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News Link • Inventions

Best of What's New 2010: Our 100 Innovations of the Year

• Mark Jannot via
It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my job: the moment in mid-October when a binder is dropped on my desk containing each page of our December Best of What’s New issue slotted sequentially into place so that I can truly immerse myself in this, our annual celebration of superlative technological innovation.

 I flip and peruse, slow and steady, trying to capture the full sweep before going back through and allowing myself to get sucked in by individual marvels. By the time I’m done poring over the entire package, I’m reliably gobsmacked by what human ingenuity has delivered in a single year. A solar-powered plane that will fly all night. A remote-controlled rescue buoy that can speed to a drowning swimmer 10 times as fast as any lifeguard. A completely reinvented crutch that’s actually comfortable to use. And 97 more! No matter how gloomy my mood, no matter what ails me, this is a cure for it.

Another of my cherished tasks at this time of year is to referee the debate here about which of the honorees will be anointed with our grandest Grand Award, Innovation of the Year. I still remember with fond nostalgia the 2006 battle, when the $1.2-million Bugatti Veyron lost out to Bostitch’s one-cent HurriQuake nail. And this year we had a similar contest, a duel between power and practicality, engineering audacity and design elegance, adrenaline and virtue. The Porsche 918 Spyder concept hybrid supercar was a tough contender, demonstrating that a top speed of 198 mph and a top fuel efficiency of 78 mpg can coexist under the same extremely beautiful hood. But even the realization of no-compromise motoring was not a match for our ultimate winner, an ingeniously simple and inexpensive green box that will make it possible to grow trees in the Sahara. To see why the Groasis Waterboxx is our Innovation of the Year.
Porsche 918 Spyder
The ultimate green supercar

Auto Tech 3 of 12
Porsche 918 Spyder: Ultimate Green Supercar Courtesy Porsche Cars North America

The future of the car will be electrified, and the Porsche 918 Spyder concept shows just how much fun it will be. In this mid-engine supercar’s current configuration, a 3.4-liter racing V8 shares propulsion duty with three electric motors that produce a combined 218 horsepower. Together, all four powerplants create 718 horsepower and catapult the Spyder from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds, with a top speed of 198 mph—but if you don’t floor it, the Porsche can deliver up to 78 mpg. In E-Drive mode, the electric motors alone propel the vehicle. Three different hybrid modes allow you to choose between varying degrees of efficiency and performance.

In the unlikely event you need more power, the “E Boost” button will send a seven-second blast of current to the electric motors. Nearly 2,000 people have already signed letters of intent to buy a Spyder, and the automaker is developing it for sale, though it’s not clear when the estimated half-million-dollar car will appear on streets. In the meantime, the Spyder is already serving as a testbed for technology that will trickle down to the rest of us. Price not set.

Swiftpoint Mouse
A mouse for small spaces

Computing 3 of 8
SwiftPoint Mouse Courtesy Nick Wright/iMagic

When you use a laptop in a cramped airline seat, you have to sacrifice a mouse and use the less-accurate trackpad. The Swiftpoint, though, fits on the small, flat surface alongside the trackpad, turning your laptop into a no-compromise mobile workstation. To work in tight spaces, it uses a miniaturized version of the standard optical sensor and is held between your thumb and forefinger for precise control. $70.

E Ink Pearl Display
Sunny-day e-readers

Gadgets 11 of 12
E Ink Pearl Display (on a Kindle) Amazon

Apple established a market for luxurious mobile entertainment with the iPad this year. But for those of us who just want to read text on a screen, e-readers have also evolved. This year, E Ink improved the chemistry of its display’s pigment particles, resulting in a 50 percent greater contrast that makes beach reading even easier. The technology, called Pearl, was developed in partnership with chipset makers, meaning smaller, less expensive hardware can perform as well as costlier chipsets did in earlier devices. It may have been the year of the iPad, but Pearl brings the cost and legibility of e-readers closer to books than ever before.

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