IN 2007, my first year of working at POPULAR SCIENCE, we launched the Invention Awards, a celebration of dogged innovators everywhere, and gave one of the first to Leonard Duffy. His success until then had been limited to a cookbook stand, which sold for a time on QVC.
Jacob Ward has it wrong. We should not throw any public money at brain research. As he said in his editor’s letter, “Audacious, open-ended endeavors tend to yield big, unexpected rewards.” Public money and its restrictions do not lead to those types of endeavors.
At the edges of the visible universe, 45 billion light years away, sit some of the oldest known galaxies. How they formed and developed is a mystery, but a spectrograph installed on Chile's Very Large Telescope-functional since Marchshould help astronomers find answers.
The first TV show and videogame that play together
No matter how frequently mediums borrow from one anothera game based on a movie, a movie on a book-the distinction between them has always remained clear. But those boundaries are starting to break down. This spring, the Syfy network, in tandem with game developer Trion Worlds, debuted Defiance, a story that unfolds simultaneously in a TV show and in an online gaming world.
Only three ounces and the size of an egg, the Atom is the smallest smoke alarm made. It has a photoelectric sensor that detects smoke from smoldering fires, making it more sensitive than ionization alarms that detect fast-flaming fires. First Alert Atom Smoke and Fire Alarm $50
Personal amphibious vehicles have always felt like half-baked mashups-boats with wheels or cars with fins. But a craft can eclipse those attempts if it does two things: move as fast over water as it does on land and transition quickly from land to sea.
Nothing hits the spot after a long hike more than a beer, but lugging a six-pack through the wilderness isn't as appealing. Brewers have toyed with portable beer concentrates beforeby evaporating the water from finished brews. But along with the water go the hops, which impart flavor.
Dyle allows viewers to watch live TV from a phone or tablet-without chipping away at their data plan. Networks, including Fox and NBC, broadcast a duplicate signal on a dedicated frequency. Viewers attach a receiver, such as the Elgato EyeTV Mobile ($99) or Escort MobileTV ($100), to their handset and open a TV app to access the channel guide. Dyle is currently available in major cities with up to seven channels in each.
Palmer Luckey built his first virtual-reality (VR) headset for a simple reason: Every attempt he'd seen, including his own collection of 46 pairs of goggles, failed in one way or anoth er-too heavy, too slow, too limited a field of view. So he set out to invent the perfect pair himself.
The Razer Edge Pro tablet is a self-contained Windows 8 gaming system. Razer equipped the 10-inch slab with a 1.9-gigaherz processor, Nvidia graphics engine, and eight gigabytes of RAM-enough to render complex games smoothly. A dual-joystick grip connects to a docking port, merging the tablet and controller into one device. From $1,299
How smarter appliances will simplify everyday life
ELECTRONICS manufacturers have a terrible, misleading habit. They slap a touchscreen and Wi-Fi radio on an appliance and call it “smart.” But in reality, access to Epicurious recipes and Facebook feeds doesn’t impart a refrigerator, or any other appliance, with real intelligence.
How intelligent roads-not just cars-will change transportation
EVERY YEAR, cars become more sophisticated. They can adapt to the speed of traffic, generate power from braking, and even park themselves. But the roads are pretty much made of the same stuff that was under your grandparents' wheels, even though today we drive an average of 13,000 miles a year.
In the 1970s, fish farmers in the southern U.S. imported Asian carp to clean up scum in their cat fish ponds. But in the years that followed, the fish escaped into the Mississippi River and quickly spread. Since then, they've moved into 23 states, outeating and outpopulating native species.
Last year, a 54-year-old Canadian woman had a malignant brain tumor that was blurring her left field of vision and causing severe headaches. It needed to be removed. So David Fortin, a neurosurgeon at the Sherbrooke University Hospital Centre In Quebec, ordered a tractography map from Maxime Chamberland.
Because one cell has so little DNA, scientists typically pool together millions of cells to sequence a genome. Last December, Xiaoliang Sunney Xie and colleagues at Harvard University developed a technique to carefully copy single genes and then rapidly duplicate and sequence them using existing methods.
The robot-staffed, windmill powered Dutch port poised to become the most efficient cargo handler ever
Business is booming at Europe's largest port, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, which sees the lion's share of the continent's imports and exports. About 34,000 ships and 12 million shipping containers-each large enough to hold 27 refrigerators, 175 bicycles, or 2,500 pairs of jeans-already pass through it each year.
Privaqj is a pipe dream. Let's start saving tives.
IN JANUARY, scientists scared the world by using public information to find the names behind five people's anony mous, public DNA samples collected for research. The scientists then determined the identity of some 45 family members who had also donated DNA.
A homebuilt airplane designed with maximum efficiency in mind
JOHN MCGINNIS thinks ordinary families would rather skip the airport and fly themselves. So he is trying to reinvent the personal airplane with the help of his father, son, and a rotating crew of about two dozen volunteers. Unlike small aircraft today-which can cost more than a house-McGinnis says Synergy could be cheaper, quieter, and, at more than 40 mpg, three times as fuel-efficient.
A $30 ride made of recycled packaging, bottles, and car parts
How does crowdfunding work?
The JOBS Act now allows people to buy equity in projects. Will that benefit both inventors and crowdfunders?
On Kickstarter, inventors develop and build projects in a very public forum. What's the benefit of being so open?
Charles Q. Choi
ONE DAY IN 2009, Israeli engineer lzhar Gafni sat in a quiet library designing a machine to extract seeds from pomegranates when his mind drifted to cycling, his favorite pastime. Gafni admired bikes made from sustainable bamboo, but their high cost seemed prohibitive.
WITHIN HIS FIRST 30 minutes on the job at an aluminum factory in 1999, metalworker Michael Buckman inhaled so many noxious fumes he was sick with bronchitis for three days. As he recovered, Buckman wondered whether a commercial welding helmet could have filtered his breathing air.
SEMITRUCK DRIVERS idle their engines to heat or cool their vehicles' cabs-a practice that burns a billion gallons of fuel each year. Small engines on the back of a cab, called auxiliary power units (APUs), get the job done with less fuel, but they're loud and smelly.
BRIAN ROE SPENT nearly a decade building animatronic monsters for films such as Virus, A.l., and Scooby Doo 2. Then, almost overnight, Hollywood abandoned mechanical characters for computer renderings. Roe now works as a technology con sultant, but with the surge of cheap, user-friendly microelectronics, he saw a market emerging for hobbyist robots.
A sleek, comfortable space suit designed to protect high-flying tourists
DURING NASA’S 2007 Astronaut Glove Challenge, costume fabricator Ted Southern met fellow competitor Nikolay Moiseev, a Russian space-suit builder. Although each walked away from the competition empty-handed, they formed a productive friendship.
A wireless data-gathering grenade to toss into danger
AFTER AN EARTHQUAKE devas tated Haiti in 2010, search-and-rescue teams descended upon Port-au-Prince to look for survivors. Francisco Aguilar, a graduate student in public policy at the time, was shocked to read stories about crews relying on complex, expensive imaging systems.
MORE THAN 780 million people rely on kerosene to light their homes. But the fuel is pricey and is toxic when burned-not to mention a fire hazard. In 2008, London-based product designer Martin Riddiford and his colleague Jim Reeves decided to create a cheap, safe alternative.
A prosthetic limb that puts athletes back in the game
DURING A professional snowmobiling race in 2008, Mike Schultz lost control of his machine while speeding over a ragged stretch of snow. His left foot hit the ground so hard that his leg hyperextended nearly all the way in the wrong direction, shattering his knee and forcing doctors to amputate just above the joint.
A compact MIDI guitar that helps budding musicians learn to shred
AS A KID, electrical engineer Dan Sullivan mastered the guitar. His teenage sons, however, prefer mastering videogames. With a realistic instrument, Sullivan thought, all the time devoted to games like Rock Band could produce impressive musical proficiency.
A woman in a bikini stands next to me dumping gallons of blood into the sea. Beside her, a man in board shorts strings barracuda heads onto large fishhooks as crooked as a witch’s finger, and in front of him, toward the bow, an engineer fiddles with an instrument that looks like a cross between a model rocket and a giant hypodermic needle.
Last year, scientists in Germany set out to create the heaviest known element in the universe: element 119. For five months, they attempted to fuse the atoms of two lighter elements to form one large atom with 119 protons in its nucleus. Like other artificially created superheavy elements (those with 103 or more pro tons), element 119 will decay in a fraction of a second.
THIS MONTH, A PLANE WILL FLY ACROSS THE UNITED STATES ON SUNLIGHT ALONE. IN 2015, IT WILL CIRCUMNAVIGATE THE WORLD.
ON the morning 1999, Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones landed their baloon in Egyptian desert, completing the first such nonstop flight around the world. Amid the celebrations, Piccard made a sobering discovery: The propane tanks needed to keep his balloon aloft were almost empty.
A RECORD BREAKING ROLLER COASTER THAT MIMICS THE THRILL OF STUNT FLYING
In the competitive world of roller-coaster design, engineers often obsess about smashing records and pushing the limits of human endurance. But records mean little if the ride leaves thrill seekers feeling beat-up. For the engineers at the coaster-design firm Bolliger and Mabillard (B&M), it's not enough to simply go faster, taller, or twistier.
A pack of hacked go-karts that re-creates a classic videogame
HOW IT WORKS
ONE SUMMER, a young engineer walked into Austin's Park, an amuse ment center outside the Texas capital, and introduced himself to the manager as an intern from Waterloo Labs-a hacking collaborative sponsored by the engineer ing juggernaut National Instruments.
Charge electronics on the go with a bike-mounted USB hub
USB CAR CHARGER
I'm a mechanical engineer who loves bicycling. When gas prices soared through the roof in 2009, I rode my bike to save money. I wanted to charge USB devices, such as my phone, during commutes but didn't want to spend $150 (or more) on a commercial wheel-hub generator.
A pipe that copies DNA using the heat of a lightbutb
1 PILE UP
2 WIRE UP
3 PICK A GENE
HOW IT WORKS
Biology's equivalent of an office copier is a PCR machine. PCR, short for polymerase chain reaction, is now a staple in crime-scene forensics, heredity tests, and organism hijacking. It's a mind-boggling feat. Among billions of base pairs that make up DNA's genetic code, PCR finds exact sequences and, in a couple of hours, makes billions of copies-enough to decode or splice together useful combinations of genes.
Give your granny several states away the tech support she deserves-from a smartphone
Every family has an unofficial IT guy or girl. When printers won't print or files can't be found, the odds are good, dear reader, that you're the one answering relatives' panicked distress calls. Unfortunately, troubleshooting can lead to head-banging frustration for both you and your less sawy kin.
Untether your vintage cans using a cheap wireless hack
Music fan Andrew Wayne loved the funky 1970s headphones he purchased from a flea market. But he didn't like switching between the vintage pair and modern, wireless headphones compatible with his smartphone. So Wayne simplified his life using an inexpensive Bluetooth adapter.
Q: When did people start inventing things in the garage?
LONG ANSWER The modern garage first appeared in the 1920s, and inventors-of automobile parts, among other things-began to occupy them almost immediately. Walt and Roy Disney started making cartoons in a Hollywood garage in 1923; eight years later, an engineer named Gerhard Fisher started building his Metallascope metal detectors in a garage in Palo Alto, California; and in 1938, William Hewlett and David Packard rented their own garage space in Palo Alto.
The first manned solar-powered airplane flight was more of a hop. Solar One, created by British entrepreneur Fred To, sailed 59 feet over Lasham Airfield outside London on December 19, 1978. Four months later, a photon-fueled hang glider called Solar Riser traveled half a mile over Riverside, California.