When making a list with an ambitious title like “The Best Inventions of 2012," questions of methodology arise.
What counts as having been “invented” in 2012, anyways? And how do you decide which of the year's inventions were the greatest and which don't make the cut?
We at HuffPost decided to count something as “invented” this year if the first public prototype was demonstrated within the last 12 months. Basing “invention” off what patents have been filed can be wildly misleading, and “Best Products To Hit The Market This Year” is altogether another kind of list.
Answering the question of which innovations were best is trickier. We tried to choose inventions that could have a big impact on the world in the near future, either by changing the way people live now or by spurring other people to start inventing themselves.
Admittedly, these are subjective calls. Was there an invention we missed? Something we included on our list that actually wasn't that innovative? Let us know in the comments below.
Two lifelogging cameras came to prototype this year: Memoto’s <a href="http://memoto.com/">Lifelogging Camera</a> and OMG Life’s <a href="http://www.autographer.com/">Autographer</a>. Both cameras are head-height mounted and automatically snap pictures for you; <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/23/memoto-camera-martin-kallstrom_n_2178095.html">the Memoto every 30 seconds</a> and the Autographer <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/09/24/autographer-new-automatic-camera-wearable_n_1908539.html">whenever it detects changes in “temperature, light, motion, direction and colour.”</a> Given the support both of these projects have received, lifelogging may just become A Thing people start integrating into their everyday lives. What might such cameras mean? With so many moments stored as photographs, memories will be "searchable" and will stay with the wearer forever. Further down the road, it might mean an end to the government and corporate monopoly on surveillance; now individuals will join entities as surveyors.
One can also “lifelog” with <a href="https://plus.google.com/+projectglass/posts">Google Glass</a>, a wearable computer being developed by Google that projects images in front of users' eyes. But that's hardly the only thing it does. Google Glass merits it its own entry because it's bring "augmented reality" -- reality enhanced by computer-generated sensory -- a step closer to the consumer market. We’ve seen augmented reality in fiction for a while now -- just think of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/21/darpas-new-mind-reading-b_n_1904200.html">Tony Stark’s Iron Man gear,</a> which highlights civilians in green and foes in red and shows Pepper Potts’ face when she telephones. Think the Internet is life-changing? Being able to overlay the tangible world with useful information is the next step, and it’s not a small step either. Just watch <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c6W4CCU9M4">the video</a> of the prototype to see what we mean. Want the weather? Just put on your Glass and look out the window. Going somewhere? Arrows overlaying the streets will show you where to walk. Subway service suspended? A warning will pop up before you even go into the tunnels.
Essemblix 'Drag-And-Drop' Drugmaking
We can "drag-and-drop" to make drugs like we insert photos into emails? Yep, that started happening in 2012. The <a href="http://www.parabon-nanolabs.com/nanolabs/therapeutics/">Parabon Essemblix Drug Development Platform</a> uses a "drag and drop computer interface" to assemble compounds atom by atom. <a href="http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=125990">According to the National Science Foundation</a>, "it could drastically reduce the time required to create and test medications." How drastically? Well, without Essemblix, drugs are built by a slow and expensive process of trial and error; slow and expensive enough that the design-to-product process of even one successful drug <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/site/products/ddbt_0207_Final.xhtml">typically takes on the order of $800 million dollars and 15 years.</a> Most of that money, and most of that time, isn't spent on clinical trials and FDA approval either -- most is spent simply on design and synthesis of new, testable drugs. But with Essemblix, design and synthesis is no longer a time and money sink; Essemblix drugs, says the National Science Foundation, could be conceived and produced <a href="http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=125990">"in weeks, or even days."</a> Best of all, the Essemblix has already been used to produce drugs. P24RDN, a brain-cancer medication produced by Parabon, <a href="http://www.parabon-nanolabs.com/nanolabs/therapeutics/">has been shown "safe and effective" in preclinical trials.</a> PJ-01 <a href="http://www.parabon-nanolabs.com/nanolabs/therapeutics/">, a drug made by both Parabon and Janssen Pharmaceuticals</a>, is currently in preclinical trials for the treatment of prostate cancer.
Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset
"Virtual reality" had a moment in the mid-90’s, what with <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100802/"><em>Total Recall</em></a> and <a href="http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2010/08/virtual-boy/">Virtual Boy.</a> But back in the day, the gaming technology wasn’t quite up to par. Mid-90’s VR displays were <a href="http://codeflow.org/entries/2012/aug/03/oculus-rift/">plagued by weight, menaced by low resolution, doomed to make gamers nauseous</a> -- and eventually, all of them died with a whimper. But now VR is back, and this time it looks like it’s going to work. The <a href="http://www.oculusvr.com/">Oculus Rift</a>, made by <a href="http://gamersnewsnetwork.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/a-virtually-amazing-experience/">ModRetro founder Palmer Luckey</a>, boasts a <a href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57486608-1/gamers-go-ga-ga-over-oculus-rift-virtual-reality-headset/">huge field of vision, resolution approaching Retina-level, and head-tracking sans latency and sans nausea.</a> Better yet, the Rift has a reasonable price tag ($300) and scads of corporate support -- the creators of DOOM <a href="http://www.polygon.com/gaming/2012/8/3/3218320/doom-4-oculus-rift">have announced that they’re making their fourth game Rift-compatible (as well as their re-release of DOOM 3)</a> and a <a href="http://www.joystiq.com/2012/08/06/notch-wants-0x10c-minecraft-to-support-oculus-rift/">Rift-compatible version of Minecraft is in the works.</a> <a href="http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1523379957/oculus-rift-step-into-the-game">With a $2 million war chest from their Kickstarter campaign and game developers going gaga over the tech</a>, could the Oculus Rift be the biggest thing since Kinect?
Mind-Controlled Cybernetic Limbs
Disabled men and women may gain cyborg limbs if researchers at UC Irvine have their way. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/mind-controlled-robotic-legs-paralyzed-walk_n_1862078.html">A team of engineers at the university have developed a pair of mind-controlled robotic legs</a> that “walk” in response to a person thinking “I want to walk now.” The legs are currently in prototype, and have thus far only been tested on able-bodied people. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/mind-controlled-robotic-legs-paralyzed-walk_n_1862078.html">But the UC Irvine team plans to start tests on the disabled soon.</a> Along with holding the potential of giving the immobile mobility, these legs are just one of several brain-reading technologies invented this year. Besides the mind-controlled legs from UC Irvine, we’ve seen the genesis of <a href="http://neurogadget.com/2012/09/22/meet-the-next-necomimi-a-fluffy-tail-that-wags-with-your-mood-and-shares-your-location/4860">“extremely popular”</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/17/necomimi-mind-controlled-cat-ears_n_1891129.html">mind-controlled robotic cat ears</a> and (perhaps less trivially) the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/21/darpas-new-mind-reading-b_n_1904200.html">crazy mind-reading binoculars from DARPA that spot the enemies your conscious mind doesn’t even know you’ve seen.</a>
Form 1 3D Printer
3D printers found their way into the news in 2012, and it would be a shame not to put one on this list. As tech trends go, this one’s been a long time coming -- for the past year or so, we’ve heard people oooh and aaah over devices that can print <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-burrus/3d-printers-can-now-print_b_1958657.html">jewelry, chairs, human jaw bones, organic chemicals, parts for jet engines</a> and now, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/08/man-3d-printer-rifle_n_1753513.html">guns.</a> But why the <a href="http://formlabs.com/">Formlabs' Form 1</a> of all 3D printers? It’s a big sell because <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/30/formlabs-3d-printer_n_1920028.html">it brings ultra-precise laser-based printing, previously the hallmark of only the best 3D printers on the market, down to a consumer price point.</a> Suddenly, top-of-the-line 3D printing can be done at home.
Grasshopper Reusable Rocket
We’ve been able to spend humans to space since the 1960s, but it’s never been cheap. Every rocket we’ve made so far has been at least partially disposable -- which means every rocket we’ve ever built leaves pieces in space and has to be partially rebuilt every time it launches. You may have guessed, this is expensive. The holy grail of rocketry has been a completely reusable rocket, but it’s been the stuff of fantasy -- until now. Enter Elon Musk, the billionaire PayPal founder who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/05/mars-colony-elon-musk-how_n_2232435.html">very badly wants to go to Mars</a>. After many years of work, his SpaceX flight company has built the first reusable rocket, which took its first test flight in September 2012. The rocket, known as the <a href="http://www.spacex.com/updates.php">Grasshopper</a>, is as tall as a 10-story building and has thus far flown twice, once to the height of 6 feet and once to the height of 17.7 feet. Seems like small potatoes maybe, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/16/spacex-grasshopper-test-flight_n_2145428.html">both test flights landed safely, the rocket was reused, and the flights further proved that the Grasshopper is capable of vertical take-off and landing</a> -- a necessity when travelling to planets without runways. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/05/mars-colony-elon-musk-how_n_2232435.html">Mars colony, here we come! </a>
Earlier on HuffPost: