If you’re like me, the holiday break is all about consuming everyone’s year-end recaps–and of course, looking ahead to the year to come. We’re taking a short break here on, but we’re not going to leave you hanging with nothing–here we’ve compiled both our year-end Best of What’s New list and our look ahead to 2010 in science, all in one place for your holiday enjoyment.

Click here to launch our Best of What’s New list gallery with all 100 innovations, sorted by category. You may have already checked out our list on the Best of What’s New site; if not, it’s a great way to get familiar with the best of the year in gadgets, engineering, green tech and more. Be sure to use the links within the gallery to check out more photos and video over on the Best of What’s New site.

And click here to check out our 2010 preview from the January issue to get a jump on the stories to follow in medicine, aviation, space, entertainment and more.

We’ll be back in the new year ready to dive into the maelstrom that is the Consumer Electronics Show, the biggest electronics tradeshow in the world. The fun begins in Las Vegas on January 6.

Have a happy holidays and an excellent new year everyone, and as always, thanks for reading. It’s been a great year, and much of the thanks for that is due to you!

Security Grand Award Winner: X-Flex Blast Protection System

X-Flex is a new kind of wallpaper: one that’s quite possibly stronger than the wall it’s on. Invented by Berry Plastics in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this lifesaving adhesive is designed for use anyplace that’s prone to blasts and other lethal forces, like in war or natural-disaster zones, chemical plants or airports. To keep a shelter’s walls from collapsing in an explosion and to contain all the flying debris, you simply peel off the wallpaper’s sticky backing, apply the rollable sheets to the inside of brick or cinder-block walls, and reinforce it with fasteners at the edges. Covering an entire room can take less than an hour. X-Flex bonds so tightly, it helps walls keep their shape after blast waves. Two layers are strong enough to stop a blunt object, like a flying 2×4, from knocking down drywall. During our tests, just a single layer kept a wrecking ball from smashing through a brick wall. The wallpaper’s strength and ductility is derived from a layer of Kevlar-like material sandwiched by sheets of elastic polymer wrap. The combination works so well that the Army is now considering wallpapering bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Civilians could soon start remodeling too—Berry Plastics plans to develop a commercial version next year. See a video of X-Flex in action at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Security: Scratchbot

Borrowing a trick from the lowly rat, the SCRATCHbot uses whiskers instead of cameras to see in the dark. Researchers at the University of Bristol in England hope to deploy the poodle-size ‘bot in search-and-rescue missions where vision is impaired, like in mines or smoky rooms. Its 18 whiskers move back and forth five times per second. When a whisker bends, a sensor on its shaft signals software to orient the ‘bot toward the object. Whiskers close to an object move less, while those farther away make wide, sweeping motions to establish the object’s exact edges. See more Scratchbot images at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Security: XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System

Urban combat is especially dangerous because city streets offer an enemy endless places to hide. Alliant Techsystems’s new shoulder-fired semiautomatic gun removes that advantage, allowing soldiers to essentially shoot around obstacles. The XM25 doesn’t curve its bullets. Rather, it programs them to explode at precise distances. The soldier measures the distance to a target using a laser site and then dials in where the bullet should explode, such as at the corner of a building, raining down shrapnel. The bullet has a small magnet inside that lets it generate AC current as it spins and a microprocessor that measures those current oscillations to derive how far it’s traveled. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Security: Bristol Uniforms

Bristol Uniforms’s new lightweight firefighting suit, designed for the U.K. Fire and Rescue Service, provides unprecedented protection against heat, flames and toxic fluids, without the bulk and discomfort of conventional suits. The inner liner is made of a breathable, waterproof Gore-Tex-like material bonded to non-woven Nomex, a lightweight, relative of Kevlar that guards against heat and flames. Bristol’s design also uses Velcro and zippers, rather than metal clasps. As a result, the suit weighs less than seven pounds, nearly 30 percent lighter than most fire suits worn in the U.S. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Security: Ears Gunshot Localization System

Uncovering a gunman’s position is traditionally a deadly game of luck and patience. This year, the U.S. Army gets help from the Ears system, a wearable, palm-sized device that weighs less than 6.4 ounces and can pinpoint a gunshot in less than a tenth of a second, even when mounted to a Humvee moving at 50 mph. The system uses a set of four microphones situated an inch apart to triangulate the origin of the gunshot. Software borrowed from submarine noise-detection technology analyzes the shape of the sound wave to determine the bullet’s precise angle. The results appear on an LED screen or as an audio prompt (“50 meters, 3 o’clock”). The device runs on less than a watt of power and lasts up to 13 hours on a single charge. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Security: The SQUID

An alternative to the dangerous spike strips used during high-speed police chases, the remotely activated SQUID (Safe and Quick Undercarriage Immobilization Device) wraps sticky tendrils around the driver’s suspension. As the getaway car snags on the speed-bump-like device, infrared sensors detect the vehicle’s heat and deploy another set of tendrils that lasso the drivetrain, stopping the car in its tracks. The Department of Homeland Security gets a prototype next month. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Security: Flood Warning

Water surges remain dangerously unpredictable because we lack tools to accurately measure rainfall intensity and moisture levels near flood zones. Now Israeli scientists have created an ingenious system that uses cellphone towers to predict more than an hour in advance when and where floods are likely to strike. The trick is measuring fluctuations in radio and microwave signals around cell towers caused by moisture in the atmosphere. Next they will apply the work to snowfall and hail. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Security: Vue Personal Video Network

It’s the ultimate plug-‘n’-play nanny-cam. The Vue personal video network lets users place cordless cameras virtually anywhere and view video in real time on the Web. A small gateway plugs into a router and syncs up the system’s two cameras and the Internet, no downloading or configuration required. Installation takes less than a minute. The system relies on a secure, low-power wireless network that allows the cameras to operate for up to a year on a single lithium-ion battery. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Security: Survivor Buddy

In disasters ranging from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina, Robin Murphy’s robots have scouted disaster sites and brought a comforting voice and ear to trapped survivors. Her latest creation, Survivor Buddy, is the culmination of that experience. Comprising an LCD screen mounted on an articulated arm and a rover base, it delivers two-way audio and video, linking victims with rescue workers. So as not to further alarm victims, Murphy teamed up with sociologists to engineer the robot to behave like an approachable, sympathetic human: It slows down when it nears someone, the arm makes smaller gestures, and the screen turns its “head” to maintain eye contact. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Security: LightSpeed B20 Binoculars

Say so long to boring, bulky binoculars and hello to the LightSpeed B20, the first pair with the ability to record voice and video and beam it instantly to another pair up to two miles away. The technology is an ingenious coupling of a high-power lens and the infrared LED used in remote controls. Designed for military use in radio-unfriendly environments or in mine shafts where radio waves could trigger explosives, the binoculars record video with one lens, internally convert the data to infrared, and beam it to another pair at up to one megabit per second, the speed of a decent broadband Internet connection. There’s also a USB hookup to upload and send data from a computer. Previous models offered secure infrared communication, but the B20 is the first to incorporate all the software and hardware on the inside, making it both smaller and lighter, with a 50 percent improvement in speed and distance. See more images of the Lightspeed B20 Binoculars at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets Grand Award Winner: Canon EOS 5D Mark II

This year, a digital camera snapped the official presidential portrait for the first time. Also this year, the same camera shot commercials, indie films and even parts of network TV shows. That camera was the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the first digital SLR that shoots full high-definition video. The Mark II thrills videographers because, unlike similarly small camcorders, it can use a vast collection of high-quality lenses, letting them set up precisely composed wide-angle, telephoto or fixed-focus scenes. Photographers, meanwhile, love it for the large, 21-megapixel image sensor that captures views the same size as 35mm film does. The trick for Canon was adding motion to those gigantic shots, since most video-shooting still cameras take far smaller, easier-to-encode pictures. Engineers had to design a processor powerful enough to convert 21 megapixels to two—the resolution of 1080p HD video—and repackage the data into a standard movie format, 30 times a second. Despite this feat, the camera maintains a respectable two hours of battery life in video mode, giving filmmakers a portable alternative to big, five-figure movie rigs. So to the camera that’s a hit with both Hollywood and the president, we say hail to the chief gadget breakthrough of the year. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets: Powergenix 1.6-Volt Nickel-Zinc AA Rechargeable

Finally, a rechargeable battery that delivers as much juice as disposables. PowerGenix took high-power-producing nickel-zinc chemistry, typically too short-lived to be useful, and increased its life span 10-fold by using a water-based electrolyte that doesn’t dissolve the vulnerable zinc. Now it lasts up to 1,000 charges, as long as any other rechargeable, while putting out 1.6 volts, beating current 1.2-volt rechargeables and matching the 1.5-volt throwaway alkalines that most gadgets are designed for. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets: Panasonic Lumix GF1

Tuck the GF1 into your pocket like a point-and-shoot, but switch its lenses to suit your shot just as you would with a pro-style SLR. At 1.4 inches thick, it’s the smallest camera with swappable lenses and a built-in flash. It follows a new standard for lenses and cameras, called Micro Four Thirds, that allows for ultra-thin bodies by eliminating a traditional optical viewfinder and the bulky light-directing mirrors that go with it. This hybrid shooter can even act as a camcorder that continuously autofocuses—a rarity in changeable-lens cameras—when you add a quiet (albeit pricey) lens. See more images of the Panasonic Lumix GF1 at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets: Android

Android, a Google-backed operating system for cellphones, offers a legitimate alternative to the iPhone—in fact, many alternatives. Because the code is free and open-source, gadget makers can cheaply and easily alter it to create their own interfaces and to control many kinds of hardware, something that’s harder to do with other smartphone systems. About 10 Android phones have come out within the past year, ranging from the T-Mobile G1 and its touchscreen-keyboard combo to the Motorola CLIQ and its home screen that constantly streams social-networking updates. And you’ll only see a wider variety of choices in the future, as manufacturers adapt the code for use in more phones, portable media players and even netbooks, all of which can run the same 10,000-plus Android apps. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets: Sony HDR-XR520V

Shoot first and ask questions—like “Where am I?”—later. Sony’s camcorder is the first with a built-in GPS chip, which lets it tag each video clip with the location where you hit “record.” Sony developed its own computer software to read these tags and categorize your films according to place, since video-sharing sites like YouTube don’t yet have a standard for reading geotags from files (the way many photo sites do). Bonuses for travelers: The screen can display maps to help you get your bearings, and the camera automatically adjusts the time and date stamp depending on your whereabouts. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets: Motorola Endeavor HX1

I’m just settling in at a bar when I get a phone call from work. The football game is blaring, people are shouting, glasses are clinking—but I hit “answer” on my Bluetooth headset anyway. The HX1 completely eliminates the barroom ruckus, sending only my speech to my colleague. That’s because I can turn off its ordinary microphones, which pick up sound from the air, and instead switch on an ultra-sensitive microphone that listens just for waves conducted through my jawbone. Parked on the earbud’s inner tip, this specialized mic uses software to turn the smallest vibrations sent from my throat into a faithful reproduction of my voice. So my colleague can hear me, I can hear her (since, as on other headsets, the speaker sits in my ear) and, best of all, she’ll never know I was talking business over a martini. —Lauren Aaronson See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets: Microsoft Zune HD

The Zune may so far have failed to dent the iPod’s market share, but it hasn’t stopped pushing the boundaries of what can be done in a pocket-sized player. The Zune HD is the first MP3 player with a tuner for HD radio, so it can stream clearer versions of many local FM stations, as well as digital-only channels. When parked in a separate dock, it uses its powerful yet low-energy processor to become one of the first pocket players that can send high-def video to your TV. Now that Microsoft has shown it can be done, look for other manufacturers to start including these features. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets: Palm Pre

The Palm Pre excels exactly where a smartphone should: at keeping you connected. Its operating system builds in software for more social and messaging services than any other phone, so it can organize many digital accounts in one simple interface. A single program sends both text and instant messages, a single calendar displays appointments from home and work, and one page shows e-mails from all your inboxes. Its address book automatically merges names from various accounts, too, combining all a pal’s info into one listing, updated with their Facebook photo. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets: Sennheiser HD800

Think of the HD800 as the largest speaker you can stick on your head. The sound-producing driver on each side measures 2.2 inches wide, compared with 1.6 for conventional headphones, which gives them the deepest bass of any pair we’ve ever heard. But they can also handle the rest of the musical scale. Large drivers usually sound terrible at higher frequencies because they resonate too much and cause distortions, so Sennheiser removed some material from the center and added a stiff supporting ring to control vibrations more precisely. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets: Fujifilm FinePix Real 3D W1

We perceive objects in three dimensions because our left and right eyes see slightly different images. Fujifilm mimics this setup in the first 3-D digital point-and-shoot camera, with two separate lenses—and two image sensors—placed three inches apart. They snap either stills or videos in tandem, and a processor combines their images into a single file. A 2.8-inch screen on the camera’s back can display the 3-D results instantly, flashing two backlights on and off to direct different images to each eye. (You can also view your shots on a $500 frame that uses a different, but similarly glasses-free, 3-D method or on computers with Nvidia’s 3-D glasses system.) And the W1 can still take ordinary 2-D pictures—in fact, it can take two at once, using different zoom settings for each lens. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Gadgets: Nikon Coolpix S1000PJ

The micro-projector has found its niche. The Nikon S1000pj is the first camera with one built in, so you can instantly share your shots and videos with the whole room. The same size as an ordinary point-and-shoot, it uses an imaging chip similar to those in tabletop projectors, plus a low-power LED that bounces light off the chip. The resulting images shine through an extra lens on the front cover, splashing 40-inch murals on the wall. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Aviation and Space Grand Award Winner: NASA Kepler Space Telescope

You’d be hard-pressed to get a NASA scientist to come out and say that the Kepler space telescope is designed to find aliens. Put it this way, though: The goal of the probe, which was launched in March, is to find planets much like our own in distant star systems—Earth-size bodies orbiting their stars in the sweet spot where the temperature is appropriate to support, just maybe, alien life. Using a photometer that’s more than three feet in diameter, Kepler is now continuously observing some 100,000 stars located between 600 and 3,000 light-years away. It’s looking for the faint dimming of a star that occurs when an orbiting planet passes in front of it. Observe three such blips on a strictly periodic schedule over the course of three years, and you have a planet with a one-year orbit. If the star is approximately the same size as our sun, it could be the center of a planetary system much like our own—and that planet could be habitable. Scientists hope that Kepler could find dozens of habitable planets during its three-to-four-year mission. See more images of the Kepler telescope at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Aviation and Space: SpaceX Falcon 1

Last July, the private space industry hit an important milestone when Falcon 1, a rocket developed by SpaceX—a company started by PayPal and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk—delivered a Malaysian satellite into orbit. It was the rocket’s second successful launch; the first came last fall, when Falcon 1 made it to space carrying a dummy payload. Late this year, Space X plans to launch the larger Falcon 9, which is capable of bringing seven astronauts to the International Space Station; NASA has already awarded SpaceX a $1.6-billion contract to send unmanned cargo flights to the ISS. Eventually Falcon 9 may become NASA’s preferred booster for manned flights as well. See a video of Falcon 1 lifting off at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Aviation and Space: ESA Herschel Space Observatory

Herschel, not Hubble, now has the largest mirror in space—an 11.5-foot giant (1.5 times as large as Hubble’s) that made it to space last May and opened to the universe for the first time in June. The mirror will work in concert with instruments that detect far-infrared and submillimeter-band light, which is invisible to the human eye, to peer through interstellar dust and take pictures of galaxies up to billions of light-years away. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Aviation and Space: ESA Planck Observatory

Launched along with the Herschel Space Observatory in May, the European Space Agency’s Planck Observatory will study the radiation left over from the first 370,000 years after the big bang—known as the cosmic microwave background, or CMB—with three times the sharpness of previous satellites. To detect temperature differences in the CMB as small as millionths of a degree (the equivalent of detecting the body heat of a rabbit on the moon, from Earth), Planck uses two devices, one for high frequencies and one for low. To keep the satellite’s own heat from skewing its observations, Planck’s instruments were cooled in several stages after reaching orbit; now, at­ –459.49ºF, Planck’s High Frequency Instrument is the coldest known object in space. By reading the CMB more accurately than ever before, scientists hope to answer thorny cosmic questions, such as how much of the universe is made of dark matter. See more images of the ESA Planck Observatory at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Aviation and Space: Pratt & Whitney Pure Power Geared Turbofan Engine

In most jet engines (more properly called turbofans), the fan that pulls air into the engine is directly linked to the compressor that squeezes that air down for combustion, so they have to turn at the same rate. By placing gears between the compressor and the fan, decoupling the two, the Pure Power engine allows for a more efficient arrangement: a big, slow fan shoving air into a small, fast turbine. The result is a shorter, lighter engine that can produce the same amount of power as a larger conventional turbofan, while burning 12 to 15 percent less fuel and emitting 35 percent less carbon dioxide. Pratt & Whitney finished ground- and air-testing of the engine this year, and the first of them will go on the Bombardier C-Series jet starting in 2013. See more images of the Pratt & Whitney Pure Power Geared Turbofan Engineat the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Aviation and Space: NASA Launch Abort System

The biggest stride NASA has taken toward getting its next-generation space-travel program, Constellation, in the air has been this year’s successful motor test of the Launch Abort System, which will fire in an emergency and yank the crew capsule up and away from the main rocket below. The system will blow through 4,700 pounds of propellant in just three seconds, using attitude-control nozzles to keep the capsule upright as it blasts away from a failing rocket at more than 6,000 mph. The capsule and its crew will then descend gently back to Earth using a series of parachutes. See more images, and a video, of the NASA Launch Abort System at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Aviation and Space: 100 Percent Renewable Jet Fuel

By modifying catalysts like those used in petroleum refining, scientists at the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center manufactured a fuel derived from vegetable oil that’s indistinguishable from military-grade JP-8. The result of research funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), it’s the first biofuel that remains fluid down to –52.6°F (a must for operating at altitude) and packs the energy density required by jet engines. In July, the engineering firm Flometrics used it to successfully launch a 20-foot rocket. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Aviation and Space: Piper Aircraft PiperJet

The term “very light jet” (VLJ) refers to an emerging category of small jet-powered aircraft that deliver the speed and sophistication of a private jet in a less-expensive craft that requires less training to fly. In tests this year, the most capable VLJ so far, the PiperJet, reached its flight ceiling of 35,000 feet, the same relatively turbulence-free altitude that commercial airliners use. With a planned 414mph cruising speed and a 1,300-nautical-mile range, the $2-million PiperJet can fly from New York to St. Louis in less than 2.5 hours without refueling. See more images of the PiperJet at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Aviation and Space: Sikorsky X2 Helicopter

Helicopters generate thrust by the forward tilt of their overhead rotor, a design that allows for stable hovering but means they can’t travel nearly as quickly as a jet or a plane. Sikorsky’s X2 prototype overcomes this limitation by adding counter-rotating rotors and a rear-facing propeller that pushes the craft forward, adding speed. The counter-rotating blades up top combine with electronic controls to keep the craft unshakable while hovering, with minimum effort from the pilot. Sikorsky believes the X2 will break the helicopter speed record of 250 knots this year. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Aviation and Space: NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in June, will use seven instruments to deliver the most detailed picture of the moon yet. In addition to photographing the lunar surface in high resolution and creating a 3-D topographical map, it will beam back reams of information on surface radiation, surface temperature, soil composition, the presence of water ice, and more. Scientists are particularly interested in finding landing spots and resources for future manned missions. So far, the orbiter has imaged the six Apollo landing sites in such detail that the tracks left behind by astronauts are clearly visible, even from the LRO’s orbit 31 miles above. See more images of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Engineering Grand Award Winner: TKTS, Times Square

The largest load-bearing glass structure in the world, the new TKTS booth in Times Square, supports glass benches atop two-inch-thick windows. Sounds delicate, but it regularly holds 500 foot-stomping Jumbotron watchers. For reinforcement, engineers at Dewhurst Macfarlane used a plastic film called SentryGlas Plus. The film is 100 times the strength of typical laminates and binds sheets together into structural pieces that are five times as strong as a wooden frame. The TKTS booth is a window onto new structural uses for glass, inspiring the firm to drape steel canopies on glass columns at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts this year. Are all-glass towers next? Says structural engineer Michael Ludvik, “You could literally make a skyscraper.” Take a video tour, and see more images of the TKTS booth, at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Engineering: Mike O’Callaghan—Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Temperatures upward of 115°F, winds capable of felling cranes, an 890-foot drop below: “Inhospitable” doesn’t begin to describe conditions at the Colorado River’s new Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. A 1,900-foot span designed to divert traffic from the narrow, switchback-laden road across the Hoover Dam, it will be the longest concrete arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere when it opens next fall, with 106 segments of ultra-high-strength concrete forming a twin-rib arch. Workers scaled the canyon’s walls, digging notches for concrete foundation columns. To construct the 1,060-foot-long arch, they cast 24 feet of concrete at a time, while a separate, temporary cable-stayed bridge held up the unfinished ends until the gap was closed this year. See more images of the Hoover Dam bridge at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Engineering: Biobased Composites

A research group at Stanford University is developing synthetic wood that they expect will be sturdy enough to build a house frame and pliable enough to carve. The team of engineers says the faux timber (bacteria-derived biodegradable plastic resin bound to hemp fibers) could not only replace dozens of construction materials, it decomposes in a landfill after a few weeks, emitting methane that can be used to make more synthetic wood. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Engineering: Diverging Diamond Interchange

Want to avoid gridlock? Drive on the wrong side of the road. In July, traffic engineers in Springfield, Missouri, reconfigured the jammed I-44/Kansas Expressway interchange. The new design does away with risky left turns. The street approaching the highway now diverts to the left, and cars get uninterrupted access to the highway, which, experts say, can reduce clogging by as much as 60 percent. Think of it as a one-way street. Drivers who want to turn left onto the highway can do so without crossing oncoming traffic. Through-traffic, meanwhile, stays on the left side of the road until it reaches a second stoplight, where it passes back over to the right. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that the diverging diamond configuration, the first in the U.S., enables 600 left turns onto the freeway per hour per lane—double that of an ordinary interchange, where drivers cross oncoming traffic. Plans are under way to implement similar designs around Kansas City and St. Louis. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Engineering: Shard London Bridge

Renzo Piano’s 72-story glass tower in London, expected to be the tallest building in Western Europe when it opens in 2012, employs a bold new method that could speed construction of tomorrow’s skyscrapers: Build the tower and dig the basement at the same time. A custom deep-diving rig put the tower’s structural columns into the ground before excavation took place, so one construction crew can dig the basement—which otherwise puts everything else on hold—while another installs elevators, staircases and mechanical fixtures on top of the columns. Engineer Bob Gordon of the Mace Group estimates that the technique will save seven months of construction time. See more images of the Shard tower at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Engineering: Triple34-25

Depleted oil wells have left a long, ugly trail of disused rigs along Europe’s northern shores—400 idle platforms in Northern Europe alone need to be decommissioned in the next 30 years. But how to dispose of them? Sinking them doesn’t win points with Greenpeace, and existing leveling techniques often force workers to hand-cut metal with a gas torch, which can stretch out the decommissioning process to three expensive years. Rusch, a Dutch crane-repair company, reduces much of the procedure to months with a monster demolition machine. The company created a hybrid beast that combines the girth of an excavation machine, the lightness of a telescopic crane and the stability of a crawler crane, for a 330-ton behemoth that looks like a brontosaurus on treads. TRIPLE34-25 made its debut at an oil graveyard near Haugesund, Norway, in August. Its boom has a reach equivalent to the height of a 12-story building, while its high-tensile steel jaws toss aside pieces as heavy as 2.5 tons. To keep the whole thing from toppling over, massive caterpillar tracks distribute the machine’s weight across a 969-square-foot area. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Engineering: China Central Television (CCTV) Headquarters

CCTV’s new headquarters in Beijing wears its engineering on its sleeve. So complex is this 768-foot-tall anti-skyscraper that the architects, the Netherlands-based Office of Metropolitan Architecture, chose to show off the structural seams for visual effect. The building is a continuous loop (resembling a twisted doughnut to some, “big shorts” to others), a shape that would normally be too stiff to stand up against the region’s famously epic earthquakes. The solution: Engineers at Arup enclosed the more than five-million-square-foot building in a triangulated steel surface, forming what’s called a diagrid, and optimized the pattern to meet structural demands. The triangles are dense in regions that bear heavy loads and spare where loads are light. This gives the building, whose interiors are now under construction, enough flexibility to survive the kind of ungodly tremors that occur once every 2,500 years. See more images, and a video of the building of the CCTV Headquarters, at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health Grand Award Winner: 3M/Littmann Electronic Stethoscope Model 3200 With Zargis Cardioscan

The stethoscope is older than the x-ray, the ballpoint pen, Popular Science and pretty much everything else in your doctor’s office. Now, 190 years after its invention, the go-to diagnostic tool hanging around every doc’s neck has earned a modern makeover. The sound-amplifying 3M Littmann Electronic Stethoscope 3200 listens to a patient’s heartbeat—lub-DUB, lub-DUB—and beams the beats to Cardioscan software that detects abnormalities. Even top physicians have trouble discerning the swishing sounds that result from irregular surges of blood after the lub from the ones that follow the DUB. Called murmurs, the former are harmless, but the latter can indicate ailments such as congenital heart defects, holes in the heart wall, and constricted or leaky heart valves that interrupt blood flow. If the heartbeat sounds remotely atypical, many doctors prescribe a conclusive, and expensive, echocardiogram test. 3M’s stethoscope eliminates that guesswork. It transmits heart sounds to a doctor’s PC by Bluetooth, and Cardioscan renders a near real-time graphical representation of the sounds onscreen. The software then analyzes the sound waves and highlights minute abnormalities that signal harmful murmurs. The doctor can play the sound back at half speed to diagnose a problem more confidently, save the file to the patient’s chart, and e-mail it all to a cardiologist to confirm the diagnosis. Early tests of the system suggest that it could eliminate more than eight million unnecessary echocardiograms and cardiologist visits a year, saving some $9.4 billion and, even better, catch more of the dangerous murmurs. For doctors, and anyone with a heart, this stethoscope’s upgrades are well worth the two-century-long wait. See a video of the 3M/Littmann Electronic Stethoscope Model 3200 With Zargis Cardioscan in action at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: Neuronetics NeuroStar TMS Therapy System

An electromagnetic headpiece could help the millions of depression sufferers for whom antidepressants fail. The nonsurgical NeuroStar Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation system is as easy as a teeth cleaning. The patient sits in a chair as an electromagnetic coil pulses magnetic fields to his or her left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates mood. This stimulates neurons to make more mood-enhancing dopamine. After 30 40-minute daily sessions, half of the patients in a clinical trial experienced significantly reduced symptoms; a third reported complete resolution. Last fall, it became the first TMS therapy to earn FDA approval. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: El Camino Hospital

The new El Camino Hospital in Silicon Valley is the most technologically advanced in the world. The $470-million facility features robots that carry supplies and give surgeons tools, remote robotic surgery capabilities, palm-scanners for patient registration, and infection-resistant bedside computers. Patients’ exam results, location and vital signs are transmitted to nurses, doctors and a central server over secure Wi-Fi. Medical providers wear voice-activated communication devices—a “Where’s Doctor Robert?” query provides a direct connection, eliminating noisy hospital-wide pages. The facility opened for doctor training in October. See more images of the El Camino hospital at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: Xhale HyGreen

A quick hand washing could keep hospital staff from spreading germs that lead to nearly two million in-hospital infections a year. The HyGreen system reminds them to scrub—and keeps a record of who doesn’t. After cleaning their hands with alcohol-based sanitizers, doctors and nurses place them under the HyGreen sensor that sniffs for alcohol, which kills 99.99 percent of germs, and sends a wireless “all clean” message to a badge worn on the person’s shirt pocket. A wireless monitor on patient beds searches for the message—if it’s absent, the badge vibrates, reminding the wearer to sanitize his hands. During a five-month field test of HyGreen at the University of Florida’s medical center, infection rates dropped to zero. See more images of the Xhale HyGreen at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: TruFocals

Good for reading the paper, watching a movie and everything in between, TruFocals glasses are the first spectacles to offer adjustable focus on the go. Each lens consists of an outer lens with a corrective distance prescription, and a flexible inner lens. Attached to the latter is a membrane filled with a silicon-based liquid, which remains transparent and fluid at any temperature. Flicking the slider mechanism built into the bridge squeezes the liquid, changing the curvature of the membrane to bring nearby or faraway objects into focus. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: Filligent Limited BioMask

If face masks come into style this winter, all the smart people will be wearing the BioMask. Its interwoven cellulose fibers bind to bacteria and viruses, and zinc and copper within it kill them by destroying their cell walls, preventing you from inhaling germs or spreading your own around. Lab tests show that when sprayed with 50 times as much influenza A as is contained in a sneeze, the BioMask kills more than 99.9 percent of the flu virus in less than a minute, and all of it after 10, compared with the 50,000 bugs still thriving on a regular mask. Because the snug-fitting mask kills germs on contact, it can be used multiple times a day, unlike conventional one-and-done masks. Currently available in Hong Kong and Europe, it should hit the States early next year. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: Xela Innovations Purleve Hygienic Door Handle

The Purleve hygienic handle makes the doorknob the cleanest thing in a public restroom, when usually it harbors thousands of infection-causing bacteria. The system stores thousands of spooled sterile plastic sleeves inside. After someone uses the handle, a motor within the handle mount draws the used plastic sleeve inside, dispenses a fresh sleeve up through the center of the hollow handle, and turns the sleeve inside-out as it unrolls over the handle’s exterior. For good measure, the sleeves contain Microban, an antimicrobial agent that kills 99.9 percent of germs and keeps the used sleeves from contaminating the new ones. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: InSound Medical Lyric Hearing Aid

The Lyric hearing aid is the first you can wear for months straight without surgical implantation. The bean-size device stays inside your ear canal even when showering and sleeping, for up to four months. Sitting just a sixth of an inch from the eardrum, closer than any other hearing aid, it maximizes use of the entire outer ear to capture sound naturally. On the speaker end, the short distance to the eardrum reduces distortion. The user adjusts volume levels or turns it on or off by holding a small magnetic wand up to it. Patients replace the used Lyric every three to four months during a quick visit to the audiologist. See a video of the InSound Medical Lyric Hearing Aid at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: ClearCount SmartSponge

ClearCount sponges pull double lifesaving duty. After soaking up blood during a surgery, they alert docs before they can be accidentally sewn up inside a patient—a potentially fatal mistake that requires a lengthy hospital stay and antibiotics to clear up. A table-side scanner keeps continuous tabs on the location of the radio-frequency ID tag securely embedded in each sponge and counts how many have gone into the patient. Once the doctor finishes the operation, he simply waves the RFID wand over the patient to ensure that he or she is sponge-free. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: Hothead Technologies for Football Helmets

A broken leg can end a football player’s season, but overheating can end his life. A Hothead helmet will get football players off the field before heat stroke sets in, a problem that’s killed 39 players since 1995. Every 10 seconds, a thermometer inside measures skin temperature near the player’s temporal artery and transmits it to a PDA monitored by a trainer on the sidelines. An alarm sounds if the player’s temperature crosses 102.5ºF to ensure that the coaches get to the player before he reaches 104º, the point where organ systems begin to fail and it becomes more difficult to revive the athlete. See more images of Hothead helmets at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: SAM Medical Celox Trauma Gauze

When an emergency medical technician is treating a victim, time spent searching for the right gear could be the difference between life and death. Celox trauma gauze is the only two-in-one gauze that can both seal gashes and cool burns. Woven from chitosan fibers, a blood-clotting agent derived from shrimp shells, it absorbs 16 times its weight in blood. For burn victims, medics can wrap the wound and then soak it with water to turn the bandage into a gel that evaporates to cool burns by 10ºF for 20 hours. Military medics looking to lighten their load have already placed orders for the multitasking gauze. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Health: Medical Acoustics Lung Flute

The nearly 10 million Americans who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease rely on medications and strenuous coughing to help break up the thick gobs of mucus clogging their lungs. The Lung Flute does the job with just 15 to 20 puffs of air. Blowing into the reed instrument (see how it’s done here) sends a steady 16-hertz vibration into a user’s chest, dislodging mucus in the lungs so that it’s easier to cough up. Scheduled to receive FDA approval this fall, the flute also serves as an easy method for collecting deep-lung sputum for tuberculosis tests—especially useful in developing countries where TB is prevalent. See a video of the lung flute in action, and read an innovator profile, at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Recreation Grand Award Winner: Sea-Doo GTX Limited iS 255

Rocketing along the water at 60 mph in a personal watercraft (PWC) is a lot of fun, but it’s not traditionally the safest pastime. PWCs make up less than 10 percent of recreational boats yet account for 24 percent of all accidents, in large part because they have no brakes and cannot be steered when the throttle is released. After eight years of research and development aimed at reversing those gloomy statistics, Sea-Doo finally unveiled the GTX Limited iS 255, the first PWC with on-water braking. Conventional PWCs merely slow to a stop after you let go of the throttle, but when a rider squeezes the Sea-Doo’s bicycle-like hand brake, a computer cuts the power so the forward jet quickly stops thrusting. Calculating the precise amount of thrust needed to counter the forward momentum, the computer also drops an aluminum gate up to two inches below the hull, creating drag and reversing the thrust to slow the craft down. This complex orchestration can bring a Sea-Doo traveling at 50 mph to a dead stop in about 100 feet—half the distance of a brakeless PWC. But this isn’t just the safest PWC on the water; it may also be the most comfortable. A unique gas-shock-equipped full suspension—another PWC first—swallows choppy water and can be adjusted on the fly for either a stiffer, performance-oriented ride or a cushy cruise. Look for the braking system and full suspension in three additional Sea-Doo models for 2010, including the newly upgraded 260-horsepower GTX Limited iS 260, and for the braking system alone in four other models. See more images, and a video, of the Sea-Doo GTX Limited iS 255 at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Recreation: Lunt Solar Systems LS60T/Ha/PT Pressure-Tuned Solar Telescope

Studying the surface of the sun through a telescope requires backyard astronomers to use heavy-duty filters to avoid melted eyeballs. Lunt’s telescope is the first solar scope that uses air pressure to tune the etalon, the filter that safely reveals the most surface details, like solar flares and prominences. (Typical solar telescopes tilt the etalon, which distorts those details.) With the company’s Doppler True Tuning technology, you turn a piston, increasing the pressure inside its sealed air chamber and the etalon housing contained within it. This alters the way light refracts as it passes through the etalon, resulting in sharp focus and a stunning 3-D effect. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Recreation: Callaway uPro

Think of golf range finders and GPS devices like good caddies, providing accurate distance measurements on blind shots and unfamiliar courses. That makes the compact uPro the Tiger Woods of caddies, adding satellite-photography-based course maps to give players a photorealistic flyover view of each hole—and a real competitive advantage. It also displays high-resolution pictures of sand traps, water hazards and other elements on its large screen, offering a precise virtual view of just about any shot on the course. With a database of more than 18,000 courses across the U.S., the only thing it can’t do is carry your bag. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Recreation: Klymit NobleTek Gas Insulation

Cold-weather apparel made with Klymit NobleTek is simultaneously ultralight and hyper-efficient, thanks to chambers that keep the body warm in the same way double-paned windows insulate a building. A layer of argon has the same thermal conductivity as a layer of down or synthetic fiber insulation three times as thick, and unlike those materials, it’s unaffected by wetness or compression. The wearer can adjust the warmth level on the go by connecting a thumb-sized argon canister to a valve in the pocket, filling the 15-millimeter chambers for more heat or releasing the gas to cool down. And because argon is nearly weightless, Klymit’s 10.5-ounce Double Diamond four-way stretch vest boasts the highest warmth-to-weight ratio on the market, keeping you both warm and mobile on the slopes. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Recreation: Ardica Moshi Power System

Originally developed for military use, Moshi is the first apparel- heating system that’s strong enough both to warm clothing and charge portable electronic devices. Seven rechargeable lithium-ion batteries housed in a lightweight foam sleeve power heat-generating conductive yarn, warming the wearer of Moshi-equipped items like Mountain Hardware’s Refugium jacket ($230; for up to nine hours between battery charges. At the same time, you can juice up your iPod or cellphone via a USB port (as many as eight times on a single charge of the battery pack) and even remove the slim pack to use as a portable gadget charger anywhere you go. See more images of the Ardica Moshi Power System at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Recreation: Yamaha FX Nytro MTX SE 162

The heavy steel coils in snowmobiles’ suspension systems make them tough to maneuver through narrow forest trails. The FX Nytro replaces those coils with nitrogen-filled shock absorbers to reduce weight and enable riders to move smoothly through tight spots and deep snow. A simple bicycle-like pump lets riders adjust pressure in all four shocks depending on their weight and how stiff a ride they want, making the vehicle truly one-size-fits-all. See more images of the Yamaha FX Nytro MTX SE 162 at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Recreation: Somnio Running Shoes

Developed at the biomechanics lab at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Colorado, Somnio is the most customizable running shoe you can get without a trip to the podiatrist. Each pair is finely tuned to the wearer’s biomechanics, such as weight, stride and arch, based on detailed in-store foot measurements and gait analysis. Between three different footbeds, foam cushion inserts and varus wedge inserts, there are 11,644 possible combinations for every pair, so you can find the perfect fit for pain-free running. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Recreation: CamelBak All Clear UV Microbiological Water Purifier

Cleaning water using ultraviolet light removes 99.99 percent of viruses, protozoa and other microscopic beasties you’d rather not ingest that most filters can’t catch, and now you can do it on the go. (Chemical treatments also remove such things but take far longer.) CamelBak has incorporated UV into a lightweight one-liter bottle that lets you treat the water easily and quickly: Just fill it up, press a button, and in 80 seconds the LED screen indicates that you’re ready to drink. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Recreation: ScubaPro Seawing Nova

It was the morning after Labor Day on a small island near Wilmington, North Carolina. Friends who had gone diving there came home with loads of booty: lost sunglasses, watches and such. So I was there to do a little treasure hunting of my own, with the help of these Seawing Nova fins. Once underwater, the first thing I noticed about them was how powerful my kicks felt. Unlike conventional blades, which bend gradually as you kick, these have an articulated joint much like the tail of a dolphin that enables the entire surface of the blade to reach the 45-degree angle necessary for maximum thrust. The fins’ joint design also freed engineers to remove excess material that usually attaches the blade to the foot pocket, so the Nova is lighter and has less drag—all of which leads to less kicking effort, less air consumption and, ultimately, more underwater time. I searched all morning, but in the end I found nothing—except for a new favorite set of fins. —Mark Anders See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Green Tech Grand Award Winner: Steward Advanced Materials Thiol-SAMMS: The Toxin Terminator

This simple-looking white powder can get mercury-contaminated water 100 times as clean as any other method, for about half the cost. Each grain is actually a carefully engineered molecular sponge designed to absorb more than half its weight in mercury. The product of more than 15 years of research, Thiol-SAMMS is made of silica molecules assembled into a spongelike pattern of holes, packing the surface area of a football field into just one teaspoon. Sulfur atoms, which can bind poisonous mercury, coat each of the minuscule holes. When the powder meets a tainted liquid, mercury seeps inside and bonds with the sulfur to instantly form a stable powder safe for landfills—the first time anyone’s been able to send mercury waste to the dump without an expensive separate step to neutralize the toxin. SAMMS has successfully cleaned wastewater in a variety of settings, including a coal plant, an offshore oil rig and a chemical manufacturer. Four treatment tanks, each with a 10-pound load of the product, can treat about a million gallons of water. Soon SAMMS cartridges might help clean up lakes, streams and sewers. Thiol-SAMMS can also recover precious metals such as copper and gold, and researchers are now switching out the sulfur for other atoms so that it could mop up radioactive waste. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Green Tech: Ecovative Design EcoCradle

Your next toilet may come packed in fertilizer for your garden. EcoCradle is the only treeless, biodegradable shipping material that can be molded into as many shapes as polystyrene, a.k.a. Styrofoam, so it can protect objects of any size or weight. Ecovative Design fills a reusable mold with agricultural waste like rice husks and sprays on mushroom root cells, which eat the husks and grow to form a dense network that packs the mold. After baking, the lightweight material feels like Styrofoam, but its production uses one eighth the energy. The ‘shrooms made their debut this fall cradling shipments of window blinds. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Green Tech: ECO2 Plastics Environmental System

Recycling’s dirty little secret: Processing plants use up to 100,000 gallons of water a day, mostly to wash crusty food and chemicals off containers before they can be ground up. ECO2 created the first waterless recycling process, employing a corn-based, biodegradable liquid solvent that dissolves buildup and is then distilled so it can be reused. With this system, plants can slash expenses by a third by essentially eliminating their water bill. The first plant started using the money-saving process in October 2008; since the method cleans any plastic, the company is now working to wash previously unrecyclable auto parts. See more images of the ECO2 Plastics Environmental System at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Green Tech: Voltree Power Javelin Rapid Deploy

The U.S. Forest Service will now know more about where blazes are about to hit. This month, it’s installing Javelin, the first system that can send temperature, humidity and wind data from beneath the tree canopy, letting officials monitor at-risk areas. Unlike satellite-connected units, which must sit in a clearing, Javelin nodes can beam data out of thick, leafy woods. Their short-distance radios relay information to each other in a web and pass it to a satellite unit at the edge that feeds into the National Interagency Fire Center’s network. Coming this summer: a Javelin system that runs off the natural voltage difference between a tree and the soil. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Coolerado H80

Coolerado’s rooftop air conditioner handles dry weather more than twice as efficiently as anything else, cutting energy consumption in the hottest, most AC-dependent desert areas. It improves the specific type of unit used in arid regions, which pulls heat out of the air when water inside the unit evaporates (much as sweat cools you down as it evaporates). The system also cools the air around the water, creating a bigger temperature difference so it can absorb more heat from the outside air. When it rains, a traditional compressor kicks in to cut moisture. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Green Tech: IST Energy GEM

The trailer-sized Green Energy Machine (GEM) is the first all-in-one, on-site device to produce clean energy from trash, letting business parks, universities and towns make their own power. IST shrank the components of big gasification plants found in several American cities. Companies toss trash in, and the machine compresses and blasts it with 1,600°F heat, turning it into a mix of combustible gases. The gas can then be funneled to a nearby generator. Three tons of waste a day can heat and power a 200,000-square-foot building, as well as the GEM itself. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Entertainment Grand Award Winner: Microsoft Project Natal

Nintendo brought us the notion of playing games by waving a controller, but Microsoft showed off something even better this year: gaming with no controller at all. A prototype system dubbed Project Natal lets Xbox 360 games respond to anything from full-body lunges to subtle hand gestures, voice input and even facial expressions. Unlike the Wii, you don’t hold anything. Your movements and voice control the game. The hardware component of the Natal system, which sits above or below the TV, includes a color video camera, an infrared emitter and sensor that give it depth perception, a mic that figures out where you are, and a microprocessor to crunch all that data. The software component is the true breakthrough, though, digesting data in real time from 48 points on the body plus audio input and delivering perfectly smooth game control. There are still lots of questions about Project Natal, including price and delivery dates, but Microsoft has clearly shown that for innovative gameplay, it has all the right moves. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Entertainment: Dolby Laboratories Pro Logic IIz

Nine speakers may seem like overkill, but Dolby’s Pro Logic IIz fulfills the promise of surround sound: audio that envelops you from all over, not just the sides. The new technology for AV receivers pipes sound to the usual center, side and back channels, plus two extra ones positioned three feet above the main left and right speakers, adding a vertical dimension to the surround sound. In existing soundtracks, the system recognizes nondirectional sounds like falling rain and sends them to the new speakers. But audio engineers and videogame designers can also create sound channels specifically for the speakers, more accurately placing sounds like a helicopter coming in for a landing or a sniper on a roof. And it’s not unaffordable: The first receiver to incorporate the tech is the $650 Onkyo TX-SR607. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Entertainment: Yahoo Connected TV

After years of wonky attempts from TV makers and software companies, Yahoo finally offers a couch-based Web-surfing experience that actually works. Yahoo’s TV Widgets, software built into Internet-connected TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio, give you specially formatted bits of information instead of regular Web pages. Just press a button on the remote to bring up YouTube videos, Twitter updates, eBay auctions, Flickr photos and news headlines on a full screen or in the corner of your show. No keyboard, no fees, no hassle. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Entertainment: Focus Enhancements Summit Wireless

Lose the speaker cables without losing a single detail from the soundtrack. Focus Enhancements new wireless technology delivers the pinnacle of wireless audio: uncompressed 7.1-channel surround sound. To take advantage of it, you’ll need speakers equipped with the Summit chip (Aperion Audio will start selling the first set next year) and a module to attach to your receiver or Blu-ray player that allows it to send audio to the speakers (evenutally source components will have the technology built in as well). It uses a dedicated channel in a recently opened part of the radio spectrum, which eliminates interference from Wi-Fi or microwaves and affords enough bandwidth to beam 7.1 channels of surround sound with an inaudible delay of only 2.2 milliseconds. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Entertainment: Isabella Products Vizit

Save yourself a trip to grandma’s to reload the digital frame you gave her. Even if she doesn’t have an Internet connection, you can pop new pics onto her Vizit digital photo frame from anywhere. With a built-in AT&T; cellphone chip, the 10-inch touchscreen automatically displays photos you load to, shots sent to it from your cameraphone, or album feeds from photo sites like Flickr and Photobucket. It’s also the first two-way frame, so you can reply or forward photos to other Vizit owners directly from the screen. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Entertainment: Panasonic TC-P54Z1

This 54-inch plasma set is one inch slim with no visible inputs, tuner or tangle of cables. Those are across the room, attached to a separate tuner box, which sends 1080p, the highest-resolution video, to the set from up to 30 feet away. The Z1 is the first TV and tuner box capable of transmitting an uncompressed Blu-ray signal from across the room, courtesy of the SiBEAM 60-gigahertz WirelessHD chip inside. The tech delivers four-gigabit-per-second data rates, far faster than anything previously available at consumer prices. See more images of the Panasonic TC-P54Z1 at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Entertainment: MediaMall Technologies PlayOn Digital Media Server

Tap into all the high-quality (and free) online video available today without stuffing a PC into your living room. Instead, use a device that’s already there: your game console. Just install the PlayOn software on any PC in your house, and it will send video from sources like YouTube, CNN, ESPN and Hulu to your TV through your networked Xbox 360, PS3 or Nintendo Wii (or TV or Blu-ray player). Fans can even build and add downloadable plug-ins to get content from nearly any site. So far, PlayOn has added the Cartoon Network, Food Network, NBA and NFL networks, and South Park Studios, among others. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Auto Tech Grand Award Winner: 2010 Mercedes S400 BlueHybrid

The Mercedes S400 BlueHybrid is the world’s first production car to shift from the nickel-metal-hydride batteries in today’s hybrids to a lighter, more-powerful lithium-ion battery designed expressly for an automobile. The results are impressive. The large, luxurious flagship sedan returned 29 highway mpg during our testing—a 30 percent gain over the V8-powered S550 version—and 21 mpg in the city. It achieves these numbers by combining a downsized V6 with a 20-horsepower electric motor and a 0.9-kilowatt-hour li-ion battery for a total of 295 horsepower, giving it a 0–60 time of 5.4 seconds. Unlike with most hybrids, the compact battery doesn’t hog trunk space (it fits under the hood), saddle the car with excess weight, or add several thousand dollars to the price. Starting at $88,825, the Mercedes actually costs $3,650 less than the V8 version. But the S400 is only the beginning. Mercedes says the entire S-Class lineup could go hybrid in coming years. This fall at the Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany, Mercedes unveiled a glimpse of that future in the concept S500, a plug-in hybrid S-Class that could top 70 mpg while delivering a 5.5-second blast from stoplight to 60 mph. Expect a slew of other automakers to follow with some form of lithium-ion-powered hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle in the next two to three years. See more images of the Mercedes S400 at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Auto Tech: 2009 BMW 7 Series

The 2009 BMW750i and its larger brother, the 750Li, exemplify the latest trends in automotive technology. First, there’s the smaller, more efficient engine; a twin-turbocharged V8 spools up to 400 horsepower, making the new 7 faster than the outgoing V12-powered model. Inside, the ridiculously spacious sedan is loaded. The High-Beam Assist monitors approaching cars, automatically dims the brights, and switches them back on the instant the car passes. Infrared Night Vision detects pedestrians in your path and warns you on the head-up display. Even the once-scorned iDrive gets it right, with an enormous high-res screen and effortless control of vehicle functions. Europeans get extras that may eventually float our way: full Web-surfing capability and a camera system that reads road signs and displays speed limits. See more images of the BMW 7 Series at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Auto Tech: Lexus Remote Touch

All-in-one controllers for audio, navigation and vehicle functions have come a long way since 2001, when BMW’s iDrive first befuddled buyers. But with the latest evolution—Lexus’s Remote Touch, unveiled this year on the RX-series crossover SUVs—the console controller has truly arrived. This slick interface, which is as intuitive as a joystick, is linked to a high-mounted display screen, making it easier to keep eyes on the road while juggling electronic tasks. A trapezoidal mouse and elegantly curved palm rest fall naturally into your right hand, offering smoother operation than either a touchscreen or rotary knob. Much like a Wii controller, the joystick uses haptic feedback to increase the physical resistance as the cursor approaches onscreen menu icons, and it allows the cursor to “snap to” icons with less need for precise mouse control. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Auto Tech: Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max Tires

Promising a significant 4 percent gain in fuel economy, the Fuel Max tire will be standard equipment on the Chevrolet Volt when it goes into production late next year. A new tread compound reduces rolling resistance, meaning less energy lost to friction, with no reduction in dry- or wet-weather traction. In August, an Australian couple set a new world mileage record on the Fuel Max Tires, managing 67.9 mpg over a 9,000-mile, three-week trip through the U.S. in a stock Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel, whipping the 58.82-mpg record they had set the previous year in the same car over the same route. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Auto Tech: The 2011 Nissan Leaf

For all the hype over electric cars, no one from Detroit to Silicon Valley has managed to put a four-passenger, highway-legal, 100-percent electric car in showrooms, at any price. This year, however, Nissan unveiled the Leaf, which when it goes on sale next year will be the first mass-market pure-electric car. It will be affordable, too, at an estimated $28,000 to $32,000 before the $7,500 federal clean-car tax break. Powered by lithium-ion batteries that charge from a standard wall outlet and an electric motor that produces a powerful 206 pound-feet of torque, the five-passenger hatchback promises a 100-mile-plus driving range, futuristic interior styling, a generous amount of cargo space, and the prospect of never visiting a gas station again. See more images of the 2011 Nissan Leaf at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Auto Tech: Volvo City Safety

The City Safety system is a trusty wingman for distracted drivers. If you lose focus behind the wheel of the 2010 Volvo XC60, the vehicle can stop itself before you smack the stopped car in front of you. A laser sensor tracks the distance between you and the car ahead; approach too quickly, and the system hits the brakes. Below 10 mph, the Volvo is just about foolproof at preventing a fender bender, as we learned when we tried, and failed, to plow into an inflatable test vehicle. Between 10 and 19 mph, it will markedly slow the vehicle before impact. And no, this isn’t going to encourage text-messaging while driving: The system applies brakes late and hard, ensuring an experience far too jarring for anyone to be tempted to use it as an autopilot. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Auto Tech: 2010 Toyota Prius

Take your cues from the interactive energy-data screens, which tell you how to drive more efficiently, and 55 to 60 mpg in the 2010 Prius is within reach. On this third-generation model, a more-efficient gas engine, better aerodynamics, and a host of other small improvements—for example, this Prius is the world’s first car whose air conditioner is driven entirely by battery—add up to 10 percent better fuel efficiency than the previous iteration. And you can expect the Prius to get even more efficient in the future: This fall, Toyota began testing a plug-in model that can travel up to 12 miles on electricity alone before switching to gas-electric operation. See more images of the 2010 Toyota Prius at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Auto Tech: Nissan SynchroRev Match Transmission

For decades, the “heel and toe” maneuver—shifting to a lower gear while braking with the toes of your right foot and tapping the gas pedal with your heel, all to carry maximum speed through turns—separated serious stick-shift drivers from the rest of us. Nissan’s SynchroRev Match may make this quaint two-step obsolete. Introduced on the new 370Z sports car, the computerized system constantly monitors the clutch pedal, shifter position, and vehicle and engine speed. Yank the shifter toward a new gear, and SynchroRev Match automatically boosts the engine to the ideal speed for a precisely matched shift, preventing grinding gears and chassis jolts. And for drivers determined to play Mario Andretti and perfect their technique, there’s a handy “off” switch. See more images of Nissan’s SynchroRev Match at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Auto Tech: 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

High mileage and low emissions don’t mean boring driving. This year VW, one of the long-standing kings of small-car diesel, proves it with the 2010 Golf hatchback, a sporty clean diesel that’s perfectly affordable. Using the same 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine as its cousin, the 2009 Jetta sedan, the Golf TDI hits 50 mpg on the highway—30 percent better economy than a comparable gas engine, but with 25 percent less carbon emissions. Yet unlike diesel competitors, the Golf and the Jetta meet stringent emissions rules without having to carry exhaust-scrubbing urea solution. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Auto Tech: Ford Active Park Assist

A car that parallel-parks itself perfectly, each and every time: Where was this when you were stuck in driver’s ed? Drive past parked cars on either the left or right side, and Ford’s sonar-based system flashes the go-ahead when it spots an opening large enough to fit models like the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT. Press the button, and the car automatically steers itself into impressively tight spots, while the driver simply manages the gas and brakes. See more images, and a video, of Ford Active Park Assist at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Computing Grand Award Winner: Wolfram Research WolframAlpha

A typical search engine is a reference librarian: Ask it a question, and it suggests where to find the answer. WolframAlpha, physicist and software guru Stephen Wolfram’s lifelong labor of love, is the impatient geek who overhears your query and leaps in with the answer. Enter a few words into the Alpha homepage, and the magic begins. It runs a series of algorithms that use context and probability to interpret what you’re asking, scours more than 10 trillion pieces of data that have been painstakingly curated and sourced by a team of 200 researchers, compiles a series of answers by culling the information (using Mathematica, the computational software Wolfram built 20 years ago, which helps fund Alpha), and then presents the answers in text, graphs, tables, charts or maps. The engine can show you the exact position of the moon on any day in history, compare the results from your medical test with those of the wider population, and generally answer anything that calls for computing or referencing trusted facts, whether from physics, finance or football. As for the name “Alpha,” Wolfram sees this as the start of a decades-long project to build a system that can compute all human knowledge. Says IBM emeritus computer scientist Gregory Chaitin, “It’s the first step toward a real artificial intelligence.” See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Computing: Logitech Performance Mouse MX

This mouse works where all others have failed: on glass. To track your cursor, the Performance Mouse MX uses two lasers (on easier-to-see surfaces like wood, it uses only one) that scan the glass for microscopic scratches and dust. The laser light bounces off these imperfections—not the surface itself—to tell the mouse’s sensor you’re moving, so the table’s transparency or reflectiveness doesn’t matter. See a video of the Logitech Performance Mouse MX tracking on glass at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Computing: Apple MacBook Pro

Work (or play) for eight hours straight without stopping to recharge your computer’s battery. MacBook Pros carry a workday’s worth of power, compared with just five hours for similarly sized Windows machines with the same processor. Flat lithium-polymer batteries make use of all available space and are nonremovable to free up room usually used for battery connections and encasements. And they’ll last five years—that’s 1,000 recharges—thanks to a chip that sends juice only to the battery cells that need it, so the others don’t overcharge and burn out. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Computing: Google Wave

Google Wave is an alternative to e-mail, instant messaging and file-sharing sites—and combines the best of each in one place. Your inbox shows a list of “waves,” or savable, enhanced online conversations. Pals and co-workers invited to a wave can chat in real time, drag and drop images and documents, and edit past contributions, making it an ideal collaboration tool. And because Wave is open to developers, its capabilities will only grow. For instance, people can create apps that automatically insert news clips into waves or gather polling data from your contacts. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Computing: Clearwire Clear 4G WiMax

If you live in a city with a CLEAR network, you can go anywhere in town and download an entire iTunes album in 90 seconds flat. Clearwire is the first American company to set up WiMax, a wireless technology that has the speed of home Wi-Fi but the long-range coverage of cell towers. Using a unique part of the radio spectrum, the service loads files up to five times as fast as current mobile networks. Launched late last year, CLEAR service plans and hardware, including USB modems and WiMax-equipped netbooks, are available in 25 cities and will blanket 80 markets by the end of next year. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Computing: Nvidia Ion

With the right graphics, a li’l ol’ netbook can be your only PC. Nvidia’s ION chipset pairs a graphics chip with a low-power Intel Atom processor to take on tasks that usually foil netbooks, like playing high-definition movies and converting video formats. And since the graphics chip keeps the burden of video-heavy tasks off the processor, wattage stays low and battery life high. ASUS, HP, Lenovo and Samsung have ION-enabled netbooks, and more are coming in the next year. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Computing: Marvell SheevaPlug

The SheevaPlug looks like a power adapter, but it’s actually a four-inch computer for Linux developers that’s as powerful as some budget desktops but sips a tenth of the power. Developers are using the platform to create a new wave of always-on, Web-connected gadgets, such as the Pogoplug, which gives you access to your external home hard drive from anywhere. Other available SheevaPlug-based devices let you remotely monitor your home energy consumption or watch Web video on an HDTV without having to hook up a full-blown computer. Upcoming plugs will incorporate faster processors, more memory and Wi-Fi to allow more-complicated tasks. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Computing: Microsoft Windows 7

My friends and I used to spend hours arranging (and rearranging) our printed snapshots on the dining-room table. Now we flip through our digital pics together in the same way: Two of us can grab and shuffle photos simultaneously when we use a new multi-touchscreen PC running Microsoft Windows 7, the first major computer operating system with the code needed to understand more than one finger-press at a time. The photo app we used, Microsoft Surface Collage, is designed to take advantage of touch, but any program will respond to iPhone-like gestures like highlighting text with a swipe or zooming on a Web page with a pinch. It’s also easy for software companies to adapt their programs to respond to new kinds of gestures. Updated 3-D modeling software, for example, will let engineers grab and remodel their designs, so a Lotus engine can be manipulated just as easily as my vacation photos. –Corinne Iozzio See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Tech Grand Award Winner: Bosch Full Force Technology

When you pull the trigger on a pneumatic nail gun, a valve releases compressed air to push a piston downward and drive the nail. But most nail guns steal some of the piston’s force to pressurize a return chamber that shoots the piston back after each discharge. This robs the tool of its full power. Bosch’s new line of pneumatic nailers eliminates the return chamber, instead firing a second blast of compressed air to reset the piston. The result is a gun that’s 20 percent smaller yet 10 percent more powerful than anything else out there. With its center of gravity closer to your hand, the gun is easier to control, too. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Tech: TLD100 Thermal Leak Detector

This handheld heat detector lets homeowners check for thermal leaks by translating the complicated readouts common in pro devices into three simple colored beams. Scan your house for drafty windows and doors, and a spotlight will change from green to red or blue in areas of hot or cold. Plugging up all the small leaks in your home (loose power outlets are a common culprit) can help you save as much as 20 percent on your energy bill. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Tech: Hybrid Electric Water Heater

Hot showers just got cheaper. GE’s new hybrid electric water heater uses about 1,856 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year—62 percent less energy than a standard water heater, for an average annual savings of about $320. The unit extracts heat from ambient air, sends it through an evaporator, and compresses it. The electric motor kicks in only if the water temperature dips too far below the set point (that is, if you’re a shower hog). Lower your shower temperature in one-degree increments to scrimp on energy and save cash. Click on High-Demand mode if you’re expecting weekend guests. Bonus: It qualifies for a $480 federal tax credit for green appliances. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Tech: C.H. Hanson Precision Ball Level

Instead of a tiny inscrutable bubble, this tool uses a two-inch-wide ball so you can quickly determine level and plumb without squinting. Modeled after a cockpit’s horizon indicator, the ball sits in a mineral-oil-like fluid and indicates the pitch and angle of the slope. A brass weight inside keeps the ball anchored toward the earth as it rotates 360 degrees, so the level can check two directions when laid on its back, perfect for setting tile. See more images of the C.H. Hanson Precision Ball Level at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Tech: K-Tect Sustainable Building Systems

Homebuilders can ditch the lumber and the expensive labor costs that go with it. These prefabricated, custom-made insulating panels are easier to assemble than conventional wood frames, and more energy-efficient. Kama’s K-tect system uses steel studs that are spaced apart to minimize heat loss and filled with ridged insulation called Neopor. Embedded with heat-deflecting graphite flakes and then expanded with steam, Neopor requires about 50 percent fewer raw materials than other polystyrenes. It’s also recyclable and resists fire, moisture, mildew and termites. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Tech: Solé Power Tile

Billed as the first curved photovoltaic roofing product, the Solé Power Tile replaces add-on solar panels with a new flexible solar laminate bonded to a polymer base that gives tiles the curved shape of regular terra-cotta. SRS partnered with US Tile, the country’s largest clay-tile manufacturer, to make the switch seamless for homeowners: Have the navy tiles installed across the whole roof, or replace just a small section. Depending on how many you install, the tiles can cut your monthly utility bill in half. They can also produce 10 to 15 percent more energy than comparable solar panels, by virtue of a thin-film technology that deflects heat and converts lower levels of light—such as during dawn, dusk or very cloudy days—into electricity. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Tech: Ryobi DUET Power Paint System

To make painting my hallway as quick and painless as possible, I turned to the first powered paint dispenser strong enough to let two people paint at the same time. No fighting over who gets the robotic assist—I used the power roller while my friend handled the tight spaces with the cut-in and corner pads. Dual-control knobs differentiate the flow to each brush and conserve paint. Meanwhile, a pump compresses tubes to keep the paint moving, giving it an even consistency and my walls a smooth finish. Afterward, I pumped the leftover paint back into the can with the flip of a switch and ran warm water through the system to clean it. Next project! —Nicole Dyer See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Tech: Dewalt 4-Piece Motor

Even with all the juice an outlet provides, the capacity of corded power tools is limited by the size of their motor. To increase torquewithout increasing bulk, DeWalt’s engineers split the motor’s casing into multiple pieces, allowing them to squeeze in more power-producing copper coils. DeWalt also developed a manufacturing technique that puts more copper into the wasted space between the wires in the middle of the motor. The extra copper creates a stronger magnetic field—and more oomph to help you drill, saw, or grind faster. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Tech: Bosch P2+R2 Combo Bit

The ubiquitous Phillips-head pattern, on everything from drywall to deck screws, and the nearly unstrippable square-drive screws are two of the most common fasteners. The tip of Bosch’s newly engineered P2+R2 bit fits a number-2 Phillips, while flat spots along the sides match a number-2 square drive. Machined from high-strength steel for durability in both traditional and hex-drive chucks, the P2+R2 should mean less time spent changing bits on the job, and no worries about finding yourself without the right bit. See more images of the Bosch P2+R2 Combo Bit at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.

Home Tech: M12 Copper Tubing Cutter

Repetitive and time-consuming, cutting pipe to length is the low point of a plumber’s day. Milwaukee has developed the first cordless pipe cutter, and it runs on the company’s 12-volt lithium-ion platform. Jaws hold the pipe steady while a cutter rotates around the pipe at 500 rpm, slicing through in seconds. This innovation increases a plumber’s efficiency while rendering a handful of manual cutters obsolete. By making a daily chore into something fairly effortless, powered pipe-cutters could change plumbing the way powered drills changed carpentry. See more at the Best of What’s New 2009 site.