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Gaming at CES 2013

A lot of exhibits at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were about driving more safely, more efficient homes, or being more productive. But sheer entertainment is also a big seller, and none more so than video games. We took a look around the floor for some of the best games and game accessories.  

DIY: USB Spaceship Game Controller

Spacecraft have more degrees of freedom than typical cars or airplanes, making them complicated to pilot. A custom USB controller was created to make it easier to perform precise maneuvers in the spaceflight simulator Orbiter.   Unlike most spacecraft games, Orbiter tries for as much physical realism as possible, including the need for considerable finesse when docking a spaceship at the ISS’s air lock. Unfortunately, the keyboard controls are not particularly intuitive, and most joysticks and other game controllers are designed with airplanes, cars, or avatars in mind, not spacecraft. So I decided to build my own controller.  

Tour PlanetSolar

PlanetSolar is the first boat to travel around the world on sunlight alone. Christian Ochsenbein, the on-board electrical engineer during the 19-month journey, shows off the yacht’s power system.  

Back to Apple’s Future

The Knowledge Navigator sequence of this video was created in 1987 and presented at an educational computing trade show by then Apple CEO John Sculley. The introduction was appended later, in the 1990s.   Back when Apple made the original Macintosh, the company created videos predicting what computing might be like in the future. In hindsight, the results were both eerily prescient and embarrassingly risible. IEEE Spectrum editors Stephen Cass, Steven Cherry, and Jean Kumagai affectionately recap the highs and lows of Apple’s 1987 vision of a world with a futuristic “Knowledge Navigator” device—including talking tablets, life without cellphones, and…

Take a Tour of the National Ignition Facility

The National Ignition Facility is one of the world’s more polarizing fusion experiments. But even the most vociferous critics will likely marvel at the sheer scale and ambition of the $3.5 billion facility. When IEEE Spectrum visited NIF in August last year for an in-depth look at the program, associate editor Rachel Courtland was given a tour by Bruno Van Wonterghem, the lab’s operations manager.  

3-D Print and Eat

3-D printers can do more than make plastic parts. At Cornell University, researchers are changing the shape of food, with geometric chocolates and space-shuttle scallops.  

Surf and Turf

All over the Upper Midwest region of the United States, indoor aquaponics farming is catching on. Fish and plants are living and growing together in old warehouses and abandoned factories. In Chicago, The Plant is growing up in an old meat packing facility and testing LED grow lights and new control schemes In Milwaukee, Sweet Water Organics is trying to resurrect itself outdoors after its indoor system failed last spring. And in St. Paul, the team at Urban Organics is building the world’s largest indoor aquaponics operation in the old Hamm’s brewery.   Urban Organics plans to open in November…

Hacking Tomatoes at the World’s Greenest Greenhouse

The Netherlands has nearly 11 thousand hectares of growing space under glass, or about 40 square miles. That’s almost twice the area of the island of Manhattan. In fact, no country has a greater proportion of its land area under glass.   But these greenhouses boast more than plants. They’re also a breeding ground for high-tech plant experiments and greener energy. Some of the country’s most advanced greenhouses are in Bleiswijk and operated by Wageningen University and Research Center. At the Wageningen greenhouses, researchers can grow as many as 150 pounds of tomatoes in a square yard of space. And…

Microsoft’s Robot Touch Screen Lets You Palpate a Brain

Touch screens are nothing new, but this prototype from Microsoft uses a robot-mounted display to do something surprising: touch back.   Early this year at TechFest, Microsoft Research showed off a number of cool new user interaction applications. One of them is a prototype of a haptic feedback touch screen called TouchMover. The company is preparing an announcement with more details about the technology, but here’s a sneak peak.  

Robot Draws Blood

This robot system can find a vein and place a needle at least as well as a human can.   Veebot, a start-up in Mountain View, Calif., is hoping to automate drawing blood and inserting IVs by combining robotics with image-analysis software.  

Moving Monopoles

One of the very first facts you learn about electromagnetism—long before you walk into your first physics class—is that every magnet has two poles. Cut a bar magnet in half and you wind up with two magnets, each of which has its own north and south poles.   Strangely, though, there is no fundamental reason why that has to be the case.   A few years ago researcher came across evidence of something that looks and acts very much like a naturally occurring monopole would. These monopoles are confined to particular materials, and they arise only when the spins of…

DIY Spycraft with 3-D Printing

Ever wanted to send secret information just by passing along an ordinary-looking object? That’s the premise of Microsoft Research’s new project InfraStructs, which pioneers techniques for concealing identifiers inside 3D-printed objects.   Anyone with a 3D printer can fabricate an object with coded air pockets, or voids. And then anyone with a terahertz scanner can decode the tag hidden in the objects—whether it’s a shape, a line of binary, or a grey code. It’s the modern microdot.  

Televised Sailing Gets a Dose of Augmented Reality

Sailboat racing is as thrilling, dynamic, and suspenseful as any sport—but until now it’s made for boring television. No longer. Starting with the 2013 America’s Cup, you will be there, virtually speaking.   New augmented reality techniques provide perspectives and information never before available to spectators: the tracks of the boats through the water, course boundaries, penalties issued, wind direction, speed, and other things that significantly affect the outcome of the race.  

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