Devilishly Advocative: Microsoft Heats Ocean; Builds Skynet’s Safe Haven

Have you heard that Microsoft is testing underwater data centers? On the surface (well, actually on the ocean floor) it’s not a bad idea. Project Natick seals a node of servers in a steel pipe for an undersea adventure planned for at least 10 years. The primary reason is to utilize cold ocean temperatures to keep the machines cool as they crunch through your incessant Candy Crush Saga sessions.

microsoft-project-natick-squarePassive cooling is wonderful, and really drops the energy footprint of a data center, albeit a very small one which is being tested. Scaled up, I can think of another big impact: property taxes. Does anyone know what the law says about dropping a pod in the ocean? As far as I can tell, laying undersea cabling is expensive, but once installed there are no landlords holding out their hands for a monthly extraction. Rent aside, taking up space with windowless buildings sucking huge amounts of electricity isn’t going to win hearts and minds of the neighborhood. Undersea real estate make sense there too.

But it’s fun to play Devil’s Advocate, and this one immediately raised my eyebrow. I read as much Sci Fi as time allows, and am always interested to see which authors are registering the best technology predictions. This is the second time in short order that I turn to [William Hertling’s] work. Back in November, Google announced a project to add predictive responses to Gmail. This parallels the premise of [Hertling’s] Singularity Series which begins with Avogadro Corp. Another major point in that novel is the use of offshore data centers.

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Naviator Drone Uses its Propellers to Fly and Swim

Rutgers University just put out a video on a “drone” that can fly and then drop into a body of water, using its propellers to move around. This isn’t the first time we’ve covered a university making sure Skynet can find us even in the bathtub, but this one is a little more manageable for the home experimenter. The robot uses a Y8 motor combination. Each motor pair on its four arms spin in opposite directions, but provide thrust in the same direction. Usually this provides a bit more stability and a lot more redundancy in a drone. In this case we think it helps the robot leave the water and offers a bit more thrust underwater when the props become dramatically less efficient.

We’re excited to see where this direction goes. We can already picture the new and interesting ways one can lose a drone and GoPro forever using this, even with the integral in your toolbox. We’d also like to see if the drone-building community can figure out the new dynamics for this drone and release a library for the less mathematically inclined to play with. Video after the break.

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A Compact Underwater Vehicle: The Nanoseeker

The Nanoseeker is a compact underwater vehicle in a torpedo-like form factor. [John] designed the Nanoseeker as completely enclosed vehicle: both the thruster and the control fins are all housed within the diameter of the tube. The thruster is ducted with vents on the sides and control fins integrated into the back of the duct assembly.

[John] designed a compact PCB to drive the vehicle, which includes an STM32F4 alongside several sensors. An MPU-9150 provides IMU functionality and two dual motor driver ICs from TI control the throttle and the control fins. [John] also added a Bluetooth radio for remote control functionality. For those who want a closer look, an image of the schematic is up on his blog.

The board is running MicroPython, which is a small Python implementation optimized for microcontrollers. Although [John]’s hardware platform looks great, he’s still getting started on his software. We look forward to seeing how his project develops, as his project is one of the smallest underwater vehicles we’ve seen.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

THP Hacker Bio: Rusty Jehangir

[Rusty]’s project for the Hackaday Prize is extremely ambitious. He’s planning on sending an autonomous craft across the ocean, from LA to Hawaii, a distance that will end up being well over 2,500 miles The best part about this project? It’s already had some time in the ocean, cruising off the coast of southern California under its own power for a distance of 20km.

Why is [Rusty] doing this? Partly because he wanted to do something no one had ever done before. For him, this meant developing a cheap underwater thruster, building an autonomous solar-powered surfboard for a months-long voyage halfway across the Pacific. It’s a small step to the goal of exploring the deep ocean with his thruster and mostly off the shelf parts, but already [Rusty] has learned a lot about electronics in a marine environment and being confident enough to let a project go on its own for months at a time.

Interview below.

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Retrotechtacular: Submarine Cable Splicing is Serious Business

Really. As this wonderfully narrated talkie picture from 1939 will attest, keeping even one drop of water from penetrating undersea cables is of the utmost importance.

How do they do it? Many, many layers of protection, including several of jute wrapping. The video centers on splicing a new cable to an existing one in the San Francisco Bay to bring the wonder of telephony to a man-made island created for the Golden Gate International Expo.

The narrator makes these men out to be heroes, and when you see how much lead they came into contact with, you’ll understand what he means. Each of the 1,056 individually insulated wires must be spliced by hand. After that comes a boiling out process in which petrolatum is poured over the splice to remove all moisture. Then, a lead sleeve is pulled over the connections. Molten lead is poured over the sleeve and smoothed out by hand.

At this point, the splice is tested. The sleeve is punctured and nitrogen gas is pumped in at 20psi.  Then comes the most important step: the entire sleeve is painted with soap suds.  Any gas that escapes will make telltale bubbles.

Once they are satisfied with the integrity of the sheath, they wrap the whole thing in what appears to be lead cables and pound them into submission. Surely that would be enough, don’t you think?  Nope.  They weld the cables all around and then apply two coats of tar-treated jute wrapping, which retards saltwater corrosion considerably.

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High voltage ROV adventures

[Eirik] wrote in to share the build log for the third iteration of his underwater ROV. The first two project were completed and tested (you may remember reading about it back in January), but both had issues that caused general failure. Most notably, the introduction of water where he didn’t want it. But this time around he seems to have gotten everything right, successfully taking this little guy down to twenty meters without a leak.

One of the problems he had on version two was supplying electricity from the surface. He needs 12V at up to 10A, and had to use a tether made of 14 AWG to make it happen. That’s a lot of heavy wire to be hauling around and it made the ROV virtually unable to move itself. He wanted to go back to using Cat5e cable but it won’t handle that kind of current. He ended up using an inverter at the surface to up the voltage to 130V, and a switch mode supply on the ROV to get back to 12V. This caused noise on the data lines which he fixed by adding a full-wave rectifer to the inverter’s output.

The dive video after the break shows off the crystal-clear camera shots this thing can capture.

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Water glider prototype

[Byrel Mitchell] wrote in to share some details on this water glider which he has been working on with his classmates at the Nonlinear Autonomous Systems lab of Michigan Technological University. As its name implies, it glides through the water rather than using propulsion systems typically found on underwater ROVs. The wings on either side of the body are fixed in place, converting changes in ballast to forward momentum.

The front of the glider is at the bottom right of the image above. Look closely and you’ll see a trio of syringes pointed toward the nose. These act as the ballast tanks. A gear motor moves a pinion connected to the syringe plungers, allowing the Arduino which drives the device to fill and empty the tanks with water. When full the nose sinks and the glider moves forward, when empty it rises to the surface which also results in forward movement.

After the break you can find two videos The first shows off the functionality and demonstrates the device in a swimming pool. The second covers the details of the control systems.

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