Hitchhiking To The Moon For Fun And Profit

On February 22nd, a Falcon rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying the Indonesian communications satellite Nusantara Satu. While the satellite was the primary payload for the mission, as is common on the Falcon 9, the rocket had a couple of stowaways. These secondary payloads are generally experiments or spacecraft which are too small or light to warrant a rocket of their own such as CubeSats. But despite flying in the economy seats, one of the secondary payloads on this particular launch has a date with destiny: Israel’s Beresheet, the first privately-funded mission to attempt landing on the Moon.

But unlike the Apollo missions, which took only three days to reach our nearest celestial neighbor, Beresheet is taking a considerably more leisurely course. It will take over a month for the spacecraft to reach the Moon, and it will be a few weeks after that before it finally makes a powered descent towards the Sea of Serenity, not far from where Apollo 17 landed 47 years ago. That assumes everything goes perfectly; tack a few extra weeks onto that estimate if the vehicle runs into any hiccups on the way.

At first glance, this might seem odd. If the trip only took a few days with 1960’s technology, it seems a modern rocket like the Falcon 9 should be able to make better time. But in reality, the pace is dictated by budgetary constraints on both the vehicle itself and the booster that carried it into space. While one could argue that the orbital maneuvers involved in this “scenic route” towards the Moon are more complicated than the direct trajectory employed by the manned Apollo missions, it does hold promise for a whole new class of lunar spacecraft. If you’re not in any particular hurry, and you’re trying to save some cash, your Moon mission might be better off taking the long way around.

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Origami Gripper Is Great For Soft And Heavy Objects

Robotic arms are fascinating devices, capable of immense speed and precision when carrying out their tasks. They’re also capable of carrying great loads, and a full-sized industrial robot in operation at maximum pace is a sight to behold. However, while it’s simple to design grippers to move strong metal objects, picking up delicate or soft objects can be much harder. A team at MIT CSAIL have been working on a solution to this problem, which they call the Origami gripper.

The gripper is highly capable at lifting objects with complex shapes.

The gripper consists of a flexible, folding skeleton surrounded by an airtight skin. When vacuum is applied, the skeleton contracts around the object to be picked up. The gripper is capable of grasping objects sized up to 70% of its diameter, and over 100 times its weight.

Fabrication of the device involved the creation of 3D printed molds to produce the silicone rubber skeleton. Combined with precise lasercutting and advanced layering techniques, this created a part that can self-fold itself into shape under the right conditions. The structure was inspired by a “magic ball” origami design. The outer skin is remarkably simple in comparison – consisting of a regular latex balloon.

The team show off the gripper performing some impressive feats, with the robot able to pick up objects of all shapes, sizes, and weights without damage. The paper is available to read for the full story on the device. The use of vacuum for delicate gripping tasks is something we’ve seen before, too.



Forbes Says The Raspberry Pi Is Big Business

Not that it’s something the average Hackaday reader is unaware of, but the Raspberry Pi is a rather popular device. While we don’t have hard numbers to back it up (extra credit for anyone who wishes to crunch the numbers), it certainly seems a day doesn’t go by that there isn’t a Raspberry Pi story on the front page. But given that a small, cheap, relatively powerful, Linux computer was something the hacking community had dreamed of for years, it’s hardly surprising.

But how popular is the Raspberry Pi among people who don’t necessarily spend their free time reading weird black-background websites? Well, according to a recent article in Forbes, the Pi has been spotted putting in an honest days work all over the world. From factories to garbage trucks, everyone’s favorite Linux computer has come a long a way from its humble beginnings. How does it feel knowing a $35 computer has a longer resume than you do?

Unfortunately, the Forbes article doesn’t have the sort of deep technical details we’re used to around these parts. The fact that the article opens by describing the Raspberry Pi as a “stripped-down circuit board covered with metal pins and squares” should tell you all you need to know about the overlap between Forbes and Hackaday readers, but we think author [Parmy Olson] still tells an story interesting regardless.

So where has the Pi been seen punching a clock? At Sony, for a start. The consumer electronics giant has been installing Pis in several of their factories to monitor various pieces of equipment. They record everything from temperature to vibration and send that to a centralized server using an in-house developed protocol. Some of the Pis are even equipped with cameras which feed into computer vision systems to keep an eye out for anything unusual.

[Parmy] also describes how the Raspberry Pi is being used in Africa to monitor the level of trash inside of garbage bins and automatically dispatch a truck to come pick it up for collection. In Europe, they’re being used to monitor the health of fueling stations for hydrogen powered vehicles. All over the world, businesses are realizing they can build their own monitoring systems for as little as 1/10th the cost of turn-key systems; with managers occasionally paying for the diminutive Linux computers out of their own pocket.

The impact the Pi has had on the hardware world is difficult to overstate. It’s redefined the status quo for single board computers, and with the platform continuing to evolve, there’s no sign its incredible journey is slowing down anytime soon.

[Thanks to Itay for the tip.]