When design student Markus Kayser wanted to test his sun-powered, sand-fed 3-D printer, he knew the gray skies outside his London apartment wouldn’t do. So he shipped the 200-plus-pound contraption to Cairo, Egypt, flew there himself, and haggled with officials for two days to get it out of customs. A few small “tips” and 11 hours of driving later, he finally made it to the Sahara.
In May, inventor Glenn Martin—along with fire-rescue officers and crews on board a pair of chase helicopters—watched as his jetpack flew for nine minutes and 43 seconds, soaring 3,500 feet into the New Zealand sky. Had the machine been holding a live person instead of a 150-pound dummy, it would have smashed the record for the longest and highest jetpack flight ever.
Ben Krasnow has built his share of odd contraptions, including a liquid nitrogen generator made from an air conditioner, and the “thirst extinguisher,” a commercial-grade fire extinguisher that cools, carbonates, and dispenses his homemade beer. Now, for no other reason than wanting a real challenge, the 28-year-old engineer picked the toughest DIY project he could imagine: a homemade scanning electron microscope, or SEM. “I wanted to see if it was possible,” he says.
Lance Greathouse does not follow football. It wasn’t until last fall, at an Arizona Cardinals game, that the Phoenix dental-laser repairman, who harbors a severe DIY robot-building habit, was introduced to the art of tailgating. There, he spotted cars packed with grills, plasma screens, refrigerators and more. “But I never saw anything that was all-in-one,” he recalls.
The first time retired computer engineer Jack Clemens tried to build a scale model of the USS Macon, a helium-filled naval airship lost in bad weather in 1935, his cat jumped on the prototype from a high shelf and ruined the hull. Clemens finished a second version in 2008 but totaled it during an unexpectedly windy test flight. Finally, in April, Clemens completed version number 3, a 20-foot-long radio-controlled replica accurate down to practically every detail, from the airbag to the propellers.
This summer there's an excellent line-up of films full of mind-blowing technology. A stealth aircraft makes an appearance in X-Men: First Class, while the Green Lantern will travel between worlds using a ring that can open up wormholes. Although some of these gadgets remain far beyond the realm of possibility (at least for now), here's the science behind Hollywood's awesome line-up of wrist lasers, vibranium shields and X-jets.
Click here for the summer movie science smackdown.
One night in late 2009, Ming-Zher Poh and his roommate, Dan McDuff, asked some friends to sit in front of a laptop. Poh, an electrical- and medical-engineering graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was trying to transform the computer’s webcam into a heart-rate monitor. He hoped that his software would allow doctors to check the vital signs of burn victims or babies without attaching uncomfortable clips, and that it would make it easier for adults to track their cardiovascular health over time.
Chris McIntosh’s first recliner was not your standard La-Z-Boy—it was electric-powered and capable of going 15 mph. After finishing it a year and a half ago, he used it to pull a doughnut on his high school’s front lawn, circle the gym during a pep rally, and rule the street near his home in Orinda, California. Now a freshman at the University of Southern California, McIntosh spent his youth building ad-hoc vehicles (he once made a mini hovercraft out of a leaf blower), so when the chair’s paltry electric motor burned out, he decided it was time for a monster makeover.
One day late last year, Bill Rulien decided he’d had enough of people boasting about how they had modified their golf carts with hotrod paint jobs or monster-truck tires. “I thought, I’m gonna build something that will say, ‘Well, top this.’ ”
Why would a man construct a dining-room table that can cruise down a racetrack at 130 miles an hour and shoot flames into the air? Sheer competitiveness. A record for the world’s fastest furniture existed—92 mph on a sofa—and Perry Watkins wanted to beat it.
Barry Lee was sitting at his desk one day when his boss at British retailer Toolstation stopped by with a new assignment. He had heard about a drag-racing series for vehicles propelled by power tools, and he wanted to win. “You’re the man to do it,” he told Lee, an IT support manager. Three years, countless man-hours and several versions later, Lee finished Bolt Lightning, a disc-cutter-powered dragster with one speed: fast.
Orville Douglas Denison spent much of his youth sketching out futuristic aircraft, but in retirement he has turned pragmatic. His “aerial fire truck,” a cross between a conveyer belt and a ladder, could help firefighters quickly shuttle victims out of burning buildings.
A veteran designer of Lego robots (he built one that plays Connect Four), Indiana programmer Steve Hassenplug was looking for something still grander. When he watched the first Harry Potter movie with his kids—the one with the magic chessboard and eight-foot-high knights—he knew he had found it. The massive “Monsterchess” set he created from more than 100,000 Lego pieces, however, required plenty of wizardry of its own.
In 1894, American inventor Simon Lake designed the Argonaut Jr., a wheeled vehicle that would drive along the seafloor, the only way to reliably navigate underwater at the time. The unusual concept has inspired sub aficionados ever since. Among its fans are Doug and Kay Jackson, married DIYers from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who in June built a watertight replica from lumber, lead and enough marine epoxy to overflow a bathtub.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.