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Feed Editor’s Letter Issue #97, December 2016 EDITORIAL Editor Anthony Fordham afordham@nextmedia.com.au 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 Danny McGonigle ADVERTISING Divisional Manager Jim Preece jpreece@nextmedia.com.au ph: 02 9901 6150 National Advertising Sales Manager Lewis Preece lpreece@nextmedia.com.au 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

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This Probably Isn’t the End of Science We Popular Science readers tend to be a more level-headed lot than some of the commentariat out there in the wilds of the internet. And so we understand that the election of Donald Trump most likely won’t sound the death knell for the advancement of science as we know it. Hopefully. That’s not to say the fears of others are completely unfounded. Throughout the ‘90s, SF writers invented populist, sciencehostile presidents who in turn channel latent religious fervour into rolling back and denying many of the truths of the universe we’ve been teaching 10-year-olds for decades. One of the most extreme examples of this is in Stephen Baxter’s novel Titan, where a manned mission to Saturn finds itself, years into deep space, without a Mission Control, because the US has reverted to a geocentric model of the universe and says Titan - the ship’s destination - does not in fact exist. President Trump is religious only for political purposes, and the chances of a rise in particularly Christian fundamentalism seem remote. But I think a lot of the nervousness about the future of science comes from the growing divide between capital-s Science and technology. For most of the post-WW2 period, science could rely on support because of the way it (and tech) was obviously making everyone’s lives better. We went from hand-washing to mangles to automatic washing machines. We went from letters to telegrams to international phone calls. We went from giant cabinet-sized “wirelesses” to HD tablets with wireless internet. And so forth. But now that we have all this amazing tech, we take it for granted that next year’s smartphone will be better than this year’s... but also familiar. This is the difference now. Tech is consolidating into a set of products and concepts that everyone understands. Never say never, but the likelihood of something massively disrupting - like the internet - suddenly popping up in the next ten years is getting more and more unlikely. Virtual reality? Augmented reality? Just implementations of existing technologies.

The disruptor here isn’t the thing strapped to your face, it’s the idea of moving around in a world that doesn’t exist physically, but can affect society - and we already have that in the form of the internet at large. What is under risk from conservative administrations (not just in the US either) is science for science’s sake. You need to have a particular philosophy as a leader to speed hundreds of millions of dollars on moon bases or trying to figure out the purpose of junk DNA, or calculating Pi out to a google digits, or drilling through the Greenland ice sheet to count prehistoric pollens. If you’re the kind of person who lives only to make money, whose measure of success and importance is based on how many people say you are successful and important, then the science that can really advance us as a civilisation could suffer. (Also science that’s specific to the needs of women. Not just abortion and contraception, but fertility too. This is a crisis in waiting, one that society is going to have to sort out.) This has happened before, of course. Over and over again, empires have grown large and fat and lax, and it has fallen to private individuals to push us forward. Do I think a cabal of possibly insane billionaires are the best people to found Earth’s first offworld colony? Probably not. But in the absence of government interest, they may be who we have to settle for. The bright side? Unlike the opening-up of Africa, there aren’t any people on Mars to suffer the catastrophic impact of imperial expansion. Except the colonists of course. I suspect the first lot are going to have a really bad time... ANTHONY FORDHAM afordham@nextmedia.com.au

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Contents

From the Archives 78 DECEMBER 1957! New TVs are in stores, and Popular Science is super excited about the possibility of cathode ray tube technology!

Featuring

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BILLIONAIRES ON MARS Elon Musk and SpaceX have a bold new plan to send humans to the red planet. Can it work, or is the scope of this epic mission just too far out of this world?

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48 THE GIFT GUIDE It’s an annual tradition, a (large) stocking full of gifts specially selected to appeal to Popular Science readers. Give generously!

56 EYE ON THE SKY We’ve filled the heavens with spy satellites that look down on us. But who’s looking up at the spies?

62 EAT WHAT YOU ARE DNA sequencing can do more than catch criminals. It can also help you devise the perfect diet.


D EC E M BE R 2 0 1 6 For daily updates: www.popsci.com.au

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Departments NOW Your guide to everything

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06 By the numbers: choosing the best 08 Google does cheap VR... again 10 An electric motorbike, Aussie-built 12 Apple Watch vs Cheap Watch 14 A tiny synthesiser that does it all 16 Is the DJI Mavic Pro just too good? 18 Would you take a ride from a driverless Uber? 22 Should you ditch your laptop for a tablet? 24 Two fast cars, one smart... one less smart.

NEXT Important stuff for futurists 26 Greenland’s ice hides many secrets 28 Human medical trials... without humans? 30 littleBits was invented for one reason 32 AI will help us find ET 34 A phone that’s a snap to upgrade 36 Augmented reality has a way to go 38 Should SpaceX be scared of Donald Trump?

MANUAL Made for you, by you 26

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66 Build a very silly wind-powered record player 68 A surfer who won’t let a leg slow him down 69 Hybrid hard drives give your PC a boost 70 The most disgusting costume ever (rocks) 71 The many uses of a USB tester 72 A professional cake-wrangler tells all 73 How to get your stream on 74 A remote queue-avoiding device 75 Somebody please invent...

THE OTHER BITS Baked not fried 03 Our editor carries on for a bit 78 From the Archives: the joy of television 80 Retro Invention: Australia’s atomic tank! 82 Lab Rats

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The Best of What’s New By the Numbers Last issue we showed you the future of tech. Now here are the numbers that made that future possible

Tonnes of rock removed to dig the Gotthard Base Tunnel

Total kilowatts in Best of What’s New Auto

28.2 MILLION

Top speed of the AS2 supersonic business jet

1,852 KM/H

1,867

Distance traveled in the world’s longest hoverboard flight

2,251METRES 18 QUINTILLION

Planets in the No Man’s Sky video-game universe

755

100

Range at which the SkyWall 100 drone catcher can net a drone

Hours of continuous light converted from a small amount of salt water in the Hydra-Light lantern

Kilometres travelled by the Juno space probe to Jupiter

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METRES

Megapixels in the Lytro Cinema Camera

$11 BILLION

250

Economic impact of eradicating Dengue fever

29 DEGREES

2.81 BILLION

Temp of Acer’s liquid-cooled laptop during video playback


Where seeing is unbelievable.

Jan. 5-8, 2017 Ι Las Vegas, NV

Register now at CES.tech #CES2017


LOST IN A DREAM WORLD Early explorations with Google’s budget VR kit by ANTHONY FORDHAM

HARNESSING THE HIGHresolution screen and built-in accelerometers of a modern smartphone to power a simple virtual reality was a stroke of genius. Samsung came out of the gate early with its Gear VR for around $250, and Google soon followed with the quirky (and literally named) Cardboard. That wasn’t really a product you could take pride in owning (see boxout) so now Google has followed up with Daydream. A more substantial kit for sure, it comes with a remote that gives it a suprisingly high-end feel. Compared to $1000+ headgear from gaming-focused HTC and Oculus, Daydream has a narrower field of view (it’s like looking through one of those big binoculars that used to be bolted to lookout railings) and only works with Google’s phones for now. But its cloth-and-plastic construction makes it more like an odd item of clothing rather than a tech-toy. A single strap at the back keeps adjustment to a minimum, and you focus the headset by tilting it on front of your eyes rather than twiddling knobs. There’s room in the headset for all but the horniest of hornrimmed glasses, and the plastic

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lenses wipe clean while the velcro-attached facemask peels off for easy washing. VR content is accessed via the new Daydream app, and for now includes a collection of games and demos that show off how the remote works. Most compelling is the tutorial with its forest-by-night scene in which the remote becomes a torch, and the user must spotlight various animals. Some games - like Danger Goat - are less “virtual reality” and more “playing on a giant TV with no edge”. You hover, God-like above the playing area and See All. It makes us wonder if Zeus ever got motion-sickness, peering down from Olympus like that... Given that it only costs $119, needs no battery and provides a cheap preview of what VR can do, it’s a no-brainer of a buy for anyone who owns a Pixel or Pixel XL. Of course, like all the cheap VR headsets, Daydream remains a toy, a viewer for a series of demos. Yes you can watch YouTube videos in a fake outdoor cinema, but that’s hardly a killer app. Already committed to Google’s new phone and want a taste of the VR future? Daydream could be just the (budget saver) ticket.

Google Daydream Price: $119 Web: play.google.com

RECYCLABLE UNIVERSE

Google’s last foray into cheap VR was very cheap indeed. Cardboard (that was its name, Cardboard) was basically just a folding template you could make out of pretty much anything. Add a couple of lenses, velcro and a magnet and boom, you had a VR headset. It was sold direct for $15, and the format was opensource. Many variants exist, ranging from $5 up to $40. Really, it is aimed at developers to help them get building apps for VR. vr.google.com


Superlatives

KILLAJOULE: THE WORLD’S FA ST EST E L EC T R I C M O T O R CYC L E by LINDS AY H AN DM ER

A 400 HP MONSTER WITH a top speed of 434 km/h, KillaJoule is a motorbike with a single purpose: to go fast. Extremely, almost ridiculously fast. And no one is more qualified to pilot it than Eva Håkansson, who is designer, builder and owner all in one. Thanks to this beast, she is now the world’s fastest female motorcyclist.

THE BIKE Obviously, KillaJoule is no ordinary motorbike, and was engineerd to reach truly superlative speeds. The 5600mm long vehicle is just 530mm wide in the body, with a chrome-molybdenum alloy

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steel frame and fibreglass and aluminium body panels. Technically it’s a three wheeler, with a suspension damped ‘sidecar’ to improve stability. And yes, it is electric. A 372kW EVO AFM-240 motor draws power from a 400V, 10 kWh lithium nano-phosphate battery pack. It charges using solar power or a biodiesel generator. So it’s green too. The bike uses special land speed record racing tyres with custom aluminium rims. To slow down again after a speed run, KillaJoule deploys twin Kevlar ribbon parachutes, as well as disc brakes on all wheels. The whole bike (including Eva on board) weighs in at just 700 kilograms. Eva estimates that KillaJoule has cost somewhere between $260,000 to $390,000 dollars - about half of which has come from sponsors.

THE PILOT It takes a special kind of person to blast at 400 km/h down a salt flat, and Eva Håkansson is a selfconfessed speed junkie. Piloting KillaJoule means wearing a five-layer fireproof Nomex race suit and helmet, squeezing into a claustrophobic cockpit in baking temperatures, and trusting all the engineering and safety gear will keep her alive. Setting records with KillaJoule is just Håkansson’s (very expensive) hobby, and she works as an engineering, sustainability and racing consultant.

‘sidecar’ motorbike record on the same run - and that includes petrol bikes too. KillaJoule isn’t done yet though, because it has a registered top speed of 434.9 km/h, set back in 2014 on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It’s the fourth fastest battery powered vehicle of any sort - and the rest of the competition are all cars. Of course Eva and the team are always looking to go faster, and are already working on improving KillaJoule for future record attempts. Hold on.

SPECS Motor: 372kW EVO AFM-240 Battery: 10 kWh Lithium Nano-Phosphate pack Controllers: Dual Rinehart Motion Systems PM100 controllers, 400 HP combined Brakes: Twin Kevlar parachutes, disc brakes Body: Fibreglass composite, aluminium. Dimensions: 5600mm long,

THE RECORDS Eva and KillaJoule have set a sheaf of world records, the latest in August, 2016. Currently the bike holds the record for world’s fastest electric motorbike, with a confirmed top speed of 400.2 km/h. It also grabbed the fastest

530mm wide (excluding stabiliser), 960mm high. Weight: 700kg (inc. Eva) Official Record: 400.2 km/h. Top Speed: 434.9 km/h

WEB: evahakanssonracing.com


S M A R T WAT C H E S, DISSECTED Premium smartwatches hover around $350-plus. And let’s not even mention Apple’s pricing. But what do you get compared with cheap knockoffs? iFixit helps APPLE WATCH SPORT, 38 MM

Apple’s “cheapest” smartwatch starts at $399. Costs only go up as you improve specs and finish.

1/ CASE The Watch’s chassis is precisely machined aluminum—meaning buttons aren’t loose, and it’s water-resistant. 2/ BATTERY While capacity is the same as the $10 watch at about .8 watt hours, the Apple battery has more leads to transmit extra charging data to the processor. Meh. 3/ SPEAKERS The Apple Watch has a smaller speaker than the UWatch. On the newer Series 2 watch, after swimming, users can play a tone to expel leftover water. Silly. 4/ SCREEN Apple’s 38 mm watch offers 272-by-340 pixels onscreen, versus its competitor’s 128-by-128 resolution. The least we can expect for the premium! 5/ PROCESSOR The S1 processor is designed by Apple itself. Its 520 MHz processor is faster than the original iBook. Impressive.

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Guts

by DAVE GERSHGORN + ANDREW GOLDBERG

U8 UWATCH SMARTWATCH

Chinese-designed clones are some of the “best” around. The UWatch has alerts and health apps for just US$10.

1/ CASE Held together by four standard Phillips screws, which can be easily taken apart, while the Apple Watch requires heat and special tools to disassemble. Good. 2/ BATTERY The generic $3 battery (available online) has an expected life of one to two years before losing significant capacity. Ouch. 3/ SPEAKERS While the Apple Watch has a Taptic Engine for notice vibrations, the UWatch has an empty space where a vibrator should be. (“Actual specifications may vary.”) 1

4/ SCREEN Both screens are held on by adhesive— however the UWatch screen can be popped off with your fingernail. Eep. 5/ PROCESSOR The UWatch uses an off-the-shelf system-on-a-chip that lags powering its tiny display, and costs less than $5. Not exactly a next-gen experience. Oh well.

P H OTOGRAP H S BY

Brian Klutch

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Toolbox

AN ENTIRE MUSIC STUDIO... IN YOUR POCKET? by A NTHONY F ORDHAM

TEENAGE ENGINEERING OP-1 8 assignable synthesis engines 4-track digital recorder 4-channel mixer with pan controls 7 stereo FX and

SYNTHESISER DESIGN HAS always been a very conservative science. We love companies like Moog and Korg but they do trade on their experience, bringing out synths with circuits “inspired by” or “modelled from” classic instruments from the 1970s. The OP-1 by Swedish manufacturer Teenage Engineering is less concerned with recapturing the golden age of synthesisers and more focused on cramming heaps of functionality into a music-making device small enough to put in an overcoat pocket. Think of the OP-1 as a sketchbook for music, a way to get ideas down on “tape” without needed to sequester yourself away in the studio. It may be less than 20mm deep but inside that aluminium chassis are eight programmable synthesis

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compressor 5 sequencers with

engines, a sequencer with multiple modes, an FX system, a four-track recorder and much more. The almost overwhelming amount of functionality is made manageable by a clever colourcoded control system - everything is adjusted via four main knobs, and each knob has a secondary function access via a shift key. A small AMOLED display shows the distinctly Scandanavian interface with its thin fonts and clean iconography, and there’s an onboard microphone too for sampling... whatever. Even more cleverly, the OP-1

has a little FM receiver inside, and it’s possible to sample directly from your favourite FM station, chop and reverse and apply effects to a sample, and within minutes a keen musician can build a funky track around something they just heard on the news. The OP-1 has 512MB of memory, about enough for a six-minute fourtrack song at default speed, or up to 24 minutes on a single track. Like we said: sketchbook. Each time the user is satisfied with their composition, they can “mix down” the four tracks onto an album (cheekily represented by a graphic of a vinyl record on a turntable) and export the resulting sound file to a PC. While the OP-1 can work as a sketchpad anywhere, it’s synth

varying functionality Built in microphone and FM receiver Drag and drop .aiff files to PC via USB Intuitive lift/drop editing interface 320x160 AMOLED display USB and 3.5mm stereo input/output

PRICE: $1350 WEB: teenage.engineering (yep!)

engines and output quality are of sufficient quality that many successful artists use it as a performance machine. The final bonus? In the world of professional music gear, the OP-1 isn’t een all that expensive at $1350, especially given its incredible versatility.


Form Factor

HAS DJI KILLED THE HIGH-END DRONE? The Mavic Pro is so awesome you have to queue to buy one...

CHRISTMAS 2016 WAS supposed to be the killer year for drones. Sure, 2015 was big, but this holiday season was supposed to see people spending millions. Maybe even billions. But leading drone manufacturer DJI made a major miscalculation. It didn’t realise that packing an almost-pocketsized folding drone with high-end features and capabilities and then selling it for less than $2000 would create massive demand. Demand so high the by DJI could ANTHON Y forget about FORDHA M

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distribution: manufacturing couldn’t keep up with pre-orders. Of course, we’re not surprised that everyone wants a Mavic Pro. This tiny drone with its foldaway boom arms has benefitted from all the research DJI has done over the past few years. As well as a 27-minute flight time, an actually-illegal 7 km of radio range (gotta stay in line of sight), 4K video camera and 65km/h top speed, the Mavic Pro also has automatic collision avoidance. Four vision sensors plus 24 “high performance computing cores” and a bunch of softwaresmarts means not only will the Mavic dodge trees, it can be commanded to follow a person just by tapping-and-dragging in the associated app. It takes photos of you when you

make a camera-framing gesture, can hover with incredible stability even in a moderate breeze, keeps itself at a set height over varying terrain and much, much more. In fact, with the Mavic Pro on the shelf, why would you bother with DJI’s $2000+ Phantom 4? Sure, the Phantom has a wider field-of-view, can lift things, and has many after-market upgrades, but the Mavic Pro has a better controller and various new tricks like a dedicated “STOP!” button for human intervention against an obstacle it missed. Unless you are producing professional aerial photography (in which case you’d probably want an Inspire 1 that lets you mount a wide range of cameras), the Mavic Pro is going to beat the Phantom 4 in most situations.

So has DJI just nuked its own top tier prosumer drone? Maybe not. After all, the Phantom is due for an upgrade... and in any case, it’s not like you can actually BUY a Mavic Pro right now. Maybe February. Unless this article makes another wave of people suddenly decide to preorder one. Whoops!

DJI MAVIC PRO Precision hover mode 7km range to controller Obstacle avoidance 4K video and 12MP camera 27 minute flight time Folding design 198 x 83 x 83mm, 743g

PRICE: From $1600 WEB: www.dji.com/mavic


ďŹ ne mechanical watchmaking, from japan.

Trimatic symbolises three Seiko inventions that ensure the highest levels of reliability and durability in its mechanical watches.

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THE PROFESSIONAL PA S S E N G E R

PH OTO G R A PH Y BY

Ray Lego

Uber’s director of engineering Raffi Krikorian puts innovation on autopilot


The Platform N E A R LY T W O Y E A R S A G O , U B E R R O L L E D I N T O P E N N S Y LVA N I A , P O A C H E D R E S E A R C H E R S F R O M

Carnegie Mellon University’s famed robotics program, and set up a secret facility to build an army of autonomous cars. In September, the company made history and finally dispatched its fleet of self-piloting cabs in Pittsburgh to pick up actual passengers. The cars rely on numerous sensors— cameras, lidar, GPS—to see where they’re going and avoid the number-one scourge of roadways everywhere: human error. Uber’s success could mean countless lives saved and the beginning of the end of general licensing. Piloting the project is director of engineering Raffi Krikorian. He sat down with Popular Science to explain how his cars work, what the company will do in by case of a crash, and what it’s like to commute X A V I E R to work each day in a self-driving vehicle. H A R D I N G

The driverless-car business is getting crowded. Google, Lyft, Tesla—everyone is chasing this technology. You obviously don’t want to be left behind or left at the mercy of someone else’s tech. Is that the reason you’re doing this? What are the benefits to you? Think of it this way: Driving is actually a pretty dangerous thing. I think something like more than a million people die in car accidents each year. Ninety percent of those are from human error. So if you think of the number of rides Uber offers on a daily basis— 5 million rides, on average— part of it ends up being a safety issue for us.

What other benefits are there besides safety? We also think autonomous vehicles can do better than human drivers in cities. We think we can do much better congestion planning. We can be smart about how to move people around.

Last year Uber poached much from the Carnegie Mellon’s robotics lab to help further its driverless

car efforts. Why Carnegie Mellon? How is what they’re doing ahead of the competition? Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Centre (NREC) has some of the most experienced people in the field of robotics. Along with the skills required to build three-dimensional maps and do stereovision on computers, the team has actually deployed self-driving systems in the field. Giant trucks that work in mines, for example, or military robots that roam through forests. One person on our team, formerly of NREC, even built part of the autonomous navigation software used on the Mars rovers. Uber’s done robotics before, but we had never actually deployed something into the field, whereas this is what the folks over at NREC do for a living.

Why bring this pilot program to Pittsburgh? Is it because of Uber’s connection to Carnegie Mellon? We jokingly call Pittsburgh the double black diamond of driving. It’s completely organically grown, in the sense that it’s a really old city: Many of the roads aren’t wide enough for two-way

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+STATS

NAME Raffi Krikorian FORMERLY OF MIT, Twitter YEARS AT UBER 1.5-plus

traffic, they don’t come together at right angles, and the signage is antiquated and constantly in need of repair. Along with things like the Pittsburgh left, in which drivers on opposite sides of the road race to turn left when the light turns green.

How often have you personally hit the road in one of Uber’s self-driving cars? Every day. I call the car in the morning to come get me, and it takes me to work. Which gives me a chance to see the latest code the team has worked on and the mapping we’ve done. Riding in a self-piloting car gives you a different view of the road. Nowadays when I actually do drive, a lot of it is muscle memory. When sitting in the front seat of an autonomous car without actually driving, it makes you a lot more aware of what’s really going on. You start to think, “Why do people jaywalk?” or “Why would you cut me off?” It’s very entertaining.

STOPS ALONG THE WAY NOTEWORTHY DATES IN SELFDRIVING CARS

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APRIL 1939 NY World’s Fair’s Futurama exhibit hints at highways with grooved indentations, offering a vision of self-driving cars.

AUGUST 1961 Popular Science reports on the Aeromobile: a car with no tyres intended to glide along a designated track.

How do your driverless cars work? There’s a laser scanner that sits on top of the car and spins really fast. Sixty-four laser beams constantly sweep the area to detect and measure the distance of objects around it. Using this data, we can build accurate three-dimensional maps of the streets we’re on. We also use sensors to “localise” the car. As a human driver, you can use GPS to localise yourself, but GPS can be as much as three metres off. For a self-driving car choosing which lane to drive down, three metres off is enough to put you into oncoming traffic. So in addition to GPS, the car’s tyres are equipped with encoders, which allow it to sense how many times it has turned over or what fraction it has turned, so the car can calculate how far it’s moved. Machine learning, wireless networks, and improved computing power have allowed us to do this at this moment and at scale.

JULY 1995 Carnegie Mellon’s self-driving 1990 Pontiac travels from Pittsburgh to LA. The car drives on its own 90 per cent of the trip.

What are some of the toughest challenges for automated driving? Perception—can you teach the car to see all the important things it needs to see on the road? Think about vegetation. You drive down a tree-lined road, and it looks different the next time because vegetation grows. The trees might be bigger or the leaves might have fallen off. So we have to change the way the car perceives it. The next biggest problem is prediction. If you identify there’s a car in front of you, what do you predict that car will do? Or if a car passes on the left, in the back of your mind you wonder about a number of scenarios that could happen next. Our cars do the same thing.

How do you solve those problems? We have incredibly accurate maps of the areas we want to drive in. By now we know what we consider to be

MARCH 2004 Fifteen driverless cars compete in a DARPA challenge to win $1 million cash prize. None of the cars complete the race.

SEPTEMBER 2016 Uber puts driverless cars on the road for Pittsburgh residents. Use of lidar and other sensors show how far they’ve come.


The Platform

SEEING THE ROAD AHEAD

HOW AN UBER CAR PERCEIVES THE WORLD IN FRONT OF IT

Uber plans to streamline its driverless car design soon, hiding antennas and other bulk. Its 64 laser beams constantly spin in a circle, telling the car how far away immediate obstacles are .

Cameras give the vehicle a clear view of what’s ahead, behind, and to the sides.

“background.” After that, it’s a machine-learning problem. We build classifiers so the car can verify, yes, that’s a bicycle. Knowing that, we can predict how cyclists normally move.

Your new “driverless” cars actually have two people sitting up front. What are their roles?

What happens when the first driverless Uber accident occurs? Immediately, we’d make sure everyone is safe. Then we’d start a deep dive to understand what happened so we can learn from it. We see crazy stuff on the road every single day, and we understand how well we would’ve done in that situation, through simulations or log analysis. We’ll look at what went wrong and figure out if there’s more data to feed the system so we can learn how to handle the situation better.

If we can drive in Pittsburgh, we can drive anywhere.”

One person sits in the drivers’ seat, ready to take over when necessary, while the passenger next to him takes notes. The car is constantly taking in a lot of data, whether it be the foliage problem or what to do if a car cuts in front of it. But the car can’t pinpoint which events are important. So the right-seat driver is annotating each of these. By tagging various events, we can later search for all the times a driver cut us off so we can train our software against that data. We can then upload what we’ve fixed back onto the vehicle, essentially telling it, “When a car cuts in front of us in this particular way, let up the gas pedal, give

them some distance, and then try to catch up with traffic.”

So how long until driverless is the default Uber experience? That’s a long road. There are three things to account for. First, technology: How can we make sure the car accounts for all situations? For real-life situations—a duck crossing the road, for example—it will be a while before we solve how we want the car to respond to those situations. Next, are regulations— nationally, globally—ready for us to have cars on the road that are operated by a computer? Finally, societal: Will the average user ride in a car with no driver in it? Would a driver commute next to one? Solving even one is hard, but all three are required to unlock a driverless future.

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HOW WOULD YOU USE A TABLET?

In the Know Personal stuff

Listening to music, watching movies

Playing games

Emails, using social media

Apple’s App Store has a huge selection of games and apps for the casual user.

iPAD P RO From $ 84 9

I create documents and spreadsheets constantly.

The Surface Pro lets you access files and folders. And with more storage, it’s easier to sort and make use of your stuff.

If you’re a serious gamer, tablets can’t match the level of graphics you’d get on a computer.

S U R FACE PRO 4 F rom $1349

SHOULD I REPLACE MY LAPTOP W I T H A TA B L E T ? 22

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Drawing and sketching digitally

Word processing

Can you be more specific?

The Surface Pro supports keyboards and trackpads, making using Office apps on a tablet much easier.

The Apple Pencil offers palm rejection, letting you rest your palm on the tablet while drawing.

I like to handwrite notes and annotate while I read.

Sounds like you need a stylus.

Editing multimedia

Adobe Creative Cloud is available on tablets but is still more powerful on a computer.

HP SPECTRE From $2,299

SINCE THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, ADVANCEMENTS in everyday tech have allowed us to replace many things in our quotidian lives. Laptop and desktop computers helped some go paper- and penless. Touchscreen tablet computers only furthered the transition. With companies making their tablet devices more powerful, can the iPads and Surface Pros dethrone the Macbooks and ultrabooks that have nestled themselves on our desks and in our bags? We set out to find the answer. by Check out this handy guide to see if CORE Y you should put your trust in a tablet. MUEL L E R

FROM LEFT: COURTESY APPLE; COURTESY NETFL IX; CO URTESY MIC ROSOFT; CO URTESY AD OBE; C OURTESY HP; C OURTESY EA

Out-of-the-box push notifications keep you up to date on news, messages and more.

Professional stuff


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Speed Lab

FORD FOCUS RS Price: $55,000 Power: 257kW @ 6000rpm Torque: 440Nm @ 1600rpm Drive: All Wheel Modes: Sport+, Track, Drift Kerb Weight: 1575kg

It’s hard to believe the Focus RS and Mustang GT are made by the same company

THIS YEAR FORD RELEASED two cars aimed squarely at speed enthusiasts. Both have a rich and storied history, and both were snapped up by drivers - you know you’ve built something desirable when wait lists never seem to get any shorter. Yet in some ways the cars could not be more different. The Mustang GT is a throwback to the glory days of the pony cars, with its 5.0 litre naturallyaspirated V8 sending 306kW to the rear wheels. And the Focus RS is an almost Euro-style hyper-hatch, an all-wheel-drive by celebration ANTHON Y FORDHA M of suspension

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SMART SPEED VS Both cars are a great “value technology with a responsive proposition” for the driver who 2.3L four-cylinder turbo engine needs hundreds of horses (or killer and 257kW of power. wasps) under the bonnet but can’t Both cars are stupidly stomach a likewise epic sticker. grunty and much faster than But the Mustang delivers its the law allows. Both cars cut a value via a nostalgia trip. Fire it up dashing figure on the highway: and the big V8 burbles away, the the Mustang with its retro cabin is snug and enveloping, you styling and ‘60s cues which sit way down low. There’s power in turn call back to the ‘40s under your right foot, sure, but (including “Ground Speed” on not much in the way of poise. the speedometer); and the Focus Drop the guts on the GT with its wide shouty mouth of with the front wheels a front grille, 2.3L 4-cylinder pointed in any direction prominent rear EcoBoost except straight ahead, diffuser and Turbocharged, 257kW and you’ll get the hilarious wing. to all four wheels fright of your life. The They also make r end likes to step it obvious how far , traction control go-fast technolo amned. There’s a has come, eling like a sudden even for us ot-spasm could peasants who nd you catapulting can’t afford to an embankment a $150,000+ ll, or off the outside performance ge of a sweeping monster. Or at rve. And some least the Focus ple love that. does. The Mustan e Focus RS, on just reminds us of hand, is clearly what we left behi

DEFY GRAVITY

On paper the Focus RS is the less powerful car, but if you have a change to drive both back-to-back as we did, we’re willing to bet you’ll come away thinking that, on the street at least, the little hatch feels quite a bit quicker. The lower kerb weight and AWD are part of that of course, but these cars are a good reminder of the importance not just of the size of the numbers, but where they are delivered. The Mustang’s 530Nm of torque arrives way up at 4250rpm, while the RS gets its big 440Nm shove as early as 1600rpm. And when you’re only accelerating up to 80km/h anyway (cough cough), that can make all the difference.


FORD MUSTANG GT Price: $60,490 (tested) Power: 306kW @ 6500rpm

PRIMAL POWER the Putty Road with the sun in very angry that it only has four my eyes and destination in mind. cylinders. And it takes that anger The four doors are just a bonus. out on the road, by completely What both cars do show dominating it. A sophisticated is the continuing viability of AWD system coupled with “niche” models in a world excellent suspension means increasingly filling up with the car doesn’t squat or sway bland family SUVs and generic or shimmy under acceleration 100kW hatches. The hardcore over uneven surfaces (and let’s RS lover probably won’t like face it, here in Australia all our the Mustang’s primitive DNA, surfaces are uneven). You don’t and the pony car acolyte will need to worry about when to lift find the RS too much like one of off, or that entering a corner at them new-fangled videogames. the wrong speed or angle could Push pedal to go fast be the last mistake 5.0 Litre V8 and skill be damned. you ever make. Powers the Mustang’s Both cars will (Tip to especially rear wheels, get you arrested spirited drivers good for 306kW quick smart, though. though: despite So whether your all its technology, preference is for a V8 the RS cannot bruiser with smoking steer when all four rear tyres, or a wheels are off vicious little hatch the ground.) that’s perpetually The RS may sideways, just have 50-odd remember: you’re kilowatts less only allow to use than the Mustang the left half of the but I know which speedo on both. car I’d rather be Unless you’re in the NT. in, out the back of

Torque: 530Nm @ 4250rpm Drive: Rear Wheel Modes: Sport, Sport+, Track Kerb Weight: 1773kg

Mustang interior evokes classic 60s styling with brushed-metal dashboard. Speedo has “Ground Speed” written on it to hint at Mustang’s WW2 warplane origins. Leather is luxurious. Almost cartoonishly masculine. Focus RS interior is all about the Recaro bucket seats which grip the thighs. Good for the twisties, kind of annoying down at the shops. Trim levels are not that much higher than regular Focus. You’re paying for engine and suspension.

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Project scientists camped on the ice for eight weeks in 2016.

PH OTOGRAPH BY JO SEPH C OOK ; WWW. B LACK ANDB LO OM. ORG

GREENLAND’S MASSIVE ICE SHEET, THREE TIMES LARGER THAN Texas, is melting faster than ever and contributing to rising sea levels. In addition to the warming climate, there might be a secondary culprit: algae. A four-year project called Black and Bloom (geddit?) launched this year to determine how algae, bacteria, and other particles change the albedo, or reflectivity, of the ice. Since algal blooms are darker than ice (as seen here), an algae-laced surface absorbs more sunlight, warms quicker, and melts more. Cyclically, as more ice melts into liquid, it creates a better environment for blooms. “We have an inkling that these algae are spending their entire life cycles in the ice,” says project researcher Christopher Williamson. By better understanding how microbes affect melt rate, scientists can more by accurately predict how Greenland’s ice LINDSEY will change in a warming world. KRATOCH WI LL


cameras & imaging

COM.AU

OXFORD RD STREET E LEEDERVILLE E E


Decoded

E HUMAN-FREE HUMAN TRIALS A tiny replica body-on-a-chip will be a safer, more accurate testing ground for new drugs

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EARLIER THIS YEAR, FRENCH COMPANY BIOTRIAL held a clinical trial to test a new anti-anxiety drug. It didn’t go well: Five of the eight participants became ill, and one died. Disasters like this are rare. But also rare are clinical trials that go well: Ninety per cent of drugs tested on humans do not work. These failures are an expensive, but necessary, part of the estimated US$2.6 billion ($3.4 bn) it costs to bring a medicine to market. A lab in California is working on a more efficient and humane process, based on a coin-sized plastic slide. It’s a tiny replica of the human brain, rendered in clusters of about 300,000 cells surrounded by small copper wires. Based on that, Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) researchers have set out to build a comprehensive human body in miniature. Called the iChip, it could be the future of drug testing. “Most people aren’t really thrilled with us injecting anything new into a human,” says Heather Enright, an iChip researcher. But testing drugs on animals instead provides limited information. For example, tumours develop differently in mice than they do in humans. With iChip, a dose of a new medication could be injected into the cells of a mini organ, and researchers could monitor the effects without harming live subjects. In addition to the brain, and a peripheral nervous system (think spinal cord), the LLNL scientists have created a rudimentary heart and a tangle of 3D-printed blood vessels, which they plan to use to link organs together. The end product won’t look like tiny human innards, but the network of cells, vessels, and neurons will carry out the same functions. Right now, the biggest challenge is “getting the cells to be happy on the device,” says Elizabeth Wheeler, the project’s principal investigator. Cells are picky, and can die in response to subtle changes in acidity or humidity. That’s why it was notable when, in July, the team announced that they kept a section of a human nervous system functioning for a record 23 days. Harvard, MIT, and Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) are building tiny organs of their own, which could one day link up with iChip. Beyond testing drugs, organs on chips could be made with a specific patient’s cells to find the best treatment for that person. “Everybody responds to drugs a little differently,” says Jennifer Harris, a researcher at by LANL. Such personalised regimes SHANNON PALUS could be the future of medicine.

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Leandro Castelao


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Geeking Out

AYAH BDEIR

On Prepping Students for the Jobs of the Future 30

POPUL A R S CI E NCE

AYA H B D E I R C R E AT E D L I T T L E B I T S — E L E C T R O N I C B U I L D I N G B L O C K S T H AT

snap together to form high-tech DIY projects—with engineering and design pros in mind. But when she brought her invention to Maker Faire in 2009, it grabbed the attention of children, and their parents and teachers. Today, the company has sold millions of littleBits, and has an education team that writes littleBits-based curricula now used in more than 3,500 schools worldwide. “Many kids are tech-savvy when it comes to using devices,” Bdeir says, “but they don’t necessarily think of themselves as creators.” She predicts that acquiring this “creative confidence” as told to is key to competing in the job market of the future, and to tackling SOPHI E technology jobs that don’t yet exist. BUSHW I C K PHOTOGRAPH BY

Brian W. Ferry


Brian Klutch P H OTO G RA P H S BY

“WHEN I WAS GROWING UP, AS FAR AS I KNEW, there wasn’t anything called data mining or userexperience design or front-end engineering—and now they’re some of the most coveted careers in the world. We can’t just prepare students for certain types of careers that exist now—we have to enable them to adapt to whatever new careers might emerge. “As a society, we accept that everything around us changes LittleBits Builds quickly and responds to advances From top: remote-control car, in technology. Yet education is DIY burglar alarm such a different thing. Teachers are already very busy—to expect them to guess what future fields might appear is difficult. We help by introducing concepts like problem solving and creative confidence and collaboration, so the student can learn whatever comes their way. “We use a principle that we developed called “invention-based learning.” It’s about giving the kids inventions that are relevant to them as prompts. For example, we have students create a catapult, competing in two-person teams to knock over pyramids of cups. So you’re learning collaboration, you’re learning how to try, and then learning from your trial, and try again—and you’re also learning the scientific principles underneath. We don’t just want to make STEM engaging and exciting for students; we want to make it more accessible to people of different countries, languages, and genders. “In the past, humans organised themselves by nations and countries. Technology is allowing us to organise by interest, by passion, by expertise. We have more than 300 chapters—a library, school, or stay-at-home mum can launch a chapter and start running events—around the world. We see people collaborating between South Africa and New York and Latvia; teachers are sharing lesson plans and best practices. “Students and kids have ideas that we’ve never thought of, so we have to empower them very early on to feel that they are change-makers. We see them invent things that are heart-warming but also extremely clever: a wearable echolocation device inspired by bats, so blind people can move around obstacles, a device that helps you brush your teeth more thoroughly. Because they’re more exposed to technology, you have them thinking about things in a different way, and creating new inventions that might help the future.”

OTHER STARTUPS PUSHING STEM SKILLS BDEIR ISN’T THE ONLY ONE CREATING NEW TOOLS FOR LEARNING. THESE KITS ALSO AIM TO DISRUPT EDUCATION.

NEXT-GEN CHEM The MEL Science chemistry set uses virtual reality to help experimenters visualise reactions.

“We have to empower kids very early on to feel that they are change-makers. BOX PLOT Once a month, Blue Moon Box ships the materials for a science project to subscribers.

MUSIC-MAKER Makey Makey kits can transform everyday objects into computer controllers or musical instruments.

BUILD-A-BOT The Engino Robotics Platform teaches kids how to assemble and program a variety of different robots.

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AI WILL FIND

ASTRONOMERS FIRST DISCOVERED PLANETS BEYOND OUR OWN SOLAR SYSTEM in the early 1990s. Since then, scientists have tagged 3,400 of these exoplanets. Now they want to determine which might be home to extraterrestrial life. But researchers sometimes spend days or even weeks analysing a single exoplanet. New instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope, which launches in 2018, will soon be piping back so much information that scientists won’t be able to manually process it. This data backlog will slow, and perhaps prevent, new discoveries. That’s why researchers at University College London created RobERt, an artificial intelligence that can scan deep-space data for signs of habitable planets much faster than humans ever could.

To find habitable worlds in a sea of space data, we need computers that can think fast

Here’s how: Planets reflect a tiny fraction of light from nearby stars. As that light passes through the atmosphere, its various gases either absorb or let the light pass through at certain wavelengths. Scientists on Earth can use that spectra to determine what a planet’s atmosphere is made of, and in turn, whether it can support life—either extraterrestrials, or possibly human explorers of the future. RobERt—short for Robotic Exoplanet Recognition—can analyse an exoplanet’s spectrum in seconds. Its underlying smarts come from a deep-belief Big Idea neural network (DBN), which works similarly to how we think a human brain does: It filters data through multiple layers of silicon “neurons,” each one refining the results further until the system arrives at what it thinks is the correct answer—in RobERt’s case, which gases are present in a given spectrum. Like human brains, DBNs learn by trial and error. So, to train RobERt, UCL researchers showed it more than 85,000 simulated spectra. By the end, RobERt got the mix of gases right 99.7 per cent of the time, even when researchers intentionally challenged it with incomplete or noisy data sets, says Ingo Waldmann, the lead researcher on the UCL team. Finding new habitable planets is just the start. RobERt’s swift data analysis could also bring scientists closer to understanding how solar systems—including our own—formed in the first place. “We’re at the very beginning of understanding planet formation,” Waldmann says. “The only way we can do this is by looking at many examples of other solar systems.” RobERt will add to our roster of known systems, serving as a kind of theoretical astronomer in a box—a tool that the UCL team can export to space agencies to check their exoplanet observations against RobERt’s accrued experience. “Then maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll find a small, by CLAY habitable planet,” Waldmann says. “We’ll DILLOW have to be lucky, but it will come.”


Ecosystem

MOTOROLA WANTS AN APP STORE... FOR HARDWARE by ANTHO NY F OR DH AM

HAVE YOU NOTICED THE WAY THAT, ASIDE

from a display resolution bump here or a bigger battery there, every new smartphone is more-or-less exactly like the last model? Maybe there’s a funky new industrial design or support for a weird new security feature (will we be licking our phones in 2017?), but for the most part the phone makes calls, goes on the internet at 4G speeds, and has a truly pitiful amount of onboard storage.

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There’s a reason for that. The mobile phone market is very competitive, and manufacturers must play it safe, super safe. A mobile, these days, can hold a person’s entire life in their pocket, and so the phone must be maximally useful to that person. Motorola’s vice president of engineering Andrew Wells finds that as frustrating as you do. He’s part of a team of “technology innovators” at Motorola, and his job is to come up with the next great invention. “When it comes to smartphones, most users have this pet thing they like,” says Wells. “They might love using the camera, or they might prefer a phone with a bigger battery so they can go longer between charges, or they

want audiophile-quality sound.” But the problem is not EVERYONE wants these things, so to pack a phone full of every bit of technology possible would result in an expensive, heavy lump. And most people wouldn’t even use half the functionality. Wells believes Motorola has come up with a solution. The Moto Z is an ultra-thin flagship smartphone that you can pull the back off. Not to change the battery, but to add on - via a rather elegant magnetic system - various mods that change the phone’s capabilities. “We’ve created a platform,” says Wells. “The mods you buy today for this year’s Moto Z will work with the Moto Z 2. As your life changes, you can augment the functionality


THE MODS

MOTOROLA’S VP OF ENGINEERING, ANDREW WELLS, SAID THE FIRST SERIES OF MODS FOR THE MOTO Z WERE CHOSEN BASED ON WHAT MOTOROLA SAYS MOST PEOPLE WANT OUT OF THEIR PHONE.

The Hasselblad camera includes a 10x optical zoom

of your phone.” And users won’t just be limited to Motorola’s imagination. “One of the things that really made smartphones take off was this idea of an app store for software. Small developers can get their ideas and innovations out in front of a massive audience. There’s never been anything like that for hardware.” Wells says Motorola has placed all the really important parts of the Moto Z’s design - the way mods interface with the phone, power systems and more - under an open source

MOTO INSTA-SHARE PROJECTOR

HASSELBLAD TRUE ZOOM CAMERA

JBL SOUNDBOOST SPEAKER

INCIPIO OFFGRID POWER PACK

This little projector might triple the thickness of the phone but it throws a big, bright picture. And auto keystone adjustment works almost like magic to keep it square.

Most high-end phones take great pictures thanks to software and heavy processing. This mod brings a longer, better quality lens back into the picture.

Six watts of sound power turns the Moto Z into a decent little jukebox. The speaker even includes its own 1000mAh battery so the phone won’t die as you boogie all night long.

The thinnest of the first gen mods, this works just like a regular pack but integrates neatly into the back of the phone. An extra 2220mAh extends run time.

license. Hardware developers can start building mods for the Moto Z without having to pay a licensing fee or buy proprietary tools. “Once you’ve developed a mod, there’s a form on our website that you fill out. We’ll share with you the process of taking the device from prototype through to commercial product. We’ll help you with a test plan, go through the app requirements and everything else,” says Wells. Motorola’s Development Kit (profiled last issue) helps builders get started. “We support every major electrical bus technology,” says Wells. “The development kit includes a microprocessor to interface with the phone, and there are reference mods to show you how things are done. You just attach your circuit board to the standard connector. We wanted to maximise flexibility.” Can an app store for hardware really be possible? Will we one day be able to select a camera from a menu and have it delivered to us, perhaps even by drone? And then snap it on the back of our mobile? It’s not only possible, it’s happening. A brace of first-gen mods are available now, and it’s only a matter of time before we see what other inventors can come up with.

Hardware developers can start buildin mods for the Moto Z without havin to pay a licensin fee

NO MEAN ACHIEVEMENT “This has been the most challenging phone we’ve ever built,” says Wells. “Every element we had to reinvent from the ground up. We had to make the phone very very thin, so we had to come up with a new grade of stainless steel for the back. It’s magnetic, and very very thin. “We had to lay out our main PCB in a certain way to make sure taller components are placed where headroom is best. And we had to come up with a special thermal system including a liquid cooling pipe, so the phone’s CPU doesn’t have to throttle down as much as on other phones when they get hot. “And finally we had to create a new antenna system to maintain performance, even with other circuitry strapped to the back of the phone.”

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Next amuse.bouche

REALITIES AUGMENTED THE MICROSOFT STORE IN SYDNEY IS TAKING pre-orders for the Hololens. These words on the surface are quite exciting if you’ve had some hands-on experience with the frankly amazing technology, but as exciting as the prospect of AR may be, it’s still way too far off to be much more than a “this will definitely be a thing in 10 years” novelty. The first indicator that the AR revolution isn’t nearly as close as the VR revolution (already in full swing) is the price. The cheapest Hololens is over $4600, far too much to have any real commercial appeal to a mass market, and probably of even limited appeal to labs, but there are other indicators that AR is still far off as well. Like so many “innovations” these days, Hololens is far from the first stab at AR to reach the market. In various forms it has been around for years. Pokémon Go is probably the best known AR application to date, but before Nintendo ever considered putting a Pokémon game on mobile phones it had already experimented with AR gaming with the 3DS, and before that Sony had already experimented with AR monsterhunting with the PSP game Invizimals. On the hardware side, Google first massively hyped, then seeded their AR Google Glass among “select partners” in 2013 before giving up in 2015, but even Glass wasn’t first out of the box on this tech. Vuzix, Golden-I, SixthSense and other companies have been designing, manufacturing and in some cases releasing AR headsets for years, with some prototypes

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by DA N I EL W I L KS

going back to the early 1990s. AR has a history as long as VR but still doesn’t have a foothold in the public’s imagination, let alone the market. While there is no simple reason why this is the case, it seems logical that the problem with AR taking off is that

Au mented Reality has a history as lon as Virtual Reality but still doesn’t have a foothold in the public’s ima ination it is essentially an entirely different way of interacting with both the world and information, and unlike the smartphone or the tablet, this kind of paradigm shift isn’t something that is going to be embraced overnight. The issues that faced Google Glass are a good example of how AR technology requires more than just a chunk of hot hardware for it to become part of mainstream society and thought. One of the main issues that came up with Google Glass was privacy. For most AR to work, the headset must either have a camera filming the background so that the augmented overlay can be layered over the top of it on a small screen, or project the image itself on a transparent surface (or the wearer’s retina). While the latter option is definitely the more appealing to fans of late 90s cyberpunk novels, it still requires some kind of camera or alternate scanning technology to map the background so the augmented layer can be projected on top of it. A camera staring out at the world, and everyone in it. A technology that all but requires an always-on camera does more than add a new and interesting way of interacting with information, it also necessitates a rethink on issues of surveillance and privacy. Augmented Reality is the all but inevitable future of portable computing. A single wearable device, probably equipped with some kind of AI assistant, will take the place of a tablet, phone and laptop. But until developers figure out just how to reassure the rest of us that having the unblinking eye of a camera (or more likely, a whole constellation of cameras, for 3D you know) constantly staring at us from the middle of our best friend’s head is a good thing, augmented reality will remain a niche technology.

DA N IEL WI LK S is the editor of PC PowerPlay, Austral i a’s #1 gam i ng magazine and jo ur n a l o f reco rd fo r t h ings t hat a re v i r tu a l ly real. And as you can see, he’s pretty ca m e ra shy.


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Next Rethink

WILL SPACEX HAVE TO GO IT ALONE? DONALD TRUMP RAN ON A PLATFORM of draining the “swamp” in Washington and getting rid of lobbyists and insiders and all the usual guff you’d normally associate with an independent candidate. The electorate, as it turns out, ate it up but some people must be raising eyebrows as President-elect Trump staffs his transition team with, well, a bunch of slightly different Washington insiders. What’s emerging is that by “drain the swamp”, Trump actually meant “and then refill it with our kind of people.” Conservatives have certain ideas about who should get government contracts and subsidies, and to what exact extent the market should be “free”. The issue with the Obama administration wasn’t that it pandered to lobbyists, just that it supported renewable energy and electric cars. And not building pipelines for a soon-to-be-obsolete energy source. And now those companies are going to pay... by not getting any money anymore. SpaceX is one such company in the firing line, at least according to proTrump pundits. They say all of Musk’s ventures are “politically correct technology” (because they don’t revolve entirely around oil or gas) and are the “darlings” of the Obama White House (which is obviously bad on the face of it). Yes, Tesla and Solar City have received billions in subsidies, and even if Tesla did just have a profitable quarter, Solar City certainly didn’t. And there are those who accuse Musk himself of effectively bribing NASA officials to get launch contracts. Purely co-incidentally, these pundits then tend to turn around and praise the efforts of SpaceX’s main competitor, the United Launch Alliance, who are sticking with tried, true and “safe” methods of launching satellites and people. ULA is a consortium that includes Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, who you might recognise as very familiar names in the space biz. These companies are very concerned that SpaceX’s low-cost launch designs are simply too dangerous. Of course Boeing and Lockheed-Martin were both key partners in the Shuttle program, which lost two out of the five orbiters, killed 14 people, and was incredibly expensive to operate. But SpaceX might be even worse! Maybe! Anyway, ULA has other issues. It needed special

dispensation for some kind of complicated financial arrangement from the government to even stay operational, and it relies heavily on Russian rockets for many of the jobs it can do. “SpaceX can’t even reach four of the eight orbits the Pentagon uses!” cry the Musk-haters who still think space is all about military contracts. But on the other hand, Trump has been pretty vocal about returning to a Made in America attitude... ...although he is rather friendly with Russia, and does Made In America extend to anti-fossil-fuel products like electric cars and solar farms? Trying to figure out what will happen to SpaceX under this new administration can best be described as an emotional (and intellectual) roller-coaster. Trump has appointed billionaire Peter Thiel to his transition team, and Thiel has invested in SpaceX. Plus, and I am not kidding here, Thiel wants to kick start interstellar exploration and the kind of medical technology that will make him immortal. Yep. We’re not in Kansas anymore, although that state did vote Trump, 57.2%. But on the other hand Thiel seems to hate everything that can make the lives of poor people and especially women better. And SpaceX employs lots of women. So at the very least you can expect he will want to exert massive control. Yes, it seems certain that companies like SpaceX can no longer expect much help from these more conservative governments we’re seeing pop up around the world. So the question is: have these companies done enough to build the kind of momentum to make space just another part of the free market? I tend to think Trump has happened maybe a cycle too early. Another eight years of a Democrat White House may have given Musk and his team vital time to get the Falcon 9 rocket and its various bolt-on systems up and running to a level so SpaceX is the obvious choice for anyone wanting to turn a buck in space. Meanwhile of course, when it comes to industries in orbit, Australia remains almost completely irrelevant. It’s strange to think that back in the 1980s and 1990s we punched well above our weight when it came to R&D outside the atmosphere. The US should take what happened to us as a warning. After all, they’re no longer the only people in the world with big rockets.

by A N T H O NY FO R DH A M

Have these companies done enou h to build the kind of momentum to make space just another part of the free market?

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Anthony Fo rdham i s the editor of Austral i an Po pular Science. H e gave up o n t h e d ream o f going to space after reading a l l t h o se novel s by Stephen B a x te r where the astronauts always seem to get crotch-rot a n d t h en al l die.


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Dawn STORY BY LINDSAY HANDMER

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For space fans, and believers in humanity’s ultimate destiny to expand beyond this little bluegreen planet, 27 September 2016 was an auspicious date. SpaceX founder and figurehead Elon Musk announced an ambitious new Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) - a configurable spacecraft platform that will take humans out into the solar system to colonise Mars, and beyond. Finally, after a 50-year hiatus, humans may soon travel beyond low Earth orbit. But as exciting as the reveal was, many have criticised Musk’s plan, and it remains to be seen if SpaceX can make it happen.

The Space Problem

Way back in the 1960s, humans rode a thundering three million kilogram tower of burning fuel into space, and on to the Moon. The Apollo program had 10 (mostly) successful missions beyond Earth orbit, but was eventually scaled back and humanity has not been more than a few hundred kilometres from Earth since. While NASA had (and still has) grand plans to land on Mars, and explore the solar

NASA STS

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ESA ariane

system, the organisation is hamstrung by the political nature of its funding. Fortunately, private companies are stepping up and after a long hiatus, a future where millions of people live and work in space and on Mars, is within our grasp. At the heart of the push is SpaceX - a company currently pushing the bounds of technology with reusable rocket first stages, and comparatively cheap flights to orbit. There is also competition from Blue Origin, a rocket company backed by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.

Interplanetary Transport System

The ultimate goal is a fully selfsufficient Mars colony, with regular flights to and from Earth. While many aerospace companies focus on high tech efficiency, SpaceX is all about the economics. At the heart of this is reusability, which will allow the incredibly expensive rockets to fly many times, bringing down the overall cost. An apt comparison is to air travel imagine the cost if the plane could only be used once, rather than many times. The problem is, when it comes rockets, that reusability is a much harder goal, which is made easier at larger scales.

An Apollo style flags-and-footprints mission to Mars is already technically possible with current rockets and an array of Mars landers. But Elon Musk and SpaceX don’t just want to visit Mars, or maintain a tiny outpost. The goal of the ITS is to operate as a space bus, transporting hundreds of people at a time to Mars, as well as allowing them to return home. If built, the ITS will be the first rocket bigger than Saturn V

SPACEX Falcon 9

SPACEX falcon heavy

BLUE ORIGIN new glenn

NASA Satum V

SPACEX ITS


“The Big ‘Friendly’ Spaceship is designed to carry 100 or more passengers to Mars. At once.” The result is that the rocket behind the ITS architecture will be the largest ever flown. The previous record holder (the Saturn V), was 111m high, 10m wide, weighed in at 2970 tons and could transport 140 tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The ITS will be 122m high, up to 17m wide, weigh in at up to 10,500 tons and loft up to 550 tons (300 in re-usable mode) to LEO. Even more importantly, once fully loaded in orbit, up to 450 tons can be delivered to Mars orbit, or 300 tons landed on the surface. To put that in perspective, the largest payload to Mars so far was the Curiosity Rover, at almost 1000 kg. The ITS will consist of two main parts - a first and second stage. Elon has informally dubbed the two halves of the rocket, the BFR, and BFS, or Big “Friendly” Rocket and Spaceship (the “Friendly” in quote as a sort of nod to the word he really means). Even better, Elon has already said that the first BFS might be called Heart of Gold, after the famous Improbability Drive ship from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. And why not? Then numbers on this mighty “stack” certainly seem improbable. The BFR will have a diameter of 12m, a height of 77.5m, weigh 6975 tons, and feature 42 engines. The BFS is up to 17m wide (12m for the body), a height of 49.35m,

weighs 2100 tons at launch (and just 150 tons empty) and has nine engines. Both the BFR and BFS will use the prototypical Raptor engine, which burns methane and liquid oxygen.

SPACE TOURISM While SpaceX hasn’t announced any specific plans, the ITS architecture has the potential to help establish a space tourism industry. Based on price breakdowns from the SpaceX ITS presentation, the speculation is that a flight to orbit could cost as little as a first class or high end business class ticket. The ITS could also be used a temporary space hotel, or transport people to a larger orbiting facility. It also has the capability to perform Lunar orbital flights, or even landings.

Compared to how much fuel they carry, rockets must be incredibly light, and the BFS and BFR will largely be made of carbon fibre. At launch, the combined rocket will be about 95% fuel. While early missions will take smaller pioneering crews, the BFS is designed to carry 100 or more passengers to Mars. At once. And that could mean a business that runs at a profit. When flights are happening on a regular basis, the ticket price is expected to be around $200,000 (US), with the hope of it dropping further in the decades ahead.

The ITS in Operation

Sitting atop the BFR first stage, the BFS will be loaded with crew and supplies. At launch, the 42 engines of the BFR will accelerate the rocket to around 2400 metres per second, quickly lifting it above the thickest of part Earth’s atmosphere. Depleted of most of its fuel, the BFR separates from the BFS, and now comparatively light, performs a series of engine burns to head back to the launch site. The BFR has no landing legs, and must perform a pinpoint landing back into its launch cradle, where it is checked over, before being refuelled for another launch. Meanwhile, after separation, the BFS is travelling incredibly quickly, but still way

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ROAD TO MARS: THE COMPETITION While SpaceX has announced the grandest plans, the company is not alone in wanting humans living and working on another world. There are numerous small companies researching building different technologies, as well as quite a few major players.

UNITED LAUNCH ALLIANCE

Comprised of a joint venture between aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing, ULA is the most experienced USbased launcher. While often seen as slow, careful and expensive, ULA is working on a next gen expendable rocket, as well as a fully re-usable upper stage called ACES that can be refuelled in orbit. We spoke to ULA CEO Tory Bruno, who was excited about the future possibilities. Speaking for ULA, Tory said they feel “the key to the long-term success of the space enterprise is to develop a selfsustained space economy. We call that our Cislunar1000 model. Cislunar1000 refers to 1000 people living and working in the space between the Earth and the Moon. Space tourism has the potential to introduce a new mission in space, which has not had significant new missions in many years. It is an amazing time in space and we are just on the brink of tremendous growth in the space economy.”

BLUE ORIGIN

Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame recently announced a reusable heavy lift heavy lift rocket called New Glenn, which will be able to launch 62 tons to LEO orbit. The rocket is expected to undergo its first test flights in 2020, and is funded by Bezos himself. Blue Origin envisions millions of people living and working in space, as it becomes more accessible to everyone.

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CHINA

Having just successfully launched the Long March 5, China now has heavy lift orbital capabilities that could take astronauts back to the Moon, and beyond. China also has a small space station, has landed rovers on the moon, and is ommitted to expanding their capabilities.

USSIA

urrently the only country who can ransport crew to the International Space tation, which means the US actually has o buy seats. While Russia has a number f rockets, they tend towards simple, ut tried-and-true technology. While he Russian government has remained ommitted to space exploration, the rogram is somewhat hampered by udget and politics.

EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY

An intergovernmental organisation, the ESA is made up of 22 member states from around Europe. The ESA has an annual budget of around $6.5 billion and works on a range of space projects, co-operating with other agencies such as NASA. ESA launches are handled by Arianespace using a range of rockets, but they cannot currently launch astronauts.

SPACE LAUNCH SYSTEM

Since retiring the much loved, but also controversial, Space Shuttle (officially known as the Space Transport System), the USA was without a governmentoperated crewed spacecraft. The SLS will fill that gap using Shuttle-derived tech, with a progressive plan to build and test rockets with increasing capabilities over the coming decades. NASA plans to use the SLS to visit lunar orbit (but not land) in the early 2020s, and send a crewed Orion capsule to a captured asteroid in 2026. NASA and the SLS also plan a Mars mission, but at this point there is no specific timeline, and expectations are not until the 2030s.


below the 7800 m/s needed to achieve orbit. It fires up its engines, burning thousands of tonnes of methane and oxidizer, before reaching orbit nearly empty of fuel. While the passengers enjoy the view, special tanker versions of the BFS launch, and each transfer around 380 tonnes of fuel to the BFS. Cargo can also be transferred, and it is expected that four or five flights will be needed before the BFS is ready to depart for Mars. Job done, the tanker ships perform a deorbit burn, bleed off speed in the upper atmosphere, and land back at the launch site tail-first using their engines. Because Earth orbits the Sun faster than Mars, the ideal time to launch only occurs once every two years and two months. While early BFS flights might be solo, SpaceX envisions entire fleets of ships all heading off at once. Once fully loaded with fuel, the BFS performs a large engine burn, which puts it on a transfer orbit to Mars. It unfolds a 200 kW solar array, and positions the rear of the ship towards the sun to minimise radiation exposure. Travel time to the red planet takes between three and six months, depending on factors such as launch time and speed. During transit, passengers are in a microgravity environment, so must maintain a special exercise routine to avoid health problems. The BFS is

envisioned to have quite a lot of room inside, and will include a ‘restaurant’ and other facilities, even a cinema. As the BFS approaches Mars, it retracts the solar panels, and the passengers strap in for landing. At this point the spaceship is travelling way too quickly to slow down using its engines, so instead must aerobrake in the thin Martian atmosphere. The entire side of the BFS is coated in a special heat resistant coating, which takes the brunt of the load. As the BFS slows, it performs a flip manoeuvre, lights the main engines for landing and unfolds three landing legs. It will touch down near the fledgling Martian colony, and cargo and people are

So far SpaceX has built one of the carbon fibre fuel tanks. There’s a long long way to go on this project

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“There’s no technical obstacle to the plan being executable...” Every successful Falcon launch brings SpaceX a step closer to Mars

unloaded using a crane. While the BFS has been travelling, a special solar (or maybe even nuclear) power plant has been producing methane and oxygen fuel from the thin CO2 atmosphere, as well as locally mined or collected water. This in situ resource production (ISRU) is key to the entire architecture, as the BFS will land almost completely empty of fuel. Once refuelled, the BFS needs to depart Mars within a short time period, to ensure it can follow the fastest orbit back to Earth, and be re-used in the next cycle. On return, the BFS carries about 25 tonnes of cargo, and any personnel who need or want to return to Earth.

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Thanks to Martian gravity, the BFS does not need the help of the BFR to return to orbit, and doesn’t need to be refuelled further before transiting back to Earth. Upon arrival, it once again aerobrakes in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, before landing back near the launch site. After each flight the BFS will need some minor refurbishment, but will soon be ready for another launch. SpaceX envisions each BFS will operate for around 30 years, and perform 12 trips to Mars.

The first ITS flight to Mars is expected no earlier than 2022, and only if all the testing goes according to plan. Under the most optimistic timeline, the first passenger carrying flights could occur as early as 2024. The first rocket flight in 2022 will be fully a robotic craft, designed to test all the technologies and land cargo needed for later passengers. The 2024 flights would require the astronauts to deploy the ISRU fuelling system, and start producing the propellants needed for a return journey.

The Next Step

A Healthy Dose of Scepticism

SpaceX is busy finalising its Falcon 9 rocket, before most of the engineering team will switch over to work on the ITS architecture in 2017. In 2018, then 2020, SpaceX has a Red Dragon mission planned, which will launch a Dragon capsule to Mars. The mission will test some key technologies needed to develop the ITS, such as supersonic retro propulsion, and rocket assisted landings.

While SpaceX has a track record of success in pushing the limits of rocket technology, it’s also made mistakes. Two Falcon 9 rockets have been lost (along with payloads) in recent times due to problems with materials and procedures. To say that SpaceX has a big challenge ahead of the company is an understatement, and the ITS architecture has stirred up plenty of criticism.


Falcon engines await refurbishment and reuse.

Right now the rocket only consists of an admittedly impressive carbon fibre fuel tank, and a prototype (but operational) engine. Building the rockets will involve working with carbon fibre on scales that has never before been done - let for the purposes of containing cryogenic fuels. SpaceX also needs to develop the surrounding technologies, such as life support, orbital refuelling, unfolding solar arrays, heat radiators, and ISRU plants. Indeed, SpaceX does not actually plan to develop the technologies needed to create a Mars colony itself, instead acting as the transport, and leaving some of the other work up to other companies and government entities. While still considering Elon Musk a ‘hero’, prominent Mars advocate and Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin is quite critical of the SpaceX plan. In regards to the plans for the ITS, Zubrin says “I don’t think they are practical in the form he presented them, but with a little modification, they could be made practical and very powerful.” Zubrin suggests that a smaller, but less challenging mission could be performed sooner. Noted astrophysicist Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson has said that the plan is a “delusion”.

His main criticisms are that the ITS is too expensive, too dangerous, and there isn’t any profit in it. Leonard David, author of “Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet”, has stated that despite the plans being welcome news, “there’s far more needed in terms of technological and financial detail before climbing aboard his dream machine”. Even Chris Carberry, the co-founder of Explore Mars, a non-profit working to help get humans to Mars sooner, says it is important for SpaceX to show “their funding mechanism and how they will overcome the many technical and physiological challenges”. Not everyone is so pessimistic. In a Space. com interview, space policy expert John Logsdon says “there’s no technical obstacle to the plan being executable”, adding, “SpaceX has good engineers. They don’t really have to invent much.” But even Logsdon thinks the timeframe is optimistic, and it will likely take a lot longer to get the ITS up and running. The good news is that most of the expert criticism of the ITS is centred around the cost, and the timeframe. Elon Musk is notorious for optimistic timeframes on incredibly challenging projects, so it’s not unlikely that there will be delays. But while Musk has stated he would be happy if NASA wanted to help support the architecture, he has committed SpaceX as well as his considerable personal fortune to the Mars effort. So while not guaranteed, the ITS is not reliant on outside funding.

Why Mars?

Perhaps the most important goal of a Mars colony is to act as a ‘backup’ for humanity. The idea if that once Mars is self-sustaining, no matter what unknown disaster befalls

Earth, humans as a species will live on. It seems far-fetched, but entire clades such as the dinosaurs have been wiped out by a single huge asteroid impact or heightened volcanic activity. By why Mars, as opposed to the Moon, an orbital space station, a nearby asteroid, or elsewhere in the solar system? Despite being relatively cold and (so far) devoid of life, Mars has a lot going for it. A key advantage is the atmosphere. Despite being only 0.6 percent as thick as Earth’s, it helps keep Mars warmer at night and the winds mean that the sand and dust has smoothed rocks and other geoforms, which creates less wear for equipment. The air can also be used to produce fuel and other useful gases. But perhaps most importantly, the atmosphere allows spacecraft to aerobrake before landing, which enables larger payloads. In comparison, the Moon is much colder at night, and the dust is incredibly abrasive. On the moon, rockets also need to carry a vast amount of extra fuel to land, and can’t easily produce more from local resources. While the health effects are not yet known, Mars gravity at 0.38G, is much closer to Earth’s than the moon’s 0.16G, or zero G in a space station. Mars also has a day that is 24 hours, 37 minutes long, so is easy for humans and plants to adapt with a similar day night cycle (and you get to sleep in for an extra 40 minutes every morning!). Mars also has plenty of water, albeit frozen as ice, and other minerals useful for building a colony. So despite being a cold and inhospitable place compared to Earth, Mars actually has a lot going for it. And because Mars still lies within the so-called Goldilocks Zone (where water can exist simultaneously as a gas, a liquid and a solid) it’s also theoretically possible that in the far future, this dusty world could be warmed and terraformed into a much more Earth-like planet.

FURTHER READING For those who want to learn more, check out SpaceX.com website, as well as the surprisingly excellent technical community over at www.reddit.com/r/SpaceX.

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THE 2016 AUSTRALIAN POPULAR SCIENCE

Gift GuiDE BY ANTHONY FORDHAM

One of the problems with being a Popular Science reader is that you're a very difficult person to buy Christmas presents for. After all, you live on the cutting edge of science and tech. Socks, jocks and chocolates (apologies to Tim Minchin) won't cut it. As always, we've gathered together a veritable techno-cornucopia (technocopia?) of gadgets, gear, toys and tools, each one lovingly selected with YOU in mind. We suggest artfully leaving the magazine lying around, with perhaps your preferred gift subtly circled in thick, red marker. Yes yes we know: Christmas is also the season of giving. If you're the kind of technologist who already has everything they could possibly want, then use this list to bring your friends and family into the wonderful world of future fancies. We have a lot of shiny stuff over here... And some of it explodes!

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Play Toys? No these aren't toys. These are important, uh, scale model innovations.

UBTECH JIMU INVENTOR ROBOT KIT P r ice : $ 599 Web: www.jbhif i.com.au

LEGO's monopoly on snap-together plastic programmable robots is under attack at last. Jimu, unlike Mindstorms, is all about the servos, with many more points of powered articulation than a typical LEGO kit which relies more on gears and a single motor. A scripting language and free app helps bring the robot to life. Not bad for "fake" LEGO.

Civilization VI P r ice : $89.95 Web: www.civ ilization.com

Are you mentally prepared for Ghandi to march out of the wilds and threaten you with nuclear weapons? Can you dominate an entire planet without firing a single shot (because you forgot to research gunpowder)?

2 n fa l l .co m

Tamiya San Scorcher + Futuba 4

ng out of the sky and shooting up the d be better? This new instalment has a single-player story with many exciting es. Light 'em up BT!

Price: $ 399 + $ 69 Web: www.mildt

RC cars are cool ag getting hardcore. T meant for high-end b t h t it

Pimoroni Picade

Raspbery Pi 3

r ice : $ 479 Web: www.pimoroni.com

eed something to do with your Raspberry Pi 3? Why not build into a retro arcade machine. You can get a cabinet with an -inch LCD display, or just build the controls and plug them to a TV via HDMI. Runs a free version of Linux specially weaked to play retro games. No 20c pieces needed.

EGO Beatles Yellow Submarine P r i ce : $79.95 Web : shop.lego.com

LEGO's Ideas continues to give us unexpectedly awesome kits like the iconic Yellow Submarine the Beatles movie of the same name. Look out for the canopy drawing of Queen Victoria! Lord help us... lord help us etc...

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Pocket Operator P r i ce : $1 0 9 Web : www.soundseasy.com.au

DJI Osmo Mobile Price: $479 Web: www.crkennedy.com.au

Don't need the OP-1 synth on page 14? This little thing will make a specific sort of sound and has a series of brothers that do other things. It's possibly the cheapest yet most sonically-authentic digital music m hi b

While you wait for the Mavic Pro, why not take advantage of gimbal tech on the ground? The Osmo Mobile steadies your smartphone's camera and makes selfies look like introspective arthouse cinema. There's a version with its own 4K camera too.

Apple MacBook Pro P r ice : From $2199 Web : www.apple.com/au

Now it has a touch strip. Amazing. But like Malibu Stacey's new hat, this innovation has everyone talking about the MacBook Pro again. Even without it, this is still the same super-solid and well-appointed notebook PC you've come to love.

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explOrE There's an entire universe of possibility out there. Go and seize it.

Samsung Gear IconX Earbuds P r i ce : $279 Web : www.samsung.com

This is how you do wireless earbuds. The case actually charges the buds while you're not using them and has its own battery. The buds themselves include a heartbeat sensor and will talk you through various workout regimes. Oh yes and they play music too, if you're into that sort of thing.

Suunto S Titanium P r ice : $ 1099 Web: www.su

Too many fitnes are made of jun are covered in u bling. Suunto's does it all but c real pounding w there breaking a record of some

CELESTRO CPC 800 D EDGEHD P r ice : $4299 Web : www.ozsco pes

SureshotLaser PinLoc 3000 IP Price: $ 299 www.sureshotgps.com

Our golf is not at a level where knowing the precise distance to the green makes any difference, but others may get plenty of utility from this laser powered super-accurate range-finder.

Don't you hat it when astrophotos you take telescope come out a Celestron's EdgeHD s every star comes out the moon, we'll you'll it's not a disc at all, b ball made of rock jus This 'scope also inclu and computer progra of thousands of astro you'll never get Sirius mixed up again.

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listeN Sit back with a beverage and let the music just wash over you. Don't spill.

Marantz PM8005 Power Amp Price: $2450 Web: www.qu alif i.com.au

Audiophiles prefer two-channel amps over home theatre setups, but the PM8005 will also work as a power amp under your AV receiver, giving you the best of both words. And awesome sound quality too, of course.

Thorens TD 240-2 Turntable P r ice : $ 1199 Web: w w w.q u a l i f i .co m . au

Vinyl is back y'all but many new turntables look like abstract art. Thorens keeps it traditional and focuses instead on amazing sound quality. Pair this with a new tube amp and you've got all the best of new-school and old-school in one stereo.

Astell & Kern Rosie Earbuds Price: $ 1 399 Web: addictedtoaudio.com.au

High-end earbuds are a revelation. Thanks to excellent isolation, they let you enjoy portable music at an... intense level of detail. The Rosies have tech DNA beloved of many of the world's great performers.

DENON HEOS WIFI SPEAKERS Price: From $ 379 Web : au .d en on .com

Heos has really proven its worth as a multiroom-wireless-speaker system this year. Since its a Denon, sound quality is a given, but the app continues to mature and support for all the various wireless protocols keeps the beat flowing from almost any device you can think of. And don't let the little one fool you. It rocks.

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Dali KATCH Blue Tooth Speaker P r i ce : $699 Web : w w w.d a l i .co m . au

In a world where Bluetooth speakers outnumber pigeons, finding a small portable speaker worthy of your tunes is surprisingly difficult. Dali makes excellent big speakers and has applied its knowledge to this stylish little number. As the photo suggests, it comes in a range of colours, has a leather carry strap, and pumps out tunes at a volume that's surprising given how handbag-friendly it is.


WatCh Your eyes are an amazing bit of evolution. Use them to enjoy a range of fine entertainments.

SONY Z9D 4K HDR TV P r i ce : $ 6999 Web : www.sony.com.au

You might not NEED a $7000 TV, but once you spend some time in front of the Z9D, you'll probably want one. An insanely sophisticated LED backlighting system keeps shadows shadowy and bright areas intense. Android on board supports a wide range of apps and the remote even has a dedicated Netflix button.

Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema LS10000 Projector P r ice : $ 8999 Web: www.epson.com.au

HTC Vive Price: $ 1350 Web: www.v ive.com

These version 1.0 VR headsets for the PC are still figuring out how to work with the latest games, but the Vive remains the best all-rounder. For an early foot in the virtual door, it's "room sensing" capability puts it out ahead of the competition... by a nose.

Giant TVs have taken the edge of projectors, but real home cinema lovers know this is where its at. Epson's laser projector is more like a movie theatre, and tech inside enhances content to a near-4K quality. Colours are amazing too.

LG 34UC88-b Curved Display P r i ce : $1 499 Web : w w w. l g.co m /au

This is our pick of the curved gaming displays right now - and it's not necessarily aimed at gamers. The 3440x1440 resolution keeps the action crisp, and the generous curve really boots immersion. The best though? Movies with no black bars!

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BuilD Make your world over in your image. Or at least build something cool.

TIERTIME UP MINI 2

P r i ce : $ 999 Web : 3dprintingsystems.com.au

Consumer-grade 3D printers are getting better and more user friendly. Thanks to a HEPA filter, this one won't stink out your back room as it prints, and the sealed enclosures keep everything neat. Detail and accuracy are up (heh) over earlier models and the software is easy too use, too.

Kano Computer P r i ce : $299 Web : kano.me

Thanks to a Raspberry Pi heart, this is a computer that kids can build and program themselves. Some kits include a display too, and instruction booklets take the proud owner through the build process and then on to programming. Even includes a special version of Minecraft.

littleBits Gadgets & Gizmos + Arduino Kit P r i ce : $389.95 + $189.95 Web : www.tnsconnect.com.au

Formlabs Form 2 Price: $6795 Web: www.thinglab.com.au

Ready to take 3D printing to the next level? This one uses resin in a process called stereolithography. It may be slow but the models it makes are smooth and finely detailed. Plus it looks cool.

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We have a massive crush on littleBits and its super-elegant magnetic connecting system. We love the Korg synth, but for pure electronics joy, Gadgets & Gizmos + Arduino will give you everything you possible need to create crazy projects. Hit up the website for hundreds of ideas. You can also order individual extra bits, like logic gates.


DreaM Look, the lottery is a thing right? You COULD win it, it's not impossible. Here's what to spend it on.

DJI Inspire 1 RAW

Bowers & Wilkins 800 Diamond Series 3

Price: From $ 9,299 Web: store.dji.com

P r i ce : $44,900 (pair) Web : www.bowe rs -wilkins.com.au

DJI's ultimate drone platform does it all and then some. Big and powerful, it can carry DSLR camera and supports dual controls: one person flying while the other shoots. And the range of add-ons just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

B&W has a justified reputation for producing amazing speakers. And nothing says extreme opulence than a pair of speakers that cost more than a car. The list of tech innovations and superior construction materials inside the 800s is... very long. If you ever get a chance to hear a pair of these in action you'll understand.

Ticket to Europa

TESLA MODEL X P100D Price: $ 257,561 Web: www.tesla.com

Do you need a big, roomy SUV-type van thing to carry the kids around and do the shopping, but also like the idea of blasting down a motorway on-ramp to hit 110 in about four seconds? Then the Model X could be the car for you. The amazing falcon doors adopt different angles depending on whether they think they're going to hit something, and getting in and out of the back is easier than on any other car. Oh yeah, it's fully electric of course, and top-ups from Tesla's supercharger network remain free... for now.

P r i ce : $TBA Web : www.spacex.com/mars

You can't book yet, but we're suggesting you start saving now. SpaceX hopes to accelerate the pace of human expansion into the Solar System with the ITS spacecraft. For more, hit up our feature on p.40.

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STORY BY KELSEY D. ATHERTON

MOST SPY SATELLITES LOOK AT THE GROUND, AND MOST TELESCOPES LOOK DEEP INTO SPACE. BUT DARPAâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S LATEST CREATION SCANS WHAT LIES BET WEEN THOSE T WO EXTREMES, TO ENSURE THAT THE DOCTRINE OF NO WAR IN ORBIT IS MAINTAINED.


Space eillance scope, or SST as yone involved e project seems ll it, is one of PA’s longesting projects. ically, DARPA projects that finish in three years, from concept to prototype to something that can be refined into a useful tool for national security or the military. SST started in 2001, and in late 2016, the telescope transitioned from a DARPA experiment into an Air Force asset. Air Force? Yes, because besides air, the Air Force claims both cyber and space as domains, ensuring the service has a hand in protecting both the internet and satellite television. The telescope first opened its eye to stare at the night sky in February 2011. Sitting at 8,000 feet (2430m) above sea level on top of North Oscura peak in New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range, it is the 10th largest telescope in the continental United States and the 38th largest in the world. The telescope captures a vast picture: 100 million pixels, according to deputy DARPA director Steven Walker. It takes just one person to operate, and that person can operate it remotely, or set the telescope to scan the sky autonomously. And it captures a lot of information, with the camera gathering and saving half a terabyte of data on a typical night scan (the amount of data collected varies depending on the mission and other variables). The whole apparatus is immense, and weighs over 100 tonnes. The project’s stated goal is to track objects in geosynchronous orbit, the part of space that’s most immediately valuable to people on Earth. A satellite in geosynchronous orbit moves in time with the planet’s rotation below, so that it is always located over the same spot. Geosynchronous satellites broadcast television, provide GPS coordinates, relay communications, and film the earth, giving us everything from weather information to detailed surveillance for governments with satellites. And as a business, the satellite industry generates hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue a year. America was not the first nation to put satellites into space; deputy DARPA director Steven Walker reminded the audience at today’s proceedings that DARPA was created after Sputnik shook America out of complacency. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been the biggest benefactor of satellites, with 576 satellites in orbit presently, and a military that’s operated for decades with the security that the tools they had in space would continue to provide valuable information to people on the ground.

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Now, the United States Air Force is less sure. Major General Nina Armagno, director of strategic plans, programs, requirements and analysis for Air Force Space Command, told the assembled crowd at the handoff ceremony that by 2025, “Russia and China can hold any of our space assets at risk.” In 2007, China shot down one of its own satellites with a missile, and the same basic ballistic technology that can put an object into space can also carry an explosive to destroy an object that’s already there. The Space Surveillance Telescope isn’t a complete answer to the threat of nations blowing up each other’s satellites. But it is, according to both DARPA and the Air Force, the first step to an answer. By providing Space Situational Awareness (acronymed as SSA, but almost always said as the full name when described out loud), the Air Force wants to track what objects are moving in the night sky, which objects are new, and what danger those objects might pose to satellites in orbit. When asked if the Air Force was working on space weapons to defend satellites, Armagno clarified that the Air Force is working on space defences, and declined to explain further. Attribution is one possible space defence that the SST brings to the military. With a working picture of objects in geosynchronous orbit, if something new shows up and, say, collides with a communications satellite, then SST could show how that object moved across the sky, TOUGH GLASS and other tools could link it to the actor that launched it. In its new Aussie “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual home, the telescope means of preserving peace,” said Armagno, quoting must survive George Washington’s first State of the Union address. cyclones.


At a total program cost of US$150 million ($195m), the SST is roughly half again as expensive as a single F-35A, the Air Force’s newest stealth fighter. To cover all of geostationary orbit would take four such telescopes. Budget constraints, widely derided in casual conversation at the transition ceremony, mean that the first SST is now the only one, and the most immediate stage of its life is disassembly. The SST is coming to Australia, where it will be Space Command’s eye on the southern skies. The need is the most urgent there; the Air Force has many tools that look at space, and only one of those is below the equator. The SST’s next stage of life will begin on the beach at Australia’s Harold E. Holt naval base. Air Commodore Sally Pearson, with the Royal Australian Air Force, remarked at the transition ceremony that they’ll have to prepare the telescope for “cyclonic conditions,” a consideration it didn’t need when perched on top of an inland desert mountain.

SCIENCE! The project will share at least of its data with NASA

Both RAAF and USAF hope to have the telescope up and running in Australia by 2020. When active, it will stare into space, mapping and plotting objects, looking for danger. It will share some of this information with NASA and the larger scientific community, especially when those dangerous objects are asteroids, but it will remain a military tool, scanning for objects made by humans that threaten other objects made by humans, placed in orbit around the planet that contains all humans. The Space Surveillance Telescope won’t, by itself, be able to stop any of those threats. Instead, it will remain vigilant, making it hard for any country that puts a malicious object in orbit to deny that it is there. “No one wants a war in space,” Armagno told the assembled audience. On the off-chance that’s not true, the SST will be there to find out who, exactly, decided to start a war in the heavens.

FROM SPYCRAFT TO CAMERA TECH Key to the SST is a sensor that MIT’s Lincoln Labs started working on in 1998, though the idea was theorised earlier. Using an array of curved Charged Coupled Devices (CCDs), the telescope can record

images from curved mirrors without distortion. Ultimately, this could feed more compact optic systems, and differently shaped ones: instead of the flat planes of modern cameras, curved CCDs

could lead to spherical cameras, which will have less distortion. James Gregory, a materials scientist working with Lincoln Labs, says that the tech could redesign optics to get rid of

astigmatic aberrations. Not all DARPA projects lead to technology that goes beyond military use, but the imaging devices put to use in the Space Surveillance Telescope might reshape cameras.

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Dieting is a multi-million dollar industry. Over the past few decades, there have been diets that focus on increasing protein, eliminating fats, lowering calories; you name the food group, a diet fad has been centred around it. We all want to lose weight, but we are far from mastering the art. Now a new California-based company is working to get at the root cause of why it believes diets fail: None of them focus on the dieter’s unique genetic makeup. Habit’s “personalised nutrition” program would analyse a person’s DNA to create a food plan and deliver those ingredients to the user. The company officially launched in late 2016, with its services beginning in early 2017. A growing body of research suggests that one of the reasons diets often fail is that the same foods can affect people in incredibly different ways--the same meal provides more calories for some and less for others, and can spike glucose levels at varying degrees depending on the individual. For these reasons, it’s hard to create a diet that will work for everyone. That’s why many scientists are turning to the idea of nutrigenomics: Analysing our DNA to figure out what foods will make us healthiest. “We have always taken a one size-fits-all approach to dieting, and most [dieters] try and fail,” says Alan Greene, a paediatrician and physician-advisor to Habit. He says understanding the complexities of our biology first and figuring out the blueprint that fits it best will lead to success in an industry that has most often failed. Habit plans to use genetic markers to identify your ideal meal, and send that meal directly to your door. Here’s how it works: Customers receive a blood sample kit. After a DIY finger prick, you send your blood samples to a lab where they are used to identify a series of biomarkers that look for genetic variations in your DNA that affect how you break down and metabolise foods.

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Customers are also sent a drink called a “metabolic challenge.” Meant to represent a typical American diet, the drink is a cocktail of fats, sugars, and carbohydrates that “challenges the system.” After consumers drink the beverage, they take another series of blood samples which test their blood sugar and lipid levels to see how well their bodies withstood the fat and sugar. Finally, consumers provide a series of body metrics like height, weight, and waist circumference as well as lifestyle habits like how often a person walks, runs, or exercises. All of this analysis leads to a personalised meal plan of foods that works best for the user’s body. When Habit launches its first home testing kits and food delivery services in January 2017, it will likely be the first personalised direct-to-consumer complete nutrition program, suggesting foods not based on calories, nutrient-type, or quantity, but on how your own personal genetic makeup responds to food, and providing customers with food deliveries, follow up testing, and nutrition coaches. For example, some consumers (those lucky few) could be advised that their bodies process carbohydrates best, while others could be told that they are something called a protein seeker and would thus benefit from a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat, as their bodies have a harder time processing those sugars and refined carbohydrates. Others may find they are particularly fast metabolisers, and need to eat more calories than most people. The biomarkers

bread. This study also found that a geneticsbased personal meal plan helped to decrease post-meal glucose levels overall. The idea of personalised nutrition is currently a large area of research. However, doing this kind of testing is quite expensive, which is what Habit’s CEO, Neil Grimmer, wanted to change. For him, expensive DNA testing and food tailoring helped him lose 11 kilos and brought his body back to his former triathlon-racing self. His goal for Habit was to make this kind of service affordable for everyone.

“The idea of food as medicine has long been neglected in the West” can tell you other, more subtle things too, like how well you metabolise caffeine. Science seems to back up this idea. In a 2015 study in the journal Cell, researchers gave 800 people the exact same meal and then tested their glucose levels soon after. They found that despite the meals being identical, the glucose levels among the group varied drastically. This was true not only for foods high in sugar like ice cream but also in foods with lower glycaemic indexes, like whole-grain


Habit currently costs US$299 for the initial testing, diet recommendations, and a coaching session with a nutritionist. Food and follow up testing, is not included. Still, Habit is in its early stages and in a similar light researchers are still attempting to uncover all the factors that influence how we digest and metabolise food. Studies show that the gut microbiome could have a significant effect on how we break down foods, as well as what nutrients and calories we extract from them. Furthermore, depending on what a person eats, the

gut microbiome can change, potentially altering what might be suggested as the best food to eat for that person’s body. Habit doesn’t currently analyse a consumer’s microbiome or take that into account. As Greene and many others have agreed, research into the microbiome is still in its infancy and as significant of a role it might play, it’s impossible to make accurate recommendations based on the current research. The company says it plans to stay on top of the research and include further testing like this when the science is ready.

For now, the research alone on personalised nutrition and nutrigenomics makes Habit seem promising. It remains to be seen whether consumers will enjoy, and follow through with, the foods that they are meant to eat. But Greene notes that the idea of food and nutrition as medicine has long been neglected in western medicine, and it’s about time for that to change. Perhaps Habit, with its consumer focused approach, will achieve what Hippocrates lectured long ago: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”


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Manual

Build a Record Player Powered by Wind 66

POPUL A R S CI E NCE

by THOM LEAVY

TIME 2 hours COST $35 DIFFICULTY • • • • •

PHOTOGRAPH BY

Credit Here


A strong enough wind can push the Styrofoam cups into motion. As they pick up speed, they spin the turntable.

+MATERIALS TOOLS

• 28-by-28-cm plywood board • Large machine screw

+INSTRUCTIONS

• AJC washer • ¼-inch hex nut • Two Slurpee straws • Adhesive putty • 25-mm-thick foam insulation sheet • 7-inch record • 45 rpm adapter (ours came attached to the record) • A couple of sheets of cellophane • Box of T-pins

ILLO BY +I SM

• Six regular

D I G I TA L M U S I C R E L I ES O N U N S E E N technology to translate bits and bytes into tunes. An analog machine like a record player is much easier to understand. To make it even simpler, Popular Science built a motor-free device powered by the wind. This project is cheaper than a real turntable, but the sound quality depends on the breeze’s speed, the incorrect amount of which can turn your tunes into Alvin & The Chipmunks... or a Gregorian chant. For a steadier source of airflow, try a fan or even an air-conditioning vent. Or even better, rig up a small electric motor with a belt to spin the - oh wait...

P H OTOGRAP H BY

Brian Klutch

Styrofoam picnic cups • Old headphone cable • Phonograph stylus and cartridge • Conductive wire glue • Pushpin • LOUD batterypowered speaker

1/Drill the exact centre of the plywood board until you can thread the screw through. Tighten it on with the washer and the hex nut, and cover it with a 75-mm piece of the straw. Stabilise the board by placing adhesive putty under its corners. 2/Cut two 7-inch circles (traced from the record) and a smaller circle (traced from the 45 rpm adapter) from the insulation foam. Drill out the circles’ exact centres so they will fit tightly over the straw and spin with little friction. Sand down rough edges. Cut three 11/2 -inch circles from the cellophane. 3/Line up the hex nut with the hole in the 11/2 -inch foam circle, and drill out its shape. Slide the foam onto the hex nut, followed by

the three pieces of cellophane, the 7-inch foam circles, the record, and the adapter. Connect the bottom 7-inch circle to the top one with three T-pins. 4/Cut the six cups to approx 40mm tall. Use two T-pins apiece to fix them evenly along the edge of the 7-inch foam circles. 5/Strip 15 mm of the headphone cable and 1 mm of each coated inner wire. Split the copper contact wire in two and use electrical tape to attach it to the electrical grounds of the phonograph cartridge (the lower two contact posts on the back when the stylus faces down). Apply a drop of conductive glue and cover with tape. 6/Strip 1 mm of the headphone cable’s inner wires and use electrical tape to

connect them to the cartridge's top two posts. Apply wire glue and then reseal the tape. 7/Wrap a long piece of electrical tape from the end of the cartridge around the bundle of wires up to the headphone cable. Slide the bundle through a the remaining length of straw and tape the straw’s scoop end over the cartridge. Push a T-pin through the straw’s opposite end. This is the tone arm. 8/Fix a pushpin into one corner of the plywood and cover with a 75 mm length of the other straw. Top the straw with tape and push the tone arm’s T-pin through it so the arm can move freely. Set the needle on the record and plug in to a speaker. You will need to crank the volume.

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On Board Cook’s experience building composite surfboards helped when he needed to make a prosthetic.

Meet a Maker

Even a Shark Attack Can’t StopThis Surfer ABOUT A YEAR AGO, 26-YEAR-OLD COLIN COOK WAS SURFING OFF

Hawaii when a four-metre tiger shark knocked him off the board, clamped onto his left leg, and dragged him underwater. Cook pummeled the shark’s nose. Then his leg gave way above the knee. Cook swam to the surface, and a nearby paddleboarder helped him to shore. Just one day after the attack, while he was still in his hospital bed after surgery to repair the wounds on his hands and leg, Cook began researching how he could get back by on the board. “I didn’t want to let this get between me JIM and surfing,” he says. RENDON 68

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“With surfing if you can’t control your knee you collapse. –COLIN COOK

But the news was grim: An above-the-knee amputation made pulling his legs underneath himself to stand on the board and then subtly shifting his weight to turn nearly impossible. Only three above-the-knee amputees had ever even stood up on a surfboard. After Cook moved back to his parents’ home in Rhode Island for a painful rehabilitation, he began talking with two childhood friends, Brendan Prior and Max K ra m e r s — wh o d e s i g n a n d build carbon-fibre racing-yacht components—about creating the first above-the-knee prosthetic made specifically for surfing. The leg needed to be stiff enough to support his weight and telegraph the feel of the board, yet have enough flex in the knee and ankle areas to allow him to quickly pop up and manoeuvre. “We wanted it to work like a knee so he could keep the center of gravity over the middle of his foot,” says Prior. The first iteration, a bowed black composite strip with an inverted Y at the bottom, was so long that Cook could barely stand. For the next attempt, the team shortened the leg and changed the angle of the knee. They also added a small twist to the “foot” so it would pigeon-toe outward, which helped Cook’s stance and stability. Just seven months after the attack, Cook began using the homemade prosthetic to surf off Rhode Island. It was awkward and hard at first, but he adapted his technique and continued making small adjustments to the leg. By this past August, he was back in Hawaii, surfing every day. “This is the first thing in my life that feels like a huge accomplishment: to overcome this, to surf again, to develop my own prosthetic with my friends,” he says. “I almost have to say it out loud to believe it.”

PHOTOGRAPH BY

Marius Bugge


Manual Under the Hood

44

Amount of data, in zettabytes (one sextillion bytes) that humans will be looking to store somehow by 2020.

HardDrivesGoHybrid Seagate’s new FireCuda gives you the speed, without the c MOST OF US TAKE THE storage in our various tech devices for granted. We grumble when Apple brings out a new iPhone with “only” 32GB of space, because we crave gigabytes for our photos, apps and other content. On PC, gamers and creative professionals are faced with a choice: pay big bucks for a large solid-state drive (SSD), or deal with annoyingly-long load and save times on a more traditional magnetic drive. Now Seagate joins manufacturers building hybrid drives. Seagate’s senior field application engineer, Sam Zavagalia explains: “The FireCuda writes information to a spinning magnetic disc, but it uses intelligence to transfer the most commonly accessed data to an onboard solid state drive. “Users don’t have to configure this or worry about it at all, but it means the FireCuda can load Windows, play a movie or start up a game nearly as fast as an SSD.” So why not just buy an SSD? Because a one by A N THONY F O RDHAM

terabyte FireCuda costs $129 (or som less), while 1TB SSDs start at $350. Zavagalia says in Seagate’s in testing, the FireCuda booted Wind in 30 seconds, while an SSD manage 29 seconds. The traditional magnetic however, took 47 seconds. “Users who have a set pattern of be such as gamers, will benefit the says Zavagalia. “Come in, turn on PC Windows, then start up their favourite The hard drive will learn this behavi optimise for speed.” Despite the increasing domination o in ultra-thin notebooks, and similar state tech in our smartphones and t Zavagalia says the “spinning media” m drive isn’t going anywhere. “Yes, most personal devices hav SSD,” he says. “But if you save som to the cloud, or access something web, that information is all being sto spinning media. We’re expecting demand to continue to increase.”

A BIG OL’ WORKHORSE Here at Popular Science we like to push the advantages of network attached storage, or NAS. But Seagate is still betting on people wanting big storage in their PC. The Barracuda Pro is a 10TB monster that’s not just huge - it’s tough. Seagate rates its drives on the number of terabytes of information they can read/write per year without experiencing “unsual wear”. A good desktop hard drive is rated at 50TB a year. The Barracuda Pro is rated at 300TB. That makes it even tougher than Seagate’s NAS-dedicated IronWolf drive. The Barracuda Pro is meant for video producers doing 4K video production, or anyone who needs to crunch a lot of numbers constantly.

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Manual Hackertainment

Revoltingly Real Cosplay by MATT GILES CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: JONATHAN RIGATTIERI; BRYAN LEE; JONATHAN RIGATTIERI; ILLUSTRATION BY MICH AEL MY ERS

JEREMY FISHER WAS 11 YEARS OLD when he designed his first costume: The self-described Star Wars junkie transformed into bounty hunter Boba Fett for Halloween, crafting armour from milk jugs and papier-mâché, and raiding closets for anything resembling a Wookie scalp. Most recently, the artist and costume fanatic tackled a monster that had defied George Lucas. In Return of the Jedi, an actor was supposed to play the predatory alien Rancor. But the prop didn’t look believable, so filmmakers used a rod-operated puppet instead. “That sparked my imagination,” says Fisher. “The guys who made Star Wars couldn’t even design this costume.” This past April, Fisher began to assemble Rancor in the design studio attached to his Los Angeles home. He first built a T-shaped structure from PVC piping, then fashioned limbs and body from EVA foam normally used to pad floors. For wrinkled, warty skin, Fisher covered the body in poly foam—“the squishy stuff in seat cushions,” he says— and painted it with a spray gun. In July, he unveiled Rancor at San Diego Comic-Con. Wearing the heavy suit, Fisher says, felt like he “hiked a mountain and ran a marathon at the same time.” But the effort was worth it: “Nothing I have ever made,” he says, “has received as much attention.”

Killer App

Quantum Mechanics for Everyone

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Sweet Suit After hundreds of work hours and $2,000, Fisher could bear to wear the bulky 27-kilo 180-cm-tall costume for only an hour at a time.

To develop quantum computers, we must move atoms around an array at top speed, but not so fast that their properties change. Danish physicists at Aarhus University tried using code to calculate this

quantum speed limit, but their algorithms’ answers were too slow. So they made a free mobile game to let the public help. The app, Quantum Moves, depicts atoms as sloshing waves in troughs.

Players drag a trough to the finish line while ensuring the wave’s original and final shapes match. Researcher Jacob Sherson says the game uses people’s intuition to find the best solutions:

“Players are bringing everyday experience that we can’t easily encode into our algorithms,” he says. By plugging all these crowdsourced results into their code, they find the ideal speed. –RYAN F. MANDELBAUM


Manual Toolbox

Add a USB Tester To Your Arsenal by L I NDSAY H A NDMER

A MULTIMETER IS AN ESSENTIAL BIT of kit for an electronics enthusiast. But these days every other device is charged via USB. So how to test whether a cable is broken, or an electrical load is present, or indeed how much electricity a battery is consuming? With a USB Tester, of course. To test USB cables using your trusty multimeter requires busting out a soldering iron. There's an easier way. The all in one USB tester plugs between the charger and the device actually being charged, and monitors the flow of electricity. It includes a backlit LCD displays voltage, the immediate current d the elapsed time, and the total mAh used Just search your favourite site for " Tester". You shouldn't have to pay more $5-$8. Here's what else you can do:

1. Test Damaged Cables and Charge Sometimes USB devices don’t charg charge very slowly, and it is not obv where the problem is. For example, poor q ity or broken cables can limit current flow pecially when trying to fast charge. Plug the USB tester between the charger and device makes it easy to see exactly wh going wrong. Most devices will draw at l 1 amp, or higher.

2. Monitor a Battery Rechargeable batteries degrade. Using the USB tester, it is possible to monitor how many mAh it takes to fully charge the device, and that reveals battery capacity loss over time. First, fully discharge the device, then charge it up while plugged in to the tester. Record the result and repeat over the days following. A battery should not drop below 70% of its original capacity over a two-year period. By multiplying the mAh charge capacity by 1.38, it’s possible to compare to the manufacturer-stated new capacity, but to be fair, take into account that efficiency and testing losses can give up to a 10% reduction.

very quickly. A USB tester makes it easy to check the true capacity. Make sure the power bank is fully charged, and the tester has been reset to zero. Connect the USB load and let the power bank fully drain until it cuts out. The power bank rating is for 3.7V, so needs to be adjusted as the tested capacity is as 5V. Divide the displayed voltage by 3.7 and multiple it by the displayed mAh for the power bank's real world capacity. Keep in mind that anything down to about 90% of the listed capacity is fine, due to normal efficiency and testing losses.

3. Test Power Bank Capacity Levels Power banks make it easy to charge when on the go. But many of the cheaper options don’t actually give their rated capacity, or degrade

USB Load Want to test how much power a battery holds but need something consist to draw the power and act as a “load”? On eBay, a USB 1A load device costs as little as $2 delivered, and is a great choice. Look for models that can switch between 1A and 2A.

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Manual That’s a Job

How do you incorporate technology into cake? When somebody asks for, say, the Millennium Falcon—great cake, we’ve probably done it 60 or 70 times—I go, “Maybe we can put some bright blue lights on the back so it looks like it’s taking off; it would be really cool if you had some smoke shooting out of here.” I’m always looking to add tech but only where it fits, like a cake of a robot or a spaceship. For a wedding cake, I’m not trying to convince brides, “Let’s make this levitate.”

Have you had any epic failures? Before I had a show, the Food Network invited me to make a cake of Elvis in this big competition. I wanted a cake spinning around on Elvis’ guitar. I couldn’t find a motor, but I found a disco ball I could take apart. And then I’m on TV, I hook up the disco ball’s motor, I turn it on, and nothing happens. I realise a little motor like that is meant to spin a perfectly balanced ball; it’s not going to spin a for pound [1.8 kg] cake. It was so anticlimactic!

What’s a cake hack you are really proud of? One time we made a DNA strand, four feet tall, for Walter Reed [Army Medical Centre]. It was just a stack of 8-inch cakes, a pillar— and pillars are not strong. We’re like, “How are we going to get this thing from Baltimore to DC?” We took a dowel, hammered it all the way through the cake from top to bottom, and bolted it underneath the big wooden base the cake was sitting on. Then I drilled a hole in the roof of my van and bolted a hook down. I hung the cake from the top of the van, like a gimbal, and drove it to DC. Oh man, it was nerve-racking. I got it down there, and I was like, “I am a genius.”

Surprising History of the Ace of Cakes

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INSET: C OURTESY ACE OF CAKES

LONG BEFORE HE WAS A TELEVISION STAR, Duff Goldman expressed his artistic side through graffiti. “I wasn’t a bad kid,” he says. “I was just destroying public property and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.” Goldman’s art teacher intervened and taught the young delinquent how to weld, inducing a lifelong love of tinkering. Today, Goldman creates towering cakes that are as much high-tech fondant sculpture as they are dessert. These edible constructions caught the eye of the Food Network, which gave Goldman’s shop—Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, Maryland—its own television show. Popular Sciencee spoke with the Ace of Cakess personality about nothing less than hacking pastry. by MATT GILES

Chewbaker Goldman and his team made this edible replica of the MillenniumFalcon. Because of our pun, he didn’t let us taste it.

I L LU ST RAT I ON BY

Elias Stein


Manual Primer

The End of the Antenna: Streaming Video in Australia THE STORM DOUBLES in intensity. The wind is howling, trees thrash outside. And then you hear it. The plaintive cry from the roof: “How does it look now?” You peer through the static. You think you can just about make out the ABC logo. And as your flatmate slips and tumbles off the roof bringing the antenna down with him you think: there has to be a better way. by L I NDSAY H A NDMER

Streaming services have always been patchy in Australia thanks to our third-world broadband speeds. But choices are widening. Get into streaming and within weeks the idea of hustling into the lounge to watch Getaway at precisely 1930h will seem as old-fashioned as a wireless serial.

Streaming Services In Australia, Netflix.com.au is the most popular streaming service, with a mix of new, older, and bespoke content. The major competitors are stan.com.au and presto.com. au, which funnily enough almost precisely mirror the old catalogue of your local video store - dodgy horror movies included. From there the choice gets almost overwhelming: QuickFlix (very limited), Foxtel Play (expensive), ABC iView (good for kid’s stuff), YouTube (endless content),

Dendy Direct, Hayu and more. Freeview catch-up services are free as is an ad-heavy version of YouTube.

Internet Connection Most ADSL2+ connections in Australia have sufficient bandwidth to stream content, at least at SD resolutions. Netflix suggests that at least a 1.5 Mbps connection is needed for a basic connection, and at least 5 Mbps for HD. Streaming media does use a lot of data. Netflix suggests that each SD stream uses around 0.7GB per hour, 3GB per hour for HD, and 7GB an hour for 4K! That’s per stream as well, so if multiple family members are watching different programs at once, it can add up fast. As an example, watching two hours of HD footage a night is 180GB per month. But the power of streaming is that it’s not TVonly. You can use a tablet, mobile or even a PC.

Streaming Devices Most Smart TVs and AV devices sold in Australia in the past few years have apps to directly play content from major services such as Netflix, and some even have a Netflix button on the remote! To add “smart” functions to an older TV, consider Google’s Chromecast. It’s cheap ($60 to $99) and supports a wide range of streaming apps. Your mobile becomes the remote, and you can even “cast” your photos to the TV. Bring back slide night! Once you have streaming services set up, you’ll realise that entertainment is specific to your account, not a device. You can start a show on the TV, but if the boys roll in and demand to switch over to the footy, you simply grab a tablet, find a cosy nook, and continue from where you left off, either right away or even days later. The antenna is dead. Long live the stream.

Freeview Frees Itself Australia’s free-to-air TV networks have been expanding their offerings with additional channels. And now you don’t even need an antenna port. Freeview FV is a new app that collects all the Freeview channels into one spot and streams them live (yes, with all the ads). It’s still very much “version 1.0” with bugs and missing content - including entire absent networks! - but should improve over time. www.freeview.com.au

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Prototypes 3

1

2

1/ Qubie is made from DIY materials. 2/ The Raspberry Pi computer fits in a soap-bar-size plastic case. 3/ A Wi-Fi network adapter plugs in to identify the presence of wireless devices. 4/ A rechargeable battery provides power.

AFTER SUCH AN... INTENSE US ELECTION, WE can at least agree on one thing: Long polling-place lines are the worst. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommends that election officials track those wait times. But, says Daniel Zimmerman, principal computer scientist at the election software company Free & Fair, “poll workers are already overworked.” That’s why he created a tech solution to track the crowds: a DIY device called Qubie. The Qubie prototype is simply a Raspberry Pi computer connected to a Wi-Fi network adapter and a portable power source. Open-source software uses the adapter to count the wireless transmitters— mobile phones—in a given area, without collecting personal identifying information. For now, the resulting data is sent to Free & Fair’s proprietary software for analysis. The engineers tested Qubie during the California primaries in June 2016, and deployed more of them in several more polling places for the general election. This information will help them learn more about polling-place traffic, including the best times to vote. Eventually, Zimmerman hopes to produce a cheaper version of Qubie that can update a public-facing by website in real time, alerting people to how long their wait will RYAN F . be at their polling place. MANDEL B A U M

ILLO BY +ISM; INSET: BRIAN KLUTCH

4

How Yanks Can Beat the Lines at the Polls

Manual Enviable Project

His Room-Size Computer Plays Tic-Tac-Toe

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50 Cost, in thousands of dollars, of building the megaprocessor

room. The machine consists of more than 40,000 transistors and 10,000 LEDs. But the massive body belies a wimpy brain: With just a 16-bit processor, it can run only simple programs. So far, Newman has taught it to play Tetris and Tic-Tac-Toe. Now he is seeking a new home for the megaprocessor, preferably a school or museum, where it could be used for education. “It could help show people what goes on inside the things they use,” Newman says. In the meantime, he’s been showing it off to friends and family. “Of course,” he says, “they all think I’m mad.”

CO URTESY JAMES NEWMAN

SO FTWARE EN G I N EER JAMES NEWMAN KNEW how computers worked—but he wanted to see how the data flowed inside them. So four years ago, at his home in Cambridge, England, he began building a massive processor out of individual transistors, rather than the tiny ones used in silicon chips. He then added LEDs to every logic gate (the building blocks of a circuit that produce the 1s and 0s) to display the data movement in real time. The machine grew far larger than he’d ever intended. “I just got suckered into it bit by bit,” he says. By the time Newman finished the “megaprocessor” this summer, it stood 6 feet high and by 30 feet long, weighed more than 1,000 COBY pounds, and took up most of his living McDONALD


Manual Please Invert

I WISH SOMEONE WOULD INVENT... …MOSQUITO-REPELLENT PILLS Jen Schwartz, Popular Science Editor, New York

Our bodies produce odour compounds that attract and repel mosquitoes. A pest-repellent pill would need to tell the body to make more of the latter. But it might not work long. “Mosquitoes have been around for 140 million years,” says the American Mosquito Control Association’s Joe Conlon. “They’re extremely adaptable.”

…A SHOE-BASED SMARTPHONE CHARGER Alex Viray, Systems Engineer, Suisun City, California

There are prototypes. One uses triboelectric material to turn friction into an electrostatic charge that can be harvested. “The question,” says Xudong Wang, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, “is whether we can make a product that’s comfortable, affordable, and long-lasting.”

...SELF-HEALING ASPHALT Nick Kruger, Forklift Operator, Fort Wayne, Indiana

It might come soon, says Erik Schlanger, professor of Materials Science at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. His prototype mixes tiny steel fibres into asphalt before it’s poured. If cracks appear, a truck with an induction coil drives over them, heating the fibres and melting an adhesive material to the asphalt.

Want to know if your fantasy invention could become a reality? Email letters@popsci.com.au to find out!

IL LUSTRATI ON S BY

Mark Nerys

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Go Ahead...

AskUsAnything Have a burning question? Email it to letters@popsci.com.au or tweet it to @PopSci #AskAnything

Q

CAN BEING COLD REALLY MAKE YOU SICK? WE’VE ALL BEEN TOLD TO bundle up or we’ll catch cold. But science says the common cold is caused by any one of more than 200 rhinovirus species, not the weather. Actually, according to researchers at Yale University, there just might be something to this old wives’ tale. For decades, researchers have known that rhinoviri replicate more readily in cooler environments, such as the nasal cavity, rather than at the cozier core body temperature. The reason for this, explains Ellen Foxman, an assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine, long

A

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remained a mystery. Scientists didn’t know whether these viruses worked better at colder temperatures, or the immune system worked worse. “No one could find anything,” she says. Foxman and her colleagues studied what’s called the innate immune system, present in every cell, and how it responds to temperatures when a rhinovirus is present. In the lab, they examined airway cells from mice and found that the immune system produced fewer proteins called interferons at lower temperatures, allowing cold viruses to flourish. In a study published this year,

Short answer

Yes

they found corroborating results in human cells: At the warmer core body temperature, innate immune pathways that block viral growth are more active, and an enzyme that degrades the viral genome works better. Now the team is trying to better understand the defences the body uses to suppress rhinoviri. While wrapping a scarf around your nose to warm it up might help ward off a cold, Foxman recommends washing your hands so you don’t transmit the germs to your eyes, nose, or mouth in the first place. “If the virus isn’t in your nose, it can’t cause infection,” she says.

ANSWERS BY

Melissa Klein ILLUSTRATIONS BY Paul Blow


Ask Us Anything

Q

WHO BLOWS THE FOGHORN? Short answer Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s automated

The Coast Guard, which is responsible for maintaining the equipment in roughly 400 lighthouses across the US (a bit over 350 in Australia), has been using the same fog detector for more than two decades. It uses a projector to shine light across a given optical path, then measures and interprets the backscattered light. When the detector senses a drop in visibility, the unit sends a signal to the lighthouseâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s electronic equipment, which then signals the foghorn to blow. But many of the old projectors are breaking down, and spare parts are no longer being made, according to the US Coast Guard. They are also prone to misfiring, causing the horn to sound continuously in clear weather. So lighthouses are switching over to the Mariner Radio Activated Signal System, which allows boaters to activate foghorns themselves when they need help navigating during inclement weather. Using a standard VHF radio, the mariner goes to a designated channel and keys (or taps on) the microphone five times in a row. A receiver on the foghorn in the nearest lighthouse will then trigger its distinctive moan to sound for 60 minutes. That earsplitting signal can be heard over 800 metres.

A

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Archives December 1956

The Joy of Television by ANTHON Y FORDHA M

THE 1950S, OF COURSE, the golden age of TV dinners, of wholesome families gathering around a softly glowing cathode ray tube to watch I Love Lucy, or Ed Sullivan, Dragnet and Gunsmoke. And whatever it is we watched in Australia at the time. Probably a stuck frame of kangaroo footage while a newsreader apologises. And the TV sets themselves were finely crafted pieces of furniture, beautiful things with wood veneer and Jetsons-style legs wrapped in Bakelite and tipped with galvanised rubber. Of course, the actual experience of watching one of these sets was rather... technologically basic. It’s

testament to how much we take our giant flat panel TVs for granted now that we’ve forgotten that most TVs before, say, the mid-1990s were tiny, blurry CRTs with such low refresh rates they’d give anyone a headache.

Dragnet (above) kept families glued to the box, and help ma ke T V di n n e r makers very rich.

Every week we here at Australian Popular Science HQ receive a press release from a TV manufacturer extolling the virtues of their latest set. And interestingly we seem to have reached a point where talking about blacker-blacks and more colourful colours isn’t enough anymore - now manufacturers have to push the TV’s extra capabilities, like the inclusion of Android TV and internet connectivity. Back in December 1956, the focus was still on the core technology. As you can read in our article, TV enthusiasts Hubert Luckett and Martin Mann were super-excited

about the possibility of people upgrading their bog-standard 21-inch black and white set to something with colour. They bemoan the $10 price hike but admit this does buy you a lot of extra features. Like buttons to select channels automatically! The television changed the world of course, bringing everything from entertainment to global politics into the living room of every (initially well-off) family. TV news came to replace the morning/evening edition newspaper as the primary way people got their news. TV is one of a handful of technologies that have always made big bucks and so funded their continued development. From black and white 21-inch cathode ray tubes built into actual wooden cabinets, to compact colour sets that sat on kitchen benches sprouting rabbit-ear antennae, to IR remote controlled, plasticfascia Taiwanese knock-offs competing head-to-head with Japanese luxury models featuring flatter and flatter displays, and so on. Today the CRT is dead, replaced first by the plasma array and then the LCD. Now OLED is gaining a toe-hold as

Does anyone actually understand the visual logic of this cover? I mean, we get the concept: there’s a feature article about the latest trains (interestingly, in 1956 this image is the equivalent of us putting Hyperloop on the cover now). But look at the image. We are inside a train, at the controls, looking out the front window at... another train coming straight at us? But, how does our track... and where... oh never mind. Planes trains and automobiles, that’s what the 1950s are all about, in Popular Science Monthly.

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From the Archives

Better circuits, made by machine, give you more for your money in new television receivers. Here’s what to look for when you choose your set. Elvis’ controve rsial 1956 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was a def ining TV moment.

screens get bigger and bigger - though its stiffer price-tag is against the ever-cheaper trend of other TV tech. Back in December 1956, the average screen size was 21-inches. In the 2000s it was 36-inches. Today, if you’re not shopping for a 55-inch TV or bigger, you probably don’t have a TV at all and watch everything on a tablet or computer display. There’s something sweetly naive about our correspondents getting all excited over “TVs have colour now!” and pushbutton controls. These were men born in the age before TV, after all. To them, this new technology was a revelation. I wonder what they would think of the 65-inch 4K Sony Z9D currently hanging on our review lab wall...

By Hubert Luckett and Martin Mann

T

HE four-door sedan of television is the black-and-white 21-incher. It is the set most people buy. But this year its popularity faces a two-way challenge. Will you trade up to the exciting luxury of color, now cheap enough to be within reach? Or will you have money with one of the pretty little portables? The new “standard” sets are ready for their strong competition. Most of them will cost you a little more than equivalent models did last year - the price rise runs around $10 - but improved circuits, electronic refinements and greater use of automatic manufacturing make them, as a class, the most television for the money. Some however offer more than others. Here’s how they stack up. [The magazine created an exhaustive list of many TV models that both highlights how people couldn’t rely on the internet for shopping comparison, but also how in the age before cheap electronics, dozens of brands - you may remember Magnavox, but Muntz? Olympic? Hoffman? - could carve out their own little niches and survive.] Convenience. Following the trend in cars, TVs are becoming simpler and simpler to operate. You hardly ever have to touch anything besides the channel selector. Volume, brightness, contrast and clarity remain the same as you switch from station to station. More stable circuits have made this possible and have led designers to hide or leave off little-used fiddley controls. Every set

still has height and hold controls someplace, but the width control is disappearing rapidly... You can get some kind of “lazy man’s” control on nearly all sets now. Just pushing a button automatically and accurately tunes the receiver from one channel to the next. The button may be on the set itself or separate, on a small remote-control box. Du Mont’s remote control has a dial, like a telephone. Motorola and Zenith elminate the wire connecting remote control and receiver, Motorola with a hand-size wireless transmitter and Zenith with a tricky ultrasonic tuning fork [yes, really]... This year a few receivers gain sensitivity from a new kind of tuner, the neutrode...

How Big is a TV Screen?

8.in 36 sq. in.

14.in 106 sq. in.

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Then Retro Invention

The Atomic Tank Actually, an atomic-powered tank would have been rather LESS troubling than this thing... WAY BACK IN 1953, the British nuked an Australian battle tank in the remote outback of South Australia. It wasn’t the beginning of a very small and specific war - just part of a series of nuclear tests following up development of the United Kingdom’s first atomic weapons. The tough Aussie tank took a nuclearbeating, but amazingly went on to fight in the Vietnam War... Operation Totem Some time in 1952, the British government had just tested their first atomic bomb as part of Operation Hurricane. by Without a lot LINDSA Y of unoccupied HANDME R

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space back in their country, the bomb was exploded in a lagoon between the Montebello Islands, in Western Australia. Thanks. While the test went very well, the British boffins needed to find out how much Plutonium-240 the weapons really needed. While the Operation Hurricane device had very low levels of Pu-240, it was still very costly to produce. The problem with Pu-240 (rather than the Pu-239 that was the main component), is that it’s prone to spontaneous fission. In other words, too much in the bomb would mean that it could explode before full criticality had been reach, and reduce the power of the final yield.

In the end two nuclear bombs were tested, with higher than expected yields of 10 kilotons and 8 kilotons - similar to Hiroshima. More than enough, you’d think, to destroy a miserable little tank.

The Atomic Tank Setting off atomic bombs in the Australian desert is a pretty big deal, so the scientists were keen to maximise the data. To see how military vehicles held up, a Mark 3 Centurion tank was parked just 460 metres from the hypocentre of the blast. The ill-fated tank had been designed and built in Britain the previous year and supplied


The Centurion

to Australian in 1952. Is that stopped working because it had ironic? We’re not sure if that’s run out of fuel. And you thought ironic. It was certainly unusual, your HiLux was tough. because the tank was cutting After filling up, the Atomic edge tech at the time, had only Tank was simply driven out been used for training, and was from the test area under its still in ‘showroom’ condition. own power. While great news And now the military was fixin’ for the tank itself, the scientists to nuke it. Literally. calculated that had it been To make the test as accurate manned, the shock wave alone as possible, the tank was given a would have killed the occupants. full loadout of ammunition, and And never mind the fallout. left with the engine running and the turret pointed at the Life After Nuking blast. It was also fitted Sure,the tank could still drive, out with a bunch of but now it had to sensors, an e it back mannequin hundreds of Presumabl kilometres ballsy Auss o Woomera. army Despite the engineer pummelling it put it had taken, the in park, ank pulled two then walke ailers part of away in slo way, before motion as the t e engine violently world exploded protested with a behind him. thrown rod. This 27-litre, 480kW After the Still, unwilling Rolls Royce V12 could successful test to waste a perfectly propel the tank at... of the bomb, it good (if slightly just 35km/h?! was found that irradiated) vehicle, the tank was the Australian army left largely intact, and had dubbed it The Atomic Tank, only been pushed backwards repaired the damage, and put it about 1.5m by the blast. Sure, back into service. the shockwave had scoured The tank mostly served as away external equipment a training vehicle, but was such as antennae, blew open upgraded over time to become the hatches, sandblasted the a Centurion Mk 5. Fifteen years lights and periscope, and ripped after its little nuclear adventure, armoured side plates off and the Atomic Tank was shipped tossed them hundreds of metres to Vietnam as part of the 1st away. But on closer inspection, Armoured Regiment. it was found that the tank only In 1969, the tank was hit by a

First introduced in 1945 and produced till 1962, the Centurion tank was upgraded over time and remained in service all the way to the 1990s. Over 4,400 Centurion tanks were built, but in our opinion, none of the others had such an adventurous career as the Atomic Tank. The Centurion was a big battle-beast, weighing in at 52 tonnes, 9.8m long, 3.38m wide and 3.01m high. It had a crew of four - commander, gunner, loader and driver. To protect its squishy human inhabitants, he tank was equipped with armour that ranged from 51mm to 152mm thick. The main gun had a 105mm rifled bore, and was backed up by a .30 cal browning machine gun. The Centurion was powered by a 27 litre, V12 Rolls-Royce Meteor engine, which produce a massive 650 HP (480 kW). Even so, it could only hit a top speed of 35 km/h, and had a range of about 80 km before needing to be refuelled. Failure to build a Centurion variant with effectively infinite range thanks to a compact fission reactor or, more likely given cold war tech, a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, speaks to the essential frailty of the human animal. I mean, what does our thyroid really do for us anyway?

rocket-propelled grenade during a firefight, and shrapnel injured the turret crew. Still it went on though, capable as ever. Because even despite this damage, the tank was still considered battle worthy, and remained on duty for a total of 15 months in a war zone. Afterwards, it was shipped back to Australia and used in parades. The Fallout These days the Atomic Tank rests easy, on display at Robertson Barracks in the Northern Territory. Back in the 1960s and even as late at the 1970s, radiation from Atomic tests was not taken

as seriously as it is today, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t significant fallout from the Operation Totem explosions. And yes, we mean literally: Even though the Atomic Tank was declared safe, by the 1990s, 12 of 16 crew who had spent a lot of time working on the Atomic Tank had died of cancer. Meanwhile out in the NeverNever, the blast sent a cloud of radioactive debris, later called the Black Mist, rolling across many Aboriginal communities downwind. While the full damage is not known, many people were made sick. Some received permanent injuries, or died from the tests and fallout.

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Labrats

STO RY BY

Subject Zero

The Alcoholic Proletariat Recent world events will not diminish our determination to drink cheap liquor WE ITINERANT SCIENTIFIC TEST subjects do have a community, you may be surprised to learn. Well, we have a pub. The Cash & Prizes is on the edge of the city, surrounded by semi-redeveloped warehouses and it has a very very old school lounge bar out the back, the entrance to which has been almost entirely obscured by pokies. We certainly didn’t know it was there until the day Twitching Simon twitched against one of those pokies and it sort of slid aside revealing the entrance to the lounge bar. When we popped up at the little cut-out serving area and demanded pink vodka, the bargirl was pretty surprised because she too had no idea the lounge bar was there. But that was a year or two ago now and that bargirl has gone back to Oslo and there have been several bargirls since then and we’re pretty much considered regulars now. At the Cash & Prizes. And though we rarely all gather, on this particular Thursday we did. Because of an election that had happened over 15,000 kilometres away. “And I say I’m already bored hearing about that man,” says The Mistake, slumping in one of the vinyl wingbacks and sucking heavily on the straw in his pink vodka. “Somehow,” says Atalanta my totally not girlfriend why would you suggest that anyway moving on, “I don’t think your boredom will be much comfort when we’re all put out of a job.” “What do you mean out of a job?” says Twitching Simon. “I don’t have a job. None of us have a job, you know, a job-job. We do experiments and submit

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to tests for like, what is it, $90 a go?” I look askance at Atalanta and she avoids my gaze. “I get $125,” I say. Twitching Simon twitches and sloshes pink vodka on his shirt. “You might not be getting $125 for long,” says Atalanta, still no looking at me. “It looks like all the ethical guidelines and safeguards will soon be swept away. And it will be open-season on human testing. MKULTRA 2 and that sort of thing.” I frown. “But we rely on human testing to make our sort-of livelihoods. Why would we be worried about a lift on human testing bans? Sure we want that to happen, so we get more work?” Atalanta had started shaking her head about three words into my little speech and she doesn’t stop even when I shut up. “You don’t get it,” she says to me through a fall of midnight hair (with pink stripe). “We exist in a sort of grey area. Our tests are done with flagrant disregard for ethical guidelines, health and safety regulations, and even a few criminal laws. If the US election starts a sweeping cultural change and all the other western democracies follow suit with massive deregulation, why would anyone pay us $125 in hush-money to do their stupid tests?” “I was told many times it’s only $90!” insists Twitching Simon. “Oh who CARES,” cries the Mistake, slinging one blotchy leg over the arm of the chair. “So we sit here and drink pink vodka and moan about it. How does that help? How is it positive?” “Since when did you care about being positive?” I ask.

The Mistake throws back his pink vodka and lurches upright. He advances on me, skeletal forefinger ready to stab at my chest. “Hey buster,” he snaps. “Not all of us are LIKE you. With your fancy apartment and history of employment and no criminal record. This all goes down, what do you do? Swallow your pride and go back to the monkey-lab...” I instinctively rub at the scar that runs around my left wrist from where that Mandrill bit my hand off. “So what are you even suggesting?” asks Atalanta in a voice that suggests she couldn’t imagine anything less interesting than the Mistake’s answer. He glares at us through eyes yellowed by some kind of illegal compound someone made him eat. “We need,” he says, “to go on strike.” At that moment my agent K[c]urt Blockade explodes through the gyprock wall on the far side of the secret lounge bar of the Cash & Prizes. “Did someone say strike?!” he exclaims. Before he was my - in fact everyone’s - agent, C[k]urt was a heavyweight in the union. A bruiser. A headkicker. A standover man. All that. “Strike?” says Atalanta. “That’s rich. Anyway Kurt, shouldn’t you be running for the hills? I hear the New World Order wants to purge all members and ex-members of organised labour.” A slow smile spreads across C[k]urt’s face. “A purge?” he says, starting to laugh. “A PURGE?! AHAHAHA! HAHA! Baby I was born to survive the PURGE! WAHAHA! Let them try and purge Curt Blockade! HAHA! HA HA HA! HAAAAA! HA!” His laughter is so insane and so deafening, the people on the pokies in the next room complain and so the bouncers throw him out. We watch him stagger, hysterical, up the street into the gathering dusk. And then we turn as one, back to the bar. “Sorry!” says the bargirl very quickly, and maybe a little desperately. “We’re all out of pink vodka!”

NEXT ISSUE!

Issue #98 January 2017. On sale 29th December 2016.

EXPLORATION! All the amazing tech (and the minds behind it) that helps us explore our world. PLUS! PSYCHONAUTS // More driveless cars // DETAILED MAP OF THE UNIVERSE + MORE!



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