Hackaday Links: May 22, 2022

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It looks like it’s soon to be lights out for the Mars InSight lander. In the two years that the lander has been studying the geophysics of Mars from its lonely post on Elysium Planitia, InSight’s twin solar arrays have been collecting dust, and now are so dirty that they’re only making about 500 watt-hours per sol, barely enough to run the science packages on the lander. And that’s likely to worsen as the Martian winter begins, which will put more dust in the sky and lower the angle of the Sun, reducing the sunlight that’s incident to the panels. Barring a “cleaning event” courtesy of a well-placed whirlwind, NASA plans to shut almost everything down on the lander other than the seismometer, which has already captured thousands of marsquakes, and the internal heaters needed to survive the cold Martian nights. They’re putting a brave face on it, emphasizing the continuing science and the mission’s accomplishments. But barely two years of science and a failed high-profile experiment aren’t quite what we’ve come to expect from NASA missions, especially one with an $800 million price tag.

Closer to home, it turns out there’s a reason sailing ships have always had human crews: to fix things that go wrong. That’s the lesson learned by the Mayflower Autonomous Ship as it attempted the Atlantic crossing from England to the States, when it had to divert for repairs recently. It’s not clear what the issue was, but it seems to have been a mechanical issue, as opposed to a problem with the AI piloting system. The project dashboard says that the issue has been repaired, and the AI vessel has shoved off from the Azores and is once more beating west. There’s a long stretch of ocean ahead of it now, and few options for putting in should something else go wrong. Still, it’s a cool project, and we wish them a fair journey.

Have you ever walked past a display of wall clocks at the store and wondered why someone went to the trouble of setting the time on all of them to 10:10? We’ve certainly noticed this, and always figured it had something to do with some obscure horological tradition, like using “IIII” to mark the four o’clock hour on clocks with Roman numerals rather than the more correct “IV”. But no, it turns out that 10:10 is more visually pleasing, and least on analog timepieces, because it evokes a smile on a human face. The study cited in the article had volunteers rate how pleasurable watches are when set to different times, and 10:10 won handily based on the perception that it was smiling at them. So it’s nice to know how easily manipulated we humans can be.

If there’s anything more pathetic than geriatric pop stars trying to relive their glory days to raise a little cash off a wave of nostalgia, we’re not sure what it could be. Still, plenty of acts try to do it, and many succeed, although seeing what time and the excesses of stardom have wrought can be a bit sobering. But Swedish megastars ABBA appear to have found a way to cash in on their fame gracefully, by sending digital avatars out to do their touring for them. The “ABBA-tars,” created by a 1,000-person team at Industrial Light and Magic, will appear alongside a live backing band for a residency at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The avatars represent Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha, and Anni-Frid as they appeared in the 1970s, and were animated thanks to motion capture suits donned while performing 40 songs. It remains to be seen how fans will buy into the concept, but we’ll say this — the Swedish septuagenarians look pretty darn good in skin-tight Spandex.

And finally, not that it has any hacking value at all, but there’s something shamefully hilarious about watching this poor little delivery bot getting absolutely wrecked by a train. It’s one of those food delivery bots that swarm over college campuses these days; how it wandered onto the railroad tracks is anyone’s guess. The bot bounced around a bit before slipping under the train’s wheels, with predictable results once the battery pack is smooshed.

27 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: May 22, 2022

  1. “But no, it turns out that 10:10 is more visually pleasing, and least on analog timepieces, because it evokes a smile on a human face. ”

    Like headlights on some vehicles.

    1. I was just listening to an episode of “Broadway is My Beat” from the 40’s or 50’s. The fact that jewelers set their clocks to 8:20 was featured in the plot.

  2. I remember an avatar. About 1976, I won tickets to see Beatlemania. Kind of an avatar for the Beatles.

    Lots of bands have been resurected by one memberadding new members. I forget what band, but at one time in the sixties, one “group” had two touring companies. Likely one of those studio bands.

  3. $800 million, a robotic arm, and someone forgot to pack a feather duster.

    I mean, this isn’t the first Mars lander to have dust accumulate on its solar panels.

    1. It isn’t just that it’s dust accumulating on the solar panels. It’s also sharp edged dust leaving scratches all over the surface of the panels. they actually used the robotic arm to remove some of the dust once already, but it didn’t provide as much benefit as they had hoped.

      1. Scientists have come up with a good load of different kinds of self-healing materials in the recent years, so I wonder if half-a-millimeter thick layer of some self-healing plastic or whatever on top of the panel’s glass could work. Granted, I’m not at all certain that any of them would work at the Marsian temperatures, but it just about might be an option in the future.

        1. self healing is not required, what we need is a structure that conducts light even when it is scratched or chipped. i am probably wrong but a crystalline structure may be in the running for a solution. lemme know how wrong i am about that.

          my solution below is just to add removable layers to extend service life. light, cheap, and easily engineered.

      2. we can get scratch proof gorilla glass in our pockets for a few hundred bucks… but 800 million just gets ya plain old glass? lol

        all jokes aside, it would be cost effective and very simple to engineer in layers that can be slid off and left behind.

        i may not be a nasa engineer or a proper rocket scientist or have a fancy degree…. but sometimes people just dont think things through. of course that is easy to say in retrospect. but damn… rocks… glass…. really?

    2. You really think they haven’t considered that? I’ve seen these articles and people going “why didn’t they X” in the comments a lot over the last few weeks and the simple fact is that everything people propose can be countered by: because it would add massive amounts of weight on a very lightweight lander that would take away mass budget from other experiments for a relatively complex and untestable unit of questionable utility. Something like this breaking could very well severely reduce solar panel output and CAUSE an early mission termination.
      By the time InSight was designed and built martian dust buildup was a known problem. However it turns out the cleaning events that helped out Spirit and Opportunity (MER-A and MER-B) are much rarer in the area that Insight landed in. There was no way to know this beforehand.
      With known dust buildup rates it’s solar panels were rated to last at least the primary mission. And they have. The article is “a bit” too dismissive of the Insight lander. It’s been on the planet since 2018 so I really don’t get where they get the “barely 2 years” from. The mission achieved the vast majority of it’s primary mission basically everything apart from the mole. The mission was actually EXTENDED in Januari of 2021, which wouldn’t have happened if InSight wasn’t providing useful data. It’s a shame InSight lander won’t be giving us data for longer but it’s achieved what it was send out to achieve!

    1. About 3450 km away. (or nearly 5000 times it’s longest single flight distance so far). And unfortunately that little helicopter is also suffering from dust buildup on it’s solar panel.

  4. if only there were one of those vagrants with a bucket and a squeegee…. only a dolla…. 😋

    if i had solar panels on my car i could get em cleaned every block if i wanted.

    1. Yes, but you’d only get power for every second block because one bloke would smear dirty mud over the panels, then that’d get cleaned up by the next bloke, then it’d get smeared over by the third operator…

      After all, it’s not like there’s taps in the middle of the intersection for them to replace the dirty water in their buckets with…

  5. > this poor little delivery bot getting absolutely wrecked by a train

    “Oh, the droidity!
    And all the witnesses screaming around here!
    I can’t talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest, it’s just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage…”

    Apologies to Herb Morrison.

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