The 50 Best Inventions

The year's most inspired ideas, innovations and revolutions, from the microscopic to the stratospheric

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Phillip Toledano / Trunk Archive

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76 CENTIMETERS | You're not crazy for talking to your mirror in the morning — especially if it's serving you the day's news. The New York Times Co. Research & Development Lab invented a mirror that uses Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor to recognize and interact with you. Step up to the mirror and it reflects who you are; beside your visage you'll see your health history and daily agenda. This magic mirror can do everything your morning routine requires: serve you news, tell you about the weather and rattle off your calendar. Put your morning medication on the sill and it will give you dosage details. It can even alert your doctor when you need a refill. Just don't ask this mirror who's the fairest of them all. Its camera might scan your outfit and offer you a better choice of tie.


76 CENTIMETERS | It's easy to map the lunar surface; even with the naked eye, you can tell peaks from plains. The inside is tougher. That's a shame, because the moon's interior is an intriguing mix of lumps within lumps — areas of varying density and gravity. But a pair of NASA probes launched together on Sept. 10 will soon get a peek inside. As the ships, dubbed GRAIL (for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory), orbit the moon, they will keep a fixed space between them. When they fly over a high-density area, they will get a gravity jolt — like a car hitting a speed bump. This will cause the gap between them to change by about the size of a red blood cell. Instruments will record all these flutters, providing what will amount to a full-body scan of the lunar interior — no X-rays needed.


92 CENTIMETERS | Combining design with technology, Dutch couturier Iris Van Herpen's fantastical dresses are initially planned in Photoshop. She then works with an architect to develop a 3-D model, which is printed onto a polymer over the course of a week, resulting in a ready-to-wear dress that is an exact replica of the original sketched version. Van Herpen — who recently designed the dress Bjrk wears on the cover of her new album, Biophilia — presented her printed dresses during Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week this January.


1 METER (ONE SIDE OF ONE BLOCK) | Plenty of video games allow you to build things. In Farmville you plant crops. The Sims lets you make babies. In Minecraft, a video game designed by Swedish developer Markus Persson, players can build a whole world made of 1-cubic-meter blocks, creating a low-res, retro-looking virtual universe. People have noticed: 16.1 million have registered to try it, and more than 4 million have purchased Minecraft. When the Smithsonian Museum opens its exhibit "The Art of Video Games" in March 2012, Minecraft will be one of 80 games featured.


1.5 METERS | Last summer, the U.S. team fell just short in its bid to win the women's World Cup. It didn't have the same problem at RoboCup 2011. Entered in the Humanoid League, the remote-controlled CHARLI-2 robot defeated Singapore's Robo Erectus. Though stiff, deliberate and slower than a turtle, the bot — created at Virginia Tech by Dennis Hong — secured the prestigious Louis Vuitton Best Humanoid award. According to the RoboCup website, the organization's goal is to create a team capable of defeating human opponents by 2050.

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