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Why: It efficiently produces
solar thermal power, which
focuses sunlight to heat water
Key innovation: A boiler is
heated directly with sunlight that
bounces off mirrors.
Why: Reducing the cost of construct-
ing solar thermal plants will make
them more competitive with fossil-
Key innovation: Software controls
the mirrors that focus rays from the
sun, eliminating the need to position
them by hand.
Why: Biofuels could be far cheaper
if they weren’t made from corn, sug-
arcane, and other forms of biomass.
Key innovation: Designed
microbes that convert carbon diox-
ide and water directly into fuels.
Why: Computer intelligence
in the electric grid will make
energy distribution more effi-
Key innovation: Developed
hardware and software that
standardize the way disparate
parts of the grid communicate.
Why: Genetically engineered
microbes are a promising way to
Key innovation: Created synthetic
bacterial cells, possibly paving the
way for organisms specifically tai-
lored to make fuels.
of the big four U.S . broadcast TV networks, has some advantages,
including the ability to let people stream shows even before their
season is over. But it also has stopped offering everything for free
and tried to sell a subscription package. Meanwhile, Netflix has
cleverly woven streaming TV shows and movies into its existing
DVD subscription services.
Other companies are joining the TR50 because their technolo-
gies are opening new markets. As gene-sequencing technology
evolves, for example, the price of analyzing DNA is plummeting,
and several companies have machines for sale. Last year Life Tech-
nologies bought Ion Torrent, whose founder, Jonathan Rothberg
(see Q&A, p. 24), has chosen to make a sequencing machine that
is much cheaper—albeit less powerful for now—than his com-
petitors’, which are sold mostly to research labs. Rothberg wants
to create a market for gene testing in doctors’ offices and other
clinical settings. By quickly analyzing certain segments of a cancer
patient’s DNA, for instance, a doctor could better assess potential
treatments. Another physician could get fast insights by putting a
sample of blood through a machine offered by Claros Diagnostics,
another addition to the TR50. With Claros’s microfluidic technol-
ogy, a liquid is pushed through tiny channels on a chip that can
analyze such anomalies as the elevated protein levels that can be
a sign of prostate cancer.
Selecting the TR50 isn’ t simple, but some companies are
easy picks because their technologies jump out as fresh ways of
doing things. Lyric Semiconductor has redesigned the micropro-
cessor so computers can better deal with probabilities; such an
approach could make fraud detection faster and recommendation
software smarter. Or check out the “augmented reality” software
from a Dutch company called Layar: it fills the screens of mobile
phones with information about the user’s real-world surroundings.
PrimeSense, based in Israel, developed technology that lets people
play video games without a controller. It uses an infrared projector
and camera and a special chip to detect movement in three dimen-
sions, so players can manipulate the on-screen action with gestures
and body movements. It’s available in Microsoft’s Kinect unit for
the Xbox 360, but PrimeSense’s technology could also be used to
control TVs and computers. That makes it a breakthrough with
wide potential applications—a great definition of innovation.
BR IAN BE RGSTE IN IS DEPuTy E DIToR oF Technology Review.
Why: Embryonic stem cells
provide a potential source of
replacement tissue for use in
treating an array of degenera-
tive diseases and injuries.
Key innovation: Has begun
clinical trials for a spinal-cord
therapy derived from these
Why: Quick, cheap DNA
sequencing will lead to new
diagnostic tests and targeted
Key innovation: Its desktop
costs $50,000, about a 10th as
much as other machines.
Why: understanding molecular
pathways of rare diseases can
shed light on common ones.
Key innovation: Introduced the
first medication for patients with
benign brain tumors associated
with a particular genetic disor-
der; now the drug is approved
for treatment of kidney cancer
and is in testing for other types.
Why: DNA sequencing provides a
way to detect microbes in the envi-
ronment and monitor the spread of
viruses in our bodies.
Key innovation: Its sequencing
machine can read single strands of
DNA in real time.
Why: Drugs that target genetic
mutations unique to cancer cells
may be more effective than
ones that act more broadly.
Key innovation: A new drug
blocks the effects of a muta-
tion thought to be present in as
many as 8 percent of all cancers.
Visit www.technologyreview.com/tr50 to see continually updated
profiles of the TR50 companies. Each profile explains a company’s
technology, markets, and strategy in detail. For public companies,
we display financial information and market performance. For private
companies, we show the latest information on management, invest-
ments, and recent deals.
oN THe Web
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