TIME’s list of the year’s top inventions include light bulbs, tyres and shoes among others
1. The levitating lightbulb
Since he was a child, Simon Morris has been obsessed with making objects float in midair. At one point he even managed to turn a skateboard into a hoverboard, though as he recalls it, “I couldn’t ride on it.” Now he’s applying that same passion to Flyte, a light bulb that relies on electromagnetism to levitate and spin, and on resonant inductive coupling – a technical term for wireless power-transmission – to shine. Morris sees his design as a seamless blend of science and art honouring both pragmatists, like Thomas Edison, and dreamers, like Nikola Tesla.
2. The folding bike helmet
Like many cyclists, Jeff Woolf has been through a serious crash – one that might have killed him, were it not for his helmet. So why, he wondered, do so many of his contemporaries refuse to wear one? Turns out, it’s mostly because they’re hard to carry around; they’re thick and bulky and don’t fit into bags or backpacks. And that was a problem that Woolf, an engineer, knew he could fix. The result: Morpher, a bike helmet made from interweaved plastics that is just as strong as its traditional counterparts, but flexible enough to fold almost totally flat, making it easier to transport.
3. Solar panels that don’t stick out
Help the environment, save some money – and litter your roof with bulky metal boxes. That’s the dilemma home-solar-panel buyers have faced for years. Tesla’s response: the Solar Roof, a series of tiles designed to blend together while also harnessing the power of the sun. The product line, which will be available next year, is a collaboration between Tesla and SolarCity, a longtime provider of traditional solar panels.
4. Shoes that tie themselves
Now, thanks to Nike, a self lacing shoe is a reality. When wearers press a button near the tongue, the HyperAdapt 1.0s automatically tighten and loosen around their foot. And although this technology may sound frivolous, it’s not just for kicks: simplified shoe fastening could give athletes an edge during competition, and it’s especially useful for people with impaired motor function. “We’re already seeing powerful feedback” from the disabled community, says Tinker Hatfield, Nike’s vice president of design and special projects.
5. Soccer fields that fit anywhere
The Khlong Toei district in the heart of Bangkok is packed tight with buildings and people – which doesn’t leave much room to build new parks, let alone giant rectangular fields on which kids can play soccer. So real estate firm AP Thailand took a different approach. As part of a recent project, the company used aerial photography to find what developer Pattaraphurit Rungjaturapat calls “untended areas,” or unusually shaped patches of land that weren’t being used. Then it covered them with concrete, paint and anti-slip materials – all the trimmings of a proper sports venue, without the typical boundaries.
6. The headset leading a virtual revolution
Sony’s PlayStation VR, is designed to work with a console that millions of people already own: the PlayStation 4. That’s a boon for gamers in search of what Sony engineer Richard Marks calls “the most intense, most extreme” action, as well as casual consumers, who now have an easier way to experience VR.
7. The ultimate alarm clock
It’s hard to believe that an alarm clock – the cruel, clunky gadget that jolts you awake and ruins your morning – could not only be beautiful but also improve your sleep. That it could gauge the temperature, humidity, light and even air quality in your bedroom to help you engineer a perfect sleep environment. That it could monitor your sleep cycles and wake you when you’re least likely to feel groggy – all thanks to simple voice commands. Indeed, Sense (and its companion pillow sensor) is no ordinary alarm clock. It took hundreds of prototypes to get it right, says James Proud, founder and CEO of Hello, which makes Sense.
8. Tires that spin in every direction
As companies race to develop self-driving cars, Goodyear is reinventing their wheels. Its spherical concept tire, which debuted in March, allows cars to move in many new directions, including sideways into a parallel parking space and at specific angles and speeds to counteract slippery surfaces. The key, says Sebastien Fontaine, an industrial designer at Goodyear, is magnetic levitation: whereas traditional tires are bolted to cars, the Eagle 360s hover beneath them, free from “the limits of steering.” To be sure, these tires won’t hit pavement anytime soon: they’re meant for self-driving cars that are likely at least five years away.
9. A sleeker, smarter toothbrush
When it comes to dental hygiene, most Americans are slackers: 1 in 2 don’t brush twice a day, and 3 in 4 don’t replace their bristles every three months, no matter how many times they’re warned of the risks. Designer Simon Enever and partner Bill May set out to make brushing feel more rewarding. The result is Quip, a simple, affordable, battery-powered toothbrush that works with a two-minute timer and vibrates every 30 seconds, reminding users to switch-positions – but looks and feels like something you’d find in an Apple store.
10. Dishes that work around cognitive decline
After her late grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Sha Yao felt helpless. Inspired by her grandmother’s plight, Yao created Eatwell Assistive Tableware, a dining set designed to make mealtime easier for people with Alzheimer’s and other diseases that affect brain and body functions. Among the design hacks: using bright colors to help people distinguish their plates from their food and putting wide rubber bases on the cups to prevent spills. The goal, Yao says, is to “bring back the joy of sharing a meal together.”