Hackaday Links: May 7, 2023

Hackaday Links Column Banner

More fallout for SpaceX this week after their Starship launch attempt, but of the legal kind rather than concrete and rebar. A handful of environmental groups filed the suit, alleging that the launch generated “intense heat, noise, and light that adversely affects surrounding habitat areas and communities, which included designated critical habitat for federally protected species as well as National Wildlife Refuge and State Park lands,” in addition to “scatter[ing] debris and ash over a large area.”

Specifics of this energetic launch aside, we always wondered about the choice of Boca Chica for a launch facility. Yes, it has all the obvious advantages, like a large body of water directly to the east and being at a relatively low latitude. But the whole area is a wildlife sanctuary, and from what we understand there are still people living pretty close to the launch facility. Then again, you could pretty much say the same thing about the Cape Canaveral and Cape Kennedy complex, which probably couldn’t be built today. Amazing how a Space Race will grease the wheels of progress.

From the Dystopia du Jour Department, new this week from the University of Texas of a “brain activity decoder” that can read people’s thoughts using AI. Lest anyone panic about having your thoughts read covertly, relax — the technique requires a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. So it’s not likely that anyone will be hacking your head anytime soon. But the method is still interesting.

Models are built from extensive training sessions that involve volunteers listening to hours of podcasts while in the fMRI machine. Later on, when the volunteers listen to a new podcast or even just imagine a story in their heads, the machine generates an approximation of the thoughts based on the new fMRI data. The results are pretty decent, with the decoded thoughts sometimes exactly matching the stimulus; but, being based on the same technology as ChatGPT, sometimes the decoded thoughts were comically incorrect. The researchers hope the technology can bring speech back to those with brain injuries, and are hopeful that fNIRS (functional near-IR spectroscopy) will provide a more portable solution. Of course, this just means we’ve got to do an article on fNIRS so we can understand what that’s all about.

Then again, maybe this whole dystopia thing won’t be that bad — at least not judging by this robo face-plant. The bot in question is Agility Robotics’ Digit, the creepy backward-knees, semi-anthropomorphic robot that seems targeted at the collaborative robotics market. Digit was working in a mock warehouse setup at ProMat, a manufacturing and supply chain trade show, when it suffered the mishap. From the video, it doesn’t appear that anything broke, at least not externally. It almost seemed like the right knee joint gave out as soon as Digit put weight on it. Agility reps were apparently quite pleased that Digit worked for 20 hours straight before failing, but it’ll likely have to do better than that in a production environment. But whatever — if this is the best that Skynet can throw at us when it decides to turn out the lights, we’ll be fine.

We spotted a story on PetaPixel about a smartphone camera that was destroyed by a laser that makes us just cringe — and not just because it shows someone recording video in portrait mode. It happened at a concert in Naples back in April, where the concertgoer was using his camera to record the proceedings when a laser beam swept vertically through the frame several times. This appears to have permanently fried the image sensor in the camera; presumably at least some of the cameras around this victim were zapped too. If the laser could do that to a CCD, what did it do to all those retinas?

And finally, if the tool’s not right, the guy’s not bright. Our favorite YouTube historian, Lance “The History Guy” Geiger had a video on the 1964 Minuteman missile accident, a Broken Arrow incident that we’d never heard about. We’d heard about the incident where a missile tech dropped a wrench into a Titan missile silo and nearly blew up Arkansas — Lance covered that one, too — but this one is somehow more insidious. We won’t spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that when the manual says to use a fuse puller, use a fuse puller, not a screwdriver.

39 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: May 7, 2023

    1. Whoever put that in is a total cowboy and should have the book thrown at them. No competent laser show operator will fire lasers directly at people, they are always either low-power eye safe devices or carefully set up so the beam cannot pass within a few meters of anywhere a person can be.

      1. I’ll second that.

        Holy crap, who thought that was good idea? You put guards in front of the lasers so if they do drop they won’t hit the crowd, and these people are doing it deliberately! Wow.

  1. SpaceX’s starship should have never been given a launch license to begin with. The failure rate of the previous launches shows a total disregard for responsible design and test practices. They should have been required to demonstrate more success before being allowed to proceed to a large scale test.

        1. Reminds me of…
          “It’s your personal responsibility to serve in the Wehrmacht.”
          ..or ..
          “It’s your mother’s responsibility to not say anything that might cause me to punch her.”
          “..responsibility to report any suspicious activity to your local Communist Party official.”

          Without defining the ‘responsibility’ and freedom’s lost, that phrase is meaningless.
          “I live in the woods and feel it’s everyone’s personal responsibility to the environment and our own humanity to give away all personal possessions, walk everywhere, not bathe and consume at least one psychedelic drug each day”.

      1. You got that right. Anything you try to do now .. there is someone apposed. Very sad state of affairs. See that all the time even at work when it comes to substation locations, power lines, etc. ‘Not in my backyard’ mentality. Even though the benefits out-weigh any other concerns.

        Putting lots of people to work on a very complex project like Starship is great. Move technology forward. Using an iterative process is fine as long as you can afford it. Nothing wrong with blowing up pads and rockets to get you there. Sounds like huge fun actually. A learning experience!

        1. Local story where I like about a woman whose was opposed to a bike path because “people might be able to see into her back yard”. Very next statement “I’m not a NIMBY but…”

          She was pro-bike path, but just not… y’know….

      1. People get mad that SpaceX runs “hardware rich,” because they’re too used to NASA/ESA’s old-space “simulate the hell out of this, we’ve only got the one” risk averse launch policies.

        (Musk blowing things up is better for progression than the old space way. Can’t tell what the fails are going to be until the thing’s in the air.)

      2. How about the launch pad that flew everywhere? It was known that large rockets need flame diverter trenches. (Note the booster would never go to Mars so the story of it being to test if lift off from Mars was possible doesn’t wash)

        1. The piers of the launch pad extend into the water table and this makes a jurisdiction clusterfarc. SpaceX has been waiting for permits to make changes from the EPA, FFA, Army Corp of Engineers, NOAA, various Parks and Recreation, whichever is in charge of birds that migrate and those which don’t, etc.

          If fixing damage does not fall under these restrictions, then this was a very Musk decision and with a wink and a nod from the Space Police.

          1. Comedicles,

            When the government rocket gets it right on the first try, your not exactly making the government look bad by having your big rocket loop out of control and having to be destroyed. The destruction of the launch pad and damage and debris out side of the safety zone hurts your image too.

        2. “It was known that large rockets need flame diverter trenches.”

          No, no it wasn’t. It had always been decided to have a flame diverter trench for large rockets. It wasn’t “known” that you NEED a flame diverter trench. Nobody ever actually tried it. Even the earliest A-4/V2 rockets had a stand with a flame diverter.
          Lots of things in Engineering were and are “Known”. Until it turns out we’ve been doing things a certain way but forgotten the reason, or nobody ever bothered actually investigating the why and it turns out it’s not actually correct or not needed.
          SpaceX reasoning was: we won’t have a flame diverter trench on the moon or mars, and if the surface can stand up to the pressure it should be fine. Turns out it was fine up to about 70% thrust. It might have even been fine to 100% if they had originally cast the entire foundation sheet as a single pour of Fondag instead of the piecemeal patching they did after every test firing.

    1. If you think Space X is bad, the DOD is 100x worse. Who do you think gets all these launches approved? Space X’s biggest customer is the US Government and the technologies that Space X designs are for first and foremost, the Federal Government, then the private sector. Not the other way around..

    2. “a total disregard for responsible design and test practices”?

      SpaceX’s “design and test practices” have proven so successful that every other rocket manufacturer on the planet is now racing to implement these exact same “design and test practices” before they’re obsoleted out of existence.

      “They should have been required to demonstrate more success before being allowed to proceed to a large scale test.”

      SpaceX has had over 220 successful launches and a 99.1% overall success rate. That’s higher than ULA. In fact, SpaceX now launches about 10 rockets for every 1 ULA puts into orbit. SpaceX doesn’t just put more rockets into orbit than everyone else, they also bring them back down to be reused. SpaceX successful stage landings/recoveries: 143. Everyone else combined: 0

    1. Designers said it’s not because the legs give more agility over rough terrain, but they want to design a robot that can be quickly programmed to do a human’s roll. This involves picking up bins like human, stepping up ladders like a human, etc.
      They really haven’t demonstrated much in the way of ‘human-agility’ or ease of programming though.

  2. “we always wondered about the choice of Boca Chica for a launch facility. Yes, it has all the obvious advantages, like a large body of water directly to the east and being at a relatively low latitude.”

    It’s actually quite simple. Open google maps and start scrolling north from Boca Chica (I’d say south too, but it needs to be in the continental US and you hit Mexico nearly immediately) and along the Florida coastline from the southern tip. I challenge you to find basically any other location that meets requirements that’s not either a wildlife sanctuary, densely populated, very very remote with no road access or a combination of the above. SpaceX has right from the start always said that Boca Chica wasn’t ideal, but it was the best available. NASA wouldn’t like them even risking blowing up something like a fully fueled Starship+booster stack at the cape, so they needed a location to do their testing outside of Canaveral.

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.