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Breakthrough Awards

For the eighth straight year, "Popular Mechanics" editors have selected a group of products and innovators on whom to bestow the magazine's annual Breakthrough Awards.

Leading the way this year is Elon Musk, founder of both SpaceX and Tesla Motors, and clearly one of the people bringing the future to us -- right now.

The award-winning products range from a revolutionary hands-free motion control system to a do-it-yourself 3D modeling software suite to shingles that double as solar panels.

In the following slides, take a look at six of the award winning products.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Popular Mechanics
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Leap Motion

With the Leap, San Francisco startup Leap Motion is taking hands-free motion control, a type of technology pioneered for the Wii game console by Nintendo and then improved upon by Microsoft's Kinect, and giving it a very impressive boost. The new technology, which allows users to control what's on their computers with accuracy down to the hundredth of a millimeter, is likely to impact industries from gaming to surgery to architecture, engineering, and design.

Expected to cost $70 and be released sometime early next year, the Leap should significantly advance the state of the art.

See the whole list of Breakthrough Award winners here.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Leap Motion
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Lytro camera

Is it too much of a stretch to call Lytro's light-field photography technology the future of cameras? Perhaps not. Designed so that its sensors take in light from multiple directions, the Lytro camera is able to capture all of this directional information so that users can take advantage of after-the-shot computing to convert it into imagery our eyes can process.

What that means is that Lytro cameras can shoot a 3D image of whatever is in front of it, allowing photographers -- and anyone who comes across a Web-based Lytro photo -- to choose what in the photograph to focus on.

See the whole list of Breakthrough Award winners here.

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Autodesk 123D

With its 123D family of 3D modeling tools, Autodesk intends to let just about anybody not only make their own 3D designs, but also get them produced as real, physical models.

Autodesk is clearly expecting that the tools, used by themselves or as a comprehensive suite, will be very attractive to anyone wanting to prototype new products, art projects, or furniture. O anyone simply hoping to create their own models of real-world objects.

Users can take their 3D model designs and upload them to Autodesk's servers. The company will then produce a physical 3D printed model made from it.

See the whole list of Breakthrough Award winners here.

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With 3D printing and do-it-yourself all the rage these days, there's more and more interest in inexpensive equipment that allows people to print their own 3D models.

Most of the attention in this area has gone to MakerBot's Replicator, but Cubify, a division of 3D Systems recently came out with its $1,300 Cube personal 3D printer, a system designed to bring the excitement of the hot technology home.

Users can design their own 3D models, or can choose from an library of existing designs. And, if a design is too big to print on the Cube, Cubify will print it for you. For a fee, of course.

See the whole list of Breakthrough Award winners here.

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Dow PowerHouse Solar Shingles

Dow Solar's PowerHouse Solar Shingles should appeal to homeowners interested in producing renewable energy without having to radically change what their roof looks like. Made from copper, gallium, selenide, and indium, these solar shingles are meant to be easily installed, and to last for years. They can even be walked on, or dropped from up to two stories.

The system comes with an AC/DC converter and a home energy monitor designed to track how much power the shingles are producing, as well as how much is being used.

See the whole list of Breakthrough Award winners here.

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Windows 8 is highly anticipated for a number of reasons, less than a month from its public debut. It re-imagines the entire concept of Windows, from icons to app design. It's the first unified operating system, designed to be easy to use on tablets, laptops, and desktops. It also heralds Microsoft's direct entry into the tablet market, with the decidedly different Surface and its keyboard covers. From the touch screen-friendly features and navigation, to the strictest standards Microsoft has ever demanded of its hardware partners, Windows 8 and the Surface line are expected to force a revolution in how we think about touch screens and operating systems -- even if consumers balk initially at the sweeping changes.--Seth Rosenblatt
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