TIME Innovation

The 25 Best Inventions of 2014

Hoverboards, intelligent space craft, edible food wrappers, and much much more

—Welcome to TIME’s annual round-up of the best inventions making the world better, smarter and—in some cases—a little more fun.

 

  • The Real-Life Hoverboard

    justin fantl

    Hendo Hoverboard / $10,000
    Preorder at hendohover.com

    The hoverboard—a type of skateboard that levitates like a magic carpet—had been a pipe dream since its fictional debut in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II. Now California-based tech firm Hendo has built the real thing.
    Granted, there are caveats. Hendo’s hoverboard can float only an inch or so above the ground, and even then only over conductive material like copper or aluminum. Just 10 are being made to order (so far). And battery life is 15 minutes—barely enough time to zoom past your enemies à la Marty McFly.

    But the technology that powers it could be revolutionary. Using the $450,000-plus it raised on Kickstarter, Hendo founders Jill and Greg Henderson plan to develop magnetic “hovering” tech to stabilize buildings during earthquakes, protect valuable works of art and more. “The hoverboard is the first step to bringing this technology to the world,” says Greg.

  • The Supersmart Spacecraft

    Mangalyaan, India's Mars Orbiter Mission, is prepared for its Nov. 5, 2013 launch into space.
    INDIAN SPACE RESEARCH ORGANIZATION

    Mangalyaan
    Developed by the Indian Space Research Organization

    Nobody gets Mars right on the first try. The U.S. didn’t, Russia didn’t, the Europeans didn’t. But on Sept. 24, India did. That’s when the Mangalyaan (Mars craft in Hindi) went into orbit around the Red Planet, a technological feat no other Asian nation has yet achieved. Building the craft cost India just $74 million, less than the budget for the film Gravity. At that price, the Mangalyaan is equipped with just five onboard instruments that allow it to do simple tasks like measure Martian methane and surface composition. More important, however, it allows India to flex its interplanetary muscles, which portends great things for the country’s space program—and for science in general.

  • A Reactor that Could Realize Nuclear Fusion

    Illustrations by Muti for TIME

    High-beta fusion reactor
    Developed by Lockheed Martin

    Nuclear fusion—the production of energy from the fusion of hydrogen nuclei—has always been the holy grail of energy: it’s endlessly productive and largely clean—and so far, it’s remained elusive. But in October, Lockheed Martin said it had achieved a technological breakthrough that will enable it to make compact fusion reactors small enough to fit on the back of a truck within a decade. The design uses “magnetic mirror confinement” to control the reaction. Absent further details on how it works, some outside scientists are skeptical. But if Lockheed really can produce a workable fusion reactor, the world of energy may never be the same.

  • Wireless Electricity

    Illustrations by Muti for TIME

    Witricity
    In development for Toyota cars, Intel PCs and more

    We already have wireless Internet and wireless phones. Why, then, are everyday appliances still shackled to the wall? To be sure, there are a few power-mat chargers for small gadgets like phones. But WiTricity, based in Watertown, Mass., is thinking big. Its technology—involving a plug-in coil that creates a magnetic field, which in turn powers objects as far away as 8 ft. (2.4 m)—has been tested on Toyota electric cars (with charging mats), Intel PCs (with charging pads) and more. Within 10 years, says CEO Alex Gruzen, rooms could be wired so that all appliances—lamps, TVs, stereos—pull power from a central charging base.

  • 3-D-Printed Everything

    justin fantl

    A machine that can build any object. It sounds like a sci-fi fantasy, but thanks to the rise of 3-D printers—devices that can build objects from digital blueprints, usually by layering plastic or other materials—it is rapidly becoming reality.

    That’s a boon for consumers and corporations alike. In the past year alone, middle-school students have 3-D-printed stock cars for physics lessons, scientists have 3-D-printed tissues for human organs, and GE has used 3-D printing to improve the efficiency of its jet engines. “This is one of those technologies that literally touches everything we do,” says Avi Reichental, CEO of 3D Systems, whose 3-D printers produce candy (as shown above) and musical instruments, among other objects.

  • Watches that Redefine Smart

    Justin Fantl for TIME

    Apple Watch / $349+
    Available early 2015

    Most smart watches have proved to be anything but: they try to shrink down the experience of using a cell phone, with clunky results. Apple’s Watch, by contrast, wholly reimagines the computer for the wrist, using a novel interface that combines a touchscreen and physical buttons. Besides telling time, the Watch can send messages, give directions, track fitness and make wireless payments. It’s also an attractive piece of fashion, with high-end Edition models that feature 18-karat gold. “Apple poured its heart and soul into the design,” says Robert Brunner, founder of San Francisco design studio Ammunition and a former director of industrial design at Apple. “It’s brave because they’re venturing into unknown territory.”

  • The Smartphone that Puts Privacy First

    justin fantl

    Blackphone / $629
    Available at blackphone.ch

    Nearly half of Americans don’t feel safe sharing private information over a cell-phone call, according to Pew. So how can phone owners conceal their data? Enter the Blackphone, a smartphone designed to put privacy above all else. The device, developed by the company of the same name and accelerated after the Snowden leaks, runs a customized Android operating system stripped of features that might make data vulnerable, like calendar sync. It also comes with software that encrypts calls, texts and browsing history at levels far beyond normal smartphones (which could make the Blackphone a target of law-enforcement officials, who say encryption technology makes it harder for cops to catch criminals). But even with a Blackphone, users should be careful about what they type or upload. As Blackphone CEO Toby Weir-Jones explains, “It’s dangerous to assume anything is a magic invisibility cloak.”

  • The Cooler that Powers Your Party

    IMG_0110.JPG
    Tara Johnson for TIME

    Coolest Cooler / $399
    Preorder at coolest.com (to ship in early 2015)

    For more than 60 years, coolers have done a fine job putting party refreshments on ice. But that wasn’t good enough for Ryan Grepper. “We wanted the cooler to be a place where people gather—to have all the things that make a space somewhere you’d want to hang out,” says the former medical sales rep.

    The result is the world’s smartest all-purpose party starter. It stores food and drinks, sure. But it also touts a blender (“for vodkaritas,” Grepper offers), an LED lid light (“to see if you’re reaching for beer or Clamato juice”), a USB charger (“so nobody’s phone dies”), a Bluetooth speaker (for tunes) and big wheels designed to navigate many terrains (beach, parking lot). “I just want to make the coolest cooler out there,” says Grepper. Hence the name: Coolest Cooler.

    Since Grepper’s prototype first appeared on Kickstarter earlier this year, roughly 63,000 backers have contributed $13.3 million to make it a reality. It’s now the most funded creation in the site’s history, besting hits like the Pebble smart watch and Oculus Rift’s virtual-reality glasses.

  • The Chip that Stops Your Slouching

    Illustrations by Muti for TIME

    Lumo Lift / $100
    Available at lumobodytech.com

    You can probably guess why so many people have posture that causes back pain: “We simply forget” to stop slouching, says Monisha Perkash, whose company, Lumo BodyTech, created the ultimate reminder. Once users clip the Lumo Lift, a chiplike gadget about the size of a thumb, onto their shirt, it analyzes neck and spinal positions and vibrates when they’re less than ideal. Although the system isn’t perfect—it can buzz when you lean for necessary reasons, like taking a phone call—it has exceeded internal sales goals. Half of its users are women, which is impressive given that early adopters for gadgets often tilt male.

  • The Car that Makes Electric Enticing

    P90129197_highRes.JPG
    Fabian Kirchbauer

    BMW i3 / $41,350
    Available at BMW dealerships nationwide

    For the most part, electric cars have been slow, sexless and stolid to drive—or stunningly expensive. So when BMW, the self-described maker of “the ultimate driving machine,” announced it would start selling them, it had a high bar to clear. The I3 delivers. In addition to getting 70 to 110 miles (113 to 177 km) on a single three-hour charge, its novel design allows drivers to use a single ­pedal to both accelerate and brake (press down to go, ease up to stop), which results in more energy-efficient driving. And because so-called range anxiety—the fear of running out of juice on the road—remains a top reason people don’t buy electric, BMW is pioneering ways to ease customers’ doubts. Among them: an optional backup gas motor that can recharge its batteries in a pinch and a program that lends owners a gas-powered vehicle for longer trips.

  • The Tablet that Replaces Laptops

    IMG_0420lo.JPG
    Tara Johnson for TIME

    Microsoft Surface Pro 3 / $799
    Available at microsoft.com

    Microsoft’s latest “hybrid” bundles the power of a laptop into a svelte 12-in. tablet and can run desktop apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. That, as well as a slim, detachable keyboard cover and a built-in stand that makes the Surface usable on a desk, makes it more suitable than other tablets for professionals like doctors and businesspeople. No wonder organizations such as Coca-Cola and Seattle’s Children’s Hospital have adopted it in droves.

  • The Ring that Alerts You in Style

    The Ring that Alerts You in Style
    The Ring that Alerts You in Style Alice Keeney

    Ringly / $195+
    Available at ringly.com

    Like many professional women, Christina Mercando keeps her smartphone in her purse, which meant she was constantly digging it out to check for important notifications. But what if she could get that info from something she was already wearing, much as pants-wearing men can feel a phone buzz in their pocket? That’s the thinking behind Ringly, a line of rings that can be programmed to glow when wearers get an email from their boss, a text from their Uber driver or any number of other can’t-miss communications. Mercando, a former product and design manager at eBay, raised more than $1 million to realize her vision. So far, the concept is working: the first 1,000 Ringly rings, which debuted in June, sold out within 24 hours.

  • The Pillbox that Gets Personal

    Justin Fantl for TIME

    Pillpack / prices vary
    Available at pillpack.com

    “I grew up in a family that owned and operated a pharmacy,” says T.J. Parker, who knows firsthand how confusing it can be for people to track which meds to take when, especially if they fill multiple prescriptions. That’s why the e-pharmacy he runs now, PillPack, doesn’t traffic in bottles. Instead, every two weeks, patients are sent a dispenser, which has their medication—all of it—sorted into a ticker tape of tearable packets, organized by date and time. For now, service is limited to patients with multiple prescriptions. But Parker’s ultimate goal is to make the pharmacy experience simpler for everyone, even patients on short-term antibiotics.

  • Bananas that Prevent Blindness

    Illustrations by Muti for TIME

    “Superbananas”
    Developed by the Queensland University of Technology

    In sub-Saharan Africa, up to 30% of kids under age 5 are at risk of going blind—among other conditions—for one simple reason: they don’t get enough eye-nurturing vitamin A. But what if the bananas that make up a lot of their diet could be re-engineered to deliver it? That’s the idea that struck Australian biogeneticist James Dale when he visited Uganda in the early 2000s. With backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dale and his team began developing a vitamin-A-enriched “superbanana”; human trials start soon in the U.S. In Africa, they will be introduced using what Dale calls a “reverse Ponzi scheme” to spark adoption. Village leaders will be given 10 free superbanana plants to grow, on the condition that they give at least 20 new shoots to other villagers, who will do the same. “These bananas could potentially solve” a major health problem, Dale says.

  • The Wheel that Gives Bikers a Boost

    IMG_0306_wheel.JPG
    Tara Johnson for TIME

    Copenhagen Wheel / $799
    Preorder at superpedestrian.com (to ship spring 2015)

    We know that biking is good for us and good for the environment. But getting around on a bicycle can seem daunting, especially in a large city with a hilly terrain. To lessen that burden, Cambridge, Mass.–based Superpedestrian has developed the Copenhagen Wheel, a standard-size wheel—it can be attached to the back of most bicycles—that boasts a rechargeable, battery-powered motor. Depending on rider preferences, entered through a smartphone app, the motor can kick in power throughout the ride or just on hills. Sensors also track road conditions, air temperature and potholes, so cyclists can share real-time information about best routes. “Cities are reaching a limit in terms of how many more cars they can accept,” says Assaf Biderman, founder and CEO of Superpedestrian; indeed, studies like those from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute suggest that the U.S. has reached “peak car.” The Copenhagen Wheel, which has raised more than $6 million (partially through crowdfunding), may help make cycling a more viable alternative.

  • The Seamless Sign-Language Translator

    Illustrations by Muti for TIME

    MotionSavvy uni / $198+
    Preorder at motionsavvy.com (to ship fall 2015)

    For the millions of deaf people who cannot speak, everyday communication often requires costly human translators and tedious note writing. Enter the Uni, a tablet and attachment that leverages motion-sensing cameras and voice recognition to translate American Sign Language into spoken words—and spoken words into text—in real time. “The need for this is so great,” writes Ryan Hait-Campbell, CEO of San Francisco–based MotionSavvy, who is deaf. Roughly 200 Indiegogo backers agree: the company has raised more than $20,000 to date.

  • The Filter that Fights Ebola

    IMG_0538_sand stick.JPG
    Tara Johnson for TIME

    Hemopurifier
    Developed by Aethlon Medical

    What makes the Ebola virus so frightening is its speed. In a matter of days, it can pump out enough copies of itself to overtake the immune system. But the Hemopurifier, a specially designed cartridge that attaches to a dialysis machine, can tip the balance back in the body’s favor: its lectin filter attracts Ebola viruses and sucks them from the blood as it flows through. It’s been used only once, on a patient in Germany, but it did the trick—effectively curing his Ebola infection. In the future, doctors hope similar tech could be used on viruses like hepatitis.

  • The Selfie Stick (and Hairbrush)

    justin fantl

    If 2013 was the year in which selfie became a buzzword, then 2014 was the year selfies became a cultural phenomenon. Look no further than a recent Pew report, which found that at least a quarter of Americans have shared a selfie on a social-networking site (including Ellen Degeneres, Kim Kardashian and President Obama).

    Sensing a new market, several companies have launched devices designed to streamline the selfie-taking experience. Many of them, like a hairbrush that holds your smartphone, are more goofy than game changing. But the selfie stick (produced by multiple brands), which enables users to position their smartphone beyond arms’ reach to get better photo angles, “adds genuine value,” says Van Baker, a mobile tech analyst at the research firm Gartner. “I’ve seen a lot of people using it.”

  • The AC that Lowers Your Energy Bills

    _MG_6107.JPG
    Amy Lombard for TIME

    Quirky + GE aros / $279
    Available at quirky.com

    Americans spend more than $11 billion each year to blast their homes with air-conditioning, releasing 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air. Experts say a sizable portion of that is waste. IT consultant Garthen Leslie realized as much while driving to work last summer in Washington, past rows of empty-looking houses with humming window units that could not be turned on or off remotely. There had to be a better way. “So I sent an idea to Quirky,” he says, referring to the GE-backed site that turns people’s concepts into creations. Four months later, they had a prototype.

    The Aros air conditioner, which has sold nearly 50,000 units since its May 2014 release, is a provocative departure from the familiar window unit. For one thing, it’s elegant, with a sleek white exterior that’s almost Apple-esque. It’s smart too. Thanks to a companion mobile app, Aros can track owners’ movements via GPS and turn itself on and off depending on their proximity to home. It also tells people exactly how much money they’re spending to cool their residences. That’s how Quirky knows it’s working: so far, the company says, Aros owners who use the “smart away” feature that turns the unit on and off automatically have trimmed their energy use by nearly 10%.

  • The Prison Room that Helps Inmates Relax

    Illustrations by Muti for TIME

    “Blue Room”
    Developed by Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon

    For 23 hours a day, the 200 inmates in solitary confinement at Oregon’s largest prison see nothing but a tiny, white-walled cell—an experience some research suggests can heighten mental illness and make prisoners prone to suicide attempts and violence. Last year, officials began letting some of them spend their free hour in a first-of-its-kind “blue room,” an exercise space where a projector plays video of open deserts, streaming waterfalls and other outdoor scenes. That imagery, says creator Nalini Nadkarni, who studies how nature affects behavior, is designed to calm prisoners, “much in the way we walk through a park” to relax. Inmates have responded so well that guards now use blue-room time as a way to pre-empt bad behavior.

  • The Tablet Toy that Gets Physical

    justin fantl

    Osmo / $79
    Available at playosmo.com

    Like many kids, Pramod Sharma’s daughter loves the iPad. But “when her face is glued to the screen, six inches away, all day long—I wasn’t too happy,” he says. (Studies have shown that too much screen time can lead to attention problems and obesity.) So the ex-Google engineer and his former colleague, Jérôme Scholler, devised a way to bring virtual play back into the real world. Osmo’s “reflective AI” attachment enables the iPad camera to interpret physical objects—allowing kids to mimic an onscreen pattern with colored tiles, for example, and get rewarded for doing it correctly (while also refining their motor skills). The toy, which debuted in October, has helped Osmo raise $14.5 million in capital and is now being sold in the Apple Store. “Many kids can play at once,” says Sharma, “so it becomes more interactive and imaginative.”

  • The Coaching Basketball

    Justin Fantl for TIME

    94fifty smart sensor / $200
    Available at 94fifty.com

    In sports training, as in business, there’s no more valuable asset than data. That’s why hoops pros use high-tech equipment to monitor everything from passing patterns to fatigue levels. This basketball aims to re-create those perks for casual players. It comes embedded with nine sensors and a Bluetooth chip that sends performance data to a mobile app—allowing players to measure, say, the arc of their jumpshot. If something’s off during game play, the voice of a coach (via the app) can even implore you to “go faster” or “snap your wrist.” “We get excited when we see someone improve,” says Michael Crowley, whose company, InfoMotion Sports Technologies Inc., makes the 94Fifty Smart Sensor. And apparently, that’s happening a lot: Crowley says InfoMotion has sold close to 100,000 balls.

  • Wrappers You Can Eat

    IMG_0445lo(2).JPG
    Tara Johnson for TIME

    Wikipearls / $4 for a pack of two
    Available at select Whole Foods

    “Edible wrapper” sounds like an oxymoron—unless you’re WikiFoods founder David Edwards, who has devised a way to encase yogurt, cheese, ice cream and more in shells strong enough to hold their shape (in water, heat and cold) until you take your first bite. The secret lies in science: Each shell is made of particles of dried fruit or other natural substances that are tiny enough to be electrically attracted to one another; they are combined with calcium and sugar to strengthen the form. Though the frozen-yogurt Pearls—the first WikiFoods product to reach mainstream stores, thanks to deals with Stonyfield and Whole Foods—are still packaged in biodegradable bags of two, Edwards’ ultimate goal is to sell them à la carte, like apples or peanuts, in an effort to reduce the world’s packaging waste.

  • Screens that Showcase Digital Art

    Illustrations by Muti for TIME

    Electric objects / $399 per frame
    Preorder at electricobjects.com

    “There are so many artists” making beautiful works on and for computers, says digital artist Jake Levine, referencing the burgeoning Tumblr community (among others). But putting that art on physical walls has been nearly impossible. Levine’s Electric Objects, which has raised almost $3 million in funding, aims to change that. The sleek, 22-by-13-in. flatscreens are wired specifically to display art. Their brightness dims in tandem with sunlight, and their matte finish blocks glare so they resemble actual paintings. And a companion smartphone app lets users switch what is displayed on a whim—eventually, Levine hopes, from a marketplace full of digital artwork.

  • Action Figures that Empower Girls

    justin fantl

    IAmelemental / $65 for a set of 7
    Available at iamelemental.com

    Studies have shown that girls’ career ambitions can be heavily influenced by their playthings. But when moms Dawn Nadeau and Julie Kerwin started searching for female action figures that were athletic and empowering—as opposed to dolls like Barbie, most of which cannot even bend their limbs—they were dismayed to find … none. (Well, aside from “hypersexualized figures for adult male collectors,” says Nadeau.) So using funds they raised on Kickstarter—$162,906 to be exact, more than quadruple their goal—they designed and commissioned a firm to build their IAmElemental series of action figures, meant to portray women as heroes with strong personalities. Each figure embodies a different “element” of heroism, like persistence or honesty. “The idea that girls could save the world—that’s a very powerful fantasy,” says Nadeau.

    Corrections appended Nov. 20, 2014, to clarify the title of WikiFoods founder David Edwards and funding figures for the Copenhagen Wheel and Electric Objects.

    Read next: 5 Unique Winter Warming Gadgets for Under $50

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 19

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Teach data literacy in elementary school.

By Mohana Ravindranath in the Washington Post

2. A new app lets kids explore the life and living conditions of other children around the world.

By Laura Bliss in CityLab

3. Politics inside Yemen — once a reliable U.S. ally and success story in the war on terror — has pushed the nation out of our influence.

By Adam Baron in Defense One

4. When it comes to science and health news, radio might save journalism.

By Anna Clark in Columbia Journalism Review

5. Rooftop solar power could beat the price of coal in two years — if utilities don’t shut it down.

By Lucas Mearian in ComputerWorld

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Gadgets

Apple Just Revealed Lots More Info About the Apple Watch

Apple Watch SDK New Features
View of the Apple watch displayed in a shop on September 30, 2014. Loic Venance—AFP/Getty Images

We can learn a lot from the Apple Watch's developer guidelines

Apple opened the floodgates for Apple Watch developers Tuesday when it made the smartwatch’s Software Development Kit available for the first time. But the SDK isn’t just for coders — it also has lots of hints about what using the Apple Watch will be like for consumers when it hits store shelves sometime next year.

Here are some new discoveries about the Apple Watch:

The Apple Watch isn’t a standalone device

The iPhone is pretty much a requirement if you want to use what will be the Apple Watch’s most advanced apps. In Apple’s own words, “a Watch app complements your iOS app; it does not replace it.” Apple Watch apps will essentially run on your iPhone, and the smartwatch will be an extension of your smartphone.

The Apple Watch probably has the most hi-res screen of any smartwatch

We already knew the Apple Watch’s two sizes (just their heights, not widths). But now we know their display resolutions, too. The 38mm watch is 272×340 pixels, while the 42mm watch is 312×390 pixels. Apple says those are good enough resolutions to be labeled as Retina displays, which Apple has said is a feature of the watch.

Still, it’s unclear exactly how sharp the displays will be. Some estimates have put the Apple Watch screen clarity on the level of the iPhone 5, which has a more hi-res display than iPads and MacBook Pros. If that’s the case, the Apple Watch could boast a better display than the current smartwatch market leader, Samsung Gear S.

The Apple Watch could come in more sizes

The way Apple has set up the Apple Watch’s interface is more like a website than a smartphone, which should make it easier for developers to adapt their apps to work on larger or smaller watches sometime down the road. While our wrists are only so wide, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Apple is considering new ways to build all sorts of screens.

There’s a brand new font

The new font, called San Francisco, was “designed specifically for legibility on Apple Watch,” according to Apple’s developers’ site. The sans serif font looks a bit like Arial and is meant to take up less horizontal space.

There are two types of notifications

Apple gave users a preview of how notifications work during the Apple Watch unveiling, but we know a bit more now. There are two types of “looks:” the Short Look, which briefly provides a “discreet, minimal amount of information” when you raise your wrist, and the Long Look, which gives you more info if you tap on a Short Look notification or keep your wrist held up.

TIME Gadgets

Apple Just Shot the Starting Gun on the Smartwatch Wars

WatchKit, the software development kit for Apple Watch, was released Tuesday

Apple Watch‘s software development kit (SDK), which gives developers tools to design apps for the smartwatch before its release next year, is now available.

The iOS 8.2 SDK beta includes a set of Apple Watch-specific tools called WatchKit, which allow programmers to work with actionable notifications and Glances, a feature that gives watch-wearers important snippets of information, Apple said Tuesday in a press release.

SDKs are popular for Apple software and around the tech world, partly because they give developers a head start working with the latest software in anticipation of a device’s official release. Apple said that developers will be able to create fully native Apple Watch apps starting later next year.

The new SDK is available for download on Apple’s developer site.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 18

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The worst ceasefire: Russia and Ukraine are both preparing for war as their uneasy peace slips away.

By Jamie Dettmer in the Daily Beast

2. With the rise of legal cannabis, the small-holders running the industry may soon be run off by the “Marlboro of Marijuana”

By Schumpeter in the Economist

3. From taking India to Mars on the cheap to pulling potable water from thin air: Meet the top global innovators of 2014.

By the writers and editors of Foreign Policy

4. Some charter schools promote aggressive policies of strict discipline, and that strategy may be backfiring.

By Sarah Carr in the Hechinger Report

5. As local police forces become intelligence agencies, we need sensible policies to balance privacy and public safety.

By Jim Newton in the Los Angeles Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

New York Is Transforming Its Old Payphones into Wi-Fi Hotspots

NYC Plans To Replace Pay Phones With Wifi Hotspots
A man stands in a public phone booth on a Manhattan street on May 2, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

10,000 kiosks will provide Internet access

The humble payphone is getting a 21st century upgrade. New York City will convert its thousands of rarely used payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots that provide free Internet access to city residents, by 2015.

The 10,000 new kiosks will each have a connectivity range of about 150 feet and and provide Internet speeds about 20 times as fast as the typical home connection, according to city officials. Up to 250 devices will be able to connect to each Wi-Fi network at a given time. The hotspots will also feature free domestic calls for cell phone users, mobile charging stations and city directions.

The venture is being developed by a group of companies including Qualcomm and Titan. It will cost more than $200 million and be funded by advertising displays on the kiosks.

[New York Times]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. America needs a national service year: “Citizenship is like a muscle that can atrophy from too little use; if we want to strengthen it, we need to exercise it.”

By Stan McChrystal in the Washington Post

2. It’s time to pay college athletes.

By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Jacobin

3. So-called ‘conversion therapy’ to change someone’s sexual orientation is discredited, dangerous and should be classified as torture.

By Samantha Ames in The Advocate

4. Wikipedia searches are the next frontier on monitoring and predicting disease outbreaks.

By Nicholas Generous, Geoffrey Fairchild, Alina Deshpande, Sara Y. Del Valle and Reid Priedhorsky at PLOS Computational Biology

5. Many kids lack an adult connection to spur success in school and life. A program linking them to retired adults with much to offer can solve that problem.

By Michael Eisner and Marc Freedman in the Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Google Launching New Test Flight for Balloon-Based Internet

Australia is the site of the project's latest test trials

Google’s plan for “balloon-powered Internet for everyone” will expand its pilot test to Australia next month, The Guardian reported Monday.

During the trial, the company will fly 20 test balloons over Western Queensland in partnership with Australia’s largest telecom company, Telstra. Telstra will supply base stations to communicate with the balloons, and the test balloons will beam down 4G-style Internet from over 60,000 ft. in the air.

The ultimate goal for Google’s balloon-based Internet initiative, known as Project Loon, is to use high-altitude balloons to provide Internet access in rural or remote areas or during times of disaster, according to Google.

The Australia test flights are the latest step forward for Project Loon, which began in June 2013 with a test flight of 30 balloons over New Zealand. Other trials have since taken place over California’s Central Valley and Northeast Brazil.

Google said it aims to expand the pilot through 2014 with the goal of establishing a ring of uninterrupted connectivity around the 40th southern parallel, a circle of latitude that includes parts of Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina.

[The Guardian]

 

TIME society

The Untapped Potential in Science Fiction

science fiction landscape
Getty Images

If we can assign more texts to students that ask them to let go of the everyday shorthand for finding themselves in a story, they often open themselves up to deeper and more surprising ways to relate to each other

If we can end the elitism and teach more science fiction to teenagers and young adults, we can change the world. This assertion, while bold, may not be hyperbolic. When asked why she starting writing science fiction, the late legendary writer and MacArthur Grant winner Octavia Butler once told Charlie Rose, “Because there are no closed doors, no walls.”

Sci-fi has a reputation for being a clubhouse for white-boy nerds, but for Butler, an African American woman from Southern California who endured a series of degrading low-wage jobs while developing her voice as a writer, reading and writing science fiction actually enabled her to transcend racism and sexism. Science fiction—by letting her imagine and create new worlds on the page—was a conduit to feelings of citizenship. You can’t be an outsider hero without the hero. From Lauren Olamina, Butler’s hyper-empathic heroine in Parable of the Sower, to George Orwell’s Winston Smith, sci-fi’s outsider heroes interrogate systems of power. Their means may differ, but the end is rarely just the nihilistic destruction of those with power. They almost always aim to bring themselves and others into a better system, often of their own making. They are outlaws with a purpose, rebels with a cause.

For an outsider genre, science fiction is pretty mainstream in the classroom these days. Common Core standards acknowledge it, along with its cousins speculative fiction and fantasy literature, as acceptable content in Language Arts curricula. Many of the current generation of professors in English Departments grew up watching Star Trek and The X-Files, including University of Maryland English professor Lee Konstantinou, who feels that science fiction novels and films help students to process big-picture questions, especially “risk, political conflict, and social and technological systems.” Konstantinou is a contributor to Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future, a recent anthology co-edited by Ed Finn, founding director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, that goes to the heart of why I think teaching science fiction to more students can change the world: because science fiction productively embodies difference and illustrates emerging technologies, giving students enough of each so that they may interrogate these elements in both the fictional and the real worlds. Finn teaches sci-fi texts as disparate as E.M. Forster’s 1909 short story “The Machine Stops”—which anticipates much of the networked 21st century in its formulation of mechanical interconnectedness—and Neal Stephenson’s 1995 novel The Diamond Age—which projects Forster’s Victorian moment forward into the age of nanotechnology. The refrain he hears from students in courses ranging from seminars in digital culture to composition: “I didn’t know I was allowed to do this, to be creative in this way.”

No matter how popular it gets, science fiction has maintained its ability to stir debate. Over the last few years, a consensus has been building around the idea that what happens between the covers of science fiction books and what happens in real life may be more connected than we think. Scientists, writers, and policymakers are coming together to grapple productively with this possibility. Cultural critics like Judith Shulevitz see in science fiction a possible solution to the much-discussed crisis in the humanities (or at least as a good reason not to charge English majors higher tuition than engineering students). As much potential as science fiction has to connect the humanities with STEM fields, its unique blend of fantasy and research offers an even more radical opening for inclusion, best articulated by Butler: “You get to write yourself in, whether you were part of the mainstream society or not.” Stories often function as a space where author and reader find self-actualization. While creating a different world through writing or inhabiting one through reading is a powerfully visceral form of belonging for anyone, and science fiction has a unique ability to provide outsiders and outcasts with a language to talk about their lives and to one another. Whether or not anyone looks or talks like you at school, on TV, or in the movies doesn’t matter when you’re dealing with time travel, extra-terrestrials, or alternative universes. If we can assign more texts to students that ask them to let go of the everyday shorthand for finding themselves in a story, they often open themselves up to deeper and more surprising ways to relate to each other.

This approach resonates with Alondra Nelson, Dean of Social Science at Columbia University and author of the forthcoming book The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome. For Nelson, asking students to read themselves into the stories of science fiction creates the opportunity for dialogue that “allows for generative re-imaginations of what students are doing outside the classroom.” As an example, she points to Butler’s 1979 novel Kindred, in which the protagonist—who many say is a stand-in for Butler herself—is pulled backward in time against her will from 1976 California to the 19th century slave plantation of her ancestors. “Part of the time travel in Kindred is that she got to be better at telling when it was coming,” says Nelson, who sees in this plot point a ready metaphor for racial politics in the 21st century. Progress gets disrupted by what she calls “moments of capture,” when “we are snatched back into the reality of…these moments of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown that are reminders that take us back to Emmett Till.” Nelson observes that science fiction, regardless of what department the class is in, fosters among students a compelling kind of intellectual re-mixing—what she calls for her own work “South Central LA meets genetics”—that empowers them to connect their studies in in English, sociology, engineering, law, and elsewhere with activism.

At the same time that Nelson and other professors report that science fiction has outgrown the English Department, policymakers in the arts and beyond are noticing its potential for networked thought across institutions. Bill O’Brien, Senior Advisor for Program Innovation for the National Endowment for the Arts, finds in science fiction (and other fantasy genres, like animation) an echo of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, one of his favorite writers, in the ways both “pull back the veil on the mysteries that drive the human condition.” Science fiction, he points out, “adds another layer of imagining where those mysteries and drives are taking us.” What O’Brien is getting at is that investing resources—including imagination—into the intersections of art, science, technology, and health will help us understand creativity as a resource that can be “exercised and optimized in fresh ways.” The right to imagine a new world is perhaps the boldest act of citizenship.

Rather than a one-way bridge from literature to STEM that will save the humanities, O’Brien’s comments suggest that critics, policymakers, and educators should see in science fiction the prospect of a highway between them with multiple lanes of dialogue and inspiration that could save much more than that. The key here isn’t just that science fiction allows marginalized people to write themselves into the story, it’s that science fiction novels, stories, films, and series increasingly invite marginalized people to read themselves into the story, to imagine themselves as participants and agents in changing the systems of culture, technology, and politics that govern their lives. To change the world, students have to believe that change is possible in the first place. Science fiction gives them a tangible vision of that change, for better and for worse, and invites them to use their imaginations to read themselves into the story.

Jane Greenway Carr is an ACLS Public Fellow and Contributing Editor at New America. She holds a PhD from NYU, where she has been a lecturer and done research at the intersections between U.S. literary and cultural history and social and political activism. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Artist Uses Glass Instead of Yarn to Create Amazing Knitting Sculptures

Carol Milne manipulates glass to look like rows of intertwined yarn

lost-at-e-minor_logo

This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

It boggles the mind how artist Carol Milne was able to manipulate glass to look like row upon row of intertwined yarn. You see, the melting point of glass is between 1,400 – 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, so how was she able to knit the fragile – not to mention very hot – material into intricate artworks?

Milne invented the process herself in 2006. She first makes a wax model of the sculpture, which is then encased by a refractory mold material (that can withstand hot temperatures.) The second step involves melting out the wax with steam and replacing it with pieces of glass. She then heats the mold to 1,400 – 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, which melts the glass, allowing it to occupy the mold’s empty cavities. The piece is left to cool for several weeks before Milne starts chipping away at the shell to reveal the details of the sculpture.

The result is nothing short of amazing and worthy of this time-consuming process. You can see more of her works over on her Facebook page.

(via This Is Colossal)

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser