From Anders Celsius’s thermometer in the 1700s to Skype in 2003, Sweden has long been a country that breeds innovation. The Global Innovation Index 2012 ranked Sweden as the most innovative country within the European Union.
New innovators are born at Swedish universities. Like here, at the AlbaNova Laser Laboratory in Stockholm. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se
Why do Swedish innovations continue to make a mark globally? It may have to do with an educational system that incubates business startups, the free-thinking democratic Swedish society that encourages research and development, the prestigious Nobel Prizes handed out every December and the challenging weather that fosters resourcefulness, sustainability and eco-friendly initiatives.
Take a look at our A to Z of Swedish innovations — many of them found around the world — that you maybe didn’t know were Swedish.
Automatic identification systems
Getting completely lost nowadays is difficult thanks to global positioning systems (GPS) which are now an essential part of our daily lives; embedded in various technologies from smartphones to in-car navigation systems. Swedish inventor Håkan Lans is credited with taking GPS technology one step further to create automatic identification systems (AIS) now widely used in the shipping industry for tracking ships and vessel traffic.
Wikipedia entry on AIS
A staple in many toolboxes, the adjustable wrench or spanner, also popularly called "Monkey wrench" or "English key," often comes in very handy during do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. While the first iteration of this spanner was originally invented in 1842 by British engineer Richard Clyburn, today's adjustable wrench, the "Swedish Key," is attributed to Johan Petter Johansson, a Swedish inventor who improved upon Clyburn's original concept and patented it in 1891.
Wikipedia entry on the adjustable spanner
A recent addition to the list of Swedish inventions is the HIV tracker: a sensitive device used for mapping out and detecting the spread of HIV and other viruses. Conceptualized by Doctor of Biotechnology Martin Hedström and his team at Lund University, the device can detect extremely low concentrations of poisons, viruses or other substances in liquids — which also makes it potentially invaluable for fighting bioterrorism.
Read more about the Swedish HIV tracker
Hövding is an "invisible" bicycle helmet for the vain. Photo: Hövding
Hövding bicycle helmet
To help combat the issue of people not using bicycle helmets, Swedish company Hövding has developed a cyclist’s equivalent of a vehicle airbag: an “invisible” helmet that inflates within 0.1 seconds and protects the head before impact. This helmet for the vain, which is worn around the neck as a collar that blends in with clothing, has sensors that detect any erratic patterns in the cyclist’s movements and deploy the airbag immediately when they sense an accident.
Read more about how Hövding works
In 1958, Rune Elmqvist developed a battery-run artificial pacemaker, which was used for the very first pacemaker operation done by surgeon Åke Senning at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm. The pacemaker is placed under the heart patient’s skin and the electrical pulses it generates ensure that muscles expand and contract normally, regulating the heart.
Wikipedia entry on Rune Elmqvist
PowerTrekk is the world's first fuel cell charger that runs on water. Photo: PowerTrekk
Futuristic-sounding PowerTrekk is a portable charger that uses eco-friendly fuel cell technology to convert hydrogen into electricity. By adding one tablespoon of water along with the fuel pack to the charger, you can connect any compatible electronic device — mobile phones, GPS, laptops, digital cameras — to the PowerTrekk to instantly charge it.
Read more about the PowerTrekk technology
Thanks to the revolutionary paper-based packaging system called Tetra Pak we can now carry our milk home from the grocery store in cartons instead of glass bottles. Conceptualized in 1946 by Erik Wallenberg and produced by Ruben Rausing, Tetra Pak’s technology is used for storing and distributing liquids, semi-liquids and dairy products.
Read more about the history of Tetra Pak
Now a standard requirement in every passenger vehicle saving around one life every six minutes, the three-point seatbelt was developed by Swedish inventor and safety engineer Nils Bohlin in 1959 for Volvo. It’s designed with a Y shape to spread out energy across a moving body during an accident.
Read more about milestones in the history of Volvo
Ultrasound / ECG
Ultrasound is so integral to healthcare today that remembering a time when it didn’t exist is difficult. Along with German researcher Carl Hellmuth Hertz, Swedish physician Inge Edler devised the modern day echocardiograms — a Doppler ultrasound of the heart — that are integral to monitoring cardiovascular health. This invention netted both Hertz and Edler a highly coveted Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 1977.
Wikipedia entry on ultrasound
The modern-day zipper as we know it was improved upon and developed by Swedish-American inventor Gideon Sundbäck from an earlier less effective model in 1913. Sundbäck’s newly redesigned version called the “separable fastener” was patented in 1917 and features interlocking teeth pulled together and apart by a slider.
Wikipedia entry on Gideon Sundbäck
Lola Akinmade Åkerström
Lola Akinmade Åkerström is a Stockholm-based freelance writer and photographer whose work regularly appears in National Geographic Traveller, BBC, Lonely Planet, and CNN among others. She is Sweden.se’s photoblogger, and wishes she’d come up with the idea of Skype first.
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