Introduction: Best Technology Projects of 2012

About: My name is Randy and I am a Community Manager in these here parts. In a previous life I had founded and run the Instructables Design Studio (RIP) @ Autodesk's Pier 9 Technology Center. I'm also the author of t…
Before the world comes to an abrupt end, I thought it would be pertinent to look back on the last year, and highlight some of my favorite Tech Instructables. Initially, I was going to make this a top 20 list, but with over 5,600 Technology projects to choose from, had trouble narrowing it down. After much mental gymnastics, I managed to narrow it down to a respectably-sized list of 30 great projects. I present to you now - in no particular order - my list of highlights for 2012.

Randy Sarafan
Technology Editor

Step 1:

The Pandora's Box Internet Radio Player helped 'cracked the lid, - so to speak - on some of the amazing features of the Raspberry Pi. I think this simple and clever project is going to prove inspirational to many more projects to come.

Step 2:

One of the cutest projects of the year was the Animatronic Cat Ears. While they are not very technically advanced, they are probably one of the most incredibly fun projects on the site. In fact, it is their ease, accessibility, and immediate payoff that makes them a great beginner's project, and perhaps one of the best posted this year.

Step 3:

FireHero turns guitar hero into an extreme sport by visualizing the notes in giant bursts of flame. Now you can virtually rock so hard that it scares your neighbors. This project makes me take back all of the terrible things that I have said about Guitar Hero over the years.

Step 4:

The 360 Degree Analog Camera Hat shows us that not all Tech innovation needs to be "high tech." Play Editor Mikeasaurus has zip tied a bunch of disposable film camera round a plastic hat and then uses remote control servo to press down on all of the shutters at once. After the film gets developed, he stitches all of the pictures back together to create a low-tech panorama shot. I am still waiting on someone to invent the digital version!

Step 5:

Storagebot is a voice-controlled robotics part finder and winner of the ShopBot Challenge.  It makes the job of finding the right part as easy as speaking it out loud. I know there were many times that I wished that something like this existed, and dttworld did an amazing job of making this a reality.

Step 6:

The Arduino Vocal Effects Box was posted by certified "Instructables Genius" Amanda Ghassaei. While she posted many projects that pushed the boundaries of the Arduino's capability this year, I think this one particularly stood out above them all. This project demonstrates complex digital audio processing and playback using the Arduino and is sure to inspire many more projects to come.

Step 7:

The Framework for Making Affordable Stylish Modular Controllers gives an in-depth overview on making your own MIDI interface. Whereas some authors might leave this project as it is, Alex (aka fuzzy wobble) is currently working on expanding this project even further. Keep an eye out for future advancements.

Step 8:

The Gas Cap is a project that I almost overlooked when it was first published, but have since come to love. In a nutshell, it is a hat with a built-in LED fart-meter. If that were not great in its own right, what is amazing about the project is that it is entirely made by a 12 year old boy. This kid has been on a roll making Instructables that are more awesome than many things made by people twice his age. If this project is any indication of things to come, I look forward to seeing a myriad of amazing future inventions.

Step 9:

The Romance Pants were a collaboration between a number of Instructables employees (myself included) for the Redbull Challenge. When the zipper on a specially modified pair of pants is pulled down, the light dims the light and the sexy music rises. The pants are also unbuttoned with explosive candle-lit effect. If there is but one tech project this year that is going to help you dress up to get down, this is it.

Step 10:

The Pico Blimp finally fulfills the world's need for tiny blimps. This small remote controlled craft is sure to spawn a revolution in micro-aviation. After all, what rocks more than a little zeppelin? Get it…? Zeppelin…? Okay… I'll stop now.

Step 11:

Another personal favorite of mine from this year is the Edible Chocolate Brain from MRI Scan. This is an incredibly clever use of medical imaging to produce some really funny results. Having once had an MRI of my brain, I have been awfully tempted to track down the results to replicate this project. Perhaps I will in the coming year.

Step 12:

This DVD Player Hack is perhaps one of the most comprehensive electronics hacks we have ever seen on this site. Author dmitryp reverse engineered a DVD player, rewired it and re-cased it as a remote controlled alarm clock. This is an impressive feat of engineering and reuse. They have set the bar high for other projects of this type.

Step 13:

Portals: A Networked Mixed Reality Playground is ingeniously clever. This device allows for real-time interaction of real props within a networked environment. This project gives kids of all ages a magic fantasy portal in which to be imaginative interact.

Step 14:

How to Make a Long-Term Time Lapse is a last-minute addition to this list. When I saw this, I wanted to make sure it got the recognition it deserved. This is a very thorough overview of how to accomplish the difficult feat of doing long-term time lapse photography in an outdoor environment.

Step 15:

The Artificial Muscle Arm and Grip is by far one of my favorite Instructables posted this year. This projects makes DIY soft robotics seem easy, which is itself no easy feat. This project has a lot of potential for further innovation.

Step 16:

Pingbot Micro RC Rechargeable Musical Robot is the work of the ingenious self-taught roboticist Tom Flock. This robot is a well-crafted and engineered little bugger. Looking through the Instructable you can see the craftsmanship and thought that went into it, and shows that big things can be done on small scales.

Step 17:

If you were ever crazy enough to want to learn How To X-ray, then this is the Instructable for you! Here are clear and in-depth instructions for making your own X-ray pictures. However, keep in mind, this is not for the faint of heart, or anyone living within a few hundred feet of anyone else. Read the project's warning information and be safe.

Step 18:

Coffee Table Pi is another great Raspberry Pi project that shows the potential of the board to accomplish complicated tasks quite easily. This project makes creating an arcade table a remarkably easy task, which - for those with a short memory - was not the case in years prior.

Step 19:

This Long-Exposure Equatorial Mount was designed to track star movement for astrophotography. Using laser cut parts and carefully engineered mechanical ratios, it follows the night sky to take clear and crisp long-exposure pictures of the stars.

Step 20:

The Arduino-Controlled Animatronic Wooden Head Reading Lamp is honestly a project that I initially considered cutting from the list. However, every time I went to review it, I couldn't help but smile. The uniqueness and oddity of this project really won me over. Not to mention, this project is incredibly well documented and an overall amazing work of art. This year's list would not have been the same without it.

Step 21:

Beauty is often overlooked in the Tech category, and that is why I would like to give a special nod to the Crystal cMoy Free Form Headphone Amplifier. By encasing a meticulously laid out freeform circuit in a solid block of clear resin, koogar has created something that is not only functional, but also a stunning work of art. The results are absolutely beautiful and makes it stand out well above many of the other electronics projects posted this year.

Step 22:

The Slit Camera is just one in a series of amazing camera hacks posted by crazyg. Reading his various Instructables is a little bit like peering inside the window to the workshop of a mad scientist. There is a beautiful chaos that comes together in his work to produce really intriguing camera hacks.

Step 23:

The Big Ball Maze Game was another project I initially glanced over. However, I have now had a chance to see it in person and attempt it on multiple occasions. I can now revisit the project and say without the shadow of a doubt that it is awesome. I can also say that it is utterly frustrating, impossible, and "GRARRRR!!! WHY WON'T THE BALL GO THAT WAY!?!?!?"

Step 24:

Sometimes some of the best projects are so simple that they could be made quickly and with few supplies. The 5-Minute Solar Phone Charger is one such case. This fantastic little solar charger that is easy to use, cheap to make, and portable. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest.

Step 25:

These Aluminum Archangel Costume Wings are beautifully crafted and engineered. We see a lot of high-tech costumery on the site, but this is undoubtedly amongst the best. I would be remiss not to include this one on the list.

Step 26:

Tyree the Smiling Tail Wagging Robot Pal is a fantastic beginner's robot. With clear and easy instructions Mike Rigsby helps children of all ages learn about robotics in a meaningful and hands-on way. This is a great continuation of his overall body of work.

Step 27:

A number of quadcopters were posted this year, but the PCB Quadroter is the one that I felt stood out above the others. With very thorough instructions and explanations, they provided a solid guide for making your own.

Step 28:

The Dodecahedron Speaker Array is essentially a spherical speaker arrangement. This particular take on this device is unique in that it uses 3D printing fabrication techniques to make it highly modular. This makes it easy and open to build for anyone interested in doing acoustical research.

Step 29:

The Thermoelectric USB Charger presents a really interesting solution for energy generation. It uses a peltier junction to convert candle heat to electricity, and cold water to make it more efficient. This is a simple and easy solution for generating electricity off-the-grid.

Step 30:

The SITWAY is a homemade self-balancing vehicle. With this you can get around town without ever leaving your seat. This perhaps makes it one of the most important DIY innovations of the year.