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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6 CENTIMETERS IN DIAMETER | For Bayerische Motoren Werke, or as we know it, BMW, the headlights on its vehicles are as iconic as the checkered logo: they let you know, even from a distance, that it's a BMW. Now those headlights will last a lot longer. In September, BMW announced the development of headlights that use lasers instead of the current LED bulbs. The lasers consume about half as much energy as LEDs, and they'll be converted to make them safe and less intense than a laser pointer. They'll create a very bright, very white light that's pleasant to the eye and guaranteed not to vaporize oncoming cars.


10 CENTIMETERS | Here's the situation: our 5 billion mobile phones transmit 6 petabytes of data every month. That's 6 with 17 zeros. We're running out of the radio frequencies that are used for wi-fi and cellular networks. Enter Dr. Harald Haas of the University of Edinburgh, inventor of li-fi. Like many other great inventors, Haas developed a solution using things we have in abundance: chiefly the world's 14 billion lightbulbs. His system implants electronics in ordinary lightbulbs and uses subtle changes in light intensity to transmit data. It's fast, and since light doesn't go through walls, it's secure. What could possibly be more illuminating?


10 CENTIMETERS | A joint project of the University of Tokyo and Sony Computer Science Laboratories, the PossessedHand is an armband with 28 electrodes that send electricity through your joints and muscles, producing precise, involuntary finger movements. Essentially, it controls your hand. In theory it could make you play the guitar, or touch-type, or do whatever its evil will desires.


10 CENTIMETERS (THE SIZE OF A TYPICAL TOUCHSCREEN) | Finnish company Senseg's E-Sense technology enables users to not just touch pictures on screens but actually feel them. Tixels — or tactile pixels — simulate a host of textures, from dry and wet to rough and smooth, using electrical fields and vibrations. Theoretically, the interface could work on screens as small as a smart phone or as large as a movie screen.


11 CENTIMETERS (THE SIZE OF AN IPOD) | Could this be the sleeping pill of the future? British ambient band Marconi Union has drummed up the world's most relaxing song: "Weightless" is 8 min. 10 sec. of aural bliss, proved to reduce anxiety by 65% and slow heart rates by 35% as the listener's body rhythm syncs with the song's. Indeed, "Weightless" is so successful at inducing somnolence that scientists caution drivers not to listen to it while behind the wheel.

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