On October 30, just five days before the presidential election, Barack Obama did something that snapped my head back: He devoted a solid chunk of an interview on an evening news show to detailing his plans, if elected, to overhaul the nation's electrical grid.
True, a plug-in would make sense for a majority of commuters, but there are definitely hurdles to overcome. The current electric infrastructure couldn't handle pumping electricity to millions of cars. Replacing today's gas-distribution process with electric charging stations will not be quick, easy or cheap.
To create this image, which won the popular vote in the 2008 Nikon Small World contest, 22-year-old Tomás Pais de Azevedo, a graduate student in evolutionary and developmental biology at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, removed an eight-day-old, two-inch-long chicken embryo from its egg and stained it with a dye that binds to cartilage.
At the end of this tunnel, which snakes as deep as 820 feet below the Hungarian countryside, lies a new long-term nuclear-waste facility, set to open in 2010. Located on the outskirts of the village of Bátaapáti, it will store more than 10.5 million gallons of lowand intermediate-level waste produced at the Paks nuclear power plant, which is 40 miles away.
TECH THAT PUTS THE FUTURE IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND
A NEW CASTING TECHNIQUE PRODUCES A STRONGER, LIGHTER MOTORCYCLE
Buell did not break the mold when it made the 1125CR racing bike. Instead, it washed the mold away—to create a sturdier body. The frames of other motorcycles are formed by pouring molten metal into a mold of sand and clay. Buell engineers instead developed a water-soluble bonding agent to use in place of clay.
Track your daily calorie burn without expending extra energy. Fitbit's pedometer automatically uploads step counts to your computer whenever you walk by its Bluetooth-enabled base station. Fitbit Tracker $100; fitbit.com Back up your files just by plugging one end of this cable into your PC and the other into any USB hard drive.
A REDESIGNED MOTOR GIVES THIS DRILL A SERIOUS BOOST IN JUICE
IN RELATED NEWS: COOL CORDLESS TOOLS
RYOBI HYBRID SAW
RYOBI HYBRID SAW Like the love child of a recip and a jigsaw, this tool pumps standard jig blades at 1,850 strokes per minute, perfect for cutting holes in drywall. It's part of an inexpensive set that includes an impact driver, compact drill, circular saw and work light. $150 (set); ryobitools.com
BOSCH MULTI-X This device can oscillate different attachments at up to 20,000 times a minute. Use tiny triangular sanding pads for nooks and crannies or a miniature saw blade that will cut in places you could never cram a hacksaw. $200; boschtools.com
For guys on a job site drilling hundreds of holes a day, power matters—it lets them work faster and blow through knots, nails and other obstructions. That’s why corded tools, with their bigger, stronger motors, still reign for contractors, and why DeWalt challenged its engineers to deliver even more oomph.
THIS NEW DESIGN BORROWS FROM BOTH PRO CAMERAS AND POCKET MODELS
The big news in cameras is actually pretty small. A new format with the wonky name "micro four thirds" [referring to the image sensor's size and 4:3 aspect ratio], combines the interchangeable lenses of an SLR with the compact body of a point-and-shoot.
Look through the 2009 Carrera S's familiar skin, and you'll find the biggest redesign in years. The change starts with a dual-clutch transmission, taken straight from Porsche's racecars, that shifts gears in milliseconds. It’s bolted to a redesigned six-cylinder engine that uses direct fuel injection (a first for Porsche) to churn out higher horsepower while actually getting more miles per gallon.
TOUCHSCREENS MAKE DIGITAL BOOKS MORE LIKE THE REAL THING
GOOD SONY PRS-700 READER DIGITAL BOOK
BETTER IREX DIGITAL READER 1000S
BEST PLASTIC LOGIC READER
SONY PRS-700 READER DIGITAL BOOK
Weighing just 10 ounces, Sony's new reader is about the same size as earlier versions. But its 4.8-by-3.6-inch screen packs resistive sensors that respond to pressure from your finger or a stylus. Swipe the screen to turn a page, or drag across a word to highlight and copy it. You can't write freehand, but you can make notes by tapping on a keyboard that pops up onscreen. $400; sony.com SCREEN SIZE: PAPERBACK
IREX DIGITAL READER 1000S
Write or draw directly on a 6.3-by-8-inch display. Like iRex's smaller models (previously the only digital books with touchscreens), the 1000S uses a sensor board, placed under the screen, that reacts to a magnetic signal from an electronic pen. (It's the same Wacom tech that digital artists use.) Navigate pages with touch-sensitive panels on the unit's side. $750; irextechnologies.com SCREEN SIZE: HARDCOVER
PLASTIC LOGIC READER
This spring, Plastic Logic will debut the thinnest e-reader yet—just over a quarter of an inch—with a screen the same size as an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper. Its E-Ink display sits on a plastic base instead of glass, making it slimmer, lighter and more durable; even the transistors are plastic. The touchscreen relies on iPhone-style capacitance sensors, which react to the electrical conductivity of your fingertips. Price not set; plasticlogic.com SCREEN SIZE: OFFICE PAPER
The latest electronic readers let you scrawl in the margins or swipe your finger to turn a page, just as with a traditional paper book. Their new realism comes from touchscreens of various kinds, which replace computer-like buttons. And with E-Ink displays that look like pigment on paper, these gizmos could convert even die-hard bookworms.
THE "GOOGLE PHONE" IS HERE. NOW PROGRAMMERS CAN MAKE IT INTERESTING
WHAT IT IS
WHY IT'S RADICAL
GET IT: T-Mobile G1 $180 with two-year contract (from $65/ month); tmobile.com
Android, Google's cellphone operating system. When we curse at our phones, the culprit is usually the impenetrable software that requires five button presses just to save a number to its address book. But what if you could replace the address book with a better version—or with something completely different, like a program that links to your Facebook friends list instead?
IS GLOBAL WARMING SHIFTING INTO HIGH GEAR? A FEDERAL PROJECT AIMS TO FIND OUT
To predict the unpredictable: That's the goal of a new government initiative on abrupt climate change. As the atmosphere reels under the influence of greenhouse gases, scientists fear the growing risk of dramatic environmental changes occurring within decades—far faster than current computer models predict.
A NEW SYSTEM SCANS CROWDS FOR THE BIOLOGICAL CUES THAT PRECIPITATE CRIME
FAST HAS YOU COVERED
As you make your way through the security checkpoint of the 2020 Los Angeles Auto Show, visions of hydrogen sports cars occupy your mind. Not so for the well-dressed 25-year-old behind you. He plan to set off a bomb. But minute irregularities in his body temperature, heart rate and sweat content betray his nefarious intentions and trigger alarms, alerting security before he even enters the building.
WHY DOT-COM BILLIONAIRE ELON MUSK IS BANKING ON AMERICAN-MADE ELECTRIC CARS
Q: Why not go hybrid?
Q: How will drivers recharge the battery pack in the Model S?
Q: Tesla has delivered only 50 Roadsters. How do you plan to get 15,000 Model S cars out annually?
Q: You run a green company. Would you say you live a green lifestyle?
If there's a gene for entrepreneurship, Elon Musk has it. From his first project at age 12 creating and selling a videogame called Blaster for $500, to his $1-billion-plus sale of PayPal to eBay in 2002, the 37-year-old South African is every bit the born mogul.
A SMARTER WAY TO PULL PRECIOUS METALS FROM TRASHED ELECTRONICS
Instead of sifting mountain streams for gold, modern-day prospectors hit the landfills, "mining" for discarded cellphones and computers. Electronics contain valuable metals, like gold. But reclaiming the treasure requires melting circuit boards in acid, scooping up gold with nonbiodegradable plastic resins and films, and burning the plastic to free up the metal.
Zero to 60 mph in about nine seconds may sound sluggish, but it's a breakthrough for a zero-emissions, all-electric car that can travel up to 100 miles on a single charge and hit speeds of 85 mph. That's the claim of the i MiEV (for "Mitsubishi Innovative motor Electric Vehicle"), a new plug-in four-door coupe. The i MiEV runs on a pack of 22 lithium-ion batteries, but unlike other electric cars, including the Chevy Volt and Tesla Roadster, the i MiEV doesn't require a liquid cooling system to avoid overheating.
THE AIR FORCE WANTS A NEW BOMBER EQUIPPED WITH 21ST-CENTURY TECHNOLOGY. THAT COULD MEAN STEALTHIER SURFACE MATERIALS AND LASER WEAPONS—AND IT MIGHT EVEN SKIP THE PILOT
TODAY'S BOMBER FLEET
The B-2 stealth bomber, assisted by midair refuelings, can fly a 44-hour mission to the other side of the world, take out targets using laser-guided smart munitions, then sneak out of enemy territory undetected. Yet it runs on Intel 286 processors—state of the art in 1982, but these days, not so much.
AIRBORNE LASERS. THE CELLPHONE-CANCER LINK. BIG BUCKS FOR X PRIZE WINNERS? HERE, WE GIVE YOU A PEEK AT WHAT PROMISES TO BE A REVELATORY YEAR OF SCIENCE
THE MOST DEFINITIVE STUDY YET COULD FINALLY DETERMINE WHETHER CELLPHONE USE CAUSES CANCER
A Year of Stars
Darwin's Birthday Bash
TV Goes to All-Digital
Solar Airplane Test Flights
South Korea's First Space Launch
Lithium-Polymer Batteries Now in Cars
Nanny State Arrives in Vehicles
Electric Cars to Market
1,000 Human Genomes
Dreamliner to First Customers
Copenhagen Climate Conference
END OF YEAR
Rwanda and Computing
Nearly five decades ago, Americans learned that one of their most treasured habits-smoking-was lethal. This year, we could get more scary news, when scientists announce the results from Interphone, the largest-ever study to investigate whether cellphones cause cancer.
NEW ORBITING OBSERVATORY WILL SEARCH FOR EARTH-LIKE PLANETS
Earth's twin could be waiting for us hundreds of light-years away. In fact, thousands of Earth doppelgängers may be lurking in the cosmic distance, orbiting stars just like our sun and maybe, just maybe, harboring life of their own. Although telescopes have identified more than 300 planets outside our solar system, most of them are too harsh to host life.
LOOK FOR THESE NOTABLE LAUNCHES TO EARTH-ORBIT THIS YEAR
WIDE-FIELD INFRARED SURVEY EXPLORER
The first flight of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo could take six customers to 360,000 feet and offer them weightlessness and 1,000mile views in all directions. In June, NASA's Glory satellite will launch to help predict future climate change by gauging the magnitude of the sun's energy and studying atmospheric aerosols.
NASA will fire up its latest rocket this April for its first test flight. Ares 1 is designed to haul a 25-ton payload, making it capable of ferrying either six astronauts to the International Space Station or four astronauts to low-Earth orbit, where they can transfer to another vehicle and head to the moon.
THIS YEAR'S MOST POPULAR DESTINATIONS FOR UNMANNED LANDERS
MARS SCIENCE LABORATORY
LUNAR RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER
Launching in the fall, this research rover will collect and examine Martian soil and rock samples for traces of carbon, life's most common building block. To find that carbon, ChemCam will fire lasers at the ground and analyze the vapor produced by the impact.
Should they cast their eyes skyward at just the right moment, a few lucky observers could see something spectacular this summer: a Boeing 747 splitting open a ballistic missile with a laser in mid-flight. After 12 years and $5 billion in R&D, the Missile Defense Agency's Airborne Laser (ABL) will make its first real-world attempt to shoot down a missile in midair.
Last year, researchers at Yale University discovered organelles called melanosomes on a 100-million-year-old dino feather. This year they will examine the shape and concentration of the melanosomes to determine the original colors of winged dinosaurs.
THE HOT-BUTTON RESEARCH ISSUES FACING THE NEW ADMINISTRATION
Over the past eight years, the rift between the scientific community and the federal agencies that govern it has deepened. What opportunities will President Barack Obama's administration have to bridge the divide?—COREY BINNS THE ISSUE:
On March 1, the Republic of Ireland becomes the first democratic country in the world to ban the traditional incandescent lightbulb. Stores there will no longer carry the century-old technology, which converts only between 5 and 10 percent of electricity into light, losing the rest as radiant heat.
Hull, Massachusetts This resort town, population 11,000, plans to moor four 260-foot-tall turbines a mile and a half offshore, at a total cost of $40 million. Along with Hull's two existing onshore turbines, wind power could generate 14 megawatts, enough to supply energy to the entire community.
GET PAID FOR YOUR BRILLIANT, WORLDSAVING INVENTIONS
PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE AUTOMOTIVE X PRIZE
ARCHON X PRIZE FOR GENOMICS
SPACEWARD SPACE ELEVATOR GAMES
GOOGLE LUNAR X PRIZE
Nothing inspires innovation like a seven-figure check, which is why more and more private and government sources are offering big money for creative technologies—and plenty of Americans are rising to the challenge. The California company Scaled Composites won the $10-million Ansari X Prize in 2004 for its trips to suborbital space on SpaceShipOne, a feat that all but launched the private space industry.
ASIAN FARMERS WILL GET A DISASTERPROOF VERSION OF AN ESSENTIAL CROP
After years of testing in muddy fields, genetically enhanced flood-resistant rice is about to hit agricultural markets in tropical Asia, following Indonesia, with India and Bangladesh up for approval later this year. Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam are expected to follow suit.
This year, in conjunction with talk about climate change, you'll probably hear the words "cap and trade" being tossed around, and President Obama is expected to sign climate-change legislation that includes a cap-and-trade bill. But what does the term mean?
America is haunted by 100,000 missing persons and 40,000 unidentified sets of remains. Only one lab can truly connect the lost and the dead-and it's revealing the secrets of serial killers in the process
THREE KEY FACTS
THE SILENT MISSING
ONE IN A MILLION
CONNECTING DN A’S DOTS
SCALING THE BACKLOG
THE FINAL IDENTIFICATION
JESSICA SNYDER SACHS
LIKE A COWBOY loosely holding the reins, Larry Weatherman steers up Deer Creek Road with his left hand on the wheel, his right arm ready at his side. His upper body rocks with the motion of the pickup as he navigates the dirt road's gauntlet of potholes and rocks.
High on the back wall of the New Jersey Poison Center in Newark, beyond a display case filled with bottles of ant killer, antifreeze and other ingredients of noteworthy cases, hangs an electronic map of the state. It displays dozens of glowing red dots.
THOSE MAPS ON GPS DEVICES AND GOOGLE DON'T JUST APPEAR. HERE'S HOW A FLEET OF MINIVANS IS WORKING TO DIGITIZE EVERY ROAD, BUILDING AND SIGN IN THE WORLD
HOW A MAPPING VAN WORKS
1. SHOOTING The Netherlands-based Tele Atlas is one of two companies that build and update street maps to feed to GPS-device makers and Web sites such as Google Maps. Its raw data: photographs captured by more than 300 drivers, who collectively covered 350,000 miles last year.
TWO DESKTOP-PRINTER ENGINEERS QUIT THEIR JOBS TO SEARCH FOR THE ULTIMATE SOURCE OF ENDLESS ENERGY: NUCLEAR FUSION. COULD THIS HIGHLY IMPROBABLE ENTERPRISE ACTUALLY SUCCEED
HOW GENERAL FUSION'S PLAN COULD WORK
THE SOURCE OF endless energy for all humankind resides just off Government Street in Burnaby, British Columbia, up the little spit of blacktop on Bonneville Place and across the parking lot from Shade-O-Matic blind manufacturers and wholesalers.
A CARD TABLE THAT TURNS ANY GAME INTO THE WORLD SERIES OF POKER
HOW THE VIDEO POKER TABLE WORKS
CAPTURING THE ACTION
FOLLOWING THE MONEY
PUTTING IT ONSCREEN
Every Friday night, about 10 regulars gather at my place in Perth, Australia, to play Texas Hold 'Em. I'm the co-founder of a technology-services company, L7 Solutions. I'm also a chronic tinkerer and a poker lover. Last fall I decided to up the ante, so to speak, and started planning a table that could generate a video display showing what cards each player has, how much they bet, and their chances of winning the hand.
WITH HEAT AND COMMON CHEMICALS, THE AUTHOR TURNED ORE INTO METAL
TITANIUM IN A POT
An iron crowbar costs about $8; one made of titanium, $80. Solid-titanium scissors start at $700, and don't even ask about the titanium socket wrench. Titanium must be a rare and precious substance, right? Actually, as raw ore, titanium is 100 times as abundant as copper.
GET YOUR XBOX 360 ONLINE WIRELESSLY WITH AN OLD ROUTER AND FREE SOFTWARE
TOTALLY FREE WIRELESS
DIY WIRELESS FOR YOUR XBOX
This 50-foot Ethernet cable snaking all the way through my apartment from the router in the bedroom to my Xbox 360 in the living room? That's how I used to play videogames online. The Xbox doesn't come with wireless capability built in, and I didn't want to shell out the extra $100—a third the price of the console itself—for Microsoft's wireless adapter.
1. Thread a small piece of wire through a button. 2• Strip the ends of the wire, and solder it to an integrated circuit. 3• Flash some cuff for the ladies. HAVE AN IDEA FOR A 5-MINUTE PROJECT? SEND IT TO US AT email@example.com.
Who says you have to put together your IKEA furniture exactly the way the Swedish instructions tell you to? IKEA Hacker (likeahacker.blogspot.com) is a showcase of ingenious ways people have assembled things from the store to change their look and function—from installing a Linux computer cluster into a Helmer cabinet, to making a terrarium out of a Benno TV unit, to adding a comic-book top to an Alleby stool [pictured].
Needing a space divider in his office, Dutch product designer Patrick Schuur built a giant cabinet intended to "remind people of how good-looking technology used to be." Schuur and his co-workers began by making a large wooden frame and then created the retro exterior by screwing on, one by one, 918 old cassette tapes.
ASK A GEEK WHAT'S A GOOD WAY TO SEND MYSELF REMINDERS?
It's a fine time to ditch paper for good and move to an all e-mailand SMS-based system. Start with Google's online calendar (google.com/calendar), which lets you set up multiple alerts for one event—for example, a text message one week before Mother's Day, then another the day before in case you still managed to put off sending flowers.
Q IF YOU DROPPED A CORN KERNEL FROM SPACE, WOULD IT POP DURING REENTRY?
What's the difference between artificial and natural flavors?
A There's a little bit of water inside each kernel of popcorn, and if you can heat the kernel above 212°F, that water should boil, turn into high-pressure steam, and pop the kernel. But in orbit, things aren't so simple. First off, the cold vacuum of space would suck all the water out of the kernel before it could pop the corn.
What would be the best job to have in a Mars colony?
You've just landed on the Red Planet and are looking for a fresh start. Sure, that job selling respirators at the local space-hardware store sounds cozy, but it's a dead-end career. Mars will be ripe with opportunity; you just have to figure out how to tap it.
To pass a Turing test, a computer must be able to communicate with people well enough that 30 percent of observers can't tell they're speaking with a computer rather than a human. Last October, a computer called Elbot came close to succeeding in the Loebner Prize competition at the University of Reading in England.