IN OUR OFFICE, it’s hard to ridicule a prediction. When one of us attempts to laugh off a fantastic-seeming forecast of the future—invisibility cloaks, jetpacks, teleportation—a colleague inevitably throws up a hand and describes a recently viewed prototype or piece of research that gives credence to the idea.
JUNE WAS our "Inventions of the Year" issue, devoted to standout garage inventors and their creations. Winning designs included a planter that eliminates the need for irrigation and a gun sight that lets soldiers see around corners. In the same issue, Gregory Mone reported on the latest efforts to build robot therapists that can help treat the growing number of children with autism.
Scientists corral atoms in a major step toward quantum computing
This maze of electrodes, known as a surface-electrode ion trap, brings us closer to building quantum computers-that is, computers that could manipulate the quantum-mechanical states of atoms to process data millions of times as fast as today’s most powerful supercomputers do.
The largest-ever solar-powered boat prepares for a world tour
In February, the Swiss company PlanetSolar SA unveiled PlanetSolar, a floating test bed for renewable energy, during a ceremony held in Kiel, Germany. The $15-million catamaran measures 49 feet wide, 25 feet high and 102 feet long and weighs 94 tons.
TECH THAT PUTS THE FUTURE IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND
THE ALL-SEEING EYE
A wearable camera that captures every moment
Put the Vicon Revue around your neck, and you’ll never have to remember anything again. It sees what you do and automatically records it all. A wide-angle fisheye lens gives the camera a 120-degree view—the lion’s share of your field of vision.
The WOWee ONE uses vibrations to turn any flat surface into a speaker for music or calls, but with more-intense bass than similar designs. Its driver is embedded in a synthetic gel, which allows it to pulse more freely and to transfer stronger bass lines through a tabletop or window.
Clever engineering makes Porsche’s hybrid genuinely efficient
HOW TO DRIVE GAS-FREE AT HIGH SPEEDS
LIFT OFF THE GAS PEDAL...
Cayenne S Hybrid
JON ALAIN GUZIK
Few vehicles flaunt their gas-chugging power as proudly as a Porsche Cayenne, so it’s natural to be suspicious of the hybrid version. Can this racecar-like SUV really improve gas mileage and still be a Porsche? Thanks to several technological tweaks, yes.
Satellite video delivery that finally makes discs obsolete
MORE WAYS TO GO HIGH-DEF
XStreamHD Starter Pack
If your video store isn’t already six feet under, XStreamHD will finally put it there. The company is launching the first set-top system able to download movies that are the exact quality of Blu-ray discs: 1080p high-def, near-flawless images, and 7.1 surround sound.
The emerging sport of kayak fishing gets a boost from new gear
Pedal Instead of Paddle
Keep Bait Alive
Mariner 12.5 Propel
Bicycle-like pedals replace this kayak’s paddle, leaving hands free for fishing. The Propels four-gear drivetrain turns a propeller 10 times for each crank, so you can efficiently reach 5.75 mph. It’s easy to steer, too: A joystick directs a rudder, and unlike existing pedal kayaks that use unidirectional flippers, pedaling backward moves the propeller—and craft—in reverse. Lift out the drive to paddle or swap in a motor. The boat can also add a mast and sail and, in 2011, pontoons. Native Watercraft Mariner 12.5 Propel $1,800; nativewatercraft.com
This bait-casting reel, a style often used for bass fishing, sends your line up to 30 percent farther than others. It puts less friction on the line by passing it over a smooth bar, not through a constricting eyelet, that later seesaws to neatly rewind line on the spool. U.S. Reel SuperCaster 700X $80; usreel.com
385ci Combo Kayak Fishfinder
Designed to mount inside kayaks, this sonar device displays underwater objects and creatures. Its transducer sends sound waves through a kayak’s plastic bottom to the depths beneath, and a dry-bag keeps the battery safe. Humminbird 385ci Combo Kayak Fishfinder $500; humminbird.com
Collapsible Live Bait Cooler
Kayaks don’t have room for big tanks to store live bait. So bring a pliable 13-inch cooler bag, which tucks behind seats and packs a battery-operated bubbler to keep the water aerated and bait breathing. Harmony Collapsible Live Bait Cooler $50; harmonygear.com
Bug Blocker Shirt
Mosquito bites, that is! This fisherman’s shirt builds in insect repellent that outlasts other bug-fighting clothing. The chemical permethrin is applied and cured onto fabric before it’s stitched together, for a tighter bond and even coverage. Simms Bug Blocker Shirt $90; simmsfishing.com
With approximately 40 million anglers nationwide, fishing is one of the country’s most popular pastimes, and kayak fishing is arguably its hottest new trend. Compared with a motorized boat, a kayak saves gas money, fits into tight, shallow spots, and lets you sneak up quietly on that big catch.
New cameras squeeze pro-style Lenses onto ever-tinier bodies
BODY SIZE: 4.5 × 2.8 × 1.6 in. THE FEATURES: The E-PL1 is one of the most compact cameras to use a format called Micro Four Thirds, which started the slimming ILC trend in late 2008. Its image sensor is smaller than most digital SLRs—about 7/10 the size—yet about nine times that of a point-and-shoot. THE PICTURES:The small sensor still snaps outstandingly crisp, sharp photos. But it does generate a lot of image noise—grainy spots most apparent in low-light pics. In the end, the E-PL1 is mainly for users who put a premium on petite. GET IT: $600 (with lens); olympusamerica.com
BODY SIZE: 4.8 × 3.4 × 1.6 in. THE FEATURES: Samsung’s first ILC uses the same size sensor as an SLR, outmeasuring the Olympus. Unfortunately, the camera is also larger, partly because it builds in an electronic viewfinder (a tiny LCD eyepiece to mimic an SLR’s window) that, sadly, blurs when it moves quickly. THE PICTURES:The larger sensor does the trick for eliminating grainy image noise. The NX10's overall image quality is on par with a similarly priced SLR. On the other hand, it’s not much smaller, and its autofocus is slower. GET IT: $700 (with lens); samsung.com
BODY SIZE: 4.4 × 2.4 × 1.6 in. THE FEATURES: The Sony combines the Olympus's small body with the Samsung’s sensor size and adds some tricks. It takes 1080i high-def videos (the others do 720p) and autofocuses while filming. It fires seven shots per second, and its high-dynamic-range mode catches detail in bright scenes. THE PICTURES:The photo quality is about the same as the Samsung's, and although the autofocus speed still lags behind an SLR's, it’s close. That, plus its near-pocketability and fun features, makes it an exceptional camera—and the best of the bunch. GET IT: From $650 (with lens); sony.com
Even a great camera won’t take memorable shots if it’s so big that you tend to leave it at home. So companies are creating models that aim for a happy medium between pocketable point-and-shoots and higher-quality SLRs. This new breed can change lenses to suit a shot, like an SLR does, but ditches the optical viewfinder and the bulky mirror that sends it light.
A psychedelic drug gains legitimacy as a solution for addictions
Giving a heroin addict one of the most powerful psychedelic drugs seems like a bad idea. Yet that’s exactly what a group of scientists will do this month. Ibogaine, they say, might be the best way to break drug addicts of their habit. Ibogaine, a brown powder derived from the African Tabernathe iboga plant, has intrigued researchers since 1962, when Howard Lotsof, a student at New York University and an opiate addict, found that a single dose erased his drug cravings without causing any withdrawal symptoms.
When the Deepwater Horizon rig began leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico in April, the cleanup schemes were underwhelming: fire, dispersants, pantyhose stuffed with human hair. But a new robotic system could corral future spills in hours so that oil never hits the shore.
A tricked-out fire truck, a beefier bionic hand and the largest cantilever
THE HOTTEST FIRE TRUCK
A PARK IN THE SKY
GET A BIONIC GRIP
Airport fires have the added danger of occurring near plane fuel, so firefighters need to put them out fast and from a safe distance. The new Oshkosh Striker fire truck for airports features infrared cameras that target the hottest part of an inferno for faster quenching.
A research effort doubles as a shark-attack warning system
Great white sharks have been around for more than four million years, yet they remain one of the world's most mysterious animals. Scientists know that the beasts have special organs for sensing electromagnetic fields and that their jaws can snap down with 4,000 pounds of force.
Submarine genius Graham Hawkes turns out a lightweight leisure vehicle
Graham Hawkes is known for crafting near-perfect undersea vehicles—sleek, winged subs that ferry eco-explorers to the greatest depths of the ocean. But when a brilliant billionaire shows up and asks for something even more sophisticated, it’s time to draw up a new plan.
Walking, self-contained, adult-size robots are commonplace in robotics labs in Japan and South Korea, but there's only one made here. What are we falling behind?
AMERICA'S HUMANOID DILEMMA
ROBOT, PLEASE TELL ME WHY
HOW TO FIGHT A ROBOT WAR
Now let's imagine that you're out on the lawn, kicking a ball around with your son. Your robot helper is in another part of the yard, its back to you both, fixing a drainpipe. Your son misses a kick, and the ball winds up a few feet from the robot. "Hey, robot!" you shout.
The world's most sophisticated robots don't assemble trucks or cruise around Mars. They're designed to support our surging population of elderly and disabled citizens. Meet 10 of the most promising senior-friendly 'bots
RIBA A FORKLIFT FOR HUMANS
PERMMA THE ONLY WHEELCHAIR WITH ROBOTIC ARMS
KOMPAÏ A PLAINSPOKEN PERSONAL ASSISTANT FOR GRANDMA
HERB THE FASTEST, MOST CAPABLE ROBO-SERVANT
TAMER A ROBOTIC "TOUCH THERAPIST" SOOTHES ANXIETY
CYCLOPS A LEGALLY BLIND ROBOTIC GUINEA PIG FOR TESTING ARTIFICIAL EYES
RISER A FULLY IMMERSIVE REHAB ROBOT
RAVEN 2 A ROBO-SURGEON THAT DOES THE WORK OF TWO DOCTORS
CARDIOARM THE SLINKIEST SURGICAL TOOL
TAIZO THE RICHARD SIMMONS OF ROBOTS
BIRTHPLACE: Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, Japan OCCUPATION: Helps patients who are too weak to walk, sit, or stand on their own WHY WE NEED IT: The number of Americans over age 65 will reach 71 million by 2030. RIBA (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance) is the only robot with arms designed to carry those people around.
To circumnavigate the world in a record-breaking 40 days, l'Hydroptère Maxi takes inspiration from the Wright brothers
THE TEAM BEHIND the world's fastest sailboat—l’Hydroptère, a 78-foot trimaran that sailed at a record-breaking 50-plus knots (nearly 58 mph) for more than a nautical mile last year—is designing a new model to break another big racing record.
It might seem silly to investigate whether people are happier on the weekend, but behind such truisms are revelations about our brains, our behavior and our environment
Blowing Up Mountains Is Bad for the Environment
Old People Prefer Happy Memories
A Mean Gym Teacher Can Turn You Off Sports
People Are Happier on the Weekend
Most People Drive Poorly while Talking on the Phone
Siblings Who Fight Don’t Get Along
Young People Want Big Money, Big Vacations
Hard-Drinking Adrenaline Freaks Are Prone to Injury
Environmentalists Can Be Smug Jerks
Self-Control Makes Students More Manageable
THE FINDINGS: One of the most popular mining techniques in Appalachia has been cutting down the trees on top of mountains and blasting the peaks off to get to the buried coal. It doesn’t take a doctorate to see that mountaintop mining (MTM) is bad for the environment, but until Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland and her colleagues collected the data, no one knew just how bad it was.
In orbit, debris as small as a metal screw can cripple a vehicle or kill an astronaut. Here are five ideas for cleaning up the growing band of trash circling Earth
TETHERS AND NETS
ROBOTS AND ADHESIVES
ONE FRIDAY last November, the six astronauts onboard the International Space Station received an urgent warning from mission control: Watch out for space junk. A piece of orbital debris, possibly a chunk of satellite, was hurtling toward the station.
Sheetrock that cools or heats a house by changing when the temperature does
HOW IT WORKS
JOHN B. CARNETT
THE CONCRETE structural walls and cement floors in my newly built green home function as natural air conditioners, passively absorbing heat and slowly releasing it as the temperature in the house drops each evening. As a result, the bones of my home go a long way toward keeping it cool through the summer.
BEWARE DRYWALL THAT CAN FILL YOUR HOME WITH SULFURIC ACID
Not all drywall is as environmentally friendly as John's. In fact, some is downright toxic. In May a report from the largest investigation in the history of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cited 10 Chinese manufacturers as sources of sulfur-laden drywall found in thousands of homes constructed in the U.S. between 2005 and 2009, when a post-Hurricane Katrina building boom created a run on drywall and forced builders to seek out new suppliers.
Weighing nearly 100 pounds, a giant model plane takes to the skies
Four years ago, engineer Tony Nijhuis was visiting an aviation museum in Duxford, England, when he spotted his next project: the iconic World War II-era Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Nijhuis has been building electric models since he was a boy, but he had been thinking about doing something bigger.
Sugar seems harmless, but in powder form it can be a deadly explosive
It’s all sweetness and light until the sugar hits the fan. In 2008 the sweetener killed 14 people in Georgia—not from diabetes or heart disease, but in a violent explosion. Absence of regulation, ineffective enforcement, and lack of preparation for the potential danger led to the Imperial Sugar factory disaster, one of the worst industrial accidents of our time.
How to add remote control to any project, no matter how large
HOW R/C WORKS
BUILD A SUPER SERVO
You may associate remote control with the urge to jump little R/C cars through walls of fire in your backyard, but that’s just the beginning of what you can do with the technology. Once you’ve mastered the basic concepts, the same parts and techniques used in toys can be used to control machines big and small, practical and absurd.
Unless you absolutely must be the first person on your block to have one, I'd suggest waiting awhile. The few 3-D TV models available now aren’t cheap—the Samsung UN55C7000, for example, costs $3,300. Plus, you’ll have to lay out more cash for a new Blu-ray player, since the one you have is probably incompatible with the new 3-D Blu-ray format.
College student Jérémy Lavoie has made water guns for years, but his latest is his masterpiece. Made with an ABS pipe frame, three pressure chambers and a custom-made nozzle, the gun has a range of 50 feet and can draw water from a pool or lake, so it has endless ammunition.
Keeping an eye on e-mail, chat sessions and social-networking sites usually means having to navigate among multiple browser tabs. Threadsy saves hassle by displaying all that information in one customizable window, without sacrificing any of the applications’ regular functions.
A Of all the bodies in our solar system, the sun is probably the one we want to give the widest berth. It gushes radiation, and even though its surface is the coolest part of the star, it burns at about 9,940°F, hot enough to incinerate just about any material.
In 1983, engineers struggled to design useful robots that were anything more than expensive toys. Heath Co. inventors envisioned a future in which their one-armed HERO 1 [right] could handle household chores. Although it could zip around and pick up film canisters, HERO 1 required too many commands to do much else— it was an educational tool, not Rosie from The Jetsons.