On a cloudy Christmas morning last year, a rocket carrying the most powerful space telescope ever built blasted off from a launchpad in French Guiana. After reaching its destination in space about a month later, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) began sending back sparkling presents to humanity—jaw-dropping images that are revealing our universe in stunning new ways.
Every year since 1988, Popular Science has highlighted the innovations that make living on Earth even a tiny bit better. And this year—our 35th—has been remarkable, thanks to the successful deployment of the JWST, which earned our highest honor as the Innovation of the Year. But it’s just one item out of the 100 stellar technological accomplishments our editors have selected to recognize.
The list below represents months of research, testing, discussion, and debate. It celebrates exciting inventions that are improving our lives in ways both big and small. These technologies and discoveries are teaching us about the nature of the universe and treating diseases, but they’re also giving us better ways of entertaining and expressing ourselves.
With 10 categories spanning from aerospace to sports and outdoors, the list is a doozy. We’ve got Naval fighter jets on the big screen and TikTok filters on your phone. There’s gear to help you explore the great outdoors, and devices to help you improve your health and home. We’ve got gadgets galore, a very long suspension bridge, and an EV with a range of 747 miles. So buckle up, and explore the winners below.
- Personal Care
- Emergency Services and Defense
- Sports and Outdoors
In space, no one can hear a probe smash into an asteroid—but that’s just what happened in September, when NASA’s successful DART experiment proved that it’s possible to reroute a space rock by crashing into it on purpose. And that wasn’t even the most important event to materialize in space this year—more on the JWST in a moment. Back on Earth, innovation also reached new heights in the aviation industry, as a unique electric airplane took off, as did a Black Hawk helicopter that can fly itself.
Innovation of the Year
The James Webb Space Telescope by NASA: A game-changing new instrument to see the cosmos
Once a generation, an astronomical tool arrives that surpasses everything that came before it. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is just such a creation. After more than two decades and $9.7 billion in the making, JWST launched on December 25, 2021. Since February of this year, when it first started imaging—employing a mirror and aperture nearly three times larger in radius than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope—JWST’s vibrant images have captured the attention of the world.
The JWST can see deep into fields of forming stars. It can peer 13 billion years back in time at ancient galaxies, still in their nursery. It can peek at exoplanets, seeing them directly where astronomers would have once had to reconstruct meager traces of their existence. It can teach us about how those stars and galaxies came together from primordial matter, something Hubble could only glimpse.
While Hubble circles in low Earth orbit, JWST instead sits hundreds of thousands of miles farther away, in Earth’s shadow. It will never see sunlight. There, protected even further by a multi-layer sunshield thinner than a human fingernail, the telescope chills at -370 degrees F, where JWST’s infrared sight works best. Its home is a fascinating location called L2, one of several points where the sun and Earth’s gravities balance each other out.
All this might just be JWST’s prologue. Since the telescope used less fuel than initially anticipated when reaching its perch, the instrument might have enough to last well past its anticipated 10-year-long window. We can’t wait to see what else it dazzles us with.
Parallel Reality by Delta: A screen customized for you
You’ve probably found yourself running through an airport at some point, squinting up at a screen filled with rows of flight information. A futuristic new offering from Delta and a startup called Misapplied Sciences aims to change that. At Detroit Metro Airport, an installation can show travelers customized information for their flight. A scan of your boarding pass in McNamara Terminal is one way to tell the system who you are. Then, when you look at the overhead screen, you see that it displays only personalized data about your journey, like which gate you need to find. The tech behind the system works because the pixels in the display itself can shine in one of 18,000 directions, meaning many different people can see distinct information while looking at the same screen at the same time.
Electronic bag tags by Alaska Airlines: The last tag you’ll need (for one airline)
Believe it or not, some travelers do still check bags, and a new offering from this Seattle-based airline aims to make that process easier. Flyers who can get an electronic bag tag from Alaska Airlines (at first, 2,500 members of their frequent flier plan will get them, and in 2023 they’ll be available to buy) can use their mobile phone to create the appropriate luggage tag on this device’s e-ink display while at home, up to 24 hours before a flight. The 5-inch-long tag itself gets the power it needs to generate the information on the screen from your phone, thanks to an NFC connection. After the traveler has done this step at home, they just need to drop the tagged bag off in the right place at the airport, avoiding the line to get a tag.
Alice by Eviation: A totally electric commuter airplane
The aviation industry is a major producer of carbon emissions. One way to try to solve that problem is to run aircraft on electric power, utilizing them just for short hops. That’s what Eviation aims to do with a plane called Alice: 8,000 pounds of batteries in the belly of this commuter aircraft give its two motors the power it needs to fly. In fact, it made its first flight in September, a scant but successful eight minutes in the air. Someday, as battery tech improves, the company hopes that it can carry nine passengers for distances of 200 miles or so.
OPV Black Hawk by Sikorsky: A military helicopter that flies itself
Two pilots sit up front at the controls of the Army’s Black Hawk helicopters, but what if that number could be zero for missions that are especially hazardous? That’s exactly what a modified UH-60 helicopter can do, a product of a DARPA program called ALIAS, which stands for Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System. The self-flying whirlybird made its first flights with zero occupants on board in February, and in October, it took flight again, even carrying a 2,600-pound load beneath it. The technology comes from helicopter-maker Sikorsky, and allows the modified UH-60 to be flown by two pilots, one pilot, or zero. The idea is that this type of autonomy can help in several ways: to assist the one or two humans at the controls, or as a way for an uninhabited helicopter to execute tasks like flying somewhere dangerous to deliver supplies without putting any people on board at risk.
Detect and Avoid by Zipline: Drones that can listen for in-flight obstacles
As drones and other small aircraft continue to fill the skies, all parties involved have an interest in avoiding collisions. But figuring out the best way for a drone to detect potential obstacles isn’t an easy problem to solve, especially since there are no pilots on board to keep their eyes out and weight is at a premium. Drone delivery company Zipline has turned to using sound, not sight, to solve this conundrum. Eight microphones on the drone’s wing listen for traffic like an approaching small plane, and can preemptively change the UAV’s route to get out of the way before it arrives. An onboard GPU and AI help with the task, too. While the company is still waiting for regulatory approval to totally switch the system on, the technique represents a solid approach to an important issue.
DART by NASA and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory: Smashing into an asteroid, for good
Earthlings who look at the sky in fear that a space rock might tumble down and devastate our world can now breathe a sigh of relief. On September 26, a 1,100-pound spacecraft streaked into a roughly 525-foot-diameter asteroid, Dimorphos, intentionally crashing into it at over 14,000 mph. NASA confirmed on October 11 that the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)’s impact altered Dimorphos’s orbit around its companion asteroid, Didymos, even more than anticipated. Thanks to DART, humans have redirected an asteroid for the first time. The dramatic experiment gives astronomers hope that perhaps we could do it again to avert an apocalypse.
CAPSTONE by Advanced Space: A small vessel on a big journey
Some lunar craft fill up whole rooms. On the other hand, there’s CAPSTONE, a satellite that can fit on a desk. Despite control issues, CAPSTONE—which launched on June 28—triumphantly entered lunar orbit on November 13. This small traveler is a CubeSat, an affordable design of mini-satellite that’s helped make space accessible to universities, small companies, and countries without major space programs. Hundreds of CubeSats now populate the Earth’s orbit, and although some have hitched rides to Mars, none have made the trip to the moon under their own power—until CAPSTONE. More low-cost lunar flights, its creators hope, may follow.
The LSST Camera by SLAC/Vera C. Rubin Observatory: A 3,200-megapixel camera
SLAC/Vera C. Rubin Observatory
Very soon, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in the high desert of Northern Chile will provide astronomers with what will be nearly a live-feed view of the southern hemisphere’s sky. To do that, it will rely on the world’s largest camera—with a lens 5 feet across and matching shutters, it will be capable of taking images that are an astounding 3,200 megapixels. The camera’s crafters are currently placing the finishing touches on it, but their impressive engineering feats aren’t done yet: In May 2023, the camera will fly down to Chile in a Boeing 747, before traveling by truck to its final destination.
The Event Horizon Telescope by the EHT Collaboration: Seeing the black hole in the Milky Way’s center
Just a few decades ago, Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at our galaxy’s heart, was a hazy concept. Now, thanks to the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), we have a blurry image of it—or, since a black hole doesn’t let out light, of its surrounding accretion disc. The EHT is actually a global network of radio telescopes stretching from Germany to Hawaii, and from Chile to the South Pole. EHT released the image in May, following years of painstaking reconstruction by over 300 scientists, who learned much about the black hole’s inner workings in the process. This is EHT’s second black hole image, following its 2019 portrait of a behemoth in the galaxy M87.
Starliner by Boeing: A new way of getting to the ISS
After years of budget issues, technical delays, and testing failures, Boeing’s much-awaited Starliner crew capsule finally took to the skies and made it to its destination. An uncrewed test launch in May successfully departed Florida, docked at the International Space Station (ISS), and landed back on Earth. Now, Boeing and NASA are preparing for Starliner’s first crewed test, set to launch sometime in 2023. When that happens, Starliner will take its place alongside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, and NASA will have more than one option to get astronauts into orbit. There are a few differences between the two: Where Crew Dragon splashes down in the sea, Starliner touches down on land, making it easier to recover. And, where Crew Dragon was designed to launch on SpaceX’s own Falcon 9 rockets, Starliner is more flexible.
Zero-emissions vehicles, artificial intelligence, and self-charging gadgets are helping remake and update some of the most important technologies of the last few centuries. Personal devices like headphones and remote controls may be headed for a wireless, grid-less future, thanks to a smaller and more flexible solar panel. Boats can now sail human-free from the UK to the US, using a suite of sensors and AI. Chemical factories, energy facilities, trucks and ships are getting green makeovers as engineers figure out clever new ways to make them run on hydrogen, batteries, or other alternative, non-fossil fuel power sources.
Grand Award Winner
1915 Çanakkale by the Republic of Turkey: The world’s longest suspension bridge
Çanakkale Motorway Bridge Construction Investment Operation
An international team of engineers had to solve several difficult challenges to build the world’s largest suspension bridge, which stretches 15,118 feet across the Dardanelles Strait in Turkey. To construct it, engineers used tugboats to float out 66,000-ton concrete foundations known as caissons to serve as pillars. They then flooded chambers in the caissons to sink them 40 meters (131 feet) deep into the seabed. Prefabricated sections of the bridge deck were carried out with barges and cranes, then assembled. Completed in March 2022, the bridge boasts a span between the two towers that measures an incredible 6,637 feet. Ultimately the massive structure shortens the commuting time across the congested strait, which is a win for everyone.
NuGen by Anglo American: World’s largest hydrogen fuel cell EV
When carrying a full load of rock, the standard issue Komatsu 930E-5 mining truck weighs over 1 million pounds and burns 800 gallons of diesel per work day. Collectively, mining trucks emit 68 million tons of carbon dioxide each year (about as much as the entire nation of New Zealand). This company’s solution was to turn to hydrogen power, and so Anglo American hired American contractor First Mode to hack together a hydrogen fuel cell version of their mining truck. It’s called NuGen. Since the original Komatsu truck already had electric traction motors, powered by diesel, the engineers replaced the fossil-fuel-burning engine with eight separate 800-kw fuel cells that feed into a giant 1.1 Mwh battery. (The battery further recaptures power through regenerative braking.) Deployed at a South African platinum mine in May, the truck refuels with green hydrogen produced using energy from a nearby solar farm.
Hydeal España by ArcelorMittal, Enagás, Grupo Fertiberia and DH2 Energy: The biggest green hydrogen hub
Negro Elkha – stock.adobe.com
Hydrogen can be a valuable fuel source for decarbonizing industrial processes. But obtaining the gas at scale requires using energy from natural gas to split water into hydrogen and oxygen with electrical currents. To be sustainable, this process needs to be powered with renewables. That’s the goal of an industrial consortium in Spain, comprised of the four companies listed above. It’s beginning work on HyDeal España, set to be the world’s largest green hydrogen hub. Solar panels with a capacity of 9.5 GW will power electrolysers that will separate hydrogen from water at an unprecedented scale. The project will help create fossil-free ammonia (for fertilizer and other purposes), and hydrogen for use in the production of green steel. The hub is scheduled to be completed in 2030, and according to its estimates, the project will reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of Spain by 4 percent.
DALL-E 2 by Open AI: A groundbreaking text-to-image generator
Art students will often mimic the style of a master as part of their training. DALL-E 2 by Open AI takes this technique to a scale only artificial intelligence can achieve, by studying hundreds of millions of captioned images scraped from the internet. It allows users to write text prompts that the algorithm then renders into pictures in less than a minute. Compared to previous image generators, the quality of the output is getting rave reviews, and there are “happy accidents” that feel like real creativity. And it’s not just artists—urban planning advocates and even a reconstructive surgeon have used the tool to visualize rough concepts.
The P12 shuttle by Candela: A speedy electric hydrofoil ferry
When the first Candela P12 electric hydrofoil goes into service next year in Stockholm, Sweden, it will take commuters from the suburbs to downtown in about 25 minutes. That’s a big improvement from the 55 minutes it takes on diesel ferries. Because the P12 produces almost no wake, it is allowed to exceed the speed restrictions placed on other watercraft; it travels at roughly 30 miles per hour, which according to the company makes it the world’s fastest aquatic electric vessel. Computer-guided stabilization technology aims to make the ride feel smooth. And as a zero-emissions way to avoid traffic congestion on bridge or tunnel chokepoints without needing to build expensive infrastructure, the boats are a win for transportation.
Bioforge by Solugen: Zero-emission chemical factory
Petrochemical plants typically require acres of towering columns and snaking pipes to turn fossil fuels into useful products. In addition to producing toxic emissions like benzene, these facilities put out 925 million metric tons of greenhouse gas every year, according to an IEA estimate. But outside Houston, Solugen built a “Bioforge” plant that produces 10,000 tons of chemicals like fertilizer and cleaning solutions annually through a process that yields zero air emissions or wastewater. The secret sauce consists of enzymes: instead of using fossil fuels as a feedstock, these proteins turn corn syrup into useful chemicals for products much more efficiently than conventional fossil fuel processes– and at a competitive price. These enzymes even like to eat pieces of old cardboard that can’t be recycled anymore, turning trash into feedstock treasure. Solugen signed a deal this fall with a large company to turn cardboard landfill waste into usable plastics.
HydroSKIN by ILEK/U of Stuttgart: Zero-Emissions Cooling
Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK), University of Stuttgart
Air conditioners and fans already consume 10 percent of the world’s electricity, and AC use is projected to triple by the year 2050. But there are other ways to cool a structure. Installed in an experimental building in Stuttgart, Germany, an external facade add-on called HydroSKIN employs layers of modern textiles to update the ancient technique of using wet cloth to cool the air through evaporation. The top layer is a mesh that serves to keep out bugs and debris. The second layer is a thick spacer fabric designed to absorb water—from rain or water vapor when it’s humid out—and then facilitate evaporation in hot weather. The third layer is an optional film that provides additional absorption. The fourth (closest to the wall of the building) is a foil that collects any moisture that soaks through, allowing it to either be stored or drained. A preliminary estimate found that a single square meter of HydroSKIN can cool an 8x8x8 meter (26x26x26 feet) cube by 10 degrees Kelvin (18 degrees F).
Powerfoyle by Exeger: Self-charging gadgets
Consumer electronics in the U.S. used about 176 terawatt hours of electricity in 2020, more than the entire nation of Sweden. Researchers at the Swedish company Exeger have devised a new architecture for solar cells that’s compact, flexible, and can be integrated into a variety of self-charging gadgets. Silicon solar panels generate power cheaply at massive scale, but are fragile and require unsightly silver lines to conduct electricity. Exeger’s Powerfoyle updates a 1980s innovation called dye-sensitized solar cells with titanium dioxide, an abundant material found in white paint and donut glaze, and a new electrode that’s 1,000 times more conductive than silicon. Powerfoyle can be printed to look like brushed steel, carbon fiber or plastic, and can now be found in self-charging headphones by Urbanista and Adidas, a bike helmet, and even a GPS-enabled dog collar.
The Mayflower by IBM: Uncrewed trans-Atlantic voyage
Collecting data in the corrosive salt waves and high winds of the Atlantic can be dull, dirty, and dangerous. Enter the Mayflower, an AI-captained, electrically-powered ship. It has 30 sensors and 16 computing devices that can process data onboard in lieu of a galley, toilets, or sleeping quarters. After the Mayflower successfully piloted itself from Plymouth in the UK to Plymouth, MA earlier this year—with pit stops in the Azores and Canada due to mechanical failures—the team is prepping a vessel more than twice the size for a longer journey. The boat is designed to collect data on everything from whales to the behavior of eddies or gyres at a hundredth the cost of a crewed voyage and without risking human life. The next milestone will be a 12,000 mile trip from the UK to Antarctica, with a return trip via the Falkland Islands.
The Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facilities by NextEra Energy Resources and Portland General Electric: A triple threat of renewable energy
Portland General Electric
In Oregon, the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facilities, co-owned by NextEra Energy Resources and Portland General Electric (PGE), is combining solar, wind, and battery storage to bring renewable energy to the grid at utility scale. Key to the equation are those batteries, which stabilize the intermittency of wind and solar power. All told, it touts 300 megawatts of wind, 50 megawatts of solar, and 30 megawatts of battery storage capable of serving around 100,000 homes, and it’s already started producing power. The facility is all part of the Pacific Northwestern state’s plan to achieve 100-percent carbon-free electricity by 2040.
Over the past 15 years or so, smartphones have consumed many familiar gizmos. Calculators, TV remotes, cameras, and other standalone devices have converged into the smartphone that lives in our pockets. Recently, however, that trend has slowed. Phones have been iteratively improving with increasingly granular updates. The gadget and computer market has felt more diverse as more and more devices find their niche outside the confines of a smartphone. That includes hardcore computer hardware, VR and AR devices, and even smart-home tech. Our winner this year addresses the ever-present disparity in the ways we use electronic devices, because gadgets should ultimately give us as many options as possible for how we interact with them.
Grand Award Winner
Adaptive Accessories by Microsoft: Making computers accessible to all
Microsoft’s Adaptive Mouse might not look very advanced. It’s a simple, squircle-shaped device with two buttons, a scroll wheel, and several slots around its edges. You’re not meant to use it as it ships, however. This mouse is one of Microsoft’s Accessible Accessories that easily connect to custom, 3D-printed attachments to accommodate a wide variety of users with different physical needs. The Microsoft Adaptive Hub allows people to connect up to three of the Accessible Accessories to any computer. Compatible devices include an Adaptive D-pad button, an Adaptive Dual Button, and an Adaptive Joystick button, all of which can accommodate people with limited mobility through the Shapeways 3D printing platform. The hub connects via USB-C or Bluetooth wireless, so it can integrate third-party accessibility devices along with Microsoft’s own accessories. The company plans to continue expanding the platform to help ensure the most people can interact with their computers in ways not previously possible with common mice and keyboards.
C1 Webcam by Opal: A webcam that goes beyond its hardware
Computational photography relies on software and processing power in order to make camera hardware perform well above its technical capabilities, which is what makes your smartphone camera so good at what it does. The Opal C1 draws heavily on computational photography to apply those same improvements to a webcam. It relies on a smartphone imaging chip previously found in older Google Pixel phones, which stands to reason since the Opal was developed by a former Google designer, Kenny Sweet. Right out of the box, the camera corrects for common issues like heavy backlighting, mixed lighting (which can make you look sickly), and overly contrasty ambient illumination. People can also customize the look they want based on their environment or personal tastes.
Arc GPUs by Intel: A new chip to shake up the graphics processor market
The market for graphics processing units (or GPUs) isn’t very crowded. Two companies, AMD and Nvidia, have dominated for decades. Chipmaker Intel abandoned its GPU ambitions more than 10 years ago—until this year’s release of its Arc hardware. These graphics cards deliver surprisingly powerful performance for even more surprisingly affordable prices. The Arcs’ strength comes from their efficiency. The top-end A770 card isn’t meant to take on the most powerful models from other brands. Instead, at just $329, it provides 1440p gaming for players who might otherwise have to rely on wimpy integrated graphics or an older and outdated card. That should rally gamers who want solid graphics performance without having to shell out the money and power required to run the increasingly ridiculous flagship graphics cards on the market right now.
Ultra Reality Monitor by Brelyon: AR and VR without the headset
Typical virtual reality headsets create shallow stereoscopic depth by showing each eye a slightly different perspective of the same scene. Brelyon’s new Ultra Reality monitor relies on a more complex phenomenon called monocular depth modulation, which allows the eye to focus deeper into a scene just as it could in the real world. Brelyon’s combination of optics and display tech fill a viewer’s field of vision with 3D images that simulate a 120-inch display—with a device the size of a typical gaming monitor. The eye can focus at various depths in the scene, which makes the display feel as though it extends far beyond the physical bounds of the hardware. Eventually, tech like this could, on a much larger scale, essentially create a Star Trek-like Holodeck that creates room-scale VR without the need for a headset.
Ryzen 7000 Series CPUs by AMD: A big leap in processing performance
CPUs (or central processing units) get faster all the time. AMD’s latest Ryzen 7000 Series chips, however, represent more than an iterative jump of pure processing power. These powerful little chips rely on a brand new architecture that AMD calls Zen 4. It’s built on a 5nm process, which doesn’t indicate the actual physical size of the transistors, but rather their density on the chip. By moving to this architecture, AMD has created the fastest CPUs to date for creative and gaming purposes. AMD’s plans for these chips go beyond personal computers and extend out into its commercial data center hardware. But for now, they’ll render those Adobe Premiere edits with the quickness.
OLED Flex LX3 TV by LG: A screen that goes from flat to curved and back again
Curved displays can immerse you in a viewing or video game experience. Try watching content with a group, however, and that curve becomes a hindrance as the picture loses contrast and color accuracy for everyone sitting off-center. LG’s new 42-inch OLED, however, can rest completely flat for group viewing, then mechanically adjust its curvature with built-in motors. It curves all the way to 900R, which is just shy of the human eye’s natural shape. Because it’s an OLED, this TV offers superior contrast and color reproduction no matter what orientation you choose. Plus, it offers a full suite of advanced features, including HDMI 2.1 and an anti-reflective coating to keep the picture glare-free.
Quest Pro VR by Meta: A VR headset that ropes in reality
Until a company convinces us to collectively install Matrix-style data jacks in the backs of our skulls, headsets will be our way into the metaverse. Meta’s new flagship headset offers capabilities well beyond its Quest 2 VR headset that earned a Best of What’s New award in 2020. The Quest Pro features front-facing cameras, which add a mixed-reality element to the overall experience. It can pump a real-time feed of the outside world into high-res displays while integrating digital elements as if they really exist. Replace your desk with a virtual workspace. Get real-time directions on how to fix a piece of machinery. Play fantastical games in a hyper-realistic setting. We’ve seen devices that have promised this kind of AR/VR synergy before, but Meta has brought it a very real step closer to actual reality.
Z9 Mirrorless Camera by Nikon: A professional camera with almost no moving parts
Take the lens off a high-end mirrorless camera and you’ll still find a mechanical shutter that moves up and down when you take a shot. That’s not the case with Nikon’s Z9. This pro-grade mirrorless camera relies entirely on a super-fast, stacked imaging sensor that’s capable of shooting up to 30 fps at its full 45.7-megapixel resolution or up to 120 fps if you only need 11 megapixels. In making this switch, Nikon increased the camera’s overall speed and removed its biggest moving part, which tends to be the first piece that needs repair after heavy use. The Z9 can shoot detailed, high-res raw files for the studio, super-fast bursts of small jpegs for sports, and even 8K video for cinema shooters. And yes, it will shoot the fanciest selfies you’ve ever seen.
Archer Omni Router by TP-Link: A router that transforms to augment wireless connectivity
Single-point routers have fallen out of fashion thanks to the popularity of mesh Wi-Fi systems, but TP-Link’s AXE200 Omni could change all that. At the push of a button, each of its four antennas move automatically to optimize its signal based on where you need the internet most in your home. Positioning router antennas has been annoying for nearly 20 years, so it’s refreshing to see a major networking company take the hassle out of it. The various arrangements can throw signals evenly around an area or divert the antennas in order to focus coverage in one specific direction. Under the hood, the AXE200 is a monster of a router. By adopting Wi-Fi 6e, the router can reach speeds of up to 11 Gbps, and its eight-core processor manages antenna movement and enables HomeShield, a built-in security system.
Matter Smart Home Platform by the Connectivity Standards Alliance: Sync your whole smart home
Smart home gadgets are stubborn and territorial. Their refusal to play together nicely can throw a wrench in anyone’s plans to build an automated electronic utopia around the house. The Connectivity Standards Alliance aims to change that with Matter. It’s a set of standards that ensure smart devices—even those designed to work with specific smart assistants—can talk to each other during the setup process and forever after in regular use. The first iteration includes smart plugs, thermostats, lights, and just about anything else you control with Siri, Alexa, or whatever other assistant you’ve chosen. As devices evolve, so will the standards, so hopefully you’ll never have to struggle through a long setup or an unresponsive device again.
12S Ultra Smartphone by Xiaomi: A smartphone camera with evolved hardware
Smartphone cameras rely heavily on processing and AI to make their videos and images perform outside the bounds of the built-in hardware. Xiaomi has taken a different approach with its 12S Ultra Android phone, however. It has a truly impressive and relatively huge array of 1-inch and ½-inch sensors behind lenses designed by iconic German manufacturer Leica. It still provides the AI and computational capabilities you’d expect from a modern flagship phone camera, but it backs up the processing with hardware well beyond what you’ll find in a typical device. The 50-megapixel main camera takes full advantage of a 1-inch Sony sensor—similar to what you’d find in a dedicated camera. The ultra-wide and telephoto cameras both sport ½-inch chips that are also much bigger than most of their smartphone competition. That extra real estate allows for better light gathering and overall image capture before the computing hardware crunches a single pixel.
Phone (1) by Nothing: Light-based notifications help kick the screen habit
From the front, Nothing’s debut phone looks a lot like a typical flagship Android device. Flip the phone over, however, and you’ll find Nothing’s extremely clever light-based notification system, designed to let users know what’s happening on their device without having to look at the screen. Users can customize the lights (Nothing calls them glyphs) in a surprising number of ways. For instance, individual contacts can have their own light pattern that flashes whenever they call. A strip of LEDs at the bottom of the device can act as a battery charge indicator or give feedback from the built-in Google Assistant. The circular ring of lights around the center surround the Qi wireless charging pad, which can top up a pair of earbuds. Beyond the built-in functions, the lights are deeply customizable and will only gain more functionality in future updates. After all, anything that helps look at our phone screens less is OK with us.
Car Crash Detection by Apple: Smart sensors that can save a life in an accident
One of the most advanced features of this year’s iPhone and Apple Watch models is one the company hopes you’ll never have to use. Car Crash detection uses an iPhone 14 Pro’s or Apple Watch 8’s upgraded gyroscope, which can measure up to 256 G of force, and checks for changes 3,000 times per second. This data, along with information collected by an accelerometer and the built-in barometer, can sense the change in a car’s cabin pressure caused by a deployed airbag. Once it detects a crash, the watch will automatically send emergency services to your location if you don’t respond to an alert within a few seconds. Your device will also give you the option to manually call emergency services if you’re conscious but need help. The feature is enabled by default, and the information your phone collects is never shared with Apple or a third party.
Almost three years into the pandemic, the spotlight isn’t just on COVID medicine anymore. While booster shots and take-home antiviral pills gave us new tools to fight the infectious disease, health researchers and drug makers regained momentum in other crucial areas, like organ transplants, STI prevention, and white-whale therapies for alopecia and HIV. At the same time, AI deepened its role as a diagnostic aid, while mental health services got an accessibility boost across the US. We know the pandemic isn’t over—and other pathogens and illnesses are likely lurking undetected—but the progress we make in medical labs, factories, and care centers can help nurse societies back to health before the next storm hits.
Grand Award Winner
AuriNova by 3DBio Therapeutics: A replacement ear that’s made from ear cells
About 1,500 people in the US are born each year with absent or underdeveloped external ears. Traditional reconstruction techniques might fix the cosmetic issue, but a new 3D-printed ear transplant, called AuriNovo, offers a living substitute. The implant is made with proteins, hydrogel, and a patient’s own cells, giving it far more flexibility than any constructed with synthetic materials; plus, the procedure is less invasive than, say, transplanting tissue from a patient’s ribs. To build the replacement, a surgeon first takes a sample of an individual’s ear tissue to separate and culture the cartilage-making cells. Then, based on a 3D scan of the fully formed ear on the patient, the part is printed with collagen-based “bio ink” and surgically inserted above the jaw. A 20-year-old woman from Mexico was the first to get the implant this June. 3DBio Therapeutics, the New York-based regenerative medicine company behind AuriNovo, hopes to use the technology to one day create other replacement body parts, like noses, spinal discs, and larger organs.
Paxlovid by Pfizer: The first take-home treatment for COVID-19
COVID therapies have come a long way since the start of the pandemic, and now include several antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibodies. But Pfizer’s Paxlovid was the first oral treatment for the disease to receive emergency authorization from the FDA, meaning it can be obtained with a prescription. It’s also highly effective: Clinical trials show it reduces hospitalization and death from the virus up to 90 percent more than a placebo. The remedy is a combination of two pills: nirmatrelvir, which prevents the novel coronavirus from replicating, and ritonavir, which causes the body to metabolize nirmatrelvir more slowly. The drug does have downsides—it can interact with other medications and sometimes causes a foul aftertaste. Plus, rare cases of rebound COVID symptoms and positive tests have occurred in people following Paxlovid treatment, although research indicates that the latter might be related to the immune system responding to residual viral RNA. Still, it represents a crucial new safeguard for healthcare providers and the public.
EVO Visian Implantable Collamer Lenses by STAAR Surgical: Combining the perks of contacts and laser surgery
Most cases of nearsightedness and astigmatism, which is blurred vision caused by an irregularly shaped cornea, can be fixed with laser eye surgery. But the procedure requires some corneal tissue to be removed and often leaves recipients with lingering dry eyes. EVO ICL provides an alternative with a minimally invasive new way to correct or reduce both conditions. During the approximately hour-long procedure, a flexible collagen-containing lens is implanted between the iris and natural lens. The implant is meant to sit in the eye permanently, but can also be plucked out by an ophthalmologist if needed. In published clinical trial results, close to 88 percent of patients reported 20/20 or better and nearly all achieved 20/32 or better distance vision after six months. The lenses also block some UV rays for added protection.
Olumiant by Eli Lilly and Incyte: Long-term relief for severe alopecia
Eli Lilly and Incyte
More than 300,000 people of all ages in the US live with severe alopecia areata, a condition that causes the immune system to attack hair follicles, leading to patchy baldness on the scalp and elsewhere. Hair loss in the nose and ears can affect patients’ hearing and allergies, and a lack of eyelashes can leave people vulnerable to eye irritation from dust. Olumiant, the first medication to secure the FDA’s approval for severe alopecia, can help hair grow back over the entire body. It belongs to a group of drugs called JAK inhibitors, which block certain inflammation-promoting enzymes. It was originally greenlit by the agency in 2018 to treat some forms of rheumatoid arthritis, but in clinical trials for alopecia, it helped roughly a third of participants to regrow up to 80 percent of their hair by 36 weeks, and nearly half after a year. Other JAK inhibitors in development could provide alternatives for patients who don’t fully respond to Olumiant.
AIR Recon DL by GE Healthcare: Sharper MRIs in half the time
Laying motionless for an hour or longer in a magnetic scanner can be a claustrophobic and sometimes nauseating experience. A next-level neural network by GE Healthcare reduces the stress on patients, while filtering out visual noise from movement or faulty processing. The software combs through raw radio-wave data from MRI machines and turns the most accurate bits into high-resolution 3D images. Originally, the AI-reconstructed images had to be stitched together—but the updated tech, which received FDA approval this September, delivers in one go. The speedy precision can cut exam times in half, help hospitals and clinics serve more patients, and possibly improve the rate of diagnosis by giving radiologists a much cleaner view of tissues, bones, masses, and more.
ONE Male Condom by ONE: Latex that works for anal sex
At first glance this condom isn’t all that different from those by other brands. It’s made from natural latex, comes in three thicknesses, and has a wide range of sizes for best fit. But the contraceptive is the first to also be clinically tested for STI protection during anal sex—and has proven to be extremely effective. In studies involving 252 male-male couples and 252 male-female couples, the condoms had a less than 2-percent chance of breakage, slippage, discomfort, and adverse events (which included urinary tract infections and bacteria and viruses spread during sex). With such a healthy showing, the company earned the FDA nod to label the product as “safe for anal sex.” With widespread availability, there’s hope that the condom can help beat back a record rise in chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and other STIs.
Bivalent COVID-19 vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech: A one-shot-fits-all approach
Ringo Chiu, AFP via Getty Images
One of the niftiest features of mRNA vaccines such as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID shots is that they can be tweaked and scaled up quickly to keep up with an ever-changing virus. This August, the FDA authorized the first bivalent COVID boosters, modified with new genetic data to target both the original version of SARS-CoV-2 and the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5. Just how much added protection the bivalent shots offer against the latest versions of COVID remains to be seen, although in early results, the Pfizer-BioNTech booster increased antibodies against the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants by up to 11 times, while the Moderna booster did so by up to 15 times. Experts anticipate that the bivalent COVID vaccines, which are available to all adults and children ages 5 and older in the US, could save thousands of lives if the virus surges again this winter.
Umbilical cord blood transplant for HIV by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Weill Cornell Medicine: The right cells for viral resistance
There are now three official cases of patients in long-term HIV remission—but this one might be the most promising for the millions around the world living with the virus. In 2017, an unidentified American received a blood transplant packed with genes that were resistant to the pathogen behind AIDS. More than four years later, her doctors at Weill Cornell Medicine confirmed that the procedure at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center had indeed made her free of the disease. The miraculous sample was specifically taken from a relative’s umbilical cord blood cells, which were still in the process of maturing and specializing, making it easier for the transplant to take. Previous attempts to cure the disease depended on bone marrow donations that carry a mutated gene only known in Northern Europeans. This alternative treatment makes transplants more accessible for patients from other ethnic backgrounds, so their bodies can fight HIV in the long run as well.
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by SAMSHA: Streamlining the call for help
When you have a general emergency, you might call 911. But for people experiencing a mental crisis, the number has been a lot less intuitive. This July, however, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, run by the US Department of Health and Human Services since 2005, fully switched over to a three-digit code that’s easy to punch in: 988. The shortcut was years in the making, but required major collaboration with the Federal Communication Commission to connect every phone service provider to the alternative number. Since it went live, officials have reported shorter hold times and a 45-percent increase in use compared to August 2021, including on a specialized veteran hotline. The service shakeup also came with $177 million for states and tribes to support the transition in different ways, like alleviating surcharges, setting up call centers, and integrating crisis relief with existing or new emergency responses.
eCoin Peripheral Neurostimulator by Valencia Technologies: A discreet implant for bladder control
Pads, vaginal seals, and skin patches can be a burden for anyone who has to deal with urinary incontinence on a daily basis. A new electrode device, about as small as a nickel and implanted above the ankle, nips the issue in the bud in a more private and convenient way. Incontinence typically occurs when the muscles in and around the bladder contract too often or too much. To prevent leaks and constant trips to the toilet, the eCoin sends low-key shocks through the tibial nerve, targeting the pelvic organs and relaxing the bladder wall. A doctor can control the intensity of the pulses with a remote, making the device more customizable for a broad range of patients. Neurostimulators have become a vanguard treatment for different nervous system conditions, including chronic back pain and even paralysis—but few are so adaptable as this.
The entertainment category for Best of What’s New used to primarily contain devices meant for consuming content. But that’s changed. While our Grand Award Winner goes to a big-budget movie this year, you’ll find an increasing number of devices meant for actually making content. Self-flying drones, all-encompassing camera rigs, and even high-end monitors give people the opportunity to make their own content rather than simply consuming it. Other items on this list—primarily the earbuds—provide a reminder that content is a constant part of our lives. We’ve changed the content we consume for entertainment, but more than that, we’ve changed the way we interact with it. And these gadgets help shape that relationship.
Grand Award Winner
Top Gun: Maverick by Skydance Media/Paramount: A high-speed upgrade to practical filmmaking
Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films
We’re all too used to watching computer-generated action sequences in movies. When Hulk smashes up the scene or aliens attack a city, we know it’s fake. The sequel to Top Gun, which arrived in May—36 years after the original—did it differently. Actors trained in real aircraft to prepare to climb into Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets, and when they did, they experienced crushing G forces as the jets maneuvered at speeds that ranged from about 250 mph to more than 400. To film it, the studio turned to custom cameras carefully mounted within the cockpits, and other aircraft like the L-39 CineJet shot while airborne, too. That approach, plus scenes shot on both the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carriers, all add up to give the film a degree of excitement and verisimilitude that’s rare. While the film is still a product of Hollywood that made some use of CGI, and doubles as a recruiting vehicle for the Navy, we still salute its commitment to capturing the thrill and speed of Naval aviation.
Freestyle Projector by Samsung: An advanced projector that handles its own setup process
Samsung’s Freestyle fixes one of our biggest complaints with projectors: that moving them to find the perfect angle is a pain. The floating, tube-shaped all-in-one projector is attached to its frame on a pair of hinges, which lets it be tilted up or down with very little force. The Freestyle can be twisted a full 180 degrees, allowing it to be pointed forward for a traditional viewing experience, or vertically to play games on your ceiling. You can use your phone to enable “smart calibration,” which adjusts its brightness and color settings based on the color of your walls and the room’s lighting conditions. The Freestyle’s fun form factor and smart settings are complemented by impressive hardware features, like native 1080p resolution, stereo speakers, and an HDMI port for connecting external devices. There’s also a USB-C port in case you’d like to connect the Freestyle to a high-capacity power bank to take it on the go.
Frame TV Anti-Glare Matte Display by Samsung: A 4K TV that isn’t afraid of a bright room
A couple of years ago, Samsung imagined a creative way to make use of a large, borderless, high-resolution screen when you’re not using it to watch videos or play games: displaying famous artwork on your wall. The problem was the TV’s LCD panel, which reflected light and made older paintings look like they were displayed on a screen rather than a canvas. That changes with the second-generation Frame, which has an anti-reflective matte display. Despite the change in technologies, Samsung says you’ll still be able to see a billion colors on the screen, and that it’ll continue to automatically adjust its color balance based on your brightness preferences. If you can’t justify the cost of an original Rembrandt, Samsung’s new Frame will be the next best thing.
Linkbuds by Sony: Earbuds that mix your audio with the real world
Sony created its LinkBuds to be the antithesis of noise-canceling headphones. They let outside sound in so you never need to take them out. The buds have a hard-shelled body, which means they won’t create a tight seal around your ear, and boast a circular cutout, which Sony calls an open ring. The ring gives LinkBuds their unique look, and is also where the earbuds’ driver is located. Sound is fed from the ring through the bud into your ear, along with some noise from the outside world. You’ll hear cars honking, airplane engines, and people on the street. But if you’re a runner who wants to hear a vehicle approach, this is a feature, not a bug.
QC II earbuds by Bose: Active noise cancellation that works across every frequency
Typical noise-canceling headphones have trouble blocking out sound in the middle frequencies between roughly 120Hz and 400Hz. That allows sounds like voices to occasionally get through. Bose has totally reconfigured its noise-canceling algorithm and hardware setup in order to fill in that ANC gap without creating uncomfortable ear pressure or compromising audio quality. The company adjusted its noise cancellation and tuning to a user’s body by measuring the way a chime reflects off the inside of your ears back to the earbuds’ microphones. The attention to detail paid off, as outside noises are greatly reduced even if you’re not listening to music. Bose offers three listening modes by default, but you can create custom ones using the company’s app if you’d like to crank active noise cancellation all the way up, or mellow it out.
Ronin 4D by DJI: An all-encompassing cinema rig and steadicam for creators on a budget
DJI’s Ronin 4D rig looks like a futuristic weapon pulled from a Star Wars flick. In reality, it’s a full-featured cinema rig that combines a number of essential movie-making tools into one compact and extremely stable camera rig. The modular system includes DJI’s flagship Zenmuse camera, which can capture 6K raw video at up to 60 fps or 4K video at up to 120 fps. It also boasts a full-frame sensor and interchangeable camera mounts. The whole imaging rig sits on a 4-axis gimbal that stabilizes footage so convincingly that it sometimes looks like it was shot on a dolly or a crane. Because the whole system is modular, you can swap parts like monitors, storage devices, batteries, and audio gear on the fly and customize it for your shooting needs.
Alienware AW3423DW QD-OLED Gaming Monitor by Dell: The first gaming monitor with a new brighter version of OLED tech
OLED monitors typically provide unmatched contrast, image quality, and color reproduction, but they lack brightness. Quantum dot (or QLED) displays crank up the illumination, but lose some of the overall image impact found on an OLED. Enter QD-OLED. Like a typical OLED display, each pixel provides its own backlight. But the addition of quantum dots adds even more illumination, giving it a total peak brightness of 1,000 lumens while maintaining the certified HDR black levels to create ridiculous levels of contrast. And with its 175Hz native refresh rate, and super-fast 0.1-second response time, you can’t blame this pro-grade gaming monitor if you’re always getting eliminated mid-game.
Arctis Nova Pro Headset for Xbox by SteelSeries: A gaming headset that works across all of your machines
Gaming headsets typically require players to pick a platform for compatibility when you buy them. Some work with a console as well as a PC, but SteelSeries has given its Arctis Nova Pro headset the hardware it needs to work with Xbox, PS5, PC, and even the Nintendo Switch—all at the press of a button. Its secret lies in the GameDAC (short for digital audio converter), which connects to multiple systems and pumps out high-res certified sound with 360-degree spatial audio from whatever source you choose. Plush ear cups and a flexible suspension band ensure comfort, even during long, multi-platform gaming sessions.
Skydio 2+ drone by Skydio: A drone that follows commands or flies itself
Crashing a drone is bad for your footage—and your budget. But this high-end flying machine avoids obstacles with an advanced system that adjusts more than 500 times per second to prevent disaster. A fish-eye lens allows the drone to see 360 degrees around the craft. A dual-core Nvidia chipset generates a 3D-world model with more than 1 million data points per second to identify and avoid anything that might get in its way. With all those smarts, creatives can simply tell the drone to track them or program complex flight paths and the Skydio2+ will capture 4K video at 60 fps on its own. The drone also comes with more than 18 predetermined paths and programs that can make even basic action look worthy of a Mountain Dew commercial.
Dione soundbar by Devialet: True surround sound on a stick
Most soundbars allow buyers a chance to expand their audio system and add satellite speakers or at least a subwoofer. The Dione is different. It’s a totally stand-alone system that relies on nine 41mm drivers and eight built-in subwoofers in order to fulfill the entire sonic range you need to enjoy everything from high-pitched tire squeals to rumbling explosions. Thanks to its Dolby Atmos integration, it mimics a true 5.1.2 surround sound system. The sphere in the center of the bar contains one of the 41mm drivers; it rotates to allow the soundbar to achieve its spatial audio ambitions, whether it’s sitting on a TV stand or mounted somewhere around the television. Devialet’s Speaker Active Matching technology watches over the entire array to make sure none of the individual drivers surpass their optimal operating frequencies, and it even has a dynamic EQ mode that brings up dialog—so you can finally turn off the closed captioning and still understand what the actors are saying.
Our new pandemic normal made soothing stress and monitoring our health the main goals of most personal care products in 2021. But this year saw a flood of launches geared at leaving home and showing off: vibrant cosmetics, anti-aging formulas and gizmos, and skincare products designed to protect from outdoor pollutants. From a multi-dimensional hair dye that draws upon the iridescence of butterfly wings to an end-of-life solution that nourishes the Earth instead of polluting it, these 10 wellness and beauty products stood out above the rest, offering true innovations in a world too often flooded with trendy buzzwords and empty promises.
Grand Award Winner
AR Beauty Tutorials on TikTok by Grace Choi: Filters that aim to educate, not manipulate
Most TikTok filters let you play pretend and “try on” makeup—or, more insidiously, warp the shape of your face to fit an unattainable standard—but a new generation of augmented reality overlays aim to teach you something instead. Grace Choi, a Harvard MBA known for creating 2020 BOWN winner Mink’s makeup palette printer, changed the conversation this year with a digital brow stencil and contouring filter. While tutorials often assume the viewer shares the same face shape as the demonstrator, Choi notes that her filter can map out the slopes and dips of each user’s unique features and guide their makeup placement accordingly. The technique—which involves using contrasting light and dark pigment to subtly highlight some parts of your facial structure and minimize others—is notoriously tough to master using videos, as ideal pigment placement varies depending on bone structure. Choi’s filter instantly creates an easy-to-follow diagram, showing you exactly where to apply your makeup to make your cheekbones pop and your jaw look more defined.
YSL Beauté Rouge Sur Mesure by L’Oreal: Personalized lipstick, made on-demand
Whether you want your lipstick to match the sunset or your blouse, the Yves Saint Laurent Beauté Rouge Sur Mesure can produce any hue with the touch of a few buttons. The handheld system uses color cartridges in swappable palettes of red, nude, orange, and pink to create thousands of personalized shades. The accompanying app lets you scan any object for reference, or peruse a color wheel for inspiration. You can even try the color on virtually before the gadget mixes it up for you. A hydrating lipstick packed with pigment emerges at the top of the device into a chic, removable YSL palette—perfect for on-the-go touch-ups.
Gro Ageless by Vegamour: A duo that keeps you from going gray
Less than 30 percent of hair graying is dictated by your genes, according to a 2016 study in Nature. Instead, it’s predominantly driven by stress, excess UV exposure, diet, and smoking. Increased inflammation damages melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in the hair, and saps them of their hue. Research suggests that maintaining healthy levels of B vitamins, copper, zinc, and selenium can safeguard melanocytes from damage. Vegamour’s Gro Ageless system includes oral supplements to combat those deficits from within, along with a serum that penetrates the hair follicle to stimulate melanocyte stem cells. The plant-based products add shine to strands, improve the texture of aging tresses, and can even help restore color as new hair grows in.
Smoke Alarm Drops by Pour Moi: A serum that shields your skin from wildfire smoke
It’s no secret that our planet is in trouble—and that means your skin is, too. Pour Moi Smoke Alarm Drops mark the first serum formulated specifically to protect skin when it’s exposed to smoke. Some skincare products that lock moisture in can also trap in pollutants. The resulting oxidative stress (an imbalance in a body’s ability to remove toxins or repair damage) can lead to sagging due to collagen loss, fine lines and wrinkles, and rough texture. Pour Moi’s drops address this by creating a shield within the skin’s surface layer, using hyaluronic acid, emollients, and soothing and repairing botanicals.
Dr. Harris Anti-Wrinkle Sleep Mask by CurrentBody: An eye mask that melts stress as you sleep
This mask aims to help you get your beauty sleep—literally and figuratively. The inside of the Dr. Harris Anti-Wrinkle Sleep Mask is lined with slightly raised silicone dots. Each presses imperceptibly against some of the 17,000-plus touch receptors in the skin of your face. Those receptors convert mechanical pressure into electrical signals for your autonomic nervous system, telling your brain to unfurrow your brow. Wearing the eye covering for just 15 minutes can help relax your muscles and make it easier to drift off to slumber. And since it smooths out your forehead, it also reduces the appearance of wrinkles between your eyebrows for up to five hours.
The Loop Cocoon by Loop Biotech: The world’s first living coffin
It’s time to close the loop on the circle of life. Modern burial practices pump heaps of toxic chemicals into the ground and cremation pollutes the air with greenhouse gasses. Over the last several years, several solutions for greener burials have emerged—California has even given human composting the green light—but for most people, such alternatives have remained out of reach or even illegal. This year, Dutch company Loop Biotech became the first to offer a “living coffin” for sale to the general public. The Cocoon is made of dried mycelium, which is the cobweb-like filament that forms mushrooms and other fungi. This substance creates a sturdy coffin that breaks down once exposed to moist soil. In less than two months, it degrades entirely and seeds the burial site with mushrooms. The fungi then helps the corpse biodegrade more quickly, breaking down heavy metals and pollutants in its tissues so it can nourish surrounding plants instead of poisoning them.
TheraFace PRO by Therabody: The utility player of facial gadgets
There are nearly endless beauty gadgets you can buy to scrub, massage, and even electrify your face into submission. Some of them even work: Microcurrents can temporarily soften wrinkles, lymphatic drainage can briefly depuff swollen sinuses, and LED lights can kill acne-causing bacteria and stimulate skin-plumping collagen. But implementing an arsenal of such tools takes deep pockets (and a big medicine cabinet). Enter the TheraFace Pro. In addition to offering the percussive massage the brand is known for—appropriately toned down for the delicate bones of the face—the device’s suite of magnetic attachments also provide hot and cold compresses, microcurrent treatments, deep facial cleaning, and multi-hued LED light therapy. Whether you need to soothe a sore jaw muscle or induce a dewy glow for a special event, the TheraFace makes it downright sensible to own an absurd array of skincare gizmos.
Colour Alchemy by The Unseen and Schwarzkopf Professional: The world’s first holographic hair dye
The Unseen and Schwarzkopf Professional
Most people who color their hair are looking for multi-faceted, prismatic hues—ones with slight variations that catch the light for a more interesting (and often more natural-looking) visual effect. That usually means lightening some pieces of hair, darkening others, and using multiple shades of toners and dyes. Colour Alchemy by The Unseen harnesses the power of physics to create a totally new kind of hair color: a temporary dye that turns hair strands into light-scattering prisms. The products rely on structural color—the same principle that gives beetle shells and butterfly wings iridescent hues using cellular shape instead of actual pigment. The result is hair that shifts across a spectrum of vibrant color when exposed to changes in temperature (like a blast of cool air) or light (like a camera flash). Unlike most temporary dyes, Colour Alchemy shows up on dark tresses without any bleaching. In fact, dark hair provides the best base for its sun-scattering holographic crystals.
Venom Go by Hyperice: A pocket-sized recovery tool that melts sore muscles in a flash
Recovery brand Hyperice has designed a super-portable gadget that melts muscle tension fast. The company’s Venom line, which combines vibration and targeted heat to create not-your-grandpa’s-heating-pad wearables, first launched a few years ago. But this update gave the fitness community something to buzz about. The electronic portion of the Venom Go is small enough to fit in a pocket, and you can use the simple button interface anywhere. Just slap one of the reusable adhesive patches onto the place you want to treat, snap the magnetic device into place, and turn it on for instant heat and soothing vibration.
Super Stay Vinyl Ink Longwear Liquid Lipcolor by Maybelline: A lipstick that truly lasts for hours
Many lipsticks claim to be transfer-proof, but tell-tale signs prove otherwise—ruby stains on a coffee cup, pink smudges inside a face mask, berry splotches after a smooch. Products that truly offer longevity usually manage the feat by drying with a plaster-like finish, leaving your lips feeling like drywall (and sometimes flaking as badly, too). Maybelline Vinyl Ink promises 16 hours of wear without any of those pitfalls. Seven years of research involving some 100 scientists are behind its dual-phase formula, which combines a long-wear pigment with an emollient silicone resin for moisture and shine. The two components purposefully stay separated until application, when the user shakes the tube to combine them—a process that borrows the trick protein shaker bottles use to blend powder and water on the go.
Emergency Services and Defense
The past year has been marked by serious challenges, from the ongoing climate emergency, a subsequent increase in extreme forest fire frequency, and the devastating war in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion. But we’ve also seen true innovation in the field of crisis response. More exact location systems will help emergency services find people in trouble quicker. Better respirator technology is rolling out, designed to help wildland firefighters breathe a little easier. And fire trucks are finally starting to go electric. This year’s best emergency services and defense innovations offer paths out of tight spots, aiming to create a safer future—or at least a better way to handle its myriad disasters.
Grand Award Winner
Wildland Firefighter Respirator by TDA Research: A lightweight, field-rechargeable respirator for forest firefighters
Forest fire fighters need a lightweight wearable respirator to protect them from inhaling smoke. The Wildland Firefighter Respirator, by TDA Research, uses a hip-mounted pump to pull air through a HEPA filter, channeling it to a secure but loose-fitting half-mask (a helpful feature for people who haven’t had the chance to shave while in the field). A sensor in the system detects air flow direction, letting the pump only blow at full strength when the user inhales. Importantly, the device weighs just 2.3 pounds, which is only about 10 percent the weight of a typical urban firefighting Self Contained Breathing Apparatus. About the size of a 1-liter water bottle, the respirator is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. To recharge in the field or away from a generator, that pack can also draw power from 6 AA batteries. Bonus: Even though it was designed for safety professionals, the device could also become civilian protective gear in fire season.
Connect AED by Avive: Connecting defibrillators to those in need, faster
Avive’s Connect AED (Automated External Defibrillator) is designed to be a life-saving device that’s also smart. The devices can automatically do daily maintenance checks to ensure they can perform as needed, thanks to WiFi, cellular, bluetooth, and GPS. Plus, with that connectivity, 911 operators could alert nearby Connect AED holders to respond to a called-in cardiac arrest, saving time and possibly someone’s life. Once a person has been defibrillated, Connect’s connectivity also lets emergency room doctors see data the device collected, such as the patient’s heart rhythm, as well as the device’s shock history, complete with timestamps. The Connect AED also has a backpack-like form factor and touch screen for intuitive use.
Scalable Traffic Management for Emergency Response Operations by Ames Research Center: Letting drone pilots clear skies for aerial emergency vehicles
Ames Research Center
The sky above a forest fire can be a dangerous, crowded place, and that was before forest fire fighters added drones joined the mix. Developed by NASA, the Scalable Traffic Management for Emergency Response Operations project (STEReO) is developing tools for managing the complicated airspace above an emergency. In the spring of 2023, a NASA team field-tested a STEReO’s suitcase-sized prototype device, called the UASP-Kit, to monitor drones safely in the open airspace around prescribed burns. By tracking transponders on crewed aircraft, the UASP-Kit can play a sound through tablet speakers, alerting drone operators when helicopters and planes fly close to where they are operating. That hopefully lets drone pilots get their equipment to safety without risking aerial collision.
Locate Before Route by AT&T: Pinpointing the emergency
When a person in an emergency calls 911 for help, that call is routed, based on its location, to the closest 911 operator. For cell phones, that meant matching the call to the nearest tower and hoping it sent the call to dispatch in the right county. But in May 2022, AT&T announced the nationwide rollout of a better system. Leaning on the improved location services on iOS and Android phones, AT&T’s Locate Before Route feature can pinpoint the location of the emergency call within 50 meters, sometimes even as precisely as 15 meters. This better location information should allow the call to be routed to the best dispatch center, ideally helping responders arrive faster. That data can only be used for 911 purposes, and helps first responders get where they’re needed quickly, nationwide.
GridStar Flow by Lockheed Martin: Helping to power defense with renewable energy
The US military is a massive consumer of fossil fuels, but if it wants to use more renewable energy, it needs a way to store that electricity to power vital functions. GridStar Flow, developed by Lockheed Martin for the US Army, is a massive battery complex that takes advantage of the space of Colorado’s Fort Carson to go big. It will store up to 10 megawatt-hours of juice, thanks to tanks of charged electrolytes and other equipment. Construction at Fort Carson broke ground on November 3, but the company has already tested out a smaller flow battery in Andover, Massachusetts. Using electrolytes that can be derived from commodity chemicals, GridStar Flow offers a power storage and release system that can help smooth the energy flow from renewable sources.
Volterra Electric Firetruck by Pierce: A more sustainable, quieter fire truck
Fire trucks are big, powerful vehicles, but they run on diesel, a polluting fossil fuel. The Pierce Volterra truck can deliver all that power on an electric charge, and it can also run on diesel fuel if need be. Already in use with the Madison, Wisconsin fire department, but with contracts to expand to Portland, Oregon and Gilbert, Arizona underway this year, the Volterra has enough battery power for a full day as an electric vehicle. The electric power helps complement a transition to renewable energy, but it also comes with immediate benefit to the firefighters: the vehicle doesn’t spew exhaust into the station. The quiet of the electric engine also lets firefighters coordinate better on the drive, and can help cries for help be heard when the responders arrive on site.
Vampire Drone by L3Harris: Taking down drones from kilometers away
Drones are increasingly a part of modern battles, seen in wars across the globe but especially with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with both countries using a range of uncrewed aircraft to scout and fight. In August 2022, the Department of Defense announced it would send a new tool to aid Ukrainian forces as a way to counter Russian drones. Made by L3Harris, the Vehicle-Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment (VAMPIRE) system is a rocket launcher and sensor kit that can be mounted to a range of vehicles, providing a means to damage and destroy drones at a range of at least three miles. The laser-guided rockets, directed by a human operator, explode with a proximity fuse, making near misses into effective takedowns.
Emergency SOS via satellite by Apple: Locating lost hikers with satellites
For hikers lost in remote parts of the United States and Canada, calling for help means hoping for cell phone coverage, or waiting for a serendipitous rescue. But Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite, announced September 2022, will let people with an iPhone 14 transmit emergency messages via satellite, provided they can’t first establish a cellular connection. Texters will have a tap-through menu to create an information-dense but data-light report, and provided trees or mountains don’t block the signal, they can transmit crucial information, like what kind of injuries someone has sustained. With a clear view of the sky and fifteen seconds, a cry for help can reach space and then, even better, rescuers on Earth.
We may be decades away from replacing fossil-fuel-powered vehicles with a fully electric fleet, but at the same time, EVs have continued their impressive gains on US roadways. But the most innovative companies in the automotive industry are looking beyond just batteries and charging infrastructure. They’re making the most of what we’ve got while doing the heavy lifting that goes unnoticed: Making vehicles lighter, more aerodynamic, more useful, and less wasteful. They’re also giving us faster and extremely entertaining cars—and we’re here to honor their technical brilliance.
Grand Award Winner
Vision EQXX by Mercedes-Benz: The slipperiest EV
This year, Mercedes-Benz introduced a one-off, world-beating car with an altruistic purpose: To make the most out of the heavy batteries at the core of the growing EV fleet. The numbers for the Vision EQXX are otherworldly for an EV: 3,900 pounds of car and 747 miles on a single charge. It’s slow by EV and gasoline standards, yet modesty was the mission. So how did they do it? Here’s one trick: Its body can extend its sweptback tail at speed another eight inches, helping cut drag by half that of a normal sedan or crossover. To further augment efficiency, Mercedes-Benz opted for a Formula 1 subframe, magnesium wheels, tiny side-view mirrors, and a 100-kWh battery that the company claims is half the size and almost a third lighter than the powerpack in their production EQS sedan. Reducing mass and improving efficiency are old mechanical concepts that all manufacturers need to revisit if EVs are to succeed in the gasoline era. For that to happen, however, the breakthroughs must be this dramatic. Though it’s only a concept, the Vision EQXX may be the spark that ignites that reality.
Uconnect 5 by Jeep: Putting the passenger in command
Large SUVs typically allow the people in the back to zone out and watch whatever’s on the screens in front of them. But in the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, all the fun is in the shotgun seat—and won’t distract the driver. The Uconnect 5 infotainment system can run up to eight independent displays, including a 10.3-inch touchscreen built into the passenger-side dash. To reduce distraction, Jeep tints the display so it’s a faint glow to the driver while still looking bright to the passenger. You can connect an Xbox to the HDMI port, stream a ton of titles with the built-in Amazon Fire TV, control the 360 cameras, and set the navigation system by sending a chosen route to three of the driver displays. Best of all, there’s no ugly screen-mounting hardware to clutter the polished black dash.
Pilot Sport EV by Michelin: When tires go electric
Electric vehicles—performance models especially—put the strain of extra mass and torque onto their tires. The Pilot Sport EV is the first of a growing segment of EV-specific treads designed to improve both range and grip. Typically, a manufacturer can increase range by reducing the rolling resistance—the slowing effects of friction—at the expense of grip. These Michelins find balance by putting different parts of the tire in charge of handling torque and mass: The center of the tire has a grippier compound to take the brunt of an EV’s torque, while the shoulders are optimized for lower rolling resistance. It’s a mix they honed over the last eight years on Formula E racers. Compared to the company’s gold standard, the Pilot Sport 4S, the Pilot Sport EV increases range by as much as 20 percent with nearly the same level of traction.
Android Automotive OS by Google: A car OS from an OS company
Google’s suite of car-specific software has been mediocre for the past several years. Android Auto projects a limited array of Android apps onto a car’s infotainment display; then there’s regular old Android, which is tablet software that many automakers modify for their vehicles. In either instance, their interfaces feel half-baked. Enter Android Automotive OS, which is Google’s first operating system developed specifically and only for cars. Through it, the voice assistant, maps, keyboards, and the Play store run faster and function more intuitively than a smartphone connected to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay ever could. Thanks to it, the experience on the latest Volvo, Polestar, and Chevrolet vehicles is dramatically better than anything those automakers had ever coded themselves.
GR Corolla by Toyota: A three-cylinder powerhouse
In 2022, it’s rare to see automakers develop all-new gasoline engines. To see Toyota craft an engine with as much output per liter as a Bugatti Chiron? That’s a cosmic event. The G16E-GTS spews 300 turbocharged ponies from three tiny cylinders displacing only 1.6 liters. This is the ferocious heart of the 2023 GR Corolla, an ordinary-looking hatchback. On the Morizo Edition, the turbocharger pumps 26.3 PSI of air through the intake—a monstrous amount that the fortified engine block can handle. First offered overseas in the smaller GR Yaris, this engine transforms the humdrum Corolla—the world’s best-selling car of all time—into an everyday sports car. It’s comfortable, practical, gets 28 mpg on the highway, and will absolutely embarrass a Porsche on a twisty road.
FC1-X by Nitro: Rally racing at its most extreme
The FC1-X is what happens when motorcycle stuntman and record-breaking rally driver Travis Pastrana and a Swedish race team agree that Red Bull’s Rallycross is too slow. The FC1-X is a custom, 1000-horsepower electric car that zaps to 60 mph in 1.5 seconds and can land a 100-foot jump. A major reason: The car’s silicon carbide inverter is a fraction of the size and weight of a typical EV’s inverter—the device that converts the battery’s DC output to AC for the motors—and the battery can handle major power draws without overheating. It’s unique to Pastrana’s Nitro Rallycross series. As it evolves, FC1-X stands to influence the next generation of EVs—for both the track and the road.
Super Cruise by General Motors: Best hands-free system
General Motors’ Super Cruise strikes an ideal balance between hands-free driving assistance—giving the human operator a break—and safety. Using a network of laser-scanned highways at 10 times the accuracy of a GPS map with a full suite of ultrasonic, radar, and infrared cameras, Super Cruise can operate on more than 400,000 miles of marked US highways, including executing automatic lane changes. Most important, however, is when it won’t operate: Super Cruise will disable the system for the entire drive if the driver looks away for too long, a road is unmapped, the vehicle’s data connection goes dark, or any number of failure points to keep the person behind the wheel engaged. Next up is Ultra Cruise, which promises “door-to-door” hands-free driving, but that may be years away.
Hummer EV by GMC: A maneuverable behemoth
Let’s get this out of the way. From the standpoint of energy consumption, the GMC Hummer EV is wasteful—and, at nearly 10,000 pounds, it’s a behemoth. Its battery pack is twice the capacity of the best Tesla Model S but delivers 80 percent of the EPA-estimated range compared to that vehicle. But underneath this super truck’s extravagance is a mind-blowing method of four-wheel steering. CrabWalk sounds too ridiculous and motion sickness-inducing to be true, but it is: All four wheels can steer the truck diagonally. The rear rims steer in tandem with the front at up to 10 degrees, enough to let this massive vehicle dance sideways like a crustacean that needs to parallel park, moving up to 25 mph.
Nevera by Rimac: The most powerful production car
A Croatian scientist who converted his broken BMW to run on electricity is now, at age 34, the CEO of a hypercar company that’s fresh off a merger with Bugatti. Mate Rimac’s dream machine, the 1877-horsepower Nevera, has four electric motors and the stiffest carbon fiber monocoque—that’s a combination of the car’s frame and body—around. It’s the world’s fastest EV: 258 mph. Car enthusiasts with $2.4 million to blow will soon show us the evidence. But more importantly, Rimac’s other partners, which include Hyundai and Porsche, will benefit from the company’s EV expertise in future cars costing a fraction of that price.
MotoE by Ducati: The hottest electric racing bike
The heavy batteries that can be packaged easily in a car are harder to incorporate into a motorcycle that needs to balance. Instead of allowing a bulky, off-the-shelf battery pack to dictate the bike’s design, Ducati designed the battery on its MotoE—which the entire field of the 2023 FIM MotoE World Cup will ride—so that it functions as an integral part of the bike’s central frame instead of a bulky add-on. Two separate cooling systems (one for the 18-kWh battery, the other for the 150-hp motor and inverter) ensure the MotoE can sustain 171 mph and then pit for a recharge without needing to cool down. It might not be the first electric racing bike, but it is the first such bike that customers will ultimately want to ride on the road.
Sports and Outdoors
This year’s sports and outdoor innovations make our adrenaline-filled adventures smarter, while going easier on the Earth. On land, a bike helmet can be broken down and recycled at the end of its life. In the snow, a ski that helps you tear down the mountain can also be similarly repurposed. But the best sports and outdoor tech this year helps us communicate better—whether that be a new system for catchers to relay plays to pitchers, or a satellite safety beacon that keeps you connected to family and friends. One winner represents both: an electric joy ride that makes careening through the water easy, fun, and carbon-neutral.
Grand Award Winner
Orca Carbon by Taiga: A silent, safer emission-free joy ride
Personal watercraft like Jet Skis are fun to ride, but this year’s winner makes them greener. Historically, personal watercrafts—or PWCs—operate on fossil fuel, emit noise up to 115 decibels, and leak unburned gasoline into the water. Enter the Taiga Orca Carbon, which takes electric vehicles aquatic. (The company built upon what it learned from its line of electric snowmobiles.) This PWC replaces the gas tank with lithium-ion batteries, which power the jet-drive impeller, creating an electric vessel that is silent and emission-free. The powertrain is located in the bottom of the hull for better handling and performance, which creates a safer ride. The Taiga Orca Carbon broadens the accessibility of on-water exploration, and shows that ditching the engine doesn’t have to decrease the fun.
Canyon Packs by Slot: Gear designed for desert rappelling
Adventurers who go canyoneering squeeze through narrow sandstone passages, sometimes while walking in or swimming through a river, and nearly always must also manage technical gear like ropes and belay devices. Slot’s Guide 50L and Rapide 38L canyoneering packs are specifically designed with these desert conditions in mind, with an innovative rope management system. A divider separates rope from gear and allows users to feed out only the amount of line they need—from 15 to 200 feet—for each rappel. The bag keeps the rest of the rope organized inside, along with the rest of your equipment. The result is a more efficient and safer system that eliminates the need to uncoil and recoil rope for each rappel.
Stealth driver by TaylorMade: A club that’s one tough cookie
Drivers suffer the most damage compared to other golf clubs, experiencing 30,000 Gs of force in one swing. Carbon fiber—a lightweight, strong material—usually cracks under that amount of power, which led clubmakers to use flexible titanium faces for their drivers. But TaylorMade changes the golf club game with its new StealthDriver, finding a way to use carbon after all. Its light face can handle plenty of strokes, higher ball speeds, and longer drives, thanks to its 60 layers of carbon, reduced weight, and aerodynamic shape. Despite the changes, it still gives off the satisfying thwack golfers love from a club with an all-metal head.
Piston Pro X by Kuat: An easy-loading and safe bike rack
Bike racks are notoriously difficult and annoying to load. Most require two hands, which makes securing a bicycle while holding the rack open almost impossible if you’re flying solo. But Kuat’s Piston Pro features smooth-opening, hydro-pneumatic arms that you can operate with just one hand and let you fasten a bike by the tires without touching the frame. The company also incorporates brake lights into the bike rack. The sleek, eye-catching piece of gear holds ebikes too; a separate ramp for electric bikes assists with loading. And a 12mm lock keeps everything secure.
Myelin Helmet by POC Sports: A lid that’s recyclable
Bike helmets are typically in service for five to 10 years, then they head for the landfill. But the POC Myelin helmet gets a new life when its time protecting a rider’s head is over. The headpiece may look like a regular cycling helmet at first, but inside its clean design hides a host of advanced technical details, such as adhesive-free assembly, a recycled fabric outer shell, and cutaway fasteners. These allow the helmet to be separated into individual pieces at the end of its life for easy recycling in your home’s blue bin, or at your local recycling center.
Fuel EXe by Trek Bikes: An electric mountain bike with a no-engine feel
Typical ebikes deliver a whiny hum and noticeable surge when you pedal with the assist they offer. Other riders can find the noise obnoxious, too. But the Trek Fuel EXe is the best new “SL,” or superlight ebike, blurring the line between purely human-powered and pedal-assist bikes. Trek partnered with German robotics manufacturer TQ to develop the new HPR50 motor, which forgoes noisy belts and gears in favor of a refined system; it’s smaller, quieter, and more durable than traditional ebike motors. The result is a sleek, powerful ride with a smooth boost that’s hard to distinguish from your own pedaling power.
The ePE membrane by Gore: A new type of waterproof tech from an old-school company
Gore, the company that invented the waterproof but breathable GORE-TEX membrane in 1968, is back with a new material that aims to take planet-polluting chemicals out of outerwear. After more than seven years of development and rigorous testing, Gore built upon its experience with expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE), polymer processing, and materials science to create an expanded polyethylene (ePE) membrane that’s thin, light, and strong. The new material is also free of environmentally damaging perfluorochemicals (PFCs) and made with recycled nylon and polyester, resulting in a reduced carbon footprint. You can find the new ePE membrane—which has set a new standard in waterproofing—in GORE-TEX products like the Patagonia Storm Shift jacket and pants.
PitchCom by PitchCom Sports: A 150-year baseball problem, solved
Signs in baseball vary from team to team and player to player: Catchers flash two fingers so the pitcher knows to hurl a fastball; coaches use signs to tell a baserunner if they should bat or bunt. However, the opposing team can read these signs and use them to their own advantage, making sign-stealing a 150-year-old problem. Now PitchCom Sports—which created a wrist transmitter for catchers and a receiver for inside the pitcher’s hat—has relieved professional players of the threat of intercepted signals. Phrases like “fastball” and “good job!” are pre-loaded as .mp3 files onto the PitchCom device and played when the catcher or coach presses the button. Only the people wearing the PitchCom receiver can hear the play. And, the commands can be played in any language, so all players on the team know the play.
Salem Dyneema Down Parka by Foehn: A puffy jacket that doesn’t wear down
Down jackets are known for their warmth—and their short life span. Sportswear company Foehn solves inevitable wear and tear by incorporating Dyneema, an incredibly strong synthetic fiber previously used in backpacks and other outdoor gear. The tough new garment combines high-performance insulation with the practically indestructible Dyneema to create a jacket that won’t rip while out on tundra escapades or be slashed by a dog’s untrimmed nails. It’s a lifetime investment for outdoor enthusiasts and those just looking for a tough, stylish, warm piece of kit.
The inReach Messenger by Garmin: A gadget for staying always connected
Satellite communicators can be expensive, tricky to connect to a signal when you need it, and are typically used for extreme outdoor adventures or emergencies only. (Or they require the newest iPhone, as we highlight in our Emergency Services and Defense category.) The Garmin inReach Messenger is designed for more everyday pursuits: when entering a deadzone during a road trip or staying connected while hiking far from cell towers. This 4-ounce personal safety device lets you text anyone from anywhere over satellite, through pairing it to your phone and with the Garmin Messenger app, by using its virtual keyboard, or utilizing preset messages on the device itself. In case of emergency, the inReach Messenger connects the user to the Garmin Response Center. And should your phone die, the inReach Messenger’s Safety Charging gives your phone a partial charge for continued use.
Essential Ski by Rossignol: Reducing waste, one set of skis at a time
The Essential Ski is a first—and a feat—for Rossignol: It’s made from 62 percent recycled, certified natural, and bio-sourced materials, including aluminum, steel, and wood. The design process uses no solvents or water. Plus, the ski can be recycled through a partnership with MTB Recycling that will repurpose the ski’s materials to the automotive, garden, or construction industries. And it’s produced using renewable energy. But don’t let its Earth-friendliness fool you: It’s a real-deal ski that lives up to Rossignol’s performance and durability standards. Plus, they’re not even guarding the secret of how they made it, so that others can make greener skis, too.
Renters, homeowners, and DIY-ers don’t always have the time, money, or skills to accomplish the home improvement tasks on their lists. We get it. Fortunately, one of the benefits of living in a time of rapid innovation is that technology can easily step in where our brains, brawn, and bank accounts fall short. This year, you can upgrade your living space with an easy-install smart showerhead, use spray paint that doesn’t drip, or even consider the most compact in-home water recycling system we’ve ever seen—and that’s just the tip of the screw.
Grand Award Winner
Smart water recycling by Hydraloop: A compact, easy-to-use gray water recycling system
Gray water is the stuff that spirals down your shower and sink drains, and it’s mostly clean, usable H2O that goes to immediate waste. Recycling this wastewater is doable, but the required systems are frequently large, maintenance-intensive, and involve a complicated jumble of pipes and valves. Hydraloop founder Arthur Valkieser changed that by redesigning existing water treatment technology to eliminate filters, and shrinking his device into something that looks a lot more like a modern household appliance. As water fills the Hydraloop’s tank, sediment sinks to the bottom and lighter grime like soap and hair floats to the top, where it foams up and over as waste. Then, a torrent of air bubbles grabs any free-floating solids and removes them, too. The gray water then enters an aerobic bioreactor where live bacteria feast on any remaining organic material and soap. Every four hours after that, UV-C light disinfects the stored water to kill any remaining bacteria, and the non-potable (but sanitized) water is ready to go back into your washing machine, toilet tank, or garden.
Timberline Solar shingles by GAF Energy: Roofing and renewable energy in one
Installing traditional rack-mounted solar panels requires drilling through your existing roof, creating holes that can lead to leaks and water damage if they’re improperly sealed. GAF Energy’s Timberline Solar shingles, however, nail down just like regular asphalt roofing, thanks to a flexible thermoplastic polymer backing. With that supporting a durable photovoltaic surface, they’ll hang tight in the rain, hail, and winds up to 130 mph. Even brighter: These shingles have serious curb appeal and you won’t have to choose between spending on a roof replacement or investing in solar—you can do both at the same time.
3-in-1 Digital Laser Measurer by Dremel: Precise measurements of uneven surfaces
Anyone who’s tried to measure an odd-shaped object knows the struggle of fumbling with a flexible tape, laboring through numerous calculations, or painstakingly determining the length of a string that once followed the contours of the piece in question. Dremel’s 3-in-1 digital laser measurer makes this job easier with a snap-on wheel you can roll for up to 65 feet along any surface. On top of that, it’s got a laser measurer that’s accurate within an eighth of an inch, and a 5-foot tape for all your in-home measuring needs.
757 PowerHouse by Anker: A longer-lasting portable power station
Whether you need portable outdoor power or are trying to sustain your home through a blackout, the lithium iron phosphate cells inside the Anker 757 PowerHouse will keep your devices juiced for more than 3,000 cycles. That means if you dispense and refill its full 1,500-watt output once a day, this picnic-cooler-sized hub will last for more than eight years. It’s got one car outlet, two USB-C ports, four USB-A connections, and six standard household AC plugs. Bonus: Its flat top allows it to double as a sturdy off-grid table.
Glidden Max-Flex Spray Paint by PPG: Drip-proof spray paint
Few things are more disheartening to a DIY-er than completing a project, shaking up a can of spray paint, and then seeing your first coat start dripping all over your masterpiece. Applying a smooth sheen of color takes practice, and PPG seems to understand that not everyone has the time to learn the fine points of pigment application. The company’s Glidden Max-Flex all-surface paint eschews the traditional conical spray for a unique wide-fan pattern that not only refuses to drip, but dries in minutes. The lacquer-based formulation works on wood, glass, and metal and is available in 16 matte shades ranging from “In the Buff” to “Black Elegance.”
M18 18V Cordless Tire Inflator by Milwaukee: Faster, cooler roadside assistance
It goes without saying that cordless inflators produce lots of air, but they also generate a bunch of heat. That’s a problem when your pump conks out after 5 minutes and you have to wait for it to cool down before you can keep filling your tires. Not only will Milwaukee’s M18 cordless tire inflator push out 1.41 standard cubic feet of air per minute—making it the fastest 18-volt cordless tire inflator around—but its internal fan will keep it chugging along for up to 20 minutes. You might not even need to use it that long, either: It’ll top off a 33-inch light duty truck tire in less than a minute.
Smart Showerhead by hai: No plumber necessary
Smart showerheads frequently require skilled experts to install, and some even feature components that are built into the wall of your bathroom. That’s not accessible for the everyday homeowner. You don’t need tools or special skills to hook up hai’s smart Bluetooth showerhead, though. Just unscrew the old head, twist on the new one, connect the app, and you’ve got immediate control over both temperature and flow. Use the adjustable spray slider on the head to go from a high-pressure stream to a light mist, and choose your preferred heat level from the app. Plus, customizable LED lights will let you know when you’ve reached your self-imposed limit, saving water.
Package Editor: Rob Verger
Judging Panel: Corinne Iozzio, Stan Horaczek, Rob Verger
Category Editors: Rachel Feltman, Stan Horaczek, Charlotte Hu, Corinne Iozzio, John Kennedy, Jen McCaffery, Amanda Reed, Purbita Saha, Rob Verger
Researchers: Kelsey Atherton, Clifford Atiyeh, Kate Baggaley, Berne Broudy, Rahul Rao, Andrew Rosenblum, Celia Shatzman, Terri Williams
Design Director: Russ Smith