1) Master of Creative Disruption
Innovator: Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies and Tesla Motors
Elon Musk, the entrepreneur, is having a good year. His companies, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Tesla Motors, both hit historic milestones. SpaceX became the first private company to build, launch, and operate a spacecraft that docked with the International Space Station. Tesla unveiled the world’s first premium all—electric sedan to positive reviews at a price of $49,900 (after rebate).
Elon Musk, the man, has every reason to be nervous. At 41, the South African—born billionaire has staked his fortune on businesses that could reshape the future—or implode spectacularly. After creating and selling the Internet payment system PayPal, Musk turned his attention to industries he felt could enhance humanity’s potential: electric cars and affordable spaceflight.
2) Fighting Deflation
Innovators: Massimo Di Giacomo Russo, John Kotanides Jr., and the Air Maintenance Technology Team, Goodyear Tire & Rubber
3) Teaching Robots to Walk
Innovators: Jessy Grizzle, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Jonathan Hurst, Oregon State University
But it’s not impossible. Robots such as Honda’s ASIMO have been shuffling along on two feet for more than a decade, but the slow, clumsy performance of these machines is a far cry from the human gait. Jessy Grizzle of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Jonathan Hurst of Oregon State University have created a better bot, a 150-pound two-legged automaton named MABEL that can walk with a surprisingly human dexterity. MABEL is built to walk blindly (without the aid of laser scanners or other optical technologies) and fast (it can run a 9—minute mile). To navigate its environment, MABEL uses contact switches on its “feet” that send sensory feedback to a computer. “When MABEL steps off an 8-inch ledge, as soon as its foot touches the floor, the robot can calculate more quickly and more accurately than a human the exact position of its body,” explains Grizzle. MABEL uses passive dynamics to walk efficiently—storing and releasing energy in fiberglass springs—rather than fighting its own momentum with its electric motors.
4) Erasing Oil Spills
Innovators: Jeff Cantrell, Stewart Ellis, Don Johnson, Brian Orr, Jerome Riley, Paul Smith, Charles Storey, Donnie Wilson, Elastec/American Marine
In 2010, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon well blew, Elastec/American Marine was called to help with the cleanup. The company’s skimmers were no match for the 56,000-barrel-a-day gusher. So to keep up with the spill, Wilson’s crew used floating booms to corral surface oil and burn it. Watching all that petroleum go up in smoke inspired him and his company to develop a high-volume drum skimmer that could collect more oil, rather than wasting it.
5) Outsmarting Pain
Innovator: Katherine Bomkamp
That soldier was one of nearly 2 million Americans living with limb loss, 80 percent of whom experience phantom sensations—such as throbbing and burning—coming from their absent limbs.
The next year Bomkamp decided to tackle phantom limb pain for the science fair at her Waldorf, Md., high school. Her prototype prosthesis used battery-powered foot warmers to apply heat to the stump, the way you’d soothe sore muscles—she later found research indicating that heat distracts the brain from pain. She won the science fair and received honorable mention at the 2010 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
Bomkamp has continued developing the device. Her most recent prototype has automatic temperature regulation, embedded thermo—resistive wiring, and a solar—powered lithium-ion battery. She received a patent last spring. The next step is to launch human trials.
Bomkamp has come a long way since her high school project, but her inspiration remains the same—helping military amputees get back into the workplace. “I want to make pain one less obstacle that they have to overcome,” she says.
6) Out-flopping the World
Innovators: Bruce Goodwin, Michel McCoy, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; IBM Research and IBM Systems & Technology Group
7) Plugging Into the Brain
Innovators: Michael Boninger, Jennifer Collinger, Alan Degenhart, Andrew Schwartz, Elizabeth Tyler—Kabara, Wei Wang, University of Pittsburgh; Tim Hemmes
8) Peering Around Corners
Innovators: Ramesh Raskar, Andreas Velten, MIT Media Lab
9) Building a Better Metal
Innovators: William Carter, Alan Jacobsen, Tobias Schaedler, HRL Laboratories; Julia R. Greer, Caltech; Lorenzo Valdevit, University of California, Irvine
10) Breaking Through the Heliopause
Innovators: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory