In December, Amazon unveiled Prime Air on 60 Minutes, wowing viewers with its portrayal of a future where unmanned aerial vehicles zip around the sky ferrying parcels to your door in 30 minutes. "The difference between science fiction and reality is not as distinct as it used to be," VP of Prime Air Gur Kimchi says.
We've all been waiting for the next wave of TV tech, and we all (wrongly) assumed it would be expensive. At $35, Chromecast is a cheap streaming player for your TV that forgoes the set-top box. The elegant workaround, which delivers Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go, has sold millions.
Imagine opening your front door and having the lights blink on, the TV startup, and the thermostat kick on. Last December, Qualcomm hinted at its power to make that happen with the release of Toq, a smartwatch that syncs up with your smartphone. "This technology isn't magic anymore," says Raj Talluri.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is bringing the department up to speed. Recently, he persuaded the FAA to ditch electronic-device restrictions and ushered through approval of collision-preventing vehicle-to-vehicle communication. He's since called for new apps and solutions based on the agency's data. Part of creating a culture of innovation, he says, "is giving everybody the rope to be creative and come back with different answers."
Whisper is the app where users overlay their secrets onto pictures to be privately responded to, "hearted," or messaged about. It's a model that's transformed the two-year-old service into a viral powerhouse, with millions of users each averaging 30 minutes a day on the platform, fluttering through a whopping 3.5 billion page views per month.
In a way, GE's Jamie Miller works backward. "I start with the outcome," she says, "and then execute toward that." Recently she helped launch sensors that collect real-time data from machines and offer predictive rather than reactive maintenance. Internally, she put tablets in the hands of fieldworkers and is implementing a software platform that gets the entire company speaking a common language.
Designers and engineers usually speak different languages. When Scott Goodson got to Facebook in 2012, he helped build a platform to aid their communications. This enabled the dialogue that led to the creation of Paper, Facebook's elegant mobile app.
Overwhelmed with the onslaught of options when Googling consumer products, these women launched a platform that uses an algorithm to compile lists of the 10 best items in any given trend category. Rank & Style is now syndicating its content to a growing group of sites including Lucky magazine, Bloomingdale's, and Refinery29.
It once seemed like game over for expensive, complicated virtual reality technology, but Palmer Luckey kept playing. His Oculus Rift headset is only available as a developer's kit, but now that Facebook paid $2 billion for it, it's likely to level up.
How could Pinterest be more useful on mobile? Tim Kendall found the answer in a thousand details last summer, when he launched smartphone and tablet apps that let recipe pins include ingredients, for example, and travel pins include photos and maps. The result: Some 75% of traffic now comes from mobile platforms.
Acxiom spends billions each year on consumer info that it aggregates and sells to marketers. When Scott Howe became CEO, he wanted to know what information the company had on him. Unable to get a straight answer, he launched a consumer portal—the industry's first—that would offer a peek behind the curtain. "In the future, people will manage their data as easily as they service their car," he says.
At Vegas Tech Fund, Jen McCabe is out to bring promising ideas into the physical. So far, she has funded such startups as Skycatch, which uses drones for agriculture and construction, and littleBits, which makes colorful, Lego-like circuit boards. She's currently turning a 15,000-square-foot building in downtown Vegas into a lab for hands-on development of prototypes.
Dan Harden's shop has become the go-to firm behind such landmark creations as Nike's FuelBand, Google's Chromecast, and 2013's award-winning Livescribe 3 Smartpen, which links with an iPhone or iPad to digitize handwritten notes.
Thor Fridriksson's addictive trivia game QuizUp surpassed Draw Something as the fastest-growing app in history. It has since garnered more than 12.5 million downloads and attracted $22 million in funding.
Ty Ahmad-Taylor and his team are constantly asking themselves, How do we provide the best experience on a TV screen so you don't have to look down? His Social TV app mines the stream of closed-captioning data embedded in all TV programs and uses that to search social networks to tap into a show's real-time zeitgeist—live feedback that is then displayed to the right of the program's image.
If you get an ad for a cold drink on an exceptionally hot day, you may have Naveen Tewari to thank for it. His firm, InMobi, is second only to Google in the world's mobile-ad market. Its unique platform serves ads based on external feeds like location, weather, and news.
Jawbone's Up fitness trackers have taught Monica Rogati a ton about how we sleep. Now Rogati and her team are channeling that info into new products. Up's "Today I Will" feature, for example, challenges users based on their data—to put down that latte, say, or go to sleep by a certain time.
With 130 million uniques each month, Imgur, a trove for viral memes and photos, is now one of the Internet's most-visited sites. Alan Schaaf and his team have added features such as comments and private messaging, along with galleries of its most popular images. "[On Imgur,] they don't need to log in, they don't need to create an account, they don't need to pick interests. They just hit the next button."
Robotics and artificial-intelligence company Anki is bringing previously out-of-reach technology to consumers. Anki Drive, a mobile-phone-controlled car, is so sophisticated that it could help improve self-driving cars and other machines. "The core problems you face in robotics [have a lot in] common," says Boris Sofman.
How do online advertisers know to show you the exact pair of shoes you've been coveting? Claudia Perlich and her team are among the leading creators of the dark art that connects advertisers with consumers. And now, with real-time auctions, she's doing it fast. The moment people land on a web page, ad space is auctioned to advertisers based on pages people have viewed and other info—within 30 milliseconds.