Latest Stories
How To Make a Gory Hand Prop!

We visit Frank Ippolito's shop to learn about making ultra-realistic fake hands as Halloween props. Frank walks us through the step-by-step process of molding your own hand and making a silicone casting, and then cutting and painting up the fake hand to look realistically gory. It's actually a special effect you can do by yourself without any assistance! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us by joining the Tested Premium community!)

How to Get Into Hobby RC: Learning to Fly Quadcopters

I’ve mentioned my recommended path for aspiring multi-rotor pilots several times in this column. Before buying a large, expensive ship with a camera attached, I think it is better to begin with a RC flight simulator and/or a small quad. I think that this approach will help you hone your piloting chops before accepting the risks of flying a bigger aircraft. I’m still holding firm to that opinion. I realize, however, that I have never adequately addressed how to use those tools to become a competent multi-rotor pilot. Today, I want to share my techniques for becoming comfortable at the controls of any multi-rotor.


The Hardware Option

There are tons of small quad-rotors out there that are adequate for learning the basics. The main feature to look for in a mini-quad is a 2-stick transmitter like you’ll be using with larger quads. In my opinion, the closer the transmitter is to the standard size, the better.

Another prime feature to look for is adjustable sensitivity for the flight controls. Many quads lack this very useful ability. Some have two or three preset sensitivity levels, while others have a full range of adjustments. Either adjustment method is good for what we’re trying to accomplish. The idea behind adjusting the sensitivity is to detune the quad’s response to your inputs and make it easier to fly.

I learned to fly quads with the HeliMax 1SQ, which fits all of the requirements listed above and has proven to be very resilient. While I still fly the 1SQ frequently, I have a new favorite quad for my indoor training sessions, the tiny Estes Proto-X SLT. The SLT is an updated version of the Proto-X that Norm reviewed a few months ago. Whenever I turn on the Proto-X, It’s easy to imagine my living room is like a course for the Red Bull Air Races…plenty of obstacles ready to be conquered!

The Heli-Max 1SQ

While, the actual quad appears mostly unchanged, the radio system received updates that make it much more beginner-friendly. The tiny, cartoon-like transmitter included with the original Proto-X is gone. It has been replaced by a significantly larger (though still smaller than standard) transmitter with adjustable control sensitivity. More specifically, there are two flight modes (standard and expert) with each mode having adjustable sensitivity.

Furthermore, the new Proto-X can be linked with any transmitter that uses the SLT protocol. This includes radios such as the Tactic TTX650 and the Hitec Flash 7. If you already have a favorite non-SLT radio, you can likely fly the Proto-X SLT with it using the AnyLink2 module. You have options.

In Brief: Large Gallery of ILM Model Shop Miniatures

Not exactly sure about the source of these photos, but here's a large gallery of photos of modelmakers and miniatures from the ILM model shop, circa The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The photos show the making of some iconic vehicles like the Republic fighters and cruisers, the Super Star Destroyer, and even Death Star 2. Most of these models reside in Lucasfilm's precious archives in Northern California, and some went on tour in the most recent exhibition of Star Wars models and props. You can find my photos from that exhibit here.

Norman 3
In Brief: iPad Air 2 Has Tri-Core CPU, 2GB of RAM

The first reviews of Apple's new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 went online yesterday, and they're looking mostly positive. The consensus on the Mini seems to be that it's not worth the $100 premium over the now-$400 Mini 2, just for TouchID and the gold color option. But the improvements made to the iPad Air line is pretty significant. iPad Air 2 is Apple's first tablet with a tri-core SoC, the A8X. It's not just a clock speed bump over the iPhone 6's A8, and synthetic benchmarks peg performance far above the latest iPhones in both single-core and multi-core usage. iPad Air 2 is also Apple's first iOS device with 2GB of RAM. According to some reviewers, it's as fast an old MacBook Air (at least for web browsing). Those devices aren't really comparable, since their core users buy them for very different reasons and usage scenarios. While I'm not excited for the new Mini, nor am in the market for a new full-size iPad, I think it looks promising as an upgrade for my parents' 3rd-generation iPad (the heavy one that got the Retina display). They can't stand the small screen of the Mini, and will appreciate the sub-1 pound weight of the new Air 2. But the best thing for them is that they will be able to get 128GB of storage at the previous 64GB price--essential for photos. They're the kind of people who use their iPads as their sole computers, and never delete or move photos off of them. My guess is that there are a lot of iPad users who fall into that category too.

Tested In-Depth: Moto X (2014)

After testing the new Moto X Android smartphone for a month, Will and Norm sit to down to discuss how its three most important features: the display, camera, and battery life compare against today's top Android phones. How does Motorola's spin on Android compare to the stock version? Plus, does the custom wood back look and feel any good?

Research Robots Versus the Volcano

The last time NASA scientists sent a robot into the crater of a volcano was 1994.

It’s name was Dante II, an autonomous, eight-legged crawler packed with video cameras, lasers and other sensors. It was designed by scientists from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute to rappel and hobble down the inside of the active Alaskan volcano Mount Spurr – a proof-of-concept for encounters with the types of hostile environments that NASA robots might deal with in space.

Photo credit: Phil Hontalas/NASA

But a tumble towards the end of Dante’s mission and subsequent helicopter rescue offered a stark reminder that “the possibility of catastrophic failure is very real in severe terrain,” the robot’s designers wrote. Even with today’s technology – we have self-driving cars now! – there hasn’t been another Dante since.

“To get a robot to go over the varied and often difficult terrain is very challenging. Robotics has come a long way since Dante, but […] it’s just not quite at the level where they can handle volcanic terrain yet,” explained Carolyn Parcheta, a volcanologist and NASA postdoctoral fellow sponsored by Tennessee’s Oak Ridge Associated Universities. It’s part of the reason that the U.S. Geological Survey still believes that "experienced volcanologists are a better and more cost-effective alternative for monitoring dangerous volcanoes” than robots – at least, for now.

In a volcanic environment, there are myriad materials of different sizes and shapes. You’ll find small round rocks where each step is like walking on the shifting sands of a beach. On the more extreme end of the spectrum is lava that’s sharp and jagged, making it near impossible to find space both flat and wide enough for a human foot. You’re always walking at an angle. In the middle, you have what Parcheta describes as “the slow, oozing, ropy looking stuff” that’s still difficult to walk on, but less so than the jagged stuff.

Photo credit: Phil Hontalas/NASA

“Volcanic terrain is much more complicated than just a set of stairs or an inclined slope, because it’s often all those different things combined,” Parcheta explains. “There’s no regular pattern to the landscape. It feels random. And to the robot it will be random. It needs to learn how to assess that before it can take its steps, and humans do this on the fly, naturally.” This is, as you might expect, difficult – and one of the big problems that Dante’s designers had. So, for years, humans have instead sufficed.

But there’s also another reason that volcano crawling robots haven’t exactly been subject to pressing demand. According to Dr. Peter Cervelli, associate director for science and technology at the USGS Volcano Science Center, his agency has had “limited need for ground based robotics” – in large part because the majority of volcanoes in the United States don’t presently pose a threat to human volcanologists.

In Brief: Startup Touts Working Hoverboard, Launches Kickstarter

Let's hope this isn't like that Funny or Die hoax from earlier this year. Hendo is a startup that just launched a Kickstarter for a hoverboard, claiming to have created a working prototype of a hovering skateboard. Their hoverboard system using four focused magnets to keep the board and someone standing on top of it afloat over a designated surface. Yep, there's the catch: the Hendo hoverboard only works when placed above non-ferromagnetic conducting surfaces, like metal sheets spread over a half pipe. Hendo isn't being very forthcoming about how its "Magnetic Field Architecture" engines work, but Nerdist' Science Editor explains it as such: "Henderson’s MFA technology is then apparently creating and fluctuating a magnetic field above a metallic surface, and the induced current in that surface provides enough of a response that you can drop in on a metal [surface]." The Kickstarter is offering backers one of ten production boards for $10,000 each (already four sold!), and developer kits with the magnetic "engines" and metal surfaces starting at $300. Working hoverboards? Auto form-fitting fabrics? Everyone wants to get in on the promise of 2015. Put me firmly in the skeptical category.

Norman 7