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Self-Poofing Fabric Transforms From T-Shirt to Parka

A small team at Otherlab, which does all kinds of weird things, has been using ARPA-E funding to develop what they’re calling “thermally adaptive materials.” We’ll call it self-poofing fabric, for its ability to dynamically change its insulation in response to temperature. The idea is that the fabric will provide a small amount of insulation when it’s warm out, and then increase how insulating it is (by trapping more air) in response to colder temperatures. When you see the prototype fabric in action, it looks like magic.  

Watch This Robot Navigate Like a Rat

At the Queensland University of Technology, in Australia, roboticists have spent the last 14 years honing a robot navigation system modeled on the brains of rats. This biologically inspired approach, they hope, could help robots navigate dynamic environments without requiring advanced, costly sensors and computationally intensive algorithms.  

Zaps of Electricity Can Identify Mysterious Molecules

There are about a trillion ways to put six sugar molecules together. Since some sugars signify diseases, telling them apart could lead to better disease detection or medicines. But identifying some molecules, including sugars, usually takes many samples or pricey hardware. So at Arizona State University, researchers are working on a device that could easily identify long molecule chains by how they respond to electricity.   In early lab experiments with a special, chemically-attractive molecule that can coat electrode plates, the researchers were able to elicit unique current spikes from other molecules—making it possible to tell them apart with a…

Hunting for Radio Frequency Interference

RF interference could be causing your dropped calls. Engineers from P3 hunt down the source and shut it off: Every day, Kevin Argentieri tracks down devices that are causing radio-frequency interference, and then tries to persuade their owners to shut them off.   Argentieri works for P3, a company that performs radio-frequency interference hunting for nationwide carriers including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. American carriers pay big bucks to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for exclusive licenses to swaths of the radio-frequency spectrum.   But rogue devices are out there, and it’s Argentieri’s job to find them. He says baby…

Building Alaska’s Internet

This $300 million telecom project will boost speeds or provide service to many areas of Alaska for the first time. TERRA was completed in October after six years of construction when engineers installed its final microwave repeater. The network uses a combination of repeater data links and fiber optics to form a giant, 5,000-⁠kilometer ring around southwest Alaska—a sparsely populated region with few paved roads and wilderness areas larger than West Virginia.  

DIY: Build a Cordless Soldering Iron

Want a temperature-controlled cordless soldering iron? You can’t buy one, but you can build a DIY one for tinkering in the field: Good soldering requires good tools. In particular, a soldering iron that uses feedback to keep the tip at a set temperature works much better than one that doesn’t. That functionality is easy to find in a bench soldering station, but try to find a cordless iron with it, and you’ll be out of luck. This DIY solution solves that problem by marrying the business end of a Weller “Magnastat” soldering iron with a Maglite flashlight.  

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