Inside the DIY Weapons Workshop of the Libyan Rebels

A visit to one of the makeshift arms factories that helped liberate the country

This weekend, the leader of Libya’s governing National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, announced that the country was officially “liberated.” After eight months of civil war, Sirte, the last loyalist city and Col. Moammar Qaddafi’s hometown, fell to former rebel control on Thursday. In the midst of chaotic fighting, NTC forces caught the ex-Brother Leader hiding in a drainage pipe.

Grainy but graphic YouTube videos of Qaddafi’s capture show Libyan fighters slapping, spitting and cursing their former despot. When Qaddafi made it to Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, he was dead. Conflicting reports on how exactly he was killed continue to circulate, but an autopsy showed it was a bullet to the head. Libya’s new leadership has said Qaddafi died in a crossfire, but most suspect he was killed by his captors. That hasn’t stopped thousands from queuing to see the mercurial leader’s body laid out on display in a storage cooler.

Jalil’s speech marked a way forward for the embattled country, setting a timeline for national elections in 2012. But now, Libya’s new leadership faces its newest challenge: disarming regional brigades and convincing the citizenry to turn in their weapons.

To take down the Qaddafi military, former rebels formed makeshift militias to clear large expanses of desert as well as urban blocks. In order to pose a real threat to Qaddafi’s conventional force, men from across the country ransacked regime weapons stockpiles and carted off any arms they could find. They formed regional militias and modified old weapons in innovative ways. Today, the weapons used to vanquish the loyalist army are everywhere.

Former fighters brandishing AK-47s and FN FAL rifles are just the tip of the iceberg. When I was in Libya in September, heavy weapons mounted on trucks were all over the place. Weapons modification garages were churning out new ideas and fixing their weapons for the final Sirte offensive.

Former rebels took apart 14.5mm machine guns from Russian-designed ZPU-4 antiaircraft weapons and mounted each one on a pickup truck. They did the same with ZU-23mms, Soviet anti-aircraft twin-barreled autocannons, and Grad multiple rocket launchers. They took 106mm recoilless rifles and sawed off the truck cab to make space for the cannon.

The trucks are a sight in themselves, armored by welded sheets of steel painted green, red and white, the colors of the revolutionary flag. Fighters from Regional militias drove in small convoys, their brigade name displayed prominently across the sides of their vehicles. Crammed with guns, grenades and ammo under their legs, everyone that could get it had a heavy artillery in the back.

I visited Misrata’s central weapons modification workshop after Libya’s third largest city threw off a three-month siege by loyalist troops. They took all the arms they could get their hands on and made them more lethal. They had fought for their lives on the city’s main thoroughfare that spring.

Arif Abuzed was an engineer in the national Libyan Steel Company. When the revolution began the 47-year-old decided he was too old to fight on the frontline, so he started using his expertise to help alter weapons. He joined Misrata’s central modification workshop in May. He told me he got some of his inspiration from watching television, seeing how other fighters across Libya were using weapons and trying to improve on their tactics.

Abuzed’s favorite was the improvised, shoulder-fired rocket launcher that was designed for use against armored vehicles. Initially, the workshops affixed the UB-32, a launcher designed to fire Russian S-5 rockets from a helicopter, on a truck. But they found they couldn’t hit designated targets properly—rockets from the middle of the pod shot straight while the outer ring curved to the side.

They discovered they could remove the 68mm rockets and shoot them out of a makeshift tube triggered by a button and nine-volt battery from their shoulder. Now easily mobile, it can take out tanks from a range of six miles and one battery lasts about 50 launches. “They’re effective and they’re easy to handle,” Abuzed told me, beaming with pride.

“We were all civilians, engineers, technicians, store keepers, ladies’ fashion retail owners, and drivers,” he explained on a narrow wooden bench over the cacophony of saws and blowtorches in the workshop’s welding room. “We never wanted to do this, it was a necessity.”

Ali Mohamed, the workshop’s assistant director, was a truck driver before the revolution; he owned his own autorepair shop. He told me his weapon of choice is the 23mm. “It’s the most intimidating,” he said. “It has an impact on whatever it hits and since it’s automatic, it can fire multiple hits.”

The 35-year-old has a nine-month-old son and a five-year-old daughter. His blue eyes light up when I asked, back in September, what would happen to his newfound weapons expertise next?

“When the war is over, I’m going to remove all I’ve seen and bury it. Erase it from my memory, we’re peaceful people,” he said, almost pleading, after he spent the morning guiding me through various weapons systems and modifications.

Now, over a month after I met Mohamed, the war is officially over and Libya is free. In Misrata, Libyans gaze at the body of their former despot. Somewhere Mohamed is probably rejoicing. After eight months of civil war, the world will be watching to see if former rebels like Mohamed make good on their promises.

By: Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

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Video: Smart Petri Dish Images Cells Using a Smartphone Camera and Legos

Despite all the huge advances in medical technology in the past couple centuries, petri dishes, one of the most crucial pieces of equipment, haven’t changed much at all. Now a grad student at Caltech has finally brought these flat-bottomed bowls into the 21st century.

The new device, dubbed ePetri, uses an imaging chip from a mobile phone camera, a smartphone and Lego blocks. The imaging chip acts as the petri dish in the traditional sense, holding the cell culture beneath a sheet of protective plastic. The square chip is placed inside a platform made of Legos, and an Android phone hooks in place on top. The phone’s LED screen is used as a scanning light source, illuminating the image sensor.

The whole thing goes inside an incubator, and a cable connects to a computer outside, which reads the image sensor. This allows researchers to watch cell growth in real time — no extra cell transport, pipetting or external microscopes required. Watch a video below to see how well the system works.

Cell culture involves lots of cell transport, moving from incubators to microscope plates and back again. The process is time-consuming and laborious, so any processes that can automate cell culture would be a welcome advance. It also cuts down on contamination risks, explains Guoan Zheng, an electrical engineering grad student and lead author of the paper describing the ePetri.

The ePetri allows wide-field images of confluent cells, which are cells that grow tightly together. Other Caltech scientists have already put it to the test, according to a news release from the university: Biologist Michael Elowitz used it to observe embryonic stem cells. Stem cells differentiate in different ways, so a biologist looking through a microscope would only be looking at one small group, akin to wearing blinders. But the ePetri let Elowitz study stem cells on the entire device.

“It radically re-conceives the whole idea of what a light microscope is,” he said.

The team believes the ePetri could be used for labs-on-a-chip or other portable diagnostic devices, according to Caltech. Zheng and colleagues are working on a new self-contained version that includes a small incubator, which would be useful for diagnostic tests that would not require sending samples out to a lab.

The ePetri is described in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[via Futurity]

By: Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

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Sponsored Post: Radioshack Remote Controlled Pulse Jet Engine DIY Project

In theory, remote controlled cars are great, but in practice they’re just never quite exciting enough for me. That is, until I decided to attach a jet engine to one. Yes, you read that right – a jet engine. Advertisement

Pulse jets are a simple type of jet engine with no, or very few, moving parts, depending on the design. The jet I used had only one – a reed valve made of spring steel shaped like the petals of a flower. Rather than relying on complex internal machinery, pulse jets instead work with the resonance of the exhaust gasses in the tailpipe. This simplicity means that you can get ones small, light, and cheap enough to put on a model plane – or an RC car.

To attach a jet to the chassis of my Radio Shack RC car, I fabricated simple brackets out of steel. They also strengthened the chassis and added some weight, which made the jet-car slightly more controllable, although only very slightly. Spring loaded hose clamps held the jet to those brackets. For the nitromethane and methanol mix that fuels the jet, I installed a “clunk tank,” which is typically used in RC planes, inside the body of the truck.

As I’d suspected it would, the 4 pounds of thrust produced so greatly overpowered the little car that attempts to drive it were comical – and I throughly enjoyed every second of it. For every kid who’s ever strapped model rocket motors to a toy car; I’m living the dream. If I were to do this again with a bigger car that could actually keep the shiny side up under jet power, I think I might be on to something big. And loud.


RC Pickup Truck – Radio Shack – p/n 60-594 –
Pulse Jet – Jet Bill Products & JohnMar Gear and Machine –
6oz Clunk Tank – Hobby People – item # 568469 –
Fuel Tubing – Hobby People – item # 567776 –
HD Motorsports Hero Camera – GoPro –
Various steel, hose clamps, and fasteners – McMaster –

Origin: Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

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You Built What?! A Seven-Foot-High 3-D Printer That Uses the Sun to Transform Sand Into Glass Object

Marcus Kayser’s Solar Sinter project turns desert sand into glass bowls

When design student Markus Kayser wanted to test his sun-powered, sand-fed 3-D printer, he knew the gray skies outside his London apartment wouldn’t do. So he shipped the 200-plus-pound contraption to Cairo, Egypt, flew there himself, and haggled with officials for two days to get it out of customs. A few small “tips” and 11 hours of driving later, he finally made it to the Sahara. But soon the mercury hit 104 degrees, his components nearly overheated, and he was forced to improvise.

The idea for the printer first came to Kayser a few months earlier. He wanted to find a project in which the sun did more than just power a device. He researched possibilities online, talked to physics professors, and learned about a process in which sand, heated to its melting point, cools into solid glass. With enough sun, a large lens and an ample supply of sand, he figured he might be able to produce glassware.

For the printer to work efficiently, the focal point of the lens would have to be trained right onto the surface of the sand. He knew the sun would move and the focal point would shift during the process, so he ordered a single 4.5-foot-wide lens and built a motorized frame for it. The central sandbox, in which the objects are printed, shifts in all directions, and the entire machine rotates around its center. Two aluminum arms, holding the lens at one end and solar panels at the other, can pivot from straight overhead down to a 45-degree angle to chase the sun. directed by a CAD design from a connected laptop, the printer uses the concentrated beam of sunlight to slowly trace an object into the sandbox layer by layer. The sun melts the sand, which cools into glass.

When the electronics began overheating, Kayser cut open a soup can, sliced and bent its sides into fan blades, attached the creation to a spinning DC motor, and aimed it right at the circuit board. The sun melted only the sand, and, after more than four hours, he printed a glass bowl, and later several sculptures. He admits they’re not perfect; he says he could have used more-complicated optics. But, he adds, perfection wasn’t the point: “This is about showing the potential.”

How It Works

Time: 8 weeks
Cost: $3,500

Kayser attached a cylindrical sun tracker to the frame perpendicular to the lens. When the sun is directly in line with the lens, it shines straight through an opening in the top of the cylinder. As the sun shifts, the light comes in at an angle, creating shadows within the cylinder. Sensors inside detect the shadows and feed the data on their position to Kayser’s computer, which directs the motorized frame to adjust to properly align the lens.

Kayser first designs the object he wants to print in a CAd program. His computer sends instructions to the printer, which works from the bottom up. After a layer has cooled into glass, he adds more sand to the sandbox in the center of the machine and flattens it out, and the printer begins heating the next layer. Kayser’s first major piece, a bowl, took about four and a half hours to print.

Two photovoltaic panels, one on either side of the machine, keep the printer powered. since the panels are attached to the same arms as the lens, they also benefit from the sun tracking, which ensures that they always get direct light.

Origin: Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

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Video: Hydraulic Beverage-Making Typewriter Turns Words Into Mixology

An oft-repeated truism (and a much-loved one, especially on Fridays) holds that writing and drinking go hand in hand. Now this is literally true, with a lovely invention that displays letters via a QWERTY keyboard, and pumps out potent potables with every keystroke.

Behold the amazing spirituous typewriter, courtesy of Russian artist and DIYer Morskoiboy. It converts words into colorful cocktails, via a handmade hydraulic system that connects to every letter in the Latin alphabet.

The keys serve as pumps, pouring a different liquid with every letter. “Imagine that each letter can have a taste (L-Lime, A-Apple), a color (R-Red, G-Green), or a name (K-Kahlua, J-Jagermeister),” Morskoiboy explains on his website. It even has a large LCD-like (liquid cocktail?) display, which is illuminated using multicolored syrup. You’ll have to watch the demo video to really appreciate this.

Here’s hoping he posts his schematics to Instructables so we can all have one.

Hat Tip To: Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

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Archive Gallery: Offbeat Uses for Common Household Objects

How our readers turned hairpins into resistance units, electric fans into potato slicers, and asbestos shingles into hotplates.

Venture into any apartment, and you’re likely to find an object used for something other than its intended purpose. We’ve seen ground coffee used to repel ants, curtain fabric used as wallpaper, cardboard boxes used as coffee tables, and to the delight of DIY enthusiasts everywhere, a La-Z-Boy converted into a motorized easy chair. While most of us don’t possess the expertise needed to turn chairs into moving vehicles, we’ve all struggled with the question of whether to dispose of an old household item, or to save it in case it came in handy later. Care to guess what PopSci would tell you to do?

Click to launch the photo gallery.

We’ve featured some wacky ideas over the past century, including instructions on how to turn razor dispensers into miniature tank models, but most of these projects were proposed by regular people like you and me. During the interwar era, we ran a series of monthly contests that asked readers to devise alternate uses for everyday objects, such as old automobile tires, hairpins, and electric fans. One contestant soldered a hairpin onto his glasses to repair a broken nose piece. Another pinned his daughter’s nose shut for eleven months to correct its stubby appearance. And impressively enough, a cook from Nebraska replaced the blades of his fan with butcher knives to create a potato slicer (now that’s a project we would love to see on video, if home video were a thing in 1919).

After the second World War, we started publishing a “X uses for Y” column where we recommended ways to resurrect various household items. While none of these projects involved freewheeling butcher knives, they project this quaint notion of a simpler time that we love projecting onto the past. Before kids started owning their own cell phones, they could use a garden hose and a couple of cups as a “telephone” line between their tree houses and the ground. Porcelain doorknobs could be used as a pestle for crushing herbs. Spools could be used as jump rope handles. And with a wooden plank, some parchment, a few rubber bands, and an empty coffee can, you could make a toy banjo! All this, just when we were wondering how kids entertained themselves before video games and TV became commonplace.

Click through our gallery to see offbeat uses for soap, plastic wastebaskets, shaving cream lids, and more.

Credit: Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

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Adding a Touchscreen Interface to a DIY Project

“Resistive” touchscreens are the type you’re most likely to use in a DIY microcontroller project. These consist of two screen layers coated with a resistive material and separated by a small gap. When touched, the layers make contact, creating a voltage divider circuit. The resulting voltage is easily measured and correlated to position. The top layer of the touchscreen is just a clear overlay, though; what really makes it work is the layer underneath. Approaches to implementing a screen range from putting a printed sheet behind a touchscreen for a static touch interface—actually a fairly simple method to pull off—to something as full-featured as an LCD smartphone display. Here are the three main options.

For flexibility in your choice of interface, buy just the screen. Nintendo DS Lite touchscreens are easy to use, and available for less than $10 from sites such as Adafruit and Sparkfun, but they leave the underlying layer up to you.

For ease of use, pick a screen and display combination such as the one from Adafruit ($40). It’s fairly inexpensive but could tax your microcontroller, since it has to manage the graphics in addition to whatever else it does in the project.

For a more sophisticated interface, use a screen and display combination with its own processor, which reduces the load on the project’s main microcontroller. Many sub-$200 options exist, such as Liquidware’s TouchShields (about $140 at Liquidware)


Adafruit Tutorial
Sparkfun Tutorial
TouchShield Tutorial
Simple Nintendo DS Interface Code Examples
Demos of Liquidware TouchShield

Source: Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

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Custom-Made Camera Sensor Is 60 Times Bigger Than a DSLR’s

This 8×10-inch sensor–about 60 times the size of a full-frame DSLR sensor–is the creation of photographer Mitchell Feinberg, who was sick of spending thousands of dollars on expensive film previews of his work. The sensor (which, he says, cost as much as “a good-sized house–before the housing crash”) replaces the Polaroid backs that many photographers use to test exposure. But since these professional-grade Polaroids are so expensive these days due to their huge size and scarcity, he created this sensor (named the Maxback), which lets him see exactly how his shots would look on film, but in only 30 seconds and with no added cost. It’s not to be used for regular photography–the resolution is too low for a regular print spread–but to properly simulate how his shots would look on (gigantic) film, a DSLR just wouldn’t cut it. You can read more about it at Popular Photography.

Source: Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

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DIY Wrist Cuff Equips Blind People With Sonar

Like strapping a seeing-eye bat to your wrist

Guide dogs are great, but vision-impaired people sometimes need to find their own way through complex environments. Instead of checking for obstacles with a trademark white stick, inventor Steve Hoefer has another idea: Use wrist-mounted sonar.

Hoefer designed a haptic gauntlet with ultrasonic sensors mounted just over the knuckles. The Tacit, as it’s called, is encased in a neoprene cuff and can sense objects from about 1 inch to 10 feet.

Ultrasonic sensors send out pulses, and small servomotors apply pressure to give the user a sense of an object’s proximity. A shorter return signal means an object is closer, so the servomotors apply more pressure. Pressure is applied on the right or left side of the wrist, helping the user determine the obstacle’s location.

Since it’s mounted to the back of the hand, the device will not interfere with a person’s sense of touch, nor with other assistive devices that use audio feedback, Hoefer explains on his website, Grathio Labs. He designed a previous version that was worn like a headband, but decided vibrating head gear could quickly drive someone crazy. Plus, visual assistance devices don’t need to be worn on the head — “that’s a sighted prejudice,” he writes.

An earlier version was modeled after a medical wrist support, but that required separate designs for right-handed and left-handed users, Hoefer explains. The newest version attaches by a loop over the middle finger and a Velcro strap around the wrist, so it can be worn on either hand.

The device uses an Arduino Mini Pro 5v, ultrasonic sensors, hobby servomotors and a 9-volt battery. The parts retail for about $65, Hoefer says — “I don’t see the point of an accessibility device that has an inaccessible price tag.”

He gives detailed instructions for how to make one of your own. Check it out here.

Project Tacit: Sonar For The Blind from Grathio Labs on Vimeo.

[via Slashdot]

Origin: Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

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Archive Gallery: The Weirdest Ways to Get a Tan

Milk spray, coin-operated tanning lamps, supersized aluminum bowls, and other devices created to help our readers achieve a healthy summer glow

Once upon a time, achieving the perfect tan involved basking outdoors with a paperback and a sheet of aluminum foil. But towing the line between a healthy glow and a blistering sunburn proved more challenging than expected. The further paleness fell out of vogue, the more interested we became in products and devices that could brown our skin without burning it to a crisp.

Nowadays, those of us without adequate sun exposure can visit tanning salons to attain a glowing complexion, but those living in decades past had to practice a little more creativity. Now that we’re in the last month of summer, we thought we’d pay homage to the sunny days of yore by collecting some of the most enterprising suntanning technologies from our archives.

Click to launch the photo gallery.

During the summer of 1938 sunbathers at Willow Lake, CA, spritzed actual milk on themselves to expedite the process of tanning. At the beach, women would stand in front of a motor-driven atomizer to receive a spray of the concoction. Supposedly, it could prevent sunburn, but like sunblock, it probably just made them smell a little funky.

That same month, we wrote about a rotating tent that would permit sunbathers to follow the sun’s movements. 1938 was a magical year for tanning: in the fall, we learned of a ski lift-inspired tramway that would transport individuals up a sunny hilltop.

Technology became a little more sophisticated, and closer to what we know, during the 1940s. Recognizing the benefits of moderate sunlight, inventors developed sun lamps for use in restaurants, waiting rooms, and hairdressing salons. While the idea never really took off, we can see the appeal of getting bronzed on the go.

Click through our gallery to learn about the tanning drugs, the coin-operated tanning lamp, and more gadgets designed for a sake of a glowing complexion.

By: Popular Science – New Technology, Science News, The Future Now

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