Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards 2006 – Part IIThe smartest stuff

  • Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards 2006 - Part IIThe smartest stuff
  • Samsung Helix XM2GO
  • DaimlerChrysler's Bluetec engine
  • Black & Decker's Alligator lopper
  • Pioneer's Pro Elite 1540HD
Date:30 November 2006 Tags:, , ,

They break new ground – and force the competition to take notice. Here are the most brilliant products of 2006.

Robotics /// Lego Mindstorms NXT
Mindstorms was always a great robot-building kit. The NXT system is much more. It uses 32-bit processing, Bluetooth antennas, servos and sensors to help robots see brightness, hear commands and perceive movement. Planning a career in robotics? You want this. Visit http://mindstorms.lego.com

Safety /// Sawstop contactor’s 25 cm saw
The contractor’s saw (about R7 000) is a full-on workhorse. But what matters most is that a sensor can detect a finger contacting the moving blade. The saw then stops in 3 to 5 milliseconds, reducing a probable amputation to a forgettable cut. Visit www.sawstop.com

Audio /// Samsung Helix XM2GO
The portable helix marks a milestone by linking satellite radio to your earthbound mp3 collections. It receives and records live XM programs, and plays mp3 and wma files downloaded via usb. Visit www.xmradio.com/samsunghelix

Telephony /// Netgear Wi-Fi Skype
Phone companies have potent competition from VOIP services such as Skype. Just-released Wi-Fi-enabled Skype phones up the ante by making free calls over the Internet from any wireless hotspot on the planet. This Netgear phone was the first: it built the bandwagon everyone else jumped on. Visit www.netgear.com

Engines /// DaimlerChrysler Bluetec
While manufacturers struggle to perfect hydrogen-powered cars, they are still working to stretch every litre of crude oil. And it’s not just about hybrids. DaimlerChrysler has produced a diesel engine that, besides delivering diesel’s typical broad torque and miserly appetite for fuel, leaves no telltale exhaust odour or smoke. The Bluetec runs cleanly enough to be sold in 45 US states, and should soon meet the stringent standards set by California. Bluetec is a combination of existing technologies: common-rail precise fuel delivery, low-sulphur fuel and a particulate trap. Visit www.daimlerchrysler.com

Autopilot /// Lexus LS 460
The Lexus LS 460 sets a benchmark in a world of ever smarter cars by virtually parallel parking itself. Sensors track the length and position of surrounding cars and the orientation of the Lexus’s wheels. A control module directs the power steering motor. The driver’s role is easy: position the car (with help from the system) and keep a foot on the brake pedal. Just in case. Visit www.lexus.com or www.lexus.co.za

Pruning /// Black & Decker Alligator
The Black & Decker Alligator lopper (see “Great Stuff”, March 2006 issue) forges a new category of garden equipment. The 4,5-amp motor and 15 cm chain saw bar help the tool cut through 10 cm-diameter branches. That’s far too big for a traditional lopper. The pincers hold bendable branches that would frustrate a normal petrol-powered chain saw, and the tool is safer, cleaner and easier to start. Visit www.blackanddecker.com

Hand tools /// Crescent Rapidslide
The crescent wrench has been a staple of toolboxes since 1907. For 99 years, PM’s American editors thought the design was nearly perfect. Then they saw the Rapidslide. The slow-turning nut that controlled the jaw is replaced by a fast-sliding mechanism. It was worth the wait. Visit www.cooperhandtools.com

Hi-Def TV /// Pioneer Pro Elite 1540HD
Yes, it’s got a great picture, but what’s special about this 152 cm plasma set (R56 000) is its Ethernet jack. It propels the TV into the future, where a movie is just one more file to move around your h


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