Hackaday Links: August 15, 2021

Hackaday Links Column Banner

Unless you’re in the market for a new car, household appliance, or game console, or if you’re involved in the manufacture of these things, chances are pretty good that the global semiconductor shortage hasn’t directly impacted you yet. But we hobbyists might be due for a comeuppance as the chip shortage starts to impact our corner of the market. We suppose it’s natural that supplies of the chips needed to build Arduinos and Raspberry Pis would start to dry up, as semiconductor manufacturers realign their resources to service their most lucrative markets. Still, it was all sort of abstract until now, but seeing dire quotes from the likes of Adafruit, Pololu, and Sparkfun about the long lead times they’re being quoted — some chips won’t be seen until 2023! — is disheartening. As are the reports of price gouging and even hoarding; when a $10 part can suddenly command $350, you know something has gone seriously wrong.

But have no fear — we’re certain the global chip shortage will have no impact on the planned 2027 opening of the world’s first space hotel. Voyager Station — once dubbed Von Braun Station but renamed for some reason — looks for all the world like Space Station V in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, or at least half of it. The thing is enormous — witness the Starship docked in the center hub, as well as the several dozen shuttle-like craft — escape pods, perhaps? — attached to the outer rim. The renders are imaginative, to say the least — the station looks very sleek, completely unfettered by such banalities as, say, solar panels. We get that a private outfit needs to attract deep-pocketed investors, and that one doesn’t do that by focusing on the technical details when they can sell a “premium experience”. But really, if you’re going to space, do you want basically the same look and feel as a premium hotel on Earth, just with a better view? Or would you rather feel like you’ve actually traveled to space?

Speaking of space, did you ever wonder what the first programmable calculator in space was? Neither did we, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t find this detailed story about the HP-65 that was sent up on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975 pretty fascinating. The ASTP was the last hurrah of Apollo, and an often underappreciated engineering challenge. Linking up the two spacecraft safely was not trivial, and a fair number of burn calculations had to be made in orbit to achieve rendezvous and docking, as well as to maintain orbit. The HP-65, a programmable calculator that went for about $750 at the time (for the non-space-rated version, of course) had several programs loaded onto its removable magnetic cards, and the Apollo crew used it to verify the results calculated by the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC).

Facebook, a company that exists by providing people with a product they don’t need but now somehow can’t live without, is now dipping a toe into weird, weird waters: reverse-passthrough virtual reality. The idea, we take it, is that as users more widely adopt VR and integrate it into their daily lives, the VR headsets everyone will be wearing will make face-to-face contact more difficult. So what better way to solve that problem than by projecting a live image of the VR user’s eyes onto a screen outside the VR rig, for any and all to see? Pure genius, and not the least bit creepy. They’ve perhaps got a bit of work to go before achieving their goal of “seamless social connection between real and virtual worlds”.

And speaking of eyes, it’s good to know that developers are still hard at work keeping the most vital applications running at peak efficiency on today’s hardware. Yes, the venerable XEyes, a program for the X Window System on Unix-like operating systems that draws a pair of googly eyes on the screen to follow your mouse movements, has finally moved to version 1.2.0. It’s been 11 years since the 1.1.0 upgrade, so it was a long time coming. If you haven’t had the chance to play with XEyes, fear not — just about any Linux machine should be able to show you what you’ve been missing. Or, you know, you could even run it on a camera as the video below the break shows.



13 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: August 15, 2021

  1. As far as the price of chips goes, I doubt a $10 chip will sell for $350. There IS such a thing as pricing items right out of the market. When the price must be passed on to the end consumer and the price of the product requiring those hard to get chips is beyond affordability, either engineers will find a way to get around that issue or the retailer will simply not be able to sell the product because of the end price. Who’s going to spend 35 times more for something that isn’t an absolute necessity for life. It sure won’t be the average person working for average income. A point will come also when people realize and accept that the world cannot continue to be dictated to by China or Taiwan, Korea, Japan, or Malaysia or where ever because semi conductors aren’t being made anywhere else.

    1. I suspect the issue of price is third parties. They’ve got stock, see a chance and expect demand at higher prices.

      Amazon does it mildly, but then suddenly something is out of stock, but a third party has them at a much higher price.

      People buying books at used book sales by scanning with barcode readers, and then xpecting high prices bevause that’s what the scan tells them.

      People selling “antique stereo” equioment on craig’s list, and can’t tell the difference between something good and junk, they put high prices on it all.

      I suspect some might pay really high prices for a single IC if they really need it, but only when you can pass on high prices to a customer ( “military hardware”) will anyine be buying a lot of ten dollar ICs at $350.

    2. There’s also the situation where the chip (at $10 or $350) is just a tiny part of the overall item for sale. Say, one chip in one module on a new car. A cost increase of $350 on a $50k vehicle will _not_ “price it out of the market.”

      There’s also situations where the redesign is more complex than a casual glance would suggest. Does the unit have to go through agency approvals? ($$$ testing, lead time)

  2. They should put a “creepy” mode into XEyes, it used the camera (if you have one) to see if you’re looking at the screen, if you are if looks casually away, but when you look away it stares at you intently, and when you look back it looks away again! As for the space hotel, I’ll believe it when I see it.

  3. The component shortage has already changed the way that I design and build stuff. In the past, I would send the PCB manufacturing files out for getting boards made, then order the parts a couple of days before the PCBs are scheduled to get back. Now, I order the parts and wait until I have them before sending out the PCB manufacturing files. There is no point in getting boards made if you have to wait until 2022 to get parts to build them!

  4. The problem is this…

    Part xyz is in short supply. So companies using it buy 12 months supply right now. This creates an instant shortage of xyz. Now those companies realise the shortages, and also buy 12 months supply of their other parts. Now those parts become instantly short.

    Now the suppliers see a dramatic increase in sales of xyz and others, so they order excessive numbers from the manufacturer.

    Manufacturer tries to increase production because they have just seen a years supply go in one month.

    Now we are on the merry-go-round, and lead times blow out to years.

    Because of the excessive orders, manufacturers make the high profit parts in huge quantities first. Because of the bigger numbers they are making these parts in, the other parts now blow out lead times excessively.

    Meanwhile, the scums buy up as much stock of critical parts as they can and sit on them for a few months and then gouge the market for those companies that missed out on getting parts for future products.

    Seen it all before. IIRC the last time was around 1994-5.

    In about 12-24 months there will be a glut of components as manufacturers will have over made parts, because everyone will have excessive inventories.

    And, hopefully the scums get caught with excessive inventories they cannot give away.

    1. “And, hopefully the scums get caught with excessive inventories they cannot give away.”

      That benefits us because of, “hey I remember when…” and we stockpile enough so that specter never comes back.

  5. It says in the article why they renamed the space hotel. Not for ‘some reason’ or was that sarcasm lol. Naming anything after someone who worked for the Nazis is never a good idea.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.