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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11.2 CENTIMETERS | When Lytro's tiny rectangular Light Field camera takes a picture, its sensors capture the entire light field, recording each ray of light's color, luminosity (intensity) and vector direction. In layman's terms, it means that nothing is ever out of focus. There's also no shutter delay, so photos are taken instantly. But here's the truly cool part: the camera uses a series of algorithms to let users refocus a picture after it's taken. You can choose to bring different objects at different distances into and out of focus, long after the moment you captured has passed.


11.2 CENTIMETERS | In the U.S. the traditional incandescent lightbulb will be effectively outlawed by 2014. Right now, many fluorescent alternatives contain poisonous materials and give off harsh white light, and they are largely unpopular with the American public. So the race is on to create an energy-efficient bulb that gives off the familiar warm glow we've come to love. Switch Lighting may have an answer. Its 60- and 75-watt-equivalent lightbulbs contain LEDs that give off yellow light and (unlike fluorescents) can be used with dimmer switches. Switch bulbs cost about $20 but use a small fraction of the energy that incandescents do (for example, the 60-watt-equivalent bulb uses only 12.5 watts) and have a life span of 25,000 hours, or 20 years. The bulbs are due to be released in early 2012.


11.4 CENTIMETERS | This is Siri. You may have met. Siri is the latest feature on Apple's iPhone 4S and the intelligent personal assistant you've always wanted. Ask Siri to send a text message or find the best burger joint nearby — done. She can also remind you to pick up your laundry on your way home, and she takes dictation. Siri goes beyond the voice recognition of the past: she understands natural speech without requiring you to use special words and without a learning curve. And Siri is still in beta, which means she should keep getting better.


13.97 CENTIMETERS | Nearly 9,000 deaths in the U.S. could be prevented each year if alcohol-detection devices were used in all vehicles, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Which is why QinetiQ North America, a research-and-development facility in Waltham, Mass., is working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the auto industry to develop touch- and breath-based sensors that could be strategically placed on steering wheels and ignition push buttons to instantly measure drivers' blood-alcohol concentration. The sensors would automatically analyze a driver's breath or skin to determine whether or not he or she was fit to drive. If the blood-alcohol level was at or above the legal limit of 0.08%, the car would start ... but not move. The devices are in testing now and will be embedded into a research vehicle by the end of 2013. If all goes as planned, they could be on the road in eight to 10 years.

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