Working For Elon Musk

One of my favorite types of science fiction character is found in the books of Ben Bova; a business mogul who through brilliance, hard work, and the force of personality drives mankind to a whole new level in areas such as commercializing space, colonizing the stars, battling governments, and thwarting competitors.

It is possible to name a few such characters in real life — influencing the electricity industry was George Westinghouse, automobiles was Henry Ford, and more recently Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. With Elon’s drive we may all finally be driving electric cars within 20 years and spreading out into space with his cheap rockets. Due to the latter he may be the closest yet to one of Bova’s characters.

So what’s it like to work for Elon Musk at Tesla or SpaceX? Most of us have read articles about him, and much that he’s written himself, as well as watched some of his many interviews and talks. But to get some idea of what it’s like to work for him I greatly enjoyed the insight from Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk – Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. To write it Vance had many interviews with Musk as well as those who work with him or have in the past. Through this we get a fascinating look at a contemporary mogul of engineering.

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Micro Tesla Turbine is an Engineering Tour de Force

A corollary to Godwin’s Law ought to be that any Hackaday post that mentions Nikola Tesla will have a long and colorful comment thread. We hope this one does too, but with any luck it’ll concentrate on the engineering behind this tiny custom-built Telsa turbine.

For those not familiar with Mr. Tesla’s favorite invention, the turbine is a super-efficient design that has no blades, relying instead on smooth, closely spaced discs that get dragged along by the friction of a moving fluid. [johnnyq90]’s micro version of the turbine is a very accomplished feat of machining. Although at first the build appears a bit janky, as it progresses we see some real craftsmanship – if you ever doubt that soda can aluminum can be turned, watch the video below. The precision 25mm rotor goes into a CNC machined aluminum housing; the way the turned cover snaps onto the housing is oddly satisfying. It looks like the only off-the-shelf parts are the rotor bearings; everything else is scratch-made. The second video ends with a test spool-up that sounds pretty good. We can’t wait for part 3 to find out how fast this turbine can turn.

Size matters, and in this case, small is pretty darn impressive. For a larger treatment of a Tesla turbine, see this one made of old hard drive platters.

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Hacking The Tesla Model S Rear Drive Unit

[Jason Hughes] is a big fan of Tesla, he’s spent a lot of time hacking on them to figure out what fancy things the automaker is up to. His most recent adventures are with the rear drive unit of a Tesla Model S.

[Jason] has had some fame in the Tesla community before; his most publicized hack was finding the model number for Tesla’s next edition of their car hashed away in the firmware. For this project he procured a rear drive unit from… somewhere, and with some help got it onto his bench at home.

His first steps were to hook it up to some power and start sniffing the CAN bus for commands. It took him a few hours but he was able to get the motor turning. He kept working at it until he had the full set of commands. So, he hooked up circulating water to the unit for cooling, and put it through its paces (at one point the unit announced it was now traveling at 117mph).

In the end he was able to get all the features working, including generation! He even made his own board for contrl. Just listening to the motor spin up is satisfying. Videos after the break.

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Phoenix Perry: Forward Futures

There were a lot of very technical talks at Hackaday Belgrade. That’s no surprise, this is Hackaday after all. But every once in a while it’s good to lift our heads up from the bench, blow away some of the solder smoke, and remind ourselves of the reason that we’re working on the next cool project. Try to take in the big picture. Why are you hacking?

image5[Phoenix Perry] raised a lot of big-think points in her talk, and she’s definitely hacking in order to bring more women into the field and make the creation of technology more accessible to everyone. Lofty goals, and not a project that’s going to be finished up this weekend. But if you’re going to make a positive difference in the world through what you love to do, it’s good to dream big and keep the large goal on your mind.

[Phoenix] is an engineer by training, game-coder by avocation, and a teacher for all the right reasons. She’s led a number of great workshops around the intersection of art and technology: from physical controllers for self-coded games to interactive music synthesis devices disguised as room-sized geodesic domes. And she is the founder of the Code Liberation Foundation, a foundation aimed at teaching women technology through game coding. On one hand, she’s a hacker, but on the other she’s got her eyes on a larger social goal.

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Belgrade Experience: MikroElektronika, Museums, and FPGA Computing

I recently had the chance to visit Belgrade and take part in the Hackaday | Belgrade conference. Whenever I travel, I like to make some extra field trips to explore the area. This Serbian trip included a tour of electronics manufacturing, some excellent museums, and a startup that is weaving FPGAs into servers and PCIe cards.

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The Year of the Car Hacks

With the summer’s big security conferences over, now is a good time to take a look back on automotive security. With talks about attacks on Chrysler, GM and Tesla, and a whole new Car Hacking village at DEF CON, it’s becoming clear that autosec is a theme that isn’t going away.

Up until this year, the main theme of autosec has been the in-vehicle network. This is the connection between the controllers that run your engine, pulse your anti-lock brakes, fire your airbags, and play your tunes. In most vehicles, they communicate over a protocol called Controller Area Network (CAN).

An early paper on this research [PDF] was published back in 2010 by The Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security,a joint research effort between University of California San Diego and the University of Washington. They showed a number of vulnerabilities that could be exploited with physical access to a vehicle’s networks.

A number of talks were given on in-vehicle network security, which revealed a common theme: access to the internal network gives control of the vehicle. We even had a series about it here on Hackaday.

The response from the automotive industry was a collective “yeah, we already knew that.” These networks were never designed to be secure, but focused on providing reliable, real-time data transfer between controllers. With data transfer as the main design goal, it was inevitable there would be a few interesting exploits.

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The EM Drive Might Not Work, but We Get Helicarriers If It Does

There is a device under test out there that promises to take humans to another star in a single lifetime. It means vacations on the moon, retiring at Saturn, and hovercars. If it turns out to be real, it’s the greatest invention of the 21st century. If not, it will be relegated to the history of terrible science right underneath the cold fusion fiasco. It is the EM drive, the electromagnetic drive, a reactionless thruster that operates only on RF energy. It supposedly violates the laws of conservation of momentum, but multiple independent lab tests have shown that it produces thrust. What’s the real story? That’s a little more complicated.

The EM Drive is a device that turns RF energy — radio waves — directly into thrust. This has obvious applications for spacecraft, enabling vacations on Mars, manned explorations of Saturn, and serious consideration of human colonization of other solar systems. The EM drive, if proven successful, would be one of the greatest inventions of all time. Despite the amazing amount of innovation the EM drive would enable, it’s actually a fairly simple device, and something that can be built out of a few copper sheets.

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