The 6 best American-made consumer technologies today

Times are tough in America. The stock market is down, unemployment is high and, oh yeah, there's that disastrous oil spill in the Gulf. It's a good time to remember that a lot of the best technology in the world is created right here in the U.S.

Our criteria for this list was to find technologies that affect consumers directly (space probes are cool, but not often relevant to day-to-day life), are in an industry that's highly competitive, and represent either truly groundbreaking tech or are the absolute best in class of their categories.

Disagree? Did we leave something out? Let us know in the comments.





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1. Chevy Volt
Finally, a mass-produced electric car is about to hit showrooms. The first Chevy Volt will be available to consumers this November, and it's time for us to celebrate, because those vehicles are built right here in the good old US of A. This plug-in hybrid's 40-mile range on a charge might not seem like much, but that's more miles than that average commute of 75% of the American public.

Want to drive farther than that? When its lithium-ion batteries are depleted, that's when the Volt's small gasoline engine kicks in, running a generator that keeps the electricity humming. The result? A 300-mile range, giving this electric car unique road-trip capability. It's not going to be cheap, but with federal subsidies kicking in for electric vehicles, you might be able to get away with spending around $33,000 for one. Sign us up.




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2. Red One digital cinema camera
Until the $17,000 Red One digital cinema camera became available, filmmakers needed to spend many times more than that to create the high-quality video necessary for big-screen exhibition. Oakley founder Jim Jannard's idea was to take a high-resolution imaging chip similar to those found in digital SLRs, and put it into a camcorder that can shoot video at 4,520 x 2,540 pixels, a resolution much higher than today's HDTVs.

The trickiest part was to be able to do that for a price affordable to independent filmmakers. Not only has Jannard accomplished that, but he's created a whole system surrounding his Red One camera, compressing video and making it more practical for everyone to shoot in ultra-high resolution.




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3. iPhone 4
Plenty of cellphones are packing terrific tech, but the iPhone 4 beats all. Although it isn't built in the U.S., its design and software are all homegrown. The beauty of the iPhone 4 is not only in its lustworthy industrial design. Its major strength is the way its software is designed to seamlessly interface with its hardware. There's good reason why people wait in long lines to have and to hold this jewel-like trinket. While it's not perfect, suffering from reception problems for those who hold it in a certain way, its screen is by far the best we've ever seen on any cellphone. Now its FaceTime videoconferencing software raises the bar even higher, bringing a novel way of communicating to the mainstream.

Most importantly, the iPhone's high quality and usability stimulates all the other smartphone manufacturers to try to beat it. While it certainly locks you into Apple's ecosystem, no other phone does a more complete job of convincing you that all your needs have been met.




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4. Google cloud computing
Leave it to Google to take us to the next level of computing. We've seen the tantalizing beginnings of the capabilities of cloud computing with Gmail and all of its associated Google Apps. Soon the company will be taking us even further with Chrome OS, letting us access all our data and applications from anywhere, using a variety of devices. No longer will we be required to lug around all of our personal data. While Apple lags behind with its copycat service it's calling MobileMe, Google leads the way, telling us that you don't have to have your head in the clouds to compute there.




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5. Intel i7 processor
Congratulations, Intel. Your latest and fastest Core i7 processor, otherwise known as Gulftown, is so powerful that a lot of computing tasks that used to take hours now require mere seconds. These 64-bit chips make everything you can do on a computer go faster, especially when you're dealing with compute-intensive operations such as editing high-definition videos, launching large databases or making your own DVDs.

Now the best processor manufacturer in the world has packed together the components on its most complex chip to the tiniest scale yet, to an astonishing 32 nanometers. That makes the processor run faster and use less power at the same time. There's good reason why Intel chips occupy most of the world's Macs and PCs. We defy any other country on the planet to beat that.




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6. Boeing 787 Dreamliner
So what if half of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner's primary structure is made out of lightweight plastic (okay, "composite materials")? Boeing's currently test flying the most efficient airliner ever built. Besides all that super-high technology built into its airframe, we passengers will see major differences inside the cabin. Its more airtight carbon-fiber construction means pressure inside the cabin will be more consistent, alleviating that uncomfortable ear-popping. And we'll be looking out the largest windows on any airliner flying today, which will be also placed at a higher level so you'll be able to see the horizon without craning your neck down into your lap. Those niceties ought to make you slightly more comfortable while the airlines continue cramming you into a seat that's less than 18 inches wide.