Popular Mechanics is handing out its Breakthrough Awards today. The magazine's annual tip of the hat to innovation typically carries few implications for mainstream investors. Many of this year's batch of winners, like hand-powered generators or a toilet that reuses sink water, are neat for water-cooler chatter -- but little else.
However, a few of the 10 winners are the handiwork of public companies:
Intel's Atom microprocessor is powering many of the super-tiny netbooks on the market. The computer-chip giant has a winner here, given the Atom's thrifty energy consumption. As battery life becomes a major selling point for new portable computing devices, Atom is so there. Now let's see Atom succeed in the smartphone market.
Amazon's Kindle e-book reader is changing the way book lovers peruse the written word. Sony
EA needed a hit, and it landed a cerebral one with this summer's release of Spore. Will Wright's civilization simulator may not be this year's biggest video game hit, and its debut was definitely bumpy. Still, it's the "birth" of another great franchise for the world's second-largest video game maker.
Sears probably hasn't made the innovator cut since it began canvassing the country with its mail-order catalogs several generations ago, but its popular Craftsman hardware line has a workbench hit with the Nextec Multi-Saw, which serves as both a jigsaw and a reciprocating saw.
Believe it or not, the world's largest software company does earn cool points now and then. Its Photosynth Web-based application can take a series of related digital snapshots and arrange the overlaps to create a larger 3D model. Even if the technology's a couple of years old, Mr. Softy has just recently begun to take the wraps off it.
Well played, innovators. Keep dreaming stuff into reality. Hopefully, a handful of your brainstorms will eventually change the market.
Further inventive Foolishness:
Sears Holdings, Microsoft, and Intel are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Electronic Arts and Amazon.com are Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders how many more generations will pass Sears makes this list again. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy.