The Innovation Countdown

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Dec 30 2012, 07:00am hrs
A 3D printer, a microscope for your phone, gloves that double as handsets...innovation is what gets gadgets going. Here is a list of gizmos that topped our list of innovations in 2012. Read on to find out if your choice matches ours. By Sharad Raghavan

1. Makerbot Replicator 2

Our list begins with one of the most versatile 3D printers in the world. At a time when customisation is everything and everyone wants something unique, the prospects of 3D printing seem limitless. Imagine a world where you enter a design for a mug, figurine, building model, chess figurine or a toy, and the printer renders it perfectly in a variety of materials and in any colour you want. It works by printing layer upon layer of the material in a finely-calibrated design as laid out by you on your computer. And it can all be done sitting in the comfort of your home! Most analysts believe 3D printing, on a sustainable basis, will be the end of manufacturing as we know it; people will simply create what they need at home. However, the real futuristic concept is when 3D printers start printing other 3D printers. Remember the Terminator movies

Estimated street price: $2,200

2. Luggage Finder

Remember that suitcase you bought thinking it was perfect for you It was the right shape, size, colour and functionality. But no sooner than reaching the airport, you realised there was nothing unique about it. The search for that suitcase, then, on the luggage carousel became extremely frustrating, with you trying to spot yours among a sea of similar-looking onesall the while praying that somebody doesnt walk off with yours!

With Luggage Finder, you dont have to live that ordeal any more. Simply place the Luggage Finder wireless transmitter in your suitcase, and the accompanying keychain will flash and blink as soon as your suitcase comes within 20 metres of you. Of course, nothing can help you if there are three identical suitcases within that distance; but thats just bad luck.

Estimated street price: $50

3. Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Quadricopter

As far as hobbies go, building and flying your own helicopter has few comparisons. The Quadricoptersnot your conventional single-rotor or dual-rotor copterstability and manoeuvrability is unmatched. But that being said, the sheer technology crammed into this four-rotor copter is astoundingautomatic stabilisation (a boon for an amateur flyer), Bluetooth control via your smartphone and video streaming from on-board HD cameras. While its functionality is limited to flying around your backyard or 300 feet into the air, its true uses are limited only by your imagination. Think hi-tech spying missions, you budding 007s.

Estimated street price: $300

4. BioLite Camp Stove

Hurricane Sandy in the US truly brought out the sheer genius of this device. Using a thermoelectric generator, it converts the heat from a fire into electricity, which can then be used to charge your phones or power a flashlight. It sold like hotcakes during the hurricane when most of New York was without power. The brilliance of the thing is that it works, in principle, like a small power station. The more fuel you burn, the more electricity you get. While most of the other gadgets on this list are purely consumer ones, this stove has a use beyond simple entertainment. And what makes it an even greater achievement is its low price given the tech that went into making it.

Estimated street price: $129

5. iPhone 5

Yes, I know its an Apple product and, according to the fanboys among you, the iPhone 5 should be right on the top of this list. But come on, what really sets the iPhone 5 apart from its predecessors A bigger screen, faster processor and better display Go get a Samsung Galaxy SIII if thats what you find is lacking while using the previous iPhones. Further, the new operating system, iOS 6, with its disastrous Apple Maps, really set Apple back (the Google Maps apps is now back, but the damage to Apples reputation is likely to be long-lasting). That said, the iPhone 5 is an Apple product, and as such, is still one of the best smartphones out there. It fails to impress only when compared to previous versions of the iPhone. Compare it to other phones in the market and it comes out tops. If you have the budget, its the phone to get.

Estimated street price: $200 with a contract

6. Mini-microscope for iPhone

Heres one for you science buffs. The biggest handicap with analysing new specimens of fungus or bacteria that you find in the forest while exploring is that you have to safely package them and take them home or to your lab to get a good look at them under the microscope. Not any more. Just hook up the mini-microscope to your iPhone and youre set; gaze lovingly at the cell structures of absolutely anything you can fit on a slide. Who knows, you might discover a new species! Couple that with the iPhones and mini-microscopes LED lights, and you have enough illumination to carry on your research past sundown as well.

Estimated street price: $42.92

7. Bluetooth Handset Gloves

Products like these feature so high on our list on the basis of their sheer coolness. Everybody is now familiar with the Bluetooth headsets people wear on their ears; making them look crazy, talking to themselves. The Bluetooth Gloves will make you look even crazier. Everybody knows the hand gesture people make to indicate they are on the phonethe thumb and little finger sticking out. Now, with these gloves, it might transpire that the next person you see making that gesture is actually talking on the phone through that gesture. As soon as a person wearing these gloves makes that gesture and presses a button, the gloves become a headsetwith the speaker and microphone boththat connects wirelessly with your phone.

Estimated street price: $150

8. Microsoft Surface

The overwhelming image people have of Microsoft is that it is the grandfather of the technology world. Not in the sense that it was the progenitor of all the companies we have todayin a way it isbut in the way that its old-schoolboring, staid and conventional. The Surface, however, took that image and flipped it on its head; Microsoft is suddenly being seen as a company willing to try something different and fun for a change. Tablets thus far had been limited to being multimedia players and little more; the lack of a keyboard made typing a pain, so no real productive work could be done on them. The Surfaces magnetically attachable keyboard (at an extra cost of $120) changed the game. Suddenly, you could have all the fun a tablet offered, and swiftly switch it to work mode with no hassles. It no doubt helped that Windows 8 was also a complete revamp of Microsofts earlier operating systems.

Estimated street price: $499

9. Google Nexus 7

If we talk about the Surface, we have to talk about the Google Nexus 7. Not because it was as revolutionary, but because it rapidly catapulted itself into the big league of tablets. Google, so far, has remained in the software space, with its Android operating system dominating the smartphone market and making deep inroads into the tablet market. With the Nexus 7, Google makes another foray into the hardware space and succeeds in showing its worth. As an aside, its worth thinking about if such mid-sized tablets had come out first, would the larger ones like Apples iPad have been so enormously popular As it turns out, thats a moot question since the market is big enough for all tablets, big and small. The functionality of this one, though, is impressiveand the smooth-as-butter Ice Cream Sandwich operating system just makes the Nexus 7 a pure joy to use.

Estimated street price: $200-300

10. Nokia Lumia 900

Much like Microsofts image in the computing space, Nokia is now considered the grand old man in smartphone companies. In fact, before the Lumia, it could be argued that Nokia didnt have a credible smartphone at all, only feature phones. Nokia had missed the smartphone boat and failed several times to catch up. The Lumia, however, was very well received by critics and consumers alike. Lets face it, Nokia has been a crowd favourite for many years; its usability and durability are the stuff of legends. All it needed to do was get its smartphone act together to win back the ready love of its customers. The Lumia has done just that. It took its time in getting there, but Nokia seems to have finally nailed its smartphone formula. What no doubt helps is Nokias partnership with Windowboth companies can drag each other out of their lethargy.

Estimated street price: $399