Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards 2009

For the fifth straight year, Popular Mechanics magazine has scoured the planet for the best new products and innovators in search of the winners of its Breakthrough Awards.

This year, the magazine honored a leadership award winner (inventor Dean Kamen); a next-generation award winner (roboticist Greg Schroll); eight innovator award winners; and 10 "breakthrough" products.
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Dean Kamen - Breakthrough Leadership winner

Although he may be best known for creating the Segway, longtime inventor Dean Kamen is actually one of the most accomplished developers of medical devices in the world.

And that's why Popular Mechanics named Kamen its Breakthrough Leadership award winner for 2009. According to the magazine, among Kamen's works are the first wearable infusion pump and the first insulin pump able to continuously deliver drugs to patients, the first portable kidney dialysis machine; a self-balancing, stair-climbing wheel chair; and a water purifier intended for the third-world. He's also started FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a robotics program for high school students.

All told, he holds 440 U.S. and foreign patents.
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Greg Schroll - Next generation award

As part of its Breakthrough Awards, Popular Mechanics chooses an annual "next generation" award recipient.

This year, it's Greg Schroll, a Colorado State University engineering graduate student who built a "flywheel-powered, 18-inch-wide, spherical robot that can not only redirect its course while rolling, but also can scale steep inclines and stairs."

According to the magazine, Schroll is now working on a new version of the robot that can be fitted with a series of sensors and is seeking the fulfillment of a new dream: "Planetary exploration with soccer-ball shaped robots."
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Bacteria powered batteries

As the winner of its Breakthrough Innovator award for "appropriate technology," a team of microbial fuel cell engineers at Lebone Solutions--Aviva Presser Aiden, Stephen Lwendo, David Sengeh, Zoe Vallabha, Hugo van Vuuren, and Alexander Fabry--have tackled a major problem: the lack of electricity available to the half-billion-plus people who live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As such, the team has leveraged research showing that energy can be harvested from bacteria and has created cheap batteries capable of producing enough power to light LEDs and charge cell phones.

Pictured here from left to right are Aiden, van Vuuren, and Lwendo.
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Project Natal

For its Breakthrough Innovator award for computing, Popular Mechanics honored a technology recently featured on CNET News, Microsoft's Project Natal.

A peripheral that has yet to hit the market, Natal will allow users to control action on their screen--mainly in games, but also for any number of other applications--solely with body motion.
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Planet-Seeking Space Telescope

For its Breakthrough Innovator astronomy award, Popular Mechanics singled out the Kepler Mission team, the creators of a telescope whose purpose is extremely targeted: investigating planetary systems.

The Kepler telescope is "the first instrument able to detect Earth-like planets, potentially capable of hosting life, as they circle distant suns." It will look in on about 100,000 stars in Earth's region of the Milky Way.
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Mini-Helicon Plasma Thruster

For its Breakthrough Innovator award in space exploration, Popular Mechanics gave the nod to Oleg Batishchev, the principal research scientist at MIT's department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Batishchev has designed a "plasma engine powered by nitrogen, with 10 times the efficiency of chemical rockets," according to the magazine. The engine might present near-term utility for commercial space flight and could be a big piece in the puzzle that is sending a manned mission to Mars.
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Flying Car

For its Breakthrough Innovator award in transportation, Popular Mechanics honored Steve Saint, founder of the Indigenous Peoples Technology and Education Center, for his creation of a 1,100-pound flying car, dubbed Maverick. The car can drive 80 miles an hour on a road and then, with a raised ram-air parachute and engaged propeller, can head skyward.
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EcoBoost Engine

Ford's EcoBoost engine won one of the magazine's Breakthrough Products awards.

A turbocharged V6, it "is the first of a new breed of downsized turbo engines that will finally bring some truth to the old catch line, 'The power of a V8 with the fuel economy of a V6.'"

Ford will debut the engine on the Lincoln MKT and MKS, and the Ford Taurus SHO. It should be built into most Ford vehicles by 2013.
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Eco Trimmer

The next Breakthrough Product winner is LEHR's Eco Trimmer, a green garden tool that uses propane rather than gasoline.
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Honeywell wind turbine

Targeted at the home market, Honeywell's Wind Turbine is a $5,500, 165-pound wind machine capable of producing power in the home.
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Palm Pre

Popular Mechanics awarded a Breakthrough Product award to Palm for its Pre smartphone. Its feature list "reads like a gadget geek's dream: available inductive charging, a full keyboard, the ability to sync with iTunes--and it can run multiple applications at once," a clear reference to the iPhone's inability to do so in most cases.
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Nikon Coolpix S1000pj

Likely the first mainstream digital camera with a built-in microprojector, the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj will allow users to project photos on a wall.

Popular Mechanics awarded the camera a Breakthrough Product award because the magazine's editors felt that the camera is the first of many to include the projection technology.
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Hustler Zeon

The Hustler Zeon, another Breakthrough Product award winner, is the first all-electric, zero-turning-radius lawn mower.

It can move at 6 miles an hour and can run 80 minutes on a single charge, enough to mow an acre of grass.
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Andalay AC Solar Panel

The Anadalay AC Solar Panels, another Breakthrough Product honoree, "take a big step toward true plug-and-play solar power for the home." That's because they come with inverters and wiring built-in.
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Loggerhead Bionic-Hydrant wrench

The Loggerhead Bionic-Hydrant wrench, which won a Breakthrough Product award, saves firefighters time by allowing them to lock in on almost any size of fire hydrant nut.
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Crunchpad

Popular Mechanics gave TechCrunch a Breakthrough Product award for its Crunchpad open-source tablet computer.
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