Best Inventions of 2018

January 11, 2019
Samantha Cooney, Sean Gregory, Jeffery Kluger, Megan McCluskey, Eli Meixler, and Justin Worland for TIME, adapted by TFK editors
BACKGROUND: TANGMAN PHOTOGRAPHY/GETTY IMAGES

Each year, TIME magazine picks the best of the inventions that will change how we live, work, and play. Here, TFK has selected 12 that we think will improve the world. Some help people overcome obstacles. Others help protect the environment. A few just help us have fun.

Read on to learn about these amazing objects. Which will make the biggest difference in your life, or in the lives of people around you?

Eyes on Demand

ANDREW MYERS FOR TIME

For people who are blind, everyday tasks such as walking to school or doing laundry can be a challenge. But what if they could “borrow” the eyes of someone who can see?

That’s the thinking behind AIRA. With this service, users send live video of their surroundings to an Aira agent through special glasses or a smartphone app. The agents, who are available at all times, can then answer questions, describe objects, or guide users through a location. —Samantha Cooney

Get in the Game

ANDREW MYERS FOR TIME

Video games are usually controlled using small buttons and joysticks. For people with limited hand and arm use, this can make games difficult to play. Microsoft developed the XBOX ADAPTIVE CONTROLLER to empower as many gamers as possible. It is an oversize version of a classic controller. Its buttons are large enough to be pressed with an elbow or a chin. There are also ports where you can plug in more aids, such as a foot pedal. —S.C.

Smog Solution

ILLUSTRATION BY TODD DETWILER FOR TIME

Smog is air pollution that comes mostly from automobile and factory emissions. Breathing in too much smog can cause a person to become sick.

The company 3M has created a new material for roofing shingles. When 3M SMOG-REDUCING GRANULES are exposed to the sun, the granules break down smog particles in the air. The broken-down particles are then washed away by rainfall. This product will help reduce air pollution. —Justin Worland

Cheaters' Choice

ANDREW MYERS FOR TIME

Monopoly is hard enough when people play by the rules. But cheating is common. Players steal from the bank, skip ahead, or worse! Hasbro, the company behind the board game, has embraced this. In MONOPOLY: CHEATERS EDITION, “cheat cards” tell players how to fool others. Those caught in the act face consequences. Hasbro’s Jennifer Boswinkel says the company’s goal was to capture players’ “mischievous spirit.” —Megan McCluskey

Now Hear This

ANDREW MYERS FOR TIME

About 48 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. Though many of them could benefit from a hearing aid, some people don’t want to wear one because of how they’ll look.

A traditional hearing aid wraps around the ear. EARGO MAX works almost entirely out of sight. It is a rechargeable hearing aid that fits comfortably inside the ear. Customers have been pleased: Eargo expected to end 2018 with 20,000 users. —S.C.

Bright Idea

ANDREW MYERS FOR TIME

Biking in the dark can be dangerous. Eu-wen Ding almost found this out the hard way. When he forgot his lights, cars almost hit him. So he started thinking about a better way to ride.

Eventually, he created the LUMOS KICKSTART HELMET. Its bright LED lights make a cyclist more visible. They also blink to indicate a turn. Riders can activate the signal by clicking a wireless remote on their handlebars. —Sean Gregory

Better Wheels

ANDREW MYERS FOR TIME

More than 3 million Americans use wheelchairs to get around. But most wheelchairs are bulky and hard to move on many surfaces.

Enter the WHILL MODEL CI, a new electric wheelchair. Its specially engineered front “omni-wheels” allow it to go 10 miles indoors or out, climb obstacles two inches high, and maneuver in tight spaces. The wheelchair can also be disassembled, or taken apart, in minutes. This makes it easy to transport. —S.C.

Magical Coding

ILLUSTRATION BY TODD DETWILER FOR TIME

The Harry Potter universe already gets people excited about reading. Can it do the same for coding? Kano, the company that makes the Kano Computer Kit, is betting it can. Its HARRY POTTER CODING KIT challenges children to complete quests in a virtual wizarding world. First, users program “spells” by entering a series of commands. Then they wave an actual wand to make virtual things happen, such as changing a potion’s color or levitating an object. —M.M.

Make-your-own Controllers

ANDREW MYERS FOR TIME

With video games, all the fun usually happens onscreen. Not so with NINTENDO LABO. These kits let gamers build cardboard controllers for the Nintendo Switch. Labo controllers range from a steering wheel to a robot suit. Once joined with a standard Switch controller, they can be used to play mini-games. Nintendo producer Kouichi Kawamoto says the intention was to “combine physical and digital game play.” —M.M.

Sweet Shoes

ANDREW MYERS FOR TIME

Many shoe parts are not eco-friendly. Allbirds is trying to change that. It is testing a new material called SWEETFOAM, which is made from parts of sugarcane that would otherwise be thrown away. Allbirds launched SweetFoam in a line of flip-flops. The company plans to use the material across all of its product lines. To encourage others to do the same, Allbirds has made the technical know-how behind SweetFoam available to all. —J.W.

Homes for All

COURTESY ICON

The ICON VULCAN 3D PRINTER is a groundbreaking machine. In 2018, it built a 350-square-foot home in 48 hours. It erects the structure of the home, layer by layer, from concrete. This process costs much less than traditional building methods. ICON is the company behind the printer. It hopes to print a 2,000-square-foot home in just 24 hours. It is also working to take the printer to places where cheap, durable houses are needed. —Eli Meixler

Ready to Fly

COURTESY WONDERHATCH

Gravity Industries, a company based in Salisbury, England, has developed the coolest flying suit since Iron Man. The GRAVITY JET SUIT includes five mini jet engines. Two are built into each of the hand units, and one is built into the backpack. It can fly at 50 miles per hour. For now, the suits are extremely expensive and extremely loud. Inventor and company founder Richard Browning hopes to raise money to develop a quieter, cheaper electric version. Jeffrey Kluger

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly noted the location of Gravity Industries’ headquarters. It is in Salisbury, England. The story has been updated online.