21 Most Important American Inventions of the 21st Century

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6. Capsule endoscopy

Advancements in light emitting electrodes, image sensors, and optical design in the ’90s led to the emergence of capsule endoscopy, first used in patients in 2001. The technology uses a tiny wireless camera the size of a vitamin pill that the patient swallows. As the capsule traverses the digestive system, doctors can examine the gastrointestinal system in a far less intrusive manner. Capsule endoscopy can be used to identify the source of internal bleeding, inflammations of the bowel ulcers, and cancerous tumors.

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7. Emergency braking systems

Some of the same technologies used in robotic self-driving “smart” car prototypes are rapidly appearing in today’s “dumb” cars, most notably as sensor-based crash-avoidance systems. These systems vary by car model, typically involving lane-departure and blind-spot warnings. But the most significant innovation to emerge in recent years is automatic emergency braking (or AEB), a system of on-board radar and cameras that automatically detects imminent forward crashes and applies the brakes if the driver does not respond. This technology has proved to be so effective that virtually all cars sold in the United States will have AEB by the end of 2023.

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8. E-readers

Sony was the first company to release an e-reader using a so-called microencapsulated electrophoretic display, commonly referred to as e-ink. E-ink technology, which mimics ink on paper that is easy on the eyes and consumes less power, had been around since the ’70s (and improved in the ’90s), but the innovation of e-readers had to wait until after the broader demand for e-books emerged. Sony was quickly overtaken by Amazon’s Kindle after its 2007 debut. The popularity of e-readers has declined with the emergence of tablets and smartphones, but they still command loyalty from bookworms worldwide.

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9. Gene editing

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and a separate team from Harvard and the Broad Institute independently discovered in 2012 that a bacterial immune system known as CRISPR (an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) could be used as a powerful gene-editing tool to make detailed changes to any organisms’ DNA. This discovery heralded a new era of biotechnology. The discovery has the potential to eradicate diseases – for example by altering the genes in mice and mosquitoes to combat the spread of Lyme disease and malaria – but is also raising ethical questions, especially with regards to human gene editing such as for reproductive purposes.

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10. High-density battery packs

Tesla electric cars have received so much attention largely because of its batteries. The batteries, located underneath the passenger cabin, consist of thousands of high-density lithium ion cells, each barely larger than a standard AA battery, nestled into a large, heavy battery pack that also offers Tesla electric cars a road-gripping low center of gravity and structural support. The brainchild of Tesla co-founder J.B. Straubel, these battery modules pack more of a punch than standard (and cheaper) electric car batteries. These packs are also being used in residential, commercial, and grid-scale energy storage devices.