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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.