Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards 2006

This post is a bit long, I know, but its necessary. Here's why: PopularMechanics.com has just released their Breakthrough Awards for 2006. According to Wiktionary, “breakthrough” means: “major progress; any great innovation or discovery, especially one that overcomes some obstacle”. This sums up exactly what these awards are about. I think the rate of major innovation has exponentially increased over the years, so much so, that nowadays, there are several discoveries every year, be it on technological, medical or any other grounds. Here’s some of my favourites:
Final Frontiersman: Breakthrough Leadership Award Winner: Burt Rutan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burt_Rutan; http://www.scaled.com. For potentially making space travel cheap enough and safe enough for ordinary people to experience.
The Charger: Innovators: Martin Eberhard and team. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla_Roadster; http://www.teslamotors.com. For building an electric sports car that can propel the car 250 miles between charges.
The Robo-Husky: Innovators: Marc Raibert and team. http://www.military.com/; http://www.gizmag.co.uk/go/5305/. For developing the BigDog robot that can go places that wheels and tracks can't go, with lifelike motion.
Gyro Bike: http://www.thegyrobike.com/. Innovators: Deborah Sperling, Hanna Murnen, Nathan Sigworth, Augusta Niles. To help kids learn to ride a bike, the team placed a flywheel inside the front wheel of a 16-incher. Bikes stay upright partly because the fast-moving wheels act as gyroscopes, which resist tipping.. In the GyroBike, a metal disc in the center of the wheel spins quickly, even when the rim is rolling slowly over the ground.
Pruning: Black & Decker Al ligator. A 4.5-amp motor and 6-in. chain saw bar help the tool cut through 4-in. diameter branches. www.blackanddecker.com
Robotics: Lego Mindstorms NXT. The NXT uses 32-bit processing, Bluetooth antennas, servos and sensors to help robots see brightness, hear commands and perceive movement. www.mindstorms.lego.com
Safety: Sawstop Contractor's 10-IN. SAW. The Contractor's Saw has a sensor that can detect a finger contacting the moving blade. The saw then stops in 3 to 5 milliseconds — reducing a probable amputation to a forgettable cut. www.sawstop.com

Aren’t these brilliant? Burt Rutan said in his acceptance speech :” I hope to see—by having this flourish of activity, and having every kid know…. And I think we're within 10 or 15 years of this…. Every kid will know that if he wants to, he can go to orbit in his lifetime. We're not there yet, but I believe in about that amount of time that that will be the prevailing thinking, and that in itself will drive kids into science and engineering instead of into all those really bad stuff, like lawyers.”

I can’t wait to see what humankind will come up with next! (Watch this space for follow-up posts on some of these winners individually.)


l09f1l3 said...

I read the article about the tesla motors with real interest. It should not be too long before I get myself one of those babies, think we will be able to buy them Locally in SA?

SteelJaw said...

You won't believe this, but the instrument panel was made in SA! apparently South African-born entrepreneur Elon Musk designed it. He is apparently the guy behind PayPal. See this article: http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/sa_teaching/science/932192.htm
I could not find anything about a launch in SA, but I think it would take a hell of a long time for tht to happen anyway.