If someone decided to do a list of innovative magazine lists, it probably wouldn't include Time magazine's "50 Best Innovations" list. The new one's out, and we've sub-selected some of the good items for you. But a broad swath of the selections are either too intentionally odd, fumbled, or just wrong. We're just, saying... you know?
Philips LED Light Bulb
This should really have been number one on Time's list, as it has possibly the greatest potential for immediate impact (and we'd already covered it's importance): Philips' LED lamp. The first contender for the Department of Energy's $10 million L-Prize, Philip's unit emits the same light as a standard 60-watt bulb, but does so by gulping less than 10-watts down and it lasts 25 times as long. Instant capacity for global change.
Tank-Born Tuna Fish
The world's booming appetite for sushi is a looming cloud over the wild tuna fish's future, which is why a March breakthrough in Australia is important. A company called Clean Seas managed what many experts had thought impossible: A month-long spawning event in a land-locked tank of southern bluefin tuna. Better than ocean-cage rearing, infinitely better than trawling the oceans with dolphin-killing nets, and possibly the first sign of a happier future for the wild bluefin tuna fish. One that doesn't include being hunted to extinction anyway.
This is another one we've covered: The Dow Chemical Solar Shingle, who's overall effects are subtle but potentially pervasive. It's all very well encouraging people to include solar energy solutions in their homes, but you're not going to get many adhering to the plan when solar panels are so damn ugly. Enter Dow--its shingles integrate with a standard roof, and can be almost unnoticeable under the right conditions. Result? More people generating some of their home energy needs in a clean eco-friendly way.
Pocket-Friendly Medical Ultrasound
No real need to explain this one: GE's Vscan cell phone-like pocket ultrasound scanner. The benefits to paramedics in the developed world, and physicians across the developing world are blindingly obvious, and it could help people immediately after accidents, or save lives in remote desert villages with equal finesse.
The Nissan Leaf
Nissan's car isn't first all-electric car, but may be the most important. Where previous machines aimed at the ultra-high, or just plain kooky end of the market, Nissan's is aimed squarely at everyman. The 100-mile range is good for commuting or medium-distance family weekends away, the 90 miles an hour top speed means it can hold its own on European autoroutes easily as well as sedate U.S. freeways, and the damn thing's going to sound like a spinner car from Blade Runner. Fabulous.
The Electric Eye
MIT's invention also needs no championing: A titanium-coated, in-eyeball chip that transmits what it detects directly to the patient's brain. It's potentially a cybernetic eye enhancement that would return the ability to see the World to millions of people suffering loss of vision. Amazing.
So those are the top items on Time's list. But here are three things that really shouldn't have made it on there in the first place. Is Time losing its grip on the cutting edge?
Time placed Microsoft's Project Natal at number five, noting "you move your hand and the Master Chief (or whoever) moves his hand. It's that simple. And that cool." But is it really? Potentially no, because while leaping around in your living room like a demented mime is all very well, Sony's Motion Controller solution is poised to blow Natal right out of the competition, for one reason: Complexity. It's motion wand and camera combo will allow for a more sophisticated and realistic interactivity with games that could inject a sense of real immersion in a way MS's Natal simply can't compete with.
Hmmm. Number 47 on Time's list is HRP-4C, the "fashion robot." Her name's not as cool as C3PO's, and though she has a human(ish) rubber face, her looks aren't as sleek as Threepeeoh's are either. She may have worn a wedding dress and tottered down a catwalk, but it was a gimmick. Supermodels will rule this roost for a long time yet, and HRP-4C is just another small, clumsy and unintelligent early android.
Time popped these at number one. Bravo Time! A strike for nationalistic pride, and lofty moonwalking goals. But really the Ares vehicles have been in development for years. They cobble together thinking from Apollo-era rocketry and post-Space Shuttle plans that have been on the design table for decades, and they're not even at prototype stage yet. Ares 1-X may have successfully launched, but it's a mere proof-of-concept vehicle, with bits of Shuttle tech bolted to dead weights to simulate the final vehicle. Add in a dash of White House-level intervention, and nearly ten years before these launch humans into space and you've got to wonder about Time's thinking.