Inventions of the 21st century (not through computers or the internet)
August 7, 2019 10:45 AM   Subscribe

A conversation prompted me to try to figure out what has been invented in the 21st century that isn't computer or internet based, couldn't think of many, and I'm curious to figure out some more examples.

This came out of a conversation were we realized that most inventions and products that have become available* only in the 21st century (and the lives of our teenage relatives) have been largely of a result of improvements broadly based on computers (e.g. smart phones, drones, digital storage improvements of capacity, speed, and size, video quality, facial recognition, VR) or the internet (purchasing and consuming media digitally, online social networks, wikipedia).

I'm primarily looking for things that consumers (let's say who have median income in their living place)* would be able to purchase or use:

Great examples that would fit the criteria that we thought of were sugru, magic erasers (Melamine foam), and dri-fit fabrics; and perhaps toilets and shower heads with remarkably lower water usage, and CFL light bulbs.

I'm sure there are others but I'm drawing a blank, so I ask you.

I'm particularly looking for new items but drastic improvements to existing things are ok.
posted by fizzix to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Meat substitutes like the Impossible and Beyond burger
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:58 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hi-tech swimwear.
posted by Melismata at 11:00 AM on August 7, 2019

You mentioned CFLs, but screw-in LED light bulbs?
posted by jquinby at 11:00 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

consumer quadcopter drones?
posted by Chrischris at 11:00 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

New drugs and vaccines.
posted by exogenous at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

High-brightness LEDs in a range of colours.
Fidget spinners.
High-powered cordless power tools with lithium-ion batteries.
Affordable rooftop solar electricity.
Affordable heat-pump hot water services.
High-performance electric vehicles.
posted by flabdablet at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I hate to say it but... vapes.

Also, while Segways were never really priced for median income household use, a whole bunch of its self-balancing descendants (e.g.: the notorious "hoverboards") were.
posted by mhum at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2019

CFL was invented in the late 20th century, but LED light bulbs didn't become practical until the 21st.

It is true that most inventions have tended to be computer driven, I'd argue because we're picking up some low hanging fruit of stuff that's been conceivable for a while but we didn't have the processing power or connectivity to do until recently.

Medically we've been doing some interesting things. Face transplants for example went from pipe dream to workable. We've improved hormonal birth control significantly and introduced birth control in patch form which is a pretty nice improvement. CRISPR gene editing was invented in the 21st century.

We've significantly improved batteries, admittedly largely because of the desire for mobile computing, but as Tesla demonstrated there's a lot of useful non-computing benefits to better batteries.

We've also seen serious advances in Earth to orbit reusable launch vehicles.
posted by sotonohito at 11:02 AM on August 7, 2019

For a specific example of medications, lenalidomide, a derivative of thalidomide, was approved by the FDA in 2005. Before this, the expected life span for people diagnosed with multiple myeloma was about two years. My mother was diagnosed with this cancer in 1995 and lived for eleven months. I was diagnosed in 2016 and told to expect ten years. Many people live longer. It was absolutely a game changer for multiple myeloma patients who have insurance that will pay for it (it costs $28,000 a month).

Also, the first cultured meat burger patty was made in 2013. This is meat from the cultivation of cells. It's currently way too expensive for people to start using it, but if they get the price down and it takes off, the possible environmental benefits are huge.
posted by FencingGal at 11:13 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

The lifestraw was invented in 2005.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:16 AM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Bluetooth was invented in the late nineties but wasn't really usable until refinements to the protocol in 2002 - computer-adjacent, but certainly has applications beyond computers.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:21 AM on August 7, 2019

Although they had been predicted, the first process for fabricating stable carbon nanotube transistors was announced in 2003.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:26 AM on August 7, 2019

Some consumer products:
posted by seesom at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2019

Reasonably practical light electric aircraft are working their way through the FAA certification process right now. Cape Air just signed a deal with Eviation for short hop passenger aircraft. There's enough going on in this space that it seems likely that some company or other will make it to certification.

Bevacizumab and the various PARP inhibitors are 21st century cancer maintenance drugs and will hopefully be keeping my spouse healthy for some time to come. She's already benefited from Aloxi, a 21st century anti-nausea med that actually works for chemo patients.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 11:54 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Power wheelchairs light enough to fold and put in the trunk of a car — thanks to better battery tech. (Portable scooters — steered like a bicycle — were available in the 20th, but require disassembly to transport.)
posted by Jesse the K at 12:10 PM on August 7, 2019

Backup cameras for cars and Gopro cameras. They involve electronics but calling them computer-related feels like a stretch to me.

Was silicone bakeware or other kitchen items a thing before 2000?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:10 PM on August 7, 2019

Silicone bakeware has been available since the 1980's, though it didn't really get popular until the late 1990's and early 2000's. So not a 21st century invention.
posted by sotonohito at 12:15 PM on August 7, 2019

Erm, Kikka Digga garden digging tool (shamelss promotion, the inventor spoke at Kingston Invents where around 1/2 ideas are not computer / internet based...)
posted by Dub at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2019

Collision avoidance systems (aka "advanced emergency braking) have become available in some pretty common cars, including the Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Rav4, and VW Golf.
posted by mhum at 12:42 PM on August 7, 2019

Narcan - obviously Naloxone has been around for a while but the FDA only approved the nasal delivery within the last few years.

Home sous-vide machines are probably a better fit for what you were asking about.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:07 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mass market 3D-printing. Maybe towards the high-side, costwise, but I saw them for sale on pallets at Sam's Club a few years ago around Christmas time.

They're computers, but I'd put the Arduino and Raspberry Pi in there, too as part of the explosion in gadget-hacking and homebrew IoT.

Portable NiMH rechargeable batteries really took off around 2006-2008.
posted by jquinby at 1:18 PM on August 7, 2019

Fidget spinners were invented in 1993 but not widely marketed until ~2017.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:28 PM on August 7, 2019

Those "Boogie Board" e-paper tablets (no power or active electronics).

3D pens like the 3Doodler.

The "hoverboard" craze started in 2013.

Air fryers were invented in 2005.

EnChroma lenses for color blindness

The weighted therapy blanket was technically invented in 1999, but really took off among the general population in the last few years.

Maybe some Dyson products, like that bladeless fan?
posted by Rhaomi at 2:25 PM on August 7, 2019

Autonomous Vehicles.. Well... need a reading comprehension invention..,
posted by sammyo at 3:40 PM on August 7, 2019

Perhaps not exactly what you're looking for but St-Germain, the elderflower liqueur, was invented in... 2007. Of course, it was inspired by pre-existing elderflower liqueurs (usually house-made) that its inventor saw in Europe. But really elderflower liqueur was not really a thing -- never mind a mass-market thing -- in the US until St-Germain came along.
posted by mhum at 3:50 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is one of the main reasons I love watching Shark Tank - it highlights new inventions that regular people have created. Some of them are really clever. You should watch an episode if you never have.
posted by tacodave at 4:33 PM on August 7, 2019

posted by SisterHavana at 4:41 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Boeing's 787 is the first airliner primarily made from composite materials (ie carbon fibre). This makes the plane lighter, so better for fuel efficiency, and also lets them keep the cabin at a higher air pressure and more humid than other planes, which supposedly makes for a more comfortable flight. Its windows are larger too.

How about battery-assisted bicycles? I can't imagine those being practical until more modern rechargeable batteries came out.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:24 PM on August 7, 2019

How about battery-assisted bicycles?

According to Wikipedia, battery-assisted bicycles have existed for practically as long as bicycles have. However, it suggests the 1990s as a turning point for e-bikes with the availability of NiCd batteries. So, probably the big advancement wasn't 21st century batteries but rather late-20th century battery technology.
posted by mhum at 5:39 PM on August 7, 2019

The US Patent and Trademark Office publishes the Official Gazette for Patents every Tuesday. Each entry in the Gazette is a 21st Century invention. They can be browsed by category to some extent. Have fun!
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:26 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

One that will be neat when it arrives to medium level consumers is Magnetic Field Refrigeration. It's an old theory from early 1900s physics stuff, but around 2000 started being used in specialized applications and 2013 saw the first commercial product (food industry scale).

It freezes things in a way that minimizes large ice crystal formation which minimizes the physical damage to the frozen item. Think of freezing those strawberries or that steak and having it not be "obviously frozen" when unfrozen.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:57 AM on August 8, 2019

According to Wikipeida, it looks like freeline skates (sometimes called "free skates") were invented in 2003. They're these things that are kind of a cross between skateboards and rollerblades and you (or, well, some people) can do different kinds of neat tricks with them.
posted by mhum at 1:38 PM on August 8, 2019

The Olds Elevator, an improvement on both the grain elevator and the Archimedes Screw, was invented in 2006.

Edit: Also cricket flour.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 9:53 PM on August 8, 2019

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