Roll-on/roll-off vessel docking

RORO Vessels: Driving Cars Across The Ocean

YouTube does a pretty good job of making itself a target for criticism, but one thing you can say about their algorithms: when they work, they really work. Case in point, the other day I found a suggestion in my feed for a very recent video about salvaging a shipwreck. I can’t begin to guess what combination of view history and metadata Google mined to come to the conclusion that I’d be interested in this video, but they hit the nail on the head.

But more importantly, their algorithmic assessment of my interests must have been a goldmine to them — or it could have been if I didn’t have a minefield of ad blockers protecting me — because I fell down a rabbit hole that led me to a bunch of interesting videos. As it turns out, the shipwreck in that first video was of a cargo ship that was carrying thousands of brand-new automobiles, which were all destroyed in the fire and subsequent capsizing of a “roll-on/roll-off” (RORO) vessel off the coast of Georgia (the state, not the country) in 2019.

Thus began my journey into RORO vessels, on which automobiles and other bulky cargo are transported around the world. And while my personal assessment of the interests of Hackaday readers probably is not as finely tuned as Google’s algos, I figured there’s a better than decent chance that people might enjoy tagging along too.

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Powering Up With USB: Untangling The USB Power Delivery Standards

Powering external devices directly from a PC’s I/O ports has been a thing long before USB was even a twinkle in an engineer’s eye. Some of us may remember the all too common PS/2 pass-through leads that’d tap into the 275 mA that is available via these ports. When USB was first released, it initially provided a maximum of 500 mA which USB 3.0 increased to 900 mA.

For the longest time, this provided power was meant only to provide a way for peripherals like keyboards, mice and similar trivial devices to be powered rather than require each of these to come with its own power adapter. As the number of  computer-connected gadgets increased USB would become the primary way to not only power small devices directly, but to also charge battery-powered devices and ultimately deliver power more generally.

Which brings us to the USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) protocol. Confusingly, USB-PD encompasses a number of different standards, ranging from fixed voltage charging to Programmable Power Supply and Adjustable Voltage Supply. What are the exact differences between these modes, and how does one go about using them? Continue reading “Powering Up With USB: Untangling The USB Power Delivery Standards”

A Rant On Personal Software Projects

Looking across your hard drive and GitHub, you might find hundreds of notes and skeletons of Git repositories. A veritable graveyard of software side projects. The typical flow for many of these projects is: get an idea, ruminate on the idea until it becomes exciting, eventually becoming more exciting than the current side project, notes are captured, a repository is created, and work begins at a blistering pace as the focus and excitement are there. There might be some rewrites or some changes in direction. Questions of whether the project is worthwhile or “what even should this project actually be” start to arise. Eventually, enthusiasm wanes as these questions continue to multiply. Progress slows as the path forward seems less clear-cut as it once did. The project is either sunset with a mournful promise to someday return or quietly put aside as something new and exciting comes to take its place. Sound familiar? Perhaps not, but the principles here could be helpful.

This particular article is largely a piece of opinion from one engineer to another. It’s about engineering the process by which you design a project to have better outcomes. There are many reasons why a project could be shelved or scrapped and not all of them are from a lack of clear project definition. In the case where it isn’t clear what the project is, it can be helpful to think about it in a more holistic/meta sense. There are two types of personal projects in broad strokes: technology demos and products.

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Pinning Tails On Satellites To Help Prevent Space Junk

Low Earth orbit was already relatively crowded when only the big players were launching satellites, but as access to space has gotten cheaper, more and more pieces of hardware have started whizzing around overhead. SpaceX alone has launched nearly 1,800 individual satellites as part of its Starlink network since 2019, and could loft as many as 40,000 more in the coming decades. They aren’t alone, either. While their ambitions might not be nearly as grand, companies such as Amazon and Samsung have announced plans to create satellite “mega-constellations” of their own in the near future.

At least on paper, there’s plenty of room for everyone. But what about when things go wrong? Should a satellite fail and become unresponsive, it’s no longer able to maneuver its way out of close calls with other objects in orbit. This is an especially troubling scenario as not everything in orbit around the Earth has the ability to move itself in the first place. Should two of these uncontrollable objects find themselves on a collision course, there’s nothing we can do on the ground but watch and hope for the best. The resulting hypervelocity impact can send shrapnel and debris flying for hundreds or even thousands of kilometers in all three dimensions, creating an extremely hazardous situation for other vehicles.

One way to mitigate the problem is to design satellites in such a way that they will quickly reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up at the end of their mission. Ideally, the deorbit procedure could even activate automatically if the vehicle became unresponsive or suffered some serious malfunction. Naturally, to foster as wide adoption as possible, such a system would have to be cheap, lightweight, simple to integrate into arbitrary spacecraft designs, and as reliable as possible. A tall order, to be sure.

But perhaps not an impossible one. Boeing subsidiary Millennium Space Systems recently announced it had successfully deployed a promising deorbiting device developed by Tethers Unlimited. Known as the Terminator Tape, the compact unit is designed to rapidly slow down an orbiting satellite by increasing the amount of drag it experiences in the wispy upper atmosphere.

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NASA Are Squaring Up Against The Asteroid Threat

The world faces many terrestrial crises right now, so it’s easy to forget that giant space rocks may one day threaten the very existence of entire civilizations. Yes, the threat of asteroid strikes is a remote one, but nevertheless something humanity may have to face one day, and one day soon.

NASA takes the issue seriously, and has staffed its Planetary Defence Coordination Office since 2016. In service to these efforts, it’s also developing a mission to research how dangerous androids may be deflected. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is set to launch within the next year. Continue reading “NASA Are Squaring Up Against The Asteroid Threat”

Teardown: Impassa SCW9057G-433 Alarm System

This series of monthly teardowns was started in early 2018 as an experiment, and since you fine folks keep reading them, I keep making them. But in truth, finding a new and interesting gadget every month can sometimes be a chore. Which is why I’m always so thankful when a reader actually sends something in that they’d like to see taken apart, as it absolves me from having to make the decision myself. Of course it also means I can’t be blamed if you don’t like it, so keep that in mind as well.

Coming our way from the tropical paradise of Eastern Pennsylvania, this month’s subject is an ADT branded Impassa SCW9057G-433 alarm system that was apparently pulled off the wall when our kind patron was moving house. As you might have guessed from the model number, this unit uses 433 MHz to communicate with various sensors and devices throughout the home, and also includes a 3G cellular connection that allows it to contact the alarm monitoring service even if the phone line has been cut.

Diagram of Impassa home security setup
The alarm can connect to a wide array of 433 MHz devices.

From how many of these are on eBay, and the research I’ve done on some home alarm system forums, it appears that you can actually pick one of these up on the second-hand market and spin your own whole-house alarm system without going through a monitoring company like ADT. The extensive documentation from Impassa covers how to wire and configure the device, and as long as the system isn’t locked when you get it, it seems like wiping the configuration and starting from scratch isn’t a problem.

If it’s possible to put together your own homebrew alarm system with one of these units at the core, then it seems the least we can do is take it apart and see what kind of potentially modifiable goodies are waiting under that shiny plastic exterior.

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Open-Source Insulin: Biohackers Aiming For Distributed Production

When you’ve got a diabetic in your life, there are few moments in any day that are free from thoughts about insulin. Insulin is literally the first coherent thought I have every morning, when I check my daughter’s blood glucose level while she’s still asleep, and the last thought as I turn out the lights, making sure she has enough in her insulin pump to get through the night. And in between, with the constant need to calculate dosing, adjust levels, add corrections for an unexpected snack, or just looking in the fridge and counting up the number of backup vials we have on hand, insulin is a frequent if often unwanted intruder on my thoughts.

And now, as my daughter gets older and seeks like any teenager to become more independent, new thoughts about insulin have started to crop up. Insulin is expensive, and while we have excellent insurance, that can always change in a heartbeat. But even if it does, the insulin must flow — she has no choice in the matter. And so I thought it would be instructional to take a look at how insulin is made on a commercial scale, in the context of a growing movement of biohackers who are looking to build a more distributed system of insulin production. Their goal is to make insulin affordable, and with a vested interest, I want to know if they’ve got any chance of making that goal a reality.

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