Popular Mechanics September/October 2020

Discover the latest in technology, engineering, and tools with Popular Mechanics. Plus, get essential advice on your home and car, useful DIY ideas, in-depth explanations on how things work, and more!

United States
10 Issues

in this issue

5 min
1 my pop life

LOU MAZZANTE Test Director Everything is a work in progress. My Favorite App OnX has detailed maps of the U.S. with property lines. The app was developed for hunters, but I use it for building approved recreational trails on public lands to avoid straying onto private property. Coolest Thing on My Desk Plans for a 2-mile-long mountain bike trail with jumps and other cool features. From developing erosion and sedimentation controls to bidding out contractors, it’s fascinating how much work goes into building sustainable recreational trails. PRODUCTS I’M USING RIGHT NOW Onewheel Pint Neat self-balancing technology and a powerful motor make this a blast to rip around the neighborhood. Dometic CFX3 75DZ This electric cooler has separate compartments for cooling and freezing. It can even charge with an optional solar-powered battery. Maglite ML300L x PM This limited-edition flashlight—a product of a Pop Mech…

3 min
how you helped build this issue

WHEN IT’S TIME TO CREATE THE cover for Popular Mechanics, we have two video calls. In the first one, we narrow down which stories have the highest potential for a knockout photograph or illustration. For this issue, we considered some excellent shots of Mike Hughes’s homemade rockets and Pop Mech reader Jim Eicher’s homemade boat. We decided on several options, each of which could have made a great cover. Then, before the next call, we asked thousands of you—our readers—to weigh in. In previous generations of Pop Mech, and still at most publications, that second meeting was when editors and designers just decided amongst themselves. What we do now is post those finalist cover candidates on Instagram (they show for people who have checked our Popular Mechanics account within the last…

4 min
the best motorcycle for every type of rider

FALL IS A GREAT TIME to buy a bike. At dealerships, summer sales numbers have tapered off, and existing inventory needs to be cleared to make way for next year’s models, most of which are revealed in November. Even better, since the 2008 recession, manufacturers have increased efforts to earn new customers, resulting in affordable, practical, and wonderfully strange new designs. Most come with sophisticated safety features such as traction control and stall prevention—and that’s before you put on the leather jacket that automatically deploys personal airbags. Drawing on over a decade of experience both riding and covering the industry, we compared specs, pricing, service intervals, and paint options to choose the four motorcycles we’d buy and recommend for 2020. DUCATI PANIGALE V2 A PRACTICAL-ISH SUPERBIKE Price: $16,495 Engine: 955cc L-twin Power: 155 hp Weight [with fuel…

3 min
the ipad’s handwriting recognition tech shows how apple does machine learning

THE MORE INTUITIVE A TASK IS FOR humans, generally, the harder it is for artificial intelligence. Think of when Alexa can’t hear your commands, or when your spam filter traps an important email. A computer’s ability to read handwriting, then translate it into letters and numbers it can understand, has been a challenge going back decades. Think of the hit-or-miss capabilities of the Windows Transcriber in the early 2000s, or the PalmPilot in the late ’90s. Handwriting is so nuanced that just analyzing a static letter’s shape doesn’t work. Apple, it seems, found a solution. In the newest update to iPadOS, when you write with the Pencil stylus, the iPad can understand your scrawl. It works like most machine learning—examples inform rules that help predict and interpret a totally new request—but…

4 min
uncovering the hidden secrets of procedural generation

MATHEMATICIANS FROM THE CALIFORNIA Institute of Technology have solved an age-old problem related to “random walks,” a mathematical process that traces a path based on random decisions at various junctions. If you’ve played a procedurally generated video game like Minecraft or Stardew Valley, you’ve encountered a random walk in the form of a dungeon or terrain. Biologists use random walks to model how animals move and behave, and physicists use them to describe how particles behave. In a random walk, the “walker” can move in any direction at any point, so there’s an assumption that the walker will eventually revert to the mean and end up near its place of origin (because it’s less likely that chance would urge the walker in a single, focused direction over and over). Some random…

4 min
the world’s first fusion reactor is (almost) ready to turn on

NUCLEAR FUSION HAS BEEN “RIGHT AROUND the corner” for decades. But now, that long-promised future is quickly approaching. With tens of billions of dollars on the line, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is almost ready to turn on, 35 years after world leaders, including Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, proposed an international collaboration. While the experimental tokamak—a plasma reactor where extremely hot, charged plasma creates the conditions necessary for atoms to fuse and release considerable amounts of energy—is one of a handful of very costly “miniature suns” in development around the world, it’s arguably the bellwether for self-sustaining fusion, given the seven countries that share its high cost and are invested in its success. All this time, engineers have been designing and fabricating the planned 1 million components needed for…