Popular Mechanics December 2017

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

26 min

THE ISSUE STARTS HERE. WE PRESENT OLYMPIA A STUNNING NEW WORK OF FICTION BY ACCLAIMED NOVELIST SMITH HENDERSON, THIS IS A STORY OF ALTERNATE REALITIES, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, MARTIAN COLONIES, FAMILY, TECHNOLOGY, CLIMATOLOGY, REAR, LOVE, AND THE FATE OF HUMAN BEINGS ON EARTH. A LINE OF BLOOD runs from under her right nostril and then Rhea topples over at the market, clutching a bunch of tulips. She never rises. My wife is gone. Just like that. ¶ I travel for work so I shouldn’t be home for this, but I am. As soon as I jump off the running board at the depot, I feel every eye askance. Olympia is a small village, everyone knows everyone, word travels fast. ¶ I am taken to see her at the doctor’s house. He can’t answer my questions,…

1 min

UNDER THE TREE! How’s your Christmas shopping going? Not great? Yeah, we thought so. That’s why this year we partnered with online men’s shop Huckberry to bring you a curated selection of Popular Mechanics– approved clothes, bags, and outdoor gear just in time for the holidays. Check out our favorite items on page 36, then head over to huckberry.com/popmech to purchase. Returns are free—but we have a feeling that won’t be necessary. THE MOST USEFUL PODCAST EVER THE PODCAST! On the Most Useful Podcast Ever, technology editor Alex George goes head to head with Dan Ackerman, senior editor at consumer technology site CNET. What’s the best tech item of the year? What shouldn’t you bother buying? Hear their useful opinions—which we hope will come in the form of a heated debate, possibly fisticuffs— on…

8 min
3d printing gets real

SO WHERE ARE we now? One day soon, we’ve been told over the last decade or so, we’ll all have 3D printers in our living rooms! You can make whatever you want!! But we don’t, and you can’t. “With every technology, you have the hype cycle, and right now we’re sort of at the bottom, because the hype is over,” says Joris Laarman, a Dutch designer who has engineered new types of digital-fabrication materials and whose work is the subject of an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York through January. “People are kind of like, ‘Okay, so? What can we do with it? Was it real or was it just hype?’” Well, for some it hasn’t been just hype. Laarman uses 3D printing to create functional, usable furniture called…

5 min
the hyperloop: faq

IN AUGUST 2013, disappointed by the highspeed- rail system being built through the center of California, Elon Musk released a white paper called Hyperloop Alpha, describing a system of pod-cars shooting through vacuum tubes at nearly 800 mph. The paper ended with a plea for “the community” to work on an “open source transportation concept”—he was too busy, he said, to work on it himself. Here are the key questions that have arisen since. Has anyone taken up Musk’s challenge to develop hyperloop technologies? Yes—initially, two main companies, one called Hyperloop Technologies and another called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT). The former, now called Hyperloop One (H1), boasts a flashy venture-capitalist cofounder and more than $150 million in funding. The latter has taken “open source” to heart and is more like a very…

3 min
tiny satellites explore universe

AFTER A SUMMER of wildfires, hurricanes, and nuclear threats, it isn’t hard to see the value in being able to surveil the Earth with daily—or even more frequent—updates. But traditional satellites, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars, have orbits that mean they may not see the same target for a week or more. So an Earth-imaging company called Planet, in San Francisco, is doing something different. In the past year, it has sent nearly 150 satellites into space, including a record 88 at once from India on Valentine’s Day. That should be unthinkable, but Planet is using CubeSats, an emerging type of small satellite made possible by the miniaturization of electronics and sensors, like those in smartphones, that are creating new possibilities to use space technology for social and…

2 min

As the site of the first railroad union station in the world—where lines connect, enabling train transfers within the same building—Indianapolis was the Midwestern migration gateway. By 1860, one in five newcomers came from a German-speaking region, bringing cultural craftsmanship with them, including cabinetmaking and veneer. Over time, regional workers used hardwood from the state’s 22 tree varieties to produce iconic furniture styles including Old Hickory and Amish, as well as the Hoosier Cabinet, a kitchen cupboard and work counter popular through the 1940s. Today, these makers continue to create furniture the homegrown way. THE MAKER BRIAN PRESNELL HIS COMPANY INDY URBAN HARDWOOD My mission is to keep damaged city trees from becoming mulch by preserving the hardwood, which I do by on-site milling with a Wood-Mizer LT30, a portable sawmill invented in Indianap- olis—you…