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In extreme situations, it's all about creative thinking

For Road Trip 2018, we explored Australia's underground city, watched efforts to save one of the rarest fish on Earth and hiked the Amazon rainforest. That's just for starters.

We certainly live in interesting times. Every day there's news about how we're coping with natural disasters, working to save endangered species and tackling new challenges on Earth -- and beyond.

While some people might say these days are playing out that old Chinese curse, I think Robert Kennedy had it right when he focused on the opportunities of living in interesting times: "They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history."

Make that men and women — with a little help from smartphones, lasers, robots and other everyday tech.

After months of research and planning, we sent more than a dozen reporters, photographers and videographers around the world to check out some extreme -- you could say insane -- situations and report back on how tech is helping creative men and women problem solve and bring about change.  

Welcome to Road Trip 2018: Taking It To Extremes.

We met with scientists in the Mojave Desert, where they are working to save the Devils Hole pupfish, one of the rarest fish on the planet, so we can learn how the millennia-old species survives water that would be lethal to most fish. We got in the water with the USA Surfing Team to see how they've re-created the perfect waves as part of their training for the 2020 Summer Olympics. And we crunched numbers with Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight champ Robert Whittaker to learn the low-tech secret behind his successful training program.

The rush to find opals gave Coober Pedy its name. According to folklore, "kupa piti" in the local indigenous language means "white man's hole." 

Claire Reilly/CNET

But that's not all. We visited the Petrified Forest to see how rangers are using microchips to keep visitors from taking the park's treasures and toured custom bomb shelters that mega rich Silicon Valley executives are installing to prepare for worst-case scenarios. And we learned how firefighters are using drones and infrared cameras to help fight California's wildfires.

This is the fifth year I've had the privilege to oversee our Road Trip adventures. Each summer, our reporters and editors have gone on assignment to meet the people, companies and tech reshaping our lives.

Last year, we met people working on the future, today. In Road Trip 2017: The Smartest Stuff, we focused on the kind of gee-whiz, cool stuff that inspires a sense of wonder, changes our perceptions and makes a difference in the way we live and work as we move into a world of smart, connected devices.

In 2016, we wanted to see firsthand whether tech was helping in the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II. The result -- Road Trip 2016: Life, Disrupted -- led to dozens of stories, photo galleries, videos and essays about how smartphones, Wi-Fi and social media are being used by millions of refugees in camps and makeshift shelters, from Greece to France to a remote island off the coast of Australia. And we saw for ourselves how tech sometimes fails them.

Taking It to Extremes

Click here to see more Road Trip adventures.

Getty Images

Road Trip 2018: Taking It to Extremes kicked off this week with a deep dive by CNET News Senior Reporter Claire Reilly into Coober Pedy, where survival depends on jury-rigging a combination of high- and low-tech solutions for living in their Mad Max-esque underground city.   

"In the middle of the South Australian desert and an eight-hour drive in either direction from the nearest capital city (Adelaide to the south or Alice Springs to the north), Coober Pedy is off the grid and mostly hidden underground," Reilly writes. "More than half the residents live buried in the bedrock in cavelike homes called dugouts in order to escape freezing winters, scorching summers and the occasional cyclone. Often, the only sign you're walking on someone's roof is the air vent that's sprouted up next to your boots."

As always, we hope you'll join us on this year's adventure — and see for yourself why living in interesting times is an opportunity to turn extreme situations into an exercise in creative problem solving. 

The Smartest Stuff: A look at the people working to make you — and the world around you — smarter. 

Life Disrupted: Reporters' dispatches from the field on tech's role in the global refugee crisis.