HOW IT WORKS

The US mil­i­tary’s amaz­ing new in­ven­tions al­low sol­diers to climb walls made of nearly any ma­te­rial, with­out the need for ropes or lad­ders.

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Tested - BY DAN DUBNO

To print a recipe, you load in­gre­di­ents into the ma­chine’s sy­ringes, then use soft­ware to tell the printer how to as­sem­ble the food. For ex­am­ple, you might tell it “Lay down a base of pizza dough, then top with sauce and cheese.” The ma­chine picks up sy­ringes us­ing elec­tro­mag­nets and de­posits them ac­cord­ing to the recipe. An in­frared spotlight lo­cated be­hind the sy­ringe cooks in­gre­di­ents as they print.

Three-hun­dred-and-sixty-de­gree cam­eras have dropped to Gopro prices. (The 360fly is only about R4 000.) The only real is­sue is edit­ing. In terms of field of view, you’re look­ing at six to ten times more raw footage with a 360 cam­era. As with drone footage, un­less you do some­thing truly Vr-wor­thy – tour an Air Force base, dive with sharks, visit a cat café – only a por­tion of what 360 cam­eras cap­ture is worth look­ing at. For now, the fi­nal video won’t be as fo­cused or com­pelling as a tight 2D clip. It can’t be. Es­pe­cially if the per­son you show the video to doesn’t have a VR head­set or Google Card­board. But this is about look­ing for­ward. Not to a day when ev­ery­one is us­ing Youtube 360, which, hon­estly, will al­ways be pretty fun to play with. To a day when we all have VR set-ups in our houses, hooked to our phones (or di­rectly to our brains or souls, or what­ever hap­pens in this fu­ture world; we aren’t there yet, so we don’t know). That day will come in part be­cause of 360-de­gree cam­eras. And we’ll get bet­ter at edit­ing.

Ear­lier this year, when Tesla’s Au­topi­lot gained the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first driver-as­sis­tance sys­tem to be im­pli­cated in a fa­tal crash, it was tragic, to be sure. But is it enough rea­son to aban­don a promis­ing tech­nol­ogy? The sys­tems haven’t been around for very long and you need a whole lot of data to paint a pic­ture of ac­ci­dents that don’t hap­pen. And early stud­ies sug­gest that, yes, smarter cars can help save us from our own im­per­fect driv­ing.

It’ll be a long time be­fore a car can drive you any­where you want with­out hu­man in­ter­ven­tion, but for the mo­ment, the ques­tions are pretty sim­ple. If you start to drift into the wrong lane, would you like the car to steer you away from the on­com­ing traf­fic? If there’s an obliv­i­ous guy step­ping into the cross­walk, would you pre­fer not to hit him? And if you’re about to re­verse into the path of a school bus, would you like your car to au­to­mat­i­cally hit the brakes? All of those sys­tems – lane­as­sist, pedes­trian-de­tec­tion, cross­path-de­tec­tion – are avail­able al­ready, and, yes, you want them. The car isn’t yet ready to take over your whole com­mute. But that doesn’t mean it can’t save you some­where along the way.

There are a lot of kinds of beer. Take In­dia Pale Ales, for ex­am­ple. There are Bel­gian IPAS, rye IPAS, dou­ble IPAS and at least four colours of IPA: black, brown, red and white. It can start to feel a lit­tle over­whelm­ing. To keep track of it all there is an aide: the ci­cerone (Sis-uh-rohn). Cicerones are the sommeliers of the beer world, only they have less clout and don’t get to wear that sip­ping dish around their neck when they work. They go through of­fi­cial train­ing and or­di­na­tion and, upon grad­u­a­tion, they help us drink.

Started in 2008, the Ci­cerone Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Pro­gramme of­fers any­one with tu­ition money and a bot­tle opener four in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated ti­tles (beer server, ci­cerone, ad­vanced ci­cerone, master ci­cerone). But what it of­fers to the world is a sign that we’ve gone too far. Beer can be com­plex in its flavours and prepa­ra­tion. We ap­pre­ci­ate that. It’s why we have favourites and why we’ll spend more time at restau­rants read­ing the beer menu than pon­der­ing the day’s spe­cials. But we don’t nec­es­sar­ily want help. Although it may be a com­pli­cated drink, beer is a sim­ple plea­sure. Let’s keep it that way. Be­sides, we al­ready have a name for cicerones: bar­tenders.

Dakine, the surf­board ac­ces­sories com­pany, has al­ways been bet­ter known for out­fit­ting its packs and bags to best ac­com­mo­date things like surf leashes and hel­mets. Now, it’s fo­cus­ing on trans­port­ing easy-ac­cess soda and beer in what is clearly the mul­let of back­packs. Up top, it’s all busi­ness: 28 litres of stor­age ca­pac­ity for your reg­u­lar gear plus a pro­tected pocket for sun­glasses and your phone. Down be­low, it’s a party with a sep­a­rate com­part­ment that holds 12 cans and ice packs. The best part, though, is a zip­pered side dis­penser. You can pull out a drink with­out hav­ing to take off the pack. Take into ac­count the three in­su­lated cosies and bot­tle opener on the shoul­der strap and you’re a rov­ing, un­en­cum­bered good-time Char­lie.

Net­flix’s chief con­tent of­fi­cer Ted Saran­dos set a 2016 orig­i­nal con­tent goal at 600 hours; 25 un­in­ter­rupted days’ worth of ac­claimed, binge-wor­thy se­ries like House of Cards, Nar­cos, and Stranger Things. If the deep­en­ing butt craters in our couch cush­ions are any in­di­ca­tion, the chal­lenge was ac­cepted. Lost in the un­ques­tioned suc­cess of Net­flix’s con­tent boom, how­ever, is its shaky his­tory with orig­i­nal films. Since late 2015, Net­flix has of­fered up a trial-and-er­ror mix of in­dies (In­dian com­edy Brah­man Na­man), se­quels no one was re­ally hop­ing for ( Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon: Sword of Destiny), and heav­ily streamed but crit­i­cally panned Adam San­dler “come­dies” like The Ridicu­lous 6. It was a slow start. But there’s hope for Net­flix movies, as the saviour of art-house fare and the medium-bud­get films that ma­jor stu­dios ig­nore for re­boots and su­per­hero fran­chises. Net­flix’s the­atri­cal orig­i­nals are get­ting bet­ter, with up­com­ing ti­tles like Christo­pher Guest’s Mas­cots; Death Note, a su­per­nat­u­ral hor­ror movie from buzzy di­rec­tor Adam Win­gard; and Will Forte’s A Fu­tile & Stupid Ges­ture, about a co­founder of Na­tional Lam­poon.

The surest sign that Net­flix films are im­prov­ing is up­com­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions with bold-face names whose sole in­ter­est isn’t get­ting David Spade much-needed work. The com­pany paid R830 mil­lion for the rights to Brad Pitt’s War Ma­chine. It in­vested another R700 mil­lion in Okja, a South Korean ac­tion flick with Jake Gyl­len­haal.

Theatre­go­ing may never go out of style com­pletely, but as long as Net­flix is will­ing to pony up for projects while charg­ing its 83 mil­lion sub­scribers less than R150 a month, the suc­cess it has en­joyed with orig­i­nal se­ries is eas­ily and in­evitably re­peat­able. Con­sider us­ing the money you save on a new couch. – David Wal­ters

I’m dan­gling near the top of six-me­tre plate of glass. All 90 kilo­grams of me. On land, I can’t do a sin­gle pull-up – not even if you held a dough­nut over the bar. But I got up here us­ing my own strength and if it weren’t for my nerves, I wouldn’t have bro­ken a sweat. The suc­tion-cup pad­dles in each of my hands are har­nessed to my waist. Stir­rups loop around my feet. As I shift my weight off my right leg and on to my left, the pneu­matic fin­gers on the pad­dle in my right hand re­lease the pres­sure hold­ing the seven suc­tion cups above them to the wall. My body weight moves to my left leg, pulling down the fin­gers in the pad­dle in my left hand. The suc­tion cups of the left pad­dle push into the wall, forc­ing mi­cro­scopic sil­i­cone ridges against the glass for max­i­mum sur­face con­tact and hold. When I reach the ceil­ing, I linger, feel­ing more than a lit­tle like a su­per­hero, but also won­der­ing how I’m go­ing to get down.

Those loops around my feet are very im­por­tant. If I lean too far back or to the side – the vec­tor of my weight no longer di­rectly beneath the pad­dle – that suc­tion will quickly re­lease. I know this be­cause it’s ex­actly what I do. In my ex­cite­ment to move from the glass wall and try the de­vice on a painted sur­face, I stretch the pad­dles too far apart. With my foot and my weight no longer aligned be­low the pad­dles, I slide down the wall and crash to the ground in a tan­gle of de­vices and – luck­ily – backup ropes.

The idea for this equip­ment – called Z-man, named for the third-di­men­sional, or Z axis – came about ten years ago at DARPA, a group whose mis­sion is to pro­tect the US de­fence es­tab­lish­ment and the na­tion from tech­no­log­i­cal sur­prise. Two pro­gramme man­agers, John Main and Mor­ley Stone, were dis­cussing the ur­ban bat­tle­field. “We were in the thick of the Iraq war and a lot of ac­tiv­i­ties tak­ing place were ur­ban, and the ur­ban high ground is the top of build­ings,” says Main. “We were try­ing to get peo­ple safely to the top of a build­ing.” A study at Stan­ford sug­gested that mim­ick­ing gecko skin could help small ro­bots climb, and Stone and Main won­dered if the same type of tech­nol­ogy would work for hu­mans. “Stone shrugged his shoul­ders and said, ‘I think so,’ ” Main says. “And I shrugged my shoul­ders and said, ‘I think so.’ That was the gen­e­sis of the whole pro­gramme.”

For the past decade, DARPA Z-man sci­en­tists have struggled with a chal­lenge that has per­plexed sci­en­tists since Aris­to­tle: how the hell does a gecko run up and down a tree? And how do we repli­cate that abil­ity on hu­mans? There were many the­o­ries and, in des­per­ate times, the sug-

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.