Over the past 100 years, inventions and discoveries have made life safer and healthier. Medical breakthroughs have given diabetics insulin, created the artificial heart, and made blood banks possible. The discovery of penicillin led to modern antibiotics, and vaccines have eradicated polio.
Some inventions have helped the world connect and fundamentally changed all aspects of people's personal and work lives. Technological advances in the 1960s gave rise to the modern internet, which gave the world websites and email addresses. Steve Jobs changed everything when he unveiled the iPhone in 2007, putting a computer and a camera in just about everyone's pocket.
Some inventions just made things a little easier. People can save time by heating their food in the microwave, and Band-Aids keep cuts clean. At the home or office, Post-it notes and Scotch tape can come in handy.
Depending on your birth year, you may have lived through the creation of many of these iconic items, and it is only you who can confirm or deny which inventions were the best thing since sliced bread (1929). For those born in the last 20 to 30 years, you can recall several passed-down stories from your parents and grandparents—perhaps those of visual significance, such as when the color television, contact lenses, and polaroid camera emerged and left a vast cultural footprint.
As with most of human history, many of the best inventions are simply the byproduct of improving upon old ideas; the pinnacle of fully fleshed-out designs. There is no DVD player without the VCR forebear. No iPod without the Walkman. No augmented or virtual reality video game systems without its ancestors in the first gaming consoles.
To find some of the most interesting inventions of the last century, Stacker scoured news reports and patents. Click through to find brilliant inventions from the year you were born
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Scotland's Alan MacMasters invented an electric toaster in 1893. The first toasters didn't heat both sides at once, requiring people to flip the bread. Almost three decades later, Charles Strite made breakfast a little easier and created the modern pop-up toaster.
Earle and Josephine Dickson created the first adhesive bandage in 1920. The two took the idea to Johnson & Johnson, where Earle was a cotton buyer. Their invention became trademarked as Band-Aid. The company now makes a liquid sealant and some come pre-treated with antibiotics.
John Larson, a police officer in Berkeley, California, created the first polygraph machine in 1921. It was designed to detect sudden changes in blood pressure with the thought that if someone was nervous, it might be a sign they're lying. The machines have been controversial, and most courts don't allow results as evidence. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2018 funded artificial intelligence technology called AVATAR that assesses truthfulness by subtle changes in eye movement, voice, or how someone shifts their body.
On Jan. 11, 1922, Dr. Frederick Banting administered the first treatment of insulin for diabetes, which he developed along with medical student Charles Best. Before insulin treatment was available, most people with type 1 diabetes didn't live very long. Modern-day insulin still can't be administered in pill form, but people can give themselves daily shots or wear a pump.
People have been freezing foods for millennia, but Clarence Birdseye is often credited with inventing the modern way of quick-freezing food. Birdseye invented the method after realizing that ice would form on food if it was frozen too slowly. When defrosted, the crystals would melt and affect the quality and taste of the food.
In 1925, inventor John Logie Baird showed off a mechanical device that projected the shadow of a doll on the other side of the room. A year later, he would unveil the mechanical TV, the precursor to the modern electric television that was invented by Philo Farnsworth in 1927.
On March 16, 1926, Robert Hutchings Goddard used liquid rocket fuel in a rocket he built and tested. Goddard proposed the idea of a rocket reaching the moon back in 1920. His research and inventions directly contributed to the existence of modern space flight.
Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw Jr. invented a tank respirator known as the iron lung to help patients with polio. The machine acts as a mechanical diaphragm, forcing air into the lungs of people who could no longer swallow or breathe on their own. Most patients only needed treatment for a few weeks, but some required lifelong assistance.
Richard O. Rohwedder filed his patent for a bread-slicing machine in 1928. That same year, he sold his invention to the Chillicothe Baking Company in Missouri, which became “The Home of Sliced Bread.” Also in 1928, Scottish physician and scientist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin; he noticed that something in mold had inhibited bacterial growth. In June 1929, he published his findings in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology.
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Werner Forssmann performed the first heart catheterization on himself in 1929, laying the groundwork for modern cardiology. Catheterization helps doctors get to a patient's heart through more accessible veins. Inserting pacemakers, repairing heart valves, and unblocking blood vessels are all procedures that use the method.
In 1930, 3M came out with a strong, clear, waterproof tape after employee Richard Drew figured out how to apply adhesive to cellophane. The tape was originally meant as a moisture-proof seal for people who ran food businesses, but during the Depression consumers used it a cheap way to fix things at home. The company now makes more than 400 types of adhesive tape.
German scientists Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska invented the electron microscope in 1931 with the goal of being able to see atoms. Modern versions achieved that goal and still use the basic elements of the original design. The electron microscope is vital to laboratories, which use them to examine microorganisms and cells, and to perform medical biopsies.
Engineer Harry Jennings built the first folding steel wheelchair for his paraplegic friend, Herbert Everest. The two founded Everest & Jennings to sell their wheelchair design to the masses. The company started making electric wheelchairs in 1956.
Alan Dower Blumlein wanted to create stereo—when sound comes out of two speakers—after a movie outing with his wife; he noticed the single speaker didn't coincide with what he was watching the actors say and do on screen. The first stereo discs were created in 1933.
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Percy Shaw came up with the idea to create reflectors in the middle of roads after his headlights reflected into the eyes of a cat. He got a patent for his “Catseyes” invention in 1934. The reflectors were first introduced in Britain and have been helping drivers navigate in the dark and fog ever since.
While working at Dupont, Wallace Carothers created the synthetic fabric known as nylon. The product went to market in 1939 and was a popular replacement for silk in modern pantyhose. It's now used in everything from toothbrushes to surgical thread.
English mathematician Alan Turing's research created the foundation of computer science. While studying at Princeton University, Turing proposed the idea that a machine could solve any problem if it were given instructions encoded on a paper tape. The Turing Machine could do calculations in seconds and made the modern computer possible.
In 1937, Dr. Bernard Fantus started the first U.S. blood bank at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Fantus made blood preservation possible for weeks, not hours. Today, blood transfusions help almost 5 million Americans a year. Until researchers figure out how to synthesize blood, blood banks—and donors—are the only reliable source for blood transfusions.
In 1938, Chester Carlson combined static electricity with light and powder to create the first copy. The modern photocopier arrived in 1959 when Xerox released their first commercial model; it weighed nearly 650 pounds. Also in 1938, the first ballpoint pens hit stores.
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Contact lenses in the late 1800s were made of glass and could only be tolerated for a few hours. In 1939, the first plastic contact lenses were created. About a decade later, optician Kevin Tuohy created the first corneal lens, meaning it didn't cover the entire eyeball.
Alexander Fleming may have discovered penicillin in 1928, but research by Dr. Howard Florey, a professor of pathology at Oxford University, led to its use as medicine. In 1940, Florey tested penicillin on mice and humans. In 1942, it was successfully used to treat an infection. A woman who had suffered a miscarriage was treated for blood poisoning. There are now more than 100 types of antibiotics.
Early forms of sweat protection tended to irritate the skin. In 1941, Jules Montenier patented a formula that was better tolerated and is more like a modern deodorant, a product that many people use in one form or another. It hit the market as a spray called Stopette.
Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil received a patent for a "secret communication system" in 1942. The technique was created to cloak torpedoes during World War II, and it eventually led to the development of secure Wi-Fi.
Mechanical engineer Richard James invented the Slinky by happenstance. The story goes that he accidentally knocked over some springs he was working on for another project—trying to keep sensitive equipment secure on a boat. When they fell off the shelf, the springs seemed to “walk” down. The toy was immediately popular and is still sold today.
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In 1944, Dutch physician Willem Kolff created a primitive artificial kidney machine. The first device only kept people alive for a short time. In 1945, Kolff's machine kept a woman alive for seven more years. His invention led the way for modern dialysis machines, which can treat people while they wait for a kidney transplant.
The flu vaccine was approved for military use in 1945, which meant soldiers fighting in World War II were the first patients to receive treatment. Everyone else could get it the following year. The earliest flu shots only worked against influenza A. The modern vaccine—which can also be administered as a nasal spray—is updated annually to match circulating flu viruses and usually protects people against the three or four most common viruses.
In 1946, engineer Percy Spencer realized his chocolate bar had melted while he was testing a military-grade magnetron, leading Spencer to inadvertently discover the technology that led to the modern microwave. The first domestic microwave was introduced in 1955. Two decades later, a million microwaves were sold every year. Now almost every U.S. household has one.
In 1947, Dr. Claude Beck successfully revived a patient with an experimental defibrillator he had been working on. The device included two metal paddles that could shoot 1,500 volts of electricity through the muscle of the heart to get it pumping again. Defibrillators are a mainstay in hospitals and used by paramedics and firefighters. People with severe heart disease can even carry around a portable defibrillator with them in case they go into cardiac arrest.
Edwin Land founded Polaroid in 1926. On Nov. 26, 1948, the first Land camera—a folding camera with self-processing film—was sold for $89.95 at the Jordan Marsh department store in Boston, Massachusetts. The Model 95 Land camera served as the prototype for Polaroid cameras for the following 15 years.
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The concept of using low-pressure gas “to atomize droplets of liquid in the air” came about in 1924. The military used the technology as early bug spray to protect U.S. armed forces from insects carrying diseases like malaria during World War II. After the war, Robert Abplanalp, founder of Precision Valve Corporation, filed his patent for a mass-produced aerosol valve in September 1949. His invention proliferated aerosol products around the world.
After a particularly dry Connecticut winter, Walter Schoenknecht decided to make his own snow. The Mohawk Mountain ski resort owner brought in 700 tons of ice and spread it over one of his slopes. His friends helped him fine-tune the idea, and further technological advances have made it so skiers can hardly tell the difference between the fake stuff and what comes from Mother Nature. Because of shorter winters, artificial snow is helping keep many ski resorts open despite less snowfall.
Styrofoam was invented in 1944, and seven years later the first patent for a “portable ice chest” was filed. Coleman bought the rights from Richard Laramy and started selling the first portable cooler in 1957. While coolers can help keep food chilled, they can also help transport vaccines, organs, and other medical supplies.
George Lerner wanted to create a toy that gave children flexibility. He patented Mr. Potato Head in 1952, and it was later bought by Hasbro, Inc. The first model didn't come with a plastic head; instead children were encouraged to actually use a potato or other vegetable. The popular toy was the first to appear in commercials and was immortalized on the big screen decades later in the “Toy Story” franchise.
In 1952, polio killed 3,000 people in the U.S. On March 26, 1953, Jonas Salk announced the polio vaccine. Clinical trials of his vaccine began the following year. In 1955, mass vaccinations were administered to U.S. schoolchildren. Polio was eradicated in the U.S. by 1979.
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Bell executives in April 1954 showed the press that a solar-powered battery could run a 21-inch Ferris wheel. In 2018, the U.S. added more solar power than any other form of electricity.
Georges de Mestral patented Velcro in 1955. He thought up the idea after walking in the woods and noticing burrs stuck to his pants and dog's fur. Velcro, which is essentially tiny hooks that attach to tiny loops, was originally created out of cotton, but de Mestral later switched to nylon because it was stronger.
IBM's first supercomputer with a hard drive held 5MB of data and couldn't be moved without mechanical help. Companies could rent disk storage for $3,200 per month. IBM computer technology continued to progress, and this version of the hard drive became obsolete by the next decade.
In 1951, Mexican chemist Carl Djerassi invented the chemical base of hormonal contraception, though he wasn't equipped to test what would become the birth control pill. Six years later, the FDA approved Enovid. It was the first birth control pill, but it could only be prescribed to treat severe menstrual disorders. Access to the pill was granted 1972 when the Supreme Court said the ban on contraception was illegal. There are now several other forms of hormonal contraception, including the vaginal ring, implant, intrauterine device (IUD), and patch.
In 1958, physicists Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow wrote about the concept of laser technology. Townes shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for his research; Schawlow shared the 1981 Nobel Prize for his contributions. Today, laser technology is used in everything from corrective eye surgery and tattoo removal to grocery scanners and fiber optic cables.
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Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin invented the modern three-point seatbelt, though it was based off earlier patents. Bohlin adjusted the design so that a driver could easily strap in with one hand and still be protected in a collision. The first modern seatbelt only appeared in Swedish cars, but they eventually became standard in 1963.
It wasn't possible to view Earth's weather conditions with regularity until the launch of TIROS I (Television and InfraRed Observation Satellite) on April 1, 1960. Within its 77 days of operation, it sent back almost 20,000 pictures. Satellites make it possible to predict the weather-related future, which helps people prepare for disasters like hurricanes and floods before they arrive.
Black & Decker unveiled the first cordless power tools in 1961. Although sometimes NASA gets credit for the invention, the national space program hired the tool company to develop a wrench for the Gemini project that would work in zero gravity without spinning the astronaut.
Phillips invented the first compact cassette tapes in 1962. Because the tapes were portable and the sound quality was good, they quickly became more popular than vinyl records; although 2017 saw a resurgence of the record.
Popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the lava lamp was invented by Edward Craven Walker, a British accountant. He later sold the rights to the company Lava Lite. Although sales dropped in the ‘80s, the lamps had a resurgence in the 2000s and can still be purchased today.
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The first working liquid crystal display was invented in 1964. The technology was revealed to the public four years later. LCD screens are now used in electronics like cell phones, digital clocks, and flat-screen TVs.
While working at Dupont, chemist Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar. The material is stronger than steel and was originally created as an alternative material in tires that could improve gas mileage. It's now used as life-saving body armor in bulletproof vests and the boots of firefighters. Kevlar can also be found in cut-resistant kitchen gloves, helmets, and ropes.
The first dedicated mammography machine came out in 1966. Modern machines can't prevent cancer, but early detection can reduce the risk of dying from the disease by 25–30%. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, but the survival rates are now much higher.
Texas Instruments invented the first electronic handheld calculator in 1967. It was about 6 inches tall and a little more than an inch thick. It could add, subtract, multiply, and divide.
In 1968, Ralph Baer developed the first home video game console, originally called Brown Box. Baer sold the design, and the Magnavox Odyssey was released to the public in 1972. He also created the light gun, a device the Nintendo Entertainment System used in the popular game Duck Hunt.
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In October 1969, the first ARPANET communications were sent between the University of California, Los Angeles and the Stanford Research Institute. The U.S. Defense Department funded the project and developed much of the technology that led to the modern internet.
In 1966, physicist Charles K. Kao made a breakthrough in fiber optics when he calculated how to transmit light over long distances using optical glass fibers, which he realized could transmit light signals much faster than copper wires or radio waves. The first ultrapure fiber was created in 1970. Fiber optics make broadband communications of the modern internet possible.
The first floppy disks were invented in 1967, but IBM didn't start selling floppy disk drives until 1971. The disks allowed people to load operating systems and other software programs into their personal computers, which didn't become consumer-friendly until the next decade. While floppy disks are no longer compatible with modern computers, more than 5 billion were sold per year during the mid-1990s.
Raymond Damadian 1972 filed for a patent for his magnetic resonance imaging machine. MRI machines can create three-dimensional images of the area being scanned. Tests are used in animals and humans, and can identify diseases in the body and even measure thought activity in the brain.
On April 3, 1973, Motorola employee Martin Cooper used a prototype of the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x—the first commercial cell phone—to make a call from New York City to Bell Labs in New Jersey. It would take another couple of decades for cell phones to reach consumers. By 2017, the majority of homes had replaced their landlines with cell phones.
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In 1968, 3M chemist Spencer Silver was experimenting with ways to make better adhesive. It wasn't until 1974 when he was approached by his colleague Art Fry—who wanted a bookmark that stuck to paper—that the Post-it Note was invented. In 1980, 3M released the wildly successful product to the market.
The first computer kit that people could use it home—the Altair 8800—came out in 1975. The following year, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple and released the Apple I computer; they updated to the Apple II in 1977. IBM released its first personal computer in 1981. More than half of the households in the world now have a computer.
The Electric Pencil word-processing software, created for the Altair computer, came out in 1976. Microsoft 1.0 hit the market in 1983. More than 400 other word-processing programs have been created since.
The first successful in vitro fertilization—when an egg is fertilized outside of the womb and surgically implanted back in the uterus—took place in 1977. The following year, Louise Brown was born. Millions of babies have been conceived through IVF. Dr. Robert Edwards received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2010 for his IVF work.
The true creator of email is up for debate. In 1978, Shiva Ayyadurai was 14 and working as a research fellow at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey. That's when he claims he invented an electronic-messaging platform; he holds the first copyright for software known as “EMAIL.” Others credit computer programmer Ray Tomlinson. In 1971, Tomlinson used text-based messaging on computers using ARPANET with an “@” symbol.
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On July 1, 1979, Sony introduced a compact cassette tape player: the Sony Walkman. The company didn't invent the tape player, but they did create the most popular portable one. Consumers could conveniently charge it with AA batteries and listen with headphones. In 1981, they introduced a model with a belt clip. In 1988, a yellow, water-resistant version hit stores.
The basic fax machine was invented back in 1842. However, the first modern fax machine was released in 1980 in Japan.
In 1981, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston successfully used artificial skin made from cowhide, shark cartilage, and plastic to replace skin on burn victims. The synthetic skin—created by surgeon John Burke—was a game-changer because the top layer helped protect the patient from infection and dehydration.
William DeVries implanted the first successful permanent artificial heart—the Jarvik 7—in 1982. Dentist Barney Clark lived 112 days after the procedure. While artificial hearts are still used as short-term solutions for people waiting for a transplant, researchers are making advances toward a more durable, long-term heart.
In 1983, Sony introduced the Betamovie BMC-100P, which recorded on Betamax tapes. That same year, VHS-format cameras were released and Sony's fell by the wayside. While some videographers still use film, modern camcorders most often record digitally.
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The nicotine patch was invented in 1984 by pharmacologist Murray Jarvik and other researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. Jarvik was the first to suggest that nicotine was the addictive agent in cigarettes. The first prescription nicotine patch came to market in 1992, and four years later it was available over-the-counter.
Police started using DNA in criminal investigations in 1985. Testing genetics through skin, hair, blood, and other bodily fluids has become the most reliable physical evidence at a crime scene; it can identify someone with 99% accuracy. In 1987, DNA evidence used for the first time to convict Tommie Lee Andrews in a Florida rape case. DNA can also be used to exonerate people who have been wrongfully convicted.
Fujifilm introduced the first disposable camera in 1986: the Fujicolor QuickSnap. A million cameras were purchased the first year they were released. The single-use cameras are still sold today.
The first plastic contact lens was created in 1936, but Acuvue released the first disposable contacts in 1987. Today, the company makes 4 billion contact lenses a year.
The RU-486 pill—which prevents uterine implantation of a fertilized egg—was approved for use in France in 1988. The abortion medication is inexpensive, can be administered without a doctor, and is less invasive than surgical abortion techniques. While the FDA approved the pill in 2000, its use remains controversial.
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Tim Berners-Lee technically invented the World Wide Web in 1989 while he was at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research). Scientists originally wanted a computer network that would help them share their information with other researchers around the world. The first web page was accessed through the internet in 1990, but the public couldn't use it until 1993.
Joy Mangano invented the first mop that people didn't have to wring out by hand. Her Miracle Mop kept hands dry and made her a billionaire star on the Home Shopping Network. Jennifer Lawrence played a character loosely based on Mangano in the movie “Joy.”
After launching the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee created the first website Aug. 6, 1991. The simple site was set up to tell people what the web was all about. Exact numbers vary, but there are now hundreds of millions of active websites.
In 1992, women gained another birth control option when the FDA approved Depo-Provera. The hormonal shot is 99% effective for preventing pregnancy for up to three months (when it is administered perfectly). In addition to contraception, it can treat menstrual disorders like endometriosis or symptoms of menopause.
The Department of Defense launched its first navigation system with timing and ranging (NAVSTAR) satellite in 1978. It took awhile for the technology to reach consumers (at an affordable price), but the popular TomTom navigation system launched in 1991. Now just about everyone with a smartphone has GPS at their fingertips.
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In 1994, the company Calgene introduced the Flavr Savr tomato; it was the first genetically engineered crop introduced to consumers. The tomato isn't around anymore, but genetically modified food is.
Consumers were able to transition away from VHS tapes when DVD players were released in 1997. They cost more than $600 when they first came out. In 1999, more than 4 million homes in the U.S. had DVD players, Blockbuster added DVD rentals, and 1.5 million copies of “The Matrix” were sold.
Researchers at The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996; it was the first time an animal was cloned from an adult cell. She was named after Dolly Parton and lived for six years. Other animals have been cloned using the process, including cats and dogs.
Toyota released its hybrid Prius in Japan in 1997. It was the first mass-produced car that used both gasoline and electricity. The car was released worldwide in 2000, and other major automakers followed suit. While interest in fuel-efficient vehicles rises and falls with the price of gas, consumers can now buy fully-electric vehicles from Chevy, Nissan, and Tesla.
While the Kindle and the Nook are the most popular e-readers, the Rocket eBook came out in 1998. It could hold up to 40 books, which isn't much compared to the thousands that modern readers can store. The product didn't succeed, perhaps because the market wasn't quite ready for digital books.
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Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning created Napster in 1999. The program allowed users to share digital MP3 files with each other. By 2001, Napster had to shut down because of licensing issues. Both musicians and music companies brought legal action against Napster founders and some of their users.
Everyone who owns a smartphone is carrying around a camera in their pocket. However, the first cell phone with a camera wasn't introduced until 2000. It was released in South Korea by Samsung and could take 20 photos with a resolution of less than half a megapixel. Modern smartphones can take 12-MP images—or higher—and store thousands of pictures and videos.
Dean Kamen's concept for the Segway came about in the mid-'90s, but the personal transporter made its first major appearance to the public on an episode of “Good Morning America” in 2001. While the two-wheeled self-balancing scooter is still popular with tour groups covering a lot of ground in big cities, it isn't quite the success people thought it would be. One Segway employee said it never took off because “There was a significant dork factor. It was never truly socially accepted.”
In 2002, Francisco Guerra created a coaster that could test for gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and ketamine, substances commonly called date-rape drugs. Users just drop liquid from their drink onto a coaster (test strips are offered now) and wait five minutes to see if the material turns blue. If it does, the drink is tainted.
Apple released the iTunes music store on April 28, 2003, two years after the release of the first iPod. Users could download songs for 99 cents a song, and there was no limit to how many devices could store the music. It allowed customers to pay for the right to use the song on as many devices—or CDs—as they wanted. Customers can now pay for subscription services through Apple, Spotify, or Pandora.
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In 2004, users could make phone calls and video chat over the internet using Skype, a service created by Swedish tech entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis. Microsoft now owns Skype, which competes with services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim created YouTube in 2005. The former PayPal workers wanted to create a single site where videos could be shared. The company was bought by Google in 2006. With more than 1 billion users, it is one of the most used websites on the internet.
The first vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV) came to market in 2006. It was created by a team at the University of Queensland in Australia. While the vaccine can protect people from some of the most deadly strains of HPV, which causes cervical cancer, it still remains controversial in the U.S. In 2017, the CDC reported that about 66% of people 13 to 17 were starting the vaccine, and almost half had completed the series of shots.
Apple didn't invent the cell phone, but the iPhone undoubtedly revolutionized society. It gave users convenient access to the internet and put a camera in everyone's pocket. Apple is currently on their 10th version—which uses facial recognition software to unlock it—and other manufacturers have followed suit with updating smartphone technology. For better or worse, people are now connected—to friends and to work—practically 24 hours a day.
Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey founded 23 and me, a genetic testing company, in 2008. The original saliva test sold for $399 and said it could tell people about a variety of genetic predispositions to diseases. In 2013, the company faced a roadblock when the FDA told them to halt their sales until they could prove their tests were accurate. They are now FDA-approved to test for predispositions to illnesses like celiac, late-onset Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's. A separate test can tell customers their ancestry. The increased use of genetic-testing services like this has led to uncovering many long-lost family members—and has helped police solve major cold cases, such as the crimes connected to the Golden State Killer, who murdered at least 12 women and raped at least 50 victims between 1974 and 1986.
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Seth Frader-Thompson created the EnergyHub Dashboard—the first smart thermostat—in 2009. The Nest Thermostat, which can learn to program itself based on user habits, came out in 2011.
Dag Kittlaus, co-founder of Siri, said the virtual assistant was designed with “dry wit.” Siri was launched in 2010, and it can answer questions, bring up a song, or let users know where their car is parked. Google and Amazon have both created their own versions: Google Assistant and Alexa. The first iPad was launched the same year.
IBM's Watson supercomputer made its television debut in February 2011; it competed against human winners of “Jeopardy!” Watson wasn't designed “to model the human brain,” said IBM researcher David Ferrucci. Instead, it should be “a computer that can be more effective in understanding and interacting in natural language.”
In 2012, Google released a headset that looked like glasses but came with a small computer that allowed people to access the internet. They weren't a hit with consumers, many of whom were concerned about privacy issues, but the manufacturing industry is getting some use out of them. A factory in Atlanta is using them to help with quality checks and training. They've been “a total game-changer,” says Peggy Gullick, business process improvement director with AGCO.
Meat made from animal stem cells was created in in 2013. The first burger cost about $300,000 to produce. Costs have since gone down, and companies are looking into developing lab-grown meats from other animals. While meat produced from stem cells is still in the works, plant-based options like Beyond Meat's Impossible Burger have become popular. Even White Castle now sells a meatless slider.
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The Hendo hoverboard brought the dreams of “Back to Future” to reality. It is designed to let users hover about an inch of the ground on a skateboard-like device using magnets. It started as a Kickstarter campaign by the company Arx Pax in 2014 and raised more than $500,000.
DARPA, a research agency in the U.S. government, designed a prosthetic hand—the Modular Prosthetic Limb—that can send signals to the brain that can simulate the feeling of touch in someone missing a limb. The robotic arm is still being researched.
In 2016, the FDA approved a wearable medical device that acts as an artificial pancreas. It monitors the blood sugar levels of those with type 1 diabetes and then automatically gives them appropriate insulin dose without users having to monitor their levels. The products won't actually replace the pancreas; they will just regulate blood glucose.
A pair of smart glasses called the eSight3 were released in early 2017. They have a high-definition camera that can record whatever the viewer is looking at, enhancing the details and colors. They cost around $10,000, but they can help people who are legally blind see close up or far away and enhance other people's facial features.
Robotic vacuums have been around since the early 2000s. While they could pick up dust and crumbs by themselves, users still had to dispose of the dirt themselves. In 2018, iRobot released the Roomba i7+—the first robotic vacuum that “frees customers from every aspect of vacuuming, from start to finish, for weeks at a time,” said CEO Colin Angle.
The nonprofit charity: water, which has built clean water infrastructure in nearly 30 countries, released its third generation of groundbreaking sensor technology. Generally, the sites were visited just once or twice per year, which left a harmful gap for communities should a system break. The sensors—first deployed in 2015—track water flow in real time, measuring liters pumped per hour, so any fluctuation kick-starts protocol for a technician visit. The most recent 2019 update, the AFRIDEV Handpump Sensor V-2, comes with an improved algorithm, automatic geolocation, and cloud computing to enhance that real-time data and response.
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