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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46.2 METERS | By day, Frenchman Yelken Octuri (a pseudonym) is a cabin designer for the airplane manufacturer Airbus. But after office hours, he dreams even bigger, putting his design skills to use on more-futuristic projects. His flying yacht sports a luxe interior that would fit right in on the Mediterranean, but its exterior is something only Daedalus could have dreamed of. Its bullet shape allows it to glide equally well through sea and air, and its stark lines pay homage to Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium. The yacht's four sails tower 40 m above the water, folding down on command into the wings of an airplane with the power to propel the vessel out of the water and into the skies.


THE SIZE OF A JUMBO JET | The 2022 FIFA World Cup is scheduled to be played in Qatar. It's hot in Qatar; temperatures in the summer average more than 100F. Engineers at Qatar University have proposed a radical solution to the problem: huge artificial clouds that would float over the stadium, providing shade. The clouds would be lightweight carbon structures filled with helium and positioned by remote-controlled, solar-powered engines. The other solution, only slightly less radical, would be to hold the World Cup in the winter that year.


57 METERS (WINGSPAN) | The newest beast in the skies is all about efficiency, not capacity. Boeing's 787 Dreamliner lifted off in September after seven years in development. It wasn't designed to be the next big thing — it holds only 264 passengers — but instead to upgrade the way we fly. Environmentalists can admire its 50%-composite body, made of lightweight carbon-fiber plastic, which requires 20% less fuel, but flyers will feel the real changes. The more pliable body allows for higher cabin pressure, reducing altitude sickness. Larger windows mean that even middle-seat dwellers can gaze into the great beyond. Japanese air carrier ANA brought the first two Dream-liners into service this month, and Boeing has orders for 819 more.


61 METERS | Conceived as a monument to long-term thinking, this enormous timepiece — brainchild of inventor Danny Hillis and funded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — will be 61 m tall and housed in a remote West Texas cave. Built primarily out of steel, titanium and ceramic ball bearings, the clock will play a unique melody once each day and when prompted by visitors to the site. Yet the inevitable question on everyone's mind is, can a clock — especially one so complex — endure for 10,000 years? Only time will tell.


63.4 METERS (WINGSPAN) | The Solar Impulse airplane has a wingspan only a meter shorter than that of a Boeing 747, but it weighs as little as a family car. Designed by a team of engineers led by Andr Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne, the single-seat airplane has four electric motors powered by 11,600 solar cells, which can store energy for later use. The Solar Impulse has flown continuously for more than 24 hours; a second model that will be able to fly around the world is in the works.

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