Hackaday Links: October 29, 2023

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“As California goes, so goes the nation.” That adage has been true on and off for the last 100 years or so, and it’s true again now that GM’s Cruise self-driving car unit has halted operations across the United States, just a couple of days after California’s DMV suspended its license to conduct driverless tests on state roadways. The nationwide shutdown of testing was undertaken voluntarily by the company and takes their sore beset self-driving taxi fleet off the road in Phoenix, Houston, Austin, Dallas, and Miami, in addition to the California ban, which seemed to be mainly happening in San Francisco. Cruise’s fleet has suffered all manner of indignities over the last few months, from vandalism to “coning” pranks to even being used as rolling hookup spots, and that’s not to mention all the trouble they caused by brigading to the same address or losing games of chicken with a semi and a firetruck. We’re not sure what to make of all this; despite our somewhat snarky commentary on the company’s woes, we take little pleasure in this development other than to the degree it probably increases roadway safety in the former test cities. We really do want to see self-driving cars succeed, at least for certain use cases, but it seems like this is a case of too much, too soon for the technology we currently have at our disposal.

Speaking of unintended consequences, as we previously noted, NASA is having a tough time dealing with its unexpected largesse of asteroid goodness in the sample return container from OSIRIS-REx. The spacecraft’s TAGSAM, or “Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Module,” delved too greedily and too deep into the surface of asteroid Bennu, which resulted in a full to busting sample container. Literally busting, as it now appears that two of the 35 fasteners holding the sample container together are stuck. As NASA somewhat bloodlessly puts it, the wonky fasteners “could not be removed with the current tools approved for use in the OSIRIS-REx glovebox.” Our translation: “We stripped two screw heads and we’d really like to Dremel them out, but we can’t.” OK, that’s stretching it a bit; there are certainly challenges presented by working on a billion dollars worth of asteroid stuff that absolutely, positively can’t be contaminated that most of us will never have to consider. So we’ll have to cut NASA some slack here. And we’re genuinely interested in how they solve this problem from an engineering standpoint, so stay tuned for more on that. The good news is that they already have more than enough sample to meet their needs, so anything they free up from inside the sample canister will just be icing on the cake.

If you think the new Raspberry Pi 5 is such a good SBC that it would be a bargain at twice the list price, you’d be just about right — at least after the scalpers got through with you. It seems like the usual suspects got their preorders in to buy as many units as possible at the MSRP (a reasonable $60 for the 4GB and $80 for the 8GB) only to immediately list them on eBay for up to 108% of that. We’re all for making a buck, but it really would be better if people tried to earn a profit by adding something to the value chain instead of doing nothing more demanding than a few mouse clicks. This is why we can’t have nice things.

And finally, the number “42” became something of a geek culture in-joke thanks to Douglas Adams, who chose it as the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, which of course has five books, or six depending on how you count it. In the books, the disappointingly concise answer was 7.5 million years in the making by mega-computer Deep Thought, and no doubt Adams picked the number at random because it would be funny. But it turns out that there’s more to 42 than just pithy British comedy, as the number shows up time and again as an answer across multiple disciplines. Along with a bunch of arcane mathematical stuff, a rainbow creates a 42° arc in the sky, the Hubble constant that describes the expansion of the universe has a 42 in it (if you mix traditional units in with SI), and it appears the Sun with complete 42 orbits of the galactic center before it dies.

22 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: October 29, 2023

  1. Well, I hope that Raspberry will make enough and soon enough Number 5’s that the scalpers will see their inventory lose value and end up looking foolish.

    1. Scalpers were stuck with a lot of NVidia video cards a while back. Same with Nike shoes. If it’s outside the return window, they really lose a lot in the end. It’s like playing lottery, they win some and they lose some.

    2. Sadly, the price would have to drop below MSRP (what they bought it for) for them to loose more than the cost of inventory storage plus inflation. It’s likely they will sell enough at the higher price to cover their overhead, and then they just need to sell the rest at MSRP to avoid a loss. Sadly they are likely to make bank with how supply chains are going.

  2. One great fallacy we are repeatedly seeing play out these days is an assumption that every new revolutionary technology coming down the pike must and will achieve a 100% use case, i.e. that uptake of the technology will be universal and everyone will want to adopt it.
    This excellent (IMO) piece https://realclearwire.com/articles/2023/10/25/the_political_risks_of_mandating_evs_for_everyone_988506.html
    correctly points out this fallacy and uses helicopters as an example.
    Think helicopters. Think of how revolutionary the technology was and how much they were hyped and where their uptake numbers have now ended up at.
    Now think EVs. Think solar, windmills, hydrogen. Think selfdriving cars.
    Self driving will probably end up only automating certain highway freight truck lanes.

    1. Self-driving automobiles by themselves, even when all the kinks are ironed out, are an incomplete solution. To maximize safety and efficiency, they really also require modified roadways with sensors and transponders, and central coordination. Which makes the real cost of widespread adoption of self-driving cars much higher than their proponents have prophesied. Public transit and more people-oriented urban design are more practical and universal approaches.

      42 in binary is 10101010. Is that pretty, or what?

  3. You know what autonomous vehicles don’t solve?

    All the congestion, land use, and use of low occupancy vehicles which regardless of being gasoline or electric, are the least efficient, most wasteful form of human transit.

  4. “we take little pleasure in this development other than to the degree it probably increases roadway safety”
    When you consider the precident it already started to set for even more-poorly programmed/trained/tested/regulated/vetted
    self-driving cars to become commonplace, the phrase “to the degree it probably increases roadway safety”, if taken to imply also its increasing *future* public safety from what it would’ve been otherwise, is hopefully a very great degree, indeed.

    God Grant they’ve all learned a thing or two. What’re the odds most folk training 2000lb killing machines have never even trained a dog?

  5. My guess is that NASA will bring a power drill or dremel in to the glovebox, they’ll just need to “sterilise” (not just of microbes, but also of all and any volatile materials) it first and store it in vacuum a while so any outgassing can take place before it goes anywhere near the precious samples.

  6. I wonder who shorted stock prices for self driving cars.
    I just got back from SF 2weeks ago and they were positively everywhere but, oddly, had people in the front seat. I don’t know enough but is the historically driver seat now also a passenger seat?
    I have never had and will continue to not have a problem paying a real person in a car $20 or so to drive me home when needed.

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