Grist List

Climate & Energy

Meet the brave little solar-powered robot who’s helping us understand hurricanes

Chasing a tornado might be nuts, but chasing a hurricane is beyond nuts. Being in a car near a tornado sounds like a bad idea, but at least you might hit a Norse god or end up in Oz or something. You’d have to go hurricane-chasing in a boat or helicopter, though, and being in a helicopter in hurricane-force winds seems like suicidal madness. Luckily, we have unmanned robots to do the work that humans can’t or don’t want to do. And a brave little robot named Alex is out in the ocean at this very minute, working to better …

Climate & Energy

Polar bear dick size is apocalypse’s most recent casualty

This is one of those super-depressing “oh my god the world is ending” things that’s easy to joke about because it involves shrinking polar bear penises. And let’s face it, shrinking polar bear penises are just funny, the way rubber chickens or people falling down are just funny.

Ants basically invented the internet

Step aside, Al Gore. You, too, Tim Berners-Lee. Now we know who really invented the internet: ants. “Invented” is maybe not exactly right. It’s more like they independently discovered one of its fundamental principles. Sort of like Newton and Leibniz and calculus, except that it’s quite clear who discovered this particular algorithm first. (Hint: It wasn’t us.) The fundamental principle in question has to do with maximizing the use of a scarce resource. In the case of the internet, that resource is bandwidth. In the case of ants, it’s food. Here’s how it works, according to Stanford University, where biology …

Transit-obsessed dog hops train and travels 50 miles

Frankie the Jack Russell terrier settled on a window seat for his ride on the rush-hour commuter train.

Cities

Wall of LEDs lets you paint temporary graffiti with water

Graffiti art can make the urban landscape way more beautiful and interesting, but some people object to permanent decorations on their buildings. Solution: Water Light Graffiti, by artist Antonin Fourneau, working in residence at Digitalarti Artlab. His wall of water-sensitive LEDs allowed visitors in Poitiers, France to create temporary masterpieces using waterguns, spray bottles, hoses, or just by throwing water out of a bucket.

Climate & Energy

This is the most science-fictiony solar generator we’ve ever seen

If we’re really going to get a significant part of our energy from solar power, we’re going to need to have a LOT of solar panels. Ideally, we’d put solar panels on everything — every roof, every wall, every car. Solar panels on the Capitol. Solar panels on the Moon. So it might be a good idea for them to not be eyesores, huh? Designer André Broessel’s Beta Torics solar generator blows past that goal. It’s not just non-ugly — it’s genuinely awesome-looking, like something out of a science fiction or fantasy movie.

Pencil that sprouts into a plant will solve zero problems but is cool

The 12 people who still write with pencils will be excited about this Kickstarter, funding production of a pencil that sprouts into flowers or herbs when it gets too short to use. This will solve the rampant problem of discarded pencil stubs filling up landfills with … uh … wood and rock. Okay, it won’t solve any problems, but come on: you stick the pencil in some dirt and it grows a radish! That is neat.

Got a broken coral reef? Send in the tiny robots

Coral reefs are fragile. Their biggest enemies: storms and bottom-fishing. Their new best friend? Tiny robots. Yes, robots are now good for more than speaking in a monotone and repeating the same non-sequitur every time you ask them a question. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University are developing swarms of underwater robots that can repair busted coral reefs. The “coralbots” will gather broken pieces of coral from the sea floor (they will be “trained” to differenciate coral from other things in the sea like rocks or shells or Spongebob Squarepants), and they will then affix these pieces to the remaining reef.

Now your dank, squalid Man Cave can smell like a national park

This product may be a perfect metaphor for the modern condition: It’s an air freshener that will fill your TV room with chemical compounds that mimic the scent of the national parks, so you can experience a simulacrum of fresh air without ever having to go outside. Hooray for the future!

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