A portable fuel-cell charger with weeks' worth of juice
Lilliputian Sgstems Nectar
Cellphone batteries once lasted a week on a charge. Today, powerhungry smartphones require daily plug-ins-sometimes more-which makes carrying adapters and hunting for outlets a part of everyday life. Engineers at Lilliputian Systems, a Massachusetts start-up, have developed the Nectar fuel cell, a portable charger that generates enough juice to power a USB-enabled phone once a day for two weeks.
The Kickr turns any bicycle into a stationary trainer by replacing the back tire. When a rider using its accompanying app meets a hill," more power surges through magnets in the Bluetooth-connected device, creating a stronger pull on its flywheel and increasing resistance.
Diesel-engine designers have long grappled with a dilemma: Reducing emissions meant either cutting efficiency or adding expensive equipment. With the Skyactlv-D, Mazda engineers decreased pollution, boosted mileage, and eliminated the cost of exhaust after-treatments by building the world’s lowest-compression diesel engine.
A new generation of smartphonebased robot companions
Double Robotics Double
Double is a wheeled robot avatar that stands up to five feet tall. It holds an iPad where its head should be, while a human driver—whether across the office or across the country—uses a custom video-chat app to see what the iPad sees and steer the robot. Double has a gyroscope-balanced stand, which allows it to roll at speeds up to 1.5 mph without tipping over. $2,499
Romo, a robotic toy pet, interacts with its playmates autonomously. Engineers developed computer-vision software that picks out people and shapes, which the robot can track, follow, or avoid. Facialdetection software allows Romo to see people, take pictures of them, recoil if they get too close, or cry if they leave it alone for too long. $150
The Shimi speaker dock is a personal DJ and dance partner. Speech recognition in Shimi’s app lets the robot respond to requests for specific artists or genres—even cue up tunes that match the user’s mood. The app also registers the tempo of the music, so it can send commands to Shimi to tap its free foot and bob its head to the beat. $199 (available summer)
The average smartphone today has as much processing power as a 1970s supercomputer—enough (as luck would have it) to act as the hub of a streaming homeaudio network, serve as a mobile medical lab, or even run a robot. So now, instead of building robots from scratch, companies can construct models around smartphones.
PUTTER The Ghost Spider S stops bad swings. TaylorMade designers wrapped the putter’s three-ounce aluminum center with eight ounces of steel. The extra weight adds momentum to the swing and makes it harder for a golfer to twist the club. TaylorMade Ghost Spider S $180
OGIO Chamber bag
BAG A set of several-hundred-dollar clubs deserves some protection, which the Chamber bag provides. To prevent clubheads from moving and nicking one another, designers inserted molded plastic fingers at the bottom of the bag and a slotted silicone membrane at its top. OGIO Chamber bag $300
Callaway X Hot Irons
IRONS Callaway’s new irons work around a simple idea: increase speed, increase yardage. A deep groove behind the clubface allows it to flex on impact and fling the ball like a catapult. Shots off the six iron [shown], for example, launch four mph faster and fly more than nine yards further. Callaway X Hot Irons $699 (set of eight)
TRAINER The Swingbyte 2 can cut down on pricey lessons. Golfers attach the device to the shaft of a club and record video on a Bluetooth-paired smartphone. Accelerometers, gyros, and magnetometers feed data, including swing speed and angle, to the Swingbyte app. The app then displays the data next to the video and offers tips to help the player improve his form. Swingbyte 2 $149
Nike VRS Covert Tour
DRIVER Off-kilter swings lead to hooked or sliced drives, so Nike designers built the VRS Covert driver to ensure straight shots. They dug a cavity out of the back of the clubhead and moved the lost weight-about 0.4 ounce-toward the face. That heft makes the clubhead less likely to wobble and twist the ball at launch. In tests, the Covert added up to 15 yards. Nike VRS Covert Tour $400
How wearable head-up displays could help build a better you
IN 1961, Claude Shannon and Edward Thorp built the world’s first wearable computer. The cigarette-pack-size device tracked the speed of a roulette wheel and sent tones via radio to a gambler’s earpiece to help predict where the ball would land.
Why squlshlness will let robots and humans work side by side
TODAY’S industrial robots have superhuman power, precision, and speed to tirelessly paint, weld, and transport massive objects. But they have to be programmed for each specific task (and if one accidentally smacks you in the face, it could kill you).
NASA recently created the most detailed maps of the moon’s gravity to date, and the field is far from uniform. Measured by spacecraft of the GRAIL mission, the differences here indicate variations in the crust’s thickness and density.
When it's finished, the New York Wheel will stand 625 feet above Staten Island, making it the tallest observation wheel in the world. It will depart from the design of other supertall observation wheels in several key ways. The 541-foot Singapore Flyer and the 443-foot London Eye, for example, are held in place by stability cables that run from their spindles to the earth.
Scientists had never seen a spadetoothed whale; they only knew it existed because of skull fragments. Then, in 2010, a New Zealand local came upon a pair of dead whales on a beach, which rangers classified as Gray's beaked whales. But DNA tests by biologists at the University of Auckland later showed that both were the elusive spade-toothed species.
The ocean covers nearly three quarters of our planet, yet humans have probed a mere 5 percent of it. To better explore its greatest depths, scientists will soon board the revamped Alvin, the workhorse of human-operated deep-submergence vehicles.
"One-and-a-half million children die each year from diseases related to poor sanitation. We’re building a disinfecting toilet that doesn’t need running water or massive treatment plants and is cheap and odor-free. It’s a squat toilet, which is what many people around the world prefer.
A Hollywood thriller meets the science of perception
CRITICS HAVE applauded the realism of the film Zero Dark Thirty, an Oscar favorite that claims to re-create the hunt for Osama bin Laden. But some have protested an early scene in which intelligence officers torture a man, then use the threat of further torture to persuade him to reveal a crucial bit of evidence.
How neuroscience will fight five age-old afflictions
For years, large clinical trials have treated people with epilepsy using so-called deepbrain stimulation: surgically implanted electrodes that can detect a seizure and stop it with an electrical jolt. The technology leads to a 69 percent reduction in seizures after five years, according to the latest results.
WITH A DECADE OF WAR WINDING DOWN, POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER IS AN INCREASINGLY URGENT PROBLEM. THE U.S. ARMY HAS LAUNCHED AN AMBITIOUS EFFORT TO FIGHT IT. BUT WILL IT WORK?
THE ROAR OF THE CHOPPER'S ENGINES made it hard to hear. First Sgt. James Kelley signaled with his hands and yelled: “Five minutes!” In the murky light of the Chinook’s cargo bay, rows of helmeted figures sat surrounded by rifles and camouflage rucksacks.
BRAIN DAMAGE HAS UNLEASHED EXTRAORDINARY TALENTS IN A SMALL GROUP OF OTHERWISE ORDINARY INDIVIDUALS. WILL SCIENCE FIND A WAY FOR EVERYONE TO TAP THEIR INNER VIRTUOSO?
Derek Amato stood above the shallow end of the swimming pool and called for his buddy in the Jacuzzi to toss him the football. Then he launched himself through the air, head first, arms outstretched. He figured he could roll onto one shoulder as he snagged the ball, then slide across the water.
ENGINEERING ADVANCES HAVE ARCHITECTS STRIVING FOR MILE-HIGH SKYSCRAPER
TALL BUILDINGS THROUGH TIME
HOW TO BUILD A 2,073-FOOT SKYSCRAPER
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Bill Baker, a structural engineer with the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), was at his office in downtown Chicago. SOM is the undisputed leader in skyscraper design, and, at least on the engineering side, Baker is its undisputed king.
A soil-free gardening system developed by a DIY community
HOW IT WORKS
BRITTA RILEY grew up in rural southTexas, where locals with a mastery gardening subsisted on their land. "They really turned me on to the idea of growing my own food," Riley says. With the help of an open-source community, Riley now has her own productive plota 20-by-30-foot vertical garden hanging in a glass pavilion at New York City's American Museum of Natural Historyand a start-up to put similar farms in windows around the world.
Space tourism front-runner Virgin Galactic hopes to launch customers toward the edge of space later this year. To get them there, in a winged craft called SpaceShipTwo, the company will light up hybrid-fuel rockets. Hybrid-fuel engines marry two classic designs: liquid-fuel (like the space shuttle's main engines, which combine liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen) and solid-fuel (like the shuttle’s boosters, which use solid aluminum and ammonium perchlorate).
Raid your kitchen to buiid this potato chip speaker
In 1921, two scientists made the first modern loudspeaker out of magnets, wire, and paper. Now manufacturers use synthetic fibers and even ferrofluld. Why stop there? Your kitchen contains plenty of materials to build a functional woofer.
A hacked pinball machine that paints gamepiay on posters
Sam van Doorn couldn’t let a friend trash a 1970s-era pinball machine, so the Dutch graphic artist turned it into a printer. Van Doorn stripped away the game’s haggard facade and repaired its inner workings. Then he tested 50 types of paper as ready-to-ink playing surfaces.
You just designed the perfect circuit board but don’t have the cash to fund its manufacture. Seeed Studio, an “open hardware” company in Shenzhen, China, helps tinkerers move their concepts onto the assembly line. Inventors can submit an electronics schematic to Seeed for review; a community of inventors and customers then improves the design with feedback.
The brain makes up about 1/50 of our body weight but consumes about one fifth of the oxygen we breathe. It's natural to assume that overtaxing the cerebrum would leave one feeling lethargic, but that's not quite true. The brain uses most of its energy just to maintain its baseline state; one tenth of our energy at rest goes to pumping sodium and potassium ions across brain-cell membranes, a simple process that keeps each neuron charged and ready.
In August 1964, the POPULAR SCIENCE cover featured “stubby little Alvin," one of a new class of submersibles designed to explore the ocean. The 22-foot-long sub had a mechanical arm and could dive 6,000 feet for up to eight-and-a-half hours.