The greatest innovations of The year's most transformative products and discoveries. By Popular Science Staff T We could say our 30th annual list of the most transformative products and discoveries required trucks full of experts, hours of toil, and countless friendship-ending debates. That's true, but you just want the good stuff.
A robot just made me french fries. Delicious, they cooked for four minutes less than the instructions dictated. One minute less, they'd've been soggy. A few more, burnt. An eagle-eyed artificially intelligent oven made the timing and temperature calls. Arrange fries on tray, slide tray into oven, acquire ketchup. The cultural shift over those years is remarkable. Thirty years ago, science and tech were the domains of enthusiasts: Today, specialized ideas—like printing wirelessly or blasting into space—have rocketed into the mainstream.
Two classes of product dominated those early years. First, you have the stuff that makes the other stuff work, the underlying technology: These days, we access our DVRs over cable, DSL, or fiber-optic hookups instead of phone lines; we set programs via app instead of touch-tone, and record Game of Thrones onto hard drives instead of magnetic tapes.
Think of this tidal shift as the ascension of the user experience or the democratization of innovation. But the sum total of the past three decades is the same: And we sprinkle this once-rarified gear throughout our homes and offices as casually as radios and lamps. Technology, once impenetrable, has become the wrecking ball that breaks down barriers.
We can down malicious drones. We can teach our kids to build robots. We can blast ourselves to Mars. Health Innovation of the Year: Ted Cavanaugh Cells that cure cancer —Kymriah Tumors are sly. To survive, the cells bypass our immune systems by retaining similarities to healthy cells.
But they also have differences. Immunotherapies train our own systems to detect those distinct variances. This year, that effort took a huge leap: In trials, 83 percent of patients were in remission after three months. The modified cells are specific to both the patient and their disease. Lessening breast-reconstruction pain —Aeroform Tissue Expander System When a woman undergoes breast reconstruction, surgeons stretch the existing tissue by injecting saline into implanted bladders—a painful process that demands doctor visits, needles, and analgesics.
The Aeroform lets women control the process at their own, more-tolerable pace. Patients use a wireless controller to signal a CO cartridge to release air that stretches a silicone implant, bit by bit. Oregon Health and Science University researchers became the first in the U. Instead of flowing into a bottle, the milk fills disposable plastic bags that fit inside the breast-shaped pump.
Best of all, the device is quiet enough for a woman to use while on a conference call. A breakthrough for a rare illness —Brineura Batten disease is one of a group of rare genetic disorders in which defective enzymes in the brain cause severely impaired neurological functioning.
The Rapael Smart Glove helps prioritize it by turning the process into a game. Paired with an Android app, the sensor-laden glove tracks movement as the user practices real-life tasks, like squeezing an orange. The system displays instant range-of-motion feedback, which boosts learning. Motion sensors in the Level signal the utensil end—either a fork or spoon—to rotate, so the entire piece remains horizontal, no matter how the handle shakes.
Collaborative diagnostics —Philips IntelliSite Pathology Solution Pathology is a frustratingly analog branch of medicine. Pathologists must slice, stain, and view tissue samples under a microscope. Sending specimens to second-opinion MDs takes days or weeks. Philips IntelliSite Pathology uses a high-resolution scanner to convert prepared specimens into digital images that are as detailed as those under a scope.
This allows doctors to quickly send cases to consulting colleagues. Drug-free headache relief —gammaCore The vagus nerve is a powerful bundle of fibers. Stimulating it alters nerve functioning in helpful ways, like stopping cluster headaches, which cause excruciating pain. The device excites the nerve with electrical pulses to calm the headaches. Unlike typical MRIs, the unit encloses its magnetic field within itself. If needed, they can reach the infant in less than 30 seconds.
My UV Patch is a wearable decal that signals when rays are getting through. Photosensitive dyes change from a dark blue to a lighter one with more sunlight.
It adheres to the skin for up to five days and is free with related La Roche Posay products. Entertainment Grand Award Winner for Entertainment: A real console, really mobile. Ted Cavanaugh A real console, really mobile —Nintendo Switch While Microsoft and Sony compete to see who can fit more computing power into their machines and app developers look for places to cram microtransactions, Nintendo has built a system that bridges the gap between home and on-the-go play. The key to the Switch is a 6.
The setup has its own battery and storage, so you can play Zelda on your lunch break just like you would in your living room. Each motion-sensitive Joy-Con can act as an independent controller for impromptu Mario Kart multiplayer battles. You can mount it on any wall primarily using magnets. All the guts needed to power the screen live in a Dolby-Atmos-equipped sound bar you can place up to 6 feet away.
Whoa, look at that screen —Predator 21 X The gaming laptop , pushed to wonderful absurdity: All that power manifests itself through a inch, Cans tuned to your ears —Even H2 Headphones The first step of setting up these over-the-ear headphones is a second listening test to create a graph of your hearing called an audiogram. You listen to music from eight different segments of the audible spectrum in each ear at increasing volume to map how sensitive you are to different frequencies.
A custom sound profile—which you can see in the companion app— tunes sound response to each individual ear. The screen is a speaker —Acoustic Surface Edge-to-edge screens are the hot look for high-end TVs, so room for a speaker grate is out of the question. The distance between actuators can create localized audio, so sound can move across the display to match the action.
Concrete that absorbs echoes —MA Speaker Concrete speakers are great for combating rattle-inducing vibrations, but the trade-off is typically unwanted echo. This pound Brutalist monolith has a tapered shape and is made from a proprietary blend of concrete with polymers in the mix to dampen the reverberations. Sound comes courtesy of a pair of 4-inch woven Kevlar long throw woofers and a 1.
Paired with a keyboard, it can be a virtual workspace. Or, add motion-sensing controllers for immersive gaming. The high-def harbinger —Dell 8K Monitor The 7,by-4, resolution on this ultra-sharp With a total digital dimension of Easy-fly drone —DJI Spark Piloting a drone is still too difficult, but DJI gave its most consumer-friendly flying machine options to lessen the learning curve. You can use simple hand movements to give it commands, like waving to make it fly away or holding out your hand to make it land in your palm.
A suite of preprogrammed shooting modes can complete complex aerial maneuvers with one button press, which will up the production quality of your airborne movies. Engineering Grand Award Winner for Engineering: Huge coaster, one thin rail.
The line to cop a ride. Only eight people will fit into the first trains, but the designers plan to build a moving loading system that keeps the ride and queues flowing smoothly.
The Digital-to-Biological Converter can print genetic code based on digital instructions sent from anywhere. On a much more distant timeline, it could one day send organisms to another planet. Train tracks that float —East Link bridge Rails need to stay straight, but floating bridges bob and sway with the water beneath. Not a good match? On this bridge—which will be completed in —steel platforms and flexible bearings will let light-rail tracks stay in line.
By , 50, commuters a day will ride ,pound trains at full speed across the water from Seattle to Mercer Island, Washington. First floating wind farm —Hywind Scotland Five turbines bob in the nearly foot-deep waters off the coast of Scotland, generating enough power to meet the needs of around 20, homes.
This floating-wind-farm project is close to shore, but the design means that turbines could one day live farther out to sea, where the winds are stronger—and the farms are less visible from land. Sea-dwelling snake bot —Eelume vehicle Repairing underwater infrastructure—especially in cold conditions—is rough on humans. Tested in frigid Norwegian fjords, this slithery modular device spends all its time underwater.
By , operators hope to station these tool-wielding robo-reptillians on the seafloor near cables or oil equipment and mobilize them quickly to I. A clean way to recycle lead —AquaRefining Lead-acid batteries help you start your car. They back up server farms, and are percent recyclable. But the hot process of smelting old lead into new batteries is fossil-fueled and dirty.
It also produces purer, higher-quality lead than traditional methods.