right. $35
Buddy The Robot
If you’ve ever dreamed of having a robot minion a la Luke Skywalker or George Jetson, good news: Now there’s Buddy. The 2-foot-tall robot can serve as a rolling home-security system, remote control for your gadgets, and personal assistant. It sees, hears, and speaks through an 8-inch tablet that serves as its face and brain. Buddy’s software was built on Unity, a popular gaming engine, so it’s easy for developers to build custom apps and features. $750
DJI Inspire 1
Drone footage can be spectacular, but it’s notoriously difficult to film well. The DJI Inspire 1 makes it a whole lot easier. The 4K video camera—a first for a consumer drone—sits in a proprietary gimbal system and can be modified with custom lenses. Also, the craft’s landing gears rise in flight for unobstructed 360-degree views. But perhaps its best feature is that two users can operate it simultaneously: One can fly while the other controls the camera, making it easier to get the perfect shot. $3,400
After twenty years on the market, the often overlooked USB port received an epic overhaul this year. USB Type-C supports double the data-transfer speeds, cuts charging time by a factor of four, and is (finally!) reversible, so you don’t have to figure out which side is up. Apple and Google are already using it in their newest flagship laptops, and many other smartphone- and laptop-makers are expected to adopt it. Prepare to see this port everywhere.
The Seek XR Thermal Imaging Camera turns a traditionally expensive and clunky device into an affordable, pocket-size iPhone or Android accessory. The small infrared camera is not as detailed as the thermal cameras used by handymen, but it more than gets the job done, whether that is detecting insulation leaks, frozen pipes, or taking some really far-out selfies. $300
Pebble Time Steel
For all the bluster around smartwatches this year, most come with an Achilles heel: They need to be charged once or even twice a day. The Pebble Time lasts for 10 days on a single charge. The secret is the watch’s highly efficient color e-paper display, the first one in a consumer gadget. Bonus: It’s easier to read the display under varied light conditions. $250
The first iPhone in 2007 introduced consumers to pinch-to-zoom, swipe-to-scroll, and pull-to-refresh—gestures that have become nearly universal. The iPhone 6S adds another with 3D Touch. The feature uses a sensor to detect the amount of pressure applied by a user’s finger. Message previews, status updates, and other shortcuts pop out of apps when the screen is pressed firmly. For now, only a handful of the most popular apps use 3D Touch, but it’s only a matter of time before it too becomes part of our everyday lexicon. From $650
SUSIBA2: Rice That Fights Global Warming
More than half the global population relies on rice as a regular part of their diet. But rice paddies have a downside for the planet too: They produce as much as 17 percent of the world’s total methane emissions. So Christer Jansson, a plant biochemist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, spent the past 10 years developing SUSIBA2, a genetically modified rice plant that emits almost no methane. Splicing a single barley gene into common rice, his team found, changed the way the plant handles photosynthesis: Instead of sending carbon to the roots, to feed the bacteria that produce methane, the plant directs it toward the grain and leaves, increasing the starch level and yield. “It’s a win-win,” says Jansson. The rice performed well in field tests in China, and now scientists are studying how cultivation affects it. Jansson says there’s no telling when the rice might be commercially available, but considering how severely methane can accelerate climate change, its eventual impact could be huge.
Wind+Wing Technologies: A Fuel-Free Commuter Ferry
The average high-speed ferry burns through more than 5,000 gallons of fuel per day. The one built by Wind+Wing Technologies typically harnesses 10,000 pounds of wind power instead. Three microphones send data to a computer that determines the wind’s direction. A carbon-fiber sail then pivots around a 75-foot spine to capture it. All electronics—the wind sensor, wing controls, GPS, and communication tools—are powered by a 50-watt photovoltaic cell.
University Of Washington: A Camera Powered By Wi-Fi
To power the expanding Internet of Things, devices will need to scavenge energy. Engineers at the University of Washington devised a camera that can glean energy from ambient Wi-Fi. The trick was modifying standard routers to broadcast when a channel is not being used. That alerts the camera to an open signal which can, in 35 minutes, provide enough power to take a photo. As team member Vamsi Talla says, “This enables a world of battery-free devices that will do their job perpetually.”
Durst Organization, Port Authority of NY and NJ: The Most Secure Skyscraper Ever
At 1,776 feet, One World Trade Center is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. It’s also the safest one in the world. With heavily reinforced walls making it impact resistant, it offers unparalleled security through brute strength.
ETH Zurich: Yarn Made From Slaughterhouse Waste
Slaughterhouses produce an enormous amount of gelatin as a byproduct. By mixing it with protein, water, and organic solvent, Philipp Stossel of Switzerland-based university ETH Zurich found a way to recycle that waste into yarn. The exterior of the individual fibers—approximately half the diameter of human hair—appear lustrous. The pockmarks on the inside, Stossel says, are likely what provides insulation similar to natural fibers like merino wool.
Hiroshima University: The World’s Fastest, Strongest, Lightest Temporary Bridge
When natural disasters hit, they often destroy bridges first. So engineers from Hiroshima University in Japan set out to invent a quickly built, strong replacement. Inspired by origami, the new mobile bridge spans 56 feet and takes three people less than an hour to deploy. Often no foundation work is needed, making it ideal for areas affected by earthquakes or floods. Made of aluminum alloy and steel, it’s lightweight and easy to transport, yet sturdy enough for cars to cross.
Pierre And Marie Curie University: A Robot Survivor
Leg injury? No problem. The robot created at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris can overcome disabilities in about two minutes. An algorithm, aptly named Intelligent Trial and Error, enables the robot to discover new behaviors, says lead roboticist Jean-Baptiste Mouret, “basic survival skills” that enable it to operate when damaged. Such a capability could one day lead to robots that work for long periods independently, for such tasks as search-and-rescue missions.
Onyx Solar: A Floor That Can Charge Your Phone
Solar panels are practical, but they’re limited up there on the roof. Onyx Solar developed an outdoor photovoltaic flooring that picks up the slack: Solar cells inside the anti-slip glass enable decks, balconies, and walkways to draw energy from the sun. The power can be stored in a battery or, when connected to a building’s electrical system, sent straight to outlets. The floor can produce 5.6 watts per square foot (enough to charge a cellphone), supports up to 881 pounds, and comes in more than 1,500 colors.
Surf Snowdonia Wavegarden: The Most Radical Indoor Surf On Earth
Wavegarden, the artificial lagoon at Surf Snowdonia in North Wales, produces hollow waves that travel 490 feet without losing power or shape. (Add another 240 feet of taper, and surfers get an 18-second ride.) A computer-controlled gearless ropeway drive system—similar to those used for ski lifts—pulls a wave foil along the bottom of the pool to create the 6 1/2-foot-tall curls. Surf Snowdonia’s managing director, Steve Davies, calls them “the longest manmade surfable waves on the planet.”
Arizona State University: A Laser So Pure, It’s White
Lasers have been around for years, but never before have they been capable of emitting pure white light. Researchers at Arizona State University created a nanoscale semiconductor that combines red, green, and blue light (usually lasers emit just one wavelength) to produce the full visible spectrum, including white. Because lasers are brighter and more energy efficient than LEDs, they could replace today’s lighting.
Siemens: Hydrogen Energy’s Green Giant
Massive wind farms require massive systems to capture and store surplus electricity. The “green hydrogen” plant that opened this summer in Mainz, Germany, is larger than any other. Thanks to Siemens’ special electrolyzer, the plant can transform up to 6 megawatts of electricity (even from fluctuating sources) and use it to split hydrogen from water. The hydrogen can be stored, then either turned back into electricity or sent to refueling stations to power up to 2,000 fuel-cell vehicles.