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30
Apr

MIT fires a rocket motor made using 3D-printed plastic


If you’re going to 3D-print rocket parts, you’d want to make them out of metal to handle the stress, right? Not necessarily. MIT has successfully test-fired what it believes is the first completely 3D-printed rocket motor to be made with plastic casing. That’s right — an all too easily melted material was sitting a virtual hair’s breadth away from super-hot propellant. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but apparently it worked well — it generated real thrust, and there was only a small amount of damage to the motor’s throat after the initial run. A second test didn’t fare so well (it would be useless for moving anything), but MIT hadn’t intended for the motor to fire more than once.

This wasn’t just a because-we-can experiment. Metal 3D printing is expensive (the printers alone cost hundreds of thousands of dollars). MIT’s printer, a Markforged Mark Two, costs “just” $13,499. That’s not exactly an impulse purchase, but it could give small teams a chance at building rockets that would otherwise be impossible with a relatively modest budget. And while it’s not stated, it’s easy to see larger space agencies using this to keep costs down, especially for rockets that are unlikely to be used more than once or for long durations.

There’s a lot to accomplish before that happens. The scientists are researching larger, more resilient motors. Eventually, they’re aiming for plastic-hulled rockets powerful enough for flight. Don’t be surprised if you one day see lighter, cheaper rockets that only use metal sparingly.

Via: Reddit

Source: MIT Rocket Team

30
Apr

Apple adds one more year of warranty to first-gen Watches


Apple will still repair your first-gen Apple Watch if it breaks due to battery issues even if it’s already older than two years. The tech titan has extended its wearable’s repair coverage related to battery woes to last two years instead of one, according to a note Apple sent to authorized repair centers that 9to5mac got its hands on. If you include its first year with limited warranty, the device’s owners can enjoy three years of coverage, and it’s all thanks to a several reports complaining of batteries ballooning inside their timepieces.

Some posts on Reddit and on Apple’s discussion board talk about how their first-gen Watches’ batteries ballooned and displaced the screens like what happened in the image above. It doesn’t seem to be a huge issue, and we haven’t seen anyone claim that their device exploded or caught fire like Samsung’s Galaxy Notes did. Still, it’s definitely good to know Apple can help if anything happens to your smartwatch, especially if you bought it when it was first released in 2015.

Via: Apple Insider

Source: 9to5mac

30
Apr

Only a superweapon can kill superbacteria, and humanity finally found it


In 1945, in New Mexico, the researchers of the Manhattan Project performed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon; it bathed the desert with light, and cast a pall over the world for decades after. In 2016, the Southwest saw another harbinger of destruction. As a 2017 Center for Disease Control (CDC) report explained, a woman died in a Nevada hospital after contracting an infection from carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). This “super bacteria” was resistant to all 26 antibiotics available in the United States.

Although the Nevada case may have been a wake-up call for some in the United States, for years now, researchers have been watching the crisis grow worldwide. In 2014, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the Assistant Director for Health Security at the World Health Organization (WHO), warned of the already present danger, saying “Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.”

The CDC estimates that there are more than 23,000 deaths in the United States each year due to antibiotic resistant bacteria. India — where the Nevada woman was traveling when she sustained her fatal injury — has the highest rate of resistance to E. Coli in the world, according to the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy. In China, resistance to the drug colistin is spreading. This is particularly troubling, as colistin is already considered a last resort; it is an old drug which can cause kidney damage, and physicians only pulled it out of retirement because modern drugs have become steadily less effective.

Antibiotic resistance will continue to spread, and it represents one of the great health crises of our time. Thankfully, there are researchers working to stop it.

A genetic solution

“My belief is that bacteria will develop resistance to any one antibiotic or antimicrobial given enough time,” says Dr. Bruce Geller, a professor of microbiology at Oregon State University. “I think that because they’ve had a 4 billion year head start in the evolution of mechanisms to adapt to changing environments, they’re very, very good at getting around any antimicrobial they might encounter.”

For years, biologists like Geller have been playing a game of evolutionary whack-a-mole with bacteria. Although researchers are armed with the collective knowledge of the scientific community, bacteria have the cunning flexibility of nature. For every tool humans use against them, the bacteria develop a countermeasure. While antibiotics were a revolution in medicine, the moment we first employed them, bacteria began to reshape themselves.

Geller is exploring a unique approach; rather than developing yet another way to kill bacteria — on which they will eventually become resistant to — why not make them vulnerable to already existing antibiotics again?

To this end, Geller’s weapons of choice are peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers — PPMOs, for short. As you may have guessed from the outrageously long name, PPMOs are fairly complex; so to understand how they work, you first need to wrap your head around how antibiotics work, and how bacteria develop resistances to them. Here’s a quick rundown:

How bacteria and antibiotics function

Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms that come in a variety of shapes. Like other single-celled organisms, bacteria cells have a cell wall surrounding them; in bacteria specifically, these walls contain a substance called peptidoglycan, and this can be essential to the use of antibiotics.

An antibiotic is designed to destroy microorganisms like bacteria. For an antibiotic to work effectively, it must kill bacteria cells without destroying human cells, so biologists engineer antibiotics to target aspects unique to bacteria cells. For example, penicillin prevents the peptidoglycan in bacteria cells from linking, leaving the cell walls weak and prone to collapse. Another class of antibiotics – sulfonamides — inhibits the ability of cells to produce folic acid. This is fine for human cells, which can absorb folic acid from outside sources, but it means death for bacteria cells, which must produce folic acid on their own. A third type of antibiotic, tetracycline, inhibits protein synthesis in cells, but it does not accumulate in human cells enough to harm them.

However inventive antibiotics might be, bacteria always adapt. Some bacteria use protein structures called “efflux pumps” to push antibiotics out of their cells. Others can rearrange themselves, effectively hiding parts of the cell that are vulnerable to antibiotics. Still others produce enzymes — such as Geller’s target, New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1) — that can neutralize the antibiotics.

The human gut alone holds more bacteria than there are cells in the human body.

As if the mercurial nature of bacteria were not frightening enough, researchers must contend with the fact that bacteria also have a useful, if unwitting, accomplice: Us. Resistance develops and spreads through natural, evolutionary processes, but human behavior gives it a helpful nudge.

How does resistance develop? Some bacteria cells develop random mutations that result in these resistance mechanisms. When a round of antibiotics kills a population of bacteria, resistant cells are left alive, able to reproduce. Making matters worse, non-resistant bacteria can acquire resistance from cells that have it, receiving a copy of the gene that provides the resistance mechanism.

This process is entirely natural — bacteria will inevitably develop resistance to an antibiotic used against them — but it moves faster due to human behavior. The first trend that has accelerated the spread of resistance is that society simply uses too many antibiotics. A report by the CDC estimates that at least 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S. are unnecessary; many of these prescriptions go to patients suffering from viral infections, against which antibiotics are completely useless!

Humans, despite our obsession with hygiene, are walking bacteria farms. The human gut alone holds more bacteria than there are cells in the human body. When a patient takes antibiotics, the bacteria in his or her intestines can develop resistances, which can then spread to other people.

People aren’t the only creatures taking an excess amount of antibiotics; even farm animals have contributed to the problem. For years, farmers have given antibiotics to food animals such as cows, chickens, and pigs. Not only does this keep the livestock healthy — sick animals are bad for business — but antibiotic use has also been shown to increase the growth of these animals. Good news for farmers, but terrible for anyone worried about the rise of superbacteria. The Food and Drug Administration has been trying to curtail the use of antibiotics in livestock, cracking down on growth promotion.

The wonderful world of PPMOs

Changing societal behavior is often a slow and difficult process. The CDC hopes to cut down on antibiotic prescriptions by 15 percent over the next few years, an ambitious goal given how often patients demand prescriptions for their ailments. Thanks to the work of researchers like Geller, the war on bacteria may flip without sweeping reforms.

Geller’s weapon of choice is a PPMO designed to neutralize resistance mechanisms in bacteria, leaving them vulnerable to antibiotics. “This molecule can restore sensitivity to standard, already-approved antibiotics in bacteria that are now resistant to those antibiotics,” Geller says, which eliminates the need to invest time and money in developing new antibiotics. So how does this PPMO work?

A PPMO a type of synthetic molecule that mimics DNA and can bind to the ribonucleic acid (RNA) of a cell. RNA takes the information stored in the DNA of a cell, translating it into proteins that carry out the various functions of that cell.

Imagine a gene as instructions, written in a letter. Normally, the RNA receives this letter and carries out the instructions, creating the appropriate proteins. The PPMO, however, intercepts the letter along the way, replacing it with one that commands the RNA to do nothing. So Geller’s team can create a PPMO that binds to the gene that produces NDM-1 — an enzyme that neutralizes antibiotics — and silences it. Suddenly, the bacterium has no defense mechanism.

“Most standard antibiotics don’t target genes or gene expression, they bind to cellular structures like ribosomes or membranes,” Geller explains. “Our approach is to target the genes themselves, or more specifically, target the messenger RNA that’s made from the genes; our molecules bind to a specific messenger RNA, and that prevents its translation into protein.”

Although the PPMOs are synthetic, they are not conjured from “earth, wind, and fire,” as Geller puts it. The process begins — as many a great night does — with brewer’s yeast. Chemists take the yeast from fermentation vats, and extract the DNA.

Geller’s team can create a PPMO that binds to the gene that produces NDM-1 — an enzyme that neutralizes antibiotics — and silences it.

Chemists then break the DNA down, extracting some of the more valuable parts, and use their pieces as the building blocks of the molecule. Although bacteria are the target for the molecule, they are not the only obstacle it faces. The human body, with all its natural defenses, poses a threat, so the chemists make modifications to the resulting compound, protecting it from the enzymes in the human body that could disintegrate it.

The process may sound time-consuming, but it is actually remarkably quick. “The real beauty of this technology,” Geller says, “is that it really shortens the discovery time for a new drug. One of the most time-consuming and laborious steps in drug development is discovery. When scientists go out and try to discover a new drug, it can take many years before they find a hit, something that they think might be a good medicine.” Since the PPMO “can really target any gene, all we have to do is change the sequence of our oligomer; we can make a new drug in a matter of days, if not hours.”

Geller has been working on his research since 2001, and the results did not come easily.  He works with Gram-positive bacteria, which have a thick peptidoglycan layer in their cell walls. Early in his research, his molecules — which were then just PMOs — could not penetrate the cell walls. How did he eventually break through?

If you’re a medieval warlord trying to crack a fortress, you use a trebuchet; Geller settled for peptides. His team attached membrane-penetrating peptides to the PMOs — creating PPMOs — allowing them to pierce the cell wall. Once inside, the molecule gets to work, binding to RNA and stopping it from translating genes.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of the PPMO is that, because it is silencing a gene, rather than directly killing the bacteria, it could be less likely to trigger resistance mechanisms. To be safe, Geller thinks physicians should play the odds, using two antimicrobials or compounds in unison, to lessen the chances that any bacterium will survive treatment.

Nothing is perfect

Despite their virtues, PPMOs are not without flaws. For starters, Geller’s team has observed bacteria displaying resistance to the peptide portion of the molecule. The strength and frequency of resistance differs greatly based on the peptide used.

Beyond the cellular level, there are other drawbacks to PPMOs. Geller emphasizes that they are not broad-spectrum solutions; because a PPMO is designed to target a specific gene, a physician will need to know exactly what illness is afflicting their patient. In cases where a patient has a long-term illness, like tuberculosis, a doctor would know exactly what to target. If the physician is not yet sure what the cause of illness is, the PPMO would be virtually useless.

Finally, Geller’s project faces the same constraints that any medical research does: Time and money. Although his team can produce a PPMO quickly, Geller points out that the molecule will be subject to the same regulatory process that any drug must go through before it can be used on humans. “It takes many years to actually then test these compounds and develop them to make them effective and safe, so that they can be ultimately tested in humans,” he says. “We’re still in the development stage.”

The testing process will last as long as it needs to, but the sword above our heads is dangling ever more precariously. The fight against super bacteria is not new; humanity’s front has been inching back for years now, and the enemy seems to be crawling over the gates. It will take all the ingenuity of the medical world to stem the tide, and without wise decision-making from politicians and society at large, even that may not be enough.




30
Apr

Amazon’s free Android app program is nearing its end


Back in 2015, Amazon launched a program called Underground that gave users free access to paid Android apps and in-app purchases. For those who’ve never heard of it before, you can think of it as a way to find applications you never knew existed or to try fun or useful ones you’d typically ignore. You can still try it out now by downloading the Underground app to an Android device — it comes pre-installed on Fire tablets — but as a word of warning, its days are already numbered. The e-retail giant has announced that it’s shutting down the service and ending all support in 2019.

Amazon didn’t give an exact reason for the service’s impending demise in its announcement. It merely said that it has created “new monetization opportunities for developers” since the program launched two years ago. “Developers can now earn revenue outside their game by converting game characters and imagery into branded t-shirts via Merch by Amazon,” the announcement read. “And with Amazon Coins, Appstore customers can save on every game in the Amazon Appstore. Customers can buy Amazon Coins at a discount, while developers continue to get their full 70 percent revenue share.” To note, developers’ payment for apps downloaded from the Underground store is based on how long you keep their creations.

If you have an Android device from another manufacturer, you can only access Underground’s free app store until this summer. In case you’d still like to like to try it out, you’ll need to visit its official website on your phone or tablet to install it, since it’s not available on Google Play. If you have a Fire tablet, you can access the store until it shuts down in 2019. However, you’ll have to make do with what’s already available, because Amazon will no longer accept requests to be included in the program after May 31st.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Amazon

30
Apr

Tesla revives automatic braking in response to lower review scores


Apparently, public pressure works… to a degree. Tesla has reintroduced automatic emergency braking to the Model S and Model X through an update after their continued omission led Consumer Reports to lower its ratings for the electric cars. It’s a tentative step, mind you. The feature currently only works at speeds up to 28MPH, so this won’t save you if someone abruptly slows down on the highway. Higher speeds will come in stages, Tesla says. It’s not clear just when you’ll see the 90MPH braking that came with models released before October 2016.

Consumer Reports plans to revisit its ratings once it believes the “vast majority” of Tesla owners have the update, and should look at scorecards again when higher speed limits arrive. That’s no doubt what Tesla is hoping for — even a slight bump could help the Model S recover the top spot on CR’s charts. All the same, it’s hard to object too loudly when even a limited form of emergency braking could mean the difference between a nasty accident and arriving home safely.

Via: The Verge

Source: Consumer Reports

30
Apr

Hideo Kojima on his cinematic influences, ‘Death Stranding’ and VR


If you’re starting a new gaming festival, having Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima aboard is a good way to prove you mean business. That was the case for the inaugural Tribeca Games Festival, which featured Kojima in a keynote conversation tonight with Geoff Keighley, producer of The Game Awards. The wide-ranging chat covered Kojima’s cinematic influences — of which there were many — and his progress on Death Stranding, his long-awaited upcoming project.

Watch Kojima’s segment in the stream above starting at 5:30

Anyone who’s played a Metal Gear Solid game can tell, without a question, that Hideo Kojima loves movies. When he was asked about his earliest impressions of cinema, Kojima says it started when he was a child, when his parents wouldn’t let him go to bed without watching a certain amount of movies every night. His first solo theater-going experience for 1975’s Rollerball; he was so short, he couldn’t see over the ticket counter, and a worried theater attendant led him to a seat personally.

Before the age of home video, Kojima would see the same film in the theater several times a day, changing his seat with every screening to get a different angle of the film. And when he finally did get access to video, he would watch Taxi Driver daily before going to school or work. Not surprisingly, Robert De Niro was his favorite actor throughout his teens — the character of Solid Snake was actually inspired by De Niro’s in The Deer Hunter.

When Keighley wondered why Kojima liked working with actors in his games so much (Death Stranding features The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus and the great Mads Mikkelsen), he noted that he liked the small bits of inspiration they bring to a project. “By bringing in actors, they do some things that I don’t imagine,” he said. ” That alone makes the world bigger, there’s something happening on the stage.” Ultimately, that leads to more natural feeling characters than you’d get from completely CG creations.

As for progress on Death Stranding, Kojima quipped, “It’s moving on PS4… Overall, [we] have the general plan for the project, there’s a plot.” His team is also still testing out different systems for the game, characters and environment. If the game were an Italian restaurant, he said, he’s now focusing on what kinds of tables would be there, and what’s actually on the menus. The development progress is “going pretty well” overall, he added.

Kojima was particularly intrigued by the possibilities of virtual reality. “A photo has always been something that’s been a frame. A painting has always been a frame. 130 years ago Lumier brothers created movies and that was also in a frame,” he said. “The media so far has always been about what kind of information you can put inside a frame. This goes the same for games, they’re very interactive. In an FPS, you can move around, but it’s still about what kind of information you can put inside that frame.”

“When it comes to VR/AR, you lose that frame. It becomes something totally different. It’s about how you can put this information in a completely different canvas… That goes for games and videos. That’s something I’m very excited about.”

Given his excitement for VR on stage, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s eyeing some sort of VR project in the future. It’s also the ideal medium for Kojima: He helped to mature gaming as a storytelling medium, and I’d bet he has plenty of ideas of how to push that new medium forward.

Keighley rounded out the chat by asking if Kojima would ever direct a traditional film. “I love movies, so definitely one day I’d want to,” he said, while noting that it would also be impossible until he finishes Death Stranding. Funny enough, he also pointed out that he’s worried about making a movie — since he loves cinema so much, “if I start making a movie I might never finish it.”

As for what type of movie Kojima would like to make? Not surprisingly, he’s game for a “big budget blockbuster.” But he’s also intrigued in doing a smaller feature with a few characters in a single room. I’m calling it now: #KojimaforDieHard.

Check out all of our Tribeca 2017 coverage here.

30
Apr

What do all those networking terms mean? Network nerdery for dummies


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Making sense of those acronyms and abbreviations.

“Hey, man. Did you hear that Qualcomm’s new X20 modem is rated for cat 18 LTE, carries 12 spatial streams and is 4×4 MIMO capable? Isn’t that cool?”

Maybe that’s cool, but really how is a regular person with a regular job or who goes to regular school and has regular hobbies supposed to know? It sounds like a secret code with all the abbreviations and acronyms, and the companies who want us to buy it aren’t any better at explaining: “10 times faster” “5G” “Gigabit”. Those words may convey the right message — that things will be fast — but take no time to say why or how.

A lot of tech talk is this way. Engineers are lazy when it comes to typing or writing. Things like “power over Ethernet” instantly become PoE, or “impedance” becomes Z (I is for current. Of course it is.). That’s why you hear words and phrases like QAM that don’t mean a thing unless you stop and look them up. And usually, the answer is filled with other acronyms and abbreviations. Did I mention that engineers are lazy typists?

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Because Qualcomm and some of their partners are working on changing the whole game when it comes to better wireless networking, you’ll be hearing or reading this kind of stuff a lot. Here’s some help so you know wtf those nerds are talking about!

  • 4G stands for fourth generation wireless. 3G was the third generation, and so on. There are standards, but companies like AT&T are allowed to just use the G as a marketing term.
  • LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. It’s based on the old standards but has evolved to be faster and better at carrying data.
  • cat usually follows LTE when talking about wireless. It simply stands for category. Higher numbers are faster.
  • Carrier aggregation (sometimes LTE CA) is part of the advanced LTE standards that lets a network combine LTE signals. More radio waves equal more and faster data. You’ll see it expressed as “5x20MHz” which is not an acronym and means five 20MHz signals.
  • QAM is short for Quadrature amplitude modulation. It’s a method to take two different instances of the same shape signal wave and put them 90-degrees out of phase. Modulation and demodulation use both amplitude and phase to process the signal. Wireless networks and phones (and cable boxes and HDTV tuners) are designed to use Quantized QAM because square waves offer more bits per symbol with a lower SNR.
  • The entire section above this one is because I know there are some budding engineers that will read this and want that explanation. For everyone else, QAM is a way to send a signal that carries more data with less noise than there would be if you amplified a single “regular” signal. A higher number means more data and faster speeds.
  • MIMO stands for multiple inputs, multiple outputs. It’s an antenna design that has both the device sending a signal and the device receiving the signal using more than one antenna at the same time, This means the signal can carry more data and have fewer errors.
  • Spatial streams are how a MIMO setup carries different signals on each antenna. The receiving device (your phone) puts them all together into one signal filled with lots of data. This is also called multiplexing. The more streams that can be sent at the same time, the more data is in the stream when they are put back together. 12 streams are better than 10.

This is a good start. You won’t turn into a wireless engineer by reading it and there are a lot of technicalities not included here. That’s by design — someone has to try and turn all this stuff into something everyone reading about it can understand.

And there a a lot more abbreviations, acronyms, and insanity when it comes to telecom terms, Toss out the ones you know in the comments so we all can have a better understanding of why our stuff is supposed to be faster in the 5G future.

30
Apr

Turkey blocks Wikipedia over an alleged ‘smear campaign’


Turkey may have just stepped up its efforts to quash online free speech. The country has blocked Wikipedia for supposedly running a “smear campaign” by allowing articles claiming that the Turkish government was coordinating with militant groups. The government says it will lift the restrictions if Wikipedia complies, but that isn’t likely to happen unless there’s proof the collaboration claims aren’t true. Jimmy Wales and the Wikimedia Foundation are determined to protect truth in reporting, and that means posting articles that be less than flattering to politicians.

Accordingly, the Wikimedia Foundation tells us that it’s “committed” to keeping Wikipedia available in Turkey. It’s pushing for a “judicial review” of the decision. You can read the full statement below.

The ban may not hold forever, even if the Wikipedia team refuses to budge. The ban has to go to a court within 24 hours of taking effect, and that court has two days to decide on whether or not the ban sticks. There have been successful challenges to bans in the past. However, it’s hard not to see this as part of a chilling trend of online censorship in Turkey — particularly in the aftermath of a referendum that, if upheld, grants President Erdogan sweeping powers. The country’s leadership is determined to hold on at all costs, and that means suppressing any internet content (true or not) that might question its legitimacy.

“The Wikimedia Foundation has learned that access to Wikipedia has been blocked in Turkey as of Saturday, April 29th. Wikipedia is a rich and valuable source of neutral, reliable information in hundreds of languages, written by volunteers around the world. We are committed to ensuring that Wikipedia remains available to the millions of people who rely on it in Turkey. To that end, we are actively working with outside counsel to seek judicial review of the decision affecting access to Wikipedia. We hope the issue can be resolved promptly.”

Source: Turkey Blocks, Reuters

30
Apr

Apple, Tesla want changes to California’s self-driving car tests


Califonia’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will soon review the new set of proposed regulations that could change how testing works in the state. If the proposals are approved, we might see some truly unmanned autonomous vehicles with no steering wheels cruising California’s streets. Apple, Tesla and some of the other companies that have permission to test their vehicles in the state want to see more changes to its policy, though, so they sent the DMV letters with their suggestions. In Cupertino’s case, it’s asking the DMV to require much clearer disengagement reporting. “Disengagements” are what you call instances wherein the human tester had to take control of the vehicle from the self-driving system to prevent accidents.

The tech titan wants California to redefine disengagement, so that companies will include instances wherein the human drivers had to take the wheel to prevent even minor traffic violations. However, it believes certain instances shouldn’t be officially counted as disengagements anymore, such as handing back control to a human driver due to system error or so that they could navigate a construction site. The changes will give Apple, whose permit to test is fresh out of the DMV, more accurate data for its experiments.

Both Apple and Tesla are also asking the state to allow testing of heavier autonomous vehicles. We’re guessing the automaker has plans to unleash self-driving trucks on California roads — we know it’s working on at least one semi truck that Elon Musk teased during a recent TED talk.

Alphabet’s autonomous car division Waymo is asking the DMV not to approve the new liability proposal that could make the automakers liable for crashes that aren’t their vehicles’ fault. Uber, which has tumultuous relationship with California’s DMV, also sent in a request, and it stays true to the company’s nature. The ride-hailing corporation wants authorities to allow paying customers to ride the cars it’s testing with human drivers onboard.

Source: Reuters, Marketwatch, DMV

30
Apr

The best cordless drill you can buy


Unless you like being at the mercy of grumpy landlords and pricey contractors, you’ll need a cordless drill. More accurately called drill/drivers, they not only drill holes of all sizes in any material, but drive all types of screws too. Keep the batteries charged and your little buddy will be ready to go, helping you battle a Brimnes or Björksnäs, tighten a wonky cabinet door, and power your way through serious DIY, woodworking, carpentry, and remodeling projects.

With no cord to drag around, the drill can go where ever its needed, outside to fix a fence, or in the tool bucket that travels with your trebuchet.

There are two big stories here. For one, the advent of lithium-ion batteries means you get more power and run time for less cash than ever before. But the real headline-maker is the impact driver, a new type of cordless drill that changes the game completely. The magic happens when the going gets tough, like when you are driving a long screw deep into a wall stud, for example. That’s when the drill kicks into impact mode, delivering a staccato of tiny impacts that make the screw melt into place. No torque on your wrist, no stripping screw heads. It’s just as amazing for pulling out old rusty screws too. You have to try it to believe it.

And don’t think an impact driver can’t drill, too. The impact action only kicks in in the toughest situations, and it doesn’t hurt the process a bit. It is a little loud though.

The only real downside here is price, in terms of the drill itself and the bits you need to buy, but the upside outweighs the upcharge. You’ll need to buy hex-shanked drill bits (vs. cheaper round-shanked ones), since these drills only have a quick-change chuck, but quick-change is sweet anyway, saving you from wrestling with standard drill chucks that tighten with hand power.

Our pick

20V DeWalt Max Brushless Impact Driver

Why should you buy this: No better combo of size, punch, price, and friendly features

The best

20V DeWalt Max Brushless Impact Driver

For serious builders, makers, remodelers, and DIYers of all stripes

$199.00 from Amazon

Who’s it for: Serious remodelers, builders, and makers of all stripes

How much will it cost: $180 plus

Why we picked the 20V DeWalt Max Brushless Impact Driver (model DCF887D2):

I’ve owned a bunch of drills and tested many more, and this is my new favorite. With less friction in the drivetrain, brushless motors deliver more power from the same battery size. Add DeWalt’s excellent impact technology, and you get effortless drilling and driving in a compact tool that goes anywhere and drives like a BMW. With the battery attached below the handle, the balance is perfect and the handle will fit any hand.

Unlike some other impact drivers, the DeWalt has a speed switch. While the speed is still variable  depending on how hard you squeeze the trigger, you can lower the high end, which comes in handy. Other than three LEDs surrounding the bit instead of the usual one, plus a belt hook and nice little bit holder, that’s about it. This tool just feels perfect and stops at nothing. After a few big projects, it will look like a bargain.

The best cordless drill for first-time buyers

Black & Decker 20V Max

Why should you buy this: At $50, this powerful drill is a ridiculous deal

The best for first-time buyers

Black & Decker 20V Max

Plenty of power and performance for occasional projects and repairs

$49.00 from Amazon

Who’s it for: Got a blossoming interest in DIY, simple repairs, and basic remodeling projects? Trade your screwdriver for a great cordless drill

How much will it cost: $50+

Why we picked the Black & Decker 20V Max (model LDX120C):

It’s shocking how much drill you can get for $50 on Amazon. Built by the same company that makes contractor-grade DeWalt tools, the Black & Decker 20V Max boasts similar battery technology in a less heavy-duty package. It is a standard cordless drill, not an impact driver, but there is plenty of power for all but the biggest drill bits. Speaking of bits, this drill can take the less-expensive round-shanked ones, instead of the quick-change bits required by impact drivers, only adding to the value factor.

User-friendliness includes overmold rubber grips for comfort and control, and a built-in LED that sheds light in tight corners. Reviewers also point to a slender handle that fits hands of all sizes.

This price is for the drill, charger and just one battery, but you can buy it with two for uninterrupted work sessions.

The best impact driver on a budget

Makita 12 Max Cordless Impact Driver

Why should you buy this: Experience the magic of impact action for less

The best on a budget

Makita 12 Max Cordless Impact Driver

Compact impact driver punches above its weight

$107.99 from Amazon

Who’s it for: Occasional builders, makers, and remodelers looking for a compact drill with punch

How much will it cost: $110

Why we picked the Makita 12 Max Cordless Impact Driver (model DT01W):

Impact technology has another benefit: It means you can get just as big a punch from a smaller drill. If you already have a 12-volt cordless drill, you’ll be surprised at what this impact model can do. The stick-style batteries fit up into the handle, making this little powerhouse so compact it will fit into your shop apron. It also has the requisite comfy overmold grips and and LED light for dark corners (or a flashlight in a pinch).

The 12v Makita impact driver is double the price of the bigger Black & Decker but will match it stride for stride in power and performance, in a much more compact and durable package.

The best accessory kit for impact drivers

Milwaukee Shockwave Impact Driver Bit Set

Why should you buy this: Cordless drills need drill and driver bits, and it’s hard to beat this package

The best accessory kit

Milwaukee Shockwave Impact Driver Bit Set

Drill and driver bit set is engineered for impact drivers

$33.82 from Amazon.com

Who’s it for: Owners of impact drivers, or those who want quick-change bits

How much will it cost: $35

Why we picked the Milwaukee Shockwave Impact Driver Bit Set (45-Piece; model 48-32-4009):

Your new drill won’t do a thing without the right drill bits and a variety of driver bits. Since two of the drills in this roundup are impact drivers, which require hex-shanked (quick-change) bits, and can snap wimpy ones, I went with a combo pack of essential bits that are built to take the extra torque and hammer action. The inconvenient truth about tools is you get what you pay for, and this contractor-grade set will not let you down.

It comes with the drill bits you’ll use most, all driver bits you need for all major types of screw heads (flat, Phillips, square, star, hex and more), and a bunch of invaluable accessories not found in every kit, like long driver bits for tight spaces, hex sockets for driving nuts and bolts with your magic impact action, and a magnetic bit holder that can stay in the chuck all the time, turning a standard cordless drill into a quick-change artist.

How we test

As a woodworker, remodeler, and tool tester for magazines, I’ve used scores of cordless drills, so I know what you can and should expect.

First things first, you won’t get anywhere if the chuck won’t hold bits securely. On a standard chuck, you should be able tighten it fully with out wrecking your palm or wrist. If you own an impact driver, the quick-change chuck should be just that, quick and easy to use without creating stuck bits. When I couldn’t check this myself, I looked for red flags in certified buyers’ reviews.

Next up, and probably most important, is power and run time, which are two different things. Power is indicated by a battery’s voltage and run time by its stated amp-hours, but actual performance varies between brands. Although I wasn’t able to conduct actual driving tests for the most recently introduced drills, I used past results to make bets on brands that tend to perform best.

And last there are creature comforts, like noise, vibration, balance, and comfort. Again, I went off a combination of experience, specs, and user reviews.

Helpful advice

If you are a first-time drill user, or even a longtime owner, here are a few tips you might have missed.

If you have a standard cordless drill, you’ll notice a twist-ring right behind the chuck, with numbers on it. That sets the clutch, and it is important. To avoid stripping the head of a screw, you want that setting to be the lowest that will still drive the screw home. A low setting can also help you avoid overdriving a screw, burying it in the wood or drywall. The highest setting is for drilling and the toughest driving jobs, where you want no clutch slippage at all.

There is usually also a speed switch, which you should vary for drilling (fast) and driving (slow), and don’t forget the direction switch: All drill bits must spin forward to work!

Impact drivers have a different set of quirks. Their triggers are pressure-sensitive, meaning it can be tricky to squeeze softly and maintain a slow speed. That’s why it is nice when the tool includes a speed switch that limits the top-end RPMs for driving screws or big drill bits. The impact acton is loud, so invest in a cheap set of earmuffs.




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