Popular Mechanics’ seventh annual Breakthrough Awards recognize the top people and products that have “dramatically advanced the fields of technology, medicine, space exploration, automotive design, and environmental engineering.” This year’s breakthrough innovations range from smog devouring roof tiles to a device that lets you set up an instant small business anywhere. Popular Mechanics is also honoring 11 innovators whose work “will transform the world in years to come.”
“From off-the-shelf blood vessels to a cell phone tower the size of a Rubik’s Cube, our Breakthrough Award winnersnot only capture the imagination, but hold the potential to improve and save lives,” says Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief James B. Meigs, in a press release.
The winners are chosen by Popular Mechanics editors who enlist the help of top experts and past Breakthrough winners to find the coolest inventions of the year. The products are then tested to make sure that they really do what they say they do. Jennifer Bogo, Science editor at Popular Mechanics, told The Huffington Post that when it finally comes down to picking the top 10, there isn’t even much contention among the editors since, “the best products quickly rise to the top.”
Check out Popular Mechanics’ picks for the 10 most transformative products of 2011 in the slideshow below. Click here for a full list of the Breakthrough Award winners, as well as descriptions of their accomplishments, or click here to see the 10 innovators honored by Popular Mechanics.
BoralPure Smog-Eating Tile - According to Popular Mechanics, the BoralPure roof tile‘s titanium dioxide coating neutralizes nitrogen oxide particles in smog. The result? A harmless precipitate that washes away in the rain.
- Microsoft Kinect for Windows SDK - According to Jennifer Bogo, the science editor at Popular Mechanics, the Kinect SDK was a particularly satisfying honoree. In 2009, they gave an innovator award to Project Natal, for their work on the Kinect interface. This year, the editors at Popular Mechanics were so impressed that Microsoft has kept this motion capture gaming system open to third party innovation through the Software Development Kit, that they decided to make the Kinect SDK a Breakthrough Product. “What we really like is that they aren’t trying to keep people from doing their own thing with it,” says Bogo.
- Square Reader, Square & Card Case Apps - The Square Reader is one of Bogo’s personal favorites this year. This smartphone or iPadattachment allows users to set up a small business literally anywhere. With it you can process credit card transactions, email receipts, and even get touchscreen signatures, no matter where in the world you are. Meaning, now you can instantly charge your roommates for that toilet paper you bought, again.
- Parrot ASTEROID - The Parrot ASTEROID receiver doesn’t exactly transform your late model Corolla into the Batmobile, but it does allow you to make hands-free calls, connect your smartphone or iPod, and use navigation apps and internet radio inside your ancient jalopy.
Rockstar Games‘ L.A. Noire - Each animated character in this noir detective game was played by a real actor, whose every grimace was captured in painstaking detail using cinema-grade MotionScan technology. According to Popular Mechanics, “When suspects lie, it’s revealed in the lines of their faces.” A level of realism that could turn even non-gamers into diehard fans.
Philips AmbientLED Bulb - Although LEDs have long been touted as the earth-friendly answer to incandescent bulbs, up until now they’ve been a rather unpleasant replacement. Philips changed all that with the AmbientLED bulb, which uses remote phosphor technology to transform the normally dim blue light emitted by LEDs into a warm golden glow. That and the fact that it burns for almost three years straight made this bulb a 2011 Breakthrough award-winner.
Celestron SkyProdigy Automatic Telescopes - The truth about most telescopes is that you can’t just point them at the sky and instantly begin looking at the outlines of Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon– they generally require hours of practice to learn how to calibrate. That’s precisely what set the SkyProdigy apart from the rest for the people at Popular Mechanics: “With built-in tracking cameras and a digital database of more than 4000 heavenly objects, the SkyProdigy telescopes sight themselves in less than 3 minutes, so even a first-time stargazer can experience the thrill of discovery.”
Solaria Photovoltaic Panels - These solar panels use 50-70 percent less silicon, which means they are about one-third less expensive than a traditional panel of comparable efficiency. But it doesn’t mean they won’t last. According to Popular Mechanics, their proven operating life is more than 25 years.
Motorola ATRIX 4G - Sure the Atrix 4G is a nice smartphone with a dual-core Tegra 2 processor, 4G wireless speeds and crystal clear 540 x 960-pixel resolution screen, but what makes it a breakthrough product, according to Popular Mechanics, is the fact that it’s also a computer. Use it on its own or if you want full-screen capabilities, plug it into the super slim 11.5 inch Motorola Lapdock. “Motorola has taken the first step toward a future in which one device serves as the nerve center of many,” say the editors of Popular Mechanics.
- Ford Rear Inflatable Seat Belts - For their 2011 Explorer, Ford made the first major improvements to the three-point seatbelt since the safety device was invented in 1959. This innovative restraint combines an airbag with a seatbelt. On impact, a balloon inside the seatbelt fills with compressed gas, breaking through the fabric and providing support for more than five times the body area as a regular belt.
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