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THE BRILLIANT 10: SCIENCE’S NEXT WAVE + DIY SUBMARINE + BIONIC VISION

T HE

CAR

IS

D EA D .

LO NG

L I V E

TH E

C AR.

REVOLUTIONS ELECTRICS OUTRUN GAS • ROBOTS OUTDRIVE HUMANS • THE NEW CAR CULTURE

HOW TO MAKE ME LOVE CARS AGAIN

A MILLENNIALÕS MANIFESTO

CONTENDER: The all-electric eO PP01 duels with gas-powered competitors at Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.


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DEPARTMENTS 04 From the Editor 06 Peer Review 08 Megapixels 85 FYI: Does stress really make you hungry? 96 From the Archives

WHAT’S NEW

11 The cut-anything compact saw 12 The Goods: The best gaming laptop and more 16 The fastest zero-emission motorcycle 18 How to make anything gunk-proof 21 A backpack made for avalanche emergencies 22 Gadgets for dog owners 24 Why you may never buy a computer again

FE ATURES

Access videos, animations, and more with the POPSCI Interactive app. Just hover your smartphone over pages with this icon.

Contents

VOLUME 283 NO. 4

54 TRAFFIC PATTERN

64 SUPERCHARGED

Robots can already outdrive humans. Now everyone just needs to get out of their way. By Adam Fisher

At the Pikes Peak racecourse in Colorado, electric cars prove they’re the real performance vehicles. By Ezra Dyer

70 WHY YOU CAN’T SELL ME A CAR A millennial’s manifesto to automakers. By Dave Mosher

OCTOBER 2013

42 THE BRILLIANT TEN

Every year POPSCI names 10 young geniuses whose work will change the world. Meet researchers studying exoplanets, sequencing entire ecosystems, building a better Internet, and more. By Veronique Greenwood and Valerie Ross

SAM KAPLAN; ON THE COVER: CHIP KALBACK

HEADLINES

27 How studying mummies could help treat modern illnesses 30 The counterfeit-busting tech in the new $100 bill 33 What happens if an astronaut floats off in space 34 Contact lenses for super sight 36 The race to document the world’s disappearing reefs 38 Where donated bodies go 40 Why making babies with three parents is a good idea

HOW 2.0

73 A manned submarine made from a drain pipe 78 Build a concrete canoe 80 Hack an old camera into a photosynthesis detector 82 The talking, listening, autocooking DIY microwave oven

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O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 0 3


From the Editor

THE FUTURE NOW

OCTOBER 2013 / POPULAR SCIENCE Editor-in-Chief Jacob Ward Creative Director Sam Syed Executive Editor Cliff Ransom Managing Editor Jill C. Shomer

Shift

EDITORIAL Articles Editor Jennifer Bogo Editorial Production Manager Felicia Pardo Senior Editor Martha Harbison Information Editor Katie Peek, Ph.D. Projects Editor Dave Mosher Senior Associate Editors Corinne Iozzio, Susannah F. Locke Assistant Editor Amber Williams Editorial Assistant Lindsey Kratochwill Copy Editors Joe Mejia, Leah Zibulsky Researchers Kaitlin Bell Barnett, Claire Levenson, Erika Villani Contributing Editors Lauren Aaronson, Eric Adams, Brooke Borel, Tom Clynes, Daniel Engber, Theodore Gray, Mike Haney, Joseph Hooper, Preston Lerner, Gregory Mone, Steve Morgenstern, Rena Marie Pacella, Catherine Price, Dave Prochnow, Jessica Snyder Sachs, Rebecca Skloot, Dawn Stover, Elizabeth Svoboda, Kalee Thompson, Phillip Torrone, James Vlahos Editorial Interns Erin Brodwin, Lillian Steenblik Hwang, Sarah Jacoby Data Intern Jefferson Mok

T

ART AND PHOTOGRAPHY Art Director Todd Detwiler Photo Editor Thomas Payne Designer Michael Moreno Junior Designer Michelle Mruk

American life is intertwined with cars. A change in one causes a change in the other. turning away from cars (our own Dave Mosher issues a manifesto on the subject on page 70). And we’ve identified a turning point in the ratio of drivers to miles driven—we’re calling it “peak car”—that may lead to a fundamental shift in where and how people live and travel in the U.S. Traditionally, we’ve focused on the technical advances in carmaking, and we cover that here. But the most important function this magazine serves, in my view, is to spot the next corner early, and we’re here to tell you that automobiles are already going around it. A final note: As we were going to print, we learned of the sudden passing of our friend and contributing editor Steve Morgenstern, who covered technology for Popular Science for more than a decade. We’ll miss you, Steve.

JACO B WA RD jacob.ward@popsci.com @_jacobward_

POPULARSCIENCE.COM Digital Content Director Suzanne LaBarre Senior Editor Paul Adams Associate Editor Dan Nosowitz Assistant Editors Colin Lecher, Rose Pastore Video Producer Dan Bracaglia Contributing Writers Kelsey D. Atherton, Francie Diep, Shaunacy Ferro Web Intern Joey Carmichael, Lacey Henry

Executive Vice President Eric Zinczenko Group Editorial Director Anthony Licata BONNIER TECHNOLOGY GROUP

Publisher Gregory D. Gatto Chief Marketing Officer Elizabeth Burnham Murphy Vice President, Corporate Sales John Driscoll Associate Publisher, Marketing Mike Gallic Financial Director Tara Bisciello Eastern Sales Director Jeff Timm Northeast Advertising Office David Ginsberg, Margaret Kalaher Photo Manager Sara Schiano Ad Assistant Amanda Smyth Executive Assistant to CMO & Publisher Christine Detris Midwest Managers Doug Leipprandt, Carl Benson Ad Assistants Kelsie Phillippo, Mojdeh Zarrinnal West Coast Account Managers Stacey Lakind, Sara Laird O’Shaughnessy Ad Assistants Sam Miller-Christiansen Detroit Managers Ed Bartley, Jeff Roberge Ad Assistant Diane Pahl Classified Advertising Sales Ross Cunningham, Shawn Lindeman, Frank McCaffrey, Chip Parham Advertising Coordinator Irene Reyes Coles Advertising Director, Digital Alexis Costa Digital Operations Manager Rochelle Rodriguez Digital Campaign Managers Wilber Perez, Ed Liriano Digital Managers Elizabeth Besada, Maureen O’Donoghue Digital Coordinator Stephanie Hipp Digital Promotions Director Linda Gomez Group Sales Development Director Alex Garcia Senior Sales Development Manager Amanda Gastelum Sales Development Managers Anna Armienti, Vanessa Fimbres, Kate Gregory, Perkins Lyne, Kelly Martin Marketing Design Directors Jonathan Berger, Ingrid Reslmaier Marketing Designer Lori Christiansen Online Producer Steve Gianaca Group Events & Promotion Director Beth Hetrick Director of Events Michelle Cast Special Events Manager Erica Johnson Events & Promotions Director Laura Nealon Promotions Managers Eshonda Caraway-Evans, Lynsey White Consumer Marketing Director Bob Cohn Single-Copy Sales Director Vicki Weston Publicity Manager Caroline Andoscia Caroline@andoscia.com Human Resources Director Kim Putman Production Manager Erika Hernandez Group Production Director Laurel Kurnides

Chairman Jonas Bonnier Chief Executive Officer Dave Freygang Executive Vice President Eric Zinczenko Chief Content Officer David Ritchie Chief Financial Officer Randall Koubek Chief Brand Development Officer Sean Holzman Vice President, Consumer Marketing Bruce Miller Vice President, Production Lisa Earlywine Vice President, Corporate Communications Dean Turcol General Counsel Jeremy Thompson For reprints email: reprints@bonniercorp.com

04 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3

FOR CUSTOMER SERVICE AND SUBSCRIPTION QUESTIONS, please use our website: www.popsci.com/cs. You may also call 386-597-4279. Or you can write to POPULAR SCIENCE, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235

MARIUS BUGGE

HE HISTORY of automobiles in this country is the history of upheaval. During the Great Depression, the rise of V8 engines made it possible for bank robbers to leap onto the running board of a getaway car and roar away from the local constabulary’s Model A. Today, every highway, cul-de-sac, curb, and shopping plaza is directly influenced by the speed, turning radius, wheel height, and fuel range of the average automobile. American life is intertwined with cars. A change in one means a change in the other. Now we’re on the verge of more upheaval, and this issue is about those revolutions. This year, at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, a storied time trial up one of Colorado’s tallest mountains, a series of electric vehicles, such as the Latvian entry shown on our cover, took a shot at the title. It turns out that high-altitude racing hampers internal combustion, whereas electric power is unaffected. And so at Pikes Peak, electric vehicles aren’t some oddball category—they’re contenders. You can read Ezra Dyer’s account of that particular revolution on page 64. Driving itself is also about to be overthrown. As Adam Fisher discovered in his look at the obstacles that stand between your car and full autonomy (and as we’ve documented for several years now), the carmakers are pretty much ready to go. Listening to their engineers, it’s as if we’re one step closer to the day when you can confidently place your children in a car, shut the door, and wave good-bye as it pulls away. (The lawyers feel differently.) Imagine the revolution in family life, work, and recreation that will result when using a car doesn’t involve driving at all. There are other revolutions out there too. Millennials are increasingly


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FROM TWITTER WE ASKED:

FO O D FUT U R ES

YOU REPLIED:

@lekiloppies Teen spirit? @fofalex Imploding nostrils?

SAYING “FOOD IS ONLY FUEL” [“Could This Liquid Replace Food?” August 2013] is like saying sex is only for procreation. I noticed Rob Rhinehart doesn’t say whether he actually enjoys his concoction, and the fact that he still eats some solid food is telling. Mostly, though, I think if you can’t grill it or put a birthday candle in it, American farmers can rest easy. Lisa Christison Sammamish, Wash. We have only five senses: taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. I don’t think I could relinquish one of them for $350 a month (the difference between what Rhinehart spends on Soylent and real food). That is, unless my wife decides to cook.  T Hyatt New York City

FROM POPULARSCIENCE.COM

We enlisted a few NASA scientists to help us round up the most inhospitable places in the universe. Here’s a sample from the top 10:

VENUS The planet has the most volcanoes in our solar system, is covered in lava, has a surface pressure equal to being a halfmile underwater, and a temperature hot enough to melt lead.

KEPLER-7B Nicknamed the Styrofoam planet because it’s large and light, Kepler-7B is extremely reflective. Couple that with its 2,800°F surface temperature and you’ve got what one scientist describes as a “disco inferno.”

06 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3

HD 189773B Though it appears blue, HD 189773B’s color comes from its rain. Which could condense to glass. And flies around the planet in 4,000mph winds.

Leap of Faith I feel like I should be more excited about this tech [“The End of the Interface,” August 2013]. But because we’ve seen it in so many movies, it doesn’t really have that “new” feeling anymore—it has lost the cool factor. The Random Factor via popsci.com Like the Wii, it will be amazing at first. But then, all that will be available on the device will be smartphone-like games, gimmicky apps, and maybe some useful apps for people who do CAD or 3-D design—but that’s hardly a mass market. Blarg_King via popsci.com Small minds said: “Who would ever need a personal computer?” Now the same small minds are saying: “Waving your hands around? Ridiculous!” RainyDayInterns via popsci.com WE APOLOGIZE . . . On page 72 of the August 2013 issue, we added three zeroes to the DIY yacht’s 10kW generator power rating. On page 18, we should have specified the Mercedes CLA45 AMG’s record outputto-displacement ratio is for production cars only. On page 55, we identified Soylent as the namesake of the movie rather than the book—where it’s soy and lentil, not people.

THE FUTURE NOW

MAIN OFFICE 2 Park Ave., 9th Floor New York, NY 10016 popsci.com NEW SUBSCRIPTIONS popsci.com/subscribe SUBSCRIPTION INQUIRIES Change of address or subscription problems: Popular Science P.O. Box 420235 Palm Coast, FL 32142 386-597-4279 popsci.com/cs INTERNATIONAL EDITIONS Inquiries regarding international licensing or syndication: syndication@popsci.com LETTERS To the editor: letters@popsci.com FYI questions: fyi@popsci.com Ask a Geek: h20@popsci.com Story queries: queries@popsci.com Comments may be edited for length and clarity. We regret that we cannot answer unpublished letters.

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FROM LEF T: COURTESY NASA ( 2 ) ; COURTESY ESA/NASA

WHAT DOES SPACE SMELL LIKE?


AGE OF

Special Promotion

DISCOVERY First-fill American oak bourbon barrels give this single malt its distinctive character In 1886, with the help of his seven sons and two daughters, William Grant set out to fulfill a lifelong ambition. Together they began building his distillery by hand, and on christmas day of 1887, the first drop flowed from the copper stills. Today, Glenfiddich remains independently owned by the fifth generation of the same family. each generation is driven by both their forefather’s vision to craft the finest malt in Speyside and the legacy that they will bestow on future generations. continuing in their pioneering spirit, Glenfiddich presents Age of discovery. This malt, aged exclusively in first-fill bourbon casks for a minimum of 19 years, showcases the exceptional skills of Glenfiddich’s expert team of coopers, who tend to the barrels, and of Glenfiddich’s sixth Malt Master, Brian kinsman.

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New American oak barrels are used by distilleries in the U.S. to age bourbon and rye. Once these distilleries have aged their whisky, the casks are shipped to Scotland. The first time we fill the barrels, they are known as first-fill barrels. American oak imparts the whisky with compounds such as esters, lactones, and phenols. One such compound, known colloquially as whisky lactone, produces a strong coconut flavor in the finished dram. Vanillin, another compound extracted from the oak, unsurprisingly contributes an aroma of vanilla. But because freshly charred oak has high levels of these aromatic compounds, casks made from it can overpower the more delicate flavors of a Speyside malt. Instead, Glenfiddich uses barrels that have already contributed much of the wood’s flavoring compounds to American bourbon. The result is an elegantly balanced dram with notes of warm, crunchy toffee, marmalade on toast, and a whiff of a fine old orange liqueur, balanced by dry, almost smoky notes of oak tannin.


stor y by LiLLi an S teenBLik Hwang Photogr aPh by JOn a S O. wOLff

Bristle

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pOpuLar SCienCe / OCtOBer 2013

Claw

Setae

leg up T

he ground-dwelling jumping spider is a fearsome beast. it can scale vertical surfaces with ease and spring 25 times its body length to nab prey. its legs are the eight crucial tools responsible for the pounce, but until recently, the evolutionary origin of some of their structures was misunderstood. by comparing the legs of 330 species, german biologists determined that the sticky feather-like hairs at the end of the leg, called setae, evolved from hairy pads that originally helped the spiders wrangle food. now, the hairs provide 32,000 contact points per leg, enabling the arachnids to walk up walls. other appendages also help with the hunt: two claws for grasping and bristles that detect air currents, tastes, and smells. to jump, the spider directs its hemolymph to the legs. the sudden rush causes them to extend all at once, and the spider goes flying.

O CtO Ber 2013 / P oPul ar science / 0 9


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Dirt-Proof Everything PAGE 18

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Rockwell Compact Circular Saw Blade size 4.5 inches Weight 5 pounds Price $99

Saws All A small circular saw with professional bite

W

hen it comes to circular saws, amateur woodworkers have to deal with a frustrating compromise: Overspend on a burly contractor tool that can cut nearly anything, or settle for a smaller model that can scarcely cut a two-by-four. The Rockwell Compact Circular Saw puts an end to that aggravation. To squeeze more power out of a small frame, Rockwell designers did two things: First, they overhauled the gearing. Typical circular saws have large parallel gear sets, which would have sat too low on the saw and interfered with deep cuts. So designers added a set of smaller in-line gears to transfer the motor’s 3,500 rpm to the blade. Second, they used thinner 1.2mm blades that generate less resistance when cutting, allowing the tool to run on a small five-amp motor—one third STOR Y BY H ARRY S AW YERS the draw of a pro model. PHOTOGR APH BY S AM K APL AN

OCTOBER 2013 / POPUL AR SCIENCE / 11


WH AT’S NE W

the goods

A dozen great ideas in gear

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The Veloce 13.3" gaming laptop has both an Intel Haswell processor and a 1080p screen—a first. It also includes a Nvidia GTX 765M graphics card and eight gigabytes of memory, making it the most powerful laptop in its class.

With its latest software update, the LG Optimus G Pro plays video only when someone’s paying attention. The phone uses its front-facing camera and eye-tracking software to determine when you’re looking away and then pauses the video.

With the MirrorCase, an iPad can shoot photos or video while horizontal, something it can’t ordinarily do. An adjustable mirror on the case directs light to the camera. An app then flips the images, which are received upside down.

To change the length of the line on a weed eater, users typically have to take apart the tool to spool more out. The process is easier with the battery-powered Toro Max, which has a dial on the grass shield for making adjustments.

Digital Storm Veloce From $1,284

LG Optimus G Pro $100 with two-year service agreement

MirrorCase $80

The TapIt Cap screws onto a growler and prevents beer from going flat after the bottle is opened. To fill a glass, a user injects carbon dioxide from an attached canister and releases the spigot. A pressure-release valve keeps the growler from bursting.

The Ultimate Lithium AA has the longest shelf life of any battery: 20 years. An aluminum oxide film at the cathode prevents oxidation damage. And Energizer makes the batteries in a special dry room, which reduces the watertriggered reactions that degrade a cell’s ability to store power.

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TapIt Cap $45

Toro 24V Max 12" Cordless Trimmer $169

Energizer Ultimate Lithium Batteries $10

C LO CK W I S E F R O M TO P L EF T: C O U R T ESY D I G I TA L STO R M ; C O U R T ESY B I O L I T E; C O U R T ESY S ANDISK; S AM K APL AN ; COUR TESY JAM ; COUR TESY APPLE; COUR TESY WINDCATCHER ; COURTESY TORO ; SAM K APL AN (2); COURTESY LG ; COURTESY MIRRORCASE

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E DITED BY AMBER WILLI AMS

ADDITIONAL R EP OR TING BY COR INNE IOZ ZIO

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To reduce camping bulk, BioLite designed the KettlePot, a first-ofits-kind combination. Made from stainless steel, the 1.5-liter piece of cookware can sit on any stove, including the BioLite stove, which fits inside for traveling.

The Windcatcher inflates faster and with less effort than any other sleeping pad. When a user blows into the pad’s one-way valve, the low-pressure airstream draws in surrounding high-pressure air, augmenting each breath. The six-foot-long pad fills in 13 seconds on average.

With a set of Fusion headphones, two people can listen to the same song on the same device. The headphones pair with each other and a media player via Bluetooth.

Up to eight gadgets can sync with the Connect Wireless media hub for fast file transfers. The 64-gigabyte server can also stream five different HD movies at once over Wi-Fi.

The DrawAFriend app fixes the “fat finger” problem when writing or drawing on a touchscreen. Based on an algorithm, it modifies a stroke to more accurately reflect what you were trying to do. If incorporated by other developers, the feature could be a boon for many other apps.

The six-inch Mini Jambox can produce the sound of a much larger speaker. The Mini’s extruded aluminum exterior pulls double duty—as both the speaker’s skin and its internal acoustic chamber—to cut heft.

BioLite KettlePot $50

Jam Fusion $90

SanDisk Connect Wireless Media Drive $100

Jawbone Mini Jambox $180

DrawAFriend Free

Windcatcher Air Pad $99

O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 1 3


WH AT’S NE W / DRE AM M ACHINE STOR Y BY WES SILER

The Fastest T

Zero-Emission Motorcycle An electric bike gives gas guzzlers a run for their money

wo years ago, engineers at Mission Motors, a California electric-vehicle manufacturer, set their prototype loose at the 2.238mile Laguna Seca Raceway. The bike clocked a lap time of 1:31.3, nearly 13 seconds faster than any other electric bike and almost as fast as a

600cc gas guzzler. In 2014, the company will release the streetlegal version of that bike, the Mission R. Despite its massive battery and thanks to a custom chassis and motor, the bike is both compact and powerful enough to chase down its conventionally powered competition.

Mission R

COMPACT PACKAGE Engineers kept the 550-pound bike about the same size as a gas-powered one. The motor doubles as the rear swingarm mount, which holds the axle and suspension, and the battery anchors the front of the steel-and-aluminum frame.

HORSES TO SPARE The AC induction motor produces 160 hp. Because it doesn’t need to rev up like a typical engine, it can deliver maximum torque (133.4 footpounds) off the line. The bike tops out at 150 mph and can hit 60 mph in three seconds.

IN RELATED NEWS

R AC E R U B B E R 16 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3

TIGHTER TURNS At 30.5 inches wide, the Mission R is so narrow that it can lean up to 55 degrees in turns—5 to 10 degrees beyond the lean of most street bikes. A steeper angle means the motorcycle can corner at higher speeds.

LONGER RID The Mission R comes with three battery options— depending on price and desired range. The small 12kWh model will run for up to 105 miles; the mid-range 15kWh will run for 120; and the large 17kWh for 140.

AGGING RIGHTS An HD camera records video, and a built-in cellular radio allows riders to upload footage. The fiveinch in-dash screen also displays speed, weather, energy consumption, and navigation.

Motorcyclists can take corners faster on a pair of Dunlop Sportmax Q3s. Designers reinforced the tire’s sidewalls with carbon fiber, which stiffens the tire, making it less likely to squirm when a driver leans into a turn. The extra stability helps riders pull off tighter turns at higher speeds. From $166

FROM TOP: COURTESY MISSION MOTORS; COURTESY DUNLOP

Range Up to 140 miles Available 2014 Price From $32,499


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WH AT’S NE W / COMING SOON STOR Y BY LOG AN KUGLER

PHOTOGR APH BY BRI AN KLUTCH

Gunk-Proof Everything A coating that keeps surfaces clean for good

A

nyone who’s worn waterproof boots knows that although they shed moisture, they’re magnets for grime. Most water-repelling treatments still allow for surface friction, so particles of mud, soot, oil, or wine

stick right where they land. Over the next couple of months, UltraTech, a Florida-based company, will roll out Ultra-Ever Dry, a coating that repels most muck. Instead of a single layer, Ever Dry is two coats. Engineers first

The work boot on the left was treated with Ever Dry; the boot on the right was not.

spray a surface with a solution that consists mainly of xylene and butyl acetate. Once that coat dries (about 20 minutes), they apply an acetone solution with small amounts of silica and other proprietary additives. As it dries, the top coat reacts with the base coat to form a layer of microscopic peaks and valleys. That structure reduces surface friction so that particles can roll right off. The Environmental Protection Agency has already approved UltraEver Dry for industrial use, and next year, companies will begin releasing treated retail products, including boots and sporting goods. Later on, the agency may also sign off on a version that consumers can buy and apply themselves, allowing them to turn nearly any object in their home into something that will never be dirty again. HOW IT WORKS Ultra-Ever Dry forms a structure of peaks and valleys, so debris makes minimal contact with the surface.

Debris

UltraTech Ultra-Ever Dry Base-coat dry time 20–30 minutes Top-coat dry time 5–10 minutes Life span From one year

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TO P : C O U R T E S Y U LT R AT ECH

Coating


WH AT’S NE W / HOW IT WORKS STOR Y BY BERNE BROUDY

The Safest Backcountry Backpack The only avalanche airbag that will save your life more than once

PHOTOGRAPH BY SAM K APL AN

M

ore winter adventurers than ever before are wandering off trails and deep into the backcountry. But hiking or skiing on the wrong side of a mountain, where safety teams might not patrol,

comes with a higher risk of getting trapped in an avalanche. The Halo 28 JetForce pack features an airbag system that can keep a user on top of a slide—and still have enough juice left for three more rescues.

Battery Trigger handle

Fan

A RM Before heading into questionable terrain, a user unzips the trigger handle from a pocket on the left strap and powers on the pack by pressing a button. In a slide, the user would yank the handle downward to initiate inflation.

ILLUSTR ATION BY DER ICK NOFFSINGER

INFLATE A two-inch-wide fan on the left side of the pack spins at 60,000 rpm, filling the pack’s 200-liter balloon instantly. The fan pushes air into the balloon for one minute. It then pulses intermittently for two minutes to keep the balloon full (most avalanches last less than 30 seconds). LIFT In an avalanche, smaller objects settle to the bottom of the slide, while larger ones rise. The JetForce greatly increases a person’s size so that he or she has a much better chance of floating to the top of the slide and out of harm’s way.

Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce Weight 7.4 pounds Inflations 4 Price $960

SAFEGUARD Designers made the balloon from silicone-coated nylon with mechanical stretch, which makes it less likely to rip than typical nylon models. If the balloon does tear, the fan is fast enough to keep it fully inflated.

REBOOT After three minutes, the fan reverses to deflate the balloon. The rechargeable lithium-polymer battery can inflate the system four times. In harsher conditions— such as temperatures as low as –22°F— the battery can still deploy the pack once.

OCTOBER 2013 / POPUL AR SCIENCE / 21


WH AT’S NE W / THE SE TUP STOR Y BY S AR AH JACOBY

BY THE NUMBERS

THE TOP U.S . DOG BREEDS

See Spot Sync

Labrador retriever 14% German shepherd 8% Golden retriever 5% Beagle 5% Bulldog 4% Other 64%

DOGGIE DOOR

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With the Passport door, pets can let themselves in and out—without leaving the house vulnerable. The door opens only when the right quartersize RFID collar tag passes within one foot. The system can remember settings for multiple pets; for example, it could let a cat in and out multiple times a day, but a dog only once. Passport Pet Access Smart System From $230

The Dart automatic laser toy keeps pets occupied. Animals chase an eye-safe laser through 16 randomized patterns that shine in a 50-foot circle around the toy. Just set the timer for up to 20 minutes and let Fido loose. FroliCat Dart $35

The Rollo Collar is also a leash. A 4.5-foot cord winds into a compartment built into the collar, and magnets hold the handle securely in place. After the leash uncoils, users press a button on the collar to lock the lead at the desired length. Rollo Collar $45

The Wi-Fi–enabled Pintofeed bowl ensures that pets get fed on time. The bowl attaches to a sealed five-pound kibble bin with a motorized dispenser. Through an app, owners can set custom feeding schedules, or they can leave it to the bowl’s algorithms to determine the healthiest dinnertime. PetNet Pintofeed $249

Monitoring a dog’s activity can give owners a window into their pet’s health. The 1.5-inch Whistle clips onto the pet’s collar and syncs data from its accelerometer with a smartphone app over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Because changes in activity and sleep patterns can be early indicators of disease, owners can share reports with their vet to spot problems. Whistle Activity Monitor $100

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: COUNTRYST YLE PHOTOGR APHY/GE T T Y IMAGES ; COURTESY WHISTLE; COURTESY PE TNE T; COURTESY ROLLO ; C O U R T ESY F R O L I C AT; C O U R T ESY PA S S P O R T; 2 0 1 2 D O G B R E E D DATA C O U R T ESY A M E R I C A N K E N N E L C LU B

Tools for 21stcentury pet care


WH AT’S NE W / OUTLOOK COLUMN BY CORINNE IOZ ZIO

ILLUSTR ATION BY PAUL L ACHINE

The Final Upgrade How software will make computer shopping obsolete

E

VERY NEW COMPUTER comes with one guarantee: There will be a faster, shinier, newer model in short order—and you will fawn over it. It’s hard not to. Processors double in power every 18 months, and other parts turn over even more quickly. Memory gets faster. Screens pack more pixels. Hard drives grow larger. And so on. Like it or not, the product cycle is also a cycle of dependency. We don’t just want the newest thing—we actually need it in order to run the latest programs. But there is a way out,

and it starts with a return to computing’s roots. The frst commercial computers of the 1950s were mainframe systems. In a mainframe, a central terminal— sometimes as large as a room—houses processors, memory, and storage. Individual workstations connect to that central hub to tap into shared programs and databases. Over the decades, the systems grew increasingly powerful. Mainframes at large institutions or agencies can run multiple instances of an operating system at once. The everyday user, however, has no need for anything as large and expensive as a mainframe. At home, personal computers still rule. But in the last decade, the cloud has started to change how people use their PCs. Connectivity is now just as important as hardware, which gives users ready access to sofware and backup services over the Internet. There’s Gaikai for videogames, Amazon Instant Video for movies and TV, and Spotify for music—just to name a few. And in 2011, Google introduced Chromebooks, the frst laptops that rely almost entirely on the cloud to deliver sofware to users. As a result, the machines need only a bit of memory and a low-power processor. Sofware improvements can push the Chromebook idea a step further by transforming the cloud into a portable personal mainframe. Neverware, a New

The product cycle is also a cycle of dependency. We don’t just want the newest thing— we actually need it. York start-up, has developed sofware that can deliver complete instances of Windows to up to 100 computers over Ethernet or Wi-Fi. The system even works on machines with as little as 128 MB of RAM and 500mHz processors. More than 30 public schools have installed the central server, dubbed the Juicebox 100. And as broadband access improves, Neverware hopes to deliver the entire service through the cloud. The mainframe model could expand beyond PCs. Intel Labs’s Clone Cloud project, for example, could do for old smartphones what Neverware does for old computers. When a phone’s performance starts to lag, users would load a clone of their system to Intel’s server and assign it tasks that the processor can no longer handle (say, graphics rendering). The service would deliver data over a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. And it won’t stop there; wherever there’s a screen—be it a tablet or television—and Internet access, there could also be a functioning computer. Every videogame, every website, every piece of sofware will work everywhere. And hardware will never be out-of-date again. 24 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3


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Mummy Medicine

OCTOBER 2013

E D I T E D B Y S U S A N N A H F. L O C K E

ANCIENT REMAINS This mummy was once Amenhotep III, King Tut’s grandfather.

How studying ancient remains could help cure modern illnesses STOR Y BY ROX ANNE KH AMSI

GETTY IMAGES/KENNETH GARRETT

E

ARLIER THIS YEAR, scientists published a study of wholebody CT scans of 137 mummies: ancient Egyptians and  Peruvians, ancestral  Puebloans of southwest America, and Unangan  hunter-gatherers of the Aleutian Islands.  They reported signs of atherosclerosis—a dangerous artery hardening that can lead to heart attacks or stroke—in 34 percent of them. What struck the research team, led by Randall Thompson of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, was that it afflicted mummies from every group. Frank Rühli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich, also sees the condition in about 30 to 50 percent of the adult specimens he studies. The breadth of these findings suggests that atherosclerosis today may have less to do with modern excesses such as overeating and more with underlying genetic factors that seem present in a certain percentage of humans living almost anywhere in the world. Someday, identifying those genes could lead to new drugs for heart disease. O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 2 7


HEADLINES

LOST & F OUND

BY S AR AH JACOBY

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to new drugs that would inhibit M. tuberculosis from taking up iron. Other scientists are using DNA sequencing to investigate Chagas disease, an illness caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which can cause fatal heart failure or swelling of digestive system organs. The parasite infects roughly 10 million people, mostly in Latin America, and appears to be spreading. Some think that different strains of the parasite affect different organs. So in 2008, when Ana Carolina Vicente and Ana Jansen of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro reported their discovery of T. cruzi in the enlarged colon of a 560-year-old mummified body from Brazil, they might have come upon an important clue. Previously, they found T. cruzi in a sample of bone remains from 4,500 to 7,000 years ago. Comparing the DNA of different samples of the parasite could reveal more about its evolution and spread, and perhaps influence treatment someday. Paleopathologists are also taking advantage of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which detects signals from water. Dry mummies haven’t been perfect for this technique, but recent improvements in MRI might make for better images of soft tissues, such as tongues. Plus, unlike the radiation from CT scanning, MRI has no possible risk of damaging DNA evidence.

LOST: Groundwater

FOUND: Oldest Water

In the last 100 years (1900– 2008) the United States has lost some 240 cubic miles of groundwater—enough to fill Lake Erie twice, says a recent report from the U.S. Geological Survey. And our rate of groundwater depletion has roughly doubled over the past two decades.

Deep inside a Canadian mine, researchers discovered pockets of extra-salty water, some of which are 2.6 billion years old— the oldest on the planet. The site is similar enough to places on Mars that scientists wonder whether both may be home to unique microbes.

HOLD STILL Researchers use magnetic resonance imaging to see inside mummies, such as this one from ancient Peru.

SIEMENS PRESS PICTURE

Ancient mummies can provide a wealth of information about the health of early civilizations, which may help us better treat diseases today. But because mummies are both rare and delicate, researchers have been limited in what they could do to them—and therefore what they could learn from them. Recent improvements of two medical tools—DNA sequencing, which can reveal microbial infections, and CT scanning—are letting paleopathologists diagnose mummies’ causes of death in detail. They’re now finding signs of everything from prostate cancer to malaria in mummies across the globe. By comparing the ancient forms of those diseases with their contemporary equivalents, researchers can learn how those diseases evolved, what makes them so harmful, and—possibly—how to stop them. In the case of tuberculosis (TB), which kills upwards of 1.4 million people a year, researchers are using DNA sequencing and CT scans in mummies to understand what conditions TB thrives in and how to treat it. Work from Haagen Klaus, a biological anthropologist at George Mason University, suggests that, contrary to what some experts think, Europeans might have brought a particularly deadly form of TB to the Americas. His preliminary DNA data hints that Peruvian remains dating back to the 10th century— before Spanish explorers arrived—might have been infected with a more benign strain of the TB bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, or a different species altogether, Mycobacterium kansasii. And many studies have shown that the bodies of Central Americans from before and after European contact rarely, if ever, show signs of TB symptoms. Klaus subscribes to the hypothesis that this may be because M. tuberculosis thrives in the presence of iron, and these people ate a low-iron diet with little meat. If true, this insight could point


HEADLINES / OF NOTE

CHARTED

W O R LDW ID E BAN K N O TE SE C U R ITY

T

he $100 bill is the most widely circulated U.S. denomination abroad and, because it’s almost universally accepted, the most counterfeited one outside our borders. A new Benjamin goes into circulation this month with security updates: a ribbon with images that move when the bill is tilted and a drawing that changes colors depending on its angle (these in addition to more than six other anticounterfeiting features). But the U.S. isn’t the only nation concerned about the sanctity of its currency. Bills from around the world combine complex technologies to make notes harder to copy and fakes easier to spot.

VISUAL DATA Because of Earth’s spin, wind blows more often from West to East (red) and East to West (blue) than from North to South. A scientist at Princeton University made this model from 10 years of atmospheric data.

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Denmark

Sweden

Canada U.S. 40 U.K. GDP per capita, thousands of U.S. dollars

Hard Currency

Threads printed with numbers or text A ribbon with shifting microscopic images Holograms 60 Ink or fibers visible only under UV light Color-changing ink Plastic (as opposed to paper) bills

Hong Kong Euro zone

20

Russia

Croatia

Mexico China

0 India 2000

Madagascar 2005

Uganda 2010

2015

VERSUS

MILLION YEARS OLD The oldest dinosaur fossils

The oldest cockroach fossils

FR OM TOP: COUR TESY DEPAR TMENT OF THE TR E A SUR Y; CUR R ENCY ILLUSTR ATION BY K ATIE PEEK; SOUR CES : WOR LD BANK; INDIVIDUAL COUNTR IES’ CENTR AL BANKS—NOTE THAT I N S O M E C A S E S C O U N T R I E S M AY N OT P U B L I C LY R E V E A L A L L I N C LU D E D T ECH N O LO G I E S ; W I N D V I S UA L I Z AT I O N C O U R T E SY M A R T I N J U CK E R

STOR Y BY S AR AH JACOBY


HE ADLINES / FAQ STOR Y BY ERIK SOFGE

H

SPACE SCARE Despite the risks, no mission has ever lost a spacewalking astronaut.

COURTESY WARNER BROS. PICTURES

What happens if an astronaut floats off in space?

In the film Gravity, which opens this month, two astronauts are on a spacewalk when an accident hurtles them into the void. So what would actually happen if you went, in NASA’s terminology, “overboard”? NASA requires spacewalking astronauts to use tethers (and sometimes additional anchors). But should those fail, you’d float off according to whatever forces were acting on you when you broke loose. You’d definitely be weightless. You’d possibly be spinning. In space, no kicking and flailing can change your fate. And your fate could be horrible. At the right angle and velocity, you

might even fall back into Earth’s atmosphere and burn up. That’s why NASA has protocols that it drills into astronauts for such situations. You would be wearing your emergency jetpack, called SAFER, which would automatically counter any tumbling to stabilize you. Then NASA’s plan dictates that you take manual control and fly back to safety. However, if the pack’s three pounds of fuel runs out, if another astronaut doesn’t quickly grab you, or if the air lock is irreparably damaged, you’re in big trouble. No protocols can save you now. (In fact, there aren’t any.) At the moment, there’s no spacecraft to pick you up. The only one with a rescue-ready air-locked compartment—the Space Shuttle—is in retirement. So your only choice is to orbit, waiting for your roughly 7.5 hours of breathable air to run out. It wouldn’t be too terrible. You might get a little hungry, but there’s up to a liter of water available via straw in your helmet. You’d simply sip and think of your family as you watched the sun rise and set—approximately five times, depending on your altitude.

T H I S M ONTH IN S PAC E BY ERIN BRODWIN

August 2011 NASA launched the unmanned Juno spacecraft, which will explore Jupiter.

July 2016 August– September 2012 Juno orbited the sun, gaining momentum.

October 9, 2013 Juno will slingshot around Earth, using our planet’s gravitational pull for an extra burst of speed.

Juno will arrive at Jupiter and orbit 33 times, measuring its water content and mapping its atmosphere.

October 2017 Its mission complete, Juno will dive into Jupiter to avoid disturbing any of the planet’s 67plus moons.

O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 3 3


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We built a telescope into a contact lens. It is similar to a hard contact lens, but embedded inside are four tiny aluminum mirrors. These mirrors magnify the light, like a telescope, making images appear 2.8 times bigger. You can switch between magnified and normal vision by wearing modified 3-D television glasses. A button on the glasses changes their polarization. And polarized filters on the contact lenses determine whether the light passes through their magnifying part or their non-magnifying part. DARPA, a funder of our research, is interested in super vision. But the lenses may also work for people with macular degeneration, a disease that degrades the central part of the retina. Magnification

WHAT IS IT ? A RE AL CONTACT LENS TH AT CAN SWITCH BETWEEN MAGNIFYING AN IMAGE AND STANDARD VISION. IT COULD BE USEFUL FOR BOTH MILITARY PERSONNEL AND PATIENT S WITH RETINAL DISEASES.

makes it easier for those people to decipher small things, like text, with the healthy areas of their eyes. The lenses are about 10 times the thickness of normal contacts. We’re planning a clinical trial at the end of the year to see if they’re comfortable. I’ll volunteer if I can. I really want to see what they’re like.” Eric Tremblay is a researcher at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

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3 4 / P OPU L AR SCIENCE / O CTO BER 2013


LET’S FUEL THEIR IMAGINATION TO THINK OF MORE INNOVATIVE ENERGY SOLUTIONS. There is no one answer to solve our future energy needs, there are many. But to find them takes collaboration. That’s why Shell has been working with schools and universities around the world for over 25 years on the Shell Eco-marathon—an innovative competition that challenges students to design, build and drive the most fuel efficient vehicles possible—like a diesel vehicle built by students at Louisiana Tech that gets 316 mpg. Today’s cars average around 27 mpg. That’s the kind of leap toward a sustainable energy future that we can get behind. Let’s broaden the world’s energy mix. www.shell.com/letsgo

LET’S GO.


HEADLINES / Q&A EDITED AND CONDENSED BY AMBER WILLI AMS

Snapshot

The race to document the world’s reefs before they’re gone

L

ast year, the Catlin Seaview Survey completed the most detailed picture of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Using underwater vehicles with 360-degree cameras, the survey’s scientists and divers captured more than 100,000 panoramic photographs. Panoramas save precious time—experts think the reef could disappear entirely in the next couple of decades. The team hopes the comprehensive look at the ecosystem will provide insights about how to save it and others around the world. Next, the crew, led by scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland, will shoot reefs in the Philippines.

7

BY THE NUMBERS

New species discovered

PS: How do you get data from 90 miles of pictures? H-G: We use a computer program that recognizes organisms. It will go, “Okay, if it’s pink with little bumps with a brown patch around it, it’s probably a coral and not a seaweed.” These techniques can get to 90 percent of a human’s accuracy. PS: What cameras do you use? H-G: We have remotely operated dive vehicles that take video and collect specimens. And then there’s the SVII panoramic camera for shallower depths, which is pretty groovy. It’s a propelled vehicle: A diver hangs on and off you go at about two miles

an hour. There are three cameras inside with wide-angle views that take photos every three to four seconds. PS: What animals have you encountered? H-G: Little reef sharks will come swimming along beside you. And you see the odd sea snake, one of the more poisonous animals out there. You know, the main worry is making sure the diver doesn’t run into a reef. PS: Do you think we’ll be able to save the reefs? H-G: If we don’t get the climate thing under control, then I don’t think there’s any hope for reefs—or humanity in general. But deep-water environments may represent a refuge from climate change; in the deeper parts of the ocean, heating is a lot less. I’ve seen reefs come back. It’s a matter of taking action.

SVII PANORAMIC CAMERA

FOUR MONTHS

4

Duration of Great Barrier Reef project

Crew

Panoramic cameras

Control panel

~25

>100,000 Images taken

36 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3

Camera

Propeller

FR OM TOP: COUR TESY CATLIN SE AVIE W SUR VE Y; GR EG MA XSON

POPSCI: Why take photos? Ove Hoegh-Guldberg: We can extract enormous amounts of info, like the health of coral reefs, the number of organisms, and so on.


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HEADLINES / LAST WILL STOR Y BY BROOKE BOREL

PHOTOGR APH BY S AM K APL AN

HOW TO DONATE YOUR BODY TO SCIENCE

Body of Research

Where do I sign up? To make a research donation, try contacting a local medical school or state anatomy board. (Driver’s license donations are typically only for organ transplants to living patients.) Is my organization legitimate? If you don’t want to end up as someone’s cosmetic collagen filler (for real!), ensure your recipient is 501(c), the code for nonprofits.

No computer simulation or dummy or animal can really convey the complexity of human anatomy like a cadaver can. But what exactly happens to your body when you donate it to science?

SAFETY STUDIES

Researchers subject cadavers to laboratory scenarios—an impact into a simplified car’s steering wheel and seat, for instance—and record the resulting forces and injuries to help design crash-test dummies and heads, which, unlike real flesh, can be standardized for controlled evaluations of cars and safety gear.

FORENSICS

Forensic researchers use cadavers to study decomposition, including that caused by flesh-eating insects, which can help law enforcement better pinpoint a victim’s time of death and the cause of certain injuries. Sometimes they re-create crime scenes to test hypotheses about specific murder cases.

MEDICAL TRAINING

In basic anatomy class, new medical students dissect bodies to gain their first hands-on experience with the human form and observe variation (everyone is a unique size and shape). Cadaver parts also provide models for practicing doctors to learn new surgical techniques.

Will my body be buried afterward? Most programs offer to return cremated remains to families. And many honor those with unclaimed ashes at common burial sites.

“We treat the cadaver with great respect. We don’t exert excessive forces if we don’t have to, and we do only the necessary tests. It’s not something that we take lightly.”

Don’t worry—your remains won’t end up in our magazine. No actual bodies were used in the making of this photograph. THE SCALE

P OW ER

A rate of energy, which can be expressed in watts (joules per second).

—PAVITHR A S. MOHAN AND ERIN BRODWIN

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7,400 watts, produced by James Watt’s 1784 steam engine 84,000 watts, produced by the International Space Station 1 million watts, consumed by the SSC Tuatara, the most powerful street-legal car 2 billion watts, produced by the Hoover Dam 40 billion watts, consumed by the Space Shuttle at launch

PROP STYLING BY ELIZABETH OSBORNE/HALLEY RESOURCES

—Albert King, a biomechanical engineer and automotive safety researcher at Wayne State University


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The method would lead to the frst genetically modifed humans who could pass down those tweaks to their children.

Three Parents, One Baby, No Disease T

HIS SUMMER, government health ofcials in the United Kingdom made headlines by announcing that they will let scientists create babies with DNA from three diferent people. The procedure is a type of in vitro fertilization (IVF) that would allow women with mitochondrial diseases to have healthy babies. If approved by British Parliament, the method, known as mitochondrial replacement, would lead to a historic event: the frst genetically modifed humans who could pass down those genetic tweaks to their children. Some bioethicists and media commentators have voiced concerns about the technique’s safety because 40 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOBER 2 0 1 3

so far it’s only been tested on human cells in the laboratory. More broadly, they fear it’s a step toward designer babies and eugenics. It’s worth noting that IVF itself, which merges sperm and egg cells in a lab, also set of debate when it debuted 35 years ago. The procedure carries some small medical risks, such as a slightly increased chance of premature and low-weight babies, and creates many embryos that never get used. But let’s not forget its enormous upside: It has allowed millions of couples to have children who couldn’t otherwise. Mitochondrial replacement isn’t any scarier—or any less impressive. Mitochondrial disease afects only about 1 in 5,000 people. The method will be performed at a few select clinics in the U.K. and will be carefully monitored. If it proves to be safe, then thousands of women will have the option to bear healthy biological children without giving them their disease. And if it’s not safe, it will most likely be banned. The most counterintuitive thing about mitochondrial replacement is that the babies it produces won’t look any diferent from babies with only two genetic parents. Here’s why. The genome that you might already be familiar with is the one in the nucleus of each cell that gets half of its DNA from mom and half from dad. However, everyone also has another genome, the mitochondrial genome, and that’s what the new reproductive technique involves. Mitochondria are tiny power plants inside each cell that help turn the food you eat into a usable source of energy. Each has its own DNA, with about 37 genes that help the mitochondrion function properly. Unlike nuclear genes, mitochondrial ones don’t afect a person’s appearance or personality traits or most of what we associate with heredity. They are also inherited entirely from mom. If someone’s mitochondrial DNA has a lot of mutations, that person could end up with a host of problems, including muscular dystrophy, heart disease, and seizures. The mutations can even be fatal. So the new IVF method simply replaces mom’s unhealthy mitochondria with healthy ones. Scientists take an egg from a female donor and remove the nuclear DNA, leaving behind her mitochondria. They then add nuclear DNA from the parents: the mother (who has mitochondrial disease) and the father. Yes, the resulting baby will be the product of three individuals’ genes, but, more important, it won’t have a devastating disease. Although all reproductive technologies have the potential to create biological problems, they’re far more likely to prevent them. Let’s not let our fears get in the way of medical progress.


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Y0040_GHHHMJ2EN Accepted


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Story by Veronique Greenwood & Valerie Ross Illustration by Joel Kimmel

O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 4 3


THE BR ILLI ANT TEN

EACH YEAR,

POPULAR SCIENCE seeks out the brightest young scientists and engineers and names them the Brilliant Ten. Like the 110 honorees before them, the members of this year’s class are dramatically reshaping their fields—and the future. Some are tackling pragmatic questions, like how to secure the Internet, while others are attacking more abstract ones, like determining the weather on distant exoplanets. The common thread between them is brilliance, of course, but also impact. If the Brilliant Ten are the faces of things to come, the world will be a safer, smarter, and brighter place. — T H E E D I T O R S

“ Always test your ideas in the lab. Doing the experiment tests your knowledge and surprises you with unexpected results, which usually leads you to new ideas.” — N I C O L A S FO N TA I N E

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THE BR ILLI ANT TEN

Nicolas Fontaine

Scott Collis

ACHIEVEMENT

Saving the Internet from itself

Harnessing new data to improve climate models

앬 NEARLY ALL communications data—Web, phone, television—runs through a network of fiber-optic cables. For now, that’s fine. But within a decade, data traffic is expected to outgrow infrastructure, which will result in transmissions that are slow and garbled. Nicolas Fontaine, an optical engineer at Bell Labs Alcatel-Lucent, has devised a clever way to avoid a data bottleneck. Fontaine and his colleagues invented a new kind of multiplexer, a device that bundles multiple inputs into one stream in order to cram a lot more data into a single optical fiber. It works by routing different light beams, called modes, along carefully planned pathways; the beams of information travel together but don’t interfere with one another. “The old fiber would be only a single-lane highway,” says Fontaine. “Now we can add multiple lanes.” Fontaine’s multiplexer avoids the signal loss that crippled earlier devices; he has already shown that his multiplexer can send six light streams down 497 miles of fiber without losing data along the way. While previous multiplexers are a cubic foot or more; Fontaine’s is 50 cubic millimeters. Since it’s made of glass and etched by laser, it would be cheap to produce. The device is also scalable: “Right now, we’re working on a 10-mode device—an order of magnitude over existent single-mode fiber,” Fontaine says. “We want to figure out how far we can go.”

앬 CLOUDS ARE one of the great challenges for climate scientists. They play a complex role in the atmosphere and in any potential climate-change scenario. But rudimentary data has simplified their role in simulations, leading to variability among climate models. Scott Collis discovered a way to add accuracy to forecasts of future climate—by tapping new sources of cloud data. Collis has extensive experience watching clouds, first as a ski bum during grad school in Australia and then as a professional meteorologist. But when he took a job at the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, he realized there was an immense source of cloud data that climate modelers weren’t using: the information collected for weather forecasts. So Collis took on the gargantuan task of building open-access tools that convert the raw data from radar databases into formats that climate modelers can use. In one stroke, Collis unlocked years of weather data. “We were able to build such robust algorithms that they could work over thousands of radar volumes without human intervention,” says Collis. When the U.S. Department of Energy caught wind of his project, it recruited him to work with a new radar network designed to collect high-quality cloud data from all over the globe. The network, the largest of its kind, isn’t complete yet, but already the data that Collis and his collaborators have collected is improving next-generation climate models.

Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent

Argonne National Laboratory ACHIEVEMENT

Mya Breitbart University of South Florida ACHIEVEMENT

Mapping the genomes of an entire ecosystem at once 앬 VIRUSES ARE THE most abundant entities on the planet—and among the most mysterious. Mya Breitbart, a microbial ecologist at the University of South Florida, has figured out how to quickly decipher what they are and what they’re doing. Rather than try to isolate individual virus species from a sample—there are up to 10 billion viruses in a liter of seawater—Breitbart extracts all the genetic material present, chops it into smaller pieces, and sequences those pieces simultaneously. The technique, which she likens to assembling multiple puzzles at the same time, enables her to study the entire community at once. “Her contributions have been pivotal in unmasking the enormous diversity of viruses on the planet,” says Curtis Suttle, a marine virologist at the University of British Columbia. Breitbart’s approach has spawned a new branch of biology, called metagenomics, which researchers use to sample and sequence genetic material directly from the enviroment. Recently, Breitbart has found a new source of viruses: mosquitoes, whiteflies, and dragonflies, which pick up dinner—and pathogens—from various food sources. “We call them flying syringes,” she says. Sampling the viruses they carry could enable her to detect a pathogen early. “Usually, you wait for an outbreak and figure out what virus is causing it,” she says. “This gives us a way of finding things before they become a big problem.” O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 4 5


THE BR ILLI ANT TEN

“ Work hard, be curious, be thor and don’t overlo having fun . . . and don’t forget your homework Ò In science, you have to patient, and that was de a learned skill for me.Ó 46 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3


THE BR ILLI ANT TEN

ough, ook to do .” —PEDRO REIS

be very fnitely —HE ATHER KNU TSON

Pedro Reis

Massachusetts Institute of Technology ACHIEVEMENT

Using failure to design fexible objects 앬 ON THE FIRST DAY of class, engineers learn that they should avoid using materials that might tear, bend, fold, or buckle. In other words: Failure is something to guard against, not embrace. Pedro Reis asked: Are there situations in which mechanical instability, well understood and carefully optimized, could be used to build something better? As his work has shown, the answer is an emphatic yes. Reis’s lab at MIT looks more like a playroom than a workspace. It is strewn with toy-like objects such as squishy spheres that fold and collapse and silicone rods that curl and bend. In their flaws, Reis sees strengths: the basis for soft, agile robots and joints manufactured from a single piece of material. He also gleans lessons from ordinary phenomena and then applies them to his work. After studying the way tape tears into triangles when peeled off the roll, Reis and colleagues invented a new way to manufacture graphene nanoribbons. “Through his work, he learns the fundamental principles of everyday mechanics—for example, how a cat laps water, how we scrape butter, or how hairs curl—and transfers this understanding to the solution of engineering problems,” says Chiara Daraio, a materials scientist and engineer at Caltech and ETH Zurich and a 2010 Brilliant Ten honoree. Reis’s most recent fascination is very thin materials—a bugaboo for most engineers.“Where things get thin,” Reis says, “they get interesting.”

Heather Knutson

California Institute of Technology ACHIEVEMENT

Reading the weather on exoplanets 앬 IN RECENT YEARS, scientists have discovered thousands of planets orbiting distant stars. Caltech astronomer Heather Knutson spends her days figuring out what a cosmic traveler might need for the trip. She is, in essence, the first exoplanet meteorologist, determining the local temperature, weather, and even composition of the atmosphere. To study exoplanet meteorology, Knutson analyzes the infrared brightness of the surface of the exoplanet. Brighter infrared emissions mean that the exoplanet’s atmospheric gas is hotter, while dim emissions indicate cooler temperatures. Charting the brightness profile allows Knutson to create a longitudinal temperature map of the planet with which she can infer weather patterns. Uniform temperatures mean the planet’s atmosphere is windy. Further, the location of hot and cold areas indicates how fast or slow the winds are in that particular region. So far, Knutson has looked at the big, gaseous planets known as hot Jupiters orbiting close to their stars. Many have atmospheres different from those found in our own solar system; at least one has clouds made of minerals found only in rock on Earth. Eventually, she wants to expand the technique to look at smaller, cooler planets—the super Earths that are mostly rocky, some of which are perhaps cool enough to sustain liquid water. “The fun part is finding things that surprise me, and that’s not hard in this field,” she says. O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 4 7


THE BR ILLI ANT TEN

“Arjun’s work is revolutionizing the way we think about genes and cellular organization.” —JOHN RINN, BRILLIANT TEN, 2009

“Zhang has been unfailıngly generous in sharing his advances with others in the fıeld, allowing everyone to beneft.”

“Charles Darwin is my scientifc hero. He was a pioneer in the feld of aerobiology, one of the frst to observe and record an African dust storm over the Atlantic in the 1830s.”

—CORI BARGMANN, ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSIT Y

—DAVID SCHMALE

48 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3


THE BR ILLI ANT TEN

Feng Zhang Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Broad Institute ACHIEVEMENT

Modifying a cell’s genome on the fy 앬 WHEN FENG ZHANG was in graduate school, he discovered that the tools for splicing new genes into living cells were costly, time-consuming, and proprietary. Unhappy with that reality, he did what any enterprising open-source enthusiast would do—he made his own tools and shared them with other scientists. They dramatically sped up the study of genetics and disease. The techniques Zhang helped develop, called TALE and CRISPR, create transgenic or otherwise genetically modified organisms with unprecedented efficiency. TALE is a molecule that gloms onto a section of DNA and affects whether a nearby gene is turned on or off. CRISPR is based on a microbial enzyme that snips the DNA to introduce new genetic material. Using these methods, Zhang can make a transgenic mouse in three weeks (normal methods require more than six months to achieve that feat). Almost 2,000 labs have requested information about CRISPR alone since it was first cited in a publication in January 2013. “These technologies are so fundamental, it’s best to keep them as open as possible,” Zhang says. “If someone had protected the HTML language for making Web pages, then we wouldn’t have the World Wide Web.” Zhang plans to use the techniques to study the genetics of autism and schizophrenia. He has already begun to insert genes linked to each disorder one by one into animal models to observe their effects. Now that he has the tools, he says, the rest of his work can begin.

David Schmale

Arjun Raj University of Pennsylvania

Virginia Tech

ACHIEVEMENT

ACHIEVEMENT

Revealing the inner workings of cells

Tracking airborne microbes with drones 앬 AEROBIOLOGIST David Schmale hunts killers. An associate professor of food safety and plant biosecurity at Virgina Tech, Schmale sends drones armed with petri dishes into the atmosphere to capture airborne crop pathogens. The data he has gathered explains how pathogens ride on wind currents and provides a glimpse into an almost unknown ecosystem far above our heads. Schmale developed his unmanned aerial vehicles with a colleague at Virginia Tech as an alternative to costly manned research flights. With the data he has collected thus far, Schmale has built a model of atmospheric circulation that shows large sections of air sweeping across the face of the planet like waves across an ocean, transporting dust and microbes thousands of miles. “Microbes can move across continents and jump major oceans,” Schmale says. He’s planning to adapt his model to predict the movement of plant pathogens, which could help farmers preemptively protect their crops by describing where to strategically deploy pesticides. Schmale thinks microbes may hitch rides in clouds as well as on the wind, so he’ll be sending his drones into them to collect samples. If clouds provide a longer-term reservoir of bacteria and fungi, the already complex dynamics of microoganisms flying through the air could be even more intricate than previously thought.

앬 EACH CELL in your body has the same DNA. But how a cell’s genes are expressed— and how frequently—determines whether the cell will become a neuron or a cardiac myocyte or whether it’s healthy or sick. Arjun Raj and his collaborators at the University of Pennsylvania invented a technique to track that gene expression and its effects. Just as grocery store receipts show which foods are most popular, RNA molecules, which carry genetic information from DNA, reveal which genes are turned on and how often they’re active. To track a specific RNA strand, Raj bathes a cell with segments of fluorescent DNA. Those segments bind the RNA in different locations, lining up along it like Christmas lights along a roof, and are clearly visible through a microscope. Using this technique, Raj found that genetically identical cells don’t necessarily transcribe genes at the same rate. In some, maternal genes are more often transcribed than paternal ones. When a chromosome gets chopped into several pieces and reassembled, as often happens in cancer, even undamaged genes are expressed at different levels than in a normal chromosome. Raj also discovered that in genetically identical worms, varying levels of gene transcription could mean the difference between a long life and an early death. “What I find really exhilarating is that we just don’t know what we’re going to see,” Raj says. But now that cell biologists can see these subtle events, they can begin to study why the events happen. O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 4 9


THE BR ILLI ANT TEN

Justin Cappos Polytechnic Institute of New York University ACHIEVEMENT

Creating a new way to cloud compute 앬 JUSTIN CAPPOS can access the Internet from anywhere in the world—a desktop computer in Ethiopia, an Android phone in France, even a tablet on an island off the coast of Antarctica—all while sitting in Brooklyn with his trusty MacBook Pro. As a computer scientist at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Cappos has developed a completely different way to cloud compute. In typical cloud computing, users connect to a powerful, centralized data center. But Cappos’s cloud is less of a dense thunderhead and more of a fog. His system, called Seattle, connects devices directly to one another in a decentralized network, relaying information more quickly than it could through a single, often distant exchange point. “It lets you use a little bit of disk storage, network, memory, and CPU in an isolated, safe way,” he says. Because Seattle allows users to access the Net with foreign IP addresses, it enables developers to view their sites or apps as they would in other countries. That ability is also particularly valuable to individuals who wish to circumvent local censorship. By the end of 2012, Seattle had 20,000 users. Cappos and colleagues are now working on software that could access the sensors in smartphones as well. Scientists could use it to test new apps, such as an earthquake monitor that uses a phone’s accelerometer to measure quake intensity. Soon, Cappos hopes to use Seattle to surf the Net from the International Space Station too. 50 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3

Andrea Armani University of Southern California ACHIEVEMENT

Inventing a new set of scientifc tools 앬 SOME SCIENTISTS use instruments to reinvent our understanding of the world. Andrea Armani, a chemical engineer at the University of Southern California, prefers to reinvent the instruments themselves. Armani develops sensors that are speeding scientific discovery across many fields. They may also serve as detectors for biological weapons, waterborne pathogens, or radioactivity. Armani has built what’s called a resonant cavity sensor to detect single molecules quickly and accurately. “It works like an optical tuning fork,” she says. Light of a single wavelength circles within the sensor’s microscopic silica ring, just as one note vibrates from the tines of a tuning fork. When a biomolecule attaches to the sensor’s surface, it changes the wavelength. Armani says one might use the device to detect traces of disease that other techniques miss. Recently, she’s also started experiments to better understand how drugs bind to their targets. Armani’s devices outstrip the capabilities of standard optics. Some can withstand temperature swings without losing precision; others can pick up proteins in dry air. She wants them to work in real-world conditions and approaches the task with impressive efficiency. “Industrial R&D, if done right, should be very results focused, aware of the tyranny of time,” says Robert Carnes, former R&D director for the research firm Battelle. “She can out-industry industry.”

“I like scientists, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, who’ve put an emphasis on public outreach. Our work isn’t just some esoteric results, but information that people can use to make informed decisions.” —JUSTIN CAPPOS

“There’s something completely new coming out every week in my feld. People come in, and they truly invent things— I love that aspect.” —ANDREA ARMANI


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PG 54 Traffic Pattern Self-driving cars replace humans on the highways. BY ADAM FISHER

PG 58 Peak Car The typical American drives less every year. BY JEFFERSON MOK

PG 64 Supercharged Electric vehicles (EVs) outperform gas-powered racers. BY E ZR A DYER

PG 67 Fuel Boom An explosion of charging stations allow EVs to travel far and wide. B Y K AT I E P E E K

PG 70 Why You Can’t Sell Me a Car Millennials become Detroit’s toughest customers. BY DAVE MOSHER

The automobile is in the midst of profound changes—and so is our relationship to it. These five inflection points are just the beginning.

AUGUS T 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 5 3


ROBOTS CAN ALREADY OUTDRIVE HUMANS.

OBJECT: Unguided Car SPEED: 10 mph VARIABLES: Not equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle communication. May stop abruptly or turn without signaling.

OBJECT: Tree SPEED: 0 mph VARIABLES: Known obstacle. Civic property. Avoid impact.

Self-driving cars build a map of their surroundings using lidar. This data is from the lidar of a vehicle driving past a Wal-Mart in Morgan Hill, California.

TRAFFIC BY ADAM

54 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3


OBJECT: Humans SPEED: 2 mph VARIABLES: Prone to crossing street outside of designated zones. Highly unpredictable. Fragile.

NOW EVERYONE NEEDS TO GET OUT OF THEIR WAY.

PATTERN FISHER

O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 5 5


According to Google, about a dozen self-driving cars are on the road at any given time. They’ve already logged more than 500,000 miles in beta tests.

or another vehicle swerves erratically into trafc. Automakers may then use this information to take the next step: program automated responses. Levandoswki’s commute is 45 miles long, and if Chaufeur were perfect, he might use the time napping in the backseat. In reality, Levandowski has to stay awake and behind the wheel, because when Chaufeur encounters a situation in which it’s slightly unsure of itself, it asks him to retake control. Following Google policy, Levandowski drives through residential roads and surface streets himself, while Chaufeur drives the freeways. Still, it’s a lot better than driving the whole way. Levandowski has his hands on the wheel for just 14 minutes of his hour-long commute: at the very beginning, at the very end, and during the tricky freeway interchanges on the San Mateo Bridge. The rest of the time, he can relax. “Automatic driving is a fundamentally diferent experience than driving myself,” he told automotive engineers attending the 2012 SAE International conference. “When I arrive at work, I’m ready. I’m just fresh.” Levandowski works at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. He’s the business lead of Google’s selfdriving-car project, an initiative that the company has been developing for the better part of a decade. Google has a small feet of driverless cars now plying public roads. They are test vehicles, but they are also simply doing their job: ferrying Google employees back and forth from work. Commuters in Silicon Valley report seeing one of the cars—easily identifable by a spinning turret mounted on the roof—an average of once an hour. Google itself reports that collectively the cars have driven more than 500,000 miles without crashing. At a ceremony at Google headquarters last year, where Governor Jerry Brown signed California’s self-driving-car bill into law, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said “you can count on one hand the number of years until ordinary people can experience this.” In other words, a self-driving car will be parked on a street near you by 2018. Yet releasing a car will require more than a website and a “click here to download” button. For Chaufeur to make it to your driveway, it will have to run a gauntlet: Chaufeur must navigate a path

R AMIN R AHIMIAN/THE NE W YORK TIMES/REDUX; OPENING PAGE: COURTESY VELODYNE

VERY MORNING, at about 8 a.m., Anthony Levandowski walks out of his house in Berkeley and folds his six-foot-six-inch frame into the driver’s seat of his white Lexus. Levandowski is embarking on his daily commute to work. It’s the most ordinary, familiar moment there is. Most of us perform this ritual fve times a week, 50 weeks out of the year. Levandowski’s commute, however, is decidedly diferent. He’s got a chauffeur, and it’s a robot. Levandowski backs out of his suburban driveway in the usual manner. By the time he points his car down the street, it has used its GPS and other sensors to determine its location in the world. On the dashboard, right in front of the windshield, is a low-profle heads-up display. manual, it reads, in sober sans serif font, white on black. But the moment Levandowski enters the freeway ramp near his house, a colorful graphic appears. It’s a schematic view of the road: two solid white vertical lines marking the boundaries of the highway and three dashed lines dividing it into four lanes. The message now reads go to autodrive lane; there are two on the far side of the freeway, shown in green on the schematic. Levandowski’s car and those around him are represented by little white squares.

The graphics are reminiscent of Pong. But the game play? Pure Frogger. There are two buttons on Levandowski’s steering wheel, off and on, and afer merging into an auto-drive lane, he hits on with his thumb. A dulcet female voice marks the moment by enunciating the words auto driving with textbook precision. And with that, Levandowski has handed of control of his vehicle to sofware named Google Chaufeur. He takes his feet of the pedals and puts his hands in his lap. The car’s computer is now driving him to work. Self-driving cars have been around in one form or another since the 1970s, but three DARPA Grand Challenges, in 2004, 2005, and 2007, jump-started the feld. Grand Challenge alumni now populate self-driving laboratories worldwide. It’s not just Google that’s developing the technology, but also most of the major car manufacturers: Audi, Volkswagen, Toyota, GM, Volvo, BMW, Nissan. Arguably the most important outcome of the DARPA feld trials was the development of a robust and reliable laser range fnder. It’s the all-seeing eye mounted on top of Levandowski’s car, and it’s used by virtually every other experimental self-driving system ever built. This year will mark another key milestone in self-driving technology. The National Highway Trafc Safety Administration (NHTSA) is widely expected to announce standards and mandates for car-borne beacons that will broadcast location information to other vehicles on the road. The beacons will warn drivers when a collision seems imminent—when the car ahead breaks hard, for example,


AUTONOMY

HOW A S ELF-DRI VI NG C A R S EES T H E WO R L D While various companies are developing self-driving-car technology, Google’s is the most advanced. Once a driver activates the autonomous mode, the vehicle’s drive-by-wire system transfers control of the brake, gas, and steering to an onboard computer. The vehicle’s roof-mounted lidar (or light detection and ranging) unit probes 360 degrees with 64 laser beams, taking more than a million measurements per second. This

ILLUSTR ATION BY GR AHAM MUR DO CH

through a skeptical Detroit, a litigious society, and a host of technical catch-22’s. RIGHT NOW, CHAUFFEUR is undergoing what’s known in Silicon Valley as a closed beta test. In the language particular to Google, the researchers are “dogfooding” the car—driving to work each morning in the same way that Levandowski does. It’s not so much a perk as it is a product test. Google needs to put the car in the hands of ordinary drivers in order to test the user experience. The company also wants to prove— in a statistical, actuarial sense—that the auto-drive function is safe: not perfect, not crash-proof, but safer than a com-

data forms a high-resolution map (accurate to about 11 cm) of the car’s surroundings. Prebuilt navigation maps indicate static infrastructure, such as telephone poles, crosswalks, and traffic lights, which enables software to quickly identify moving objects, like pedestrians and cyclists. These targets are clustered together and tracked so that algorithms can process the traffic situation and plot a path safely through it.

petent human driver. “We have a saying here at Google,” says Levandowski. “In God we trust—all others must bring data.” Currently, the data reveal that so-called release versions of Chaufeur will, on average, travel 36,000 miles before making a mistake severe enough to require driver intervention. A mistake doesn’t mean a crash—it just means that Chauffeur misinterprets what it sees. For example, it might mistake a parked truck for a small building or a mailbox for a child standing by the side of the road. It’s scary, but it’s not the same thing as an accident. The sofware also performs hundreds of diagnostic checks a second. Glitches occur about every 300 miles. This spring,

Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving-car project, told a government audience in Washington, D.C., that the vast majority of those are nothing to worry about. “We’ve set the bar incredibly low,” he says. For the errors worrisome enough to require human hands back on the wheel, Google’s crew of young testers have been trained in extreme driving techniques—including emergency braking, high-speed lane changes, and preventing and maneuvering through uncontrolled slides—just in case. The best way to execute that robotto-human hand-of remains an open question. How many seconds of warning should Chaufeur provide before giving O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 5 7


P EA K CAR

driven per person is still growing fast in China, but developed markets such as Australia, France, and Japan have also peaked and fallen. “The trend has been pretty dramatic,” says analyst Doug Short about the U.S. data. “But I think we are eventually going to see it level out.” —JEFFERSON MOK

10,000

1.0

Miles driven 8,000

0.8

Number of miles driven per person per year

Registered vehicles Driver’s licenses 6,000

4,000

2,000

0.6

The October 1973 oil embargo raised gas prices, and Americans drove fewer miles for the next year.

0 1970

1975

The energy crisis in 1979 caused a 55-month dip in miles driven.

1980

1985

The invasion of Kuwait caused gas prices to spike in 1990 and 1991.

1990

1995

The number of miles driven by Americans peaked in June 2005.

2000

2005

The 2008 economic downturn accelerated the decline.

2010

0.4

0.2

0.0 2015

Number of driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations per person (U.S.)

Since the country hit “peak car” in 2005, Americans are now driving the same number of miles they did 15 years ago. That’s the longest downward trend recorded. A weak economy, growing urban populations, rising fuel prices, and lower interest in cars among younger drivers have all contributed to the decline. Worldwide, the number of miles

The purple line shows the number of miles U.S. citizens drive each year divided by the total U.S. population. Adjusting by total population, instead of licensed drivers, accounts for trips made on behalf of nondrivers like children. The blue lines show total vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses, also divided by population.

back the controls? The driver would need a bit of time to gather situational awareness, to put down that cofee or phone, and refocus. “It could be 20 seconds; it could be 10 seconds,” suggests Levandowski. The actual number, he says, will be “based on user studies and facts, as opposed to, ‘We couldn’t get it working and therefore decided to put a onesecond [hand-of] time out there.’ ” So far, Chaufeur has a clean driving record. There has been only one reported accident that can conceivably be blamed on Google. A self-driving car near Google’s headquarters rear-ended another Prius with enough force to push it forward and impact another two cars, falling-dominoes style. The incident took place two years ago—the Stone Age, in the foreshortened timelines of sofware development—and, according to Google spokespeople, the 58 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3

car was not in self-driving mode at the time, so the accident wasn’t Chaufeur’s fault. It was due to ordinary human error. Human drivers get into an accident of one sort or another an average of once every 500,000 miles in the U.S. Accidents that cause injuries are even rarer, occurring about once every 1.3 million miles. And a fatality? Every 90 million miles. Considering that the Google self-driving program has already clocked half a million miles, the argument could be made that Google Chaufeur is already as safe as the average human driver. It’s not an argument Google makes to the public because Levandowski says the system hasn’t encountered enough challenging situations in its real-world commutes. “We can speculate; we have models, [but] we don’t actually know the value of the technology to society,” he says—“yet.”

GOOGLE HAS BEEN uncommonly secretive about its self-driving-car program. Though it began in 2009, the company frst announced the project in a blog post a year later. Detroit was not amused. The attack came from Chrysler, the smallest of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, in the form of a television commercial for the new Dodge Charger. In the ad, the Charger is traveling through a long gloomy tunnel, the camera tracking with it. A baritone voice speaks: “Handsfree driving, cars that park themselves, an unmanned car driven by a search-engine company.” The voice-over is monotone, lifeless, ominous. “We’ve seen that movie,” the voice intones. “It ends with robots harvesting our bodies for energy.” Google is still not saying much to reporters (including this one) about its plans, but since it was accused of being the bad guy in a real-life Matrix, the company has made a concerted efort to reach out to potential partners. Google lobbyists have made the rounds with legislators in Washington. Its engineers have made pilgrimages to Detroit and abroad. And its data experts have been talking with some of the big insurance companies. They’re making clear tracks in a big push. A year afer the Dodge commercial aired, Levandowski showed up in Detroit as the keynote speaker at the SAE’s annual shindig. He came to Motor City bearing an olive branch: the fruit of several years of intensive research for them to taste, even take for themselves. Google wants to make “available to the rest of the auto industry all of the building blocks that we ourselves use,” he said and then ticked of the goodies—“the Android operating system, search, voice, social, maps, navigation, even Chaufeur.” Instead of rebuilding a whole operating system from scratch, he said, automakers should focus on making the user experience their own. No one talks about the actual terms of the deal—negotiations with individual car companies were held behind closed doors—but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Google is proposing to give away the sofware. For the car companies, the real cost of implementing the technology would be in the specialized peripheral that Chauffeur needs to run: the lidar. The acronym stands for light detection and ranging, and it works on the same principle that radar and sonar do—but today’s most advanced

FA C I N G PA G E, F R O M L EF T: A _ J _ R I CH A R D S /I N S TA G R A M ; E L S AT R E V /I N S TA G R A M ; _ CV R LO _ /I N S TA G R A M ; T W FA R L E Y /I N S TA G R A M ; L AU R E N L F R A N Z /I N STAG R A M ; J B S H A N K L E /I N STAG R A M ; M Y R O B OT H A N D 2 0 0 0 /I N STAG R A M ; R A N D I TA L L M A N /I N STAG R A M

THE TYPICAL AMERICAN IS DRIVING LESS AND LESS EVERY YEAR


A U T O M AT I C D R I V I N G I S A F U N D A M E N TA L LY D I F F E R E N T E X P E R I E N C E T H A N D R I V I N G M Y S E L F. W H E N I A R R I V E AT W O R K , I ’ M R E A DY. lidar is much more accurate, generating up to 1.3 million voxels per second. (A voxel is like a pixel but represents a point in space instead of on a two-dimensional screen.) Group a million or so voxels together and you have a point-cloud: a 3-D model mapped at a 1:1 scale and accurate down to the centimeter. But at $75,000 to $85,000 each, Google’s lidar costs more than every other component in the self-driving car combined, including the car itself. A grizzled maverick of an engineer named David Hall designed the lidar that Google uses. His company, Velodyne, makes a unit that packs 64 lasers in a turret that typically rotates at 600 rpm, continuously strafng the landscape with 64 separate beams. “For the autonomous vehicle, I’m kind of the only thing that works,” Hall says. Industry scuttlebutt has it that Ford is giving Google the most serious consideration. Hall confrms that a major automaker recently summoned him to its headquarters to ask whether he could make a next-generation lidar—a ruggedized, standardized automotive component. The company wanted a design that it could hide (perhaps behind the windshield) that would wholesale for no more than $1,000, and it wanted a prototype immediately. If it liked what it saw, it promised to buy a thousand units—in four years’ time. Hall rebufed the ofer. “If you look at this from a venture capital point of view,” he says, “that’s just about the stupidest idea anyone’s ever come up with.” Hall is confdent that with enough time and resources, he could engineer a $1,000 lidar unit, but why bother? It would be many more years before a self-driving car is brought to market, prompting lidar orders in the hundreds of thousands. The return on the engineering investment might be negative for decades to come. It’s a catch-22, a classic chicken-andegg problem: Which will come frst, the $100-million lidar order from a car company? Or the $100-million lidar factory by Velodyne or another supplier? One

hundred million dollars is an arbitrary fgure. The point is that some company somewhere needs to make a massive investment. But who? Google, to its credit, shows no signs that it’s allowing Detroit to slow it down. Even afer returning from what must have been discouraging talks with manufacturers, it has not deviated from the script: Self-driving cars should be achievable in fve years. It takes more than fve years to engineer a new car from the ground up. If Detroit started designing self-driving cars now around components that actually exist, there’s no way the technology could get to the showroom by 2017. Google is not a car manufacturer. Nor does it intend to be one, Levandowski says. So what’s the plan? “I don’t think we need to wait 10 years for the next model or body style to come out to build the technology,” he told the SAE audience. “I’m looking forward to the afermarket seeding this and starting the adoption by customers.” In other words, Google thinks a new generation of bot-rodders may kick things of. Google won’t say anything more, but since there’s really only one place to turn for the all-important lidar, I ask David Hall what he thinks. Hall has considered releasing a bolt-on self-driving system; he’s even priced it out: $100,000. “It would be for people like my dad,” he says. “They’re not driving very well any more, and they could aford it.” However, without reinventing Chaufeur and the super-high-resolution Google maps that go with it, Hall doesn’t see the point. He imagines talking to potential customers. “What would you say,” he asks. “ ‘Almost as good as Google’s?’ ” THE OTHER FIGHT is the legal one. It too is flled with catch-22’s. Hall described a PowerPoint presentation containing the automaker’s analysis of self-drivingcar technology. “It was about 20 pages long,” he says, “and the last 10 pages were ‘What’s going to happen when we get sued?’ ” Detroit doesn’t want to start making self-driving cars without legal

C A R SH A R E

With dozens of Google’s self-driving cars plying California highways in a beta test, sightings have become common. So far, the reviews on Instagram are mixed.

8:26 p.m. 5/15/2013 There is no way I could ever fully trust this thing!!! #selfdriving #accidentwaitingtohappen

6:22 p.m. 4/22/2013 #google #selfdrivingcar #paloalto imagine a day with no car crashes, amazing!!!

7:44 p.m. 4/8/2013 The #future is here, and I’m tailgating it. #google #selfdriving

7:35 p.m. 5/16/2013 This scares me and excites me at the same time. #selfdrivingcar

10:56 p.m. 7/14/2013 I love living in the Bay Area! #technology #amazing #google #selfdrivingcar

4:44 p.m. 5/28/2013 The robots are taking over #google #selfdrivingcar #terminator #transformers

1:53 a.m. 7/11/2013 A #Google #SelfDrivingCar would never do anything as dangerous as take a picture of a Google SelfDriving Car

2:25 p.m. 7/17/2013 #Google this is a formal request to be a beta tester. I need it right now. #baycommuterproblems #selfdrivingcar

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DEGREES O F FREED O M

The Department of Transportation recently defined this range of vehicle automation.

Level 1: Function-Specific Automation This includes at least one standard safety feature, like electronic stability contol, available in cars today.

Level 2: Combined Function Automation A car integrates at least two primary control functions, as with Mercedes Distronic Plus with Steering Assist.

Level 3: Limited Self-Driving Automation Like the Google car, the vehicle drives under certain traffic conditions and occasionally hands back control.

Level 4: Full Self-Driving Automation This is basically KITT from the TV series Knight Rider. The driver isn’t expected to be in control at any time.

have an infnity sign). California, Florida, and, most recently, the District of Columbia have followed suit. “What’s going to happen, no matter what the law says, is people are going to get sued,” Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving-car project, allows. But that doesn’t mean the development of potentially lifesaving technology should be halted. “There wasn’t legal protection for the Wright brothers when they made that frst plane,” he says. “They made them, they went out there, and society eventually realized its value. ” THE OLDEST JOKE in the automotive world is the one about the loose nut between the gas pedal and the steering wheel. But 50 years afer Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed sparked a revolution in safety engineering, people are fnally starting to take the joke seriously. There’s one last hazard to engineer out of the modern car: human error, which according to NHTSA, is the “certain” cause of 81 percent of all car crashes. Cars kill roughly 32,000 people a year in the U.S., and in 2010, Levandowski’s life partner, Stefanie Olsen, was one of the 2.2 million per year injured. She was nine months pregnant at the time. “My son’s name is Alex, and Alex almost was never born,” says Levandowski. He credits the safety features engineered into the car—a Prius—for saving Alex’s life. But, he muses, “that crash should have never happened.” Technology, he says, should prevent oblivious drivers from causing harm. Self-driving-car boosters talk about a virtuous circle that starts when human hands leave the wheel. It’s not just safety that improves. Computer control enables cars to drive behind one another, so they travel as a virtual unit. Volvo has perfected a simple auto-drive system called platooning, in which its cars autonomously follow a professional driver. It uses technology that’s already built into every high-end Volvo sold today, plus a communications system. The vehicle-to-vehicle communications standard soon to be announced by NHSTA would, at least in theory, enable all makes and models to platoon. And lidar could eliminate even the need for a lead driver. A 2012 IEEE study estimates that widespread adoption of autonomous-driving technology could increase highway

FROM TOP: COURTESY GM; COURTESY MERCEDES; R AMIN R AHIMIAN/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX; EVERET T COLLECTION

clarity. And legal clarity will not arrive until self-driving cars test the law. Bryant Walker Smith, a civil engineer, lawyer, and Stanford Law School fellow, is the leading expert on how existing law would apply to self-driving cars. His booklength legal analysis has more than 650 footnotes, but the title sums up the situation: “Automated Vehicles Are Probably Legal in the United States.” Probably. In Smith’s analysis, the legal concept of “driver” goes back to an international agreement called the Geneva Convention on Road Trafc, ratifed by Congress in 1950. In those days, many of the world’s drivers still had reins and a whip instead of a wheel and pedals. They drove teams of horses, herds of goats, drifs of sheep. Animals, Smith argues, are autonomous. Thus, in the eyes of the law, an autonomous vehicle is arguably similar to a horsedrawn buggy. And under the Geneva Convention, a basic legal requirement for drivers—whether of animals or of cars—is the same. The driver must have control. Who has control of a driverless car? For the autonomous vehicle that now drives Levandowski to work, the answer (according to Smith) is logical: the person in the driver’s seat. The Google car doesn’t work without one, as Chaufeur needs to be able to hand back the reins with 10, 20, or maybe even 30 seconds’ notice. In Smith’s analysis, the person behind the wheel satisfes the legal requirement of control—but this theory hasn’t been tested in court. And even if self-driving cars do not violate an international treaty, myriad state laws imply that the driver must be human. New York’s vehicle code, for example, directs that “no person shall operate a motor vehicle without having at least one hand or, in the case of a physically handicapped person, at least one prosthetic device or aid on the steering mechanism at all times when the motor vehicle is in motion.” Computers don’t have hands. That is a problem. Some states, prodded by Google lobbyists and looking to get ahead of the curve, have made the cars explicitly legal. The doctrine assigns driver-hood to the person either in the driver’s seat or the one who activates the self-driving function. Nevada was the frst to adapt the principle into state law: Its DMV even designed special license plates for the vehicles (they


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Nissan, which recently opened a Silicon Valley research center, introduced a self-driving concept car that can park itself and return to pick up the driver. The company hopes to get a fully autonomous vehicle on the road by 2020.

capacity fvefold, simply by packing trafc closer together. Peter Stone, an artifcialintelligence expert at the University of Texas at Austin, thinks that intersecting streams of automated trafc will essentially fow through one another, controlled by a new piece of road infrastructure—the computerized intersection manager. Average trip times across a typical city would be dramatically reduced. “And once you have these capabilities,” says Stone, “all kinds of things become possible: dynamic lane reversals, micro-tolling to reduce congestion, autonomous-sofware agents negotiating the travel route with other agents on a moment-to-moment basis in order to optimize the entire network.” In our self-driving future, not only would trafc jams become a thing of the past, every stoplight would also be green. In Volvo’s real-world platooning tests, drafing resulted in average fuel savings of 10 to 15 percent—but that, too, is seen as the tip of the iceberg. Wayne Gerdes, the father of “hypermiling,” can nearly double the rated efciency of cars using fuel-sipping techniques that could be incorporated into auto-driving sofware. Efciency could double again as human error is squeezed out of the equation. Volvo’s goal is to eliminate fatalities in models manufactured afer 2020, and its newest cars already start driving themselves if they sense imminent danger, either by steering back onto the roadway or braking in anticipation of a crash. Over time, virtual bumpers could gradually replace the rubber-and-steel variety, and automakers could eliminate roll cages, re-

turning the consequent weight savings as even better mileage. The EPA has a new mileage mandate for car manufacturers: They must achieve a feet-wide average of 54.5 mpg by 2025; autonomous technology could help them get there faster. NHTSA defnes fve levels of autonomous-car tech, with level zero being nothing. Level one cars include standard safety features such as ABS brakes, electronic stability control, and adaptive cruise control (ACC). In level two, level-one features like lane centering and ACC tie together and the car begins to drive itself. Level three has the Google-style autopilot. And level four is the holy grail—the car that can drive you home when you’re drunk and then go fetch another six-pack. Already NHTSA has mandated level-one technologies in every new car. Several automakers have systems that approach level two on the test track, and Mercedes appears to be the frst to market. Mercedes ofers Distronic Plus with Steering Assist as an option on the 2014 S-class luxury sedans. GM anticipates its Super Cruise system will debut later this decade. Both use a combination of radar and computer vision to center the vehicle in the lane and maintain a safe distance from the car in front of it. But the real engineering challenge is making sure the driver stays alert. “All kinds of problems crop up in real-world testing,” says auto-drive consultant Brad Templeton, who worked with Google on its selfdriving-car project for two years. “People start doing all kinds of things they shouldn’t—digging around in the backseat,

IN OUR SELF-DRIVING FUTURE, N O T O N LY W O U L D T R A F F I C J A M S B E C O M E A T H I N G O F T H E PA S T, EVERY STOPLIGHT WOULD ALSO BE GREEN. 62 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3

for example. It freaks everybody out.” Level-two systems need constant human vigilance and oversight to guard against situations like a deer running into the road; the car must be able to hand back control with no warning. But the temptation for drivers is to simply zone out. So engineers have begun to design countermeasures. Mercedes, for example, requires two hands on the steering wheel at all times. “Everyone’s looking for ways to keep the driver engaged,” says Dan Flores, a spokesman for GM. “As the car gets more and more capable, we want the driver to maintain driving expertise.” Advocates like to say that there is no technical reason the new Mercedes needs hands on the wheel to steer through a turn. The problem is that even the best radar- and vision-based pedestrianavoidance systems fail to see the proverbial child running into the road 1 or 2 percent of the time. “Obviously, 99 percent just isn’t good enough; we need 99.99999,” says Templeton. “And what people don’t seem to realize is that the diference between those two numbers is huge. It’s not a one percent diference— it’s an orders of magnitude diference.” Google is betting that established car manufacturers, working with low-cost radar and camera components, will never adequately bridge that gap. It’s chosen a diferent technical path, one that uses lidar to leapfrog level two altogether. It believes its level-three system will make cars safe enough for people to daydream while they’re being driven to work. And it’s not stopping there. NHTSA’s former deputy director, Ron Medford, has just signed on as Google’s director of safety for the self-driving-car project. “Google’s main focus and vision,” says Medford, “is for a level-four vehicle.” Adam Fisher grew up in Silicon Valley and lives in the Bay area, where he writes about technology and travel.

FROM LEF T: COURTESY NIS SAN ; COURTESY SARTRE PROJECT

For the European Union’s SARTRE project, Volvo tested vehicle platooning, in which cars autonomously follow a lead vehicle in order to increase efficiency and ease congestion.


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UNIQUE INGREDIENTS Those unfamiliar with tire construction may think they are low-tech rubber hoops that simply hold air and go ‘round and ‘round. Goodyear is proving to drivers that tire science is more than skin deep (or tread deep). Among the recent breakthroughs from Goodyear is the patented TripleTred Technology in the Assurance TripleTred All-Season tires, featuring a rubber compound that contains volcanic sand, whose “grit” presents microscopic cavities that work as tiny traction edges for enhanced grip. Goodyear’s new Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure for SUVs and pickup trucks uses a layer made with DuPont Kevlar for a combination of toughness and comfort. Goodyear tires can use 60 raw materials or more to optimize performance.

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LEARN MORE AT GOODYEAR.COM * Based on internal testing: Assurance® Fuel Max®: 2,600 miles/4,000 kilometers based on a 4 fuel economy improvement, on 65,000 mile/105,000 kilometer Tread Life Limited Warranty, as compared to the standard Goodyear Assurance® tire tested on P195/65R15 size – 2008 Honda Civic. Actual results may vary based on when tires are replaced, driving and road conditions, and proper tire care maintenance.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHIP KALBACK

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SUPERCHARGED BY EZR A DYER

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ROD MILLEN FLIPS DOWN THE VISOR ON HIS HELMET, INCHES TOWARD THE FLAGMAN, AND SIGHTS DOWN THE STRIP OF TARMAC THAT LEADS TO THE STARTING LINE. The road ahead bends right—the frst of 156 turns over the next 12.42 miles—and climbs quickly out of sight. The fnish line is the 14,110-foot summit of Colorado’s Pikes Peak, an unforgiving mountain that’s tempted racecar drivers with both glory and disaster for the past 91 years. Millen has won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb nine times, and he set the course record in 1994. His son, Rhys, set another record last year, reaching the summit in a scorching 9 minutes and 46 seconds; Millen thinks he can beat it. He gets the green fag and rolls onto the throttle. For a splitsecond, Millen feels the rear tires struggle for traction, and then the 563-horsepower vehicle launches toward the frst corner, wailing like a one-car police pursuit. Its 120-decibel siren is the only clue that spectators will have of Millen’s approach, because this year his racecar, the Toyota TMG EV P002, is almost silent. For the frst time in his career, Rod Millen is racing up Pikes Peak in an electric car. The vehicles engineered to conquer races have historically been the fastest, most powerful, most advanced cars on any road. For decades, racecars served as laboratories where new technology would succeed or fail, and successes ofen fltered down to production models. But to maintain the suspense of a close competition, modern races, from the circle tracks of the South to the Formula One circuit in Shanghai, now enforce strict rules. And so rather than innovate, engineers have become preoccupied with exploiting tiny loopholes. As a result, today’s production cars are ofen more advanced than their racing counterparts. A Ferrari 458 Italia ofers a traction-control system that’s illegal in Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari Formula One car, and the Toyota Camry NASCAR racer thundering along the high bank of Daytona can’t use the overhead cams and variable valve timing found in every showroom model. No Porsche racer ever built can match the powertrain sophistication of the forthcoming 918 Spyder. Fortunately, there’s one competition where rules haven’t 66 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3

Toyota’s TMG EV P002 was the fastest electric car at Pikes Peak in 2012. This year, it returned with more power. Left: Race veteran Rod Millen piloted Toyota’s EV. “Right foot on the go pedal, left foot on the brake, no shifting, and no lag in power and torque. You can focus more on what you’re doing,” he says. “On the other hand, the whole car weighs a lot more than a gas car would.”


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THE ELECTRIC POWER MADE ME FEEL MORE AT ONE WITH THE CAR. IT’S JUST LINEAR POWER, LIKE A ROLLER COASTER ACCELER ATING . stifed innovation. At the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the speed lab is alive and well, and the most rapid developments are happening in the electric class. Advances in power management, torque vectoring, and even high-speed charging are tested on the mountain and improved upon each year. And, unlike most of the big-money forms of racing, some of what’s learned above the Colorado tree line could actually make its way into garages. Until a few years ago, the electric class was little more than a novelty; Joe Ball’s Sears electric car took more than half an hour to reach the summit in 1981. But now electrics are legitimate threats to the racecars in the unlimited class, which has no restrictions other than safety. In 2012, Toyota’s electric car clocked the fastest overall time on the top section of the mountain, refecting its twin motors’ advantage at high altitude, where the internal-combustion cars lose about 30 percent of their power to the thin air. Most agree that it’s only a matter of time before Pikes Peak is ruled by electricity rather than gasoline. This year, Mitsubishi felded two 536-horsepower, all-wheeldrive MiEV Evolution II cars. Stunt driver and professional racer Greg Tracy piloted one of them to qualifying times that extrapolated to a top-three fnish—not just in the electric class,

FUEL BO OM

but overall. “The electric power made me feel more at one with the car,” says Tracy. “With a gas car, you’re always shifing gears and thinking about the power band. With this, it’s just linear power, like a rollercoaster accelerating. Once you remove those extra stimuli, it allows you to concentrate on getting through that corner as fast as you can. And the ability to have as much power on the last turn as you do on the frst is mind-boggling.” The MiEV’s other advantages include instant four-wheel torque vectoring and regenerative braking—which, in race conditions, means that the electric motors can act as a second set of brakes to help keep the conventional pads and rotors from overheating. “I had to adjust to the car’s capabilities,” Tracy says. “Every practice run, I got faster.” Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evo production car is famous for its torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, which endows the sedan with physics-defying agility. In gas-powered cars, such systems are purely mechanical, but Mitsubishi’s electric racers promise even quicker reactions by varying the speeds of each wheel’s individual motor. But electric racers still face one daunting handicap: weight. Batteries now have the capacity to send cars to the summit, but because they can’t match the energy density of gasoline,

NEW U.S. CHARGING STATIONS MEAN ELECTRIC CARS CAN TRAVEL More than half of the nation’s 8,051 electric-vehicle charging stations have opened since 2012. Here, each hexagon represents the number of stations in that area. Blue hexagons—mostly outside major cities— indicate those built in 2012 and 2013. Orange hues show older and newer stations. —K ATIE PEEK

New stations: 1–2 3–49 50–218 New and old stations: Total number of U.S. stations over time 8,000

4,000

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cars need a larger pack. “Battery weight is the most important problem that electric vehicles face in the future,” says Naonobu Tajima, chief engineer for the Monster Sport E-Runner felded by Team APEV. “Our racecar weighs in at 140 to 150 percent of the weight of the unlimitedclass race cars. With 156 corners, corner speed and agility is crucial, so weight reduction plays a great part in competition.” It also remains a central challenge for production models: Decreasing the weight of electric vehicles would increase their range signifcantly.

A

few weeks before the race in June, Toyota agrees to let me drive its one and only electric racecar at Toyota Racing Development (TRD) facility in Salisbury, North Carolina. “Normally, race programs are secretive,” says Steve Wickham, TRD’s vice president of chassis development. “But we can show you this because at Pikes Peak there are no rules”—and thus no rule-bending secrets. Wickham’s résumé includes high-profle series such as Formula One and NASCAR, and he seems like the kind of guy who is generally compelled to wring more speed out of whatever wheeled object he encounters. His kids have the fastest electric Razor dirt bikes in the neighborhood since Dad upgraded them to 48 volts from the factory 36. He sees no reason why the EV P002 shouldn’t be the fastest electric car up the mountain. Based on a Radical SR8 chassis, Toyota’s electric car weighs 2,500 pounds and will produce about 563 horsepower and 900 lb-f of torque on the day of the race. Until then, Millen will practice with about 15 percent less power because that

FROM TOP: Brake-cooling ducts highlight one of the challenges of Pikes Peak—keeping brakes from overheating in the thin air. Engineers monitor diagnostic data such as battery temperature and brake pressure. An electric motor at each rear wheel provides nearly 600 hp and 900 lb-ft of torque in full race mode; they can also act as brakes. Via the steering wheel, a driver can choose different torque and traction maps to suit road conditions.

IN 12 MONTHS, THESE ELECTRIC CARS HAVE SLICED ANOTHER MINUTE OFF THEIR RECORD. WHAT WILL THE TIMES BE LIKE IN FIVE YE ARS? full-throttle run will cook the motors in the process. Even with perhaps 500 horsepower available, the EV P002 has a powerto-weight ratio at the crazy, Bugatti Veyron end of the spectrum. And a Veyron doesn’t ofer maximum torque at zero rpm, one of the most noticeable performance benefts of electric motors. As I putter over to an access road on TRD property, Wickham reminds me of my unique opportunity to derail the entire Toyota Pikes Peak efort. “We have one set of wings, so don’t hit those on anything,” he says. “And the brakes are carbon, so they won’t really work because they’re not hot. Be careful—it’s only priceless.” It’s actually a couple of million dollars in development and parts. Still, no pressure. I line up at one end of the road, sight the cul de sac at the far side, and squeeze down the throttle. What follows is extreme cognitive dissonance. The shove in the back and the sensation of 68 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3

warping from one place to another is accompanied by only a highpitched whirr from the motors, along with wind noise and the sound of road grit spiking of the underside of the fenders. I’ve probably experienced this type of acceleration before, but any other car with thrust like this would be wailing out a mechanical cacophony of intake gurgle, exhaust boom, and turbocharger whine. In the EV P002, one moment you’re sitting still and the next you’d better hit the brakes because you’re running out of road. Tracy says that electric racecars are initially disconcerting because the brain is expecting aural cues that just aren’t there. I know what he means. It’s like miniaturizing myself and strapping into the slot car I raced as a kid. I take a few progressively faster runs before returning Wickham’s car while it’s still in one piece. If this is a taste of the electric future, then it is bright indeed.


HYBRID RACER

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HYDR OGEN HITS THE TRACK In May, Aston Martin’s Rapide S completed the 24 Hours of Nurburgring endurance race while earning an unusual distinction: For more than 11 laps—about 182 miles— it didn’t burn a drop of gas. Instead, it consumed 59 pounds of hydrogen, becoming the first hydrogen-powered car to compete in an event sanctioned by the FIA (FĂŠdĂŠration Internationale de l’Automobile). “It would’ve been easy to build a road car, run it on hydrogen, and say we’ve done it,â€? says Dave King, Aston Martin’s head of motorsport. “But we wanted to push the boundaries and run at least a full lap at a time at race speeds.â€? The company found that, in terms of cost, packaging, and range, hydrogen could effectively substitute for batteries in hybrid cars, enabling useful emissions-free range before fossil fuels kick in. “I think it’s a very feasible alternative for the future,â€? says King.

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Hydrogen’s power density is about 30 to 40 percent less than that of gasoline, so the Rapide became the first car to get a turbocharged version of Aston’s 5.9-liter V12 engine í˘ą, bumping output to around 500 horsepower in hydrogen mode. Race rules limit cars to 550 horsepower in the

ace day at Pikes Peak started out sunny and clear. The gas-powered cars in the unlimited class surge up the mountain frst, and World Rally champion SĂŠbastien Loeb makes it to the summit in a 875-horsepower Peugeot in 8 minutes and 13 seconds—a new record. But the weather has shifed by the time the electric vehicles line up. There are reports of sleet high up on the mountain. With a mix of dry and wet pavement, the electric teams aren’t even sure which tires to use. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve raced on Pikes Peak and it’s been beautiful during practice and then diferent on race day,â€? Millen says. While his practice times extrapolate to a midnine-minute run, his race time is about 45 seconds slower. “We were only a few seconds of the quickest time, but Mother Nature dumped on us,â€? Millen says. “We got rained on; the unlimited guys didn’t. It’s a crapshoot.â€? Tracy, in the all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi, fnishes less than a second ahead of Millen. They come in third and fourth place among the electrics, respectively. Tracy is impressed by the times, given the circumstances. “You take one of the most dangerous races in the world and make it wet,â€? he says. “To pull up to the line in those conditions and run 10:23 is unbelievable.â€? Using hand-grooved slick tires on the Monster Sport E-Runner, Nobuhiro Tajima (Naonobu’s brother) wins the electric class with a time of 9:46, the frst sub-10-minute run of the electric era. Though frustrating, the weather didn’t dampen optimism that

R COURTESY ASTON MARTIN

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experimental class, so in gasoline mode the horsepower was artificially restricted to meet regulations. The Rapide carries four carbon-fiber tanks í˘˛ that hold 7.7 pounds of hydrogen. Two of the tanks are mounted where the passenger seat would

be; trunk tanks with double the pressure should suffice in a production vehicle. Running at lower pressure allowed the team to quickly refuel under race conditions, so fill-ups took only 40 seconds. Alset Global built the car’s hydrogen

system and created the Alset Engine Operating Software í˘ł to manage the V12 engine’s transition between hydrogen and gasoline— which happened automatically and at race speed. “You’d feel a slight surge, but it was pretty seamless,â€? King says.

technological progress in the electric class would soon eclipse that of the unlimited. “In 12 months, these electric cars have sliced another minute of their record,� Millen says. “What will the times be like in the next fve years? I predict this is going to get pretty damn interesting.� Naonobu Tajima thinks an electric car will dominate Pikes Peak in just three years. That milestone has already been passed in the motorcycle class, where this year a Lightning Electric SuperBike fnished 21 seconds ahead of the second-place Ducati Multistrada—the fastest of the gas bikes. In the meantime, electric racecars have already proved that ecofriendly vehicles can be capable of brutal, old-fashioned speed. “Most people have no clue when they see a Leaf that there is this potential for performance,� Tracy says. The teams are poised to overcome other hurdles to widespread adoption too. For example, Toyota fgured out how to charge the EV P002’s battery—at 42kWh, nearly 10 times larger than a Prius Plug-in’s—in just an hour and a half. “The car morphed from a test bed for powertrains to a test bed for high-speed charging strategies,� Wickham says. Though internal-combustion vehicles enjoyed a century-long technological head start, electric cars now loom ever larger in their rearview mirrors, both on and of the mountain. “Can you imagine if we took half the weight out of our car with new battery technology?� Wickham asks. “It would be unbeatable.� Ezra Dyer has won multiple International Automotive Media awards for his coverage of car technology. O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 6 9


WHEN I WAS A KID, my father’s Kettering, Ohio, auto shop was ofen my daycare center. Grease-stained mechanics wielding hefy tools the size of my arm knelt down and explained their work. Some showed me how to perform an oil change and diagnose a leaky head gasket, others how to align a timing belt and replace a busted windshield. Years later, as a Boy Scout, I earned my Automotive Maintenance merit badge with ease. I should be someone passionate about cars and their storied place in this country’s culture. A wrencher who dreams of red Mustangs and racing stripes. The guy who strolls onto a lot and names a make, model, and price before a salesman can utter a single slippery word. I can fake any of these things, but I won’t: Automobile manufacturers do not make cars I’d buy. Not one. And I’m not alone. My generation—the millennials—numbers some 90 million teens and 20- and early-30-somethings. This makes us the largest demographic cohort alive today— and the auto industry’s biggest headache. We’re supposed to be driving more as we age, yet young people drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than in 2001. Only two thirds of 16- to 24-year-olds in 2011 even possessed a driver’s license (the lowest rate since 1963). Meanwhile, nearly a third of us prefer to live in cities, where we can abandon cars for trains, buses, cabs, bikes, and our own legs. Don’t get me wrong; I savor the freedom of cars and happily borrow the one my wife bought before we married. A

Cars are versatile enough to drive to the grocery store one day and across a continent the next. You can toss camping gear in the trunk, blast your favorite music, roll down the windows, and put a dog in the backseat (and roll down its window too). No other mode of transportation permits the same degree of speed, comfort, and fexibility. Yet I recoil from the idea of buying one. Cars equal liability. Accidents are practically inevitable, no matter how well you drive. They cost more and more to own and maintain, and (electric or not) they defle the environment. And good luck parking one anywhere without it getting ticketed or towed. So what would it take you, the automakers, to sell me, a punk kid of the “expectant” generation, a car?

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Millennials are the largest demographic alive today—and the auto industry’s biggest headache. One, lose the driver’s seat. Or at least make it optional. Cars should drive themselves. I’d rather sit in the back with some toddlers watching Finding Nemo for the 100th time or take a nap with the dog. You don’t want me driving anyway. About 34,000 people in the United States died in car crashes last year. Some of these incidents are inarguably related to the 39 percent of teens who text while

B

C

driving, even when they know that it’s not only against the law, but also remarkably dangerous. Instead, put robots in charge. Machines can’t be distracted by text messages, music, or spilled soda. Plus, they’re faster than human brains at computing the mundane information required to safely operate a vehicle. We’ve already seen the rollout of self-parking, lane-keeping, automatic-braking, and cyclist-collision-avoidance systems—it’s time to give autonomy a try. If a small team of researchers at Oxford University thinks it can produce such a system costing $150, you’re not trying hard enough. (By the way, please make sure your cars park themselves only in legal spots.) Two, don’t make me wreck the planet. I know that the metal, plastic, fuel, and other materials that make up a car originate from somewhere, typically with signifcant long-term costs to the environment. Even electric vehicles aren’t there yet; the mining and toxicity of elements in their batteries are dubious at best. You can improve. Push your research teams harder to develop more ecologically and morally responsible alternatives. Look to advanced materials to invent cells that charge quickly like capacitors yet dissipate energy in a controlled manner so that they don’t heat up or explode. If that seems crazy in the short term, follow Tesla’s lead and build a dedicated, closed-loop battery recycling program. Three, once the battery problems are solved for good—and I have no doubt

D

E

8.91 percent

One out of two 47 percent

$2,699

Zero

Drop in miles driven from 2005 to 2012 (adjusted for U.S. population growth)

Millennials who prefer to live in walkable neighborhoods

Average annual insurance premium in Louisiana—the highest in the nation

Accidents caused by Google’s self-driving car system after more than 500,000 miles on the road

70 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOB ER 2 0 1 3

Growth in U.S. bicycle commuting between 2000 and 2011

AIR DANCER : PHOTOGR APH BY CHRIS HAKE; BACKGROUND: JACK FL ASH/GET T Y IMAGES

WHY YOU CAN’T SELL ME A CAR A MILLENNIAL’S MESSAGE TO AUTOMAKERS BY DAVE MOSHER


M I L L E N N I A L’ S M A N I F E S T O

F

ABOUT THE AUTHOR DAVE MOSHER IS THE PROJECT S EDITOR AT POPULAR SCIENCE. HIS LAST CAR WAS A 1991 ISUZU RODEO.

that they will be—recharging an electric vehicle needs to be just as speedy and safe as pumping gas. The real challenge, then, is building a robust power grid that can withstand the escalating and enormous demand placed upon it. You carmakers have unbelievable pull with lawmakers; afer all, you got them to build and maintain a national highway system for you. The ability to feed power to thousands of rapid charging stations should be well within your spheres of infuence. Four, lobby the government to feed that grid with as much electricity from renewable and environmentally friendly sources as possible: solar, wind, hydroelectric, and more. You can’t sell me an electric car that runs on energy wrought primarily from fossil fuels and fusty nuclear technologies. I’m smarter than that. Finally, make cars afordable. While older drivers registered more new vehicles between 2007 and 2011, our generation registered 30 percent fewer. That’s probably because our generation continues working harder and harder for the man for little, if any, increase in pay. We can’t even aford gasoline. The fuel cost about a buck a gallon when I started driving; these days, it can be priced four times that. Cheap, gasoline-free cars should be possible. Nissan—which recently let me test-drive its all-electric 2013 LEAF in New York City—shaved thousands of dollars of the car’s price tag compared with last year’s model. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. We have seen our parents’ comfortable retirements evaporate, Wall Street fail, and Detroit go bankrupt. So we’ll cling to our clunkers or not drive at all until you’re willing to work with our extremely slim budgets. So there, automakers. You don’t need to hire “generational experts” or spend millions on advertisements of cars that we don’t want. Just listen to us, your customers. We’ll be with you for a long time. That is, as long as you create afordable, environmentally redeeming vehicles that can safely drive us—and our consciences—of the lot. F

8,035 lbs

Average per-car annual carbon dioxide emissions of electric and hybrid vehicles in the U.S.

O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 7 1


SPECIAL ADVERTISEMENT FEATURE

2013

UNITED STATES

DISTRIBUTION NOTICE: SSB1909

RESIDENTS CASH IN: Pictured above are the Overstuffed Money Bags containing 10 individual Vault Bags full of money that everyone is trying to get. That’s because each Vault Bag is known to contain over 100 U.S. Gov’t issued coins some dating back to the early 1900s.

State zip codes determine who gets free Silver coins Vault bags loaded with U.S. Gov’t issued coins are up for grabs as thousands of U.S. residents stand to miss the deadline to claim the money; now any U.S. resident who finds their zip code listed below gets to claim the bags of money for themselves and keep any valuable coins found inside by covering the Vault Bag fee within the next 7 days The phone lines are ringing off the FREE: RED BOOK COLLECTOR How to claim the bags of U.S. Gov’t issued coins: Read the important hook. That’s because for the next 7 days Vault Bags containing valuable U.S. Gov’t issued coins are actually being handed over to U.S. residents who find their zip code listed in today’s publication. “Now that the bags of money are up for grabs U.S. residents are claiming as many as they can get before they’re all gone. That’s because after the Vault Bags were loaded with over 100 U.S. Gov’t issued coins the bags were sealed for good. But we do know that some of the coins date clear back to the early 1900s, including: a 90% pure Silver Walking Liberty Half Dollar, an Eisenhower Dollar, some of the last ever minted U.S. Dollars, Kennedy Half Dollars, Silver Mercury Dimes, rarely seen Liberty ‘V’ Nickels, nearly 100 year old Buffalo Nickels and unsearched currently circulating U.S. Gov’t issued nickels, dimes and quarter dollars, but there’s no telling what you’ll find until you sort through all the coins.” said Timothy J. Shissler, Chief Numismatist for the private World Reserve. The only thing residents need to do is call the National Claim Hotline before the 7-day order deadline ends. Everyone who does is being given the 90% pure Silver Walking Liberty coin for free just by covering the fee for each Vault Bag loaded with over 100 U.S. Gov’t issued coins for only $99 as long as they call before the deadline ends. So, if lines are busy keep trying, all calls will be answered. ■

information below. Then call the National Claim Hotline at: 1-866-646-2717 I keep calling and can’t get through: This announcement is being so widely advertised because each Vault Bag is guaranteed to contain a free Silver Walking Liberty coin and just that one coin alone could be worth $15 to $325 in collector value. So thousands of residents are calling to claim as many Vault Bags as they can get before they’re all gone. In fact, since the Vault Bag fee is just $ 99 everyone is claiming as many bags as they can before the deadline ends. So if lines are busy keep trying, all calls will be answered. How much are the Vault Bags worth: Coin values always fluctuate and there are never any guarantees, but here’s why U.S. residents are claiming as many Vault Bags as they can get before they’re all gone. After the Vault bags were loaded with over 100 U.S. Gov’t issued coins including: Silver, scarce, highly collectible, and a big scoop of unsearched currently circulating U.S. Gov’t issued coins the bags were sealed for good. But we do know that some of the coins date back to the 1900s. That means there’s no telling what you’ll find until you sort through all the coins. So you better believe at just $99 the Vault Bag fee is a real steal since the free Silver Walking Liberty coin alone could be worth from $15 to $325 in collector value. Are the Silver Walking Liberty coins really Free: Yes. U.S. residents who beat the 7-day deadline are getting a Silver Walking Liberty coin minted between 19161947 free with each Vault Bag they claim. Why is the Vault Bag fee so low: Because thousands of U.S. residents have missed the deadline to claim the money the World Reserve has re-allocated Vault Bags that will be scheduled to be sent out in the next 7 days. That means the money is up for grabs and now any resident who finds the first two digits of their zip code on the Distribution List below gets to claim the bags of money for themselves and keep all the U.S. Gov’t issued coins found inside. Each Vault Bag fee is set at $149 for residents who miss the 7-day deadline, but for those who beat the 7-day deadline the Vault Bag fee is just $ 99 for as long as they call the National Claim Hotline before the deadline ends at: 1-866-646-2717.

VALUE $15 to $325

VALUABLE: 90% PURE SILVER

ENLARGED TO SHOW DETAIL. YEAR VARIES 1916-1947

STATE ZIP CODE DISTRIBUTION LIST Alabama 35, 36

Arizona 85, 86

Delaware 19 Florida* 32, 33, 34 Georgia 30, 31, 39

Arkansas 71, 72

Hawaii 96

California N/A Colorado 80, 81

Idaho 83 Illinois 60, 61, 62

Connecticut 06

Indiana 46, 47

Alaska 99

Iowa 50, 51, 52

Massachusetts 01, 02, 05

Nevada 88, 89

North Dakota 58

Kansas 66, 67

Michigan 48, 49

New Hampshire 03

Ohio* 41, 43, 44, 45

Kentucky 40, 41, 42 Louisiana 70, 71 Maine 03, 04 Maryland 20, 21

Minnesota 55, 56 Mississippi 38, 39 Missouri 63, 64, 65

New Jersey 07, 08 New Mexico 87, 88

Oklahoma 73, 74

Virginia South Carolina 29 20, 22, 23, 24 South Dakota 57

Washington 98, 99

Tennessee 37, 38

West Virginia 24, 25, 26

Oregon 97

Texas 75, 76, 77 78, 79, 88

Montana 59

New York 00, 10, 11, 12 13, 14

Pennsylvania 15, 16, 17, 18, 19

Utah 84

Nebraska 68, 69

North Carolina 27, 28

Rhode Island 02

Vermont 05

Wisconsin 53, 54 Wyoming 82, 83 Washington DC 20 P6469A OF17387R-1

■ LOADED WITH OVER 100 COINS

THE WORLD RESERVE MONETARY EXCHANGE, INC. IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE U.S. MINT, U.S. GOV’T, A BANK OR ANY GOV’T AGENCY. IF FOR ANY REASON WITHIN 10 DAYS (OR 30 DAYS FOR NV RESIDENTS) OF RECEIVING YOUR PRODUCT YOU ARE DISSATISFIED WITH YOUR PURCHASE, RETURN THE ENTIRE PRODUCT FOR A REFUND LESS SHIPPING AND RETURN POSTAGE. NO RETURNS IF SEAL IS BROKEN. INSURED MAIL IS STRONGLY RECOMMENDED. THE WORLD RESERVE IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR LOST RETURN SHIPMENTS. OH & FL ADD 6% SALES TAX.* 8000 FREEDOM AVE., N. CANTON OH 44720

SSB1909


Build a mini concrete canoe

HOW 2.0

POPSCI.COM

PLUS:

Hack an old camera into a photosynthesis detector PAGE 80

OCTOBER

2013

PAGE 78

H20@POPSCI.COM

WIRED UP To power and command his Nautilus submarine, Justin Beckerman scraped together three large 12-volt batteries and threaded 2,000 feet of wire through the vessel’s hull.

@POPSCI

WAR NING We review all our projects before publishing them, but ultimately your safety is your responsibility. Always wear protective gear, take proper safety precautions, and follow all laws and regulations.

EDITED BY DAVE MOSHER

YOU BUILT WHAT?!

Drainpipe Submarine An underwater vehicle that can dive 30 feet TIME 5 months COST $2,350

STOR Y BY GREGORY MONE PHOTOGR APHS BY M AT THE W S AL ACUSE

J

ustin Beckerman was walking to high school with some friends when one of them spied an abandoned soda fountain in a parking lot. “Dude, you should go and get that,” his buddy said. He knew Beckerman was collecting parts to build a one-man submersible, with the hope of piloting around New Jersey’s four-square-mile Lake Hopatcong. After school, Beckerman dismantled the soda fountain, harvested several pieces from the machine, including a compressed-air regulator, and rushed home to get to work.

The 18-year-old’s love of building took off at age two, when his dad started taking him to a junkyard to hunt for old computers, printers, and motors. The junkyard manager got to know Beckerman and his dad and saved his best components for them. Friends, family, and even random strangers helped by dropping off parts at their house. Over the years, Beckerman learned to transform these scraps into miniature hovercrafts, imitation Mars rovers, a wind turbine, and other complex machines. Instead of trying to perfect something the first time, he constructs multiple versions. “I learn from my experiments,” he says. Nautilus, as Beckerman calls it, isn’t his first manned submarine. Version 1.0 felt too cramped, and he wanted to add room and range—to that end, he convinced his parents to buy an eight-foot-long, two-foot-wide section of a

O CTO BER 2013 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 7 3


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H2 corrugated plastic drainage pipe. “I could cut it, glue it, and screw it and not have to worry about welding,” he says. Beckerman wanted to sit upright in the sub, with outstretched legs, and peer through a dome. So after sawing the pipe to size, he cut a porthole on top, added a skylight of ¼-inch-thick acrylic, and waterproofed the seams with marine epoxy. Four 10-gallon plastic water containers serve as ballast tanks, which take in or expel water to lower and raise the sub. He connected a 1.5-gallon air compressor to the soda machine’s regulator and used a four-way splitter to feed air to each of the tanks. Using solenoid valves, he can activate the compressor, pump air into the tanks to expel water, and rise from the depths. Meanwhile, a trolling motor attached to the stern propels the sub. Before plunging Nautilus into the lake for the first time, Beckerman tested its controls in his basement. “I was pushing its limits before I got it into the water,” he says. The compressor became so hot it melted some wires, so he added a fan and switched to more resilient high-gauge wire. Once in the lake, the sub wouldn’t submerge—the ballast tanks didn’t add enough weight. (As a temporary measure, his little brothers stood on top to force it under.) Beckerman upgraded the valves, added dumbbells and sandbags, and, with his parents watching closely, submerged on his own. “Once I went down, all the systems got quiet,” he recalls. “It was really strange.” After making a few improvements, Beckerman packed a small snack, piloted the sub to a deeper section of the lake, descended seven feet, and remained there for 30 minutes. A radio antenna running up to a float allowed him to communicate with his parents. Everything went well until the very end, when he reported there was a problem. “What is it?” his concerned father asked. Beckerman replied, “I’m out of Oreos.” C O N T I N U E D O N PA G E 7 7

74 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE


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EASY-TO-INSTALL 57 SERIES INTAKE SYSTEMS

HOW IT WORKS

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SAFETY AND COMMUNICATION A 30-foot-long umbilical of hoses and cables connects the sub to an emergency float. Beckerman can dive no deeper, as the Nautilus can’t pull the float’s buoyant Styrofoam down with it. Computer fans circulate fresh air through the sub via the hoses. The cables, meanwhile, lead to an antenna that allows Beckerman to chat with his parents by radio and wireless video.

4

AIR A compressor stuffed into the back of the sub pumps the ballast tanks full of air. If the fans that circulate air from the surface fail, Beckerman can also use the compressor as a makeshift snorkel.

Guaranteed to Increase Horsepower Washable and Never Needs Replacing Easy to Install in Just 90 Minutes

5 CONTROLS Three voltmeter readouts [red numbers] keep tabs on the sub’s electrical systems. Beckerman can also see the lake bed on an old DVD-player screen, which is connected to a tiny video camera on the vessel’s bow.

2 DEPTH Four plastic water containers and an air compressor make up the ballast system, which controls the submarine’s depth. The sub still wasn’t heavy enough to sink, so Beckerman added 13 sandbags and 250 pounds of weights too.

6 NAVIGATION A magnetic compass assists with basic navigation, and a sonar-powered fish finder helps the pilot determine how close the vessel is to the bottom.

3 ILLUMINATION Five different clusters of super-bright LEDs, including this cluster of four lights on the stern of the sub, help illuminate the lake’s murky waters on deeper dives.

7 STEERING Two custom-made fins, linked to a control rod repurposed from the steering mechanism of an old JetSki, help the pilot guide the craft up or down.

Look up the estimated extra horsepower available for your truck at KNFILTERS.COM/PS

800-437-1304 Ext. 2051 OC TOB ER 2 0 13 / P OPUL AR SCIENCE / 77

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H2

WARNING: Wear proper safety gear, including gloves, a facemask, and protective glasses. Cement is an irritant, hot plastic can scald skin, and utility knives are sharp—be careful!

HOW 2.0 / BUILD IT STORY BY ERIN BRODWIN

ILLUSTR ATION BY SON OF AL AN TIME 1 hour to make, 3 weeks to cure COST About $50 DIFFICULTY ▯▯●●●

Concrete Canoe

Rock the boat using the physics of buoyancy

T

he Greek polymath Archimedes is said to have solved the mystery of buoyancy in a bathtub. Even if the story is apocryphal, his principle isn’t: If an object weighs less than the water it displaces, it won’t sink. Even concrete can float. Materials scientist Joseph-Louis Lambot built a concrete dinghy featured in the 1855 World’s Fair. And to conserve steel during World War II, the U.S. made 24 concrete ships. Today, college teams race custom boats at an annual concrete canoe competition. A team from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for example, used concrete mixed with tiny air-filled glass spheres to build a 20-foot-long vessel that supports a four-member crew. But you don’t have to be an engineer to build a stony ship. The Madison-based team and one from the University of California, Berkeley, helped devise this mini-boat project for POPULAR SCIENCE. All that’s required is a trip to a home-supply store and a safe place to set sail—just in case your craftsmanship stinks, er, sinks. M AT E R I A L S 1. 10-lb. bag Portland type 1 cement 2. 20-lb. bag sand

WHAT’S IN CONCRETE?

3. ½ gallon water 4. Wheelbarrow (or large sturdy container) 5. Two feet of 3-inch-wide-by-1.65-inch-thick

41%

INSTR U CTIONS:

A

DRAW: Lay the largest face of the polystyrene foam on a flat surface. Draw an oblong egg shape on the foam—this will become the inner mold of your canoe.

D

GLUE: Saw the plywood to fit the mold. Next, smear polyurethane glue on the sculpted foam’s flat side and put it facedown on the plywood. Press until dry, about two minutes. Coat exposed plywood with silicone spray.

B

SCULPT: Cut the shape out of the foam with a utility knife. Then round off one side of the foam by shaving away about ⅛ of an inch at a time from the edges. Sand until smooth.

E

C

WRAP: Surround the mold with two layers of plastic wrap. Heat-shrink the plastic so that it clings tightly to the foam using a blow-dryer.

POUR: Mix the cement and sand in the wheelbarrow. Stir well, add the water, and mix until uniform. Slowly pour the concrete over the mold, stopping when you reach your desired thickness (¼-inch max). Let it dry for 21 days, and then sand until smooth.

F

FLOAT: Your concrete canoe should displace more than its own mass in water. Set sail and make Archimedes proud.

Gravel

polystyrene foam insulation 6. Utility knife 7. Sandpaper 8. Plastic wrap

26%

Sand

16%

Water

11%

Cement

6%

Air

9. Blow-dryer 10. One 3-foot-long-by-5-inch-wide sheet of ¼-inch-thick plywood 11. Nonstick silicone spray 12. Polyurethane glue

78 / P OPU L A R SC I E NC E / OC TOBER 2 0 1 3


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SToR Y bY S ar ah Jacoby

Veggie Vision

Hack a digital camera into a photosynthesis detector

M

embers of Public Lab, an online civic science community, wanted to build an inexpensive tool to measure plant health. Their solution: convert an obsolete camera into a photosynthesis detector, called the Infragram. During photosynthesis, leaves soak up blue and red light but refect invisible near-infrared light. The Infragram blocks red light and—because it’s missing a thin glass flter common to digital cameras—can detect near-infrared light. This way, the camera sees only blue, green, and nearinfrared [top image], and Infragram.org can convert the photos into colored maps of photosynthesis [bottom image]. If a farmer attached the Infragram to a drone, for example, he could get a read on his feld’s health after a short fight. You don’t need to buy a camera to see plants like Superman. Grab an old point-and-shoot—preferably one with custom white balance—and follow these instructions.

INstructIoNs 1. Remove the camera’s batteries, memory card, and any screws holding the outer casing together. The rear panel should pry of with little efort.

2. Push the LCD aside and unscrew the sensor. Move it out of the way too, and shake out the infrared flter. If the flter is glued on, it’s best to try another camera.

3. Reassemble the camera, and tape a square of Rosco #2007 blue-gel flter over the lens. (The camera can’t accurately measure photosynthesis without this.)

4. For each new scene, set the white balance with a piece of paper (blue works best). Snap photos of plants, and admire your otherworldly photography. timE About an hour coSt $10 or less difficulty ▯▯○○○

Note: Not all camera models are easy to hack, so attempt only with those you’re willing to ruin.

C o u R T e SY Ch R I S FA S T I e / P u b L I C L A b ( 2 )

H2

how 2.0 / rEpurpoSEd tEch

Warning: Capacitors that power a camera’s flash can deliver a dangerous shock even long after batteries are removed. Attempt at your own risk.


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H2

how 2.0 / proJEct of thE month SToR Y bY Erin brodwin

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eb developer Nathan broadbent loved automating everyday tasks. he also loved frozen dinners and wanted to program his microwave to prepare them. he suspected an oven could harness universal Product Codes—the bar codes found on almost all food packaging—to download and execute cooking instructions all by itself. “We’re at this point with technology that we have everything we need to make this possible, but no one’s doing it,” he says. To prove it, broadbent took apart a 1990s-era microwave, studied its circuitry, and integrated a Raspberry Pi mini computer (and a custom circuit board) to hijack the oven’s electronics. Next, he attached a Wi-Fi adapter, a microphone, a speaker, and a barcode scanner. When the scanner identifes a food, the Pi downloads cooking instructions from an online database

timE 1 month coSt Less than $100 Paying homage to the microwave’s electronic brain (a Raspberry Pi), one of the frst things broadbent cooked in his oven was a raspberry pie.

that broadbent created and programs the oven to carry them out. The appliance even obeys voice commands (e.g., “Cook on high for two minutes”) and accepts instructions wirelessly via Internet-connected devices. When something fnishes cooking, the oven doesn’t just beep—it speaks and can also update a Twitter account. So now broadbent can have his microwavable cake and tweet it too.


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FYI popsCi.Com

oCtober 2013

ANswers by danIel engber

Have a burning science question? e-mail it to fyi@popsci .com, or tweet @popsci hashtag #PopSciFYI.

What Would happen if you go t z apped by the l arge hadron Collider? SHORT ANSWER

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It would burn a hole through you—and then some.

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LONG ANSWER

the scientists at the lHC would like to make two things very clear. First, it’s just a horrible idea to put any part of your body in front of the collider’s two proton beams. each beam comprises 320 trillion particles, so the total energy delivered is a blazing 362 megajoules, enough to melt about half a ton of copper. second, it would be really hard to get in front of a beam, even for someone with a death wish. “if you tried to open any of the access doors to get into the lHC—even though the lights are fashing et cetera—the collider automatically turns of,” says steven Goldfarb, a physicist at the lHC in switzerland. that said, let’s assume you did manage to squeeze your face inside the collider. what would happen next is unclear. physical damage would depend upon how many protons collided with nuclei in your fesh and how many zipped through undisturbed, like plankton through a net. were the beam spitting out single protons, there would be little chance of impact. Considering there are 320 trillion, though, the beam would almost certainly burn a hole through your face. the

question is what might that hole look like? when protons smash into a target, a block of copper, say, they fing of secondary particles in diferent directions, which can themselves incite another round of collisions. As a result, beams create a hole that spreads out laterally the deeper it goes. the same could happen to your body: rather than boring a hole a few microns wide, a beam might carve out a large cone of tissue. the only precedent scientists have for a collider injury occurred in 1978, when a 36-year-old researcher named Anatoli bugorski managed to get his head in the way of the proton beam in the u-70 synchrotron in russia. (that machine was just one hundredth as powerful as the lHC.) According to journalist masha Gessen, who interviewed bugorski for a 1997 article, the zap burned a hole from the back of his head to just beside his left nostril and left him with facial paralysis and epilepsy. (there’s no indication of the exact shape of the hole.) remarkably, bugorski was able to continue working as a scientist after recovering from the initial trauma.

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FYI QUESTION

SHORT ANSWER

psshowcase

Yes, but only for junk food.

LONG ANSWER

much of what scientists know about stress eating comes from cramming animals into plexiglas tubes. when researchers subject lab rats to this particular discomfort for several hours every day, the rodents lose their appetites for healthy pet food. but if given access to junk foods, such as a highsugar or high-fat treat, the rats pig out. “sometimes an animal’s calorie intake actually doesn’t increase overall, but the kind of foods it’s eating shifts,” says Kevin laugero, a physiologist at the university of California at Davis who has studied stress eating

for more than a decade. “we think it’s a selective focus on these highly energetic or energy-dense foods.” when animals are stressed, they need additional energy to fght of a predator or fee to safer ground. As a result, their bodies produce a spike in cortisol. the hormone unlocks glucose stored in fat and muscle, and glucose fuels the body’s vital functions. it also drives animals to seek out foods with the most calories per bite, so ones high in sugar and fat. some humans have a similar response. studies show that if you cause stress in people in the lab—by making

them participate in a mock job interview, for example—and then ofer them a bufet of snacks, they may be more inclined to graze on chocolate bars than carrot sticks. According to laugero, such efects are not universal, but stress afects diet in some form in about 80 percent of the population. “it is possible that some of it is just the reward-based association,” laugero explains, “but i think with food, there is defnitely a metabolic basis. Having a bowl of ice cream when we’re stressed can actually be adaptive. but it’s the repeated nature over time that can be absolutely maladaptive.”

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From the Archives P OPUL AR SCIENCE / OCTOBER 2013

STOR Y BY LILLI AN S TEENBLIK HWANG

Taking the Wheel N

ot long after interstate highways began snaking across the U.S., engineers started searching for ways to ease congested commutes. In the October 1967 cover story, POPULAR SCIENCE featured a potential solution: the Urbmobile, an electric mass-transit and personal-car hybrid developed by Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory. Motorists would steer this driverless concept car into a special lane, where an automated system would take over and guide it along a track. Commuters could then relax and read the newspaper until they reached their destination. While Urbmobiles never made it onto the road, a new fleet of driverless cars has already logged more than half a million miles on American highways in beta tests. To read about how modern self-driving cars navigate the open road, turn to page 54.

TIMELINE 1939 — GM introduces its concept for a selfdriving-car network at the World’s Fair.

1960 — A lab in the U.K. debuts a modified Citroën DS, guided by magnetic sensors.

1977 — In Japan, researchers unveil the first truly autonomous car.

2007 — Driverless cars interact with manned vehicles at DARPA Urban Challenge—a first.

2013 — VisLab’s self-driving system successfully navigates its first road test in Italy.

2018 — Google projects it will release selfdriving-car technology, which uses an array of radar, sensors, laser-based range finders, and cameras to navigate.

POPULAR SCIENCE magazine, Vol. 283, No. 4 (ISSN 161-7370, USPS 577-250), is published monthly by Bonnier Corp., 2 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016. Copyright ©2013 by Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reprinting in whole or part is forbidden except by permission of Bonnier Corp. Mailing Lists: We make a portion of our mailing list available to reputable frms. If you would prefer that we not include your name, please write to POPULAR SCIENCE, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to POPULAR SCIENCE, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and additional mailing ofces. Subscription Rates: $19.95 for 1 year. Please add $10 per year for Canadian addresses and $20 per year for all other international addresses. GST #R-122988066. Canada Post Publications agreement #40612608. Canada Return Mail: IMEX Global Solutions, P.O. Box 25542, London, ON N6C 6B2. Printed in the USA. Subscriptions processed electronically. Subscribers: If the post ofce alerts us that your magazine is undeliverable, we have no further obligation unless we receive a corrected address within two years. Photocopy Permission: Permission is granted by POPULAR SCIENCE® for libraries and others registered with the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) to photocopy articles in this issue for the fat fee of $1 per copy of each article or any part of an article. Send correspondence and payment to CCC (21 Congress St., Salem, MA 01970); specify CCC code 0161-7370/85/$1.00–0.00. Copying done for other than personal or reference use without the written permission of POPULAR SCIENCE® is prohibited. Address requests for permission on bulk orders to POPULAR SCIENCE, 2 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016 for foreign requests. Editorial Ofces: Address contributions to POPULAR SCIENCE, Editorial Dept., 2 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016. We are not responsible for loss of unsolicited materials; they will not be returned unless accompanied by return postage. Microflm editions are available from Xerox University Microflms Serial Bid Coordinator, 300 N. Zeeb Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48106.

9 6 / P OPU L A R SC IE NC E / OCTOB E R 2013


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