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October 15th, 2012

Popular Mechanics awards breakthrough innovators and products

Published on October 15th, 2012 | By: Eileen De Guire


Cubify, a manufacturer of “affordable” desktop 3D printers, was named one of Popular Mechanics magazine’s Breakthrough Product Awards for 2012. The unit sells for about $1300. The magazine awarded ten Breakthrough Product awards and ten Breakthrough Innovation awards at an Oct. 4 gala in New York. Credit: Cubify; 3D Systems Corp.

If you are like me, you enjoy a good list, and the folks at Popular Mechanics just released their 2012 Breakthrough Awards to recognize “world-changing innovators” in two categories: innovation and products. Two additional awards are made to innovators, one for leadership and one to recognize a “next-generation” innovator.

The PM Breakthrough Leadership Award went to Elon Musk, the barely forty-something, South African-born billionaire who made his fortune as the inventor of PayPal. Now, he has turned his entrepreneurial talents and drive to transportation—space-bound and earth-bound. His company, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), was the first private company to successfully build and launch a spacecraft that docked with the International Space Station. You may be more familiar with his other company, Tesla Motors, manufacturer of premium all-electric automobiles. PM‘s editors interviewed Musk, which you may find interesting.

While you may have heard of Musk, or at least his companies, you probably never heard of Katherine Bomkamp, winner of the PM Breakthrough Next-Generation Award. Bomkamp, a junior at West Virginia University, got PM‘s attention with her prototype prosthetic limb designed to address the problem of phantom limb pain in amputees. She was awarded a patent for the device earlier this year and is working toward starting human trials. The device is powered by a solar-charged lithium-ion battery that runs an automatic temperature regulation system with embedded thermoresistive wiring.

The award winners were showcased at an Oct. 4 gala held in the Hearst Tower in New York City. PM is a Hearst publication.

Here are the ten Breakthrough Innovation Award winners, followed by the ten Breakthrough Product Award winners.

Breakthrough Innovation Awards

  • Elon Musk, Breakthrough Award Winner: Transportation innovations.
  • Katherine Bomkamp, Next-Generation Award: Prototype prosthesis to reduce phantom limb pain in amputees.
  • Breaking Through the Heliopause, Voyager 1 & 2, Mechanical Lifetime Achievement Award: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was recognized for its achievements launching the Voyager program.
  • Self-Regulating Tire: A Goodyear Research team developed a tire that regulates and manages its own tire pressure.
  • MABEL, Teaching Robots to Walk: A University of Michigan-Oregon State University collaboration developed a robot that moves with a humanlike gait and dexterity, which could be helpful in situations like the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
  • Grooved Disc Oil Skimmer: Elastec/American Marine founder, noticing that oil from an oil spill clung to the sides of a 5-gallon bucket, developed grooved plastic skimmers that can collect 4,670 gallons of spilled oil per minute with 90 percent efficiency.
  • IBM Blue Gene/Q Sequoia Supercomputer: Big Blue’s new supercomputer, the world’s fastest, was installed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in June and can crank out 16 quadrillion calculations per second.
  • Brain-Computer Interface: Brainpower may give quadriplegics the ability to interact with the world through robotics, thanks to research at the Univerisity of Pittsburgh that picks up electrical signals from the brain surface to guide a robotic arm.
  • CORNAR Camera: Ultrafast photography and reconstruction of time-of-flight data allows for imaging around corners. MIT professor Ramesh Raskar, whom we featured in an earlier post, developed the technology.
  • Ultralight Micro-Lattice: A California industry–university collaboration makes crush-resistant metallic meshes that are lighter than Styrofoam using a photolithographic process.

Breakthrough Product Awards

  • The North Face Powder Guide ABS Vest and Backpack: A life preserver against avalanches.
  • Lytro Camera: The light field camera captures light from all directions so an image can be focused after it is shot.
  • Autodesk 123D: Free software tools that give “amateurs the power to create, share and print 3D models”
  • Microsoft Surface + Windows 8: The new operating system effectively wipes out the line between PCs and tablets.
  • Ford 1-Liter EcoBoost Engine: Ford’s three-cylinder engine is designed to deliver fuel efficiencies in the mid-40s without compromising power or torque.
  • Dow PowerHouse Solar Shingles: Photovoltaic roof shingles made of CuInSe2 covered by tempered glass are installed similar to ordinary household roof shingles and wired into the home’s system.
  • Cubify Cube 3D Printer: A pretty cheap desktop 3D printer designed for the DIY crowd. Check out some of the creative uses at their blog.
  • Lehr Propane-Powered Outboard Engine: Propane-powered engines are cheaper to run, easier to maintain and have ultra-low emissions. Water-skiers and anglers alike should appreciate this outboard motor.
  • Leap by Leap Motion: This gesture-control allows you to throw out the mouse and keyboard and, instead, use finger and hand motions to interact with the computer screen.
  • GM Crash-Avoidance System: Less annoying and probably more reliable than a “backseat driver,” a camera mounted on the rearview mirror helps the driver watch the road and avoid collisions and unintentional lane changes.

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