A short list of innovations that stepped up when the world stepped back during the pandemic.
We’ve all said it at least once, and we can say it again. 2020 has been a bizarre year filled with stay-at-home orders, remote work, and too many Zoom calls to count. Not to mention sickness, lost loved ones and strained finances. One silver lining to all this tumult is that invention and innovation stepped up to the challenges of 2020 and chose not to disappoint.
While there are hundreds of innovations that deserve recognition, here’s a shortlist of favorites that just about anyone can appreciate. They have an engineering bend and fall into various categories that include:
- Too Epic Not to Mention
- Work + Remote Work
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxBj8R7XKe4
Too Epic Not to Mention
Crew Dragon by SpaceX
On May 30, 2020, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launched two NASA astronauts into Earth’s orbit toward the International Space Station. This day marked the first launch of U.S. astronauts in nearly 10 years and the first-ever by a commercial aerospace company, SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk. Two important milestones and the launch was only meant to be the first crewed test flight for the Commercial Crew Program. For the next two months, astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley assisted on or conducted various science and technology demonstrations on the International Space Station before returning to Earth on August 2. On November 15, 2020, SpaceX sent four more NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, marking the company’s second crewed launch.
Image by Nvidia.com
Nvidia GeForce Now
With services like Netflix, Hulu and countless others the norm for shows and movies, it’s no wonder that a cloud-based streaming service for video games wasn’t on the brink. In February, chipmaker Nvidia launched GeForce Now; a service described as a “superfast gaming P.C. in the cloud.” For $4.99 a month, subscribers can stream high-end games at top speeds on less-specialized devices, such as a phone, tablet or regular laptop. The service offers more than 70 of the “biggest free to play games” and promises to instantly transform “nearly any laptop, desktop, Mac, SHIELD TV, Android device, iPhone, or iPad into the P.C. gaming rig you’ve always dreamed of.” With 4 million subscribers signed up since the service launched, it seems Nvidia is on to something.
Image by Supernatural
Supernatural by Within
With makeshift home gyms all the rage (or a necessity, more like it), consumers are looking for ways to spice up their routines. Not a moment too soon, immersive technology company, Within, launched its subscription-based, virtual-reality fitness app, Supernatural, in April. With the help of an Oculus Quest or Quest 2 V.R. headset, users can accomplish two important things: take their workout to a truly interactive place and blissfully transport themselves away from their living room, basement or garage to exotic locations on Earth or even outer space. For $19 a month or $179 a year, subscribers can get fit and relish in a little escape from the everyday.
Image by OWL Labs
Work + Remote Work
OWL Labs Meeting Owl Pro
We’ve all been there—apologizing ad nauseam for interrupting colleagues on a video conference and inviting them to “please, go ahead” while you patiently wait your turn. Most of us would agree that video conferences can almost feel more taxing than regular in-person meetings. With its microphone and a 360-degree camera, the Meeting Owl Pro shifts focus to whoever is speaking in the room. The robotics capabilities in this tabletop device create more of a natural flow during meetings where one or a few people might be gathered in person while others have joined virtually.
Image by Raspberry Pi
Work + Remote Work
Raspberry Pi 400 and Personal Computer Kit
For computer enthusiasts and Raspberry Pi aficionados, Santa came early this year. With the debut of the Raspberry Pi 400 comes a “complete personal computer built into a compact keyboard.” For $70, the Raspberry Pi 400 features a “quad-core 64-bit processor, 4 G.B. of RAM, wireless networking, dual-display output, and 4K video playback, as well as a 40-pin GPIO header.” The new unit is also available in a Personal Computer Kit for $100 and includes a mouse, power supply, cables, micro S.D. card, and the Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide. For the nostalgic-prone, the Raspberry Pi 400 is a fast, sleek throwback to keyboard-based systems from the 80s and 90s, such as Commodore and Atari.
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9UjEhCuFgM
Augmedics xvision Spine System
With augmented reality, surgeons have even more of an edge in the operating room. The xvision Spine System (XVS) by Augmedics is an augmented reality, wireless headset worn by surgeons during procedures. The XVS transforms a patient’s C.T. scan into a 3D-image overlay that helps surgeons visualize spinal anatomy and navigate instruments and other devices without pulling their focus away to a monitor. The XVS navigation system uses the real-time position of surgical tools and superimposes them on the C.T. scan. Next, the XVS projects the data on the retina of the surgeon, which is meant to provide “better control and visualization, which may lead to easier, faster and safer surgeries.”
Image by Integrum
e-OPRA™ by Integrum
Integrum’s latest advancement in the field of prosthetics is its e-OPRA™ Implant System, which employs robotics and implanted neuromuscular interfaces to give the patient both intuitive control and sensory feedback. A two-way electrode system enables the wearer to accomplish the all-important functions of communicating to the prosthetic limb while also feeling what the prosthesis is doing. The e-OPRA™ Implant System builds on Integrum’s OPRA™ Implant System, which uses osseointegration to attach a prosthesis directly to the bone, rather than to a socket, thereby reducing skin infections and pain and increasing mobility.
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh7cAGl18yI
Animal-free Whey Protein by Perfect Day
While plant-based protein has been hogging the spotlight, Perfect Day developed the “world’s first real milk proteins made without animals.” To achieve their cow-less dairy, Perfect Day paired cow DNA with microflora featuring the genetic blueprint of whey and casein protein. Through the process of fermentation, flora feeds on the plant-based inputs to produce milk proteins that are free from lactose, cholesterol, hormones and antibiotics. Perfect Day assures that its milk proteins can be seamlessly substituted in “traditional dairy processes and recipes.” The company has plans to develop a full line of dairy-based products. In the meantime, you can sample Perfect Day milk proteins in vegan ice cream by Brave Robot and Smitten Ice Cream.
Our yellow-and-black jacketed friends have garnered more and more attention on the world’s climate stage. With weather and climate fluctuations, pesticides, and disease-threatening bee colonies worldwide, the autonomous, solar-powered Beewise Beehome uses artificial intelligence, robotics, and computer vision to control temperature, humidity, and pests prevent swarms inside the hive. The Beehome robot can also detect when honey is ready to be harvested and assists with the harvest. Real-time alerts also keep beekeepers apprised of the activities inside the Beehome, which can house as many as 24 colonies.
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOqocj2h6EM
CopenHill by Bjarke Ingels Group
With Copenhagen’s goal to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025, the construction of CopenHill could not have come at a better time. The nearly 135,000-square-foot “ski plant” is said to be the “cleanest waste-to-energy power plant in the world” and features a year-round artificial ski slope, hiking trail, and the “tallest artificial climbing wall in the world.” In place of fossil fuels, the CopenHill power plant converts 440,000 tons of waste into enough energy to supply electricity and heating for 150,000 homes each year. The founder of Bjarke Ingels Group said that CopenHill is a “crystal clear example of hedonistic sustainability—that a sustainable city is not only better for the environment—it is also more enjoyable for the lives of its citizens.”
Images by Apple App Store
COVIDWISE by Apple and Google
It took a pandemic for two of the world’s biggest technology rivals, Apple and Google, to come together and innovate. To aid in the fight against COVID-19, the two companies developed an app for digital contact tracing without storing an individual’s location. Rather, the app uses device-agnostic code to alert users that come within six feet of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Knowing that he/she has come into close proximity to someone with the virus, the user can then schedule his/her own COVID-19 test. To protect identities, the app frequently prompts users for their consent, and programming prevents other devices from accessing personal data.
Image by Abbott Laboratories
BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card by Abbott Laboratories
Crucial to reducing the spread of COVID-19 is the ability to test individuals and share results in a timely manner. To address these needs, Abbott Laboratories created a rapid antigen test that costs roughly $5 each and produces results in as few as 15 minutes. The test is roughly the size of a credit card and does not require any special lab equipment. In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the BinaxNOW test emergency-use authorization. The test has a 97.1 percent rate of correctly identifying positive COVID-19 tests and a 98.5 percent rate of delivering accurate negative test results.
iMASC by MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital
With COVID-19 positivity rates peaking once again, disposable masks and gloves litter the streets and sidewalks and healthcare providers continue to face personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages. To overcome these challenges, MIT bioengineers and Brigham and Women’s Hospital clinicians teamed up to create iMASC, a reusable mask with N95 filters. The Injection Molded Autoclavable, Scalable, Conformable (iMASC) system is made of liquid silicone rubber, features two replaceable N95 filters, and has elastic straps to adjust the fit. Once the N95 filters have been removed, the rubber mask can be sterilized via autoclaving (using high-pressure steam) or by soaking in isopropanol or a bleach solution.
Last, but not least... the vaccine! Developed in 9 months! Truly a work of scientific greatness. Two vaccines approved in the USA, in fact.
Hope for 2020, at the very last second.
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