Whether they changed the way you read or the way you ride, these notable inventions from the past year will continue to influence their industries and our lives.
iRobot Looj Gutter Cleaning Robot
Riddell Revolution IQ HITS
WildCharger Charging Pad
Child Minder System
QwikGrip Integrally Moldable Fastening Technology
GreenSwitch Wall Plug
Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator
Rukka SRO Anatomic
FreeStyle Navigator Continuous Glucose Monitoring System
The editors of Entrepreneur.com sifted through hundreds of inventions that became available within the past year to compile a diverse list of innovative, practical and fun products. We've included some easily recognizable products, such as the iPhone, as well as a number of inventions that probably didn't make it onto your radar. Read on to find out what made our list, why it's significant now and how it could change the future.
Company: Apple Inc.
Cost: $399; two-year activation agreement with AT&T required. Rates start at $59.99 per month.
What it is: The iPhone, which consumers camped out for prior to its June debut, is the obvious choice for any "Best of 2007" list. Much more than a phone, it also features an iPod, a camera and the internet, all in one. The multi-touch display allows you to control everything with your fingertips. Zoom in and zoom out on maps to determine your driving route and use the Visual Voicemail to listen to your messages in any order you choose.
Why it made our list: It's the first of its kind. Not only does it have many unique features, including the multi-touch display and Visual Voicemail, but it also uses the OS X operating system and a full web browser and puts widgets center stage in a mobile device
Category: Consumer electronics
What it is: Since it became available in November, Amazon.com has struggled to keep this new electronic reading device in stock. The revolutionary portable reader downloads books, blogs, magazines and newspapers. The Kindle features a high-resolution electronic paper display that looks like real paper. Readers can choose from more than 90,000 books available in the Kindle store, including new releases and New York Times bestsellers. Aside from the cost of books, which run around $9.99, there are no monthly wireless bills or service commitments.
Why it made our list: The Kindle is the perfect traveling companion for on-the-go entrepreneurs, students or book lovers. It's also environmentally conscious, eliminating paper from the reading experience. And for the first time ever, readers have access to tens of thousands of books, newspapers and blogs at the push of a button.
Company: Z Corporation
What it is: This device can transform electronic 3D data into colorful, handheld physical models. It can be used to create architectural concepts, landscapes, engineering product designs, electronic entertainment objects and medical information. The ZPrinter 450 is the third 3D printer made by Z Corp. and is touted as the most compatible with contemporary office environments. The ZPrinter 450 breaks down 3D printing into seven easy steps. It also includes automatic setup, power loading and self-monitoring of materials and print status.
Why it made our list: This technology could have a significant impact on many different industries that rely on models and landscapes. According to Z Corp., high-definition, 3D color printing is now feasible for small to medium-sized engineering businesses and divisions, many of which currently outsource their 3D needs at a high cost.
Category: Consumer electronics/socially conscious
Category: Consumer electronics/socially conscious
Company: One Laptop Per Child
Cost: Donation of $399; OLPC will send one laptop to a child in a developing nation and one laptop to a child of your choice.
What it is: It's a laptop with a conscience. One Laptop Per Child, a non-profit organization, says its mission is to provide laptops to as many children in developing nations as possible. For the first time, the laptop is available for purchase in the U.S. and Canada; $200 of the donation is tax-deductable. In addition, T-Mobile is offering one year of free HotSpot access to all U.S. donors for purchases made before January 1.
Why it made our list: Not only is it an intelligently built laptop, but it's also benefitting children who have never experienced technology like it. So far, the program is operating in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Mongolia and Rwanda. In addition, the XO laptop is built specifically with children in mind: The keyboard is scaled down to accommodate child-sized hands, and the overall dimensions are roughly the size of a textbook.
Company: Skybus Airlines
Cost: $10 to $390 for a one-way ticket
What it is: Faster, cheaper and less stressful. Doesn't sound like air travel, does it? Skybus, which launched its first flight in May, will be available in 14 cities by January, using just nine planes. The company, which is committed to flying nonstop to less congested airports, invested in all new Airbus A319 jets with leather seats. The Skybus payment options are also new: Fares start at $10, and you have the option to pay more to board early, check bags, buy food and beverages, and purchase a blanket.
Why it made our list: Though a new airline isn't a typical "invention," we selected it because Skybus is revolutionizing air travel. The company has taken a no-nonsense approach to create an airline committed to nonstop flights and low fares, which Skybus says are 65 percent less than other airlines, on average.
Category: Consumer electronics
Cost: From $99.99 to $169.99
What it is: iRobot, maker of the Roomba, says it's the first product designed to make gutter cleaning faster, easier and safer. The robot is controlled by a wireless remote that's also a detachable handle. The Looj can clean a 60-foot section of gutter in just 10 minutes. It drives under gutter straps while dislodging and eliminating dirt, leaves and debris. The robot works with standard K-style, aluminum, copper, metal or vinyl gutters.
Why it made our list: Anyone who's had to climb and reposition a ladder multiple times to clean their gutters can appreciate the convenience of this invention. Since the Looj takes the hassle out of cleaning your gutters, chances are you'll do it more often, which can help you avoid the carpenter ants and mosquitoes attracted by dirty gutters, as well as water damage.
What it is: This smart helmet can monitor the number and severity of impacts received during games or practices. The MX Encoder records the location, magnitude, duration and direction of up to 100 impacts, then downloads the information wirelessly to a desktop or laptop after the game.
Why it made our list: Riddell's patented Head Impact Telemetry System is the first of its kind. Though the helmet can't prevent serious head or neck injuries, the web-based analysis can help players determine if they should seek medical attention after severe impact.
Category: Consumer electronics
Cost: $59.99; (adapters sold separately)
What it is: Imagine charging all of your electronic devices at the same time and in one spot--minus the hassle of tangled wires. WildCharge has made that possible with its charging pad that can power up to five devices at the same time. WildCharge customers first need to purchase adapters to enable their phone to work on the pad. So far, the company offers adapters for most Motorola RAZR, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T/Cingular and T-Mobile phones. Up next: WildCharge says it will offer adapters for Apple's iPhone and RIM's Blackberry.
Why it made our list: As more and more electronic gadgets flood the market, consumers are dealing with an equally daunting number of chargers. The WildCharger is the perfect solution for the gadget hound, who can carry the flat, thin pad anywhere they go.
Category: Consumer electronics
Company: Baby Alert International
What it is: At first, the Child Minder System may sound unimpressive. It hooks onto a child's car seat and alerts parents if they forget their children inside. Though most parents can't imagine forgetting to take their child out of the car seat, it's happened. According to Baby Alert International's website, dozens of children in the U.S. die each year after being left in the car for too long. The device activates when the child is placed in his or her safety seat and the smart clip is fastened. The system turns off when the child is removed from the safety seat. Should a parent or caregiver walk more than 10 feet from the car while a child is the safety seat, an alarm will sound.
Why it made our list: No parent wants to think they could become so busy and preoccupied that they could forget their child in the car. But why take that chance? The Child Minder System is an affordable way for parents to ensure that whenever their child is in the car seat, they'll never be forgotten.
Company: Chittenden Research and Development, LLC
Cost: $0.01 per square inch; (varies with quantity)
What it is: After eight years of development, inventor Leonard Duffy has created the Velcro of the future--a fastening technology that snaps into place and slides into full engagement. His "slidingly engaging" systems are applicable to many industries, including apparel, sports, health care, safety and military. Duffy says his invention can bind a new plastic cast or even take the place of shoe laces. Right now, the fastening technology is on the market as a business-to-business licensing opportunity, though it'll be available for consumer purchase in 2008.
Why it made our list: Not only will Duffy's fasteners change the way we look at Velcro, but they're also likely to revolutionize many products already on the market. Duffy says his systems can be integrally molded as part of an OEM's product, eliminating assembly costs with a fastening device.
Cost: $1,125 for the basic installation kit
What it is: Originally, the GreenSwitch system was designed for controlling energy use in hospitals and hotels. After reducing energy costs by 25 to 45 percent in those industries, the technology has now entered the consumer market. The wireless system can reduce home energy consumption by turning off all designated light switches, wall plugs and air conditioning with the flip of a switch. After flipping the switch back on, all plugs and systems return to normal modes. The system can be retrofitted in an existing home or added to a new home during construction.
Why it made our list: While other energy-saving devices we reviewed are more tedious, the GreenSwitch system is easy to use. According to GreenSwitch, you'll make up the cost of installing the system within one to two years.
Category: Food and beverage
Company: Exica, Inc.
What it is: Vinturi, which came on the market in February, accelerates the aeration process of wine. When allowed to breathe, wine is able to more fully release its aromas and flavors. While decanters are typically used to aerate wine, the process takes time; Vinturi's patent-pending design speeds it up. To operate the device, wine lovers hold the aerator over their glass and pour their wine through it.
Why it made our list: It's an affordable, convenient way to enrich a glass of wine. Vinturi is used in more than 70 wineries in Sonoma and Napa Valley, California. Though it hasn't been on the market long, creator Rio Sabadicci says his sales topped $1 million in the past two months.
Cost: $1,650 for the jacket; $1,160 for the pants
What it is: Rukka is the first company to integrate Dow Corning's Active Protection System into clothing. Dow Corning's APS is an "intelligent" textile that remains soft and flexible under normal conditions, but hardens instantly upon impact by absorbing and distributing energy away from the area of impact. Rukka built the technology into the SRO Anatomic, an outfit in its line of motowear.
Why it made our list: This technology can benefit athletes around the world by lessening the severity of injury from accidents or severe contact. In addition to sports, Dow Corning says the fabric will also help people working in construction, industrial and skilled trades work. Watch for APS to be woven into many other products in the coming years.
Company: Abbott Diabetes Care
Cost: To be determined
What it is: The device, designed for adults with diabetes, is designed to discreetly measure glucose levels once per minute without the pain and hassle of conventional blood glucose testing. The Navigator includes a sensor intended to be worn for several days, a transmitter that sends information wirelessly and a receiver about the size of a pager. The receiver, which displays glucose values and rate of change, can be worn on a belt or carried in a pocket or purse. That data is stored for analysis by the user or health care provider.
Why it made our list: Though this system is still under FDA review as an investigational device in the U.S., it has already received European CE Mark approval and has limited availability in Europe. We included the Navigator on our list because it could affect the lives of approximately 246 million people with diabetes across the globe who struggle with maintaining appropriate glucose levels.
Company: Ocean Power Technologies
Cost: Not disclosed
What it is: The PowerBuoy is designed to convert ocean wave energy into useable electrical power for utility-scale, grid-connected applications. The buoy has already undergone ocean testing in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and is operating off the coast of New Jersey. In addition, Ocean Power Technologies is in the process of fulfilling three more contracts, including one for the U.S. Navy in Hawaii. The other two contracts will take the PowerBuoy system abroad to Scotland and Spain. All three systems are on schedule to be deployed in 2008.
Why it made our list: According to some projections, wave energy has the potential to provide between five and 10 percent of the nation's energy supply someday. In the meantime, technical and financial obstacles still remain. Harvesting the ocean's energy is also opening up a debate among fisherman who say it could damage their industry and the environment, not to mention aesthetics.