Milspec Teardown: AH-64A Apache Data Entry Panel

It’s time once again to see how those tax dollars are spent, this time in the form of a “Data Entry Keyboard” manufactured by Hughes Helicopters. This device was built circa 1986 or so, and was used in the AH-64A Apache. Specifically, this panel would have been located by the gunner’s left knee, and served as a general purpose input device for the Apache’s Fire Control System. Eventually the Apache was upgraded with a so-called “glass cockpit”; consolidating various vehicle functions into a handful of multi-purpose digital displays. As such, this particular device became obsolete and was pulled from the active Apache fleet.

The military vehicle aficionados out there may know that while the Apache is currently a product of Boeing, it was originally designed by Hughes Helicopter. In 1984, McDonnell Douglas purchased Hughes Helicopter and took over production of the Apache, and then McDonnell Douglas themselves were merged with Boeing in 1997.

So it’s somewhat interesting that this device bears the name of Hughes Helicopter, as of the time it was manufactured, they would have been known as McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems. Presumably they had to work through existing stock of components that already had Hughes branding on them, leaving some transitional examples such as this one.

But you didn’t come here for a history lesson on the American military-industrial complex, you want to know about the hardware itself. So let’s crack it open to see what we can learn about this piece of aviation history.

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The Quest For The Reuleaux Triangle Bearing

[Angus Deveson] published a video on “solids of constant width” nearly a year ago. Following the release of the video, he had a deluge of requests asking if he could make a bearing from them. Since then, he’s tried a number of different approaches – none of which have worked. Until now…

What is a solid of constant width? A shape whose diameter is the same in all orientations, despite the fact that they aren’t circular. In particular, the Reuleaux Triangle is of interest; if you’ve heard of square drill bits, a Reuleaux Triangle is probably at play. Constructed from three circles, they make a neat geometrical study. When placed between two surfaces and rolled, the surfaces will stay parallel, despite the fact that the center of the triangle does not stay level.

In theory, this means they could be easily substituted for spheres in a classic roller bearing, but this turned out to be problematic Рthe first attempt determined how hard it was to get the shapes to roll instead of slide.

[Angus] finally arrived at a working bearing after a ton of suggestions from the community, and trying a number of attempts until he was able to achieve what he set out to do. The trick was to create a flexible insert (3D printed as well) for the center of the triangle edge, which grips the surfaces the triangle comes into contact with. A frame is also made to hold the bearings in place and allows their centers to move up and down as necessary.

If the thrill seeker within you still isn’t satisfied, maybe you should try the Reuleaux Coaster

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Papercraft-Inspired Snake-bot Slithers Like A Real One

Blend the Japanese folding technique of Kirigami with an elastomer actuator, and what have you got? A locomoting snake robot that can huff around its own girth with no strings attached! That’s exactly what researchers at the Wyss Institute and Harvard School of Applied Sciences did to build their Kirigami Crawler.

Expanding and contracting propel this crawler forward. As the actuator expands, the hatched pattern on the plastic skin flares out; and when it contracts, the skin retracts to a smoother form. The flared hatch pattern acts like a cluster of little hooks, snagging multiple contact points into the ground. When the skin retracts, these hooks fold back inside while giving the body a slight push forward in the process. It’s a clever tactic, and almost identical to the way real-world snakes propel themselves. In fact, after iterating on a few skin patterns, they found that a trapezoidal pattern, which most closely resembles that of snakeskin, can cover ground fastest.

We’re thrilled to see such authentic biomimicry come to us without any extreme tooling or special molds. Still not satisfied with your share of crawling robots for one day? Have a peek into the past, and indulge yourself with a sine-wave locomotion.

Thanks for the tip, [Olivia]!

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