Storing video and other files more intelligently reduces the demand on servers in a data center.
By David Talbot
Storing video and other files more intelligently reduces the demand on servers in a data center.
Why: Has created a cellular network that can cope with our growing appetite for mobile data.
Key innovation: Its LightRadio architecture uses many small, efficient, and easily upgraded base stations in place of the larger, less efficient cell towers of today.
Why: Its high-efficiency gallium arsenide–based solar cells provide a way to lower the cost of solar power.
Key innovation: Can economically produce robust cells that use only small amounts of the expensive semiconductor.
Why: The Siri virtual assistant built into the iPhone 4S demonstrates a new kind of conversational voice-operated interface.
Key innovation: Software that can interpret ambiguous sentences allows Siri to understand even casual commands.
Why: A key supplier of equipment for making solar cells, it is helping to lower the cost of solar power.
Key innovation: A new manufacturing system allows solar producers to increase the output and efficiency of their cells.
Why: By reducing the electricity demands of data centers, ARM is making cloud computing cheaper.
Key innovation: Its powerful server processors use an architecture originally developed for energy-conscious mobile devices.
Why: Its systems help doctors and patients with the morass of medical records and billing paperwork.
Key innovation: Developed cloud-based software for electronic health records and practice management.
Why: The company is developing cheaper nuclear reactors.
Key innovation: A simplified modular reactor design decreases size and cost.
Why: Its new infrastructure extends the effective range of electric vehicles.
Key innovation: Has designed and installed battery swap stations, a charging network, and a central control station to manage a fleet of electric cars in Israel.
Why: It mines social-media sites to gauge the audience response to television shows and advertising.
Key innovation: Natural-language analysis of comments on social-media sites provides fine-grained information about audience size and sentiment.
Why: Using human iPS cells in drug screening could accelerate the development of new therapies.
Key innovation: Its new product derived from iPS cells is meant for use in vascular targeted drug discovery, tissue regeneration, and life science research.
Why: New sequencing projects that the company announced in 2011 include one aimed at predicting preterm births and another that will sequence cancer genomes.
Key innovation: A computational platform allows it to assemble DNA sequences into genomes more accurately.
Why: Speeding up production of digitally animated movies will also benefit gaming and augmented reality.
Key innovation: Software that can take maximum advantage of a multicore processor allows animators to create scenes in minutes instead of hours.
Why: Its technology makes it easier for users to sync and share files on smart phones, laptops, and desktops.
Key innovation: Cloud-based systems are the basis for a consumer-focused service that works across multiple platforms.
Why: Using lightweight parts will decrease the fuel consumption of the company’s aircraft and make its satellites cheaper to launch.
Key innovation: Redesigning select parts to take advantage of the capabilities of 3-D printers has cut their weight in half.
Why: The social network has become the means by which many online users communicate, get news, and find entertainment.
Key innovation: New features automatically integrate casual online activity, such as listening to music or reading newspaper articles, into the social sphere.
Why: It is reducing the cost of utility-scale photovoltaic installations.
Key innovation: First Solar constrains costs with vertical integration of everything from plant construction to the manufacture of high-efficiency cadmium telluride cells.
Why: Its new diagnostics exploit a growing understanding of the molecular basis of cancer.
Key innovation: It has developed a comprehensive cancer diagnostic test and is partnering with pharmaceutical companies to use the test in drug development.
Why: By building flexible and efficient natural-gas power plants, GE is making it easier for utilities to use intermittent sources of renewable energy.
Key innovation: Gas turbines based on jet engines allow power plants to quickly increase or decrease their electricity generation to compensate for variations in wind or solar power.
Why: It is optimizing wind farms for conditions in China.
Key innovation: Wind turbines are specially adapted for the high altitudes and low wind speeds that characterize Chinese wind resources.
Why: Despite its lukewarm performance in social media, Google’s willingness to move into new areas shows it can still be an agenda-setter.
Key innovation: The introduction of Android 4.0 (also known as “Ice Cream Sandwich”), with its crowd-pleasing interface, confirms the company’s position as a major force in mobile computing.
Why: It is using telemedicine techniques to deliver health care to rural India.
Key innovation: Its network of eight centers brings advanced telemedicine systems to patients.
Pushing the physical boundaries of computing with technologies inclusing circuits that transmit data with light.
Why: Its flexible artificial-intelligence systems have the potential to assist people in many areas, such as health care.
Key innovation: Watson, which demonstrated its capability by beating skilled human quiz-show players, learned by automatically digesting text from books and websites, an ability that could be adapted to any area of knowledge.
Why: By reducing the cost of diagnostic tests, it has allowed the monitoring of more disease markers.
Key innovation: Its synthetic antibodies replace more expensive antibodies widely used in diagnostics.
Why: Has reinvented transistor architecture as it continues to shrink the size of devices on a chip.
Key innovation: Its 3-D transistors will be used in a new generation of 22-nanometer chips.
Why: Makes fuel and chemicals from the carbon monoxide produced by processes such as steelmaking.
Key innovation: Genetically engineered organisms turn the gas into ethanol and other useful chemicals.
Why: Lowering the cost of DNA sequencing opens the door to more genetically targeted treatments and diagnostics.
Key innovation: Its benchtop sequencer can sequence a human genome in one day, at a cost of just $1,000 per genome.
Why: By using virtual computer networks rather than hardwired systems to connect cloud servers, it could make the cloud more secure and reliable.
Key innovation: Its software takes over the functions of network hardware, resulting in a distributed system of components that can swiftly respond to changes in workload.
Why: Allows users to access applications too powerful for their hardware to support.
Key innovation: Its video streaming technology minimizes lag so that applications running on a server appear to be running locally.
Why: Its three-dimensional artificial tissue structures can be used for drug testing and are likely to find therapeutic applications.
Key innovation: A printing process methodically deposits layers of cells and gel material to build up new tissues.
Why: Its software can extract common threads from mountains of data, potentially yielding leads for intelligence agencies and police forces.
Key innovation: The software, which can begin analyzing a new data set without extensive preparation, can handle many different types of input, including data from military operations and financial transactions.
Why: Online social connections and shared data offer a new way to improve the understanding and treatment of disease.
Key innovation: Published a peer-reviewed study, based on data volunteered by site users, that countered the results of a clinical trial assessing the effects of lithium on ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Why: The Mirasol display for mobile devices provides full color even in bright sunlight and uses a fraction as much power as today’s phone and tablet displays.
Key innovation: Technology modeled on a butterfly’s wing creates a bright image by reflecting and amplifying particular wavelengths of ambient light.
Why: Its new drugs target genetic mutations in cancer cells.
Key innovation: Developed a lung-cancer drug and a diagnostic test for the mutation that makes some cancers susceptible to the drug.
Why: Has deployed mobile health services over Kenya’s cellular network.
Key innovation: Through cell phones, the company offers services such as first-aid recommendations for subscribers.
Why: Its high-energy batteries, which will first appear in consumer devices, could make electric cars cheaper and improve their range.
Key innovation: Making batteries without the flammable liquid found in conventional electric-car batteries means they can store more energy.
Why: Samsung is an increasingly major player in consumer electronics, from iPhone components to new phones, tablets, and OLED TVs; it was the world’s top seller of smart phones in 2011.
Key innovation: Tightly integrated design and manufacturing processes result in clever, efficiently produced designs.
Why: It has learned to exploit oil resources that were previously impractical to tap.
Key innovation: Has drilled and started production at the world’s deepest offshore well.
Why: Its cheaper turbines and installation techniques will make offshore wind plants more affordable.
Key innovation: Gearless turbines and streamlined manufacturing lower capital costs and improve reliability.
Why: Its catalytic process is able to convert cheap and abundant natural gas into ethylene, a commodity chemical used to make plastic.
Key innovation: Developed a family of catalysts that selectively cause methane to react to form ethylene.
Why: Managing natural resources, planning humanitarian missions, and assessing construction projects could all become easier thanks to Skybox’s satellites, which will take more frequent images at lower cost.
Key innovation: Its small satellites cost less to build and launch than traditional ones, and its automated analytic software makes it easier for customers to extract useful information.
Why: Its spacecraft and rockets could replace expensive government vehicles as a way into orbit.
Key innovation: The reusable Dragon cargo capsule is set to become the first private spacecraft to visit the International Space Station.
Launching the private space-flight business. Its rockets are making new space-based businesses possible.
Why: Its digital music subscription service has succeeded where others have failed or had only lackluster results.
Key innovation: Spotify has negotiated with record labels to allow users access to a large library of music one track at a time; they can even download music for offline use.
Streamlining transactions. A Square mobile app lets you pay for things just by speaking your anme to a store clerk.
Why: Small businesses benefit from its simple mobile payment system.
Key innovation: Square has moved beyond its initial credit card reader for smart phones; a new app lets you automatically open a tab with a merchant on entering a store.
Why: Has developed a low-cost way of making better silicon solar cells.
Key innovation: Its new panels are more efficient because they reflect less light and use thinner electrodes that block less light.
Why: Its processors combine the flexibility of software with the efficiency of hardware.
Key innovation: Chip designs that can reconfigure themselves faster than existing reprogrammable designs make smaller, cheaper chips possible.
Why: A manufacturing process specifically designed for smart-phone and tablet processors will produce chips that increase computing performance without guzzling power.
Key innovation: Its new materials avoid the leakage of current that saps the energy efficiency of other high-performance processors with very small features.
Why: Microblogging has become a ubiquitous adjunct to major events, from earthquakes to revolutions.
Key innovation: A redesigned mobile application encourages users to discover content relevant to them while remaining within the ambit of Twitter rather than turning to third-party systems.
Why: Has used high-speed methods to find materials that improve the performance of batteries.
Key innovation: Identified a pair of materials that could increase energy density by 25 percent in batteries for cars and portable electronics.
Why: WiTricity is making it more convenient to charge electric cars.
Key innovation: Its system can recharge a battery pack wirelessly.
Why: Social gaming has dramatically expanded the demographic appeal of computer games and created new business models for game companies.
Key innovation: Zynga has mastered the art of giving away games and then persuading players to make in-game purchases of virtual goods, sometimes adding up to many times the typical purchase price of a game.
What is a disruptive company? It is a business whose innovations force other businesses to alter their strategic course. The list is compiled by MIT Technology Review’s editors, who look for companies that over the previous year have demonstrated original and valuable technology, are bringing that technology to market at a significant scale, and are clearly influencing their competitors.
As a group, the companies on this list represent our best judgment of the commercial innovations most likely to change lives around the world. Do you agree with us? Which companies that didn’t make it onto the list should have, and which do you think didn’t deserve a place? Let us know.