Top Gadgets And 'Best Innovations' Of The Year

Dec 17, 2011
Originally published on December 17, 2011 8:24 am



Popular Science magazine is out with its 100 best innovations issue. If you've got hard-to-please family members on your holiday shopping lists, maybe you want to consider something like an inflatable wetsuit for big-wave surfing. That's just one of the year's top gadgets. Tell us a little more about some of the noteworthy innovations, we have Mark Jannot in our New York studios. He's the editor-in-chief of Popular Science. Thanks for being with us.

MARK JANNOT: It's always fun, Scott.

SIMON: And tell us about this year's grand award winner. I'm actually getting excited about this.

JANNOT: Yes, absolutely. Every year, we give one of our top 100 the distinction of being the innovation of the year. And this year, that glorious honor goes to the Lytro light field camera. This camera has the potential to revolutionize - yet again - that thing that so many of us do all the time, which is take pictures. It actually kind of reverses the sequence of taking a picture. You don't have to worry about focusing until after you take the shot. The Lytro has an array of micro-lenses in between its primary lens and its sensor that splits the light into thousands of different paths and basically creates thousands of different images, so that when you open up that image in its software, you can determine where you want the focus to be anywhere on the picture.

SIMON: And what made you folks decide that it deserved the number one slot?

JANNOT: Well, we when look for innovation of the year, we tend it to be weighing it between devices that are going to be truly great consumer devices that can have a broad impact on our day-to-day gadget use. Often, they get weighed against lifesaving devices of medical sorts. And that was more or less the case this year. I think we may be talking about the diagnostics on a chip, which was a really strong contender. It kind of came down to the wire. It was sort of a toss-up this year.

SIMON: Well, let me get you to talk about diagnostics on a chip too.

JANNOT: Yeah. The situation that this is correcting for is the fact that a quarter of the 13 million patients worldwide who are undergoing treatment for HIV or tuberculosis won't die from their diseases but from complications - liver complications - caused by the treatment itself, and those are all preventable but they require regular screening that until now has required expensive lab work that uses microscopes and computer chips and that sort of thing - particularly difficult in the developing world, obviously. And this is Diagnostics For All is the company that has created a lab on a chip that is basically a printed piece of paper with diagnostic assay agents coating it. They cut it up into postage-stamp sized chips, basically. And you drop a little blood sample on it, and within a few minutes - 15 minutes - it changes color to indicate various states of liver health. It's very easy to read, and it costs not hundreds of dollars but five cents.

SIMON: The implications for that are extraordinary.


SIMON: Let's get to home entertainment - 3-D viewing goggles. That took one of the top honors.

JANNOT: Indeed. In home entertainment, this was the grand award winner. It's from Sony, their HMZ-T1 Personal 3-D Viewer. This is sort of a visor that goes over your eyes. It takes sort of the loneliness of the home 3-D viewing to an all new level basically. You shut yourself off from everyone around you. But the experience is extraordinary. You look like Geordi La Forge on "Star Trek" with this visor over your eyes, but it actually gives you the experience that's equivalent to sitting 65 feet from a 62-and-a-half-foot movie screen.

SIMON: Now, this 3-D device costs $800, right?

JANNOT: Indeed. And the reality of our best of what's new awards, because we are constantly at sort of the cutting edge of consumer technology, is that the price points tend to be sort of as awe-inspiring as the gadgets. But in our current age of rapidly accelerating processor power and miniaturization, things like that, the price does tend to come down fairly quickly.

SIMON: Anything else you'd like to point us to?

JANNOT: Well, one of my favorite things is something called the Cryomation Cryomator. This is a way to avoid having your carbon footprint outlast you into death basically. When a person dies, either they're buried, which uses up valuable aerable land, or they're cremated, which releases the body's carbon into the atmosphere. The Cryomator is a machine that actually chills the body with liquid nitrogen until it breaks apart and then freeze dries the remains to remove water and kill microbes. And the powder that results actually keeps the body's carbon in it. So, you're actually not releasing carbon into the air. Actually, the entire carbon impact of the process is about 75 percent less than it is on cremation.

SIMON: Environmentally correct into the afterlife.

JANNOT: Indeed.

SIMON: Mark Jannot, editor-in-chief of Popular Science magazine. Mark, thanks so much.

JANNOT: Sure. It's been a pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.