With the release of its top 50 inventions of 2009, Time magazine's Nov. 23 issue is worth the newsstand price.
I say Time magazine because I recently started getting the dead tree edition again and have to admit that even as a heavy consumer of online news, I am enjoying ink on my hands. Of course, the Top 50 Inventions of 2009 are also online where you can vote for the ones you think are most important on a sliding scale of 1-100. Try doing that in the dead tree edition.
Number one is the 327-foot high skinny Ares I rocket that promises to send manned space flight back to moon and eventually to Mars. Time's description of its appearance is apt: "a slender white stalk that looks almost if it would twang in the Florida wind."
Others innovations are more down to earth: an LED light bulb from Philips (#3) that replaces the common 60-watt incandescent bulb but consumes a mere 10 watts; the new AIDS vaccine (#8) that awaits FDA approval; and a handheld ultrasound (#14) the size of a cell phone that can diagnose a host of diseases in third world countries where ERs don't exist.
The third world is a common theme throughout Time's choices. The $20 JaipurKnee (#18) under development at Stanford is particularly intriguing. Made of an oil-filled nylon polymer, the self-lubricating knee mimics the the knees' movement and can do pretty much what $10,000-$100,000 prosthetic knees. So far, 43 have fitted to amputees in India with 100,000 slated to be made over the next three years.
Not all innovation has to be practical like Dow Chemical's Solar Shingle or charitable. Some are just plain funky and imaginative such as the Robo Penguin (#26), Honda's U3-X unicycle (#27) and the Cyborg Beetle (#23). Two eye replacements made the list, too: The Eyeborg (#43) which I wrote about in June and the MIT Electric Eye (#10).
The Five Worst Inventions of 2009 is a bonus story online you can't get in print edition. All are bad enough to warrant a mention in order of their supposed decrepitude: The Smile Police (yep, I wrote about that too), Jane Austen Monster Mashup Novel, Snuggies for Dogs, the Gas Mask Bra and software to grade student essays.
Time readers rated the Electric Eye, Solar Shingle, LED light bulb and JaipurKnee as the most important innovations. Not so vital were more frivolous innovations such as the Fashion Robot and Custom Puppy. Reflecting the debate over whether NASA is worth the billions we spend on it, the Ares I rocket fell in the middle of the pack.
Time's editors are hardly the final word on which innovations end up contributing to humanity. Save a novel energy dashboard thermostat, anything even remotely related to the Smart Grid we hear so much about did not show up on its list. And I hope the editors follow-up on which innovations over time contribute to mankind or get market traction, but it's hard to argue that the AIDs vaccine isn't important assuming it's effective.
Regardless, Time has packaged together a thoughtful collection of smart technologies that both fire the imagination and inspire the soul.
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