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Top Tech Inventions Shaping 2011

This time last year, we looked at some of the most incredible inventions underway for 2010. An electric eye to help the blind see, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope to find other habitable planets, a SixthSense wearable gestural interface to bring the digital world to life with the touch of your fingertips…
Now, here is a look at some more amazing innovations in store for 2011.

Google Prius

Image source: Fortune

Oh Google! Is there anything you can’t do? Giving us the power to access the world’s information in a matter of seconds, now you join forces with Toyota to bring us motorized sofas on wheels! Otherwise known as driverless cars. These specially designed Toyota Priuses are the same as the regular Prius (full hybrid electric mid-size car) with the addition of cylinder-shaped sensor (the vehicles eye) attached to the roof. Using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car it mimics the decisions made by a human driver.

The aim is not only to create more efficient and environmentally-friendly cars but also to help prevent traffic accidents, free-up people’s time and eventually reduce car usage.

Seven of these robot-cars have already been tried and tested, and drove more than 140,000 miles with very little human control. These hybrids are not yet for sale and for now, only accessible to its employees.

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Straddling Bus

Image source: NYTimes

Image source: archdaily

Have you ever been stuck in traffic and wished you could just say ”Go Go Gadget Car” then lift off and fly right over everybody? China’s new straddling bus concept (which is not a giant female monster riding a school bus), designed by Youzhou Song of Shenzen, is about as close as it gets- and promises to be the new solution to the country’s pollution problems and highly congested roads.

This 18 ft tall, 25 ft wide public bus, which can carry up to 1,200 passengers, is powered by a combination of municipal electricity and solar power derived from panels on the bus’ roofs and at bus stops. It travels at an average speed of 25 mph (40 km) and could reduce traffic jams by 25 to 30 percent on main routes.

The New York Times reports the straddling bus could replace up to 40 conventional buses, potentially saving the 860 tons of fuel that 40 buses would consume annually, and preventing 2,640 tons of carbon emissions.

Plans to start work in China should begin this year.

Youzhou Song presents a demo video translated into English:
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Google TV

Image source: zedomax

GoogleTV now comes standard on the majority of Sony televisions but starting this year, it’s also going open source (much like the Android platform) to allow developers to create apps. A great way to create a community around the product and ensure fresh features are added on a regular basis, Google TV is yet another one of Google’s innovative products changing the nature of entertainment as we know it.

Incorporating social media, personalization, e-commerce, music and photo viewing, you can do everything you’re accustomed to doing online and even use your Android phone or iPhone as a remote control.

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Glasses-Free 3-D Television

Image source: tech.blorge

3D seems to have taken over the home entertainment industry overnight and now Toshiba smugs its other 3D TV competitors saying “Pfft… 3D glasses are so 10 minutes ago!”

Toshiba has already launched 12-inch (~$1,400) and 20-inch (~$2,800) versions of its glassless REGZA 3D TVs. The company plans to unveil prototypes of 56-inch and 65-inch models at CES and will probably launch two models, one over 40 inches and another over 50 inches.

How it works:
Using the integral imaging method which enables natural 3D viewing. Essentially, by simultaneously showing several pictures from different positions and angles, the viewers left and right eyes can see different pictures creating a 3D effect without the help of bulky glasses.

Watch demo video:
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Toshiba has also been putting together 3D concept laptops based on the technology and could be ready to bring a glassless 3D laptop to market by the end of the year.

Martin Jetpack

Image source: Engadget

Ask just about anybody (that doesn’t have a fear of heights) what superpower they wished they had- and I’ll bet the ability to fly would probably top the list. Personal flight will become possible thanks to the Martin Jetpack (which is not a jet or rocket-powered) and will sell for a hefty sum of $100,000.

The Jetpack, designed by Glenn Martin of New Zealand’s Martin Aircraft Company, uses a premium gasoline engine with 200-horsepower and two ducted fans to provide lift. It can reach a speed of 60 miles per hour, an altitude of 8,000 feet, and fly for about 30 minutes on a full fuel tank.

Unlike earlier devices called “jetpacks”, the Martin Jetpack is the first to be considered a practical device. Initially designed with the leisure market in mind, commercial demand for the Martin Jetpack has seen the research and development program focus on readying the product for use in a number of sectors including emergency response, defense and recreation, with numerous applications in each sector.

Watch this mega hunk of carbon-fiber in action:
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BodyWave Scanner

Image source:Freer Logic

Having trouble concentrating? Freer Logic’s latest innovation, BodyWave technology, is here to keep your shifting mind on track. BodyWave tells you exactly when you’ve reached a peak performance state, or, if you’re being inattentive or distracted, it helps bring you back into focus.

Using a brainwave monitor that attaches to the arm or leg, it monitors the brain’s physiological signals through the body and filters out other sources of bioelectricity like the heart. Dry sensors then acquire the brain signal and transfer it wirelessly to a mobile phone or PC.

When BodyWave is used with Freer Logic’s 3D computer simulations, it can teach stress control, increase attention, and facilitate peak mental performance.
Beyond job training and potentially gaming, the BodyWave is also being put to use by Freer Logic sister company Play Attention, which hopes to use the technology to help those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) work on their concentration.

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Synthetic Cells

Image source: Wall Street Journal

Scientists from the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Maryland and California succeeded in developing the first living cell to be controlled entirely by synthetic DNA, in other words, they have created the first synthetic cell. (JVCI also created the first synthetic virus back in 2003.)

The researchers copied an existing bacterial genome, sequenced its genetic code and then used “synthesis machines” to chemically construct a copy. The researchers hope to eventually design bacterial cells that will produce medicines and fuels and even absorb greenhouse gases.

In fact, the company already has a $600 million contract with Exxon Mobil Corp. to design algae that can capture carbon dioxide and make fuel, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Environmental groups have already issued a statement asking the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration “to fully regulate all synthetic biology experiments and products”.

Of course, no one yet knows how these organisms will behave in the environment. As Dr Helen Wallace from Genewatch UK (an organization that monitors developments in genetic technologies) told BBC News, “By releasing them into areas of pollution, [with the aim of cleaning it up], you’re actually releasing a new kind of pollution”.

Virtual Therapy

Image source: PopSci

With people now able to work from home (thanks to collaboration tools like Hosted SharePoint!), get a degree from home, why not get therapy from home with your very own virtual therapist? Virtual therapy helps treat patients with various disorders including anxiety, phobia, post traumatic stress disorder, addictions and other conditions. The military has already begun using cyber therapy to treat traumatized veterans as well as to screen soldiers for mental problems and disorders.

Patients and therapists engage in conversations as they would in a real therapy setting only this is a virtual one (custom-built using code from Second Life). Research from Preferred Family Healthcare suggests that patients are more likely to show up for virtual therapy sessions than real-world ones.

They found that 95 percent of those in their virtual-world program completed or attended their sessions, versus only 37 percent of patients being treated face-to-face.
Moreover, many clients may feel embarrassed or too shy to bring up certain subjects when they are sitting face-to-face with someone and may feel more at ease communicating with virtual characters.

Whether or not computer generated interactions measure up to human ones in all cases remains to be seen.

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