The 15 Most Innovative Gadgets

Nest Thermostat

Photo: Nest

Tech moves fast.Even we have trouble keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff.

With every new smartphone, every new computer, every new chip, we get closer and closer to what will become the standard in the future.

Wireless high-speed Internet everywhere? We’re getting close thanks to LTE. Cars that drive themselves? Google is working on it. Appliances that sync with your smartphone? Android has you covered.

We put together what we think are the best gadgets and technologies that are setting the stage for tomorrow’s tech.

Microsoft's Kinect changed the way we play games

The Xbox Kinect quickly became one of the hottest gadgets of last year's Holiday season. And with good reason. For the first time, there was no need to use a controller to play video games. As Microsoft's marketing slogan goes, you are the controller. Now Kinect not only supports motion input, but voice input too.

Why it's innovative: Kinect is just the beginning. Imagine Kinect-like technology coming standard with your TV or gaming consoles. It'll make in-home entertainment much more immersive. The remote control is dead.

Bendable displays are real, and they're coming soon

Bendable touch screen displays may sound like something out of science fiction, but they're very real. In fact, Samsung has already said it plans to implement bendable displays in its devices starting in 2012.

Why it's innovative: You can easily brush off bendable displays as a gimmick that would never work, but that's also what people said about touch screens. Imagine being able to roll up your smartphone or tablet and tuck it away in your pocket or bag. And you thought your iPhone was thin.

Voice controlled assistants like Siri will only get smarter

Siri isn't exactly true artificial intelligence, but it's close enough. So far, Apple's work with voice control is the closest we've gotten to an intelligent computerized assistant in a consumer device.

Why it's innovative: Siri, and other apps like it, are only the beginning. They're capable of learning and being perfected. It's conceivable that most of your personal devices will have a Siri-like assistant some day.

Cloud computing will take away the burden of backing up your stuff

Over the last year 'the cloud' has creeped its way into our everyday tech vocabulary. Even Apple got on board, naming its new online storage service 'iCloud.' But what is the cloud? Simply put, it's a way to store all your files, photos, music, etc. on a remote server and access it all from the web. Then there are those excellent services like Dropbox and Box.net that act as a virtual folder on your desktop, allowing you to get those files from anywhere.

Why it's innovative: As Internet connections get faster and devices get lighter and cheaper, storing stuff in the cloud is the best way to make sure your stuff is backed up. It also saves valuable space on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Data centres that harness heat for homes

As we move more and more of our digital stuff into the cloud, the companies behind those services are forced to build massive data centres to store it all. Apple has a fancy new one. So does Facebook. Google has several. And they all use up massive amounts of energy. Some have figured out a way to harness that excess heat and use it to keep homes warm.

Why it's innovative: Data centres aren't exactly eco-friendly, but if we can continue to figure out ways to efficiently harness the extra heat and energy they give off, the benefits could be tremendous.

Facial recognition technology is the future of marketing

Earlier this year, everyone freaked out when Facebook announced it would start using facial recognition to automatically tag photos you upload. Even smartphones are implementing facial recognition. Google's new version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, uses the technology to unlock your smartphone when you look at it. (Unfortunately, it can be easily tricked with a photo.)

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Facial recognition is being implemented everywhere. Even in bars. The New York Times recently profiled a neat company called SceneTap. The company sets up cameras in bars and analyses the crowd. Are they young? Old? Mostly male? Mostly female? People nearby can open the SceneTap app and find out. Then they can decide if they want to go to the venue based on the people there.

Why it's innovative: Let's put privacy concerns aside for a moment. Facial recognition has the potential to bring targeted marketing to the next level. Imagine walking by a billboard and getting an ad targeted to your age or gender. The technology already exists, and it's going to spread. Hello, Minority Report.

Google's self-driving cars could make the roads safer

Google has been both mocked and praised for pursuing self-driving cars. It didn't help the company's stance on the project much when one of its prototypes recently crashed. But Google is sticking with the project, challenging the geniuses in its super-secret Google X lab to perfect the driverless cars. There are even rumours Google plans to manufacture the cars itself.

Why it's innovative: Once self-driving cars are perfected, the benefits are enormous. It will eliminate safety concerns related to drunk driving, fatigue, or simple driver error.

The Nest is the most advanced thermostat, ever

Who knew people would go so crazy over a new thermostat? But that's exactly what happened when the Nest was introduced a few weeks ago. The Nest was quickly called the first 'Apple-fied' home appliance. It's not difficult to see why. The Nest is a smart device that adjusts your home's temperature based on your habits. It learns when you're out. It learns when you're sleeping. And the design is simply gorgeous.

Why it's innovative: This is a major step towards a truly connected home where your appliances do all the thinking for you. Imagine if all your appliances were as smart as the Nest. It'd not only be convenient, but also save you a ton on your electric bill.

Google plans to use Android to make the connected home a reality

At Google i/o this year, the company announced plans for [email protected], a system that lets you control all your appliances, lights, and other stuff in your home from your Android phone.

Google was light on specifics as to how it would work, but it definitely sounded cool.

Why it's innovative: Switching your lights on and off? Setting your alarm? Setting your sprinklers to go off? If Google figures out a way to let you do all that from your Android phone, it'd be a huge game changer.

Google's Gigabit Internet is mind numbingly fast

We really wish we lived in Kansas City. Google has selected the town to test its new Gigabit Internet service. What does that mean? That means speeds that are about 100 times faster than what you're used to experiencing with your tired old cable modem.

Why it's innovative: Gigabit internet is readily available in other countries, but the U.S. has been slow to adopt it. Thanks to Google, Kansas City will soon be a testbed proving that the technology is practical and can be scaled to serve major cities.

LTE phones and tablets are a hint at a future where high-speed internet is everywhere

LTE, or Long Term Evolution, is the wireless technology that brings data speeds about as fast as your cable modem to your mobile devices. As the big carriers continue to expand LTE coverage, it's only a matter of time before most urban areas are covered by LTE.

Why it's innovative: One day we're going to laugh when we look back at a time when it was nearly impossible to find high-speed wireless Internet without popping into a coffee shop. Thanks to LTE chips in phones and tablets, we're finally getting a taste of what it's like to be connected almost everywhere we go. LTE isn't the perfect solution, but it's a step in the right direction.

The Kogeto Dot lets you make homemade 360 degree movies

The Kogeto Dot is a neat clip-on lens for your iPhone 4 or 4S that turns your device into a panoramic video recorder. After filming, you upload the clip to the company's Flash-based player that lets you pull and drag the video so you can view it from all angles. You get a new experience every time you watch the video.

See an example right here.

Why it's innovative: There's a ton of potential for a device like the Dot: surveillance, music videos, art projects, legal proceedings, even sporting events. It's a simple, affordable way to capture everything around you.

Connected TVs and TV boxes are making it easier to cut the cord

If you want a connected TV, you have a ton of options: Boxee, Apple TV, Roku, and a ton of 'Smart TVs' from big-name manufacturers like Samsung and Sony.

Smart TVs give you access to streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Instant, YouTube, you name it.

Why it's innovative: Thanks to smart TVs, we're inching closer and closer to a world where we can watch anything we want, whenever we want, over the web. It's going to take a lot of finagling with content providers and cable companies, but we're getting there.

Glasses-free 3D screens are the next big thing for entertainment

Glasses-free 3D does exist, but it's so expensive right now that manufacturers are holding off. However, there are some mobile devices out there that make use of the technology like Nintendo's 3DS gaming system and HTC's EVO 3D. (Downside: the 3D effects are a bit dizzying and not exactly perfect.)

Why it's innovative: 3D entertainment is wildly popular, just look at all those 3D movies coming out. But wearing glasses to view 3D video is incredibly annoying. The current generation of glasses-free 3D devices aren't perfect, but they're a solid stepping stone.

Solid state drives will make computers faster than ever

If you own a MacBook Air or other Ultrabook, you've probably noticed how fast it boots up compared to other laptops. That's thanks to the solid state drive. SSDs are flash-based storage options that can transfer your stuff much faster than a traditional spinning hard drive.

The downside? SSDs are really expensive now and the most affordable drives only hold between 128 GB and 256 GB. That's hardly enough space if you want to store a ton of movies and music.

Why it's innovative: Once the price goes down, SSDs will replace traditional hard drives, making computers that much faster. Don't believe us? Check out this video that shows just how fast an iMac can launch apps when running them off a SSD.

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