Top 100 Innovations of 2008 | Popular Science
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Top 100 Innovations of 2008

The 100 fastest, biggest, safest, greenest and most powerful innovations of the year

For decades, we've fantasized about watching paper-thin TVs, soaring hundreds of feet with personal jetpacks, riding in cars that drive themselves, and re-growing organs.

The 21st annual Best of What's New celebrates all of those dreams coming true. Now we've collected them all into one single slideshow.

Tonium Pacemaker: Pocket turntables

Tonium Pacemaker: Pocket turntables

The Pacemaker is the first portable digital music player that lets you mix two songs together live, the way DJs do with a pair of turntables. The 120-gigabyte hard drive stores up to 30,000 songs, which you browse by moving your finger around a circular touchpad like the iPod's. The gadget allows you to speed up or slow down a pair of songs so their beats match and to adjust the pitch so that the songs you mix are in the same key. $875; pacemaker.net
Gadgets

Tonium

JAXA Kizuna Broadband Satellite

JAXA Kizuna Broadband Satellite: The fastest Internet, from space

Kizuna, launched by the Japanese space agency JAXA in February, will deliver to remote areas of Japan and Southeast Asia the fastest satellite Internet connections ever—up to 1.2 gigabits per second, or 500 times the average American consumer connection. Unlike previous satellites, Kizuna is powerful enough to supply industrial-speed signals to small, inexpensive antennas on the ground. Another first: It tracks the weather and adjusts signal strength for specific regions accordingly; for example, it will send a stronger signal to an area where it's raining in order to penetrate the storm.

JAXA Kizuna

Hitachi Ultrathin TVs

Hitachi Ultrathin TVs: LCDs as slim as paintings

Hitachi slimmed today's TVs from four inches to 1.5 by improving current technology. A new diffuser sits right against the backlight yet still spreads light evenly across the screen, and a specially developed power supply is one third as thick. From $1,500 (32-inch screen); hitachi.us/tv
Home Entertainment

Hitachi

Martin Aircraft Company Martin Jetpack

Martin Aircraft Company Martin Jetpack: The longest flight

Powered by a pair of screaming-loud ducted fans, the Martin Jetpack broke a long-standing record by hovering for 46 seconds this past July. Inventor Glenn Martin spent nearly three decades cutting down the machine's weight—including designing a partially carbon-fiber engine from scratch—and tweaking the fans' aerodynamics to produce enough lift. The first packs go on sale next year. $100,000; martinjetpack.com
Aviation & Space

Martin Aircraft Company

Bahrain World Trade Center

Bahrain World Trade Center: The wind-power towers

The first skyscraper to integrate large-scale wind turbines suspends three 1,200-megawatt units between its matching 787-foot office towers. The turbines, which were completed in April, supply 15 percent of the electricity for the two buildings—roughly the same amount used by 300 homes.

To maximize energy output, the tapered towers funnel wind between them, creating a negative pressure zone behind the buildings that draws more air through the gap. This suction effect increases wind speeds by up to 30 percent at each of the 95-foot-long rotors to boost electricity production. It also redirects wind gusts hitting the tower by up to 45 degrees off center so that they hit the turbines at a nearly perpendicular angle for optimal electricity generation. atkinsglobal.com
Engineering

Bahrain World Trade Center

Remington PowerMower

Remington PowerMower: The electric that won’t quit

This mower won't bog down in even the densest overgrowth. The onboard 60-volt battery tucked between the front wheels is the biggest of any electric, but when that's not enough, just plug it in. It's the first mower with an onboard controller that applies the extra corded power as needed to keep the blade spinning steadily, so you can make short work of any patch. $400; remingtonmower.com
Home Tech

Buy it now from Amazon!

Remington

Fraunhofer Institute Camera Pill

Fraunhofer Institute Camera Pill: First remote-control gut cam

To steer this German-designed diagnostic pill, a doctor simply moves a magnetic remote control over the patient's body. The extra maneuverability lets doctors scan the stomach and esophagus for disease from multiple angles. fraunhofer.de
Health

Fraunhofer Institute

Controlled Impact Rescue Tool

Controlled Impact Rescue Tool: A concrete smasher for rescue crews

Tales of Testing
John Carnett, Staff Photographer
I've built concrete walls and I've knocked them down, so I know what it's like to swing a sledgehammer until your arms go numb. But today I'm wielding a concrete-blasting piston that smashes through walls like the Kool-Aid Man. The tool is designed to help firefighters rescue people trapped behind rubble or in collapsed buildingsa€”and do it fast. My partner and I each grab one end of the 100-pound machine and push the nose against a six-inch-thick slab of concrete. a€œThree, two, one!a€ He pulls the trigger, firing a blank rifle cartridge that punches the piston forward, smashing five inches into the cement. We repeat 12 times, loading in a new cartridge for each blast. Sixteen minutes later, we've knocked a manhole-size opening in the wall through which we could pass supplies. That's twice as fast as it would take a crew using chainsaws, drills and those arm-killing sledgehammers. raytheon.com
Security

John Carnett

Boeing Advanced Tactical Laser

Boeing Advanced Tactical Laser: The laser gun takes flight

Truck-mounted IED-destroying lasers have already been tested in Iraq, but firing lasers from an airplane is a more difficult proposition. The first successful test of a plane-mounted laser gun came on August 7, when Boeing's 18-ton chemical laser fired a beam from a C-130H aircraft and destroyed a three-by-three-foot target on the ground. It was the first time all of the ATL's lab-tested pieces came together to vaporize a target. Why use a beam instead of a bomb? Precision strikes, with (theoretically) no collateral damage. The military hopes to deploy the system in the next five years. boeing.com
Aviation & Space

Boeing

Sonos ZP120

Sonos ZP120: A little amp with lots of power

The ZP120 digital amplifier is the brawn of the Sonos wireless music-streaming system. About the size of a few hardback books, the amp pumps 55 watts per channel-—enough to power the largest stereo speakers—using the same technology that keeps satellites from overheating. Instead of a traditional power supply, which always provides the same high voltage, the ZP120 delivers only what the amp needs at the moment. The trick for Sonos was developing filters to shield the audio signal from stray frequencies produced every time the power supply switches voltage. $500; sonos.com
Home Entertainment

Sonos

Infiniti Scratch Shield

Infiniti Scratch Shield: The finish that repairs itself

It won't save you from a key-gouging vandal, but the finish on the 2008 Infiniti EX and FX-model SUVs can erase scrapes caused by, say, car washes or stray branches. The clear coat contains a synthetic resin that, when activated by daytime heat and sunlight, flows into surface wounds, repairing the damage in anywhere from a day to a week, depending on temperature and the depth of the scratch. Thanks to the extra resin in the coating, the finish is more durable than most, too, showing 80 percent fewer abrasions than conventional clear coat after 50 trips through an automated car wash. infiniti.com

Auto Tech

Sony BDV-IT1000ES Bravia Theater System

Sony BDV-IT1000ES Bravia Theater System: Fat sound from skinny speakers

This audio rig replaces giant speakers with thin bars you can hang on the wall. Using a new design, it generates full sound from 22-inch-long sticks measuring about half an inch wide by one inch deep. Traditional speakers create sound by vibrating a bulbous cone that is attached to a large electromagnet. Sony engineers replaced the big cone with a narrow, oval-shaped diaphragm. To make it vibrate, they ditched the thick iron post in standard electromagnets and instead attached a copper coil to the side of a thin metal plate. A Blu-ray-equipped receiver drives the front speakers, a center channel and (via a wireless link) two rear speaker sticks, plus a subwoofer. $2,000; sonystyle.com
Home Entertainment

Sony

Intel Core 2 Duo Small Form Factor

Intel Core 2 Duo Small Form Factor: A mini chip for thinner laptops

Thank Intel for this year's super-slim notebooks—the Apple MacBook Air, Lenovo X300 and VooDoo Envy 133 each measure about three quarters of an inch thick. These svelte laptops all contain a 60-percent-smaller version of Intel's Core 2 Duo that, at 0.76 square inch, fits in even the tightest spaces. Instead of shrinking the processor itself, Intel trimmed the metal-and-plastic package that surrounds it, bunching power wires closer together and developing a tidier epoxy to hold the chip with less goop. intel.com
Computing

Intel

Microsoft Photosynth

Microsoft Photosynth: Turning snapshots into 3D

This Web site uses ordinary photos—whether of national monuments, scientific specimens or your vacation—to build a 3-D view that you navigate as if in a videogame. Photosynth analyzes dozens of shots to find overlapping areas and piece them together. These high-resolution visuals are served smoothly over the Internet, using an algorithm that starts filling in pixels at the center of the screen (where your eye focuses first) and radiates outward. Free; microsoft.com
Computing

Microsoft

Pipistrel Taurus Electro

Pipistrel Taurus Electro: The longest-flying electric plane yet

The first two-seat battery-powered airplane, the Taurus Electro gives pilots the quiet-as-a-bird flight of a glider coupled with the practicality of a powered aircraft. Two lithium-polymer battery packs drive a top-mounted propeller, so the Electro can take off from a runway like a typical plane. Once airborne, the Electro switches into glider mode and rides thermal currents back to earth. A 31-pound electric motor makes it all possible by providing 30 kilowatts of power. Although the Taurus Electro is still classified by the FAA as "experimental," Pipistrel hopes to change that ruling and start selling it by next year. pipistrel.si
Aviation & Space

Pipistrel

Video game Spore character

Electronic Arts/Maxis Spore: Gamers play God

Spore gives players a new thrill: They can create and share nearly every object in the computer game, from beasts to flying saucers. To make that possible, engineers had to give people the tools to not just play the game, but design it as well.

The development team built a simple drag-and-drop interface, so amateurs can construct characters by picking ears, arms and other limbs and stretching them into different shapes. To ensure that each hodgepodge looks professional, artists drew the initial body-part choices, and an algorithm blends irregular areas together to form a smooth skin.

Once you have a critter, Spore automatically animates it. Most games replay premade clips when, say, a creature grabs something. Because Spore doesn't know ahead of time what characters look like, it associates capabilities with each body part (hands can grasp, feet can't) and then decides how to move.

You're not the only creator in Spore. The game uploads other players' designs to an online database, drawing from these options every time you encounter another creature or vehicle. Programmers made this transfer speedy by boiling down the info needed to re-create a character, such as its personality, into a DNA-like text code. With more than 30 million player-made creatures at press time, Spore is the first of a new breeda€”a game that gets even more interesting after you buy it. $50; www.Spore.com
Computing

Electronic Arts/Maxis

Hillman Composite Beam

Hillman Composite Beam: A super-strong bridge beam

When John Hillman subjected his bridge beam to load tests, it handled a hydraulic press's 145 tons of maximum force with ease. The Hillman Composite Beam (a winner of our 2008 Invention Awards) weighs one third as much as concrete competitors—saving 20 percent on shipping and installation costs—and can hold 50 percent more weight. The beam gets its strength from within. A concrete arch supports the weight above it, and a steel plate running lengthwise prevents the arch from collapsing. A plastic shell wards off corrosion. The first bridge built with the beams opened in August in Illinois. Next up: a 540-foot bridge in Maine, and licensing deals in Canada and Europe. hcbridge.net
Engineering

Hillman

Craftsman Vibrafree Sander

Craftsman Vibrafree Sander: Sanding sans shaking

Tales of Testing
Chuck Cage, Editor of Toolmonger.com
For years, I've accepted that the price of a smooth finish on any wood project is hands made numb from the power sander. Well, no more. The Vibrafree sander's two concentric pads make random circular patterns, which helps avoid marring the wood, but they move in precisely opposite paths. Each counterbalances the other's motion, eliminating much of the vibration. I used the Craftsman to eat away half a two-foot two-by-foura€”almost an hour of sandinga€”with nary a blister or tingling finger. And the sander is noticeably easier to control. The space between the pads offers dust an easy path into the collection bin, helping to preserve the sandpaper and your lungs by keeping both clear of debris. $100; craftsman.com
Home Tech

Craftsman

Casio Exilim EX-F1

Casio Exilim EX-F1: A camera that makes time stand still

Tales of Testing
Theodore Gray, PopSci "Gray Matter" Columnist
I was about to buy a bulky high-speed camera setup costing upward of $5,000 when the EX-F1 came along. It's magicala€”essentially snapping pictures before I push the shutter button (by auto-filling its memory with 60 six-megapixel photos every second). And it captures slow-motion video at up to 1,200 frames per second. The resolution and image quality aren't as high as in a pricier rig, but the EX-F1 is small enough to carry everywhere. As a result, I've caught explosive chemical reactions, the acrobatics of dragonflies, and a host of other things that happen at faster-than-human speed.

Casio's coup was recognizing that the necessary techa€”fast image sensors and processors, big memory buffers to hold the images until the memory card records thema€”already existed in consumer-grade camera components. And it bet correctly that amateurs like me would trade a little quality to get their hands on this kind of high-speed power. $1,000; casio.com
Gadgets

Casio

Agroplast All-in-One

Agroplast All-in-One: Plastic from pig pee

Agroplast makes urea, a chemical for plastics, that's identical to millions of tons sold every year. The one difference: This urea comes from pig urine instead of fossil fuels. The All-in-One collector sits under grates in farms, robotically strains out the urine before it turns into stinky ammonia, and filters out urea. Equipping pens nationwide could meet all the U.S.'s urea needs. agroplast.info
Green Tech

Agroplast

Gorilla Super Glue

Gorilla Super Glue: Doesn’t crack under stress

Gorilla's new superglue incorporates tiny rubber particles that allow it to flex slightly when it's dry, avoiding the brittleness that causes standard instant-set glues to shatter under a big impact. Like normal superglue, Gorilla's version sets in about 30 seconds and bonds smooth surfaces, but its unique chemistry makes it thicker and therefore easier to apply. $4; gorillatough.com
Home Tech

Gorilla

Envirofit Clean Cookstove

Envirofit Clean Cookstove: Safer kitchens in the developing world

More than half the world's population cooks over open fires or small charcoal or biomass stoves. These burn fuel incompletely, producing carbon monoxide and smoke that cause 1.5 million deaths a year. Envirofit's Cookstove burns the same easily found wood but does so more completely to cut emissions by more than 80 percent and use half as much fuel. The can-shaped stove has a precisely measured opening that lets in enough air to fan the flames, yet not enough to cool it and slow down combustion. A chimney-like tube inside helps funnel in fresh air, and a ceramic lining insulates the stove to keep the fire hot and burning efficiently. From $15; envirofit.org
Green Tech

Envirofit

Freshaire Choice Paint: Paint it green

Freshaire Choice Paint: Paint it green

That familiar fresh-paint smell comes courtesy of potentially cancer-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), solvents that end up in the air as each coat dries. Freshaire Choice is the only paint that's VOC-free both in its base and in the tints that color it. Chemists replaced the standard liquid tints with powder-based versions that disperse just as well, without solvents. $35 per gallon; freshairechoice.com
Home Tech

Freshaire Choice

Eye-Fi Wireless SD Card

Eye-Fi Wireless SD Card: Give any camera wi-fi and GPS

By squeezing a Wi-Fi transmitter onto the main chip of a two-gigabyte memory card, Eye-Fi allows a camera to automatically beam photos to a computer or upload them to the Web. It can also use Wi-Fi to find its location and geotag photos to display on a map. From $80; eye.fi
Gadgets

Eye-Fi

Livescribe Pulse

Livescribe Pulse: The pen that listens

Steve Morgenstern
Contributing Editor
In 2002 I got my first digital pen, which captured handwriting as an image file, eliminating the need for paper notes. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, my full-speed penmanship was just as illegible in electronic form. Six years later, Livescribe solved that problem. Its Pulse uses the same technology to track its location on specially printed paper, but it pairs the text with an audio recording. At a meeting, I jot only cursory notes while the pen records every sound (except the scratching of pen on paper, which it filters out). Later I can tap my pen to the pad or click with my mouse on the screen to select a section of my notes and hear exactly what people said at the time. From $150; livescribe.com
Gadgets

Livescribe

INVOcell

INVOcell: Test-tube babies without the test-tube

The plastic INVOcell capsule allows artificial fertilization to happen in a woman's body instead of in a lab. Eggs and sperm are mixed inside the INVOcell, then inserted into the mother for three days so she can serve as a natural incubator during conception and early embryo development. bioxcell.com
Health

INVOcell

Zink Imaging

Zink Imaging: The pocket printer

In 1948, Polaroid introduced on-the-spot photo printing with the Land Camera. It continued making instant film until this year, when a successor emerged in the PoGo, a full-color, pocket-sized printer for digital cameras based on an idea that Polaroid's founder, Edwin Land, had 30 years ago.

Land challenged his researchers, including a recent MIT grad named Stephen Herchen, to make color printers smaller by eliminating the need for liquid ink. Over the years, they explored technologies such as the heat-activated dyes used in fax machines and clear chemicals that produce color when mixed. Every method took too long or produced prints with low image quality or longevity.

The breakthrough finally came in 2000, when Polaroid developed a dye that's clear in its solid, crystalline form but turns permanently colored when the crystals melt and change shape. Because different-colored crystals have their own melting points, it's possible to create a full-color image with one pass of a printhead that applies precise, pinpoint doses of heat. Polaroid was developing a consumer product with this technology when it went bankrupt in 2001 and became simply a brand name for budget electronic products.

In 2005, a group of former Polaroid employees formed Zink (short for "zero ink") Imaging, with Herchen as chief technology officer. They converted a Konica Minolta paper factory to make paper embedded with the heat-activated dyes and recruited Alps Electric to build the printer. Zink is licensing the technology so companies can build printers directly into devices such as digital cameras. But the first partnership is with its old parent company to make the Polaroid-branded PoGo, which turns out richly colored 2-by-3-inch photos. $150; polaroid.com
Gadgets

Zink Imaging

Speedo LZR

Speedo LZR: The fastest swimsuit in the world

At the Beijing Olympic pool, perhaps the only star bigger than Michael Phelps was his swimsuit. The Speedo LZR (pronounced "laser"), like Phelps, didn't disappoint: 16 of the 32 gold-medal winners wore the full-body suit, and another 13 wore LZR pants. The suit was so effective, in fact, that some swimmers claimed it was illegally buoyant. Polyurethane planks replace woven fabric at key locations such as the upper legs, lowering drag by 24 percent over previous versions. And although the LZR proved to be worth its weight in gold at the Olympics, it can make just about any swimmer feel like Phelps. $550; speedo.com
Recreation

Speedo

TriWave

TriWave: Night vision that works in the day

The TriWave can snap crystal-clear images in the day or night without artificial illumination. The secret is a layer of crystal germanium grown over the camera's silicon sensor. Germanium picks up multiple light wavelengths, so during the day TriWave "sees" using visible light; at night, it relies on infrared waves. noblepeak.com
Security

TriWave

Moog Guitar

Moog Guitar: A whole band in a guitar

Tales of Testing
Mike Kobrin, Musician
Synthesizer pioneer Moog lent me its first-ever guitar, whose custom pickups amplify the strings' sound like regular pickups but also pulse magnetically in or out of time with their movements. That keeps them vibrating in a€œsustaina€ mode for synth-like effects or stops them dead in their tracks in a€œmutea€ to replicate the sound of a banjo. I immediately set the mode to a€œfull sustaina€ to capture the synth sound from Stevie Wonder's song a€œLiving for the Citya€ that blew my mind as a teen. Then I tried a€œmute,a€ giving a song I wrote years ago a new, more melancholy character than the original. And all it took was flipping a few switches. $6,500; moogmusic.com
Recreation

Moog

Ground Bot

Ground Bot: A rugged surveillance ball that sees it all

The GroundBot is a spherical sentry designed to roll up to 6 mph through just about anything—mud, sand, snow and even water. Two gyroscopically steadied wide-angle cameras and a suite of sensors give remote operators a real-time, 360-degree view of the landscape, letting them zoom in on prowlers or detect gas leaks, radioactivity and biohazards. Originally invented by Swedish physicists to explore other planets, the GroundBot features a tough design that requires almost no maintenance and can also be programmed to run autonomously. Its sealed shell protects its interior against grit and allows it to survive steep drops, while a rubber skin dampens vibration and provides traction. To get rolling, the robot simply shifts its weight. Its center of mass is suspended from a pendulum inside the sphere, so motors just push the pendulum to the front, to the back, or to the side. Lithium-ion batteries provide up to 16 hours of spy time. rotundus.se
Security

Ground Bot

XDS-Air Insulated Neoprene:

XDS-Air Insulated Neoprene: A thinner surfing wet-suit

To boost the warmth of its wetsuits without making them too thick, O'Neill created a fabric sandwich that includes a middle layer of perforated neoprene to trap air. The tiny air pockets insulate the body with dead space in the same way that double-paned windows insulate a house. A wetsuit made from 3.5-millimeter-thick XDS neoprene equals the warmth of a traditional five-millimeter suit, so it's lighter and offers improved stretch and flexibility for easier paddling and surfing in frigid waters. From $500; oneill.com
Recreation

ONeill

Pro-Neck-Tor

Pro-Neck-Tor: A helmet for your head and spine

Every year, hundreds of athletes suffer crippling spinal-cord injuries. The Pro-Neck-Tor, invented by medical engineer Peter Cripton of the University of British Columbia, is the first helmet designed to guard the spine. In a head-first impact, the top of the head tends to stop abruptly while the torso continues plowing forward, compacting the spinal cord. With the Pro-Neck-Tor, a traditional outer shell blunts direct force, while an inner shell slides forward along a track, guiding the head down to reduce force on the neck by up to 56 percent. Cripton's team created a prototype this year and hopes to have a commercial version for football, cycling and other spine-snapping sports on store shelves soon. pronecktor.com
Health

Pro-Neck-Tor

Samsung AIRAVE

Samsung AIRAVE: Perfect cell reception

No bars at home? No problem. Airave acts like a mini cell tower, routing calls into Sprint's network over your home's high-speed Internet connection. Each Airave box handles up to three simultaneous calls, which can start at home and switch to a regular tower when you step outside, or vice versa. $100, plus from $5 per month; sprint.com
Gadgets

Samsung

PF Waterworks PermaFlow

PF Waterworks PermaFlow: A self-cleaning drain trap

Sink clogged again? Just turn the knob on the outside of the PermaFlow, and a flexible rubber paddle inside rotates through the trap to push the wad downstream. PermaFlow also helps keep glop from gathering in the first place, with a subtle angle in the incoming pipe that generates turbulence to carry it away. If something does get stuck, turning the paddle to nine o'clock creates a bypass through the top of the circle. Six gaskets protect the seal where the knob enters the trap—a redundancy that kept it watertight in tests for up to 31,000 rotations. From $40; pfwaterworks.net
Home Tech

PF Waterworks

Bug Labs BUG

Bug Labs BUG: A gadget-invention kit

With BUG, you snap together parts to build any device you dream up. The system's brain is the BUGbase, a tiny Linux computer with four slots for plugging in a growing range of modules. Use the GPS receiver and camera modules, for example, to build a point-and-shoot that adds location tags to photos and posts them on the Web. Write custom software in Java, or download dozens of free applications that make the modules work together. BUGbase, $350; modules, from $60; buglabs.net
Gadgets

Bug Labs

Serious Materials EcoRock

Serious Materials EcoRock: The cleanest walls

Drywall, plasterboard, wallboard—whatever you call it, the substance that covers billions of square feet of American homes hasn't changed since its invention in 1917. Drywall factories still roast ground-up gypsum rock in 500°F kilns, spewing out 20 billion pounds of greenhouse gases a year. So Serious Materials created EcoRock: a drywall that congeals without heat, uses recycled materials that don't require mining, and holds up even better.

The company's chemists tested 5,000 recipes before they came up with EcoRock's stew of 20 materials. The fly ash, slag, kiln dust and fillers—85 percent of which are industrial by-products—react chemically when mixed with water and bind together into a paste that's poured into sheets. The oven-free process uses just 20 percent of the energy of the typical method. And without the starch and cellulose that's mixed into ordinary gypsum boards, EcoRock is impervious to termites and mold. It costs about the same as high-end drywall, so it may find a home in houses both green and mainstream. $14–$20 per 4x8-ft. sheet; seriousmaterials.com
Green Tech

Serious Materials

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle: E-books on demand

With the paper-like legibility of electronic ink, long battery life, and the ability to hold thousands of pages, e-book readers were already quite handy. But Amazon made them even more convenient by adding a free cellular connection for plucking newspapers, magazines—even entire books—out of the air in seconds. $360; downloads from $1; amazon.com
Gadgets

Amazon

DeviceVM Splash Top

DeviceVM Splash Top: Start your PC in seconds

Browse the Web, make Skype calls, or instant-message pals without waiting for Windows to boot up. The VooDoo Envy 133 and several other new computers come installed with both Windows and SplashTop, a simple Linux operating system that starts from a chip on the PC's motherboard instead of on the hard drive. It powers up and opens one of several Internet-connected programs within 20 seconds. splashtop.com
Computing

DeviceVM

Rocket Racing League X Racer

Rocket Racing League X Racer: Nascar of the sky finally takes off

In August, the first Rocket Racing League airplane flew for a live audience. The signal innovation: using a piston pump to pressurize fuel instead of a conventional (and much more expensive) turbopump. It's a big step toward more-affordable rocket-powered flight. rocketracingleague.com
Aviation & Space

Rocket Racing League

Qualcomm Gobi

Qualcomm Gobi: Upgradeable wireless

Change your mind about how your laptop gets online. A notebook's built-in mobile broadband chip is usually hardwired for one cell carrier, like AT&T; or Sprint. Qualcomm's chip is the first to encode network standards in software, not hardware, so a simple download lets you switch carriers and even upgrade when faster networks come along. It debuted this year in the HP EliteBook 6930p. qualcomm.com
Computing

Qualcomm

Icon A5:

Icon A5: A seaplane for beginners

Intended for novice fliers who have received the FAA's new, more accessible sport-pilot license, the A5 is a low-cost, seaworthy, easy-to-fly, easy-to-store aircraft that aims to bring personal flight to the masses. This sleek floatplane has folding wings that make it compact enough to tow home and stow in your garage. To make it simple for even the greenest pilots to fly, the A5 uses a sports-car-like instrument panel with GPS navigation and minimal instrumentation. The 100-horsepower engine can run on unleaded gas, so it can refuel at most marinas. The plane took its first flight in July, and Icon expects to begin delivering them to customers by late 2010. $139,000; iconaircraft.com
Aviation & Space

Icon

Microsoft Explorer

Microsoft Explorer: The all-terrain mouse

The first mouse to work on nearly any surface, including glossy tables and shaggy carpets, does so by taking better pictures of what it's on. The Explorer uses a blue LED, evened out with a diffuser, to create wider, more uniform illumination than either red LEDs or lasers. And whereas most mice snap the shadows of tiny bumps that appear only on mildly textured surfaces, the Explorer's camera sits farther forward to capture the light that reflects off anything. $100; microsoft.com
Computing

Microsoft

GeoEye GeoEye-1

GeoEye GeoEye-1: The best view from space

Launched in September and now orbiting 423 miles up, GeoEye-1 can snap clear black-and-white photos of objects just 16 inches across and color shots of objects 5.5 feet across, making it twice as sharp as current satellites. Built for GeoEye by General Dynamics, the satellite can capture a 90-billion-pixel picture in two minutes and beam down encrypted images via radio waves more than 40 times a day. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which helped develop GeoEye, will be the satellite's primary customer. But not the only one: Look for images from GeoEye to show up next year on Google Maps. geoeye.com
Aviation & Space

GeoEye

Large Binocular Telescope

Large Binocular Telescope: The farthest-seeing telescope ever built

With 10 times the light-collecting power of Hubble, the world's highest-resolution optical telescope exposed its twin 27.6-foot mirrors for the first time last January. Those mirrors, made of a compound called borosilicate that collects more light in less space than previous materials, should allow the scope to see planets orbiting distant stars. medusa.as.arizona.edu/lbto
Aviation & Space

Medusa

Onkyo TX-NR906

Onkyo TX-NR906: The first receiver that lets you adjust each video feed

All video sources do not produce equal images: A cable box's output might be too bright, a Blu-ray player's colors may be off, and a game console's video might be a bit dark. You can tune each input on higher-end TVs to fix these problems, but not if you run video through an A/V receiver that dumps everything into a single jack on your set. The Onkyo TX-NR906 includes its own powerful video processor and pro-level controls so you can customize up to 13 feeds in the receiver before they reach your television. $2,300; onkyousa.com
Home Entertainment

Onkyo

NASA Mars Lander

NASA Mars Lander: Life on Mars within reach

Aside from actual living things, the ultimate find for planetary science is the stuff that makes life possible: water. That's exactly what NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander found in July, when its scooping device uncovered clumps of ice buried just beneath the surface of the Martian arctic plain. Guided by a team of scientists at the University of Arizona, the Lockheed Martin–built spacecraft has been up there since May, gathering soil samples using its robotic arm and capturing the highest-resolution images of another planet ever taken. Phoenix analyzes Martian soil and ice samples using the most advanced onboard microscopes, electro-chemistry analyzers, high-temperature furnaces, and mass spectrometers ever sent to another planet, breaking down the raw material of the Red Planet into its most basic components. The lander stores that data on a one-terabyte solid-state hard drive and then beams it—along with meteorological data captured by its weather-monitoring tools—back to Earth. But all things must pass: Any day now, as the Martian winter brings on months of nonstop darkness, the solar-powered lander will shut down, most likely for good. phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu
Aviation & Space

NASA

LucasArts Star Wars

LucasArts Star Wars: The Force Unleashed: A lifelike fantasy game

This is the first videogame to emulate real-life objects, so metal bends and wood splinters along the grain. It also simulates a character's muscles and nervous system—opponents thrash around when sent airborne or limp after a blow to the leg. (These effects are only in the PlayStation 3 Xbox 360 editions.) $60; lucasarts.com
Home Entertainment

LucasArts

Lexus Wide-View Cameras

Lexus Wide-View Cameras: No more blind corners

Nudge forward out of a garage, and cameras mounted on the grille and under the passenger-side mirror on the 2008 Lexus LX57 see around the corners before you do, sparing pedestrians that cross your path. A second camera provides a view of the ground beside the vehicle, so you don't scuff those new tires on the curb. The navigation screen can display both views simultaneously. lexus.com
Auto Tech

Lexus

Vision Research Phantom V12

Vision Research Phantom V12: The fastest video camera on earth

To catch every detail of the gymnastics and track-and-field competitions at the Beijing Olympics, NBC brought in the most powerful slow-motion camcorder: a prototype of the Vision Research V12. The faster the camera, the slower its video playback, and the V12 is the record holder. It shoots video at up to one million frames per second at low resolution and captures high-definition at 6,933 fps, seven times as fast as its nearest competitor, Vision Research’s own Phantom HD. The pixels in the V12’s sensor are about five times the size of those in an SLR, allowing them to absorb enough light even at ultrafast shutter speeds. To process the torrent of data, the camera breaks the task into smaller operations that run simultaneously. From $87,000; visionresearch.com
Gadgets

Vision Research

GluBam Construction

GluBam Construction: The sustainable bridge

The bridge Yan Xiao built in Leiyang with GluBam was the town's first. Each beam that spans the brick columns was created using Xiao's novel process of transforming irregular bamboo into a practical building material. First he tore strips of bamboo from the stalk and arranged them in such a way as to provide the most strength. He then coated the strips with glue and compressed them in a self-built hydraulic press into beams, 33 feet long and up to three feet wide, each capable of supporting eight tons. Xiao says that the beams cost just 20 percent as much as imported lumber. Better still, rural China has a constantly replenishing supply of bamboo.
Engineering

GluBam

Apple App Store

Apple App Store: One-click cellphone downloads

The App Store's dead-simple interface makes it easy to search for and download games, sports tickers, news readers and other programs. One-click installation and a central repository (accessible from the phone itself) transforms your phone or iPod into a pocket-sized computer. Free to $450; apple.com
Gadgets

Apple

Electratherm Green Machine

Electratherm Green Machine: Electricity that's all hot air

Electratherm's closet-size device is the first machine to power generators with waste heat of as low as 200ºF, a temperature given off by common boilers or chillers in office buildings. (Industrial waste-heat recyclers require 1,000º blazes.) The heat boils refrigerants into a pressurized gas that spins two small, screw-shaped rotors. From $128,000; electratherm.com
Green Tech

Electratherm

Nikon D90

Nikon D90: The first SLR that shoots video

This 12-megapixel SLR records high-def video by holding its shutter open even when you're not snapping a pic (the same trick that lets it show a live preview of your shot on the LCD). Add any Nikon lens to apply unique effects, like the warped, wide view from a fisheye lens. $1,000 (body only); nikonusa.com
Gadgets

Nikon

Poseidon Discovery Rebreather

Poseidon Discovery Rebreather: Smarter scuba

The first scuba rebreather designed for recreational divers, the Poseidon Discovery lets you stay underwater for up to three hours—several times as long as with traditional scuba gear. Like all rebreathers, this model recycles your exhaled air, removing harmful carbon dioxide and adding fresh oxygen (unlike scuba tanks, which only dispense fresh air). But the suitcase-size rig costs about half as much as conventional rebreathers—used primarily by military and professional divers—and automatically conducts continuous safety checks of all components with an onboard computer. Instead of requiring training to manually mix gases in the event of a malfunction, like other rebreathers do, the Discovery lets you switch to a conventional scuba air backup tank and return safely to the surface. $6,000; us.poseidon.se
Recreation

Poseidon

Atomic Doubledeck

Atomic Doubledeck (D2): Split skiing

Capable of automatically changing shape for better turning, the D2 is split vertically down the center about eight inches from either end and rejoined with rubber inserts. When you apply pressure during sharp turns, both the tip and tail spread apart by up to four millimeters, accentuating the skis' hourglass shape and tightening the turning radius for crisp, sharp turns. The D2's handling and stability are better on groomed slopes than powder and backcountry runs; still, consider this version 1.0 of a technology that will usher in a new era for skiers. $1,560; atomicsnow.com
Recreation

Atomic

Laser Surface Authentication System

Laser Surface Authentication System: Knocks off knockoffs

Despite our niftiest holograms and watermarks, counterfeiters still manage to sneak billions of dollars of fake goods onto store shelves. Instead of slapping on authenticity seals, which can be copied, Ingenia Technology's anti-counterfeit scanner reads the nanoscopic variations that occur naturally on the surface of every object, from documents to a perfume bottle, and no two are ever the same. To do this, laser light strikes the object, and detectors measure the random scattering of photons that bounce back. The system still recognizes the original nanostructures on a sheet of paper even after it has been baked, soaked, scrubbed, crumpled, and scribbled on with a pen. ingeniatechnology.com
Security

Ingenia

Phoenix Failsafe

Phoenix Failsafe: Save your stolen notebook

Tales of Testing
Lauren Aaronson, Associate Editor
One day I walked into work, and my new Lenovo X301 laptop was gone. Good thing it had Phoenix FailSafe, a program that lets you track and control a missing computer. I borrowed a PC to log onto Phoenix's Web site, where I reported my laptop lost and asked to retrieve an important document. Soon I got an e-mail saying that my file awaited me on Phoenix's servera€”and that my machine was in Queens. Someone had connected it to the Web, unaware of FailSafe, which runs from a chip on the motherboard so that crooks can't erase it. FailSafe had estimated its location from the IP address and sent my file to the server. It even uploaded a webcam photo of the thief, who turned out to be a sly co-worker. (In truth, I'd known that someone would a€œsteala€ my laptop for this test, but not who.) So I hit a€œcovert disablea€ to taunt him with a a€œsystem errora€ screen. FailSafe debuts on Lenovo laptops in early 2009; other brands will follow. phoenix.com
Computing

Phoenix

Tartan Racing Boss

Tartan Racing Boss: The robot car arrives

"Boss," the brainchild of Tartan Racing (a collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University and General Motors), was the winner of the 2007 Darpa Urban Challenge, a competition of autonomous vehicles. The mission: execute tricky merging, passing and parking maneuvers as quickly as possible, while obeying California-state traffic laws. More than a dozen lasers, cameras and radars feed information about Boss's surroundings into its "brain," a computer that uses 500,000 lines of code to make decisions about the best way to reach its destination. Boss drove the course at up to 30 mph and took corners hard, finishing almost 20 minutes faster than its closest competitor. Its performance suggests that self-driving cars might not be so far off after all. tartanracing.org
Auto Tech

Tartan Racing

Draganfly Draganflyer X6

Draganfly Draganflyer X6: Your personal spy helicopter

There are model helicopters, and then there are military unmanned aerial vehicles. The Draganflyer X6 is the first hovering craft that fits right in between. This small helicopter, the first to use six horizontal blades for a stable hover and speedy turns, is designed to supply aerial video to everyone from police to hobbyists. The pilot guides it by handheld controller while wearing video glasses that allow him to see what the chopper sees through a camera attached to a vibration-free mount on the vehicle's belly. The X6 carries 11 onboard sensors—gyroscopes, accelerometers, magnetometers, GPS and a barometric-pressure sensor—and flies for up to 25 minutes. $15,000; draganfly.com
Aviation & Space

Draganfly

JHRG Storm-A-Rest

JHRG Storm-A-Rest: Curtains that can handle a hurricane

Now bracing for category-4 mayhem means simply pulling down your shades. Storm-A-Rest manufacturer JHRG managed to turn a few pounds of .025-inch-thick fabric into stronger storm protection for windows than plywood. Faced with two-by-fours shot at 34 mph from an air cannon (one of the tests for category-4 certification in Florida), Storm-A-Rest panels survived undamaged; the boards punched right through plywood. Best of all, the shades let in about 80 percent of sunlight, so you're not in the dark when the power goes out.

The fabric's brute strength comes from Honeywell Spectra fiber—the same stuff used in some bulletproof vests—adapted to stand up to Florida's tough building codes. To make a wind- and waterproof coating (typically used on outdoor gear) stick to Spectra's slippery polyethylene strands, the company spent two and a half years finding the correct mix of time and heat for an even coating. Engineers also had to determine the right weave pattern and density to stop large projectiles. It turned out that a slightly loose weave worked best to dissipate the energy of an impact.

"After [a string of hurricanes in] '04, everyone got into the storm-protection business," says Florida contractor Michael Faraone. "We've used some of the other products. This is the only one that really is storm protection." $20 per sq. ft.; stormarest.com
Home Tech

JHRG

Space tourism has liftoff

Scaled Composites WhiteKnightTwo: Space tourism has liftoff

With the wingspan of a B-29 bomber, the WhiteKnightTwo is the largest all-carbon-fiber aircraft ever built. Its mission is to carry a smaller craft, SpaceShipTwo, and drop it at 48,000 feet, where it will blast off into suborbital space with paying passengers—in 2010, if all goes well. Virgin Galactic's CEO, Richard Branson, also wants to use WhiteKnightTwo as a low-cost way to launch satellites into orbit. Scaled Composites engineers had to overcome numerous setbacks, including a fatal explosion at the company's headquarters, to finish the craft. virgingalactic.com
Aviation & Space

Virgin Galactic

Kajima Demolition Tech

Kajima Demolition Tech: Destroying one floor at a time

In congested cities like Tokyo, there's barely room to swing a wrecking ball, and neighbors hate the caustic dust that implosions kick up. So the Japanese construction company Kajima developed a tidier technique, which it first used this past spring to take down a 17-story and a 20-story office tower: Knock out the ground floor, lower the building on computer-controlled hydraulic jacks, and repeat. Keeping deconstruction on the ground is safer for workers, and the orderly disassembly makes it easier to contain asbestos and other toxic materials. Kajima recycled 99 percent of the steel and concrete and 92 percent of the interior materials—55 percent is standard—and cut demolition time by a fifth. kajima.co.jp
Engineering

Kajima

Aquilion ONE

Aquilion ONE: The fastest CT scanner yet

The ONE can visualize organs, blocked arteries and tumors in a single heartbeat. That speed means faster diagnoses and 80 percent fewer x-rays than with other CT scanners. The advance is a set of 320 high-resolution x-ray detectors that can image a six-inch swath in one swift rotation. medical.toshiba.com
Health

Toshiba

Festool Kapex

Festool Kapex: The most precise saw yet

Miter saws make quick work of chopping trim and molding, and they create beveled edges that meet to form neat corners. But most leave rough cuts that you have to clean up by hand. The Kapex is the first that can sense when the blade slows down—which can tear up the wood—and boost the power to keep it spinning at a constant speed. You can also adjust the blade's speed so it won't leave burn marks on harder woods like oak. A knob controls an intricate gearing system that lets you adjust the bevel to within a tenth of a degree. $1,300; festoolusa.com
Home Tech

Festool USA

SensAble Dental Lab System

SensAble Dental Lab System: First haptic feedback system for designing partial dentures

With the SensAble Dental Lab System, fashioning a made-to-order restoration is as easy as waving a wand—literally. Instead of painstakingly carving a wax mold to get the framework's form right, technicians sculpt a digital model of the mouth onscreen using a haptic pen that simulates the feel of real wax. A 3-D printer then produces a resin prototype, which is cast in metal for insertion, all in half the time of conventional methods. sensable.com
Health

SensAble

Landshark

Landshark: A bomb squad on wheels

The genius of the LandShark is its versatility. The 400-pound bomb-diffusing robot, which will deploy next year to Iraq, is made entirely from off-the-shelf parts, so virtually any mechanic can repair it. Equipped with explosive charges, a dirt tiller and directional sensors, the LandShark can transform from a bomb shredder to a sentry in minutes. Two seven-horsepower electric motors let it travel 15 mph, carry 250 pounds, and even tow a wounded soldier. It's narrow enough to fit through a door, and its elevated front wheels can climb rocky, 42-degree inclines. The most remarkable feature? Its cost: just $70,000, fully loaded, compared with $250,000 for competing rigs. That makes it cheap enough for the troops on the front line, not just specialized squads, as well as firefighters and first-responders. blackirobotics.com
Security

Landshark

Energy Integration Technologies Aevex Intelligent Heat:

Energy Integration Technologies Aevex Intelligent Heat: Heaters for clothes

To make a fabric-thin heater that runs for up to six hours—perfect for the insides of gloves, jackets or boots—Energy Integration Technologies did away with thermostats that suck power and take up space. Its system, Aevex, uses a flexible polymer film that automatically regulates its own temperature. As the wearer's body gets cold, the film gets denser, which increases its electrical conductivity. This change pulls power from a battery and warms the fabric up. When the wearer's temperature increases, the heat reduces the film's conductivity and shuts off current flow. Aevex debuted in Outdoor Research Primovolta gloves [top; $250] and Mountain Hardwear Red Savina gloves [bottom; $300], with more gear to follow. energyintegrationtech.com
Recreation

Energy Integration Technologies

Acoustic Research FPS 10 Subwoofer

Acoustic Research FPS 10 Subwoofer: Flat speaker puts rumble under your seat

Audiovox’s 4.5-inch-high sub slips inconspicuously under your couch and fires upward to yield booty-shaking bass in music or re-create ground-
shaking explosions in action movies. It packs the power of a bulky subwoofer into a slim case by using a 10-inch speaker to push air against a second 12-inch cone that’s big enough to resonate with the very deepest sounds. $500; audiovox.com
Home Entertainment

Audiovox

Adobe AIR:

Adobe AIR: The Web without a browser

AIR's programming tools let developers create snazzy desktop applications that connect to the Web. Because these apps aren't confined to a browser window, they have more capabilities than ordinary online services. For instance, an eBay program runs in the background, so you can automatically receive auction updates without having to hit "refresh page." And they can save files to your hard drive for offline viewing. adobe.com
Computing

Adobe

Mercedes Speedshift Transmission

Mercedes Speedshift Transmission: An automatic that stick-shift fans can love

Conventional automatic transmissions shift too lazily for true car nerds, but most paddle-shifted automated manuals tend to feel herky-jerky around town. Mercedes's AMG Speedshift combines the best of both worlds in a lightweight, compact package. It replaces a standard automatic's torque converter with a series of interlocking clutch plates, which allow faster shifting than even a professional racecar driver can pull off. During our test in the powerful SL 63 AMG convertible, equipped with the seven-speed shifter, even the most diehard manual fan among us had to admit that if this is where automatics are headed, he can deal. mbusa.com
Auto Tech

Mercedes

Smart Drug Delivery Patch

Smart Drug Delivery Patch: A pharmacist on your arm

HP Labs adapted inkjet-printer technology to create a skin patch that automatically delivers precise drug dosages painlessly and on schedule. Hundreds of microneedles draw medicine from individual wells and inject it beneath the skin, where it enters the bloodstream quickly. hpl.hp.com
Health

HP

Schoeller ColdBlack

Schoeller ColdBlack: Wear black, stay cool

Most black clothing absorbs 90 percent of the sun's heat, but black fabrics that have been treated with Schoeller's Coldblack technology during the dying process actually reflect 80 percent of heat rays (nearly as much as white fabrics) while also offering UPF 30+ protection against harmful ultraviolet rays. The company keeps the technology a closely guarded secret, but the results speak for themselves: Temperature tests at independent labs found that a Coldblack-treated shirt held under infrared lamps stayed 10°F cooler on the interior and 22° cooler on the surface than a regular shirt. Expect to see Coldblack popping up soon in apparel like black Mammut Champ and Westcomb Talus mountaineering pants. schoeller-textiles.com
Recreation

Schoeller

Recellularized Heart

Recellularized Heart: Reanimating retired organs

There are 22 million people worldwide living with heart failure, a condition in which the heart is no longer able to pump blood through the body. Despite the smorgasbord of drugs and repair procedures available, half of these patients die within five years of diagnosis. Biologist Doris Taylor and her team at the University of Minnesota have created a whole new approach: Take a donor heart, remove the cells, and put the patient's cells back into it. The technique promises not only to shrink the transplant waiting list but also to keep patients' bodies from rejecting their new hearts.

Taylor's process—so far perfected in rats—entails flushing the cells out of a heart using a detergent, leaving only the skeletal-looking extracellular matrix. The young progenitor cells she injects into this matrix come from the recipient animal's own body, reducing the risk of incompatibility. Astoundingly, the new cells are able to divide and form specialized tissues, creating an organ that's as good as the original.

Having proved this year that she can make the hearts beat, Taylor next plans to test the technique in human trials. If all goes well, refurbished hearts should be transplant-ready in a decade. "It won't be easy," she says, "but the fact that it looks doable is amazing. www.stemcell.umn.edu
Health

UMN.edu

Large Hadron Collider

Large Hadron Collider: The biggest science experiment ever

The Large Hadron Collider is the most ambitious engineering problem ever solved. Construction on the $10-billion behemoth—housed 300 feet underground in a 17-mile circular tube—spanned 14 years and required the efforts of 10,000 engineers and physicists. But its real engineering feat comes from the 1,200 magnets—each 35 tons in weight, 50 feet long, and powerful enough to crush a bus between them—that steer a stream of protons traveling at nearly the speed of light. These magnets are powered by 4,700 miles' worth of superconducting niobium-titanium cable, and work only when cooled to 3.4˚F above absolute zero, colder than deep space.

To make the job more challenging, the entire thing constantly attempts to destroy itself: The extreme magnetic field bends not just protons but the magnets themselves. Thick, demagnetized iron collars hold the magnets steady, but even a fraction of an inch of movement anywhere in the machine triggers an automatic shutdown, like the one that happened in September. But that's a minor setback for the LHC on its quest to detect the Higgs boson (a.k.a. the "god particle") and thus complete the Standard Model, on which all of particle physics is based. "This is the modern equivalent of building the pyramids," says University of California at Berkeley physicist and Nobel Prize winner George Smoot. "It should be a source of pride for the human race." lhc.web.cern.ch
Engineering

lhc.web.cern.ch

Enphase Energy Micro-inverter System

Enphase Energy Micro-inverter System: More efficient solar

Enphase Energy reaps 5 to 25 percent more power from solar roofs by placing a small inverter—which changes DC current to AC—under each panel. Most systems use one big inverter, which requires a wiring setup that limits each panel's output to that of the worst performer. To shrink inverters, Enphase replaced some analog parts with digital ones. From $200; enphaseenergy.com
Green Tech

Enphase Energy

CellScope

CellScope: A microscope on your mobile

In rural areas and developing countries, clinics often lack the equipment and staff for up-close evaluations of malaria, parasites, blood diseases and skin conditions. The Cellscope is a 5x to 60x microscope attachment for cameraphones that takes photos of skin and blood cells and transmits the images to experts for diagnosis. It was successfully tested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August and could soon be used by cancer patients in the U.S. to take white-blood-cell counts at home. blumcenter.berkeley.edu
Health

Berkeley

BMW MyInfo

BMW MyInfo: Beam Google Maps to your Bimmer

MyInfo, rolling out this year on the BMW X6 crossover SUV, lets anyone search Google Maps on a computer or smartphone and send addresses, phone numbers and notes to your car's navigation system, whether you're parked or on the road. The data goes to BMW Assist headquarters, which sends it to a GSM chip in the car. bmw.com
Auto Tech

BMW

Wii Fit:

Wii Fit: The gym game

First the Wii got us off the couch with its motion-sensing remote; now the Wii Fit takes it to a whole new level with a suite of games exclusively designed to work up a sweat. A wireless balance board incorporates four strain gauges to precisely measure your position. The game's 40 exercises range from yoga and weightlifting to wiggling virtual hula-hoops and slaloming down a mountain. A virtual personal trainer tracks your body-mass index and eggs you on, far from the judging eyes of buff gym rats. $90; nintendo.com
Health

Nintendo

UGOBE Pleo

UGOBE Pleo: Robo dino learns and adapts The most lifelike robotic pet can see, hear, and feel your touch. Six computer chips p

UGOBE Pleo: Robo dino learns and adapts The most lifelike robotic pet can see, hear, and feel your touch. Six computer chips process the input and produce lifelike reactions, such as crying if it's left in the dark. Pleo moves naturally using 28 motors and joints—for example, arching its back when stroked. The dino also learns from experiences (such as staying away from your noisy canary) and displays emotions. You can even download behavioral-modification packs or use the free programming kit to customize its personality. $350; pleoworld.com
Gadgets

UGOBE

Ford Ecoboost Engines

Ford Ecoboost Engines: Smaller engines for real mileage

Fuel-saving technology does nothing for an overheated planet if only a handful of drivers use it. So Ford is aiming for up to 20 percent cuts in CO2 emissions by putting EcoBoost engines in 90 percent of its models by 2013. EcoBoost uses direct-injection and turbocharging to squeeze more power out of smaller, more efficient engines, replacing V8s with V6s and V6s with four-cylinders. A twin-turbocharged V6 EcoBoost arrives in the 2009 Lincoln MKS luxury sedan; a four-cylinder comes to other models in 2010. ford.com
Auto Tech

Ford

FIT-5

FIT-5: A fire-fighting hand grenade

The FIT-5 anti-fire canister quickly squelches flames when there's no water at hand. Pull the cord, toss it into the fire, and watch it emit a misty cloud of potassium carbonate. The chemical keeps the blaze from spreading and cools a room from 1,000°F to 300° in 10 seconds flat. arasafety.com
Security

Aras Safety

T5000

T5000: Seeing bombs, not bodies

No one wants to board a plane with a terrorist, but neither would travelers much enjoy being marched through an irradiating x-ray machine that flashes their naked body to TSA workers. The British company Thruvision's T5000 is the first security camera to spot a wide range of concealed contraband—bombs, guns, drugs, liquids and plastic explosives—without revealing anatomical details. The T5000 picks up faint electromagnetic signals known as terahertz waves, or T-rays, naturally emitted by all people and things. From 80 feet away, the camera can detect the difference between unique T-rays beaming off passengers and those coming from an object. Concealed goods show up onscreen as an outline against a G-rated silhouette of a body. The camera can even scan people in motion, a feature that could speed up security lines and make it ideal for public venues like malls and stadiums. And unlike an x-ray, the T5000 doesn't emit dangerous ionizing energy—or anything at all—so there's no harm to operators or to people being scanned.

Thruvision has sold several units to the U.S. defense department this year and is in talks with major airports. A confidentiality policy keeps the company from naming names, but given the screener's big advantages, expect its discreet debut in an airport near you soon. thruvision.com
Security

Thru Vision

Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Mattress

Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Mattress: The lightest, warmest camping mat

It's hard to get a good night's sleep when you're camping. Air mats can be cold and wobbly, and foam mats are too heavy to be worth carrying. The NeoAir solves both problems. An aluminum-based film inside the mat both reflects heat back to the body and acts as a barrier to keep cold air against the ground. Inside, hundreds of strong nylon triangles create a light (only 14 ounces), stable 2.5-inch-thick cushion. $150; thermarest.com
Recreation

Therm-A-Rest

BMW Speed Limit Display

BMW Speed Limit Display: A car that knows its limits

Combining images of signs taken by a camera on the rearview mirror with navigation-system data about your route, the latest European BMW 7 Series figures out your current speed limit and displays it on the instrument cluster and projects it on the windshield. The technology, developed with Siemens VDO, could arrive in the U.S. in the next year or two. bmw.com
Auto Tech

BMW

Street Lab Mobile

Street Lab Mobile: A point-and-shoot toxin detector

The GE StreetLab Mobile makes toxin detection simple and fast, even for workers wearing bulky hazmat suits. The rugged, easy-to-grip device unleashes a laser beam that excites molecules in drugs, explosives and biotoxins like anthrax, causing them to emit a unique electrical field that can be analyzed in seconds. gesecurity.com
Security

GE Security

Sony XEL-1 OLED Television

Sony XEL-1 OLED Television: Everything a TV should be

Hanging a television on the wall is nice. Even better is sticking it on, like wallpaper. The first organic light-emitting diode TV isn't that thin, but at three millimeters, it's close. (Sony has prototypes that are one tenth as thick.) It also produces stunning colors and the highest contrast possible—from brilliant white to pitch-black.

OLEDs have long promised these results, while presenting plenty of challenges. The achievement of taking OLED from a lab experiment to a consumer product is the top innovation of the year.

It took clever engineering. To optimize color, for instance, Sony placed the OLED in microscopic troughs sized to match specific wavelengths of light. So the red part of each pixel sits in a cavity that allows only the ideal shade of red to escape.

Why did a giant technology advance appear in an 11-inch screen? OLED circuitry requires a type of glass that isn't produced in large sizes, and applying the material to bigger sheets requires new techniques. Retooling factories will cost a fortune. But companies will spend big money if they see a big market, and selling a real OLED TV, even a small one, has fired up demand. Sony promises 27-inch models soon. You could see sets of 32 inches or more, from several companies, by 2011. $2,500; sonystyle.com
Home Entertainment

Sony

XPAK

XPAK: A roll-on bomb detector

This 10-pound portable bomb detector requires no special training to use. Just pull out the roller, brush it over an object—backpack, clothes, hands—and insert it into a viewing device. The machine sprays a polymer over the roller and exposes it to ultraviolet light. Within seconds, trace explosives glow on a viewfinder. redxdefense.com
Security

Red X Defense

Sony XEL-1 OLED Television

Sony XEL-1 OLED Television: Everything a TV should be

Hanging a television on the wall is nice. Even better is sticking it on, like wallpaper. The first organic light-emitting diode TV isn't that thin, but at three millimeters, it's close. (Sony has prototypes that are one tenth as thick.) It also produces stunning colors and the highest contrast possiblea€”from brilliant white to pitch-black.

OLEDs have long promised these results, while presenting plenty of challenges. The achievement of taking OLED from a lab experiment to a consumer product is the top innovation of the year.

It took clever engineering. To optimize color, for instance, Sony placed the OLED in microscopic troughs sized to match specific wavelengths of light. So the red part of each pixel sits in a cavity that allows only the ideal shade of red to escape.

Why did a giant technology advance appear in an 11-inch screen? OLED circuitry requires a type of glass that isn't produced in large sizes, and applying the material to bigger sheets requires new techniques. Retooling factories will cost a fortune. But companies will spend big money if they see a big market, and selling a real OLED TV, even a small one, has fired up demand. Sony promises 27-inch models soon. You could see sets of 32 inches or more, from several companies, by 2011. $2,500; sonystyle.com
Home Entertainment

Sony

XPAK

XPAK: A roll-on bomb detector

This 10-pound portable bomb detector requires no special training to use. Just pull out the roller, brush it over an object—backpack, clothes, hands—and insert it into a viewing device. The machine sprays a polymer over the roller and exposes it to ultraviolet light. Within seconds, trace explosives glow on a viewfinder. redxdefense.com
Security

Red X Defense

Venus Series Fingerprint Sensor

Venus Series Fingerprint Sensor: A spoof-proof biometric reader

To get the most accurate fingerprint reading yet, this scanner shines polarized light on your finger, creating an image of your prints and blood vessels from the red, blue and green wavelengths that bounce back. It works through latex and paint—and even underwater. lumidigm.com
Security

Venus

2009 Nissan GT-R

2009 Nissan GT-R: A 21st-century supercar, at a $120,000 discount

The 2009 Nissan GT-R is the sports-car value of the year, if not the decade—a car under 80 grand whose performance matches that of a $200,000 supercar. Engineers scrutinized every component to squeeze out more performance while saving weight and money. Inside the twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V6’s aluminum engine block, the walls surrounding the pistons receive a coating that dissipates heat better than the typical, heavier cast-iron linings. The engine produces 480 horsepower and hurls the GT-R from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds—quicker than a Lamborghini Gallardo. The GT-R tops out at 193 mph, making it one of the fastest cars on the road, and you don’t have to be a professional driver to tap its potential. A twin-clutch system, rare in a car at this price, handles gearshifts, and an adjustable shock-absorber system can stiffen up so that the GT-R feels like a Ferrari F430. Finally, the videogame-inspired control panel displays arcana like steering angle and brake-pedal pressure, giving the driver more detailed information and more control than any other car. Now that Nissan has proven that it can be done, expect more accessible, technology-rich supercars in the years ahead. $77,000; nissanusa.com
Auto Tech

Nissan

2009 Nissan GT-R

2009 Nissan GT-R: A 21st-century supercar, at a $120,000 discount

The 2009 Nissan GT-R is the sports-car value of the year, if not the decade—a car under 80 grand whose performance matches that of a $200,000 supercar. Engineers scrutinized every component to squeeze out more performance while saving weight and money. Inside the twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V6’s aluminum engine block, the walls surrounding the pistons receive a coating that dissipates heat better than the typical, heavier cast-iron linings. The engine produces 480 horsepower and hurls the GT-R from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds—quicker than a Lamborghini Gallardo. The GT-R tops out at 193 mph, making it one of the fastest cars on the road, and you don’t have to be a professional driver to tap its potential. A twin-clutch system, rare in a car at this price, handles gearshifts, and an adjustable shock-absorber system can stiffen up so that the GT-R feels like a Ferrari F430. Finally, the videogame-inspired control panel displays arcana like steering angle and brake-pedal pressure, giving the driver more detailed information and more control than any other car. Now that Nissan has proven that it can be done, expect more accessible, technology-rich supercars in the years ahead. $77,000; nissanusa.com
Auto Tech

Nissan

Saliva Cardiac Nano-Bio-Chip

Saliva Cardiac Nano-Bio-Chip: A spit test for heart attacks

This year, San Antonio EMT crews began using a spit test that detects cardiac arrest faster, more accurately and more cheaply than other diagnostic tests. Engineered by researchers at the University of Texas, the chip can measure proteins in saliva that signal heart attacks long before the ambulance pulls into the ER. tastechip.com
Health

Taste Chip

Home Comfort Zones MyTemp

Home Comfort Zones MyTemp: A thermostat for every room

The retrofittable MyTemp system uses a network of wireless thermostats to monitor each room's temperature. To adjust it, balloon-like dampers inflate and deflate to control how much air passes through each vent. You pay to heat or cool only the rooms that need it. From $8,000; homecomfortzones.com
Home Tech

Home Comfort Zones

Impella 2.5 Cardiac Assist Device

Impella 2.5 Cardiac Assist Device: The world’s smallest heart pump

Getting enough blood and oxygen to the body after a heart attack is crucial to survival. The Impella pumps 2.5 liters of blood per minute—that's 0.5 liter more than larger balloon pumps, the current best option. abiomed.com
Health

Impella

Shimano Dura-Ace 7970 Di2

Shimano Dura-Ace 7970 Di2: Perfect shifting, electronically

For years, the increased accuracy, smoothness and reliability of electronic shifting has been perhaps the ultimate goal for high-performance-bike designers. After several companies' attempts failed—suffering from breakdowns in bad weather, poor battery life or unbearable complexity—Shimano's Dura-Ace Di2 has finally delivered it.

The Di2's black carbon-fiber setup looks traditional, but what appears to be a standard shifter is actually a switch that sends gear changes via a wire to sensors in the front and rear derailleurs (the parts that guide the chain up and down the gears). A CPU in the front derailleur, in turn, signals motors that move the chain across the bike's front and rear cogs. Steel cables, a source of frustration in shifting, have been eliminated. They probably won't be coming back.

The electronic system makes gear changes faster and virtually eliminates missed shifts, which can interrupt pedaling rhythm or even cause the chain to fall off. And the Di2 is two ounces lighter than last year's mechanical Dura-Ace group.

Shimano spent three years testing the system, and it was used extensively in this year's Tour de France. Available now on high-end 2009 bikes, electronic shifting should work its way into most bike makers' entire product lines over the next five years. $2,100; bike.shimano.com
Recreation

Shimano

3M MPro 110

3M MPro 110: The handheld projector arrives

Laptops, cellphones and other portables can shrink only so far before their displays are unusable. 3M decouples screen size from gadget size with the first micro-projector. It can show 50-inch-diagonal images in a dark room and 10-inch images under bright light. The tech debuts bundled with a one-hour battery in the handheld MPro110. By next year, 3M expects to squeeze the projector (itself the size of a matchbox) into cellphones, MP3 players and other gadgets.

3M beat other companies in the pocket-projector race by refining a well-known design instead of developing exotic technologies such as miniature lasers. Like many tabletop projectors, this model uses a set of prisms to direct light from a lamp onto an imaging chip that sets the color and intensity of each pixel in the projection. But rather than using separate lenses around the prisms, 3M molded prisms with rounded edges that act as built-in lenses. To keep power and size down, the projector's lamp is a one-watt LED with a special lens to concentrate the light beam so that none of it goes to waste.

The 5.4-ounce MPro110 has inputs for laptops, digital cameras and cellphones to display video at standard-definition-TV quality (640 by 480 pixels). So it's not only a great tool for business presentations, but also the cheapest giant-screen TV. $360; 3m.com
Gadgets

3M

Sleek Audio SA6

Sleek Audio SA6: Headphones tailored to your hearing

Everyone's ear canals have unique shapes that affect hearing; some of us pick up high frequencies better, while others are attuned to bass. These in-ear headphones are the first that let you tweak the acoustics to suit your ears—or your taste—avoiding the distortion that results from adjusting the equalizer on your music player. For more thump on hip-hop tracks, attach the bass modules to the back of each earphone, adding larger chambers for the sound to resonate. Make vocals stand out by changing the treble filter on the earpiece to one that allows more high frequencies through. $250; sleek-audio.com
Gadgets

Sleek Audio

Best of what's new 2008

Movies and Galleries and Animations, Oh My!

Now that you've seen the products, watch them in action.

Popular Science

Sony XEL-1 OLED Television

Sony XEL-1 OLED Television: Everything a TV should be

Sony XEL-1 OLED Television

Sony

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