Nuclear Fusion At 100: The Hidden Race For Energy Supremacy

It’s hardly a secret that nuclear fusion has had a rough time when it comes to its image in the media: the miracle power source that is always ‘just ten years away’.  Even if no self-respecting physicist would ever make such a statement, the arrival of commercial nuclear fusion power cannot come quickly enough for many. With the promise of virtually endless, clean energy with no waste, it does truly sound like something from a science-fiction story.

Meanwhile, in the world of non-fiction, generations of scientists have dedicated their careers to understanding better how plasma in a reactor behaves, how to contain it and what types of fuels would work best for a fusion reactor, especially one that has to run continuously, with a net positive energy output. In this regard, 2020 is an exciting year, with the German Wendelstein 7-X stellarator reaching its final configuration, and the Chinese HL-2M tokamak about to fire up.

Join me after the break as I look into what a century of progress in fusion research has brought us and where it will take us next.

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Floating On The Breeze With A Full Size RC Paraglider

For many people the gateway drug to aviation is radio-controlled aircraft, and in [Andre Bandarra]’s case this led to paragliding. Now he has combined the two, turning his full size paragliding wing into an RC aircraft. (Video, embedded below.)

The primary controls of a paraglider are very simple, consisting of two brake lines that connect to the trailing edge of the wing. When a line is pulled, it increased drag on that side of the wing, causing it to turn. [Andre] connected the brake lines to two 3D-printed spools, which are each powered by a large RC servo that he modified for continuous rotation. These are mounted on a slim wooden frame that also holds the battery, RC receiver, an old electronic speed control to step down the battery power, and attachment straps for the wing. Without enough mass, the wing would just get blown around by the lightest of breezes, so [Andre] hooked a cloth bag filled with sand to the frame to act as a counter weight.

On the first test flight the wind was too strong and the sandbag too light, making it impossible to control. The hardest part of the flight is the launch, which requires the help of someone who knows how to fly a paraglider. The second test day had much better success. With only a slight breeze and a heavier sandbag, the contraption flew beautifully, floating slowly across the beach. He admits that there are a number of improvements he can make, but as a proof of concept using parts he had lying around, it was a roaring success.

For paragliding from flat ground, you can always strap a motor to your back, like the open source OpenPPG electric paramotor. For more crazy RC flying contraptions, also keep an eye on guys at [Flite Test].

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Looking around at the personal computing markets in modern times, there seem to be a lot of choices in the market. In reality, though, almost everything runs on hardware from a very small group of companies, and software is often available across platforms. This wasn’t the case in the personal computing boom of the 70s and 80s, where different computers were wildly different in hardware and even architecture. The Cosmac ELF was one of the more interesting specimens from this era, and this one has been meticulously reproduced on an FPGA.

The original hardware was based on an RCA 1802 microprocessor and had a rudimentary (by today’s standards) set of switches and buttons as the computer’s inputs. It was low cost, even for the time, but was one of the first single-board computers available. This recreation is coded in SpinalHDL and the simplicity of the original hardware makes it relatively easy to understand. The FPGA is cycle-accurate to the original hardware, too, which makes it nearly perfect even without any of the original hardware.

The project’s creator, [Winston] aka [wel97459], found that SpinalHDL made this project fun to work on (and released his code on his GitHub page), and was able to get the code down to just 1500 lines to recreate the original hardware. It’s very impressive, and also an accessible read for anyone interested in some of the more unique computers offered during the early computer renaissance in the 70s.