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Explainer: Inventions of the year: 2011

  • In the five years that Popular Science has run the Invention Awards, we’ve seen a lot of remarkable things come out of people’s garages. Some are designed to treat the sick or save the planet. Others are simply fun to play with. But no matter what the purpose, the brilliance of the inventions and the dedication of the individuals behind them are always inspiring.

    This year’s 10 honorees carry on the tradition: a pen that can screen for prenatal diseases for less than a penny, a machine that uses a boat’s exhaust to treat onboard waste, and even a jet-propelled body board light enough to carry from your car to the water. Each of this year’s inventions takes on a different challenge—and solves it in its own ingenious way.

  • The Stark Hand

    Image: A prosthetic hand protoype is cheap, and helps the wearer catch balls and grip wine glasses.
    John B. Carnett  /  Popular Science
    Created by Mark Stark, The Stark Hand prototype provides an ingenious, comfortable, and very inexpensive alternative to the hook his friend Dave Vogt had worn all his life. With the new hand, Dave can now catch balls and grip wine glasses.

    You can read more about the Stark Hand, and watch the video of its throwing and catching abilities, here.

  • The BodyGuard

    Image: This crime-fighting armored glove has a wrist-mounted stunner and a video camera built in.
    John B. Carnett  /  Popular Science
    David Brown designed The BodyGuard, a crime-fighting armored glove, as built-in self protection. The demo model has a camera, a wrist mounted stunner and lots of room for future improvements. The idea came to David while talking to his friend, Kevin Costner.

    Check out our full feature, and awesome video, on the BodyGuard here.

  • The PrintBrush

    Image: This lightweight PaintBrush fits in a laptop bag and prints on any flat surface.
    Jonathan Worth  /  Popular Science
    Weighing in at less than a pound, Alex Breton's PrintBrush easily fits in a laptop bag and prints on any flat surface, from wood to fabric to plastic. Alex worked on the project for 11 years, but a version with a bonus built-in camera comes out early next year.

    Want to see this handheld printer in action? Check out our feature — and video — here.

  • The Katal Landing Pad

    Image: This giant cushion gives snowboarders a soft landing.
    Jussi Grznar  /  Popular Science
    Aaron Coret and his friend Stephen Slen came up with the Katal Landing Pad after Aaron had a nasty snowboarding accident. The board, which was used during the 2010 Winter Olympics, provides a giant cushioned landing for snowboarders and helps make the sport safer.

    Check out our feature on the Katal Landing Pad, with bonus video interview, here.

  • Dynamic Eye Sunglasses

    John B. Carnett  /  Popular Science
    Unlike regular sunglasses, Chris Mullin's glasses block glare instantly with liquid crystal lenses that darken the most where the sun's light is the brightest. A particularly sunny commute inspired Mullin's invention.

    Want to see these glasses in action? Check out our feature, and video, here.

  • The Bed Bug Detective

    John B. Carnett  /  Popular Science

    Built to imitate a dog's nose, the Bed Bug Detective sniffs out bedbugs quickly. Chris Goggin plans to create a model that can detect other pests, too, including mice and cockroaches.

    Read more about this bedbug detector here, and check out our video of the sniffer in action.

  • A Prenatal Marker to Screen for Pregnancy Complications

    John B. Carnett  /  Popular Science
    Designed by a college student and his classmates, the Prenatal Screening Kit, or safety pen, helps detect complications in pregnancies at an early stage. The pen will be quite cheap, costing only a third of a cent per use, making it a perfect tool for hospitals in developing nations.

    Click here for more info on this amazing medical advance.

  • The Zero Liquid Discharge

    Image: The Zero Liquid Discharge vaporizes sewage from boats, airplanes and RVs.
    John B. Carnett  /  Popular Science
    With a pleasant name for a gross procedure, the Zero Liquid Discharge, or ZLD, completely oxidizes and evaporates sewage from boats, airplanes and RVs. After flash evaporation, the waste leaves as a harmless, odorless aerosol.

    Click here to read more about the ZLD and see a video of its waste-fighting in action.

  • Kymera Motorized Body Board

    Image: The Kymera Body Board — a light, motorized body board.
    John B. Carnett  /  Popular Science
    The lightweight Kymera Body Board is Jason Woods's solution for a timeless problem (for lucky people): how to have fun at the lake without the hassle of lugging a boat around. The latest version of his motorized body board hits speeds of 25 mph.

    Want to see this part-boat, part-body-board in action? Check out more info (and a video) here.

  • The Medical Mirror

    Image: The Medical Mirror can tell you your heart when you look at it. A webcam behind the mirror captures variations in reflected light on your face, and an algorithm translates that into heartbeats.
    John B. Carnett  /  Popular Science
    While it can't tell you if you're the fairest of them all, the Medical Mirror can tell you your heart rate, which is probably more valuable in the long run anyway. A webcam behind the mirror captures variations in reflected light on your face, and an algorithm translates that into heartbeats.

    Read more about this futuristic mirror here — there's even a video of it in action.

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