Best Inventions of 2019

January 10, 2020
Jasmine Aguilera, Josiah Bates, Madeleine Carlisle, Alejandro de la Garza, Jamie Ducharme, Alex Fitzpatrick, Sean Gregory, Sanya Mansoor, and Justin Worland for TIME, adapted by TFK editors
ROYBI

Every year, TIME magazine names the year’s best inventions. This year, the list includes robotic hands, recyclable footwear—what will they think of next? Inventors are always at work, dreaming up new technologies. Some inventions help us solve problems. Others make life easier, or more fun. Here, TFK presents 10 of our favorite inventions. Next week, look for our issue on amazing young inventors.

Got Wheels?

JOE LINGEMAN FOR TIME

Cyclists can upgrade from pedal power to electricity with this e-bike wheel from GEOORBITAL. Riders control their speed using a throttle connected to the handlebars. A three-hour battery charge allows for a ride of 20 miles. Michael Burtov is the company’s founder and CEO. He says the wheel’s design makes bicycles more efficient. “Regular wheels have a lot of empty, wasted space in them,” Burtov says. “Now they don’t.” —Alex Fitzpatrick

Stopping Sickness

PATHSPOT

Christine Schindler is an engineer. She wanted to help stop the spread of foodborne illnesses. So she created PATHSPOT. It uses light to scan a person’s hands for harmful germs, such as E. coli. Restaurant employees hold their hands beneath the scanner. Then the scanner evaluates whether they must be rewashed. About 100 locations have started using the product since it launched in May, including some Chopt and Pokéworks restaurants. —Jamie Ducharme

Play By Sight

ROLI

The company Roli usually designs products for skilled musicians. Now it wants to reach those who are still learning to play. “We hope that LUMI closes the gap between people’s love of music and their fear about playing it,” says Roli’s Will MacNamara. The small Lumi keyboard lights up, allowing users to learn which keys to press. With an app, users can learn their favorite songs and work their way up to full music lessons. Roli plans to roll out Lumi to schools across the United States. It will be available to the wider public soon. —Jasmine Aguilera

Future Farm

AEROFARMS

Millions of people around the globe suffer from food insecurity. AEROFARMS says its indoor farming technology can help. Instead of growing in dirt, crops grow in reusable cloth made from recycled water bottles. The plants are watered with mist. This requires 95% less water than field farming. AeroFarms has already produced enough food to sell to big grocery chains and restaurants. “We’re the only commercial grower in the world doing what we’re doing,” says cofounder Marc Oshima. —Justin Worland

A Lifelike Hand

JOE LINGEMAN FOR TIME

The BRAINROBOTICS prosthetic hand is a first in its field. This artificial-intelligence (AI) device is programmed to learn from its user. The hand becomes more lifelike with each use. Its sensors process muscle signals from the user’s arm for more-accurate control. One person was able to play piano with it. Max Newlon of BrainCo says, “We hope our invention gives amputees the ability to control prosthetics just like they are using their real hands.” —Josiah Bates

An AI-Powered Teacher

ROYBI

This robot may look like a cute alien, but don’t let the design fool you. It’s actually an AI tool that helps kids learn language and STEM skills. ROYBI ROBOT responds to your unique learning style. It can recognize your emotions and deliver the content you enjoy most. With the robot, you can hear a story, sing a song, or learn a lesson. Kayla Prochnow works at Roybi. She says the robot gives kids personalized education and hopes it will build a strong foundation for success. —Madeleine Carlisle

Talking Eyes

ORCAM

For people who are blind or have other visual impairments, the ORCAM MYEYE 2 could be a game changer. It might also prove useful for people with reading difficulties, such as dyslexia. Described as “talking glasses,” this AI device attaches to any eyeglass frame. It can identify faces. It can also read text aloud. Fitting all this power into such a small device is like “putting an elephant in a small closet,” says Amnon Shashua. He invented the technology. —Sanya Mansoor

Sport-Safe

JOE LINGEMAN FOR TIME

Research shows that playing football increases the risk of brain injury. Still, about a million kids under the age of 13 play tackle football, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. That’s where the VICIS ZERO1 YOUTH football helmet comes in. It has thick, force-absorbing support on the front and sides. That’s where kids are likely to take the hardest hits on the field. Players on 1,500 youth teams have worn the helmet. —Sean Gregory

Fresh Kicks

JOE LINGEMAN FOR TIME

At first, these sneakers look no different from any other running shoes. The innovation comes when you’re done with them. Instead of throwing the sneakers away, you can return them to Adidas. Then 100% of each FUTURECRAFT.LOOP shoe can be reused to make new ones. The shoes are built from a single material and contain no glue. James Carnes of Adidas says they’re meant to be a first step to “clean up some of the environmental impact that we create” each year. —Madeleine Carlisle

Joyride

HOLORIDE

“We basically want to turn every vehicle into a moving theme park,” says Nils Wollny. He’s a cofounder of a virtual-reality (VR) company called HOLORIDE. The company has developed a VR app that uses vehicle data, such as acceleration and turning. That info becomes part of the VR experience. If you’re flying a virtual spaceship and the car you’re in turns left, the spaceship turns left, too. This technology lets passengers save the galaxy from the backseat. —Alejandro de la Garza