Robots, rovers and the rest of 2012's most important innovations, from the affordable to the extreme
That’s not Photoshop. The Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde has developed a way to create a small, perfect white cloud in the middle of a room. It requires meticulous planning: the temperature, humidity and lighting all have to be just so. Once everything is ready, Smilde summons the cloud out of the air using a fog machine. It lasts only moments, but the effect is dramatic and strangely moving. It evokes both the surrealism of Magritte and the classical beauty of the old masters while reminding us of the ephemerality of art and nature.
The Civilization Starter Kit
Marcin Jakubowski built a tractor in six days. Then he told the world how to do it: he made the designs, the budget and an instructional video available free online. A farmer and technologist and the founder of Open Source Ecology, Jakubowski has identified the 50 most important machines required for modern life—from the soil pulverizer to the oven—and is working to make a prototype of a low-cost DIY version of each so that anyone anywhere can build them. “If we can lower the barriers to farming, building and manufacturing,” he says, “then we can unleash massive amounts of human potential.”
The Motion-Activated Screwdriver
The sensors found in smart phones and Nintendo Wii controllers have migrated into Black & Decker’s cordless 4v MAX Gyro, billed as the world’s first motion-activated screwdriver. Tilt it right by a mere quarter of an inch and it screws clockwise to tighten; left, and it turns counterclockwise—all thanks to an internal gyroscope that senses wrist motions, which are measured by a small microprocessor that turns those movements into changes in the drill’s speed and direction.
Price: 25¢ per bottle (estimated)
Five MIT students and their professor Kripa Varanasi have come up with a way to make a surface that anything will slide off—from ketchup out of bottles to ice off airplane wings. The plant-based product adds a microscopic slippery coating to almost any material—glass, ceramic, metal or plastic.
OraQuick Home HIV Test
With just a swab of saliva and 20 minutes, OraQuick can identify the antibodies that signal HIV infection. It’s the first DIY test for HIV—the same one that health professionals use but without the trip to a doctor’s office or the need to wait days for results. The kit includes a 24-hour help line and resources for dealing with a positive result.