How Efficient Can An Airplane Be? The Celera 500L Sets To Find Out

One of the current hype trends is the supposedly imminent revolution in air transport. So many companies showing digital renderings and mockups to illustrate their own utopic vision for the future, reaching fevered pitch at events like CES 2020. But aviation has a long history of machinery that turned out to be impractical. Wouldn’t it be great if a company focused their resources on building real aircraft and get real data before cranking up their hype machine? The people at Otto Aviation thought so, and their Celera 500L has reportedly taken to the skies.

If you said “Otto who?” you are not alone. The company has zero PR activity to speak of. Limited internet attention started from aviation fans spotting the Celera 500L under construction at its Southern California airfield. Its unusual exterior appearance and proximity to Hollywood made some dismiss it at first as a movie prop. Anyone with a passing interest in aerospace engineering could immediately see aerodynamics was a priority in this design, its long thin unswept glider-like wings implies the goal is fuel efficiency rather than speed. This was confirmed by internet sleuths uncovering patents filed by people associated with the company.

The patents include very lofty fuel efficiency goals, and industry veterans are skeptical. Fuel is a huge factor in aircraft operating costs where small increases in efficiency translate to big dollars over a plane’s lifetime. It’s hard to believe every other plane maker would deliberately leave so much on the table. There must be far more to the 500L inside that teardrop shaped body, with innovations and potentially making some trade-offs no other company has made. We can see two of them from the outside: the 500L traded off some pilot visibility for aerodynamics, and it has very little ground clearance to absorb the impact of less-than-ideal landings.

It’s certainly possible the ideas leading to this plane will fail to pan out in reality like so many ideas before them. Aerospace engineering is a field littered with debris of concepts that looked great on paper but crashed against a hard and unforgiving reality. But at least Otto Aviation is trying something new by building real hardware to get real data, something well worth recognizing in a sea of hyped up fantasy renderings.

[Photo via SoCal Airshow Review]

Turn By Turn Driving Directions From A Turntable

Many of us now carry a phone that can give us detailed directions from where we are to a destination of our choosing. This luxury became commonplace over the last decade plus, replacing the pen-and-paper solution of consulting a map to plan a trip and writing down steps along the way. During the trip we would have to manually keep track of which step we’re on, but wouldn’t it have been nice to have the car do that automatically? [Ars Technica] showed us that innovators were marketing solutions for automatic step by step driving directions in a car over a 100 years ago.

Systems like the Jones Live-Map obviously predated GPS satellites, so they used vehicle odometry. Given a starting point and a mechanical link to the drivetrain, these machines can calculate miles traversed and scroll to the corresponding place in the list of instructions. This is a concept that has been used in many different contexts since, including the “Next Bus in 7 Minutes” type of display at bus stops. Because a bus runs a fixed route, it is possible to determine location of a bus given its odometer reading transmitted over radio. This was useful before the days of cheap GPS receiver and cellular modems. But the odometry systems would go awry if a bus rerouted due to accidents or weather, and obviously the same would apply to those old school systems as well. Taking a detour or, as the article stated, even erratic driving would accumulate errors by the end of the trip.

The other shortcoming is that these systems predated text-to-speech, so reading the fine print on those wheels became a predecessor to today’s distracted driving problem. One of the patent diagrams explained the solution is to hand the device to a passenger to read. But if there’s a copilot available for reading, they can just as easily track the manual list of directions or use a map directly. The limited utility relative to complexity and cost is probably why those systems faded away. But the desire to solve the problem never faded, so every time new technology became available, someone would try again. Just as they did with a tape casette system in the 1970s and the computerized Etak in the 1980s.

[Photo by Seal Cove Auto Museum]

Model S Motor And Volt Battery Go Together Like Peanut Butter And Jelly

A common project category on this site is “put a Raspberry Pi in it”. For people who wrench on their cars, a similarly popular project is the “LS Swap”. Over the past few years, the world of electronics and automotive hacking started to converge in the form of electric car conversions, and [Jalopnik] proclaims the electric counterpart to “LS Swap” is to put a Telsa Model S motor and a Chevy Volt battery into a project car.

The General Motors LS engine lineup is popular with petro heads for basically the same reasons Raspberry Pi are popular with the digital minded. They are both compact, very powerful for the money, have a large body of existing projects to learn from, and an equally large ecosystem of accessories to help turn ideas into reality. So if someone desired more power than is practical from a car’s original engine, the obvious next step is to swap it out for an LS.

Things may not be quite as obvious in the electric world, but that’s changing. Tesla Model S and Chevrolet Volt have been produced in volume long enough for components to show up at salvage yards. And while not up to the levels of LS swaps or Pi mods, there’s a decent sized body of knowledge for powerful garage-built electric cars thanks to pioneers like [Jim Belosic] and a budding industry catering to those who want to build their own. While the decision to use Tesla’s powerful motor is fairly obvious, the choice of Volt battery may be surprising. It’s a matter of using the right tool for the job: most of these projects are not concerned about long range offered by Tesla’s battery. A Volt battery pack costs less while still delivering enough peak power, and as it was originally developed to fit into an existing chassis, its smaller size also benefits garage tinkerers fitting it into project cars.

While Pi SBCs and LS engines are likely to dominate their respective fields for the foreseeable future, the quickly growing and evolving world of electric vehicles means this winning combo of today are likely to be replaced by some other combination in the future. But even though the parts may change, the spirit of hacking will not.

[Photo: by Jim Belosic of motor used in his Teslonda project]

A Fantastic Frontier Of FPGA Flexibility Found In The 2019 Supercon Badge

We have just concluded a successful Hackaday Superconference where a highlight for many was digging into this year’s hardware badge. Shaped in the general form of a Game Boy handheld gaming console, the heart of the badge is a large FPGA opening up new and exciting potential for badge hacking.

Beyond our normal tools of compiling custom code or modifying hardware with a soldering iron, we now have the option to change core hardware behavior with Verilog. And people explored this new frontier to great effect, as seen at the badge hacking ceremony. (Video embedded below.)

FPGAs are not new, technically speaking, why are they exciting now? We can thank their recent growth in capability, their rapidly falling cost, and the relatively new availability of open source toolchains. These developments elevated FPGA into one of the most exciting trends in hardware today, so this year’s badge master [Sprite_TM] built an open FPGA playground for several hundred of his closest Supercon friends. Let’s take a look at what people were able to accomplish in just a few days using this unique and powerful hardware.

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A Modular Ecosystem That Evolved Around A Simple Diesel Engine

High volume commodity products are a foundation of hacking, we’ve built many projects around popular form factors like NEMA 17 stepper motors, 608 bearings, and 280 DC motors. Their high volume led to lower cost, which further increased popularity, and the cycle repeats. A similar thing happened to a style of single-cylinder diesel engine in China, and [Jalopnik] takes us through an exploration of these “Tuo La Ji” (tractor) machines.

Like many popular standards, circumstances elevated this style of engine to become more popular than its peers. Judging from the pictures, the idea is similar to NEMA 17 in that the core essence is a bolt pattern and an output shaft. Different manufacturers offer various capabilities within this space, and a wild assortment of machinery evolved to take advantage of this class of power source.

It starts with a set of wheels and handlebars to create a walk-behind farm tractor, something pretty common around the world. But this particular ecosystem grew far beyond that to many other applications, including full sized trucks with off-road capability that would embarrass most of the genteel SUVs cruising our roads today. They may not be fast, but they only needed to be faster and have longer endurance than beasts of burden to be effective as “a horseless horse”.

Due to factors such as poor crash safety, absence of diesel emission controls, and affordability of more powerful (and faster!) vehicles, these machines are a dying breed. But that won’t change the fact there was a fantastic amount of mechanical hacking ingenuity that had sprung up around this versatile engine building simple and effective machines. Their creativity drew from the same well that fed into these Indonesian Vespas.

Photo by [Brian Holsclaw] CC BY-ND 2.0

When Toothbrushes, Typewriters, And Credit Card Machines Form A Band

Many everyday objects make some noise as a side effect of their day job, so some of us would hack them into music instruments that can play a song or two. It’s fun, but it’s been done. YouTube channel [Device Orchestra] goes far beyond a device buzzing out a tune – they are full fledged singing (and dancing!) performers. Watch their cover of Take on Me embedded after the break, and if you liked it head over to the channel for more.

The buzz of a stepper motor, easily commanded for varying speeds, is the easiest entry point into this world of mechanical music. They used to be quite common in computer equipment such as floppy drives, hard drives, and flatbed scanners. As those pieces of equipment become outdated and sold for cheap, it became feasible to assemble a large number of them with the Floppotron being something of a high-water mark.

After one of our more recent mentions in this area, when the mechanical sound of a floppy drive is used in the score of a motion picture, there were definite signs of fatigue in the feedback. “We’re ready for something new” so here we are without any computer peripherals! [Device Orchestra] features percussion by typewriters, vocals by toothbrushes, and choreography by credit card machines with the help of kitchen utensils. Coordinating them all is an impressive pile of wires acting as stage manager.

We love to see creativity with affordable everyday objects like this. But we also see the same concept done with equipment on the opposite end of the price spectrum such as a soothing performance of Bach using the coils of a MRI machine.

[Thanks @Bornach1 for the tip]

Continue reading “When Toothbrushes, Typewriters, And Credit Card Machines Form A Band”

Warshipping: A Free Raspberry Pi In The Mail Is Not Always A Welcome Gift

Leading edge computer security is veiled in secrecy — a world where novel attacks are sprung on those who do not yet know what they need to protect against. Once certain tactics have played out within cool kids’ circles, they are introduced to the rest of the world. An IBM red team presented what they’re calling “warshipping”: sending an adversarial network to you in a box.

Companies concerned about security have learned to protect their internet-accessible points of entry. Patrolling guards know to look for potential wardrivers parked near or repeatedly circling the grounds. But some are comparatively lax about their shipping & receiving, and they are the ideal targets for warshipping.

Bypassing internet firewalls and security perimeters, attack hardware is embedded inside a shipping box and delivered by any of the common carriers. Security guards may hassle a van bristling with antennas, but they’ll wave a FedEx truck right through! The hardware can be programmed to stay dormant through screening, waiting to probe once inside the walls.

The presentation described several ways to implement such an attack. There is nothing novel about the raw hardware – Raspberry Pi, GPS receiver, cellular modems, and such are standard fare for various projects on these pages. The creative part is the software and in how they are hidden: in packing material and in innocuous looking plush toys. Or for persistence, they can be hidden in a wall mounted plaque alongside some discreet photovoltaic panels. (Editor’s note: What? No Great Seals?)

With this particular technique out in the open, we’re sure others are already in use and will be disclosed some years down the line. In the meantime, we can focus our efforts on more benign applications of similar technology, whether it is spying on our cat or finding the nearest fast food joint. The hardware is evolving as well: a Raspberry Pi actually seems rather heavyweight for this, how about a compact PCB with both an ESP32 and a cellular modem?

Via Ars Technica.