Wristbands that help babies get a better start, a porta gaming console, better football helmets and super sustainable crops.
Fat is an extremely useful quality in babies. Without it, they can rapidly lose body heat, become hypothermic and develop breathing and other problems. But in areas with few resources, where the numbers of premature or low-weight births are highest, most hospitals and clinics can’t afford incubators to keep babies warm, and most parents don’t know their babies are in danger until it’s too late. Enter the Bempu, a $28 light-up temperature-monitoring bracelet that fits on a baby’s wrist; it sounds an alarm and flashes orange if babies are too cold, so mothers can warm them against their skin or swaddle them. So far, the device has helped an estimated 10,000 newborns, mostly in India but also in 25 other countries. And earlier this year, it won a $2 million grant from Saving Lives at Birth to scale its distribution even wider. “Our goal,” says Bempu CEO Ratul Narain, “is to make a solid dent in the neonatal mortality numbers.” —Belinda Luscomb.
A Gaming Console That Lets You Play Anywhere
Nintendo Switch / $299.99
“When you have a great game, that moment of disappointment is when you have to stop playing,”says Reggie Fils-Aimé, president of Nintendo of America. And so, with the Nintendo Switch, you don’t have to. In one form, it’s a handheld tablet, allowing a single user to game on the go. In another, two controllers slide off from the sides, allowing multiple users to get in on the action. Once they get home, they can slide that tablet into a docking station and continue playing on a legitimate home console. Gamers seem to like the flexibility: Nintendo has sold 7.63 million Switches since its March debut; it’s expected to surpass the company’s previous console, the Wii U, by the end of its fiscal year. —Lisa Eadicicco
Stronger, Safer Football Helmets
For decades, football players have worn the same kind of head protection: hard, plastic helmets. About four years ago, Sam Browd, a pediatric neurosurgeon, started thinking about how to approach them differently. What if, he wondered, the outer shell were made of a flexible polymer? That way, helmets could work like car bumpers, reducing the force (and the sound) of a collision immediately on impact. He sketched a prototype on a napkin and brought it to contacts at the University of Washington; together they founded a startup, VICIS, to make it a reality. “We wanted to build the safest helmet ever made,”says Dave Marver, the company’s CEO. The result, made possible by some $40 million in investments, is the Zero1, which earned top marks in the NFL’s annual helmet testing for its ability to reduce the forces that can cause brain injury. It’s now being used by players on 18 NFL teams, including Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, and about 20 college teams. Next up: versions for younger athletes. —Jenny Vrentas
GreenWave 3D Ocean Farm
The future of farming is growing oysters, mussels, clams and seaweed on ropes anchored to the ocean floor. So says Bren Smith, a commercial fisherman turned director of GreenWave, a Connecticut nonprofit doing just that. The concept isn’t as wild as it may seem. As land farming becomes increasingly problematic—it accounts for a growing portion of the planet’s greenhouse-gas emissions—and oceans get overfished, humans will need to develop alternative food sources. GreenWave’s crops offer compelling advantages: they’re protein-rich, self-sufficient (no fertilizer needed) and they even help combat climate change (by sequestering carbon as they grow). Of course, getting Westerners to center their diet on mollusks and seaweed is a stretch. Still, GreenWave sees potential: the group has helped fishermen establish 14 farms along the coast of New England since 2013, and now has plans to expand in California, the Pacific Northwest and Europe. —Julia Zorthian