I'M WRITING THIS from a window seat on a flight from New York to Chicago, typing these words on a laptop whose backlit LCD screen is so blasted by the above-the-clouds sun that I've had to lower the shade to see what I'm doing. Tucked into the bag at my feet is a device—the Amazon Kindle—with an E Ink screen that becomes clearer in direct light, but has no backlight at all, so up goes the shade.
Considering that our Best of What's New Awards issue [December] boldly crowns the top 100 innovations of the year, it's no surprise that the list invariably draws heated debate. The 2009 picks were as contentious as ever. More than one reader took issue with our decision to award the Lexus Remote Touch, a console joystick with a dashboard-mounted screen to control everything from music to navigation.
In the Tanezrouft Basin of south-central Algeria, vegetation is sparse and sand is plentiful. Images like this one, taken by Japan's Advanced Land Observing Satellite, provide researchers with an easy look at hard-to-reach areas to survey natural resources, monitor disasters, and track vegetation coverage.
A worker stands inside one of the Metro tunnels under construction in New Delhi, India, in preparation for the Commonwealth Games this October. To overcome the challenges of a tight three-and-a-half-year schedule and construction underneath a densely populated city, engineers used 14 tunnel-boring machines (TBMs) to dig the underground thoroughfare.
A TAKE-ANYWHERE LAPTOP LASTS ALL DAY, BECAUSE IT'S A PHONE AT HEART
Smartphones already act like mini computers—they send e-mail, play YouTube, let you shop on eBay. Now laptop makers are getting wise. Instead of trying to create ever-sleeker machines by shrinking ordinary PC parts, they're tacking bigger screens and keyboards onto high-end cellphone brains.
These boots keep pressure off your heels. Their polyurethane midsoles are injected with air to absorb nearly one third more shock than other boots. Scarpa Mont Blanc GTX $420; scarpa.com Rather than add the bulk of an onboard projector, a pico projector add-on snaps onto the LG eXpo like a backpack and beams an image of up to 60 inches diagonal onto any surface.
SOME OF THIS YEAR'S BIGGEST RELEASES ARE TINY, FUEL-EFFICIENT CARS
The Fiesta is already Ford's best-selling model in Europe; now the charismatic subcompact is coming here. The 2011 model will have a 119-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and such options as the new PowerShift twin-clutch automatic transmission and leather seats. With a claimed 40 mpg, it's a thrifty alternative to pricier hybrids. LENGTH: 13 ft., 4 in. EST. MPG: 40
General Motors has long been notoriously small-car averse, but the Spark, positioned as a fashion-forward runabout for the urban hip, is the company's attempt to show that it takes the small stuff seriously. GM hasn't revealed many details, but it says the Spark will hit American dealerships in time for the 2011 model year and cost $12,000. LENGTH: 11 ft., 11 in. EST. MPG: TBA
In 2007, Fiat decided to chase the success of the Mini Cooper with a chic update of its Cinquecento, as the 500 is called in Italy. A hit in Europe because of its distinctive shape and copious accessories, the 500 arrives in the U.S. next year as a result of Fiat's investment in Chrysler. It will probably come in a hatchback, a convertible, a wagon and a sports model. LENGTH: 11 ft., 7 in. EST. MPG: 45+
Mazda hasn't sold a subcompact in the U.S. since 1985 , but it's reversing course later this year, when American buyers get their first shot at the sporty 2011 Mazda2. Thanks in part to its fuel economy and surprisingly generous passenger head-and legroom, the Mazda2, already on sale in Europe, was named 2008 World Car of the Year by a jury of auto writers. LENGTH: 12 ft., 11 in. EST. MPG: TBA
The Smart ForTwo microcar proved that some American car buyers—more than 37,000 of them, according to parent company Daimler's latest sales calculations—like it small. And now, with the EPA proposing average fuel-economy standards of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, more car companies will begin relying on pint-size transportation to make their fleets legal.
ENJOY EYE-POPPING EFFECTS WITHOUT LEAVING YOUR COUCH
THE BLU-RAY PLAYER
Blu-ray discs have plenty of room to store a separate 1080p signal for each eye (that's twice as much information as in a 2-D movie), as well as the coding necessary to specify which image is meant for the left side and which for the right. 3-D-ready players use a special chip to interpret this info and send it to a 3-D-capable TV. Samsung BD-C6900 Price not set; samsung.com
Sony Bravia XBR-60LX900
We see depth when images from our left and right eyes merge into one; to re-create that in high-def, TVs must refresh the picture at least 120 times a second with alternating frames for the left and right eye, which tricks your brain into seeing only one image. Most new TVs are fast enough to do this, but to be 3-D-capable, TVs must include a converter chip and software to break down the signal and separate the left and right images. An infrared or radio beam syncs shutter glasses [below] with the screen to produce the final 3-D effect. Sony Bravia XBR-60LX900 Price not set; sonystyle.com
Panasonic Active-Shutter Glasses
Active-shutter glasses, like those included in Panasonic's system, rapidl-y block one eye at a time so that each eye sees only the frame meant for it. The glasses contain two small, black-and-clear LCD lenses that darken or lighten when a radio or infrared pulse from the TV (or an add-on emitter) signals that the image is changing. Panasonic Active-Shutter Glasses Price not set; panasonic.com
The 3-D thrill that swept movie theaters last year is now headed for your living room. In the wake of a new Blu-ray standard for high-definition 3-D, Panasonic, Sony and Samsung are all releasing home-theater setups that can display 3-D movies in full high-def glory.
Before it starts its housework, the XV-11 spins its invisible-laser range finder, taking 4,000 readings a second and measuring the distance to all objects within 13 feet. It repeats this process from several spots until it knows the location of every obstacle in the room, be they walls, doorways or table legs. Using this mental map as a guide, the robot calculates an orderly route. It covers the perimeter and then vacuums back and forth in rows, skirting obstructions and constantly updating its map to avoid Fido's quickmoving legs. Neato XV-11 All-Floor Robotic Vacuum Cleaner $400; neatorobotics.com
Evolution Robotics Mint
Evolution Robotics's Mint robotic mop, due out by December, cleans floors with disposable wet or dry Swiffer cloths that attach to its underside, so there's no dust canister to empty. What's more, even though the Mint doesn't map out an entire room before it starts, it tracks where it's been to ensure that it covers every inch. A small beacon on a shelf beams two spots of infrared light onto the ceiling, and the Mint uses these spots like GPS satellites, gauging and remembering where it is in relation to them. That lets it return to objects it encountered on its first pass, circling them to snag trapped dust. Evolution Robotics Mint Price not set; evolution.com
Autonomous cars and military 'bots find their way by using lasers to make virtual maps of terrain. Neato Robotics's XV-11 applies the same tactic to your messy living room. The robotic vacuum uses smaller, cheaper lasers to scope out a space and plot the quickest path to cover it.
Shoot your every twist without worrying about the elements or blurry footage. Encased in watertight plastic, this Kodak is the first waterproof pocket camcorder to shoot in full 1080p, and its onboard image-stabilizing software helps steady shaky shots across rough terrain. Kodak PlaySport Video Camera $150; kodak.com
Delkin Fat Gecko Mini
Stay hands-free. Delkin's suction-cup camera mount is entirely rust-resistant and affixes cameras of up to four pounds to any smooth surface, like a snowboard or sled. The cup creates an airtight seal that holds strong even when whipping around a racetrack at 200 mph. Delkin Fat Gecko Mini $40; delkin.com
Petzl Tikka Plus2
This 2.9-ounce headlamp shines farther than most built-in camera flashes to brighten up nighttime video and stills. Its white LED provides you with as much light as 200 full moons and illuminates the trail as far as 114 feet ahead. Petzl Tikka Plus2 $40; petzl.com
GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr Mini
Before you hit the slopes, sync this GPS—the smallest of its kind—with your camera's clock and tuck it into your jacket. When you get back, its computer software uses timestamps to figure out where each shot was taken. GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr Mini $70; gisteq.com
Casio Exilim EX-G1
A setting on this Casio tells it to snap a picture every 10 seconds to catch mid-run action. And if it falls into the snow, your shots are safe: Its waterproof steel-and-fiberglass casing lets it survive seven-foot drops and an hour in 10 feet of water. Casio Exilim EX-G1 $300; casio.com
Prone to wipeouts? Even if you end up face-down in a drift trying to tackle a double black diamond, this adventure-ready gear will still be there to preserve the moment when you rebound for another run (or when you hand it to your friends and head back to the lodge).
SAVE ENERGY WITH CHIPS THAT KNOW EXACTLY HOW HARD TO WORK—AND WHEN TO TAKE A SNOOZE
HOW YOU'LL BENEFIT
THE ROAD WARRIOR
THE MEDIA CENTER
HP ProBook 6540b
HP's ProBook and its Intel chip can simultaneously handle all of a business traveler's tasks: running Outlook, logging into a Web conference, chatting on Skype. It's also equipped with mobile broadband for constant Web access through your wireless carrier. HP ProBook 6540b (with Core i3, i5 Price not set; hp.com
Sony Z Series
The battery life in Sony's new Z series is stellar for an ultraportable. Add an optional extra-large battery and, Sony says, the approximately three-pound machine lasts up to 10 hours—helped along by its energy-efficient Intel processor. Sony Z Series (with Core i5 or i7) From $1,830; sonystyle.com
Dell Studio 14
The Dell Studio 14 plays smooth high-def video even with several other programs running, since its processor has the oomph to handle them all (or if only one program is running, part of the system sleeps). The Studio sports a 14-inch screen, HDMI connectivity and an optional Blu-ray drive. Dell Studio 14 (with Core i3, i5 or i7) From $650; dell.com
Efficient new laptops can run multiple programs without sucking extra wattage. That's because they pace themselves. Their processors can shut down partially when the screen is static or when running simple tasks, and ramp up to full steam when big programs call for it.
DIGITIZING THE TREE OF LIFE COULD FINALLY IDENTIFY THOUSANDS OF NEW SPECIES
Over the past 20 years, Richard Pyle figures he's discovered 100 new species of fish. But he's identified only one fifth of them. Pyle, an ichthyologist at Bishop Museum in Hawaii, isn't a slacker—he spent hundreds of hours tracking down those fish.
A NEW CAMERA SYSTEM TRACKS FIELDERS FOR DEFINITIVE DEFENSIVE ANALYSIS
KEEPING AN EYE ON THE BALL
This could be the year that baseball-stat freaks finally crack the "Derek Jeter enigma." A panel of coaches has awarded the New York Yankees' shortstop four of the past six Gold Glove awards for fielding excellence. That drives statisticians nuts, because nearly every statistical model ranks Jeter's defense below average.
A YACHT WITH AN ENORMOUS WING FOR A SAIL COULD WIN IT ALL AT THE AMERICA'S CUP RACE THIS MONTH
This year, the rules have all but disappeared for competitors in the world's oldest international trophy competition, the America's Cup sailing race. Motorized sails are fine, the single-hull rule is out, and in the case of the BMW Oracle Racing team's boat, even sails are optional.
A GIANT CANNON DESIGNED TO BLAST SUPPLIES INTO SPACE ON THE CHEAP
HOW TO SHOOT STUFF INTO SPACE
John Hunter wants to shoot stuff into space with a 3,600-foot gun. And he's dead serious—he's done the math. Making deliveries to an orbital outpost on a rocket costs $5,000 per pound, but using a space gun would cost just $250 per pound. Building colossal guns has been Hunter's pet project since 1992, when, while a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, he first fired a 425-foot gun he built to test-launch hypersonic engines.
Bacteria love hanging out between your teeth—food gets caught there, and brushing can't reach all the germs. If the bugs settle in and form a cavity, your dentist must drill through your tooth just to get at it. But now dentists can trade their drills for a simple treatment that stops early-stage cavities.
NEW CLEAN-FUEL RULES FOR SHIPS COULD ACTUALLY HURT THE ENVIRONMENT
The International Maritime Organization, which oversees the shipping industry, will begin enforcing rules this July that mandate cleaner fuel to cut air pollution and acid rain. Ironically, this eco-motivated change will undo one of our strongest, if accidental, defenses against climate change.
AIRWAVES ABANDONED BY TV COULD BEAM HIGH-SPEED INTERNET EVERYWHERE
When TV went digital, Verizon, AT&T and other cellphone carriers shelled out a combined $19 billion for some of the freed-up airwaves, known as white spaces. Now wireless company Spectrum Bridge is using the parts that are still unclaimed to deliver high-speed Internet from its broadcast tower to your laptop computer.
Defeating soul-deadening gridlock, monster potholes and dangerous road ice
CARS THAT REPORT POTHOLES
BRIDGES THAT FLEX ON THE FLY
ROADS THAT DE-ICE THEMSELVES
CONCRETE THAT SENSES CRACKS AND HEALS ON ITS OWN
TRACKLESS ELEVATED TRAINS
HIGHWAYS THAT STORE HEAT
ADAM M. BRIGHT
Chicago road crews are scrambling to fill 67,000 potholes a month. Communities in Pennsylvania rely on 100-year-old water pipes made of wood. Squirrels still cause widespread blackouts. The country's 600,000 bridges, four million miles of roads, and 30,000 wastewater plants desperately need attention.
Replacing treatment plants that use too much power, and 19th-century networks of leaky pipes
A NEIGHBORHOOD-SIZED SALTWATER PURIFIER
CLEAN WATER LIKE PLANTS DO
CLOT LEAKY WATER PIPES
LAY NEW PIPES WITHOUT DIGGING TRENCHES
BACTERIA THAT MAKE TOXIC WATER GLOW
Our water infrastructure is older than our roads and power grid, with many pipes sitting in trenches dug by hand in the 1800s. In parts of the Northeast, up to 50 percent of our clean water leaks into the ground between the treatment center and the tap.
Overhauling inefficient plants and an ancient grid
HANG SUPERCONDUCTING CABLES THAT WON'T LEAK ELECTRICITY
CRAM MORE COPPER UNDERGROUND
UNDERGROUND POWER LINES THAT HEAL THEMSELVES
ADD STORAGE TO THE GRID
MAKE ENERGY LIKE PLANTS DO
A 2006 study at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that power interruptions cost the economy about $79 billion annually, or about one third of national electric spending, thanks to our aging grid. Meanwhile, energy use is expected to grow by 1,150 terawatt-hours—the equivalent of adding 13 New York Cities—by 2030.
Boosting anemic broadband speeds and wireless networks stuck in the 20th century
MAKE THE NETWORK AIRBORNE
The U.S. ranks 17th worldwide in broadband access, but not for long—last year's stimulus package allotted $7.2 billion for upgrading our underperforming broadband infrastructure. Our legacy copper wiring just can't carry the data to support HD-video streaming, for instance, and next-gen wireless networks are slower to roll out than in, say, Japan, because of the sheer size of this country.
Banishing energy-hogging treatment plants and rotting pipes
DROP ROBOTS DOWN THE DRAIN
TURN SLUDGE INTO ELECTRICITY
Every year, Americans produce 12 trillion gallons of wet sewage and burn 21 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to clean it to drinking-water standards. Why not put the smelly stuff to good use? Thanks to clever new technology, sewage will be reclaimed to provide power, produce fertilizer and, eventually, yield clean water.
Mary Lou Jepsen has created massive holograms and cheap laptops for the developing world. Now she's rethinking the LCD screen, leading the way to the next great gadget: an e-reader to replace your laptop
HOLOGRAMS AND HORMONES
RETHINKING THE SCREEN
TAKING ON THE E-GIANT
READABILITY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
For Mary Lou Jepsen, getting an MRI is not unlike getting a massage—a relaxing ritual, a rare slice of time when no work can possibly be done. I'm accompanying Jepsen to her doctor's appointment at Massachusetts General Hospital because it's the only few hours she can fit me in.
3Qi combines two kinds of displays—an ordinary color LCD and a low-power, high-resolution black-and-white version—into one package. Here's how it pulls it off
BOUNCING BLACK AND WHITE
Part of each pixel acts like one in a normal LCD screen: A backlight [A] shines through a layer of liquid crystals [B]. The crystals control how much light gets through, depending on how they shift their orientation when zapped with electricity.
Bold innovation or terrible idea? Your guide to the experiments that only sound scary—and the lab work you truly should lose sleep over
BUGS OF WAR
DRUG THY ENEMY
Scientists are trying to develop pure-fusion reactions—bursts that don't require uranium or plutonium to ignite—for clean energy. But they could also usher in so-called low-yield nuclear weapons that emit very little radiation and could be both small and difficult to detect.
If a few very smart neuroscientists are right with enough number crunching and a powerful brain scanner, science can pluck pictures—and maybe one day even thoughts—directly from your brain
THE MAGIC OF THE MRI
IT'S AFTER DARK on a warm Monday night in April, and I'm lying face-up in a 13-ton tube at the Henry H. Wheeler, Jr. Brain Imaging Center at the University of California at Berkeley. The room is dimly lit, and I am alone. A white plastic cage covers my face, and a blue computer screen shines brightly into my eyes.
Remarkably, scientists can predict with near-perfect accuracy the last thing you saw just by analyzing your brain activity. The technique is called neural decoding. To do it, scientists must first scan your brain while you look at thousands of pictures.
A WIRELESS LIGHTING SYSTEM MAKES ELECTRICAL SWITCHES PORTABLE
JOHN B. CARNETT
MOST HOUSES require hundreds of feet of electrical wire to connect light switches to a main power source, but not my eco-friendly dream home. I've installed a wireless lighting system called Verve that uses radio waves instead of copper wiring to command all the lights and outlets in my house.
Under-cabinet lighting can be hard to install and inefficient. Kichler's Design Pro LED Linear lighting gives off a bright, warm glow from eight LEDs that last about 20 years and draw 75 percent less energy than a comparable incandescent bulb.
AN AIR CANNON THAT SHOOTS PUMPKINS—OR ANYTHING ELSE—600 MILES AN HOUR
HOW IT WORKS
PUMP AND RELEASE
FIRE IN THE HOLE
Even from his house six and a half miles away, Gary Arold's son can clearly hear the artillery-grade boom from his father's giant air cannon. Along with his friend and co-builder, John Gill, Arold's favorite pastime is sending pumpkins—and other roughly spherical projectiles, including a bowling ball and a 12-pound frozen turkey—flying nearly 4,000 feet across Gill's Hurley, New York, farm.
Enroll in Small Business 101. Free tutorials from the U.S. Small Business Administration (sba.gov/training) show you the basics of creating a business plan and other key steps. Then get the Business .gov "gadget" (business.gov/about/features), a tool for your site or iGoogle page with links to info about licensing and permits, as well as small-biz advice from experts.
CREATING MOBILE APPLICATIONS ISN'T JUST FOR CODE-WRITING GEEKS ANYMORE
MAKE YOUR OWN MOBILE APPS
Even with the huge number of mobile apps already available, cellphone screens are always awaiting new ideas from innovative developers. If you have your own idea for the perfect app, whether for a wide audience or just your own use, you're in luck—you no longer need to be a deft programmer to produce it.
TWO MECHANICS ON A REMOTE OUTPOST BUILD A "SNOW CHOPPER" OUT OF SALVAGED PARTS
MORE INSANE SNOW VEHICLES
In the desolate environment of Antarctica, when mechanics Bob Sawicki and Toby Weisser weren't at their jobs maintaining a fleet of snowmobiles at the U.S. logistics hub there, they passed the time by building a motorcycle-like snow vehicle out of junked parts and trash.
A LITTLE OXYGEN IS ALL A ZINC-AIR BATTERY NEEDS TO BECOME A POWERHOUSE
INSIDE A ZINC-AIR BATTERY
A battery that runs on air? Why, that's almost as good as a car that runs on water! Those cars are fantasy, but batteries that run on air are actually quite common, especially among older people. Tiny zinc-air batteries are widely used in hearing aids, where they have replaced toxic mercury-based batteries in providing a small but steady stream of power.
Apple has admitted more than 100,000 applications to its App Store, and the overload has made it a problem since day one to sift through them on iTunes. But there are plenty of other tools to help you separate the ones that actually do something from the ones that just make crude noises.
1. Attach an LED to a coin battery. Connect the LED's longer lead to the positive side, the shorter one to the negative side. 2. Take apart a clear ballpoint pen. 3. Place the LED into the pen tube, and secure the battery in place. Dance. HAVE AN IDEA FOR A 5-MINUTE PROJECT?
Countless food blogs offer great recipes, but Budget Bytes adds an extra element: the estimated cost of all the ingredients, down to the penny. Learn how to prepare a barbecue chicken dinner for $2.42 per serving, or cheddar-and-broccoli-stuffed potatoes at only 79 cents a plate.
Adam Fierman figured that if you can open a car door remotely with a key fob, why not the door to his dorm room? When he presses a button on the fob, a printer carriage on the inside of the door moves sideways, pulling a string connected to a lever that turns the door handle.
Q Which organs can I live without, and how much cash can I get for them?
A First, a disclaimer: Selling your organs is illegal in the United States. It's also very dangerous. Handing off an organ is risky enough when done in a top hospital, even more so if you're doing it for cash in a back alley. No, really: Don't do this.
5 REASONS HENRIETTA LACKS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT WOMAN IN MEDICAL HISTORY
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a poor woman with a middle-school education, made one of the greatest medical contributions ever. Her cells, taken from a cervical-cancer biopsy, became the first immortal human cell line—the cells reproduce infinitely in a lab.
SCREEN STARS: MORE DISPLAY TECHNOLOGY THROUGH THE YEARS
COMPACT CONSOLE AUGUST 1965
MOVING PICTURES MARCH 1975
FIELD STUDIES MAY 1991
Seiko kicked off a screen revolution with its announcement in 1983 of the world's first consumer color LCD television. The 2.13-inch portable Pocket Color TV screen featured thin-film transistors that only military equipment had used before.