Most breakthrough innovations make their greatest contributions when they become products people can buy. That’s why Popular Mechanics awarded the top 10 most brilliant gadgets, tools and toys that you can buy in 2009. (Pics)
Tech blogger Michael Arrington wanted a low-cost tablet computer—something to handle basic Web tasks from the comfort of his couch. No company offered one, so he designed it himself.
The Linux PC, which is edging toward release, is promising—but the best part is the proof that today a tech fanboy can take the director’s chair and quickly prototype a smarter product.
The Palm Pre ($200 with a contract from Sprint) doesn’t break ground with any one engineering advance. Instead, it sets a new standard by putting all the best available technologies together.
Most cellphones—even high-end ones—excel at some tasks, while utterly ignoring others. The Palm Pre’s features read like a gadget geek’s wish list: optional inductive charging, a full keyboard, the ability to sync with iTunes—and it can run multiple applications at once. Sometimes more is more.
Nikon Coolpix S1000PJ
Microprojector prototypes started popping up two years ago, and it was clear from the start that their destiny was to become small and inexpensive enough to be built into other gadgets. Now,
Nikon has notched a first: The tiny LED projector in its 12.1-megapixel, $430 compact camera casts large, clear images onto a wall. This promises to resurrect the slide shows of earlier eras, without the hassle of actual slides. (Remember those?)
Lehr Propane Trimmer
Lehr founder Bernardo Jorge Herzer came to appreciate propane-powered small engines during his time as a ship captain in the North Sea. The company’s four-stroke string trimmer produces far less pollution and is more convenient than the two-stroke gas-and-oil machines it can replace. “Propane is much safer, more efficient and more reliable,” Herzer says. “That’s why we used it in our ships.”
Loggerhead Bionic Hydrant Wrench
The five-sided nuts on fire hydrants are rarely a uniform size, and parallel-jawed adjustable fire wrenches can’t grip the fasteners. LoggerHead Tools’ new, one-size-fits-all wrench surrounds the fastener with five jaws.
Start rotating the tool and the jaws close in on each facet. The wrench, which also comes in hexagonal and square versions, will allow firefighters to open any hydrant fast.
Hustler Zeon Electric Mower
The Hustler Zeon, the world’s first all-electric zero-turn radius mower, shows what an environmentally friendly piece of yard machinery can do. The four 12-volt lead-acid batteries power twin DC deck motors, driving a pair of blades for a 42-inch-wide cut. The batteries also power twin AC hydrostatic drive motors, one at each rear wheel.
The machine can turn on a dime or zoom along at 6 mph. The run time is 80 minutes, long enough to cut an acre. The Zeon costs about $7000.
Honeywell Wind Turbine
Noise, bulk and inconsistent winds have hampered the adoption of wind turbines by homeowners, but a new design could change that. Imad Mahawili, a chemical engineer and long-time wind-energy consultant, has reimagined the technology to take advantage of even light breezes.
In a typical wind turbine, air moves the blades, which turn gears to spin a generator and produce a current. Those mechanical linkages siphon off a good deal of wind energy before it can be converted to electricity. Mahawili’s system eliminates the separate generator, and therefore the gearing. The blades are tipped with magnets and enclosed in a wheel that contains coiled copper—in other words, the turbine itself is the electrical generator.
Ford Ecoboost V6
Ford has built the first of a new breed of turbo engines designed to improve fuel efficiency. In the past, turbocharged engines ran at efficiency-killing low compression ratios and rich air/fuel ratios to prevent meltdowns. The 365-hp 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 uses several tricks to overcome these limitations.
The direct fuel-injection system squirts fuel into the combustion chamber instead of the intake ports—this cools the chamber, allowing for a fairly high 10.0:1 compression ratio. The new V6 debuted in the Lincoln MKT and MKS, and the Ford Taurus SHO.
Andalay Solar PV Panels
Solar photovoltaic systems must be paired with inverters to convert the panels’ DC power to the AC power used in homes. So installing a solar array involves sizing an inverter to fit the panels’ output and running a bunch of wiring—not that easy.
New panels from Andalay incorporate microinverters, along with racking and wiring—and take a big step toward true plug-and-play solar power for the home. Andalay says future products will be even easier to install.
Quikcrete Asphalt and Green Concrete
Every year about 45 million tons of old asphalt get torn up and pulverized in the U.S. Most of it winds up in landfills. Meanwhile, 81 million tons of fly ash and slag are produced as coal is burned in power plants.
Quikrete has started putting that waste to work in DIY construction supplies. By using recycled roadway material in its Asphalt Cold Patch and coal-burning byproducts in its Green Concrete Mix, the company increases efficiency while helping to clean up other people’s messes.
Via Fox News