Interplanetary Whack-A-Mole: NASA’s High-Stakes Rescue Plan For InSight Lander’s Science Mission

People rightly marvel at modern surgical techniques that let surgeons leverage the power of robotics to repair the smallest structures in the human body through wounds that can be closed with a couple of stitches. Such techniques can even be applied remotely, linking surgeon and robot through a telesurgery link. It can be risky, but it’s often a patient’s only option.

NASA has arrived at a similar inflection point, except that their patient is the Mars InSight lander, and the surgical suite is currently about 58 million kilometers away. The lander’s self-digging “mole” probe needs a little help getting started, so they’re planning a high-stakes rescue attempt that would make the most seasoned telesurgeon blanch: they want to use the lander’s robotic arm to press down on the mole to help it get back on track.

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Ultimate Medical Hackathon: How Fast Can We Design And Deploy An Open Source Ventilator?

[Gui Cavalcanti], whose name you might recognize from MegaBots, got on a call with a medical professional in San Francisco and talked about respirators. The question being, can we design and deploy an open source version in time to help people?

Unnerving reports from Italy show that when the virus hits the susceptible population groups the device that becomes the decider between life and death is a ventilator. Unfortunately they are in short supply.

The problem gets tricky when it comes to what kind of respirator is needed CPAP, BIPAP, or Hi-Flo oxygen NIV are all out. These systems aerosolize the virus making it almost guaranteed that anyone around them will get infected.

What we need is a Nasal cannula-based NIV. This system humidifies air, mixes it with oxygen and then pushes a constant stream of it into people’s lungs.  If we can design a simple and working system we can give those plans to factories around the globe and get these things made. If the factories fail us, let’s also have a version people can make at home.

If you aren’t sure if a ventilator is something you can work on there are other problems. Can you make algorithms to determine if a person needs a ventilator. Can we recycle n95 masks? Can we make n95 masks at home? Workers also require a negative pressure tent for housing patients. This will be especially useful if we need to build treatment facilities in gyms or office spaces. Lastly if you’re a medical professional, can you train people how to help?

Let’s beat this thing. The ultimate medical hackathon begins.

An RF Engineer’s FPGA Learning Journey

[KF5N] admits he’s not a digital design engineer; he’s more into the analog RF side of things. But he’s recently taken on a project to communicate between a Ubuntu box and an Intel MAX10 FPGA. He did a presentation at a recent ham radio convention about what he’d learned and how you could get started.

The video talks a lot about the Intel (used to be Altera). However, the nearly 40 minute video after the break isn’t a step-by-step tutorial so even if you are interested in other devices, you’ll probably enjoy watching it. If you’ve programmed even one FPGA, this video likely won’t hold your interest — you aren’t the target audience. However, at about 00:31 he does recommend some books and some very inexpensive FPGA boards, so it’s not a total wash.

[KF5N] talks about what an FPGA is and how it’s different from a microcontroller. He also recommends Cornell’s [Bruce Land’s] course materials. He wasn’t a big fan of the online courses he tried. Of course, since he’s using an Intel chip, he also recommended the Intel courses. A lot of the video covers how to save on getting a development board. The Cornell class calls for a $250 board that is pretty powerful. That’s also pretty expensive, so he recommends a lighter version for about $85.

He also talks about the toolchain and his project to interface to his Linux box. He wound up with an SPI interface that ran up to 30 MHz. He also talks about using Julia to build a driver to talk to the interface on the PC side.

We didn’t notice him mentioning our own FPGA bootcamp, although he did mention projects on If you want to see a similar video but with open source tools, [David Williams] did a talk at Superconference that gives the same kind of overview but with Yosys and other related tools.

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