Beef-powered trains! English-teaching robots! A suit that gives its wearer superhero powers! A car that runs on air! Do you think this sounds like life in the future? Think again. These incredible inventions are here right now. Inventors are always looking for ways to make our lives easier, greener and a whole lot more fun. Take a look at 2010's biggest and coolest breakthroughs in science and technology. What in the world will inventors dream up next?
Some students in South Korea have a new language instructor: an English-teaching robot. The bots help students practice speaking English. South Korea employs 30,000 foreigners to teach English. The robo-teachers are helping to solve a shortage of English teachers. Could robots replace human teachers one day?
A Touch Tablet
Apple, creator of the iPhone and iPod, had another hit invention this year with the iPad. The iPad is a touch-screen tablet computer. The gadget gives users video, websites, books and games, right at their fingertips. Apple sold 3 million iPads in the first 80 days of its release.
Have you ever dreamed of becoming a superhero? Dream no more. There's a real Iron Man suit, XOS 2, that instantly transforms the person wearing it. The suit provides the power to lift 200 pounds with ease and break slabs of wood in a single karate chop. It was designed to help the military with heavy lifting. One person in the suit could do the work of three soldiers.
One Step at a Time
The makers of eLEGS hope to help people with paralyzed legs stand and walk on their own. The device consists of robotic legs and crutches. It uses artificial intelligence to understand the wearer's arm movements through the crutches. It may be available for home use by 2013.
The Deep Green kite is no toy. As it dives in the ocean currents, a turbine engine attached to the kite collects energy. Just one hour of the kite's work could supply about two weeks of power for the average home. The device can generate 800 times more power than if it were in the sky.
Up, Up and Away!
It took him 30 years to develop it, and now Glen Martin's invention is ready to take off. The Martin Jetpack allows its operator to fly 8,000 feet into the air. "I've made a Jet Ski for the sky," Martin says. Unfortunately, you can't soar through the skies too long. The jetpack holds only about 30 minutes' worth of fuel. The aircraft will sell for $100,000. Field tests begin in 2011.
Sugru looks like Play-Doh but acts like Super Glue. It's a brightly colored silicone rubber that is soft enough to mold, yet strong enough to fix everyday objects so they work better. Sugru sticks to everything from metal to fabric.
The EMIEW2 robot is the perfect office helper. Need a document delivered? No problem! It can also guide visitors to their destinations. The three-foot-tall bot can identify different human voices and respond to commands. One day, it may serve as a receptionist or a security guard.
On the Road
No traffic jam here! Space-saving, eco-friendly vehicles keep traffic moving in this future city. The partly solar-powered straddling bus spans two lanes of road. It can carry 1,200 people, and its carriage is raised so cars can pass underneath. The Antro Solo is a lightweight electric car that holds up to three people. Two Solos can combine to form a bigger car, the Duo.
Say goodbye to gasoline! The AirPod car runs on—you guessed it—air power. That means this car won't pollute. A high-pressure air tank can fill the car in minutes. The three-wheeler can travel about 130 miles between fill-ups.
All aboard the beef train! Amtrak's Heartland Flyer runs partly on fuel that is made from cow fat. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 10%. The train travels between Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Fort Worth, Texas.
EMILY is not your typical lifeguard. She's a robotic, four-foot-long buoy. She can swim through riptides at up to 24 miles per hour. Her inventor, Tony Mulligan, says that's 15 times as fast as human lifeguards! EMILY, or the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, is powered by a tiny electric pump and operated by remote.
—TIME reporting by J. Kluger; K. Mahr; H. McCracken; A. Park; A. Ramzy; B. Saporito; D. Van Dyk; B. Walsh; K. Webley; TIME FOR KIDS reporting by Brenda Iasevoli; Kelli Plasket