SA's 2016 Gadget Guide: 10 Technologies Solid on Science [Slide Show]
Some hints on keeping holiday gifts real in a “post-truth” world
SUSTAINABILITY: SOLAR POWERED GRILL The scramble to improve solar technology has made solar-powered stoves cheaper as well as more portable and versatile in recent years. Case in point: the GoSun Stove Sport grill, which relies on the sun’s energy to bake, boil, fry or steam food using parabolic thermal solar panels and a double-cylinder made of silica and boron trioxide (borosilicate) glass. The panels relay heat to cook food placed inside the glass cylinder. Its inner layer absorbs light and stores it as heat, and a vacuum between the layers acts as insulation from the colder air outside.
Price: $279 GoSun
PHYSICS: POCKET-SIZE THERMAL VISION MONOCULAR Night owls without the benefit of an owl’s night vision can rely on infrared scopes and goggles, which display images in a darkened field of view by mapping subtle temperature differences between objects. The Scout TK from FLIR Systems targets nighttime adventurers with a pocket-size thermal vision monocular that can spot obscured objects more than 90 meters away and includes the ability to take photos and video.
Price: $599 FLIR Systems, Inc.
BIOLOGY: INDOOR GARDEN Urbanites are at a decided disadvantage to those living outside city limits when it comes to growing their own fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs. Click & Grow aims to level the playing field a bit with self-contained indoor gardens that provide plants with the LED light, water and nutrients needed to grow in even the darkest hipster walk-up.
Price: Starting at $59.95 Click & Grow
CHEMISTRY: SMART WINE BOTTLE Even a well-kept, high-quality vintage will lose its luster after less than a week, thanks to oxygen’s tendency to change wine into vinegar. Boston-based start-up Kuvée aims to solve this problem by selling bottle-shaped wine cartridges that slide into a wi-fi–enabled dispenser. The latter keeps air out of the opened bottle and has a touch-screen display with information about the wine itself, along with food-pairing suggestions and the ability to order more vino with the touch of a button. Welcome to the Internet of (alcoholic) Things.
Price: Smart bottle and wine selections start at $199 Kuvée Advertisement
ENGINEERING: MECHANICAL WOODEN CLOCK KIT Pendulum clocks date back hundreds of years. Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens built the first one in 1656, inspired by a device that Galileo Galilei had designed nearly two decades earlier—but never actually built. Ontario-based Abong aims to keep the spirit of those inventors alive with its mechanical wood clock for advanced hobbyists happy to assemble a precision timepiece with nearly 100 moving parts.
Price: $69.95 Abong, Inc.
CHEMISTRY: ELECTRO PLAY–DOH By the age of four most children have mastered the art of Play-Doh. The Electro Dough Kit from a company called Technology Will Save Us promises to take the time-honored mixture of flour, water, salt, boric acid and mineral oil to the next level. The kit includes wires, LEDs, switches and other electrical components that use the artificial clay’s conductive properties to add lights, sound and movement to kids’ doughy creations.
Price: Starting at $29
ELECTRONICS: SMART HOME KIT Demystify the Internet of Things by equipping curious teens with the wireless sensors, transmitters and other electronics needed to integrate their parents’ household appliances with a smartphone or tablet. That’s the idea behind the Smart Home Kit from littleBits Electronics, which turns refrigerators, air conditioners and coffeemakers into smart devices.
Price: $249 littleBits Electronics, Inc.
SPACE: INTERNET-CONNECTED TELESCOPE Binge-watch the cosmos from your living room with a plug-in wi-fi module that lets you connect select Celestron telescopes to a smartphone or tablet. Once connected, Celestron’s SkyPortal mobile app can run on either of those devices to identify stars, planets, NASA spacecraft and other objects the telescope views in the night sky. The app likewise makes suggestions regarding which objects are most visible based on an astronomer’s time, date and location.
Price: $99.95 Celestron, LLC Advertisement
COMPUTING: VOICE-ACTIVATED COMPUTER MOUSE This reimagined mouse avoids the office endangered species list. In addition to controlling a conventional computer desktop, the Bluetooth-connected Gyration Air Mouse Voice from SMK-Link Electronics features voice-recognition capabilities that enable the mouse to function as a Siri-like intelligent assistant that can access a Web browser in response to spoken queries.
Price: $99 SMK–Link Electronics, a division of SMK Electronics U.S.A., and owner of Gyration
ELECTRONICS: BLUETOOTH TRACKING CHIP The proliferation of mobile gadgets adds a new dimension to the already challenging task of keeping track of life’s essentials: keys, eyeglasses and wallets. Chipolo’s coin-size Bluetooth disks can be attached to or inserted into these items to track them via smartphone or tablet from up to 60 meters away. Chipolo works in the opposite direction as well—synch one of their disks to a mobile device, then double-click the disk to ring that device when it goes missing.
Price: Starting at $24.99 Chipolo Advertisement
The ascendance of the phrase “post-truth” in 2016 has left many science advocates stunned by this apparently growing willingness by some of the public to embrace ideologies that favor clear falsehoods over well-established facts. But take heart: Real science and the enduring truths of the natural world can still be found everywhere—and the holiday season offers some opportunities to spread them around, especially via tech gadgets that always play a role in year-end gift giving.
A solar-powered cookstove brings sustainability to a stadium tailgate. And a thermal-vision scope, a self-contained indoor garden and a high-tech wine bottle emphasize practical applications of physics, biology and chemistry, respectively. Other devices on this year’s list of suggested gift gadgets—an annual
Scientific American staple—likewise turn basic science lessons into fun projects, whether by updating the old-school joys of Play-Doh or encouraging budding engineers to develop their own Internet of Things. Expertise. Insights. Illumination.
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