Hackaday Links: November 22, 2020

Remember DSRC? If the initialism doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry — Dedicated Short-Range Communications, a radio service intended to let cars in traffic talk to each other, never really caught on. Back in 1999, when the Federal Communications Commission set aside 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9-GHz band, it probably seemed like a good idea — after all, the flying cars of the future would surely need a way to communicate with each other. Only about 15,000 vehicles in the US have DSRC, and so the FCC decided to snatch back the whole 75-MHz slice and reallocate it. The lower 45 MHz will be tacked onto the existing unlicensed 5.8-GHz band where WiFi now lives, providing interesting opportunities in wireless networking. Fans of chatty cars need not fret, though — the upper 30 MHz block is being reallocated to a different Intelligent Transportation System Service called C-V2X, for Cellular Vehicle to Everything, which by its name alone is far cooler and therefore more likely to succeed.

NASA keeps dropping cool teasers of the Mars 2020 mission as the package containing the Perseverance rover hurtles across space on its way to a February rendezvous with the Red Planet. The latest: you can listen to the faint sounds the rover is making as it gets ready for its date with destiny. While we’ve heard sounds from Mars before — the InSight lander used its seismometer to record the Martian windPerseverance is the first Mars rover equipped with actual microphones. It’s pretty neat to hear the faint whirring of the rover’s thermal management system pump doing its thing in interplanetary space, and even cooler to think that we’ll soon hear what it sounds like to land on Mars.

Speaking of space, back at the beginning of 2020 — you know, a couple of million years ago — we kicked off the Hack Chat series by talking with Alberto Caballero about his “Habitable Exoplanets” project, a crowd-sourced search for “Earth 2.0”. We found it fascinating that amateur astronomers using off-the-shelf gear could detect the subtle signs of planets orbiting stars half a galaxy away. We’ve kept in touch with Alberto since then, and he recently tipped us off to his new SETI Project. Following the citizen-science model of the Habitable Exoplanets project, Alberto is looking to recruit amateur radio astronomers willing to turn their antennas in the direction of stars similar to the Sun, where it just might be possible for intelligent life to have formed. Check out the PDF summary of the project which includes the modest technical requirements for getting in on the SETI action.

A few months ago we reported that Boston Dynamics was finally finding customers with use cases that fit their flagship product, the “Big Dog” robot nicknamed Spot. The customer was Ford and the application involved periodic surveys of their enormous transmission plant, normally performed by engineers. At the same time, BP was training Spot for a far more dangerous job: oil rig inspections. Normally, operators on offshore oil platforms make the rounds several times a day to spot anything out of the ordinary: leaks, corrosion, or other situations that can pose a hazard to the platform and the people on it. After oil rig simulator training, Spot moved on to BP’s “Mad Dog” rig in the Gulf of Mexico, where it wanders about making sure everything’s copacetic. They’ve even trained Spot to read gauges and discern valve handle positions, and they’ve equipped the robot with sensors for methane to detect leaks.

And finally, how about a little high-voltage fun? Jay Bowles over at Plasma Channel just released a new video where he explores electrostatic levitation. We had Jay on for a Hack Chat not too long ago where we discussed his passion for plasma. The new video doesn’t have much plasma, but it does focus on how to use a 70-kV voltage multiplier to float scraps of tinfoil in the air. Jay even throws himself into the circuit at one point, levitating things with his bare hands. It seems like good fun, even if we wouldn’t recommend it as particularly safe.

6 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: November 22, 2020

  1. I can totally see the new vehicle communication system succeeding based on a cooler name. It even has an X in it, and you always need an X, just like XWindows thought!

    Not sure why they’re going with RF rather than optical though. Just send out a constant beacon from the front and back with your current speed and data like that, and you won’t have to rely so much on computer vision.

    The fact that we can somehow fill entire cities with constantly maintained horrible led streetlights, but we can’t make beacon add-ons for stop lights yet seems a bit nuts. I can’t wait for self driving cars, but it’s hard to imagine machine learning ever being as safe as the deterministic stuff an airplane might use.

    1. Or it has literally nothing to do with Microsoft “brain poisoning”, and everything to do with geeks having better things to do with their time than say X WINDOW SYSTEM every time because some pedant keeps complaining about it. We also regularly say “Linux” rather than “GNU/Linux” even though it sends Stallman into conniptions.

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