James Cameron, director of "Avatar" and "Titanic," was among the winners of the seventh annual Breakthrough Awards announced this week by Popular Mechanics magazine. The awards recognize innovators and innovative products that "dramatically advanced the fields of technology, medicine, space exploration, automotive design, environmental engineering and more."
Cameron received this year's Leadership Award for the revolutionary CGI and 3-D techniques he helped develop for his films, and well as the part he played building a new class of submersibles to help explore the deepest reaches of the Earth's oceans. "Exploring is, in many ways, my first love," Cameron told the magazine.
Cameron's 3-D cameras did more than just shoot the movie "Avatar": they will also be used on NASA's next Mars rover. The team from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory that developed the previous rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, received this year's Mechanical Lifetime Achievement Award.
"From off-the-shelf blood vessels to a cellphone tower the size of a Rubik’s Cube, our Breakthrough Award winners not only capture the imagination, but hold the potential to improve and save lives," Popular Mechanics Editor-in-Chief James B. Meigs said in a prepared statement.
Other winners include the team that developed the Hybrid X electric car; Paul Edmiston, who developed a method of cleaning toxic water, including waste from natural gas fracking sites; the software development kit that allows hacking of the Microsoft Kinect; The Square iPhone credit-card readers; and Ford Motors' inflatable rear seat belts.
An awards ceremony will honor the Breakthrough Award winners next week. The November issue of Popular Mechanics (available Oct. 11) will include detailed descriptions of all of the winners' associated projects.
This year's other winning innovators and innovative products include:
West Philly Hybrid X Team, Next Generation Award – Built a hybrid electric car that gets 100 mpg on the highway—proving hands-on education can outperform teams of professional engineers.
Dragon Spacecraft: Elon Musk and team (SpaceX) – Became the first private company to launch a craft into orbit and successfully recover it, taking a major step toward filling the void left by NASA’s shuttles.
Electrical Stimulation for Paralysis: Joel Burdick (CalTech); V. Reggie Edgerton, Yury Gerasimenko (UCLA); Susan Harkema (University of Louisville/Frazier Rehab Institute); Rob Summers – Conducted a bold experiment that gave a paralyzed man unprecedented voluntary movement of his legs.
Off-the-Shelf Blood Vessels: Juliana Blum, Shannon Dahl, Laura Niklason (Humacyte) – Grew blood vessels that can be stored for future use in surgery and are compatible with any patient.
High-Altitude Wind Turbine: Corwin Hardham, Kenny Jensen, Damon Vander Lind (Makani Power) – Created a turbine that takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane, enabling it to reach winds that blow stronger and more consistently.
Nano Hummingbird: Matt Keennon, Karl Klingebiel (AeroVironment); Todd Hylton (DARPA) – Engineered a tiny, remote-controlled vehicle that flies (and looks) like an actual hummingbird, pioneering a new form of robotic flight.
lightRadio Cube: Tod Sizer and team (Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs) – Shrank the functions of a cell tower to fit a device the size of a Rubik’s Cube, eliminating the need for new towers in urban areas.
Opposed-Piston, Opposed-Cylinder Engine: Peter Hofbauer (EcoMotors) – Reinvented the internal combustion engine by making it 15 to 50 percent more energy-efficient, while also reducing emissions.
Motorola ATRIX 4G – A top-notch smartphone that, when connected to the Motorola Lapdock, also serves as the brain of an 11.5-inch laptop.
Parrot ASTEROID – A drop-in receiver that can turn any older car or truck into a connected vehicle with voice recognition, hands-free calling and more.
Ford Rear Inflatable Seat Belts – Rear seatbelts with built-in airbags that can support more than five times the body area of a normal belt, reducing pressure on the chest during an accident.
Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire – A video game with Hollywood-grade MotionScan technology giving action an unprecedented level of realism.
BoralPure Smog-Eating Tile – Boral Roofing tiles with a titanium-dioxide coating that can react with and neutralize nitrogen oxide particles in smog.
Solaria Photovoltaic Panels – Solar panels manufactured with 50 to 70 percent less silicon than traditional panels, dramatically reducing the cost to consumers.
Philips AmbientLED Bulb – A light bulb that uses just 12.5 watts of power and is rated to burn for 25,000 hours, proving to be the first credible replacement for the 60-watt incandescent.
Celestron SkyProdigy Automatic Telescopes – Telescopes equipped with built-in tracking cameras and a database of more than 4000 heavenly objects so that sighting stars takes less than three minutes.