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Innovations of the 21st Century: 10 of the Best Inventions in Recent History

written by: William Busse•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 5/18/2011

Selecting the best inventions of the 21st century is difficult since there have been so many exciting new innovations. This article explores ten of the most influential inventions in the first decade of the new century.

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    The New Century

    The first decade of the 21st century has been a remarkable period for entrepreneurial discoveries and inventions. Each year seems to offer a new host of innovative products and services that continually change the business landscape while improving our quality of life.

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    Top Ten Inventions

    The explosion of technology makes it difficult to identify the best inventions of the 21st century since there are so many worthy candidates. Inventions that have had a significant impact on society and culture as well as those that hold promise for future revolutionary applications are presented in the following list.

    1) iPod and iTunes: These two interrelated inventions from Apple Inc. presented a revolutionary new way for people to listen to musicman thinking  and fundamentally changed the music and recording industry.

    iTunes was introduced in January, 2001 and was marketed as a program that converted CDs into compressed digital audio files and helped organize digital recordings. Later that year, Apple introduced the iPod, a device that used a hard disk to store music files. The first model had a 5GB capacity and could hold over 1,000 songs.

    Enhancements to the iPod and iTunes over successive years have been astounding in terms of features and consumer benefits. In 2003, Apple introduced downloadable songs for .99 cents through iTunes. Subsequent models of the iPod became smaller, more stylish, and had much larger storage capacities. The evolutionary process resulted in the iPod Touch, which includes Apple’s unique touch sensitive screen interface that provides the ability to access songs, movies, and the internet through wi-fi

    2) iPhone: The iPhone from Apple Inc was released in June of 2007 and radically altered the way mobile phones are used personally and in business.

    Older phones typically included voice communications and sometimes a keyboard to send text messages. Phones that offered internet access were usually unreadable and difficult to maneuver. The iPhone introduced the multi-touch interface that allows for quick and easy access to data, music, and pictures while providing storage for other important information. The seamless integration of touch screen features allowed the internet to be used in meaningful ways.

    Subsequent generations of the iPhone included operating system upgrades and the introduction of “aps" which are free or inexpensive programs designed to increase the functionality of the phone.

    3) Electric Car: Tesla Motors was formed in 2003 and unveiled its first production-model all-electric car in 2008. Although different electric cars have appeared in various configurations since the 1920s, Tesla was the first company to produce a vehicle that did not have significant obstacles for production or sales.

    Tesla vehicles boast an 88% efficiency rating compared to 20-25% for traditional gasoline-powered cars. Tesla currently offers a roaster and plans to release a coupe priced under $50,000 in 2012.

    4) YouTube: YouTube was debuted in 2005 and had a significant impact on media distribution and social networking. Using Adobe Flash Video technology, the website provides a forum for displaying videos from an endless variety of sources including businesses, consumer groups, and individuals seeking media exposure for themselves, their products, or their causes.

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    5) Teleportation: In 2002, research at the Australian National University resulted in the successful teleportation of a laser beam. This research was an extension of an earlier experiment at Caltech in which a proton was successfully teleported. Essentially, this process involves using light and matter where one serves as the carrier of the data and one is the storage medium. In the Australian idea1 experiment, the object was teleported 1.6 meters.

    The applications for this technology are astounding. Through continued research, scientists are beginning to believe that eventually teleportation of large objects over great distances will become practical.

    6) AbioCor Artificial Heart: The AbioCor artificial heart was initially implanted into a patient in 2001. It is the first device that is completely self-contained and doesn’t require external wires or tubes. The device is powered by an internal battery that is recharged through a transcutaneous energy transmission process. Although the original version was somewhat limited in terms of operational use, the second generation product is expected to last up to five years. The ultimate goal is to develop an artificial heart that has a design life that will far outlast the recipient.

    7) Blu-ray Players: Blu-ray is a storage medium for optical discs that is used primarily for high definition video. Blu-ray was commercially introduced in 2006 and uses a blue laser to read or write data to a disc. Blue lasers use a smaller profile wavelength than traditional red laser DVDs. The development and proliferation of Blu-ray has helped high definition video displays realize their full potential.

    8) Facebook: Facebook was not the first social networking website, but its introduction in 2004 was the most influential in the development of the medium. 150 million users worldwide appreciate its multitude of features and easy accessibility. The concept of building contacts through virtual interaction has changed the manner in which businesses market their products and people interact with one another.

    9) Solar Shingles: Introduced in 2005, the Dow Chemical company developed a thin film solar photovoltaic roof shingle. The small profile panels can be integrated with traditional asphalt shingles and will cost 10 to 15% less than traditional solar panels. The Dow product is also quicker and easier to install.

    10) Smart Bullet: Smart bullets use microchip technology to detonate a round beyond an obstruction. By using the weapons range finder, the number of bullet rotations is calculated to determine the distance to the target. Soldiers in urban situations can use these smart bullets to reduce collateral damage while terminating enemies that are hiding behind obstructions.

     

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    The New Century

    The 21st century is only a decade old. The future is promising, and it will be interesting to see how the list of the best inventions of the 21st century changes as the years unfold.

    Image Credits:

    Both images are from Nova Development, used through arrangement by the author.