May 2014 issue

Date:24 April 2014 Tags:, , , , , , , , , ,

Let’s hear it for the robots!

Robots are amazing. They build cars, defuse bombs, rescue people in life-threatening situations, entertain audiences by playing various instruments, and engage with elderly people when their families can’t be bothered. Our cover story this month introduces the awesome automatons and their equally impressive creators as they compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a high-tech showdown offering big cash prizes and tangible benefits for humanity.

The organisers modelled the event on conditions at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant during its 2011 meltdown, posing some tough challenges for the robots’ designers. For example, their machines had to be able to climb a ladder, pick up a human tool, connect a fire hose and deal with interruptions in communications – all real-world stuff, and potentially crucial in the event of another accident. Read “Escape from the lab” (page 50) and be impressed.

Closer to home, we’ve noticed that some DIY articles take on a life of their own. A few years ago, we interviewed someone who had made an affordable biltong dryer using a plastic bin, an incandescent light bulb, an old computer fan and a few other components, then followed up by publishing a step-by-step plan. Inspired, we made one ourselves, then watched the letters flood in as PM readers across the country repeated the exercise. We even received two e-mails from crewmen aboard ships in the Middle East – they were not connected – describing how they had built their own biltong dryers.

This leads us neatly to our latest how-to feature, in which we describe a foray by associate editor Sean Woods into the aromatic world of home brewing. Never one to hold back, Sean immersed himself in the lore of beer, the science of beer making and, of course, the consumption of beer (he is, after all, a professional). What emerged was an informative and entertaining description of this deeply satisfying activity. Read “Join the home-brew revolution”, starting on page 78, and think seriously about trying it yourself.

FutureTech is back!

We are pleased to announce the return of our thought-provoking FutureTech conference, an event that brings together all manner of clever people in the interests of learning how the world works. This year’s conference takes place in Cape Town under the banner of “Altered Realities” – our theme for the many planned interaction with PM’s audience – and forms part of the official programme for World Design Capital Cape Town 2014.

We’re looking at a provisional date of Friday 3 October (the date and venue are subject to confirmation), at which time we will introduce various speakers who are quite likely to change the way you see your world – and the Universe, for that matter. In the run-up to that event, we will be inviting you to a series of smaller functions that fit the “Altered Realities” theme; for example, a preview of the new Johnny Depp sci-fi movie, ‘Transcendence’.

At the same time, we are reviving our annual Inventor of the Year competition, with substantial cash prizes going to the winners in two categories, “Cutting Edge” and “Emerging Genius”. They will be honoured at the FutureTech conference and invited to discuss their inventions.

Look out for more details in our June issue.

– Alan Duggan (


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