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WHAT KIND OF GENIUS ARE YOU? • Exclusive MARK ZUCKERBERG Interview • 10 Amazing Young Minds in Science and Tech

O'S AMAZING TRIP TO JUPITER Biggest Jet Engine // Digitising the Oceans // What is Blockchain? ! World's The Internet of Nano Things // Yes, the iPhone 7 is Boring + MORE!

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Feed Editor’s Letter Issue #94, SEPTEMBER 2016 EDITORIAL Editor Anthony Fordham Contributors Brooke Borel, Tom Clynes, Clay Dillow, Nicole Dyer, Daniel Engber, Tom Foster, William Gurstelle, Lindsay Handmer, Mike Haney, Joseph Hooper, Corinne Iozzio, Gregory Mone, Adam Piore, P.W. Singer, Erik Sofge, Kalee Thompson, James Vlahos, Jacob Ward, Daniel Wilks DESIGN Group Art Director Malcolm Campbell Art Director Tim Frawley ADVERTISING Divisional Manager Jim Preece ph: 02 9901 6150 National Advertising Sales Manager Lewis Preece ph: 02 9901 6175 Production Manager Peter Ryman Circulation Director Carole Jones US EDITION Articles Editor Kevin Gray Managing Editor Jill C. Shomer Senior Editor Sophie Bushwick Technology Editor Xavier Harding Assistant Editors Dave Gershgorn, Matt Giles Editorial Assistant Grennan Milliken Copy Chief Cindy Martin Researchers Ambrose Martos, Erika Villani Editorial Intern Annabel Edwards ART AND PHOTOGRAPHY Acting Design Director Chris Mueller Photo Director Thomas Payne Digital Associate Art Director Michael Moreno Associate Art Director Russ Smith Acting Production Manager Paul Catalano POPSCI.COM Online Director Carl Franzen Senior Editor Paul Adams Assistant Editors Sarah Fecht, Claire Maldarelli Contributing Writers Kelsey D. Atherton, Mary Beth Griggs,Alexandra Ossola BONNIER’S TECHNOLOGY GROUP Group Editorial Director Anthony Licata Group Publisher Gregory D Gatto BONNIER Chairman Tomas Franzen Chief Executive Officer Eric Zinczenko Chief Content Officer David Ritchie Chief Operating Officer Lisa Earlywine Senior Vice President, Digital Bruno Sousa Vice President, Consumer Marketing John Reese

Chief Executive Officer David Gardiner Commercial Director Bruce Duncan Popular Science is published 12 times a year by nextmedia Pty Ltd ACN: 128 805 970 Building A, 207 Pacific Highway St Leonards, NSW 2065 Under license from Bonnier International Magazines. © 2014 Bonnier Corporation and nextmedia Pty Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without written permission is prohibited. Popular Science is a trademark of Bonnier Corporation and is used under limited license. The Australian edition contains material originally published in the US edition reprinted with permission of Bonnier Corporation. Articles express the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Publisher, Editor or nextmedia Pty Ltd. ISSN 1835-9876. Privacy Notice We value the integrity of your personal information. If you provide personal information through your participation in any competitions, surveys or offers featured in this issue of Popular Science, this will be used to provide the products or services that you have requested and to improve the content of our magazines. Your details may be provided to third parties who assist us in this purpose. In the event of organisations providing prizes or offers to our readers, we may pass your details on to them. From time to time, we may use the information you provide us to inform you of other products, services and events our company has to offer. We may also give your information to other organisations which may use it to inform you about their products, services and events, unless you tell us not to do so. You are welcome to access the information that we hold about you by getting in touch with our privacy officer, who can be contacted at nextmedia, Locked Bag 5555, St Leonards, NSW 1590 To subscribe, call 1300 361 146 or visit

Exactly How Smart Could We Get? This is the Intelligence Issue, a celebration of human smarts. Which of course begs the question: exactly how much smarter are we than our ancestors, and how much smarter could we get? Measuring intelligence is notoriously difficult. After all, there are many kinds of intelligence. While holding the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge (currently Michael Cates, previously the likes of Newton, Babbage and Hawking) obviously requires a certain degree of brightness, could any of those men have navigated the tangled social maze of, say, the average Brazilian street gang? Could they paint a masterpiece, or engineer a racewinning maxi yacht? The old Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, has come under periodic attack, but the good news is in: the Flynn Effect shows, in standardised IQ tests, that human intelligence has been increasing by three IQ points per decade! Hurrah! Of course that’s not the end of it. Comparing our smarts to, say, the Mycenaeans may not even be fair. We’ve had a much more varied and information-rich education - which, it turns out, can change the very nature of our intelligence. Today’s humans have been trained much better in abstract thought than their ancestors. Ask a Spartan about the difference between a bow and a sword, he might say “I use my bow for hunting and my sword for war.” Today we’d say both objects are Bronze-age weapons, even talk about their place in history. Abstract, see. Other scientists have tried to get to the bottom of intelligence by examining our genes. To their shock and horror, they have discovered that in the last 3000 years, we’ve suffered two “harmful mutations” as a species, which have reduced the number of genes responsible for our intelligence. And yet those IQ scores keep going up. The other (in)famous theory of falling intelligence is so-called dysgenic mating. Smart people have fewer kids, “dumb” people have more. So as a species, overall we should be getting stupider.

But our population has never been higher, so while the dumbest people ever born are probably alive right now, so are the smartest. The science of human intelligence is a house divided. Some insist we’re getting smarter (diet, breeding, food, education etc) while others are certain we’re becoming ever more cretinous. There have even been studies done comparing the basic reaction time of 19th century subjects with modern humans. Apparently, kids in the 21C react milliseconds more slowly! Dumb! Yet those IQ scores keep inching up. So what’s the truth here? Are we evolving into even more intellectually capable creatures, even though the survival-of-the-fittest pressure to do so has never been lower? I find this the silliest of the arguments. We no longer need to escape sabretooth lions, so therefore we will start to lose our intelligence. No, I think there are still plenty of reasons to want to be smart to “survive” (or rather, thrive) in the modern world. It’s hard to reconcile the idea of a species getting dumber with a species that is now building global data networks, space stations, AIs and more. But who knows. And maybe who cares? The age of random evolution of the human mind is surely coming to an end. We’re on the cusp of unlocking the secrets of DNA and being able to tweak our brains to the next level. Soon (no doubt in the middle of a storm of protest and probably a couple of wars) we may quite deliberately start to make ourselves smarter, starting at a genetic level. Altered or augmented humans won’t be the majority of the population though. So maybe the big question is: Will the hyperintelligent be able to live with the rest of us... and will we be able to live with them? ANTHONY FORDHAM

P O P S C I . C O M. AU



From the Archives 78 MAY 1955! In the new Vickers Viscount, can we stop ogling the cabin staff long enough to gush about turboprops?


THE MOST SOCIAL MAN ON EARTH Mark Zuckerberg speaks to Popular Science about his plans beyond Facebook, and how he thinks connecting people can save the future from itself.

Featuring 45 THE BRILLIANT 10 Our annual quest to find the most fascinating young minds doing the most incredible science bears strange fruit for 2016...

52 THE GENIUS MATRIX Despite its drawbacks, could 2016 actually be the year of the genius?

62 THE OTHER BLACK MARKET Animal poaching and the illegal trade of animals and animal products is a scourge. Here’s how tech and big data will stomp it out like an angry rhino.

68 GET READY FOR VR Virtual reality isn’t just about buying headset. You need a powerful PC to run it, too. Here’s our guide for what to buy, and how to put it all together.



O CTO BER 2 0 1 6 For daily updates:



Departments NOW Your guide to everything



06 A laptop with incredible power 08 A shirt that keeps you not too dry 10 GE’s huge new engine 12 A Bionic Olympics? 14 Bringing POC to Silicon Valley 16 The unoriginality of the iPhone 7 18 Make your old HiFi wireless 20 The Internet of Nano Things 22 The power of powerbanks! 24 What is the Blockchain? 26 Upgrade security with an IP camera

NEXT Important stuff for futurists



28 Juno’s wild ride to Jupiter 30 How will robots learn? 32 A “cure” for Down’s Syndrome? 34 The arctic gets a garbage patch 35 Rare earth resources... in oil? 36 Digitising the oceans 38 Infected... by your own bugs? 40 Are smart pills fair? 42 Will AI ever do art?

MANUAL Made for you, by you 68 Build a VR rig 71 Exotic materials in everyday objects 72 Why do our phones keep exploding? 73 A helicopter... car... boat... thing 74 A snap-together synthesiser 75 Build a trebuchet! 75 Make a fog machine in a cup? 75 Prosthetic limbs that are a work of art

THE OTHER BITS Baked not fried



03 Our editor carries on for a bit 80 Retro Invention: Trains with props 82 Lab Rats




T H I S T I TA N I C L A P T O P R E D E F I N E S P O R TA B L E P O W E R MSI HAS A WELL-DESERVED REPUTATION for building “laptops” that really push the definition of portability. Sure, at 5.5 kilograms you won’t be slipping this into your backpack, but the Titan does take up a lot less space than a traditional ATX tower PC. But it doesn’t compromise on performance. The guts of a serious gaming machine are crammed into this folding chassis. The heart of the system is dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPUs (in a serviceable mini-card form rather than chip soldered to the motherboard) running in SLI - a configuration that shares load across the two chips. The GTX 1080 is Nvidia’s latest flagship, and the fastest GPU on the market right now. Long gone are the days where laptop PCs had to sacrifice graphics performance for form factor. Other components, from the Killer DoubleShot

MSI GT83VR 6RF TITAN SLI - Intel Core i7 CPU, CM236 chipset - Up to 64 G B RA M - 2x Nv idia GeForce GTX 10 80 G PUs i n SL I - 18.4" 1920x1080 display - Blu-ray writer DVD Super Multi optical drive - Killer DoubleShot Pro Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi - 4x 3W speakers, 1x 3 W wo ofer - Thunderbolt 3 over USB - C - M at ri x D i s p l ay for 3x 4K monitor suppor t P R I C E : $7499 (top spec) ga m i n g . ms


Pro gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi control to Nahimic 2 360-degree sound, MSI SHIFT easy-overclocking and a massive cooling syste indicate a machine entirely optimised for and dedicated to the noble pursuit of gaming. The only possible chink in the Titan’s armour of awesomeness? The 18.4-inch display is just 1920x1080. That’s full HD, but hardly justifies d GTX 1080s which are 4K-capable. Fortunately, t Matrix Display support for surround-graphics on multiple monitors, or triple 4K output to three external displays. And of course those powerful GPUs mean this monster is VR-ready for whatever headset you care to throw at it. Yes it’s big, brash and expensive. But the GT83 Titan is also a self-contained gaming behemoth. Get it out of the box, plonk it on the desk, maybe hook it up to a couple of extra screens, and you’re away.

the Titan includes a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches. Many gamers prefer mechanical keys due to their tactile response and durability. After all, this is a keyboard that will be taking some punishment...



COTTON IS COMFORTABLE, but when wet from sweat, it gets clammy. Self-wicking polyester is a good fix. But in wind or a temperature drop, it wicks away sweat so quickly, you get uncomfortably cold. Polartec’s engineers have figured out the right balance. Polartec created its new Delta—a mechanical wicking fabric—to hold sweat close to the skin. It mimics the body’s natural cooling process before sweat evaporates through the fabric and into the air. Its secret: a water-receptive synthetic called Lyocell is knit into fins, similar to those in a car radiator, that absorbs and spreads out perspiration. Polyester between the fins pulls moisture from the fabric and disperses it into the air to limit sogginess. Added odour control and UPF make it ideal for indoor or outdoor training. OUTDOOR RESEAR C H GAUGE TEE >> U S $ 5 9 Available Feb 2 0 1 7



Jonathon Kambouris


Bush Heritage II Connect

The Bush Heritage II Connect for the home has now been joined by the smaller Heritage P1 Connect, able to stream via Bluetooth on rechargeable battery, but retaining all the streaming and multiroom playback abilities of its big brother when at home.

,ǚŘʊʊǔƋƞƬʊǔǷȭŘȭƞˁȭȧŘǜƋǒƬƞɡƬʁnjɁʁȧŘȭƋƬƋɁȧŽǔȭƬǔȭǜǒƬȭƬ˹ Bush Heritage ConnectʁŘȭǷƬƖFȭǖɁ˿ƞǔǷǔǜŘǚʁŘƞǔɁƙŽˁǜŘǚʊɁǜǒƬ ˸Ƭʁ˿ǚŘǜƬʊǜǔȭȭƬǜ˹ɁʁǘʊǜʁƬŘȧǔȭǷŘȭƞȧˁǚǜǔʁɁɁȧƋŘɡŘŽǔǚǔǜǔƬʊǂ <Ä*ɯŘȭƞhÀʁŘƞǔɁ˹ǔǜǒăɡɁǜǔnj˿,ɁȭȭƬƋǜƙ*ǚˁƬǜɁɁǜǒƙÂh,,ɁȭȭƬƋǜ ŘȭƞĶǔȊhǔȧˁǚǜǔȊʁɁɁȧŘˁƞǔɁ˸ǔŘǜǒƬĘȭƞɁǘŘɡɡnjɁʁǔÏăŘȭƞÄȭƞʁɁǔƞƖ ĶǒƬǜǒƬʁ˿ɁˁʁɡʁƬnjƬʁƬȭƋƬǔʊǚǔʊǜƬȭǔȭǷǔȭǜɁǜǒɁˁʊŘȭƞʊɁnjʁŘƞǔɁ ʊǜŘǜǔɁȭʊnjʁɁȧŘʁɁˁȭƞǜǒƬ˹ɁʁǚƞɁʁʊǜʁƬŘȧǔȭǷ˿ɁˁʁnjŘ˸ɁˁʁǔǜƬǜˁȭƬʊnjʁɁȧ ˿ɁˁʁɁ˹ȭƋɁǚǚƬƋǜǔɁȭƙǜǒƬŒƬʁǔǜŘǷƬ““,ɁȭȭƬƋǜŘȭƞŒƬʁǔǜŘǷƬñɍ,ɁȭȭƬƋǜ ɁǏƬʁˁȭɡʁƬƋƬƞƬȭǜƬƞɡɁ˹ƬʁǔȭŘƋǚŘʊʊǔƋʁŘƞǔɁƞƬʊǔǷȭƖ

ɼƖƖƖĶƬʁƬƋǘɁȭǜǒƬ*ˁʊǒŒƬʁǔǜŘǷƬ““,ɁȭȭƬƋǜɴˁŘǚǔǞƬʊŘʊŘȭƬ˹Ƭȭǜʁ˿ǔȭ ǜǒƬʁŘȭǘʊɁnjȧˁǚǜǔʁɁɁȧ˹ǔʁƬǚƬʊʊʊ˿ʊǜƬȧʊǜɁʁǔ˸ŘǚǜǒƬǚǔǘƬʊɁnjăɁȭɁʊƙ ŒFÏăƙ*ɁʊƬăɁˁȭƞďɁˁƋǒŘȭƞǜǒƬʁƬʊǜƖÄȭƞǔǜǔʊŘȭƬȭǜǔʁƬǚ˿ÄˁʊǜʁŘǚǔŘȭ ɡʁɁƞˁƋǜŘȭƞɡʁɁǖƬƋǜƖF˸ƬȭȧɁʁƬǔȧɡʁƬʊʊǔ˸Ƭǚ˿ƙǔǜǔʊʁŘǜǒƬʁŽʁǔǚǚǔŘȭǜƖɾ Sound+Image magazine on the Award-Winning Heritage II Connect

Features: <Ä*ɯ ū hÀ ďˁȭƬʁ Ɗ ăɡɁǜǔnj˿ ,ɁȭȭƬƋǜ FȭŘŽǚƬƞ njɁʁ ŘƋƋƬʊʊ ǜɁ Ɂ˸Ƭʁ ʯ̋ ȧǔǚǚǔɁȭ ǜʁŘƋǘʊ *ˁǔǚǜ ǔȭ ĶǔȊhǔ Ɗ “ȭǜƬʁȭƬǜ ʁŘƞǔɁ ˹ǔǜǒ ŘƋƋƬʊʊ ǜɁ Ɂ˸Ƭʁ ɍȴƙ̋̋̋ ʁŘƞǔɁ ʊǜŘǜǔɁȭʊ ˹Ɂʁǚƞ˹ǔƞƬ ÄˁƞǔɁ ăǜʁƬŘȧǔȭǷ ǂ ʊǜʁƬŘȧ ˿Ɂˁʁ Ɂ˹ȭ ȧˁʊǔƋ njʁɁȧ ǒɁȧƬ ȭƬǜ˹ɁʁǘƬƞ ñ,ʤÀŘƋ F˾ɡŘȭƞŘŽǚƬ ÀˁǚǜǔȊʁɁɁȧ ăǜʁƬŘȧǔȭǷ Ɗ *ǚˁƬǜɁɁǜǒ ÄˁƞǔɁ ʊǜʁƬŘȧǔȭǷ ˹ǔǜǒ Âh, ,ɁȭȭƬƋǜ ³ŘʁǷƬ ƬŘʊ˿ȊǜɁȊʁƬŘƞ ϳF< ƞǔʊɡǚŘ˿ Ɗ <ˁŘǚ ŘǚŘʁȧ ƋǚɁƋǘ ˹ǔǜǒ ʊǚƬƬɡ Řȭƞ ʊȭɁɁ˘Ƭ ÂƬ˹ < ,ǚŘʊʊ ŘȧɡǚǔǞƬʁ ˹ǔǜǒ <ăñ ɤ<ǔǷǔǜŘǚ ăǔǷȭŘǚ ñʁɁƋƬʊʊɁʁɦ Žˁǔǚǜ ǔȭƙ njɁʁ ǔȧɡʁɁ˸Ƭƞ ŘˁƞǔɁ ɡƬʁnjɁʁȧŘȭƋƬ Ɗ Äˁ˾ “ȭ ū ŒƬŘƞɡǒɁȭƬ Ïˁǜ Ɗ ĘÂ<Ï° ,ɁȭǜʁɁǚ Äɡɡ njɁʁ ǔÏă ū ÄȭƞʁɁǔƞƖ

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The Upgrade


GE9X TURBOFAN ENGINE Fan diameter: 335cm Number of fans: 16 Power: 450 kN Bypass ratio: 10:1 Overall pressure ratio: 60:1 Intended plane: Boeing 777X Release date: 2020

THE STATE OF THE TURBOFAN JET engine art is in kind of a weird place right now. Speed? Height? Nah, it’s all about efficiency. This is the GE9X, the biggest turbofan engine (in terms of its 3.35m fan diameter) that aerospace giant GE has ever built. Oddly though, it’s not the most powerful. That’s because the focus here is on noise level and fuel efficiency. The airline industry barely turns a profit (depending on who you are) and fortunes can change in a season. So every cent, every litre of avgas, makes a difference. The GE9X will fly on the Boeing 777X, a new aircraft due by 2020. Bigger than the 787, the 777X variants will still use lots of the Dreamliner’s next-gen composites and other materials, and will challenge the Airbus A350 as the quietest and most efficient longhaul twin-engine airliner. GE claims the GE9X will offer fuel consumption rates 10% lower than the existing GE90-115B by engines currently used on ANTHONY FORDHAM the older 777s. The company


is even bold enough to say the GE9X will be 5% more efficient than any other engine (of its class) on the market for 2020. This engine is all about superlatives. Its 60:1 engine pressure ratio is the highest ever in “the history of aviation” says GE. The core of the engine uses ceramic matrix composite (CMC) which is stronger and more heat tolerant than any metal. It’s also GE’s quietest engine, and operates 8dB lower than the required margins for a Stage 5 rated jet. That might not seem like much (even though the dB scale is logarithmic), but Stage

5 is a new rating for next-gen super quiet jets, and GE is promising an engine even quieter than that. And for the sake of the environment, the GE9X also has the lowest emissions rating for the various nasty nitrogen oxides that combustion engines produce. But one area where the GE9X won’t break records is in power output. Don’t get us wrong – at 105,000 pounds of thrust, it’s an enormously powerful engine (GE likes to point out it’s more powerful than the Mercury Redstone rocket that sent America’s first astronaut into space), but it’s still beaten out by GE’s own GE90. Tweaked to generate 127,000 pounds of thrust, the GE90 holds the world power record for a single turbofan engine. The GE9X isn’t the most powerful, because innovation in air transport isn’t about raw power, not yet anyway. It’s about using incredible technology to help airlines ultimately save a buck. That might not be the stuff myths and legends are made of, but it certainly keeps the dream of everyday flight alive.

THE 40 YEAR ALLOY Back in the 1970s, work started on an exciting new future-spec alloy that could withstand incredible temperatures and corrosive environments. Forty years later, Titanium Aluminide is playing a major structural role in the GE9X’s low-pressure turbine airfoils. Expect to see TiAl mentioned in this magazine again...

Competitive Edge

A mundane activity like using pegs is an incredible achievement for bionics.

WELCOME TO THE BIONIC O LY M P I C S NOT MANY ATHLETES COMPETE IN mind-controlled computer games. Next month, however, more than fifty teams from around the world will meet near Zurich, Switzerland, to demonstrate their skills in manipulating computer characters, going up and down stairs in powered wheelchairs, and racing to pick up objects with their bionic hands. The events, which start on October 8, are part of the world’s first-ever Cybathlon, and will bring together the world’s best scientists and prosthetics users. It’s essentially a bionic version of the Olympics. But while the Paralympics focuses on outstanding athleticism, the Cybathlon will highlight novel robotic assistive devices that can help people with physical disabilities cope with everyday life. It’s not so much a sporting event as a way to showcase how to use this technology in positive ways. The teams range from small research groups to the world’s largest commercial by manufacturers of K NVUL advanced prostheses. S HEIKH

12 P O P U L A R S CI E N CE

And the competitors (called pilots rather than athletes) will be disabled people who will compete in one of six events that utilise exoskeletons, brain-wave controllers, prosthetic arms and legs, powered wheelchairs and muscle-stimulation bikes. In each event, the pilots will be judged according to how they perform a series of specified tasks. For the exoskeleton contest, pilots will have to sit down on a plush couch, get back up and negotiate an obstacle course that includes a stairway and a front door. For the b ain-computer interfaces, the challenge involves moving virtual racers around in a computer game by simply thinking about them. And for the users of powered rosthetic ar s the tasks will be

carrying a box, or pegging out sheets of paper (see picture). Awards will be given to both the winning pilots and makers of the devices they use. Cybathlon organisers hope this will drive research on these assistive technologies forward, the same way Le Mans and Formula One races have led to advances in automotive technology. They’ve even set up a symposium for t e researchers to discuss their technologies at the Cybathlon. If all goes well with October’s event, a few countries plan to f rther improve on the devices used. And according to Nature magazine, the Cybathlon will then return in 2020, as a seven-day event that coincides with the main Ol ic Ga es to take





is sorely in need of a diversity upgrade. So Kimberly Bryant founded Black Girls Code in 2012 to add a few shades to Silicon Valley’s color palette. Her nonprofit is dedicated to teaching girls K-12 how to code. Some 6,000 girls have enlisted, from San Francisco to as far away as Johannesburg, South Africa. Many others have taken note, from President Obama to the folks at Google, who this summer gifted the group $2.8 million in office space inside their Manhattan headquarters. Bryant, the group’s CEO, talked to Popular Science about the importance of inclusion—and how diversity benefits us all.


Cody Pickens

Why is inclusive hiring important in tech?

an incentive and as having someone to mirror my career path after. 

The people we serve—our students, our customers, our markets—are themselves diverse. Technology can be biased in how it’s developed if coders aren’t careful. There are apps that are clearly made by companies with no people of colour on their team. In Oakland some residents have taken issue with racially charged comments made in the neighbourhood safety section of the local social network, Nextdoor. The product itself isn’t necessarily inherently biased. Unconscious bias in the app is recognised by other types of folks, which could then be perceived as prejudice by users. But there are no built-in anti-bias tools in it. If women or people of colour were included at the creation table, these issues would be noticed.


Are there tech companies that are doing it right, that are hiring inclusively? It’s not just hiring, but also including people of colour and women on all levels: as middle managers, in leadership positions, even as founders. Slack, Pandora, and Pinterest—Pinterest especially—have really high numbers of women. If we aren’t seated at the table, the product, policies, and whole strategy has the potential to come from a narrow lens. For me, it was important to see folks like me on every level, as both


NAME Black Girls Code MISSION Train 1 million girls by 2040



Why do white males dominate tech in the first place? If you look at schools with a high population of students of colour like African-American or Hispanic, they tend to be in highly populated urban areas. And there’s not a strong pipeline for STEM study. Not being properly prepped for learning these fields during K-12 puts them at a disadvantage when they reach college. If you do go into engineering in college, you’ve never seen code, and you have to learn Java. Not to mention impostor syndrome: Where, because of your background, you feel like you don’t deserve to be there. So we’re losing girls all along the pipeline: losing them before they graduate high school, losing them the first couple of years of college, and absolutely losing the ones left who aren’t even offered jobs.

on Saturdays. There’s also summer camps like ones happening in New York and Washington DC. We started in 2012, so many of our students are still in school. But we’ve had girls continue coding education with other programs like Game Heads and Make School for app development and students with apps on the market. My daughter Kai has created the app She 2 You, which allows female high school athletes to be recognised by recruiters. Kai is the one who inspired me to start Black Girls Code. She had always been interested in video games, and when I enrolled her in a summer class at Stanford to learn game design, there were few girls and even fewer people of colour. So I decided to change that.

What does the Black Girls Code curriculum look like?

Some people say you can’t be what you can’t see. What do you believe?

We teach HTML, CSS, Java, some Javascript, some Python. Also proprietary languages associated with robotics—which are some of our most popular classes—and we’re looking into adding Ruby and Swift. During the school year, workshops are held after school and

I really hate that asaying with a passion! It’s true that not having those images makes it much more difficult because you don’t have anyone who’s walked a similar path. But you can absolutely be what you can’t see. That’s what innovators and disruptors do.





6 Great Ideas in Gear 1



1/ FREEWRITE Tap away without distraction on this digital typewriter with authentic keys, then upload your analogue opus to the cloud.

2/ LOGITECH ZEROTOUCH Take calls and change tunes in the car with a wave of the hand so your eyes stay on the road ahead. Cops hate it!

3/ CYRANO Deploy this gizmo for all of your aromatherapy needs: soothing coconut and guava scents during rush hour, or energising citrus at work.

4/ SAMSUNG ICONX WIRELESS EARBUDS IconX earbuds track your heart rate and hold up to 4GB of music so you can go for a run phone-free.


5/ THINCHARGE CASE The Thincharge case protects your iPhone and adds 100 percent more battery life. And yes, it supports a 3.5mm jack.

6/ KNOCKI This puck translates knocks into commands. Knock a surface twice to turn on smart lights or call an Uber. Weird but useful, the best kind!


Gadget Wars

W H Y I P H O N E 7 ’ S N E W F E AT U R E S S E E M O D D LY FA M I L I A R REGARDLESS OF WHO INVENTED WHAT and when, Apple definitely gave the nascent smartphone market a massive kick in the pants with the iPhone. And ever since that day, Cupertino’s favourite little garage company and, well, pretty much every other electronics manufacturer in the world have been fighting over who came up with what feature and when. Steve Jobs spent a statistically significant percentage of his final months on Earth planning a “nuclear war” against Google and all the ways, he said, Android ripped off iOS.

Today though, the situation is rather more complex. Perhaps BECAUSE Android phones are so intrinsically similar, companies such as Samsung and an endless parade of new Chinese brands, have had to come up with fiddly “innovations” for their phones, from multitasking to VR to waterproofing to iris-unlocking and more. The result? The shine is coming off that Apple. The latest iPhone 7 may well be a technological masterpiece, but many ‘new’ features such as the afore-mentioned waterproofing, stereo speakers, fingerprint

readers, divided multicore performance and efficient CPUs are all features introduced by Android phones first. In the face of this, Apple’s only option is to play dumb and hope that its “superior implementation” will make us forget all the Droids and Galaxies and such. Here are three major features that Apple “ just invented” for the iPhone 7, and how they plan to do them better.


1/ TWIN SENSOR CAMERA The iPhone 7 Plus (but not the 7) camera combines two 12MP cameras. One lens has a wider field of view, while the other is 2x zoomed in. By using both, the iPhone 7 Plus can ‘zoom’ optically, and can combine the two images for better depth of field, which should enable post-processing bokeh effects. But it turns out that LG and HTC both experimented with dual cameras back in 2011, and more recently, the LG G5 (and the just launched LG V20), which uses the same differing field of view setup as the iPhone. Huawei also has the P9 i h ually uses a colour and black and d low light photography. Apple’s very good, so while not original, o doubt take excellent pictures.

Huawei’s Mate S includes a sort of force touch.

2/ FORCE TOUCH First launched with the iPhone 6S (and included on the 7), Force Touch allows a smartphone’s touchscreen to register how hard it is being pressed, and perform different actions accordingly. The tech would be a major Apple innovation, if Chinese Android smartphone giant Huawei hadn’t already introduced a pressure sensing touch screen in the Mate S. The advantage here still lies with Apple, as their technology has a whole lot more support behind the software side of development, and is included in the Apple Watch and newer Macbooks. It will be interesting to see how important forcetouch becomes - will software developers embrace it, forcing Windows notebooks and Android smartphones to add the tech?


2 Huawei’s twin cam is even more radical

3/ FEWER PLUGHOLES To the annoyance of many, Apple has ditched the traditional 3.5mm audio jack and designed the iPhone 7 with a lightning connector only. Taking the edge off Apple’s act of “courage”, Android phones from Motorola have only a USB-C port and no 3.5mm jack. Apple claims losing the jack frees up extra space and improves audio quality, and it can also help with waterproofing. Yes, you get an adapter in the box, but this means you can’t listen while charging (though another adapter could solve that). The move also helps a push towards higher quality wireless earphones. Really the issue here isn’t the lack of the 3.5mm jack, but Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector. While the rest of the world uses USB-C, headphone manufacturers will now have to start shipping two versions - which they actually already do thanks to the inline remote. Could this move bring Apple more pain than pleasure?


Motorola experimented with USB-C only, no 3.5mm audio port.


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GET M U LT I R O O M MUSIC (Without Selling Your Beloved Hi-Fi) NOT SO LONG AGO, MULTI-ROOM sound meant drilling holes in your ceiling and installing speakers each in room. Then crawling around in the roof running cable. A few years after that, Sonos exploded onto the scene with a range of easyto-configure wireless speakers and, crucially, an app to control everything from a smartphone. Nowadays of course we have many wireless multi-room music systems to choose from. In this round up alone, there are systems from Sonos, Yahama, Denon, Bose and Google. But along the way something was lost: the classic hi-fi. A pair of high-quality (and high fidelity) speakers, a dependable old amp, a couch and a bottle of wine. Sure, a little compact party speaker like the Bose Soundlink Mini II or the Denon HEOS 1 is fine for the bedroom, but serious music deserves serious kit. Yet, why should the big stereo (or indeed the decent little bookshelf system you bought only five years by ago) miss out on all the ANTHONY app-enabled, cloudFORDHAM


connected sonic goodness? Fortunately, each of the major wireless multiroom speaker systems include in their line-up a connected device that makes no sound at all, until you connect to your existing system. Some are like traditional amps, capable of powering a set of speakers themselves. Others require an additional amplifier. But both types give you access to the growing universe of high quality audio on demand, where it be from your own NAS or from an app like Spotify or Google Music. Not only do these amps connect to your existing hifi set-up or favourite bookshelf speakers (or even daggy old CD microsystem if you’re that determined to be thrifty), they also join up with other speakers on the same system for multi-room, multi-zone sound. That’s right: one app on your phone can control your main hifi system and a speaker (or two) in each bedroom. You can run the same music through every speaker at once, or split the house into zones. It’s all a lot more flexible - and easier

on the knees - than crawling around in the ceiling with wires clamped between your teeth. Committing to one of these amps doesn’t necessarily mean committing to a particular speaker system either. While all have a proprietary app, they can also make use of more general systems like DLNA or Apple AirPlay. That said, matching all your speakers to the one brand does give you maximum flexibility.


1/ YAMAHA MUSICCAST WXA-50 $699 While the other amps in this round up encourage the user to “get with the program” and be as one with their various ecosystems for maximum functionality, Yamaha’s MusicCast is rather more open and flexible. Yamaha’s philosophy seems to be: let’s create a wireless standard that almost anything can connect to. Let’s not just limit MusicCast to single-box speakers, but put it in all our hi-fi gear, from AV receivers to $10,000 amps and more. The typically-old-school-Japaneseelectronics-giant-named WXA-50 is a mere 214mm wide but packs a 70W per channel punch if used to drive stereo speakers. It can also drive a single speaker, and in this case manages 90W. It has stereo output for passing tuneage through to another amp, but its inputs include WiFi, optical, Bluetooth and USB. What’s interesting about the Bluetooth on MusicCast is that the WXA-50 (and other MusicCast devices) can SEND as well as receive it. This means you can connect it to a different wireless music system for the ultimate in universal compatibility. Yamaha also has the WXC-50, which costs only $479 and has no onboard amp. It’s a better choice for audiophiles who already own an awesome amplifier, since it has a proper pre-amp output.

2/ DENON HEOS AMP $899 Like the Bose SA-5, this amp from Denon’s HEOS range of wireless devices has 100W per channel. It can also drive low-impedance speakers (ie, fancier ones), which is important because this device doesn’t have an audio output and can’t be connected to another amplifier. As well as RCA stereo and 3.5mm input, the HEOS AMP includes a sub out for attaching a subwoofer. This means you can use it as part of a 2.1 system with a TV - the bass will give movie soundtracks that extra kick. There’s an optical digital in, and a USB port too that won’t just play back music files on an external drive, it will also charge any device plugged into it! If space is at a premium in your media den, but you still want to use your old speakers, the HEOS AMP is a good choice, powerful enough to make your old amp unnecessary.

3/ BOSE SOUNDTOUCH SA-5 $799 This chunky but solidly-built amp complements Bose’s range of SoundTouch speakers and will connect with them via the home’s WiFi. An included app lets the listener set up multiple zones or just play music wherever. The SA-5 is pretty generous with extra inputs: it includes three auxiliary inputs for traditional kit like a CD player, and has Bluetooth too for playing music stored on a smartphone (great for when friends drop around with new tunes). Selecting the source is easy with six preset buttons on top of the amp (thus the name SoundTouch), and the whole thing pushes 100W per channel which is reasonably beefy. Naturally, it also has optical out to connect to an audiophile grade amp too.








The Chromecast Audio is quite a different beast from the other devices here. It’s not a standalone amp, and unlike the iPhone 7 only outputs via a 3.5mm jack (though this does double as a digital optical output too). But it’s very compact and even easier to set up and use. Simply power it up, plug it in to an aux input on an existing hi-fi or compact system, then use a smartphone and the Chromecast app to register it on the home WiFi. What the Chromecast Audio does is make other sound systems network capable. Using a phone or a PC, various music apps - including Google Music, Spotify, Plex and many more - will now show a small “Cast” icon in the top corner. Tap it, select the Chromecast, and music will start flowing from the speakers. That’s it! There’s no Bluetooth or analogue inputs but that’s not the idea with this thing. Unfortunately at the moment, music from most apps will only play to one Chromecast Audio at a time, which means it’s not a true multi-room device. An any-room device, sure. But one song at a time. Still, for sixty bucks, it’s a great way to go wireless.

Like the HEOS AMP, the Sonos Connect:Amp takes on the role of amplifier 100% - there’s no output except to stereo speakers. That said, there is one RCA input and a plug to connect a subwoofer for those addicted to bass (ie everyone). Sonos pitches the Connect:Amp as being useful for slotting into a house that already has speakers installed in the walls or perhaps on a patio or deck - and there are plenty of homes like this. The device gives these legacy speakers a new lease on life, so you don’t need to rip them out of the walls. Indeed, the Connect:Amp is small and discreet and can be tucked away, but it brings full Sonos functionality to a pair of analogue speakers, wherever they may be. With 55W per channel, this isn’t the most powerful amp on the market but it does benefit from Sonos’ extremely mature ecosystem. The app has been through many iterations and is very stable and straightforward to use. Interestingly, quite a few Sonos fans use the Connect:Amp to keep their old turntable in the mix, connecting it first to a phono stage and then the amp. Playing records via an app? Wild!



Big I eas


ASK A TECH BLOGGER FOR A LIST of the 10 most influential technologies of the immediate future, and they’ll probably nominate VR and cryptocurrencies, maybe a renewable energy system of some kind. Ask the World Economic Forum though, and right near the top of their list is this: the Internet of Nano Things. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term for devices that, while not computers as such, still connect to the internet via an IP address. Think smart light bulbs that change colour via an app on your phone, a vending machine that orders its own refills, a security camera accessed via the web. Pretty soon, almost everything electronic will have some kind of connectivity. Even your door locks and pet’s collar. The Internet of Nano Things, on the other hand, is more about manipulating the DNA of bacteria to create ultra-simple, nanoscale sensors and signallers for use in medicine and agriculture (for a start). For instance, while the afore-mentioned smart door lock needs a little WiFi transceiver and a little battery to work, a nanoscale device could literally be a bacteria modified to detect a certain chemical and then change colour or vibrate. This signal would be picked up by a nearby secondary detector and passed further up the by line until the information ANTHONY reached a computer with FORDHAM


enough power to put all the signal together and create something meaningful. The advantage of nanoscale sensors is that they can collect not hundreds of data points, but millions. With this much information, incredibly detailed maps of, say, a patient’s lymph system, can be built up. Right now work is underway on creating a wide range of robust nanoscale sensors. But the next step is building likewise tiny machines that send information not to a local receiver but out onto the web via IP. Forget going to the doctor - just give her permission to access your biomonitoring system remotely. It’s not just for medicine either. Nanosensors could be scattered everywhere, baked into everything. Built of carbon nanotubes or other super-durable materials, they could form part of roads, be seeded throughout sewage plants and water supplies,



monitor air quality in cities and roughly ninety billion other potential vital applications. The result? A world completely connected, full of rich useful data which, we hope, will be used to improve our standard of living. And not for evil. Because ethical concerns do abound what if your medical bots get hacked? But the potential remains vast and exciting. Within 30 years, everything from security cameras to cold and flu medicine could become invisible, and connected to the net. A simpler, safer, smarter world. What could possibly go wrong?


1/ A tiny speck of “digital dust”, a network-enabled sensor that can be implanted. 2/ The sensor attached directly to a living nerve inside a rat. It sends data via a lowpower wireless signal. 3/ Ultimately, nanosensors could be no bigger than bacteria, and in everything.



© 2016 Seagate Technology LLC. All rights reserved.

Tomorrow’s Toolbox 1

THE MANY USES OF A POWERBANK Topping up a phone or tablet via USB power pack is handy, but the latest power banks are capable of so much fi d t h t th







$129.95 WW

Power banks are only as good as the source of electronics used to charge them, which can be a problem when away from mains power. Goal Zero has a solution though, with a range of power banks and solar panels. We tested the Guide 10 Plus kit, which includes a Nomad 7 solar charger, combined with a AA battery based charge station. The setup can reach full capacity in just four hours of sun, ready to juice up your devices later. Alternatively, it can directly charge USB devices, or those needing a 12V cigarette lighter socket.

A chunky 5V is all well and good, but many devices need different voltages. The Comsol Power Bank has a 20,000 mAh capacity, but can also output 12V, 16V and 19V. It includes a range of swappable connector tips (and a cable), so it’s compatible with a decent range of devices. It works with the latest laptops (bar some from Dell), and can run other electronics, such as battery chargers, or a modem and WiFi router during a blackout. Of course it also has a 2.1-amp fast charge USB port, and comes with its own 19V charging brick.

While USB charging requires a relatively low current, the Lithium-ion batteries in power banks are capable of so much more. Taking advantage of this is the LASER Universal Power Bank which has a very cool party trick - it can jump start a car. The unit comes with chunky little plug-in jumper cables, and is capable of 400 CCA’s (cold cranking amps), which suits many cars. The power bank itself has a 12,000 mAh capacity, and a single 2.1A fast charge USB port. It also has a built in LED torch that can run for up to 120 hours.

22 P O P U L A R S CI E N CE

The latest smartphones, tablets and even laptops use USB-C, which supports special quick charge voltages. The Xiaomi Mi Power Bank Pro uses Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 to quickly bring dead tech back to life. While it can output the usual 5V, 2A, it is also able to bump the voltage up to 9V, or 12V depending on device. The power bank only has a single USB Type-A output port, but a reasonbly generous 10,000 mAh capacity. The Mi power bank itself can also quick charge via a USB-C input, with a compatible charger.

The screens of the Future are available today!

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“In the future, the blockchain could be the key to making the economy work” W H AT T H E H E C K I S

THE BLOCKCHAIN EVERYONE’S HEARD OF BITCOIN, RIGHT? The marvellous “cryptocurrency” that sits snug in digital wallets across the internet and is used mainly, or so we’re told, to buy generic nootropics. Or actual drugs from whatever Silk Road has evolved into since the big FBI bust of 2013. Bitcoin may one day be subsumed by other cryptocurrencies, but it’s the technology behind it that’s really interesting - the blockchain. In too many Hollywood movies, hackers with magic powers can get into secure systems and “corrupt the database”. There’s some truth to this: if a bunch of records of something in the real world, like money, are kept in a single database on a single computer system (with maybe a couple of backups), those records can be tampered with or erased. A blockchain database - usually called “the blockchain” - doesn’t keep its records on a single system. Everyone can connect to the blockchain, and in the context of bitcoin, can send new transactions to it, check existing transactions, and make new blocks. Blocks are groups of transactions (or more generally, activity on the database) but they also include information that confirms these transactions are valid, and have an identifier that links the block to the previous block in the chain. Thus the name. The really clever part is that the blockchain contains an algorithm that generates a sort of score for the history of the database, and all the transactions that have occurred within it. The problem with a traditional database is that someone could overwrite old information (say, the amount of money in your account) and then fool the database into thinking that value had ALWAYS been correct. This can’t happen with the blockchain, because each block contains a kind of record of all the others, and new blocks are given precedence (a higher score) over old blocks that have been overwritten. So if someone did hack the database and changed some entries, the other parts of the database would reject those changes and restore the “correct” version. Now, a clever hacker could simply make a bunch of new blocks to manipulate the data, instead of overwriting old blocks. That’s why blocks have been designed to be difficult to generate. by ANTHONY By using hardcore maths (partial FORDHAM collisions of a secure hash function,


$12.3 Value, in billions of dollars, of the 15.2 million bitcoins currently in circulation. There is a hard limit of 21 million, and the value could (and often does) change dramatically.

if that means anything to you), block generation requires a powerful PC to sit churning numbers for hours. People do this, and build PCs specifically to do it. It’s called bitcoin mining, because the reward for generating a new block is a number of bitcoins (12.5 at time of writing, worth nearly $10,000 Australian). The other way to create a new block is to do a transaction - buy something - with an existing bitcoin that you got from someone else. The bitcoin, originally mined by someone long ago, is associated with your unique key, and doing a transaction transfers that key to someone else - like you physically handing money to a shopkeeper. But because this all happens on the blockchain, backed by algorithms and the blockchain’s selfchecking, self-repairing history, you can have the confidence that the transaction is actually worth something. The person you gave the bitcoin to knows they will be able to spend that bitcoin on something else. This is what makes bitcoin - a digital-generated currency - real money. And now the world’s taxing governments are scrambling to keep up. Even though the blockchain was developed to make bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies work, the possibilities of this kind of database have a lot of very serious people seriously excited. For instance, the blockchain can essentially pay invoices and copyright royalties automatically; when you do a transaction that transfers a bitcoin to a key associated with, say, a digital music store, the database will automatically know to divert some part of that transaction to the artist who made the music. It could also work for maintaining copyright on digitally distributed content. When you download a movie, the blockchain knows and automatically alerts the rights holder. Scary? Maybe. The exact implementation of this is still off in the future. But in a world where pretty soon digital distribution will be the norm, the blockchain could be the key to making the economy work.

Smarter Home


SONY SNC-VM772R $3200 Using their in house camera sensor tech, the Sony boffins have produced a 4K security camera. Compared to the more typical 1080P (or worse, 720P), 4K has four times the resolution, which makes a big difference when trying to pull identifying info from the footage later. The camera also has a 2.9x zoom lens, optical image stabilisation, and can work in low light down to 0.06 lux. For total darkness, the camera also has IR LED illumination. The whole lot is enclosed in an impact and weather resistant enclosure. The downside is all that sweet tech costs more than a decent DSLR camera.

FOSCAM R2 $249 Designed to make it simple to keep an eye on a specific part of your home or business, the Foscam R2 does it all. The self-contained unit has a 1080P resolution, and a 2x fixed focus optical zoom, and 6x digital zoom. The camera can be remotely connected to pan and tilt through 300 degrees horizontally, and 100 degrees vertically. It can send footage over WiFi, or record it directly to a SD card. Even cooler, using a smartphone app, the camera can enable two way communications, or just be remotely monitored. It also has loads of inbuilt smarts, such as being able to automatically identify a security threat, and send a message and picture directly to your smartphone. It can even be controlled via voice commands.

NETGEAR ARLO $799 (3 Camera Kit) www netgear com a


SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS ARE A FAMILIAR way to beef security, but often come with expensive contracts to security firms. Network connected cameras, on the other hand, make it easy to record footage or pictures to a NAS, or beam them to the Cloud. While there are increasing numbers of cheap and cheerful models, higher end IP cameras have features not found anywhere else. Such as...



This artistâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s impression of the north pole of Jupiter made sensible assumptions... but didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t get it quite right. There are no bands in the higher latitudes, just a vast sea of storms and towering superclouds. There are auroras though, and lightning too.


DURING THE PRODUCTION of this edition of Australian Popular Science, NASA’s Juno probe made its first flyby of Jupiter. And from the very first image it sent back of the king of planets’ north pole, it reminded us of space exploration’s most important commandment: always expect the unexpected. This unrecognisable cloudscape serves as a reminder that until now, our only detailed images of Jupiter have been from the Voyagers during their 1979 flyby; from Galileo’s orbits 1989-2003; from Hubble; and from Earth-based telescopes. All these viewpoints were aimed, more or less, at the equator, creating the popular image of Jupiter as a banded world dominated by the Great Red Spot.

But even on its first of 37 orbits, Juno has discovered a very different Jupiter. No bands, no familiar colours, but still a world of storms and vast clouds. Some of the clouds even appear to cast shadows, suggesting they tower kilometres above the main deck. Scientists are now scrambling to understand how this very different side to one of the most-studied of all the Solar System’s worlds could have formed. Between them, the Voyager spacecraft and Galileo took tens of thousands of pictures of Jupiter. Juno will add thousands more, in unprecedented detail. Who knows what the little probe will see next. Whatever it is, it will be wonderful, and nothing we expect.

Juno took this sureto-be-iconic image from a distance of about 78,000 km above Jupiter’s cloud tops (we can’t say “from the surface” of course). Its closest approach – called perijove – will bring it within 2000km of those clouds, currently planned for October 19. Well, actually, the closest will be when NASA deliberately sets the probe on a collision course with the planet once 37 orbits are complete. Due to the positively insane levels of radiation around Jupiter, Juno is one of the most heavily-shielded probes ever built.

P OP S C I . C O M. AU



HOW WILL ROBOTS LEARN? For artificial intelligence to progress, machines must learn to teach themselves by DAVE GERSHGORN + MATT GILES

I “We’re all in this together, in that we’re trying to build a beter society using AI.”



revolution, then today’s artificial intelligence is its first baby steps toward maturity. 1 Today, AI researchers feed an algorithm data and painstakingly help it learn. But to make AI that’s knowledgeable on a grand scale—like learning the idiosyncrasies needed to translate every human language— the software needs to learn on its own. However, researchers don’t agree on how to make that happen. One camp thinks that if we correct algorithms when they make the wrong decisions, they’ll learn to avoid bad choices and choose only the right ones. 2 In other words, we parent our AI until it reaches the ability to thrive on its own. The other camp believes learning is also informed by self-awareness, which lets humans make decisions based on their limits. They say artificial intelligence would also benefit from reflecting on its decisions. 3 Algorithms could avoid bad decisions by understanding their limited abilities, as some researchers have already proved. 4 But there aren’t hard feelings on research differences—the field is idealistic and collaborative, 5 and competitors often share progress through open-source code. It’s important that they do because the entire industry will need to answer larger questions about the impact of their self-aware software—like where will humans still fit into a world run by AI? 6


Brad Wenner

Andrew Ng

Eric Horvitz



1/ “Somehow children have an amazing ability to soak in the world and learn tons of things about the world without needing someone to provide the output. The technical term for this is unsupervised learning. It’s basically just learning from A without needing B for every single input. We think a lot of humans learn just from A and not much from B. Children learn speech just by listening to speech.”

3/ “No matter how poor the pieces are, at least if you have a really good layer of reflection, the system would know its limitations. It would know how good it is, and it would be bound by rationality. It would be able to understand how it’s meant to employ itself in different situations, so it would be helpful even if it weren’t perfect.”

5/ “There is that attitude in the AI community today that we’re all in this together, in that we’re trying to build a better society using AI. This has led to an open sharing of ideas and even software. We do what we do because fundamentally we think it will make the world a better place, so we really want to share our discoveries with other people rather than keep things secret.”

2/ “Today, we create our speech recognition systems on 45,000 hours of audio data— about five years of continuous talking. I’m in awe that we can actually build supercomputers that can process five years’ worth of audio in a couple of weeks. But I’m also slightly embarrassed that our algorithms need so much data. No human brain needs five years of continually transcribed audio to learn English.”

4/ “This evolving AI assistant I’ve built weaves together vision, natural dialogue ability, and generation of facial expressions that captures uncertainty at various levels. Plus a set of services that can predict—based on 10 years of data— where is Eric going to be in 10 minutes? How long will he be in his office until he leaves? Which meetings will he not attend, even though they’re on his calendar?”

6/ “What are the implications for people who might be out of the kind of jobs they’re trained for? Can we plan for that? Can we solve it? We might have to come up with ways to redistribute wealth because we know these technologies will generate more wealth. We really need to start being proactive about this and think these things through.”


Michael Clinard

“What are the implications for people who might be out of the kind of jobs they trained for?”



How Parents Pushed to Test a Down Syndrome Treatment

had yet to say his first word. He has Down syndrome, a disorder caused by an extra copy of by chromosome 21, found in over 270 A L LISON W I L L IAMS babies every year in Australia. There’s no cure, and most people with the diagnosis have an IQ about 50 points below average and a shorter life expectancy. Desperate to improve her son’s cognition, Cody gave him supplements, vitamins, and medication, which led her to an unlikely treatment: Prozac. She found studies that claim the antidepressant—also known as fluoxetine—could stimulate the growth of new neurons in mice. She convinced Neal’s pediatrician it couldn’t hurt, so he added the drug to Neal’s supplement regimen. Cody believes the drug sped Neal’s development, and

Insane Study


When first responders enter the scene of an active shooting or chemical spill, they must rapidly decide how to prioritise patient care. The current triage system uses colour-coded tags corresponding to the seriousness of a patient’s injuries. The problem is, first responders don’t always have the medical

expertise to accurately identify who needs the most pressing attention. “During disasters, emergency rooms typically get overwhelmed,” says Peter Chai, an emergency medical physician at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “So when

although there’s no way to prove causation, Cody created the Changing Minds Foundation in 2006 to promote the drug protocol she gave to Neal. Parents hoping for treatments that will improve their children’s lives often grasp at anecdotes like Cody’s without waiting for scientific proof. This tendency can do real damage, as when the false claim that vaccines cause autism led parents to refuse shots, causing outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles to occur. To see if Cody’s claim could possibly be true, Paul Watson, who also has a child with Down syndrome, approached University of Texas Southwestern in 2015 to conduct a proper study. This past spring, UTSW researchers began administering either fluoxetine or a placebo to 21 pregnant mothers whose fetuses have been diagnosed with trisomy 21. After birth, the children will remain on the drug for two years. The researchers think that the fluoxetine might spur new neuron growth and steer the

growing brain’s development. “We’re predicting that we’ll get a faster and higher magnitude of brain growth with the fluoxetine, and get better cognition at the end of two years,” says Carol Tamminga, the primary investigator. Not everyone is optimistic. Michael Harpold, chief scientific officer for the LuMind Research Down Syndrome Foundation, thinks a 21-person study is extremely small. “I would question whether you’d really get meaningful results out of this,” he says. (In 2007, Harpold and 20 other experts signed an open letter saying the Changing Minds protocol had significant risks and unknown results.) Tamminga, however, says if this small trial shows that fluoxetine is associated with a statistically significant uptick in cognition, it’s a promising start that will prompt more research. If the study shows a negative association, she thinks it will almost certainly discourage parents from using Prozac. “Either way, this kind of study is a big win or a big loss,” Tamminga says.


“We’re predicting that we’ll get a faster and higher magnitude of brain growth.”

truly injured patients show up later, we have nowhere to put them.” Enter Google Glass: The augmented-reality headset that more or less failed as a consumer product is getting a second life as a tool that turns paramedics and emergency medical


Cristiana Couceiro

technicians into walking telemedicine suites. Wearing it while assessing patients allows them to consult with surgeons and other doctors back at the hospital in real time. This northern autumn, UMMS will host an active-shooter drill and outfit dozens of first

responders with Google Glass to see if it improves emergency assessment. For extra ground support, UMMS will also deploy a drone equipped with heat sensors to help find patients and determine which ones need the most urgent attention. —KELSEY D. ATHERTON


JUNK REACHES ARCTIC WATERS The birth of another ocean garbage patch

AS SEA ICE SHRINKS, HUMAN activity in the Arctic increases. As a result, junk is seeping into our northernmost ocean, and seems to be creating a new garbage patch in the Barents Sea. Previously, scientists identified five major garbage patches, which collectively contain millions of kilograms of rubbish too buoyant to sink. “It’s like a turd that just won’t flush,” says Erik van Sebille, oceanographer at Imperial College London. The five patches are in mostly barren regions where the water is depleted of nutrients. But this new patch is forming amid an ecosystem with hundreds of creatures off the coasts of

Norway and Russia. Researchers tested local wildlife and found plastic in 88 per cent of sampled seabirds. Which is a lot. So far, attempts at cleanup have been superficial, and studies suggest the seafloor holds more trash than what floats on the surface. Van Sebille’s research suggests that plastic removal could be 14 per cent more effective if it happens close to shore. “Cleaning up in the middle is like mopping up a leaking tap without fixing the tap itself,” he says. “It’s much better to do it as close to the source as possible, before it has a chance to interact with marine life.”



Surgeon Steven Zeitels saves the voices of singers like Adele (left). But mere mortals also endure vocal-cord stiffness that can lead to strain and voice loss. Instead of treating it with costly surgery, Zeitels—director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Voice Center—is creating a 45-cubic-millimetre gel implant that will be injected under the vocal membranes to restore pliability. It’ll be ready for human trials in 2018. “This is a way to bring back what had been thought of as lost forever,” Zeitels says. —MATT GILES PHOTOGRAPH BY

Jonathon Kambouris



Dec ode d


CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT WOULDN’T EXIST without rare earth elements. No smartphones, LEDs, wind turbines, or even car batteries. REEs, such as cerium and scandium, are scattered throughout the earth’s crust. China alone produces nearly 90 per cent of the world’s supply, and the US’s only mine closed this year. But researchers could help break Turning energy waste into that monopoly with something we already have in ingredients for new tech abundance: coal and its byproducts. “Everything that’s in the earth’s crust is also present within the coal,” explains Evan Granite, a chemical engineer at the US Department of Energy. The DOE recently funded a wave of research to boost US REE production to cope with demand, which is rising about 5 per cent every year. Each step of coal production—mining, cleaning, and burning—creates REE-enriched material. The goal is to use that waste, now sitting in landfills and storage ponds, in a way that’s cheap and environmentally friendly. US coal-fired power plants, for example, produce 130 million tons of coal ash each year. A recent study from Duke University identified billions of dollars worth of REEs within coal burned from coal mined in the Appalachian Mountains and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. The challenge now is extracting the metals, says Sarma Pisupati, a professor of energy and mineral engineering at Pennsylvania State University. His research focuses on rinsing raw shale with an ammonium-sulfate solvent to collect REEs early in the coal-production process. by On the other hand, do you know which country could be sitting on some of the world’s CORINNE IOZZIO largest deposits of vital materials like lithium? That’s right: Australia. Who’s ready for a second mining boom?


Michael Brandon Myers

P O PS C I . C OM . AU


Next Data Point

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT TOP: A sensor bouy is prepared for launch. RIGHT: A graphic showing the sensor system and how the sensor package can be positioned at various depths, and communicate with drones such as... BOTTOM RIGHT: Underwater drones will prowl the ocean floor gathering data. BOTTOM LEFT: Drones will be periodically retrieved for maintenance and download of data. LEFT: The end result will be a detailed picture of the ocean, which right now is still one of the most mysterious regions on Earth.


Next Data Point

DIGITISING THE OCEANS IN REAL TIME OVER THE NORTHERN SUMMER, while the rest of the crew of the PopSci mothership on Park Avenue were getting tan (via lasers, of course, as is the Park Avenue style), the US National Science Foundation’s USS Sikuliaq took a 39-day Vision 16 cruise. It wasn’t exactly a typical cruise. Rather than kicking back, the crew was busy surveying the cables that feed a network of observatories collecting openaccess marine and climate data, called the Ocean Observatories Initiative - the newest chess piece in the NSF’s campaign to stitch together a massive data collection network. Harvard biologist Peter Girguis assures PopSci that “Let’s put [an array of sensors] on the seafloor and see what it can do” was part of the thought process guiding the NSF’s move to deploy the US$55 million ($71m) network of autonomous lab equipment and underwater vehicles. But it was not the sole motivation behind it. DEEP VISION After all, it took US$386 million ($502m) and a nearly a decade of development, but finally up and running, the OOI is “the largest fixed oceanographic observatory in the world,” according to director Greg Ulses. Translation: by size, scale, and terabytes, this set-it-and-forget-it web of fixed lab equipment dwarfs any other system collecting data on the ocean. Drawing from a network of 830 instruments on 83 platforms across seven different sites, the OOI digitises the oceans in real-time, into a data stream on everything from pH to temperature, accessible to anyone, from anywhere. And less than two months into its debut, the Vision 16 cruise put the OOI on hiatus for the equivalent of periodic smartphone update. The system’s instruments and cables are all modular, designed to be regularly swapped for new hardware. by But, minus requiring IAN a cruise ship full of GRAB ER -S TI EH L

engineers to hack out the old components and drop in the new, as part of a plan to expand the platform’s technology over the next 25 years, it’s practically the same as a smartphone update. Now the OOI is back up in full force, and addressing what Girguis believes is a fundamental challenge of oceanography - one that makes the cruise’s name oddly appropriate: visibility. DIVING THE COOP+ While drones and hyperspectral satellites can easily monitor events on land, even an ultralight beam starts scattering 50 metres into the electromagnetically opaque ocean, preventing scientists from getting a clear picture. Similarly, the glut of oceanic data we already have is largely scattered and disorganised, so marine scientists have to overcome both a literal and figurative lack of visibility. The OOI, and all these other various oceanic mapping programs, are a pretty big deal for many ocean researchers. They produce far more data than is usually published, and can “stitch it together in such a way that a new generation of scientists can look at it with their fresh, computationally savvy eyes,” said Girguis. For several years, the international community has been working under a joint initiative spearheaded by the US and EU, called COOP+. Piloted by the NSF, on the American end, its mandate is to expand the Global Earth Observation System of Systems or GEOSS: a massive web of open-access networks that bring Big Earth Data to scientists, courtesy of arrays of sensory equipment. Alongside other international programs, and the massive DataONE database fed by them all - the OOI is just one (albeit particularly large) data source among the many that the NSF is campaigning to combine. NEON LIGHTS But the best insight into the scale and precariousness of this behind-the-scenes chess game comes from NEON, or the National Ecological Observatory Network, which will function like a broader OOI when it launches in 2018. Through eightyone field sites, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data centre, and partnerships with dozens of US universities, NEON will collect air, sea, and land data in real time. But the program’s development

DEEP SIX One of 83 sensor platforms which hold a total of 830 instruments, measuring everything from pH to temperature.

hasn’t exactly been smooth. Prior to recent management changes, it suffered delays, more than few mishaps with its US$469 million ($611m) budget, and subsequently, a fair share of opposition from both budget-minded Republican House committee members, and from within the oceanographic community. Once online, though, NEON will be simply one of thirty-one data suppliers for DataONE, which itself is just one particularly large repository fed mostly with information from the US and the EU, all buried within an international web that’s effectively turning the entire Earth into 0’s and 1’s. So, next time you’re on a cruise, kicking back with a copy of PopSci and getting the latest on the fight to research climate change and study ocean wildlife, remember - on their cruise, a bunch of engineers built a digital Eye of Sauron that’s powering that fight... and tracking your ship’s carbon footprint.

P OP S C I . C O M. AU



again either at discharge or after ten days of stay. The team then attempted to identify the various species in the hopes of gaining an ecological view of population dynamics. The choice to focus on ecology as opposed to species identification might seem odd. Yet it is important in terms of microbial health. The bacterial population normally is quite diverse, and because the “environment” (ie, you) is so crowded, opportunistic infections cannot gain hold and cause trouble. If diversity falls and the population somehow shifts towards those suspicious species, then the risk rises for a variety of problems ranging from inflammation to infection. Any signs of this reduction in diversity – also known as dysbiosis – may serve as an early warning sign.

STOP KILLING THE GOOD GUYS When the testing was done and the results came back, the worst fears were realised. Although the team expected to see dysbiosis, they were not prepared to see the change occur so quickly. The shift in population happened within the first 48 hours and worsened over time. Diversity was completely PREVENTION OF INFECTIONS in skewed and in some cases, individuals grew unexpected the ICU is a daunting task. From an bacteria, including one associated with human decomposition. environmental perspective, cleaning, There was more bad news. Many of the bacteria known disinfection, and sterilisation to calm the immune system died off, while those known to procedures are in place to minimise cause inflammation increased. This meant the bacterial the risk. Hand hygiene also plays a shift was adding immunological insult to injury. Patients major role in keeping patients safe. would become more susceptible to infection both on the These interventions focus on inside and from the environment. preventing the introduction of The study clearly showed there was an pathogens to the patient. ecological shift, however, the cause was not Yet, every person already investigated. The authors did address the issue by has an extensive population suggesting one contributing factor was antibiotic of microbes. Hundreds of use. As they noted, more than two-thirds of species are present in and patients in ICU are on some type of prescription. on the body; some of these Yet this could still not account for some of the are opportunistic in nature. Number, in findings such as the discovery of that bacterial Allowed to grow out of trillions, control, the potential for an of individual species from decomposing bodies. infection from the inside viruses DRINK FANCY YOGHURT? may be higher than any produced Despite the study’s obviously negative health environmental risk. in a person implications for ICU patients, there is some suffering hope. As the authors point out, there are BETRAYED FROM WITHIN from the currently routes to restore diversity through While the risk from your common cold. the introduction of helpful microbes. Beneficial own microbial population bacteria, such as probiotics, may help to maintain might seem obvious, balance during those dire moments. These species also help surprisingly little attention has to maintain immune function to increase the body’s defence been given to this concern. But that forces, such as antibody production and the formation of may change thanks to an American antimicrobial peptides. and Canadian collaboration of In addition the probiotic suggestion, other options researchers. They are examining currently in development may also come to the rescue. the bacteria in several ICU patients Bacteriophages, antimicrobial peptides, and possibly during admission. What they have traditional herbal medicines may one day be part of the found could be the beginning of infection control plan. These are still years away but a new branch of infection control this study may provide even more reason to speed up the focused not on the environment, approvals process. but human ecology. In the meantime, the results of this study, albeit The team collected a variety of preliminary in nature, should lead to more discussion in the samples from 115 ICU patients in infection control world on maintaining ecological harmony four different centres. The sources in patients. With over 37 trillion human cells and tens of were from areas known to be rich in trillions of microbial counterparts, every patient is much microbes, such as the skin, mouth, more than an individual. By focusing on microbial diversity and the faeces. and systemic balance, patients may be given a better chance Collections occurred by of recovering from the ICU without infection. Only then can within two days of JASON they begin the journey back to health. admission and then TETRO





Next Paradigm Shift

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P OP S C I . C O M. AU


Next Rethink

ARE SMART PILLS FAIR? FORGET COCAINE, ECSTASY, SPEED or any of that stuff. The cool drugs (among the Popular Science kind of people anyway) are the so-called nootropics. Originally developed to treat such conditions as narcolepsy, drugs like modafinil are now being marketed (by third parties, the pharmaceutical companies aren’t involved, no way) to students and professionals who want the laser-like concentration that stimulants promise, without the jitters of caffeine or brutal sugar-crash of an energy drink. In fact to certain “biohacker” bloggers, modafinil - usually in the form of US drug Provigil or Indian generic Modalert - is the ultimate smart drug. Have you heard? It can massively increase your focus, your problem-solving ability, can help you stay awake and alert for hours on end to meet those deadlines or finish that end-of-semester essay! It’s amazing! On the face of it, you’d think people using modafinil in a university context are simply cheats. Drug cheats, giving themselves an edge in every exam and damn the side effects (most modafinil fans claim there are none, but people have only been using the drug like this for a few years). Even in business, is it ethical to get one-up on your colleagues when it comes to promotion or advancement, just because you knew which dodgy website from which to order some pills? Of course, this all assumes that modafinil actually does any of the things its fans claim. Prominent mod users like the Bulletproof Executive Dave Asprey also stick to very rigid diets that avoid processed sugar and heavy alcohol use, which already gives them an advantage over Sunday night partiers and Monday hangover victims. Does adding in a little pill designed to stop people with brain dysfunction from falling asleep even do anything? There are hundreds of accounts of modafinil user on line, mostly from people using the acronym “SWIM” (which stands for “someone who isn’t me” as in “SWIM finds the effects very subtle”). They range from claims of hyper-alertness to a general sort of feeling of not being that tired. What they don’t describe is a strongly

40 P O P U L A R S CI E N CE

altered state that allows them to power through all their work and do amazing things, achieve measurable outcomes they couldn’t have without modafinil. And then there are people who say it just gives them tongue ulcers and insomnia. From what I can tell, modafinil is only really “unfair” in the way that someone who had time to get their coffee has a tiny advantage over some poor caffeine addict trying to squint their way through a final assessment after missing their morning triple espresso. But what modafinil shows is that there is a massive


“As drug laws continue to relax in the developed world it’s likely that one day real brain boosters will appear.” demand for drugs that do boost brain function. Plenty of people feel run down or uninspired or foggy, and rather than fix their diet and get a bit of exercise, they’d prefer to just pop a pill. As drug laws continue to relax in the developed world, it’s likely that one day real brain boosters will appear. Oh governments will try to regulate them, but if someone manages to create a pill that boosts your IQ by 100 points for 10 hours, can you imagine the black market NOT grabbing that with both hands? Then we’ll get into a whole bunch of ethical debates. Life will become, as they say, full and rich. You got the job, but it emerges you were on mentaflux forte during the interview? Expect a challenge. As our technology and medicine get ever more sophisticated though, these ethical lines will get progressively blurrier. Some people already enjoy an advantage of genetics and education, but what if those genes were tweaked in-utero? What if you were educated by a custom-tailored AI while the next applicant had to make do with a human teacher? One of you got metaflux forte scattered on your Weet-Bix, the other had too much sugar before the age of 10? In the future, what is fair? Meanwhile to all today’s modafinil users. Please, please remember you are messing around with a chemical that neuroscientists don’t quite understand, which was created by accident and is used to stop narcoleptics falling asleep every time they stop talking. You probably shouldn’t treat it like your morning cup of joe.

Anthony Fo rd ham i s the editor of Austral i an Popular Science. If t h ere was a brain drug that had no deleterious side effects and a l l owed hi m to operate safely o n 4 ho urs sleep... you better believe h e’d take i t .

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UNCANNY VALLEY THE TERM “UNCANNY VALLEY” - the idea that the more lifelike a computer generated figure or humanoid robot, the greater the feeling of unease it engenders in the person viewing it - first appeared in 1978 in the Japanese book, Robots: Fact, Fiction and Prediction. Since then, there has been a concerted push in the entertainment world to model real life as closely as possible, even when that real life is all constructed inside a computer. The idea of virtual actors working alongside real actors, or even replacing them has been a staple of science fiction for years, but has also been a constant presence in Hollywood. Not only have digital likenesses of actors been used to complete films after a star has died – Brandon Lee in The Crow, Oliver Reed in Gladiator, and Paul Walker in Fast and Furious 7 - but there are also a number of advertisements that use virtual actors to spruik products. As far back as 2001 there have also been numerous plans and attempts to digitise the entire catalogue of some beloved dead actors, including Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire and Bruce Lee, with the hopes of generating genuine-looking and sounding new performances procedurally from hundreds, if not thousands of hours of audio and video. This drive to create virtual actors seems to have slowed of late, but that doesn’t mean that the idea of using computers and AI to create entertainment has died down. It just moved to a different area. In March of this year, a novel written by an AI in Japan passed the first round of screening for the third Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award. Although it did not win the grand prize, the novel, “Konpyuta ga shosetsu wo kaku hi” (The Day A Computer Writes A Novel), a meta-narrative about an AI writing a novel, made it further than most of the 1450 human written submissions for the prize. Also on the writing front, Google is experimenting with feeding its AI romance novels in an attempt to teach it to construct natural sounding sentences. So far


the AI has “read” nearly 3000 romance novels and Andrew Dai, the lead programmer on the project believes that the AI could probably write its own romance novel now. The reason romance novels were chosen by Google is because the plots of all remain largely similar, allowing the AI to concentrate on sentence structure instead of plot structure, as the former is an area more suited to current levels of AI. Plot, or at least complex plot, is a matter of imagination and creativity, something that is

by DA N I E L W I L KS

“Google’s Magenta has been able to create an AI that has autonomously composed a 90 second piano track” much harder to achieve at current levels of technology. This is why another Google lead project, Magenta, has been able to create an AI that has autonomously composed a 90 second piano track. Although music has feeling and creativity, it also has definable structures and mathematical precision, making it an ideal testbed for AI creativity. AI is also making its presence known in film. The short science fiction film, Sunspring, released online earlier this year was written by the LSTM neural network AI (that named itself Benjamin). Although undeniably creative in a Dadaist sense, Sunspring makes no sense. It’s set in the future, possibly on a space station, where three characters, H, H2 and C are possibly in a love triangle and a bad thing happens. Maybe. The film highlights the limits of AI development at the moment. Although the AI can complete structural tasks - the film has a beginning, middle and end and has beats - it can’t handle the creative task of coming up with characters or a plot. Think it’s hard to watch? Imagine acting in it! What Sunspring shows is that, when it comes to AI taking over that last bastion of human exceptionalism - the making of art - creative types can probably breathe easy. At least for now.

is the editor of PC PowerPlay, Austral i a’s favo ur i te gam i ng magazine. He too could create the ul t i m ate Dadai st sh o r t f i l m maybe set on a space station, i f i t wasn’t fo r these damned deadlines...


“Amazing to see (and hear!) all this great hi-fi in one place. I want it all!” Bernard from Geelong Victoria

“Great music and great people – able to answer all the technical questions I had. Coming back next year!”

The Australian Hi-Fi & AV Show is your chance to hear ALL the world’s best Hi-Fi & AV in one place. New technology and digital delivery to classic vinyl and glowing valves – compare hundreds of hi-fi, headphone and home theatre brands before you buy. Sit down and listen to the world’s best systems – many valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Learn about the latest tech — how to stream music around your home, how to turn your computer into a high-end audio source, how to control everything from smartphone and tablet.

Morrisey NSW


Live music, competitions, special events — it’s all in Melbourne from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd October.



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The Brilliant 10

For the 15th year, Popular Science launched a search to seek the 10 most innovative young minds in science and engineering. These researchers bring creative solutions to some of the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most pressing problems. We celebrate their game-changing ideas.




JohnGunnar Carlsson

Reroutes the World with Geometry


Leon Dijkstra

FIELD Industrial and Systems Engineering AGE 33 INSTITUTION University of Southern California

FIELD Nanomedicine + Chemical Engineering


AGE 36

WHILE THE SAN FRANCISCO 49ers’ new 68,000-seat stadium was under construction, a team executive went to Stanford University with a stumper: We want to deliver hot dogs to fans’ seats. So how many servers should we hire? What routes should they take? How fast will the food arrive? The answer: “Talk to John Gunnar Carlsson.” Carlsson, who’s since moved to USC, has made a specialty of solving computationally tough questions—from how to route 1,000 delivery trucks most efficiently to getting aeroplane parts to the correct hangars around the world in the right order—using the power of maths. These types of distribution problems are legendary in their difficulty. Solving them is so demanding that strategists tend to fall back on trial-and-error solutions. But Carlsson formulated an elegant new approach that uses geometry to reframe the question. So a problem such as, In what order should a parcel service make drop-offs? becomes, What shapes should the delivery area be divided into, and what should the perimeters be? Then couriers can be directed according to the most efficient solution. Asking geometrical rather than conceptual questions is a tactic that can be applied to all kinds of scenarios. So it’s not surprising that Boeing, Oracle, and even the US Air Force have tapped Carlsson to solve their most complex challenges.

INSTITUTION University of California, San Diego


TINY, MAN-MADE SPHERES called nanoparticles can shuttle medicines to diseased tissues with incredible precision. But they all face a common challenge: The immune system sees the virus-size particles as threats, and eats them before they can reach their target. Previously, researchers had tried to dupe the immune system, with only limited success. So Liangfang Zhang borrowed a design from nature. He removed the membrane from a red

blood cell and snipped it into pieces that he used to envelop nanoparticles. Because the membranes come pre-loaded with proteins that tell the immune system to back off, the cloaked particles are able to slip past the body’s defences. But Zhang still needed to steer the medicine to the site of injury or infection. To do that, he upgraded red blood cells for platelets—cells that congregate where wounds occur. Zhang and his colleagues shrouded nanoparticles in platelet skins, loaded them with antibiotics, and then injected them into mice infected with a drugresistant staph infection. They saw dramatic effects. Although the nanoparticles contained just a sixth of the standard dose, they proved far more effective than a conventionally delivered antibiotic.“That shows the power and the promise of targeted delivery,” Zhang says.


FIELD Network Neuroscience AGE 34 INSTITUTION University of Pennsylvania

Danielle Bassett launched her career by challenging a central tenet of neuroscience: Studying the brain by dividing it up into regions that each handle specific tasks fails to capture the wild variety of what the organ can do. In her view, brains aren’t so much a collection of unchanging divisions as they are a dynamic network of neurons—morphing over time and often changing function depending on our experiences. Her theory helped spawn an entirely new field—network neuroscience—that incorporates her background in physics

and also complex systems theory. Bassett is now using her model to study why some people learn quicker than others, and how to improve our ability to learn. In recent experiments, Bassett and her team make people learn a new skill—such as playing a keyboard—while inside an MRI machine. They watch how the network of active areas in subjects’ brains shift as handeye coordination recedes into muscle memory over a period of six weeks. What they discovered is that slow learners tended to use brain networks associated

with conscious control for much longer. The takeaway? People might be trying too hard, Bassett says. “We think it’s hampering the learning process.” She also found that the brains of the quickest learners were incredibly “flexible”—meaning their regions had very changeable patterns of communication. But promising news for people with less-pliable brains: Research from Bassett and others suggests that being fed, caffeinated, and well-rested (though presumably not in that order) can each boost brain flexibility.

P OP S C I . C O M. AU




FIELD Electrical and Computer Engineering INSTITUTION New York University

AGE 34

IT MIGHT SOUND LIKE THE plan of a supervillain, but it’s all too feasible: Hackers can tweak a microchip so when a certain trigger occurs, it throws open the gates for attackers to commandeer the device in which that chip is embedded. It takes one saboteur at the factory, and you’ve got the kind of scenario no one (particularly the Department of Defence) wants to consider. Worse: After chip companies send their designs to manufacture, it’s almost impossible to tell if the final product has been tampered with. So Siddharth Garg came up with a solution: Strategically divvy up the chip’s fabrication among many manufacturers. That way, nobody can know

they’ve got the piece that hackers could take advantage of. Though the idea of breaking a chip’s manufacture into pieces already existed, Garg’s method does it using highlevel math rather than doing it randomly, which guarantees a far greater level of security without spiking the cost of production. It also helps stem counterfeiting. Typically, chipmakers attempt to prevent rip-offs and foil corporate espionage simply by disguising crucial areas of the chip. But without a complete, intact chip to steal from, there’s no blueprint for a fake. Now some of the biggest players in the business—Boeing among them—are using his method to protect their chips.

All it takes is one saboteur at the factory, and you’ve got the kind of scenario no one wants to consider.





FIELD Evolutionary Biology INSTITUTION Georgia Tech

AGE 35

One of the greatest mysteries of life is how single cells came together to form multicellular organisms. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s deeply odd: The cells would have to sacrifice their own fitness for the sake of the group. But in a series of experiments, William Ratcliff revealed surprising insights into what might have been necessary for this transition to occur. Ratcliff works with single-celled yeast. Sometimes those cells make copies of themselves that don’t separate but stay attached, forming lacy multicellular structures called snowflakes. In his initial tests, Ratcliff put the yeast cells under pressure by selecting those that fell fastest to the bottom of a test tube—a race that snowflakes tended to win—and discarding the rest. Over time, a strange thing happened: Instead of favouring genes that

improved individuals, the yeast began to turn down the expression of some genes and turn up the expression of others, in ways that made it harder for cells to split off from the group. That allowed the snowflakes to grow larger and evolve into greater complexity. “That shift is the heart of the whole transition to multicellularity,” says Ratcliff. “That’s what you need in order for groups to evolve to be more complex.” Now Ratcliff is investigating whether snowflake members can develop different talents to aid the group, which is the next step toward evolving specialised structures like organs. He and a colleague are also testing a new scenario: When predators (such as single-celled paramecia) prey on individual algae, will the algal cells start to evolve into clusters that are too big to eat? Ratcliff thinks the results could offer more clues into the mystery of evolution.


Leon Dijkstra


Cigall Kadoch

FIELD Cancer Biology AGE 31 INSTITUTION Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

CIGALL KADOCH LIKES TO ferret out the processes that cause cancer cells to proliferate. “I’m a hunter for biochemical mechanisms,” Kadoch says. That diligence helped her identify a new suspect—a nasty little complex of proteins called BAF—whose link to the disease was previously unknown. Scientists used to think that BAF was little more than a molecular custodian—an entity that motors alongside DNA and maintains its structure, turning some genes on and others off. But then researchers noticed that BAF genes are often mutated in cancers. Kadoch knew that a protein called SS18 is mutated in 100 per cent of patients with a rare type of cancer called synovial

Targets the MechanismsThat Cause Cancer

sarcoma that occurs in muscle tissue. Then she discovered that SS18 is a subunit of BAF. “We were very excited,” says Kadoch. “This gave us a direct way to link BAF to cancer.” Upon investigating further, she found that the mutation appeared to have broken BAF’s guidance system, turning the wrong genes on and off in the genome, causing malignant cells to multiply. What’s more, Kadoch found that such BAF defects exist for more than 20 per cent of human cancers—so her discovery could possibly help a lot of people. For every cancer type that they’ve studied, Kadoch found that restoring the normal form of BAF (or inactivating the abnormal form) caused cancer cells to stop growing.





Suchi Saria

a FIELD Health Informatics + Machine Learning AGE 33 INSTITUTION Johns Hopkins University

SUCHI SARIA ALWAYS LOVED designing algorithms. She grew up writing and debugging code, even doing so on paper when a computer wasn’t readily available. “But I wanted my work to more directly impact people’s lives,” Saria says. In 2007, a pediatrician who specialises in newborns told Saria that doctors collect sheaves of data on premature births that largely go unanalysed. So Saria began designing algorithms that can classify and make sense of the thousands of petabytes of messy data contained in electronic health records. The goal is to find patterns that could better predict the medical future for any given patient. Last year, Saria and her team developed an algorithm to serve as the first-ever earlywarning system for septic shock, an often-sudden response to infection that can cause organ failure, accounting

FIELD Wearable Robotics AGE 34


INSTITUTION Harvard University

At uni, Conor Walsh became interested in the growing field of battery-powered exoskeletons—the robotic, wearable suits that can allow disabled people

to walk, or help troops move faster and carry heavier loads with less fatigue. So he pursued robotics and began building exoskeletons himself. But the metal frames of the bulky suits never perfectly aligned with the body. “You can’t move in a totally natural way,” Walsh says. And there’s no point in feeling like Iron Man if you have to

move like the Tin Man. So he bought sewing machines, recruited apparel designers, and began fabricating soft robotic suits. Recently, Walsh and his team demonstrated a nylon-and-spandex suit that straps onto your legs. The force comes from a series of cables and pulleys driven by battery-powered motors worn at

the waist. Walsh says the suit is so comfortable that some testers forget they’re wearing it. When his team evaluated it on seven people carrying loads equivalent to 30 per cent of their body weight, it reduced the amount of energy required to walk by about 7 per cent, on average. That might not sound like much, but it’s an enormous boon


Leon Dijkstra


Mines Health Records to Predict Patient Outcomes


for more than 200,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. Early symptoms are difficult to spot. So Saria’s team examined the records of 16,234 patients at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre and identified 27 variables, from urine output to white-blood-cell count. These routine measurements, analysed together, accurately predicted septic shock 85 percent of the time; in most cases, before the infection had harmed any organs. The idea is that the tool would alert doctors—who can’t continually monitor each patient—when patients cross a certain risk threshold. “What this is really allowing doctors to do is scale themselves up,” Saria says. Septic shock is just one use of Saria’s algorithms. She also created a system for predicting which premature babies will require the most medical attention. Now she’s developing an algorithm to help patients with autoimmune disorders. Her work suggests that the best answers might already be out there; they just need to be decoded.

for soldiers who often have to carry heavy equipment and traverse long distances quickly. He hopes to reach the 25 perc ent load weight threshold soon. Walsh wants to build suits that can be slipped under clothing. Most people, after all, don’t need superhuman abilities. “You just want to give them a little tap,” Walsh says.


FIELD Computer Science + Engineering AGE 31 INSTITUTION University of Washington

WiFi chips in devices such as smartphones and laptops communicate by generating radio signals, an act that requires a substantial amount of power. Shyam Gollakota uncovered a way to create WiFi signals without radio transistors. And here’s the real payoff: These “passive WiFi” devices use 10,000 times less power than a typical WiFi chip, and 1,000 times less power than the most efficient

Bluetooth, thereby significantly reducing the need for batteries. He then saw an opportunity to actually harness power from the invisible world of those signals themselves: What little power these wireless devices still require can be delivered over WiFi. Gollakota and his team devised a way to send power over the unused channels of a traditional WiFi network. The team

FIELD Planetary Astrophysics AGE 30 INSTITUTION Caltech


THIS YEAR, THE WORLD learned that there might be a ninth planet in the solar system: immense, distant, but nonetheless following its own orbit around our sun. That was thanks to Konstantin Batygin and his collaborator, Mike Brown. They were studying the movement of objects in our solar system’s debris belt just beyond Neptune, trying to find a reason for some offkilter orbits. Their explanation sent waves through the scientific community: a distant ninth planet that took 20,000 years to make it around the sun. It solved other oddities in the debris belt as well, such as why certain objects were clustering. “This is what you want out of a good theory,” Batygin says: It should solve multiple problems for the price of one.

demonstrated that they could power battery-free sensors and tiny cameras at distances of up to six metres, and recharge batteries 8.5 m away without significantly slowing down data rates. “Now you can have completely battery-free devices,” Gollakota says. This is what computer science is all about, he says, “trying to understand and solve actual human problems.”

Not bad for a guy who, in college, saw astrophysics more as a plan B—just in case, he says, his band didn’t become the next Metallica. (He still hopes they will.) “The clockwork of the orbits seems like pretty much the most immutable thing possible,” he says, “but the solar system has rearranged itself multiple times in its long and dramatic history.” Even before college graduation, Batygin and his adviser had calculated that there is a 1 percent chance— which is not negligible—that before our solar system runs its course, Mercury will be flung off its orbit and into space. Batygin paints dramatic pictures of how we see planets, and that’s a direct result of his insightful approach. Sifting through mountains of existing data, he seeks out the outliers— anomalies and quirks that defy current explanation— to formulate theories that don’t just solve the mystery, but also suggest the presence of new phenomena yet to be discovered.

P OP S C I . C O M. AU


Russian billionaire Yuri Milner backs a science-fiction plan to send tiny probes to Alpha Centauri via lasers, cutting the interstellar commute from 30,000 years to four.

Turkey’s president uses FaceTime to fight off a military coup.

Microsoft partners with the marijuana industry to offer its seed-to-sale tracking software. Which maybe explains why it bought LinkedIn at 3 a.m.

The leaked Panama Papers prove that the global 1 percent are indeed guilty of tax evasion and kleptocracy.

Amsterdam gets a 3D-printed bridge with robotic arms.

An AI algorithm studies Donald Trump’s speeches, then sends eerily Trump-like tweets: “I love the states. I win them. Ohio is beautiful, I buy it.”

Harvard researchers create a bionic leaf that produces energy through artificial photosynthesis.

Tesla sells its cars to the masses... at Nordstrom.

A federal appeals court upholds net neutrality.

Finally, a vegan burger “bleeds” like the real thing.

Larry Page says cars can so fly; invests accordingly.

Scientists confirm Einstein’s gravitational wave theory; unlock roughly nine million more mysteries as a result.

“Delete your account.”

Facebook Live begins to challenge cable TV news.

Chef José Andrés cooks a paella for 5,000 people in Washington, D.C. It’s made entirely of food waste.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon build a robot that wins a spot at the international Vex Robotics competition in the U.S.

Twitter trolls the trolls with a block button that actually blocks.

After 17 years of construction and 28 million tons of rock moved, the Gotthard Tunnel—the world’s longest—opens in the Swiss Alps.

The hackers, technologists, scientists, celebrities, and just plain average folks who have bestowed genius on us so far this year


Disneyland designers in California use virtual-reality goggles to test rides at their new theme park— in Shanghai.

Elon Musk combines Tesla, home batteries, and SolarCity— turning our homes into closed-loop energy giants.

Pokemon Go (Minus the muggers.)






A 10-year-old from Finland hacks Instagram; considers deleting Justin Bieber’s comments.

Facebook hires former DARPA director, Regina Dugan. The weaponisation of social media is so on.



China’s Ehang drone taxi gets greenlit for tests in Nevada, where things sometimes go boom.

In India, 800,000 people plant 49.3 million trees in a single day, crushing the previous Guinness World Record by 48.4 million.

San Diego college kids fly a rocket with a 3D-printed engine. NASA’s still testing theirs.

A robot stingray— made of rat muscle, gold, and silicone— swims when zapped with light.

Snapchat gets its first feature-length film, Sickhouse. And the disappearing Oscar goes to...



A Czech man creates an augmentedreality tool that scans a Rubik’s Cube and tells him how to solve it. Wouldn’t it have just been easier to...

Elizabeth Holmes’ blood-testing company, Theranos, goes from $9 billion unicorn to a $0 donkey. Then word comes that she’ll get to watch Jennifer Lawrence re-enact her failure on the big screen!

The year of VR finally arrives. (So why is my headset stuck in production?)

Inky, a basketball-size octopus, slips his New Zealand aquarium tank, squeezes through a 6-inch-wide drainpipe, and escapes into a nearby bay, becoming a hero meme to millions of cubicle captives.

Volvo teases its latest car on Snapchat, choosing millennials over soccer moms.

Walmart tests warehouse drones to speed distribution. (Insert greeter joke here.)

New York City proposes an East River Trolley. Meanwhile, Elon Musk tests his Hyperloop.

For four days, Portugal powers itself entirely on renewable energy.




In just 12 years, Mark Zuckerberg built an empire of 1.71 billion followers. His goal: to friend the rest of humanity.


P. 55

DOWN HALL THE FROM ZUCK MAR E BE K R D E S K G ’S A VIR SITS T U REAL AL I T FO R ST U D Y N H E AI O heads of state and other dignitaries have been known to lose themselves here in games of zero-gravity PingPong and the real-seeming experience of firing virtual fireworks at each other. Such are their number, and frequency, that on an early summer morning Zuckerberg is at a loss to remember—or perhaps too diplomatic to divulge—one of their names. He does, however, recall the anecdotal nugget of the man’s visit. “He wouldn’t leave,” says Zuckerberg, sitting in a glass-walled conference room in Facebook’s cavernous and almost factorylike headquarters in Menlo Park, California. “His aide was like, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, you


have to take off… you’re two hours late for your flight.’” That is exactly the reaction that Zuckerberg—the 32-year-old, still jeans-and-tee-clad creator and CEO of Facebook—wants to elicit from millions of people he hopes will strap on the Oculus Rift, a VR headset that originally found fame on Kickstarter until Facebook purchased it in 2014 for US$2 billion. But there’s way more to it than a feeling of presence with Ping-Pong opponents. Zuckerberg wants Oculus, or some future iteration of it, to replace our laptops, our smartphones, our televisions, the art on our walls, and, in some cases, seeing our friends in the flesh. So instead of owning a bunch of devices, you will swipe your emails and favourite shows into virtual view and go at it. The point isn’t living in solitary work or game mode, but rather connecting even more frequently with people through a technology that tricks your mind into thinking it’s somewhere else, without actually having to be there. Or letting you hold and flip through digital files at your desk as if they were physical, with augmented reality. Having brought together 1.71 billion people on a socialmedia network that began just 12 years ago in his dorm room—a network that now comprises the largest global audience in human history—Zuckerberg wants all of us to start connecting in his new realities. As he sees it, in just 10 years’ time, “VR will be a mainstream-computing platform.” And just as we saw an explosion of apps for our smartphones, an entire ecosystem of activities will be built up around it. “You can bring these objects into any space,” he says. “I’ll be able to say, ‘OK, we’re here together, let’s play chess.’ Now here’s a chessboard, and we can be in any space. We can play chess on Mars.” Zuckerberg’s long game isn’t the chessboard, or even building out a virtual Mars—though he plans on being a part of that too. His driving vision is to connect our entire planet. That’s the reason he pushed Facebook to buy Oculus—when everyone else thought it was just another screen for gamers—seeing it as a means to socialise in immersive technicolor from across the world. For that reason too he’s working to beam the Internet, via DIY transmitters, or drones and lasers, to the billions on the planet who do not yet have online access. And in this larger pursuit of connecting people and technologies, he has pledged nearly the entirety of his fortune (99 per cent of his Facebook shares, valued at some $45 billion) to his Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, named for him and his wife, Priscilla. Its stated goals are “advancing human potential and promoting equality.” And he plans to do that, in part, by improving education and trying to cure the world’s most intractable


diseases—by giving scientists access to engineers, whose work could include artificial intelligence. It’s safe to say that no one is doing more, in so many fields, to bring about this singular vision of connectivity. “I certainly would not underestimate him,” says Ben Horowitz, whose venture-capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, is a Facebook investor. “He is totally determined, willing to fail and try again, has the resources, and he’s a genius. If he can’t lead the way, then I’m not sure who can.” THAT WAS HARDLY SILICON VALLEY WISDOM two years ago when Zuckerberg urged Facebook to purchase Oculus. “Everyone really scratched their heads and said: ‘VR, is that really a thing? And, Facebook? Why is Facebook doing it?’” says Mike Schroepfer, the company’s chief technology officer, referring to the idea of Facebook getting into the hardware business. At the time, Oculus didn’t have the necessary hand- and headpositional tracking that would make it feel immersive,

Inside Immersion Oculus’ design team tests hardware at Facebook HQ.

Beaming Internet The Aquila drone made its first test flight on June 28.



or real to life. “It was sort of a one-demo thing,” says Schroepfer. Gamers, of course, disagreed. In the past two years, a number of important advances have occurred: higher-quality, pixel-dense LED screens; faster processors; and improved sensors. And during that same time, others have followed Zuckerberg’s lead. Google backed Magic Leap, an augmented-reality platform that overlays objects onto the real world. (It also rolled out the $15 Google Cardboard, which offers a VR experience via your smartphone.) Microsoft unveiled its HoloLens (also AR). And Apple is reportedly developing its own headset. What Zuckerberg is proposing—and working to create—is a radical rethinking of our relationship with our personal technology, which he doesn’t see as all that personal right now. “It’s kind of crazy to me that we’re here in 2016 and the defining relationship we have with computers and phones is apps, not people,” he says. “It feels very unnatural and overly technical to me.” His goal is to help build out the nextgeneration computing platform, in which, he says, “people are the foundational element.” His end goal is a seamless integration of our digital and analogue lives: augmented reality, also known as mixed reality. Not a full virtual zone like in VR, but one based in the real world, in which you call up the things you need, and the people you need, when you need them. “If you look around the room,” he says, gesturing around the nearly empty conference room, “how many of the things here need to be physical?” It turns out, not much. Not the laptops on the tables, not the TV screens on the walls. “Instead of buying these things for hundreds of dollars,” he says, “you’d buy it for like a dollar in an app store and use it whenever.” In addition to the social apps he expects to find in the virtual world (attending a lecture across the globe, for example, or standing inside a 360-degree live stream of a street protest in a foreign capital), Zuckerberg sees this technology usurping our solitary moments. Instead of an eight-hour binge on Netflix, with our brains in a zoned-out state, Zuckerberg sees some of us choosing the interactive brain-on experiences of AR and VR. “I think a lot of time people frame the question like this: ‘Is it weird that people will be spending time in something like VR when they could be interacting with people instead?’” says Zuckerberg, who notes that he has teams doing studies on the mental effects of VR exposure. “I think that misses the point on a couple of fronts, the main one being that what is actually being replaced are other modes of technology like TV, where I think we’re more passive. …You want to be in a personalised experience where you’re making decisions. You want to be interacting with other people. And VR is a natural extension of that.” So in Zuckerberg’s augmented future, we all become more social, not less.

58 P O P U L A R S CI E N CE

LET THERE BE LIGHT Zuckerberg verbally commands his bot to illuminate the house.


HUNGER, AVOIDED His “assistant” can predict when Zuckerberg will want to eat breakfast on any given day, and time the toaster accordingly.

Mark’s Virtual Pal


BARRIER TO ENTRY It sounds simple: Zuckerberg says, “open the gate.” But getting a dumb gate to talk with a smart bot was a challenge.


A ROBOTIC GREETING Facial-recognition AI sees that Zuckerberg is home, unlocks the door, and swings it open.


BETTER BABY MONITOR The bot could also capture audio and video in his daughter’s room and send him alerts.


WORK FROM HOME You’re not the only one trying to avoid piles of spreadsheets. Zuckerberg’s bot will help organise his data in virtual reality.

Even off the clock, Mark Zuckerberg is still working. His obsession this year? Building a personalised virtual assistant to control the devices in his home. Here’s how the chatbot might help Zuckerberg get through his day. 6

CRANK THE MUSIC One of Zuckerberg’s primary reasons for hooking up his house with AI was being able to control the music from any room.


PERSONALISED CLIMATE Because the bot responds to only his voice, Zuckerberg enjoys wresting control of the thermostat from partner Priscilla Chan.



E H T O N FA C E , R U S IT’S EASY TO DISMISS ZUCKERBERG’S EFFORTS to connect the planet as solely self-interested. After all, Facebook is a public company that makes money by selling its users to advertisers. And his Internet-access program called Free Basics, which makes a limited portion of the Web available for free, has been accused of a Facebook bias. When India rejected it in February, the criticism centred on Facebook acting as gatekeeper, deciding what would and would not be accessible. Yet Zuckerberg argues the Internet has the power to lift people out of poverty and promote education, which explains why he’s made connectivity the cornerstone of his US$350 billion ($468bn) company. As Horowitz puts it: “Mark has a mission much larger than himself, and he won’t stop until he achieves it.” Within Facebook, large swaths of resources tackle complex tasks like automatic language translation. That way, people can eventually communicate with nearly all of humanity, with fewer barriers to understanding. While India was a major setback—“There are a billion people in India who are not on the Internet, so that’s a big one,” Zuckerberg says—he has a track record of proving naysayers wrong. Today, Facebook has launched Free Basics in 42 countries, bringing 25 million people online for the first time. Zuckerberg slots the unconnected of the world into three categories: 1 billion who can’t afford the Internet, 1 billion without access because they are out of reach of WiFi, and 2 billion who don’t know why they would want or need to buy a data plan in the first place. For the billion who want it but can’t afford it, Facebook is designing plans for cheaper infrastructure, and aiming to cut the costs for the telecommunication companies. In July, Facebook introduced another hardware product to improve connectivity in rural areas: OpenCellular, a shoebox-size transmitter that’s attachable to existing infrastructure and can broadcast 2G to LTE cellular service as well as WiFi, and can support up to 1,500 users within 10 km.


$45 Billion Bet Mark Zuckerberg, right, and Priscilla Chan are banking that software can fix the world’s issues.



Facebook is making the schematics free, encouraging telecom companies or entrepreneurs to build wireless infrastructure off the OpenCellular platform. For people in remote areas, Facebook is planning to launch drones to transmit Internet from the sky. Named Aquila, the drone has the wingspan of a Boeing 737—34 m—but weighs just 400 kilograms and consumes the wattage of a large microwave. It’s essentially one big wing, laden with Internet-beaming lasers. These drones might eventually stay aloft three months at a time, using solar power and gravitational energy. On its inaugural test flight, the drone stayed airborne for 96 minutes—three times longer than planned—before being grounded due to a structural failure. Aquila’s lasers will send signals to towers and dishes over a 50-km radius, delivering enough bandwidth to support thousands of users. The last two billion, those unconvinced of the Internet’s purpose, are the most difficult. Zuckerberg puts it like this: “You’ve never used the Internet, and someone comes up to you and asks, ‘Do you want to buy a data plan?’ You’re like, ‘Why?’” Why indeed, if you’ve never sent an email? The commitment is enormous, and the venture is full of prickly political and cultural issues, as the India blowback showed. Yet this goal is crucial to Zuckerberg’s belief that the Internet makes the world a better place. “If we are trying to give every person the power to share and connect to everyone,” he says, “then it’s hard to do that when more than half the people are not on the Internet.” Others too want to see this happen. Elon Musk and SpaceX are taking this on via Internet-beaming satellites, as is Facebook’s fiercest competitor, Google, with its inflatable balloons and drones. So why should Zuckerberg be the one to succeed? “I think anyone could do it,” he says sincerely. “But I think often the question is, ‘Who cares the most to get it done?’”

IN 2015, WHEN ZUCKERBERG AND CHAN’S daughter, Max, was born, Zuckerberg wrote an open letter to her, pledging to commit—within their lifetimes— 99 per cent of their wealth to education reform and fighting disease, among other things. Zuckerberg has long cared about education. In 2010 he donated $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey, school system—a venture that left him frustrated due to the bureaucracy and politics. This time around, he’s focusing on reforming education with something he understands: software. In January 2014, Zuckerberg toured a school in Sunnyvale, California, which is part of Summit Public Schools, a charter-school system started by a software engineer. The classrooms were set up like a startup, with no walls between them, and computers on every shared table. Most compelling to Zuckerberg, though, was that they were experimenting with personalised education. Each student learned at his or her own pace. Groups worked together on more complex problems. Zuckerberg asked the program’s founder and CEO, Diane Tavenner, to meet the school’s engineering team that had built the initial personalised education platform. “Her response was, ‘Yeah I’ll introduce you to him,’” Zuckerberg said. Zuckerberg, surprised that the “team” was a single person, made Tavenner a deal. He’d give her more engineers (which will number 30 from his own troops by the end of the year) as long as the software remained free for other schools to use, thus connecting educators and propagating knowledge. She accepted. This school year, about 120 schools will use the personalised education software. In the next decade or so, Zuckerberg hopes to get half the US on board. To Zuckerberg, education is just another engineering problem. So is medical research. So is anything. That’s the heart of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as it progresses: the idea that engineers can scale progress in any field. A researcher studying cross sections of the brain to understand neuron pathways, or to look at the growth of cancer cells, could take years, and even a lifetime, of physical scanning and study. But applying AI (and its ability to sort information exponentially faster than humans) to this process could reduce that time by orders of magnitude. “If top scientists had the firepower of a world-class engineering organisation behind them,” says Zuckerberg, “I’m pretty optimistic we could help build some tools that can unlock a lot of new understanding.” Not one to lack vision, he’s willing to go so far as to say that science can, through AI and machine learning, one day manage or cure the main diseases that kill humans, such as cancer. “I really want to convince the world that it is possible,” says Zuckerberg, “to get to a place where we can manage all diseases by the end of the century. I believe that we can.” And no one has yet gone wrong betting with him.





by Millie Kerr and Corey Mueller / Illustration by Tim Enthoven / P.77



E-COMMERCE ENFORCEMENT SCARLET MACAW Many of the vendors that sell illegal wildlife—from monkey taxidermy to live macaws—do so online. A Web crawler developed by researchers at New York University will mine the Internet for sketchy merchandise, then use algorithms to cross-reference those animals and products with endangered-species databases. By spotting social-media posts and e-retailers offering suspicious merch, law enforcement will use the interface to investigate those sellers. The platform could be available as early as third quarter 2016.

Percentage of all seafood imported to the US that is likely illegal SOU RCE: MARINE POLICY


AQUARIUM APP YELLOW TANG Aquarium enthusiasts often unknowingly stock their tanks with illegally caught fish. They can now use a free app that identifies captive-bred fish (good) from wild-caught ones (bad), 90 per cent of which are illegally captured using cyanide. The chemical harms fish and kills coral.


TRACKABLE “EGGS” OLIVE RIDLEY SEA TURTLE Wildlife researchers have long tagged animals to study their natural movements. Now a Central American environmental NGO is planting trackers in synthetic turtle eggs to trace trafficking routes. Using 3D-printed moulds, the NGO builds silicone eggs (with a tiny GPS transmitter inside) that mimic those laid by sea turtles, which poachers covet. This October, the eggs will be buried amid real turtle nests. “We want to see how many eggs are leaving the country, and where they’re going,” says program scientist Kim Williams-Guillen. MEXICO

FORENSIC DATABASE RED-EYED TREE FROG Early next year, the Mexican conservation group Bosque Antiguo plans to offer law-enforcement agencies a forensic database that will contain DNA bar codes of such endangered species as Central American macaws and tree frogs. Agents will then have the tools to prove that animals and products sold by businesses were procured illegally, and use that information as evidence in criminal prosecutions.



PORTABLE DNA SEQUENCER WHITE RHINO Authorities have no quick way to prove that a suspicious material—the bloodstained clothing of a suspected poacher or a steak at a bush-meat market—is connected to illegal activity. Traditional DNA sequencing uses expensive lab-based machines, and results can take up to a week. Enter the palm-size MinION, the world’s first portable DNA sequencer. Used with a converter that preps biological materials for analysis, the device syncs to a database of more than 20,000 species to accurately determine the sample’s origin. The MinION, which was developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies in England, can provide on-the-spot evidence of illegal activity. It will be used in Kenya and South Africa.

1,000 Estimated number of wildlife rangers killed by poachers in the past decade S OU RCE : WORLD W I LD L I F E F E D E R AT I O N



SMART SURVEILLANCE BENGAL TIGER India has nearly 10 million acres of protected tiger habitat, home to 70 per cent of the world’s tigers. But the borders are porous, rangers are few, and pelts are prized. The government recently erected towers equipped with hidden cameras and long-range thermal sensors. Software processes footage in real time, picks out suspicious activity such as an illegal human presence, and sends an alert to a central control room where staffers dispatch law enforcement. “We wanted to create technology that would generate an alert before a crime takes place,” says Ravikant Singh, a co-creator of the project.

GLOBAL CRIME MAP PANGOLIN Poachers and traders rely on shifting trade routes and corrupt law enforcement. Agents can’t catch what they can’t find. Using algorithms and Google’s deep-learning tech, a new, open-source map sifts through news reports on illegal incidents—such as smuggling endangered pangolins—to create a nearly real-time map of global activity. “For the first time, the public, the media, and law-enforcement agencies will see the patterns of trafficking in their regions,” says creator Kalev Leetaru, of George Washington University.


REAL-TIME INVOICES BANGGAI CARDINALFISH In busy cargo ports, inspectors have to manually review paper invoices of big shipments of fish. It’s easy to miss illegal species and fudged data. But a new digital-invoice system will deploy algorithms to more easily and effectively spot suspicious cargo. For example, if the actual weight of a shipment is different from what was reported on the invoice, border agents will investigate.


Tons of ivory—from 6,500 poached elephants— that Kenya burned in April 2016, thereby diverting it from illegal trade S OU RCE: KEN YA WI LDL IFE SERVICE

ELECTRONIC NOSE AFRICAN ELEPHANT Each year, smugglers bring $10 billion worth of forest and savanna animals and parts, such as elephant tusks, through international ports. The electronic nose, a screening tool that sniffs luggage, would let customs “rapidly identify and seize wildlife at the point of detection,” says Shari Forbes, a forensic scientist at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. Forbes and her team are building a database of hundreds of the most trafficked animals and identifying their odor signatures. The e-nose could be ready as early as fall 2017.


BIRD-MARKET MONITOR BLACK-WINGED STARLING Every year, some 600,000 birds, such as the black-winged starling, are illegally trapped and traded in poorly regulated pet markets in Indonesia. A bird-market monitoring app, slated for release in 2017, turns civilians into activists. Snap a photo of an illegal bird, share it to a database, and help the government pin down where illegal activity takes place.



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The Marantz CD6006 combines superb CD replay with iPod digital connectivity and a high-quality headphone stage, while the PM6006 is a superb integrated ŘȧɡǚǔǞƬʁʁƬŘƞ˿njɁʁŘʁŘȭǷƬɁnjƞǔǷǔǜŘǚŘʊ˹ƬǚǚŘʊŘȭŘǚɁǷˁƬ sources, its superior 24bit/192kHz DAC and high ƞƬǜŘǔǚɡƬŘǘƋˁʁʁƬȭǜŘȧɡǚǔǞƬʁʊǜŘǷƬƋʁƬŘǜǔȭǷŘȭ ˁȭŽƬǚǔƬ˸ŘŽǚ˿ǒǔǷǒɴˁŘǚǔǜ˿ʊɁˁȭƞnjʁɁȧȭƬ˹ȧƬƞǔŘŘʊ well as the CD6006. (Black or silver)



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Get Yourself Ready for Virtual Reality Being a VR early-adopter takes more than just plonking down too much cash on a V1.0 Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. You need a powerful PC to back your fancy new goggles. It’s a journey of discovery, one we can take together! Let’s roll.


“Compared to cuting edge gaming, the current crop of VR titles aren’t actually all that graphically intensive...”

+BUILDS THE XF FALCON (LOW) Total Price: ~ $1100 GPU: Radeon RX480 8GB - $400 CPU: Intel Core i5-6500 - $275 Motherboard: MSI B150M Mortar - $135 RAM: Kingston HyperX 16GB DDR4 - $100 SSD: Samsung 750 Evo 250GB - $100

YES YES, THERE ARE AN ever-increasingly number of prebuilt options that are VR-ready, but we just prefer DIY. Because DIY is all about options, so with that in mind, we’ve included three different specs, from low to mid and high end, to suit any budget. Or, at least three budgets anyway. We also take a look at some of the cheaper opensource VR headsets available (though to be honest, mostly so we can sneer at them). DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS Remember: unlike traditional PC gaming, VR requires space to move, especially for HTC Vive owners. For those lucky enough to have a dedicated VR room, building a heavy or bulky PC is no problem. For the rest of us, it’s critical to have an easily moveable PC, that is cool and quiet enough to use in, say, the living room or anywhere else furniture can be shoved out of the way for a session. With that in mind, we

Case: Thermaltake Suppressor F1 - $70 PSU: Thermaltake Litepower 500W - $50 Cooling: Intel Fan - $0 THE QUARTER-ACRE BLOCK (MID) Total Price: ~ $2100 GPU: GeForce GTX 1070 - $700

The H TC V ive (bottom) and the Oculus Rift are currently t he lea d ing “premium” VR headsets, with the Vive maybe slightly edging out the Rift for user experience.

have opted for the compact “mini ITX” form factor, and mini case, such as the Corsair 380T case which has a built-in carry handle. To minimise noise, we’re using a Thermaltake Riing (sic) water cooling system.

CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K - $475 Motherboard: ASUS B150I Pro Gaming W iFi Aura - $220 RAM: Kingston HyperX DDR4 16GB - $100 SSD: Samsung 950 Pro 256GB - $225 Case: Bitfenix Prodigy - $100 PSU: Cooler Master 700W - $100 Cooler: Thermaltake Water 3.0

VR HARDWARE SPEC 101 Compared to cutting edqge gaming, the current crop of VR titles are not actually that graphically intensive... or they wouldn’t be if they only had to run on one screen. However, this means that quite affordable videocards (or GPUs as king geeks call them) will run VR games just fi ne. Still, a more powerful card adds future-proofi ng. VR performance works differently to normal games, which typically strive for the

240 - $200 THE SUPERYACHT (HIGH) Total Price: ~ $3300 GPU: GeForce GTX 1080 - $1100 CPU: Intel Core i7-6800K - $650 Motherboard: Asrock X99E-ITX/ac - $375 RAM: Kingston HyperX Fury DDR4 32GB - $200 SSD: Samsung 950 Pro 512GB - $400 Case: Corsair Graphite Series 380T - $170 PSU: Thermaltake - $220 Cooling: Thermaltake Water 3.0 240 - $200






1/ Most components will only go in one way, and have obvious slots. 2/ A closed-loop water cooling system will help this beefy system run stably. 3/ The GeForce GTX 1080 is the most powerful gaming card on the market right now but need VR or a 4K monitor to really shine. 4/ Compact cases like this one pack everything in, so keeping them dust free is paramount.

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Manual Build It

THE OTHERS Motherboards th at tou t th e mse lves as being for “gami n g” or “durability” are well suited to powerful GPUs like th e GTX 1080 here.

highest frame rates. With VR, the system actually wants to maintain 90 frames per second at all times, and varies the quality based on load to maintain that. Even lower end GPUs have enough grunt to maintain decent quality at 90 FPS, so are well-suited to VR on a budget. Likewise most of today’s CPUs will eat up this fi rst wave of VR games, so no need to spend up big here either. With this in mind, we tested and recommend three different GPUs. The Radeon RX480, at $400, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070, at $700, and the GTX 1080 at an eye watering $1100. Our demo setup uses a GTX 1070, not the 1080 listed in the high end spec. Keep in mind that while we have listed specific brands for some hardware, other brands offer comparable features for similar prices, so it’s a personal choice. We don’t include the costs of Windows either, so keep that in mind if you don’t already own a

same way that Windowscompatible games today can use the OpenGL system. Right now the OSVR headset is still a ‘development kit’, but is available for purchase. It costs around $550 (half the price of the competition), but the dealbreaker for all but the hackerati, is that it’s not a ‘plug and play’ device, and needs hardcore tweaking to work with different systems. Hey you know how China reverse-engineers and copies every hot new gadget, sometimes weeks before the original even launches? There are also a range of new headsets due to hit oddly-

The VR wars, such as they are, mirror the cola wars, with two main combatants. The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift are great, but expensive and run on their own proprietary VR platforms (specialised software). So peripheral manufacturer Razer is working hard to bring affordable virtual reality to the masses with OSVR ( - the OS here stands for “open source”. The whole project is open source, with the end goal that all VR games should be able to work with any VR headset and controllers, in much the

copy via Microsoft’s increasingly convoluted licensing and upgrade system. How it annoys us so! BUILDING THE PC Knowing the parts needed is just the fi rst step - though it’s always worth asking for a build quote from your favourite computer shop if unsure. Because of the

designed gadget websites soon - most of which support OSVR, as well as Steam VR. The vast majority are from Chinese companies, and “promise” higherend spec than current headsets, such as 4K displays. Keep an eye out for brands such as Ling VR, LeTV, DEPOON, Antvr and Baofeng VR. Other VR headsets, such as the Pico Neo, promise a standalone VR experience that doesn’t need a PC, or even a smartphone. The problem is that for now, it’s virtually impossible to buy the new headsets locally, and they are unlikely to be available till the end of the year.

compact nature of the PC, it’s important to put it together methodically, step by step. These days, most components have unique slots or plugs that only go one way - but if unsure either call your savant of a niece or hit up YouTube for roughly 2 16 videos on how to put together a modern PC made by screeching teens.

BENCHMARKS We tested the three recommended GPUs on a range of synthetic benchmarks and games to give an idea of performance. Games were tested at maximum quality and detail levels in both 1080P and 4K resolutions - 4K isn’t


relevant to VR but it does give a good idea of how future-proof your PC is, because it’s inevitable that the next generation of headsets will pack more pixels. For now, there are few dedicated VR

benchmarks, but Steam VR (part of the Steam digital game distribution system) can test your system and give a score. Higher is better, natch, and both the GTX 1070 and 1080 maxed out the Steam VR test.





HITMAN (DX12) 1080P




































CATALYTIC CONVERTER MATERIALS: PLATINUM, PALLADIUM, RHODIUM Precious metals such as Platinum can be worth $45,000 or more per kilogram, and are very rare in the Earth’s crust. So why exactly do we stick it inside our car’s exhaust system? Because platinum is good for more than just shiny jewellery, and is a key component in a catalytic converter. Almost every modern vehicle has one, and contains a few grams of precious metals such as Platinum, Palladium, and Rhodium. Internal combustion engine exhaust contains a lot of carbon monoxide and nitric oxide, which is a major contributor in climate change, smog, and acid rain. Fortunately, at the high temperatures found in an engine’s exhaust, Platinum (and other metals) can act as a catalyst, and cause harmful gases to react with oxygen and unburned hydrocarbons, creating much less harmful (though still problematic) carbon dioxide, and water.

Manual Autopsy

The Secret Ingredient

How everyday products rely on some surprisingly exotic materials. THESE DAYS, PLASTIC, SILICON, aluminium and maybe a bit of stainless steel make up the bulk of our beloved gadgets. But for certain products, something a little more exotic is worth the trouble. It might be expensive, dangerous, or just tricky to handle, but quite a few otherwise unremarkable everyday devices contain some pretty special materials.



HARD DISK DRIVE MATERIAL: HELIUM While Helium is the second-m element in the universe, down Earth it’s actually quite hard t gas molecules are so small a that they tend to escape cont eventually get blown away fro the atmosphere by solar win the ubiquitous balloons, heliu all sorts of critical equipment machines. It’s mostly harvest natural gas production. So w a hard drive? Thanks to its sli and low density, Helium allo of a HDD to spin faster, with l and heat. This means more pl be packed inside, increasing t capacity. It also reduces pow by around 25%, which makes a i d e when it comes to servers and data centres.

Those of us not wanting to travel through time in a DeLorean usually avoid stockpiling radioactive materials at home. One major exception though is the humble-butvital smoke detector, which can contain small amounts of a radioisotope, such as americium-241. The emitted radiation is used to ionise air and smoke molecules, so they can be detected between charged electrodes. There are also non-radioactive smoke alarms (which are becoming more popular), but the radioactive type react more quickly to smoke. While the radioactive materials inside are dangerous, it’s only if you managed to eat or breathe them in. Not willing to give up his dream of being a mad scientist, in 1976, 17-year-old David Hahn started collecting smoke detectors, and stripping out the radioactive materials to make a reactor is his shed. Despite being dubbed the Nuclear Boy Scout, Hahn survived, though tried it again 30 years later and went to jail.

Manual Safety Not Guaranteed

The Explosive Potential of Your Favourite Gadgets DEEP IN THE GUTS OF EVERYTHING FROM electric cars, to aeroplane subsystems, those weird hoverboards, laptops and of course the latest high-profi le smartphones, lithium batteries keep exploding. Though these violent incidents of self-combustion occur in only a small percentage of devices and systems, it highlights an unfortunate fact about lithiumion. It can, if conditions are right, explode. The underlying cause is heat, but what causes the build-up of that heat can vary. Due to internal resistance, batteries heat up when being used, or charged. Normally there is no problem, but sometimes due to a fault, the battery can be charged or discharged too quickly, creating excess heat. Higher levels of heat cause the internal pressure of the battery to rise, eventually causing physical damage. Sometimes via a sad little pop and fizzle, other times via exciting jet of flame. Batteries in mobile phones are designed to expand a little without popping, to accommodate this pressure safely. Of course this can damage the phone, and the battery will need replacing. But the excess heat can also damage the delicate internal structure of the battery, causing a short circuit, which creates more heat, and higher pressure. This process is called thermal runaway, and can cause the battery to explode, or vent the pressure. It’s also hot enough to cause burns, or set other materials on fire - plus by the battery electrolyte itself L INDSAY can be flammable. H ANDMER

These two-wheeled “hoverboards” were notorious for spontaneous explosion, so much so that a UK council burned a bunch of them preemptively. Nice!


The other main catalyst of battery explosions is through physical damage. Inside the battery, a thin layer separates the anode, cathode and electrolyte. While fairly robust, outside force (rarely from simply dropping, almost guaranteed if you hit it with a hammer in the right spot while filming an “amusing” YouTube short) can cause an internal short circuit, and thermal runaway and an explosion. As dire as this sounds, actual full-on explosions are quite rare and batteries have a range of built in protections against these failures. These failsafes include smart overcharge or discharge protection, short circuit protection, and physical vents or pressure relief to safely avoid an explosion. Some lithium battery chemistries are less prone to extreme modes of failure, and these are the types more commonly used in consumer devices. Still, it’s amazing what we’ll risk for 24/7 access to Instagrame and Twitter...

“Actual explosions are quite rare and bateries have a range of protections”


A TRAGEDY OF TIMING In mid-August it looked as if Samsung had gotten the drop on Apple. The Galaxy Note7 was a super-high-end smartphone with everything from proper waterproofing to iris-scan security. Unfortunately, by mid-September at least 35 handsets had experienced thermal runaway and burned. Samsung had to issue a recall of over two million devices, mere days before Apple announced the iPhone 7. Such is the cutthroat world of consumer electronics. At time of writing, Samsung had promised a fixed Note7 would be back on the market by late October.

Like all batteries, the lithium-ion and lithium-polymer cells used in phones and tablets include a cathode, an anode and an electrolyte. Unlike other batteries, the electrolyte is pressurised and flammable (obviously). The cathode produces heat, and the anode produces oxygen. If the battery short-circuits, the amount of heat and oxygen generated increases massively, physically puffing up the battery until it ruptures. Heat, plus oxygen, plus flammable electrolyte under pressure equals boom. Yet it’s this volatility that makes Lithium-ion so quick to charge, with such high energy density and open-circuit voltages. The rewards, so far, have been worth the risks.

Enviable Project

A Custom ChopperPontoon-Racecar LAST YEAR, THE DENTED BODY OF A 1969 BELL OH-58 Kiowa helicopter sold at auction for $3,101. Previously, it had served in the Vietnam War, flown missions for a federal drug task force, and been chopped up for parts in Nashville, Tennessee, before floating away during a flood. Instead of landing in the junkyard, it got a second lease on life—as an amphibious car. That’s because the helicopter’s new owner was Jeff Bloch, a novelty-car builder and DC police officer. Bloch, who had dreamed of making a helicopter racecar for years, received the chopper as a donation and immediately recruited 16 friends and family members to help make it drivable. They mounted the helicopter on the chassis of a mid-’80s Toyota van wagon and added a by lightweight rear suspension A N DREW from a Mazda MX-5. R O SENBLUM


The gear shift is made from the helicopter’s repurposed Vietnamera stick for firing machine guns. Brutal!

But Bloch wanted his racer to look like a drivable helicopter, not a sloppy mix of mashed-together parts. So he affixed pontoons to the seam between copter and car, hiding the mismatched body. He reasoned that they could act as bumpers when races got heated—and then he realized they could make the vehicle amphibious. “If I’m going to use pontoons to hide the chassis, it might as well float,” Bloch says. Which means the vehicle can now do everything except fly. In May, Bloch’s “Racecopter” won the Organiser’s Choice award at the 24 Hours of LeMons race in Millville, New Jersey, even though the Audi engine dropped a valve after two laps. In the water, that same engine runs a 7,000 rpm four-blade propeller harvested from a parasail boat. James Bond’s submersible Lotus might look a bit sleeker, but the Racecopter is 100 per cent DIY—and has actual combat experience.

128 Speed, in km/h, at which the Racecopter has driven on dry land

The 3-litre, 156-kW engine came from a wrecked 2002 Audi A6 that cost Bloch just $450.

Bloch harvested pontoons from a 1988 Sun Tracker boat and reinforced them with steel.

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Manual This Is Not a Toy

TIME 30 minutes COST $280 DIFFICULTY • • • • •

A DIY Analogue Synthesiser That’s Easy to Build LIKE A SORT OF LEGO FOR CIRCUITboards, the littleBits system uses magnets and plastic mounts to snap together components in different ways. Billed as an educational tool or serious toy for the budding electronics engineer, most littleBits kits focus on building robots or games. This one is a bit different. Designed in collaboration with electronic musical instrument manufacturer Korg, it includes a collection of modules that help beginners uqnderstand, and build, a basic analogue synthesiser. Analogue synths make no pretence at high fidelity recreation of “real” musical instruments, but instead glory in the bleeps and bloops made possible by direct, electronic manipulation of soundwaves. The Synth Kit’s modules are split into power, input and output. Input modules include two oscillators, a filter, a two-stage by modulator, a random A NTHONY voltage generator, a oneF ORDHAM


BITS IN THE BOX • Delay • Envelope (modulator) • Filter • Keyboard (one octave, switch) • Micro Sequencer • 2x Oscillators • Random (voltage generator) • Mixer (two input) • Power, 1-inch speaker, splitter cable

octave switch-based keyboard and even a micro sequencer. Pleasingly, these modules are all based on existing Korg designs and when hooked up to an amplifier or decent headphones (instead of the small speaker included) demonstrate that the kit can produce suitably punchy sound. Even better, it connects to other analogue sources and can be expanded with a handful of other relevant Bits, or even a second Synthesiser kit, of course. The kit comes with a slim manual that takes the budding building through a serious of synth-focused projects, progressively

The box includes ideas for a bunch of projects including this awesomely 80s key tar.

adding complexity as they go. Once this list is exhausted, the littleBits website (and app) provide hundreds of other projects, uploaded by the growing littleBits community. Yes, there are actual in-a-nice-case hardware synthesisers available for half the price of this littleBits kit, but if you want to learn the principles of what makes these intriguing instruments tick (or beep), this is a great place to start.


A Boy and His Trebuchet The author aims his DIY version of a giant medieval siege engine.

History Strikes Back


25 FT

A Mini Medieval SiegeWeapon AROUND THE TURN OF THE 14TH CENTURY, England’s King Edward I led his soldiers north to battle Scottish rebels. Eventually, he cornered his foes at Stirling Castle in central Scotland. Outside the castle walls, his English engineers built a phalanx of huge trebuchets. A trebuchet uses the force of gravity to fling projectiles. Its power comes from a counterweight—often a box that’s filled with stones or sand—connected to a lever arm. The other end of the arm is attached to a sling that by holds a missile, such as a large rock. By raising the WILL IA M counterweight into the air with a pulley system GURS TE LL E


Ackerman + Gruber

100 FT

and then letting it drop, the lever sends the boulder flying with great precision. Edward’s trebuchets, perhaps the most powerful ones ever made, even had their own names, such as the Forester and the Vicar. The biggest was erected last. Called Ludgar, also known as Warwolf, it had enough power to fling 140-kilogram projectiles. By the time it was completed— four months after the siege began—the Scots were ready to surrender. But Edward was eager to test his new weapon. Unwilling to waste the time and effort spent on his deadly toy, Edward ordered the Scots back inside the castle and continued the siege. With its first toss, Ludgar broke down an entire four-metre-thick castle wall, according to 14th-century chronicler Peter Langtoft. By the time Edward was ready to accept surrender, only 50 of the castle’s 120 defenders remained to crawl out of the rubble. Inspired by Ludgar, I decided to make my own trebuchet. For this miniature version, I built a framework of plastic piping mounted on a stable wooden base. For a counterweight, I repurposed a pair of two-kilogram barbells. A wood prop holds the weights in place and also acts as a trigger: When I pull it out of the trebuchet, the weights slide down a pair of guide rails, causing the throwing arm to flip from one side of the trebuchet to the other. To throw a projectile—a golf ball or small water balloon—I attach a string to my missile, tie a loop in the other end, and slip the loop over the trebuchet’s arm. When the arm flips, it hurls the projectile high and far—toward an imaginary castle.

For instructions on building your own mini trebuchet, hit up YouTube. There are... many.

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Build a Fog Machine That Fits in a Mug

+TOOLS & MATERIALS • Wire strippers • Two 23A battery boxes • Soldering iron • 5.5 mm-by-2.5 mm male

TIME 15 mins COST $30 DIFFICULTYY •• •••

HALLOWEEN FALLS ON A MONDAY THIS YEAR, GIVING YOU an excuse to celebrate it in the off ice —with a mini fog machine that fits in a coffee mug. This project, inspired by a water-only fogger from DIYer Brian Clarke, employs sound waves to turn distilled water into a spooky haze. The tiny cauldron gives you all the boil and bubble by of a witch’s brew for a lot less toil and trouble. THOM LEAVY

plug for DC power • Two 23A batteries • Empty, dry 16-ounce plastic water bottle • Etree ultrasonic fogger • Duct tape • Mug • Distilled water


1/Strip the ends of the battery box wires. Solder the negative wire from one box to the positive wire of the other. Solder the free wires of the battery boxes to the power plug. Then insert the batteries. 2/Cut off and discard the top of the water bottle, leaving a bottom half that is about four inches tall. Place the fogger inside the bottom half with the power cable folded over the rim. Secure and waterproof it with duct tape. 3/Plug in the fogger, place the batteries in the bottom of the mug, and set the bottle on top. Tape the bottle to the inside of the mug around the rim. 4/Add distilled water to activate the project. It will begin spewing fog, which you can control by adjusting the water level.

5-Minute Project

76 P O P U L A R S CI E N CE

of light exits; water will spill out in an arc. (Use a bowl to catch the runoff.) The laser light will appear to bend along with the water. How is this possible? According to Snell’s law, a ray of light will change its angle when it hits the boundary

between one medium (water) and another (air). So the light is actually bouncing back and forth in straight lines within the stream of water, as if trapped in a hall of mirrors. Feel free to use this effect in your next conceptually dubious SF movie. –T.L.


Bend a Laser Beam

This experiment makes a straight laser beam appear to bend into a curve. Fasten a laser pointer to a flat surface, positioned so it shines horizontally through a full plastic water bottle. Poke a hole in the plastic where the beam


Jonathon Kambouris

Manual Meet a Maker

PHANTOM LIMB Didn’t believe us on page 12? James Young sports one of de Oliveira Barata’s most audacious projects: the Phantom Limb, inspired by the video game Metal Gear Solid. Young and de Oliveira Barata worked with 11 artists and engineers to craft an arm that boasts lights, USB charging ports, a 3D-printed hand, and a drone that docks on the shoulder, among other features. Young says he did lose some functionality for the cool factor, but tinkering with the limb has involved him in maker culture. “I’ve learned about LEDs and coding,” he says.


TheArtofArtificial Limbs FOR EIGHT YEARS, PROSTHETIC sculptor Sophie de Oliveira Barata created realistic-looking limbs for amputees who wanted to blend in. But she longed to work on more whimsical designs that would stand out. Then she met Pollyanna Hope, a young amputee (and perhaps future cyborg). “She wanted something a little different on her leg: pictures of a cartoon she loved, Peppa Pig,” said de Oliveira Barata, who is based in London. So she designed a unique leg covered in tattoo-like images of Peppa and other pigs riding a bicycle and eating ice cream. Working with Hope made de Oliveira Barata realise there was a market for limbs with flair. Since then, de Oliveira Barata founded the Alternative Limb Project to make artistic prostheses. by Her work includes an RYAN F. arm wrapped in sculpted MANDELBAUM


Omkaar Kotedia

snakes and a leg that resembles porcelain covered in a painted floral vine. She makes about six limbs per year, always incorporating clients’ ideas so that they receive a personal piece they can celebrate rather than hide. Of course, a limb covered in feathers or Swarovski crystals won’t suit everyone. Each prosthesis must satisfy a trifecta of comfort, aesthetics, and functionality, and pushing too hard in one direction can compromise other areas. But for amputees who appreciate novelty, de Oliveira Barata has some outrageous ideas. “I’d really like to make a candy-dispenser leg with a vintage feel and Gobstoppers inside it,” she says. “Or a cuckoo-clock leg with a brass bird that pops out every hour.” Her goal is to craft a limb so striking, it transforms the prosthesis from an elephant in the room into a conversation piece.

A Leg Up De Oliveira Barata also makes hyperrealistic limbs like this one.



There’s Just Something About Turboprop THESE DAYS WE TAKE intercity and international jet travel for granted. Jump on the plane, get hurled across the country at 800+ km/h. No big deal. Jets are so ubiquitous it’s hard to think of a world where air travel was slow, impossibly expensive - and absolutely terrifying. One of the big problems with early aeroplanes was lack of cabin pressurisation. With normal air inside, these aircraft couldn’t fly at altitudes that didn’t still have plenty of available oxygen for those prissy, oxygen-breathing passengers. However, flying where the air is breathable means flying through weather. And that’s freaking scary. Consider that most air travel these days takes place up in the jet stream, and when the captain puts on the seatbelt sign and you feel a few bumps, you reassure yourself by looking at the water in your plastic cup and realise it’s barely sloshing. The big turbulence events, where people hit the ceiling and stagger off all cut and bleeding, usually occur as the plane passes through lower altitudes. Now imagine that kind of ride for the whole trip. Jet engines were by developed toward the end ANTHON Y of World War II, but didn’t FORDHA M

reach civilian airliners for many years. While there were a few experimental or limiteduse planes in the early 1950s, jet airliners as we know them didn’t arrive until 1958 with the iconic Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8, among a few others. Oh wait, there was one early jet airliner. The de Havilland Comet. It entered service in 1948 but it had square windows. And we all know what happens to square windows, right kids? The frames develop metal fatigue, the windows pop out in flight, and everyone dies. So in the ‘50s your choice of air travel was between shuddery little pistonengined prop planes flying the unfriendly skies, or ten-yearsahead-of-their-ownengineering jets that could fall apart pretty much at any moment. But then, in 1955, a new option appeared. Rolls-Royce developed

A B OV E: O u r illustration of the dar t published in 1995. BELOW: The beast itself, in museum- exhibit form. So f iddly!

“Planes, trains and automobiles, that’s what the 1950s in America was all about. Oddly enough this cover doesn’t MENTION a plane, but we know there’s plenty of aero goodness inside. Anyway, this cover is a fantastic example of “future smugness” as displayed by the illustrated people. e passenger in the car condescends to wave to the railman. e women are all at home snorting medicinal speed off Formica kitchen bench-tops... or hosting turboprop airliner cabins.

78 P O P U L A R S CI E N CE

the Dart, a new type of engine, called a turboprop. A turboprop is like a jet engine, except instead of the turbine’s exhaust providing enough thrust to accelerate the plane directly, it is used to spin a propeller. It’s simpler than a piston engine, and a lot quieter and smoother too. They work best in aircraft that travel at less than 725 km/h, and where short takeoff and landing is needed. Our correspondent in 1955 was most taken with his jaunt in the world’s first turboproppowered airliner, the Britishbuilt Vickers Viscount (when he could get his mind off the cabin attendants anyway). He was especially impressed by the pressurised cabin, which allowed the plane to fly over the weather yet crucially still provide enough oxygen for him to light his cigarette. Ah the 1950s - where

Archives May 1955

You’ll Like Turboprop Flight A vetera n air travel er takes you with him on a new kind of liner now flying U.S. airways. by Herbert O. Johansen [Notes from the future: US spelling and rampant sexism preserved for historicity.]


N MY first flight in a Vickers Viscount turboprop, nine beautiful stewardesses vied with each other to keep me - the only passenger - comfortable, well fed and happy as we sped 440 miles an hour, 27,000 feet up (sic, seriously this was really published - NFTF). Beautiful stewardesses in abundance are not a characteristic of the turboprop. They were along because it was a training run, between Winnipeg and Toronto, arranged by Trans-Canada Air Lines before putting the first of 22 turboprop airliners into scheduled service. My flight was made about a month before a Viscount was to whine down to a landing at New York International Airport, introducing turboprop to the United States. More air travelers in this country will soon become familiar with that characteristic whine as Capital Airlines replaces its entire fleet of piston-engine planes with 60 of the British-made Viscounts. Although I have flown hundreds of thousands of miles in almost every type of airplane, this flight was a unique experience. Our pilot climbed to 27,000 feet to get above bumpy weather and to take advantage of a 100-mile-an-hour tail wind. Turboprop power enabled him to climb 1,800 feet a minute - about twice that of a similar piston-engine plane. Thus we were able to get up there quickly enough to make it worth while (sic) for the short distance to our next landing. The Viscount’s cabin, pressurized to a comfortable 7,000 feet (no ear buzz and my

Zippo cigarette lighter worked perfectly), kept us from noticing the altitude. The four 1,500-horsepower Rolls-Royce Dart gas-turbine engines, with a normal cruising speed of more than 300 miles per hour, let us cut almost in half the scheduled piston-flight time between Winnipeg and Fort William-Port Arthur airport... ...But what impressed me most about my turboprop flight - let’s forget those hostesses now (seriously, dude - NFTF) - was the low level of vibration. There was some vibration, of course, but still I did (as advertised) balance a pencil on end. The greatest boon of this lack of the flying shakes, however, was that I was able to sleep, something I have rarely been able to do before on short flights. And there was plenty of room to stretch out for sleep in this 40-seat, two-abreast version... ...Thus the turboprop may very well become tomorrow’s workhorse of the air... ...[After bemoaning the fact the Vickers Viscount is English] U.S. turboprop engines have all been designed for the military. Curtiss-Wright’s T49 military turboprop puts out more than 10,000 horsepower. It is so powerful and so efficient in using its power that two of them... in a B-47 Stratojet bomber, replace four J47 jet engines... ...That’s a lot of power for an airliner. You wouldn’t want it, you couldn’t use it, the airplane couldn’t handle it (a Boeing 747 produces around 87,000 hp - NFTF)... ...These U.S. turboprops... are not yet in actual production. Even if orders came right now, it is doubtful that they could go into airline service for about three years. That means that Capital’s and Trans-Canada’s new Viscount turboprops will meet no competition in this country until 1958. By that time, there may be a jet flying a US airline. Boeing recently announced that orders placed this spring for a commercial version of its 707 jet transport could be delivered in 1958. (He was exactly right - NFTF).

Along with spacious seating, the Viscount had massive “picture” windows.

men were real men and women balanced pencils on a counter in the back. Turboprops are still used today by Qantas and others because Australia has plenty of regional airports within 700-800km of capitals that have shorter runways. Travel from Sydney to Port Macquarie, Taree or Armidale for instance, and you’ll most likely ride the Bombardier Dash 8. In a historical coincidence, the Dash 8 was brought into to replace the Fokker Friendship, also a relic of 1955, which used the same Dart engine that so impressed our man between flirtatious puffs on his Marlboros. While the Dash 8 uses two Pratt & Whitney PW100 turboprops that work on the same principle as the Dart, these engines have benefited from a few decades of development. While the Dart develops an impressive 1000 kW, the PW100 manages 2148 kW. Thanks, the future!

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“Of course, the propeller system had its fair share of really obvious disadvantages. ”

The streamlined train must have been an insanely futuristic sight, in a world still dominated by hissing, puff ing steam locomotives.

Cruising in a Schienenzeppelin Back in the early 1900s, Germany had a quite the love affair with Zeppelins, a love affair that continued right up to the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. Not content with floating through the sky, Germany’s finest steampunk boffins decided that zeppelin technology could also be used in trains. And thus the Schienenzeppelin, or rail zeppelin, was born and, for a short time at least, lived.


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AT THE TIME OF THE GREAT AIRSHIPS, rail systems were comparatively slow, and there was a lot of ongoing research into how to speed things up. In 1929, Franz Kruckenbery, a German aircraft engineer, used his expertise in those magnificent men in their flying machines to develop a rather novel locomotive. Clad in a streamlined aluminium skin, this engine looked a whole lot like a plane fuselage. But what really sealed the deal was the propeller on the back end, and huge 12-cylinder aircraft engine hidden inside. The goal was to create a high speed train, free of some of the limitations of a conventional steam or diesel loco. The idea worked too, and the train set a new world record for a railway vehicle, hitting 230.2 km/h. Even today, the Schienenzeppelin still holds the record for fastest petrol-powered rail vehicle. The pure speed record holders today are all electric, and didn’t break the Schienenzeppelin record for 20 years. Yet despite this, and a touring exhibit across the country; the novel train never actually went into service. One key aspect of the Schienenzeppelin was its light weight, which helped it achieve such high speeds. Built like an aircraft, the whole thing weighed just 20 tonnes (steam locomotives

Then Retro Invention


An earlier prototype. The propeller does not drive the wheels, keeping things simple.

weighed between 90 and 200 tonnes, and that was without carriages!), and had luxurious seating for 40 people. While impractical in many ways, the propeller system allowed for a very simple transmission from the engine. It also worked just as well at high speeds, and the Germans had lots of experience building aircraft. The propeller was mounted at a slight upwards angle, to create some downforce on the train to improve grip. In a standard locomotive, powering the wheels needed a complex, heavy transmission system, which was hard to build in a way that could sustain high speed use. The V12 BMW aircraft engine chosen for the project produced 450 kW (650 HP), which at the time was a lot of power to transfer via wheels thus the propeller. Of course, the propeller system had its fair share of really obvious disadvantages. For a start, it was totally unshielded, and a big danger when operating near a station or populated areas problems avoided with aircraft and their isolated runways. A propeller is also not well suited to low-

Propeller not mad enough? How about we attach TWO JET ENGINES to the roof ?

speed tracks, or those with steep hills - in fact, the train couldn’t climb even a modest grade. The other major drawback was how to attach extra carriages, since they would disrupt airflow from the propeller and slow the train. In 1932, Franz Kruckenbery swallowed his pride, removed the propeller, and developed a gearbox to drive the wheels from the same aircraft engine. A special front bogie was built, using two hydraulic Föttinger Fluid Drives to power the wheels. The new prototype managed speeds of 180 km/h, and in 1934 underwent further modifications to including a new engine. But still there was that whirling blade of death... Eventually, this weird machine was sold off to the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Imperial

EVERYONE LOVES AEROTRAINS! The Germans weren’t the only ones to see the advantages of aircraft-like trains, and many countries experimented with them. Even before the Schienenzeppelin, the Russians built the Aerowagon. This small train used a propeller, and could carry around 22 people (it was meant for Party officials) and cruise at 140 km/h. During testing in 1921, the Aerowagon derailed at high speed, killing seven of the passengers, including an Australian delegate, John Freeman. Which kind of put a damper on things. So much for the red menace. Around the same time, George Bennie was working on the Bennie Railplane, in Scotland. Also powered by

While the Schienenzeppelin never went into service, the Germans continued to experiment with high speed rail. The result was the Fliegender Hamburger (Flying Hamburger) - a more conventional, but still unusual train. Using a radical diesel electric system, the Hamburger was able to reliably reach speeds of 160 km/h, and handle over 100 passengers. Eventually four were built, and serviced the route between Berlin and Hamburg.

Railway), and then eventually dismantled by the German army for parts. Clearly the Schienenzeppelin had just been too far ahead of its time... and also possibly fell through a portal from an alternate, steampunk dimension.

a propeller, the train actually hung from a suspended track, like an amusement park ride. The system looked promising, but Bennie eventually went bankrupt without ever getting beyond the testing phase. In the 1960s, jet engines reignited the passion for aircraft-like trains and new models were built. In the USA, the M-497 Black Beetle used turbojet engines to reach 296 km/h, while a Russian turbojet powered train managed 250 km/h. Other countries such as Britain and France tried to do away with wheels, and experimented with hovering jetpowered trains, and one (the LIMRV) reached 411.5 km/h, but never entered service.

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Subject Zero

MentaFlux Id-Decoupling Brain Implant Because messing with your consciousness is a totally sensible thing to do. WHEN THEY TURN ON THE brain implant, that’s when things start to get weird. I’m no longer in the clinically-white warehouse offices of MentaFlux, lying on an operating theatre bed. Instead, I’m sitting on a rickety wooden chair in a grey room. Grey paint is peeling from the walls. The floorboards are grey. There’s a wooden door with a round door handle that could be brass, but has also been painted grey. The door opens, and I walk calmly and confidently into the room. No, what I’m saying is that a person who looks exactly like me walks into the room. No, I’m not saying that either - he doesn’t look exactly like me, he looks like a bizarre alternate universe super-fit version of me. Great hair. Sparkling eyes. Really good skin, nothing slack or scarred or crusted with weird allergic reactions. “Where am I?” I say, which is the thing you say when someone turns on a brain implant and suddenly you’re somewhere you don’t recognise. The better-me smiles, grins really. “You,” he says, pointing a manicured finger, “are in time out!” “What the hell do you mean?” I snap. The better-me smiles wider. “Don’t you even understand what the implant does? You just let them put it in your head and you don’t even...” He seems to think better of this line of questioning. “Look, the implant decouples the three aspects of your personality, right? The Id, the Ego and the Super-Ego. I,” he preens a little, “am the Super-Ego. The superior, moral, critical part of you that knows

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what’s best and how to make your life completely awesome.” “So I guess I’m the Id?” I say. Super-Ego points at me with both index fingers held together in a really annoying sort of motivational speaker way. “Correctamundo! And you have been making a complete mess of our life and so NOW you are in time out and I am going to run the show for a while? Okay? Is that okay with you? Is it Id? Is it? Is it okay? Is -” “Shut up for a second,” I say, which feels pretty familiar actually. “Where’s Ego? Isn’t he the one who’s supposed to mediate between us, make this relationship work?” Super-Ego’s mouth goes all thin. “Ah yes, Ego.” He looks over my shoulder. I twist in my chair to see a third version of me in the far corner of the room. He’s squatting on the floor, rocking back and forth, giggling and drooling. I try to catch what he’s saying between giggles. It sounds suspiciously like: “Atalanta... she loves me... she loves me not... Atalanta...” That woman has a lot to answer for. Super-Ego raises a perfectlytrimmed eyebrow. “So, Id. You perfect idiot, pun intended. You selfdestructive moron who couldn’t make a sensible decision to save our life. You strange shrivelled half-man who, every time he was presented with an opportunity to make something of himself, instead did whatever required the absolute minimum amount of effort. You, who once hospitalised us by eating nothing but some kind of powdered Peruvian proto-corn for a month. Who once

allowed a beta version of a robot surgeon to extract our appendix in the back of an unlicensed ambulance while stuck in traffic. You, who - “ “Yes yes,” I said irritably, flapping my hand at him. “I get the point.” “THAT’S not the point!” screams Super-Ego. “The point is that with this implant, the three of us are decoupled and I am going to run the show while you sit in here and think about everything you’ve done! What do you say to that, huh Id? Anything? Are you actually going to do ANYTHING about it? Can you? Huh? HUH?” I think about it. I think about what he’s saying, about my choices, about what I’ve made of my life. And I think yes, I can do something about it. So I stand up and beat him to death with the rickety chair. To be precise: I hit him in the head with it with all my not-veryconsiderable strength, but it’s considerable enough to knock him down. And then I’m hitting him and hitting him and there’s no blood or gore. He just shatters, and on the inside he’s all white crumbly stuff like plaster or maybe the contents of a generic sugar pill. “Woo!” says Ego from the corner, but quietly. “Woo!” And then I’m done and I wake up back in the warehouse, on the operating bed, with a stern-looking doctor looking down at me holding a clipboard and a little silver pen torch. The doctor leans in close, shines the light in each of my eyes. “How do you feel?” she asks. It’s an easy question to answer. “I just killed my better self,” I say, grinning like a maniac. “I feel freaking fantastic!”

NEXT ISSUE! Issue #96, November 2016. On sale 3rd November 2016 THE BEST OF WHAT’S NEW! // Our annual round up of 2016’s most amazing robots, cars, weapons, software, toys + MORE!