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Inventors' Day roundup: Some of the coolest consumer innovations of 2016

Wed, Feb 01, 2017 @ 07:32 AM

Since 1983, Inventors’ Day has been used as an excuse for classrooms across the nation to stage fun experiments. This year’s Inventors’ Day, set for Feb. 11, will likely be no exception.

Established by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, the annual event honors all inventors and entrepreneurs across the world. But it specifically commemorates the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Alva Edison, the founder of the modern-day General Electric Co., who held 1,093 U.S. patents when he died (as well as other patents in the UK, France, and Germany).

What great things have been invented since Edison? Consider the following groundbreaking consumer inventions that debuted last year, as profiled by Time magazine:

  • Levitating light bulb: Yes, this $349 device features a light bulb that actually hovers above its wooden base, spinning and providing light thanks to electromagnetism resonant inductive coupling (which translates to wireless power transmission).
  • Folding bike helmet: This plastic model by Morpher sells for $119 and folds vertically for easier backpack storage.
  • Flat solar panels: Developed by Tesla and SolarCity, these replace the bulky metal roof boxes considered an eyesore by some.
  • Self-tying shoes: With the Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 sneakers ($720), a button pressed near the tongue automatically tightens or loosens laces to fit.
  • Fit-anywhere soccer fields: A real estate firm in Bangkok uses aerial photography to find unused, in-between spaces in the city, then applies concrete, paint and anti-slip materials to create playing fields.
  • Hello Sense alarm clock: This $149 gadget can adjust temperature, humidity, light, and air quality in your bedroom via voice command.
  • Multidirectional tires: Goodyear is working on its Eagle-360 models that use “magnetic levitation” to spin in any direction as needed. ETA is 2021 at the earliest.
  • Better Shelters: The Ikea Foundation co-developed these temporary houses that feature details like door locks and solar panels. They also work as hospitals, child development centers, etc. They ship flat and can be constructed in four hours; 16,000 have been shipped worldwide.
  • Super-fast hair dryer: Dyson makes the $399 Supersonic™ hair dryer that employs a jet-engine-like motor.
  • The DJI™ Mavic Pro drone: This $999 tool can fold to the size of a bread loaf but features obstacle-avoidance technology, a 4K camera and the ability to track other objects.
  • The artificial pancreas: The MiniMed® 670G by Medtronic should be commercially available this year; it measures blood sugar levels and provides or withholds insulin as needed.
  • Kid-friendly prosthetic arm: The IKO Creative Prosthetic System features a choice of toy-like attachments compatible with Lego products.
  • The UNICEF Kid Power Band: For staying physically active, wearers get points that count toward real food packages UNICEF sends to malnourished children worldwide.
  • Apple AirPods: These $159 wireless speakers have microphones that can direct smartphones; they automatically pause audio when removed from the ear.
  • Amazon Echo:This $180 unit can talk to your car, utilities and phone by following your voice command.
  • The Wynd: Soon to be commercially available, this $154 desktop air purifier sucks pollutants from your immediate vicinity, including those that contribute to cancer and heart disease.

What innovations will be thought up this year? The march of technology sometimes boggles the imagination.

“I believe that dreams — day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain-machinery whizzing — are likely to lead to the betterment of the world,” advised L. Frank Baum, author of “The Wizard of Oz.” “The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent and therefore to foster civilization.”

Topics: innovation, inventors day