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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Michael OConnor, 33

Designed an automated tractor steering system that is saving farmers bushels of money


As Michael O’Connor was completing his Stanford University PhD in aeronautics and astronautics, he realized that the Global Positioning System so central to his studies could save farmers millions. O’Connor designed a system that could guide a tractor, combine, or harvester to within three centimeters of a specified path. Upon graduating, he cofounded IntegriNautics in Menlo Park, CA, to commercialize it. The system consists of a small box installed in a tractor cab to control its steering mechanism, plus a touch screen, antenna, and GPS instrumentation. Once the farmer programs the path on the screen, the setup allows for hands-free operation that is more accurate than manual steering- and more economical, since even slight deviations can cost thousands of dollars in wasted fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides over many hectares. Although the farmer has to sit in the cab to watch for unpredictable obstacles, like animals, he can do other work while there. The system also allows operation during fog or at night. O’Connor has sold more than 400 of the $45,000 AutoFarm units. “Half the new tractors in the U.S. will have this technology within ten years,” says Stanford professor Brad Parkinson, a GPS pioneer who supervised O’Connor’s thesis.

2003 TR35 Winners

Geoffrey Barrows

Gives unmanned reconnaissance planes insect vision

Serafim Batzoglou

Devises powerful tools for assembling and analyzing genomes

Cynthia Breazeal

Constructs robots whose expressive faces convey humanlike emotions

Ian Clarke

Pioneered software that delivers Web files quickly, anonymously

Andre DeHon

Designs architectures needed to build practical molecular computers

Daniel Gottesman

Works to improve quantum computers so they can speed drug design and perform other massive computing tasks

Kathryn Guarini

Fabricates three-dimensional integrated circuits that could vastly increase computer power

Vic Gundotra

Sparked Microsofts change to .Net

Andrew Heafitz

Invented inexpensive rocket-based surveillance systems

Steven Hofmeyr

Devised software that roots out security threats to a networks operating system

Mike Horton

Engineers tiny sensors that can be spread like crumbs around a battlefield or factory

Ayanna Howard

Writes programs that more intelligently guide actions of robots

Kevin Lee

Integrates photonics and electronics on chips to speed telecommunications

Desmond Lim

Develops high-volume manufacturing lines for making optical chips into commodities

Michael OConnor

Designed an automated tractor steering system that is saving farmers bushels of money

Joe Pompei

Delivers "spotlights" of sound for use in concerts, museums, and automobiles

Jovan Popovic

Makes simpler, more powerful animation tools for novices and professionals

Thomas Reardon

Tailors Internet application to cell phones

Torsten Reil

Employs simulations of human movement to create realistically animated characters

Heike Riel

Built large, bright, organic video displays using materials dismissed by contemporaries

Maximilian Riesenhuber

Programs computers to recognize objects the way the human brain does

Linda Rottenberg

Helps entrepreneurs in emerging nations turn innovations into business

Ted Sargent

Fashions photonic circuits that could speed voice and data to homes

Tim Sibley

Serves up customized audio and video gems

Alex Vasilescu

Transforms computers ability to recognize human faaces

Lorraine Wheeler

Codes software that makes handheld computers handier

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto

Builds brain-imaging machines that are faster and cheaper than magnetic-resonance imaging equipment


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