Attempts to make a viable nuclear fusion reactor have on the whole been the domain of megabucks projects supported by countries or groups of countries, such as the European JET or newer ITER projects. This is not to say that smaller efforts aren’t capable of making their own advances, operations in both the USA and the UK are working on new reactors that use a novel superconducting tape to achieve a much smaller device.
The reactors in the works from both Oxfordshire-based Tokamak Energy and Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Fusion Systems, or CFS, are tokamaks, a Russian acronym describing a toroidal chamber in which a ring of high-temperature plasma is contained within a spiral magnetic field. Reactors such as JET or ITER are also tokamaks, and among the many challenges facing a tokamak designer is the stable creation and maintenance of that field. In this, the new tokamaks have an ace up their sleeve, in the form of a high-temperature superconducting tape from which those super-powerful magnets can be constructed. This makes the magnets easier to make, cheaper to maintain at their required temperature, and smaller than the low-temperature superconductors found in previous designs.
The world of nuclear fusion is a particularly exciting one to follow in these times of climate crisis, with competing approaches from laser-based devices racing with the tokamak projects to produce the research which will eventually lead to safer carbon-free power. If the CFS or Tokamak Energy reactors lead eventually to a fusion power station on the edge of our cities then it may just be some of the most important work we’ve ever reported.
The job of processing video after a large event must be a thankless one for whichever volunteer upon whose shoulders it falls, and thus it’s not unusual for talks at larger events to end up online much later than the event itself. Electromagnetic Field 2022 was last year, but they have continued to drop new videos. Among the latest batch is one from [Jennifer Herchenroeder], in which she discusses the steel used in her team’s BattleBot, Hijinx (Edit: her EMF talk was cut short due to time pressures, so she re-recorded it in full after the event and we’ve replaced the link. The EMF video meanwhile is here). The result is a fascinating introduction to the metallurgy of iron and steel, and is well worth a watch.
To fully understand the selection of armor steel it’s necessary to start from first principles with iron, to look at its various allotropes, and understand something of how those allotropes form and mix in the steel making and metalworking processes. We’re treated to a full description of the various tempering and hardening processes, before a panel-by-panel rundown of the various steels used by Hijinx.
For a Hackaday writer with a past in robot combat it’s fascinating to see how the design of robots has evolved over the decades since the British Robot Wars, and it’s particularly nice to see the current generation as part of our community. However, if you’ve tempted yourself, bear in mind that it’s not all plain sailing.
It may be midwinter in Perth, but people still go to the beach there, which led to the surprising discovery earlier this week of what appears to be a large hunk of space debris. Local authorities quickly responded to reports of a barnacle-encrusted 2.5-m by 3-m tank-like object on the beach. The object, which has clearly seen better days, was described as being made of metal and a “wood-like material,” which on casual inspection is clearly a composite material like Kevlar fibers in some sort of resin. Local fire officials teamed up with forensic chemists to analyze the object for contamination; finding none, West Australia police cordoned off the device to keep the curious at bay. In an apparently acute case of not knowing how the Internet works, they also “urge[d] everyone to refrain from drawing conclusions” online, which of course sent the virtual sleuths into overdrive. An r/whatisthisthing thread makes a good case for it being part of the remains of the third stage of an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV); reentry of these boosters is generally targeted at the East Indian Ocean for safe disposal, but wind and weather seem to have brought this artifact back from the depths.
When the bankruptcy of VanMoof, the company behind a series of e-bikes, was announced recently, many probably shrugged at this news. After all, what is an e-bike but a regular bicycle that has some electronics and a battery strapped to it to assist with cycling? Unfortunately for owners of a VanMoof e-bike, their fancy wheels come with a Bluetooth-connected smartphone app that somehow involves storing a special encryption key on the VanMoof servers, as detailed by [Gergely Orosz] at the Pragmatic Engineer. Without this key that is connected to your VanMoof account, your VanMoof app cannot communicate with your VanMoof e-bike.
Although basic functionality of the e-bike will be retained, features such as setting the gear modes, changing assistance mode, locking the bicycle and other features not exposed on the bicycle itself will be lost. Essentially this is the equivalent of losing the remote control to a modern-day TV and getting locked out of 90% of the device’s features.
Fortunately, as [Gergely] and others are (urgently) pointing out to VanMoof e-bike owners, this special key can be downloaded with a Key Exporter project on GitHub, as well as obtained and used with an alternative app by Cowboy Bikes, which is a competitor of VanMoof. The unfortunate reality remains, however, that should you lose this special key, you are going to be in a world of pain as your expensive e-bike now is mostly an e-brick.
[Nathaniel Fairfield] aka [thandal] was curious about the actual rotation and axis tilt of Venus. He decided to spin up at GitHub Python repository to study the issue further, as one does. The scientific literature shows a wide range of estimates and variations for the planet’s rotation and axis tilt. He wondered if the real answer might be found in a publicly available set of uncalibrated delay-doppler images of Venus. These data were collected by the former Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico from 1988 through 2020. [Thanda] observed that the planet’s rotation appears to be speeding up slightly, and furthermore, his estimates of the orbital axis were within 0.01 degrees of the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) values. [Note: Venus is a bit confusing — one planetary rotation, 243 Earth days, is longer than its year, 225 Earth days].
Aligning and calibrating the raw data was no trivial task. You have to consider the radar’s (Earth’s) position and time, as well as Venus. Complicating the math even more, some times the radar was operated in a bistatic mode, with the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia being the receiver.
There’s a lot of interesting signal processing going on here. The Doppler-delay data consists of images that are 8091×8092 array of complex values, has to be mapped onto the Venus geoid. Then by using various surface features, one can compare their positions vs time and obtain an estimate of rotational speed and tilt. If these kinds of calculations interest you, be sure to check out [Thandal]’s summary report, and also take note of the poliastro Python astrodynamics library. Why is this important? One reason to better plan future missions.
The Google Nest Mini is a popular smart speaker, but it’s very much a cloud-based Big Tech solution. For those that want to roll their own voice assistant, or just get avoid the corporate surveillance of it all, [Justin Alvey’s] work may appeal. (Nitter)
[Justin] pulled apart a Nest Mini, ripped out the original PCB, and kitted it out with his own internals. He uses the ESP32 as the basis of his design, since it provides plenty of processing power and WiFi connectivity. His replacement PCB also interfaces with the LEDs, mute switch, and capacitive touch features of the Nest Mini, for ease of interaction.
As a demo, he set up the system to work with a custom “Maubot” assistant using the Matrix framework. He hooked it up with Beeper, a messaging client that collates all your other messaging platforms into one easily-accessible place. The assistant employs GPT3.5, prompted with a list of his family, friends, and other details, to enable him to make calls, send messages, and handle natural language queries. The demo itself is very impressive, and we’d love to try setting up a similar assistant ourselves. Seeing two of [Justin’s] builds talking to each other is amusing, too.
When the PlayStation VR2 headset was released, people wondered whether it would be possible to get the headset to work as a PC VR headset. That would mean being able to plug it into a PC and have it work as a VR headset, instead of it only working on a PS5 as Sony intended.
Enthusiasts were initially skeptical and at times despondent about the prospects, but developer [iVRy]’s efforts recently had a breakthrough. A PC-compatible VR2 is looking more likely to happen.
So far [iVRy] is claiming they have 6 DOF SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping), Prox sensor, and stereo camera data.
Most of the juicy bits are paywalled behind [iVRy]’s Patreon. We’re hoping the jailbreak process will eventually be open-sourced.