There are simply so many great inventions out there that choosing only ten is a difficult task. In order to choose, we based our analysis on “how many people could be affected by this invention. For example, while “The Curiosity Rover” made Time’s Techland list, it does not directly affect the earthbound user; nor does NASA’s Z-1 space suit. For our top ten inventions of 2012, the gadgets must have the ability to help people, the environment, or change lives. The invention must also be accessible to those who need it.
For the Top 10 Inventions of 2012, the choices come from Time’s Best Inventions of the Year and POPSCI’s 6th Annual Invention Awards.
The HeatSeeker is a powerful and affordable mister for overheated firefighters. When Hurricane Sandy was busily knocking homes off of their foundations in the north east, fires started springing up from open gas lines and burned hundreds of homes. Firefighters fought those flames through the night, and through the storm. Even though many homes were lost, many more were saved because of those volunteers. The HeatSeeker fog can cool the surrounding area by 30 degrees and uses just 2 gallons of water per hour.
According to POPSCI, Michael Robinson invented HeatSeeker and built the prototype after he saw a fellow firefighter struggling to get up off the ground. They were fighting a house fire and the man was wearing 70 pounds of gear. Robinson moved the man to a safe distance from the flames and cooled him down with wet towels; luckily the man recovered. On average, 300 people die from heat exhaustion each year. Many are construction workers, athletes and firefighters. 71% of firefighters are volunteers. Most of the people who die from heat exhaustion, heat stress, heat stroke and related illnesses don’t recognize the symptoms in themselves, even though they would in others.
Robinson created the mister in a friend’s fabrication shop. He installed it on one of the fire trucks, and his captain asked him to build and install 15 more. He has since outfitted fifty fire trucks with the device and added a cap for fire hydrants to cool children in the summer, and one for garden hoses to cool people at outdoor venues.
#9 Body Armor for Women
This comes in at just $555 and is from Time’s Best of 2012. Since women and men are built differently, it makes sense that there are gaps in the body armor if it is not sized properly. The usual answer was to give women body armor that was a men’s small. Those are too big for 85% of our troops. While the added protection is only that this provides a better fit; our troops must be able to move in their body armor for their ground maneuvers to be effective.
#8 Bounce Imaging
This is truly a bargain at $500; Bounce imaging is the size of a baseball with 6 cameras. It was created by an MIT student and Army Ranger. First responders, whether they are Navy Seals, Fire Fighters, or responding to hostage situations, can benefit from this technology and save lives. The baseball sized orb can be tossed or rolled into an area and the cameras send data to mobile devices.
The Over7 is a higher efficiency, lower emission engine system. So many vehicles are going electric, hybrid or alternative fuel; the Over7 improves on engines that are already in use.
Frank Will has spent his life obsessed with engine performance. He started out racing motorcycles in the 70s and eventually became an automotive engineer for Ford in Australia. He left that job in 2008 and began applying his passion to his new project, the Over7. The system works by redirecting the engine’s oil and then heating it. The Over7 reduces gas consumption by 7% and emissions by 30%. Will is now working with Ford, testing and perfecting the technology. He is also working on a conversion kit for existing vehicles which will sell for $200-$400. PROSCI reports that “Putting the Over7 in every passenger vehicle in the US would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 64 million tons a year and save drivers seven billion gallons of gasoline.
A group of students designed the PuzzleCast during a bio-medical-engineering course. The challenge was to design something that was important to all of them, and this particular team had been injured or witnessed the injuries of others. After spending two months in a cast, the patient then undergoes months of painful physical therapy to regain muscle and loosen up stiff joints. The PuzzleCast is a modular design that allows sections to be removed when they are no longer needed, without resetting the limb. In testing, the modular cast cut physical therapy time in half.
In 2011 the students received a $10,000 grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance to test the effects on people who wore the cast, PROSCI reports, and the next step is to license the design to a manufacturer.
#5 Enable Talk Gloves
While Enable Talk gloves are at the outset a device for the hearing and speech impaired, it actually benefits all of us. Four Ukrainian students designed the $75 gloves that allow the impaired to communicate with people who do not understand sign language. A signal is sent from the gloves to the user’s smart phone as text, and an app converts the text to spoken words. This is truly fantastic.
#4 Self-Inflating Tires
Self Inflating Tires run about $200 each, which is pricey, but as soon as the pressure gets low in these Goodyear tires, they know it. These tires are equipped with a sensor that judges the pressure; and a regulator opens to allow air to flow though a pumping tube. Once the optimal pressure is reached, the regulator closes. No more flat tires. The driver won’t even know anything was wrong.
#3 Eliodomestico Solar Water Distiller
Gabriele Diamanti designed this solar powered distiller to use in areas deprived of fresh water. It is half the price and 67% more efficient than other models on the market. People living in coastal areas in third world countries are often deprived of the fresh water that could save their villages. At $50 this item is a must have and Diamante hopes that local manufacturers will adopt his design and go into mass-production for local populations.
#2 The Civilization Starter Kit
Marcin Jakubowski built a tractor in six days Time tells us, and then told the world how to do it. He created designs, a budget and an instructional video on line. Jakubowski isolated the 50 most important machines that are required for our lives, including an oven. He is working to make a low cost version prototype of every one of those 50 items so that anyone can do it. He says that if we can lower the barriers to farming and manufacturing, then more people will do it. According to Jakubowski, “we can unleash massive amounts of human potential.”
#1 Google Glass/iOptic
Yes, it is a tie for first because they are similar, but different. Both promise to bring an augmented reality to our lives. They’re tech right out of a spy movie.
Google Glass is a pair of glasses with a small screen that is activated when the wearer looks up and to the right. There is a computer built right into the glasses and the half inch display allows users to take and share photos, chat, check appointments and access the Web. Google has already given out the prototype during testing. Google Glass has upped their release date to 2013, after complaints from consumers who say they can’t wait two years. Google Glass has an estimated price tag of $1500.
IOptic does that with contact lenses. The user will still wear eyeglasses, which hold two small projectors and cast an image onto the inside surface of the lenses. Randy Sprague spent twenty years as an electrical engineer before quitting in 2008 to start a solar power company. One morning he had an entirely different idea, contact lenses that would act as a wearable display. The iOptic utilizes two sets of nanofilters embedded in each lens that permit different light sources into the eye. IOptic has a target release date of 2014 but no estimate on the price.
Sprague believes his device is useful for everyone from the home gamer, to the military while on a mission. Having access to the web and sharing data is one way to make the world a better and safer place, for all of us. There are others working on similar projects, but the race is on to see who gets there first and which of these products will reign supreme.