Awarding Innovation

Each year, innovators from across the globe trade in their lab coats and laptops for ties and gowns to honor the nominees at the Edison Awards ceremony in New York City. Over the past three decades, the awards have highlighted the most innovative products and people in science. Last year's honorees featured Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto.

This year's ceremony was no different – it focused on cutting-edge developments in medicine, energy, entertainment, and a slew of other categories. While not everyone who attended brought home an award, all of the nominees showcased the amazing power that science and technology have to transform our world.

Without their dedication to pushing boundaries and finding new solutions to old and emerging problems, our world would stagnate. Below are just four of this year's attendees, all of whom are following in the footsteps of the Edison Awards' namesake by making the world a brighter place.

The Tractor of the Future

With automation and robotics poised to completely transform the modern workplace, experts have predicted that the first jobs to face disruption will fall under the three D's: dull, dirty, and dangerous. According to Tazio Grivetti, Innovation Viability Manager at Caterpillar (CAT), a 2017 Edison Awards sponsor, the company's tractor system is a perfect example of that type of tech.

Guided by a mantra of "We Make Progress Possible," the company developed a tractor that can be operated remotely. "It's not a simulator. It’s not a video game. It’s the real thing," says Grivetti. Each vehicle needs an operator, but instead of working from a job site, they can work remotely. "When you get off [work], you can enjoy the city as opposed to going back to your trailer, waiting until your next shift because you’re 800 miles from civilization," he explains.

In addition to saving operators from the hassle of working on-site, Grivetti asserts that the company's tractor would prevent them from having to deal with the noise, discomfort, and danger inherent in what is otherwise a highly desirable, good-paying job. "It’s a safety thing. It’s a convenience thing. A skilled operator can move an amazing amount of material, and you want to keep those skilled operators working for you and being productive," says Grivetti.

CAT isn't content to simply transform how we build here on Earth, either — they're also poised to use their tractors to transform other worlds, thanks to a partnership with NASA that will have them digging on Mars in the future.

A Better Battery

Taking home the silver in the Power Source subsection of the Energy and Sustainability category at the Edison Awards this year was Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute for its ultrafast rechargeable aluminum battery (URABat). "We are the first group to use aluminum as a battery material," explains Dr. Chang-Chung Yang, the company's Deputy Division Director.

Most of today's batteries utilize lithium, but that material is in limited supply, unstable, and expensive. By finding a way to create batteries out of aluminum, which comprises 8.2 percent of the Earth's crust, the team at ITRI has opened up the possibility of much larger, higher capacity batteries, such as those needed for vehicles and industrial operations.

The team plans to incorporate other materials into their batteries to improve the tech even further. "Graphite can make an aluminum battery even longer lasting, and also it can charge very quickly," claims Yang. "It can charge within one minute."

Better batteries are one of the greatest hurdles remaining in our quest to end fossil fuel dependence, so the work done by Yang and his team will not only benefit our tech, it'll also benefit our planet.

Mobile Reality

Winning bronze in the Media, Visual Communications, and Entertainment subcategory of Cameras & Virtual Reality was Lucid VR for its appropriately named LucidCam.

The pocket-sized device uses two wide-angle lenses to cover a 180-degree field of vision, making it the "first and only 3D camera with peripheral vision for virtual reality," according to the Edison Awards site.

"Our technology can actually reproduce what both eyes can see," explains Han Jin, the company's CEO. "The processing we do mimics how a human brain would work by taking two streams in and then creating that sphere where you feel like you’re actually there."

The device is wifi supported for live streaming, and Jin hopes it will bring previously unattainable experiences to people across the world. "With this technology, I really think you can put people in different places without them physically being there," he says – an ability that he believes will increase worldwide empathy as well as inspire people to try the seemingly impossible.

Sound and the IOT

Taking home the gold in the Health & Wellness subcategory of Hearing Technology was Oticon USA's Oticon Opn. The device is heralded as the first hearing aid to connect to the Internet of Things (IoT), bringing a tech that's been around in some form or another for more than 100 years into the twenty-first century.

The device can connect to any other within the IoT, such as a smartphone or speaker. "If someone was hearing impaired, they’d have to take out their hearing aids to listen to music through headphones," says Maureen Doty Tomasula, a senior product and marketing manager at Oticon. "It may not even be loud enough. Then they’d have to turn it up really loud. But with this, it streams directly through their hearing aids."

The Oticon Opn can also be connected to the IFTTT network to create if/then "recipes" to help the user or those around them manage their lives. "If you’re the parent of a younger child wearing hearing aids, you can set it up through IFTTT that if the batteries are running low in Suzy’s hearing aids, then you’ll get a message on your phone saying Suzy’s battery’s are low," explains Tomasula.

The device should mitigate many of the problems associated with hearing loss, and in some cases, maybe even make users' lives easier than those without hearing impairments. "To talk on the phone is difficult. It just doesn’t work well with hearing aids and hearing loss. But now, an Oticon user doesn’t have to even think about it. She can use her phone even better than her friends," says Tomasula. "Think about it. They have to put their phone up to their ear."

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