Popular Science Announces Top Tech Innovations of 2012: Magazine's 25th Annual Best of What's New Awards

Nov 14, 2012, 10:00 ET from Popular Science

NEW YORK, Nov. 14, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- As they have every November for the past 25 years, the editors of Popular Science have released the results of a yearlong search for the most groundbreaking new technologies, the annual Best of What's New awards. The 100 innovations that made the list promise to make life safer, smarter, easier, and more fun. The 2012 Best of What's New award winners are featured in the December issue of Popular Science, on newsstands and tablet today and at PopSci.com.

"In our lives, everything is happening. And it's not taking a lifetime, or even a decade. As you'll see in our 25th edition of the Best of What's New, it only takes a year," said Jacob Ward, editor-in-chief of Popular Science 

Winning technologies are divided into 12 categories: Software, Auto, Gadgets, Green, Engineering, Home, Aerospace, Security, Hardware, Recreation, Health, and Entertainment. Capping each category is a Grand Award winner, an honor reserved for those innovations that represent a truly significant leap in the field. Even more prestigious is the award for the Innovation of the Year, which was given to Google Now.

The 2012 Best of What's New Grand Award winners are:

Innovation of the Year

Software: Mind Reader: Google Now
Google Now is the first virtual assistant that truly anticipates your needs. All you have to do it opt in. Google Now, which runs quietly in the background of Android phones, studies routines and patterns (calendar, location, contacts, locations, traffic, etc.) and attempts to proactively and semantically search and present information that's relevant to you. It synthesizes all of your info and gives you—either through notifications in the menu bar or cards on the screen—transit alerts, box scores, meeting times, restaurants in the area, and more. With Google Now, you don't pull the phone out when an idea occurs to you. You pull it out when an idea occurs to it. See all software winners

Category Grand Award Winners

Auto: The Electric Super Sedan: Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S sets the standard by which all future electronic vehicles will be measured. It is faster than any other street-legal electric vehicle, with a motor that generates a peak 416 horsepower. The family-size sedan can dart from 0 to 60 in 4.4 seconds and has a top speed of 130 mph. The Tesla Model S can also drive farther on a charge than any other electric car—up to 300 miles on the optional 85-kilowatt-hour battery. See all auto winners

Gadgets: Invisible Waterproofing: Liquipel
Moisture destroys approximately 82 millions phones a year. The California-based company Liquipel has launched the first aftermarket service that waterproofs phones and media players. The phone is placed in a vacuum-sealed chamber and injected with carbon-based hydrophobic gas. The particles bond to the phone in a layer one thousandth the thickness of hair. This waterproofing, which takes no more than 30 minutes, has no noticeable effects on a device's look or feel. Liquipel is compatible with Apple iPhone 4S, Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X, and 25 other devices. See all gadget winners

Green: Cleaner Colors: DyeCoo Textile Systems
It takes between 25 and 40 gallons of water to dye 2.2 pounds of fabric. Multiply that by millions of T-shirts, track pants, and other textiles for sports and you get two huge environmental problems: millions of gallons of chemical-laden water and depletion of freshwater. Instead of water, the DyeCoo process uses supercritical carbon dioxide, which has fluid-like properties. The fabric absorbs nearly all the dye while generating no wastewater and 95 percent of the carbon dioxide is recycled into the next batch. See all green winners

Engineering: The Largest Semisubmersible: Dockwise Vanguard
The 902-foot-long and 230-foot-wide bowless Vanguard is the largest craft of its kind by nearly a football field. It can submerge its deck below the waterline and move its above-water towers aside, allowing mammoth vessels to float aboard before the Vanguard rides back up underneath them. The Vanguard can carry 121,254 tons of cargo and another 7,716 tons of food and fuel and supplies; that's almost double the payload of any craft before it. See all engineering winners

Home: HAL for Your House: Nest Learning Thermostat
A thermostat has tremendous power. It controls heating and cooling, the most expensive system in a house. The Nest thermostat learns a household's schedule and temperature preferences after just one week and programs itself to monitor climate for maximum efficiency. If those preferences change, the Nest can quickly adapt. Consumers can adjust the unit from their home or on the road but will rarely need to, making this thermostat truly compatible with their lives. See all home winners

Aerospace: The Pilotless Cargo Chopper: Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-Max
Since 2008, roadside bombs and other IEDs have accounted for the deaths of more than half of the U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Moving cargo in large convoys puts many soldiers at risk. The Kaman K-Max, the first autonomous chopper that's been successfully deployed in Afghanistan, removes soldiers from the supply delivery lines. The pilotless chopper can haul 6,000 pounds up to 250 miles with a top speed of 115 mph. Since last December, two K-Max choppers have carried more that 2 million pounds of cargo in Afghanistan. See all aerospace winners

Security: The Building-Leaping Robot: Boston Dynamics Sand Flea
The engineers behind the Sand Flea have created a simple, rugged, four-wheeled robot that tackles obstacles—whether wall or stairs or windows—by launching itself over and, in some cases, through them. The Sand Flea is an 11-pound, camera-equipped robot that drives like a R/C car and can jump 26 feet in the air. The robot uses a laser range finder to determine the distance to its landing target and calculate trajectory. It angles itself skyward and fires a launch piston powered with compressed air. A gyroscope within the Sand Flea generates enough internal force to keep it level during flight, so the camera maintains a steady view. See all security winners

Hardware: Tiniest Transistors: Intel, Third Generation Core i-Series Processor (Ivy Bridge)
Transistors are the microscopic switches that make electronics work. As engineers developed smaller and smaller transistors, energy began to leak through the gates. To solve this problem, Intel engineers developed a 3-D transistor for the Ivy Bridge microprocessor. As a result, they can fit more of the 22-nanometer-thin transistors onto a chip. This processor is both faster and more energy efficient than any to come before it. See all hardware winners

Recreation: The Back Country Generator: BioLite CampStove
Electronics such as GPS devices, cellphones, and LED lights have become a backcountry necessity. Keeping these devices charged has always been a challenge. The BioLite CampStove allows campers to cook food—and charge their devices at the same time. Campers put fuel, such as sticks and pinecones, in the stove's combustion chamber. Waste heat radiates into a thermoelectric generator, which channels electrons into a usable current. Some of the current is used to power a small fan that boosts airflow for more efficient combustion. The remaining current, a steady stream of about two watts, runs to a USB port where your devices can be charged. See all recreation winners

Health: Open-Heart Alternative: Edwards Lifesciences Sapien Transcatheter Heart Valve
Each year, about 1.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from aortic valve stenosis, a narrowing of the heart's aortic valve. In severe cases, patients will receive open-heart surgery to replace the valve, but many patients are too fragile to undergo the procedure. The Sapien Transcatheter Heart Valve can be inserted through a person's artery, which should make it possible to give a new valve to many people who were previously ineligible. The device, which consists of flaps of cow tissue sewn onto a metal frame, can collapse from a diameter of about an inch to that of a pencil—thin enough to fit through the femoral artery. Once the valve is in the right place, doctors push it open with a balloon; the mesh holds the device in place, while the flaps prevent blood from flowing in the wrong direction. In trials, patients who received the valve were 40 percent more likely to be alive a year later. See all health winners.

Entertainment: A Real Home Theater: Sony VPL-VW1000ES
High-definition images, which are 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, look flawless on a 60-inch LCD screen. Go larger, however—say, 80 inches or a wall-sized projection—and the individual pixels become visible, reducing the image quality. Sony has solved that problem with the Sony VPL-VW1000ES, the first projector to produce 4,096-by-2,160-pixel images, also called 4K images, which can be shown at 200 inches across. Based on technology used in Sony's 4K theater projector, this device allows viewers enjoy a full cinematic quality in their living rooms. See all the entertainment winners.

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SOURCE Popular Science