MakerBot was poised to be one of the greatest success stories of the open source hardware movement. Founded on the shared knowledge of the RepRap community, they created the first practical desktop 3D printer aimed at consumers over a decade ago. But today, after being bought out by Stratasys and abandoning their open source roots, the company is all but completely absent in the market they helped to create. Cheaper and better printers, some of which built on that same RepRap lineage, have completely taken over in the consumer space; forcing MakerBot to refocus their efforts on professional and educational customers.
This fundamental restructuring of the company is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the recent unveiling of “SKETCH Classroom”: an $1,800 package that includes lesson plans, a teacher certification program, several rolls of filament, and two of the company’s new SKETCH printers. It even includes access to MakerBot Cloud, a new online service that aims to help teachers juggle student’s print jobs between multiple SKETCH printers.
Of course, the biggest takeaway from this announcement for the average Hackaday reader is that MakerBot is releasing new hardware. Their last printer was clearly not designed (or priced) for makers, and even a current-generation Replicator costs more than the entire SKETCH Classroom package. On the surface, it might seem like this is a return to a more reasonable pricing model for MakeBot’s products; something that could even help them regain some of the market share they’ve lost over the years.
There’s only one problem, MakerBot didn’t actually make the SKETCH. This once industry-leading company has now come full-circle, and is using a rebranded printer as the keystone of their push into the educational market. Whether they were unable to build a printer cheap enough to appeal to schools or simply didn’t want to, the message is clear: if you can’t beat them, join them.
For decades, astronauts have been forced to endure space-friendly MREs and dehydrated foodstuffs, though we understand both the quality and the options have increased with time. But if we’re serious about long-term space travel, colonizing Mars, or actually having a restaurant at the end of the universe, the ability to bake and cook from raw ingredients will become necessary. This zero-gravity culinary adventure might as well start with a delicious experiment, and what better than chocolate chip cookies for the maiden voyage?
The vessel in question is the Zero-G Oven, built in a collaboration between Zero-G Kitchen and Nanoracks, a Texas-based company that provides commercial access to space. In November 2019, Nanoracks sent the Zero-G oven aloft, where it waited a few weeks for the bake-off to kick off. Five pre-formed cookie dough patties had arrived a few weeks earlier, each one sealed inside its own silicone baking pouch.
The Zero-G Oven is essentially a rack-mounted cylindrical toaster oven. It maxes out at 325 °F (163 °C), which is enough heat for Earth cookies if you can wait fifteen minutes or so. But due to factors we haven’t figured out yet, the ISS cookies took far longer to bake.
With global temperatures continuing to break records in recent years, it’s important to cast an eye towards the future. While efforts to reduce emissions remain in a political quagmire, time is running out to arrest the slide into catastrophe.
Further compounding the issue are a variety of positive feedback loops that promise to further compound the problem. In these cases, initial warming has flow-on effects that then serve to further increase global temperatures. Avoiding these feedback mechanisms is crucial if the Earth is to remain comfortably livable out to the end of the century.
A Multitude of Causes
The issue of climate change often appears as a simple one, with the goal being to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent negative consequences for human civilization. Despite this, the effects of climate change are often diffuse and intermingled. The various climate systems of the Earth interact in incredibly complex ways, and there are many mechanisms at play in these feedback effects that could tip things over the edge.
While football in the United States means something totally different from what it means in the rest of the world, fans everywhere take it pretty seriously. This Sunday is the peak of U.S. football frenzy, the Super Bowl, and it is surprisingly high-tech. The NFL has invested in a lot of technology and today’s football stats are nothing like those of the last century thanks to some very modern devices.
It is kind of interesting since, at the core, the sport doesn’t really need a lot of high tech. A pigskin ball, some handkerchiefs, and a field marked off with some lime and a yardstick will suffice. However, we’ve seen a long arc of technology in scoreboards, cameras — like instant replay — and in the evolution of protective gear. But the last few years have seen the rise of data collection. It’s being driven by RFID tags in the player’s shoulder pads.
These aren’t the RFID chips in your credit card. These are long-range devices and in the right stadium, a computer can track not only the player’s position, but also his speed, acceleration, and a host of other statistics.
We’re used to our domestic appliances being completely automated in 2020, but not so long ago they were much simpler affairs. Not everything required a human to run it though, an unexpected piece of electromechanical automation could be found in British bedrooms. This is the story of the Goblin Teasmade, an alarm clock with a little bit extra.
Today, after 16 years of exemplary service, NASA will officially deactivate the Spitzer Space Telescope. Operating for over a decade beyond its designed service lifetime, the infrared observatory worked in tandem with the Hubble Space Telescope to reveal previously hidden details of known cosmic objects and helped expand our understanding of the universe. In later years, despite never being designed for the task, it became an invaluable tool in the study of planets outside our own solar system.
While there’s been no cataclysmic failure aboard the spacecraft, currently more than 260 million kilometers away from Earth, the years have certainly taken their toll on Spitzer. The craft’s various technical issues, combined with its ever-increasing distance, has made its continued operation cumbersome. Rather than running it to the point of outright failure, ground controllers have decided to quit while they still have the option to command the vehicle to go into hibernation mode. At its distance from the Earth there’s no danger of it becoming “space junk” in the traditional sense, but a rogue spacecraft transmitting randomly in deep space could become a nuisance for future observations.
From mapping weather patterns on a planet 190 light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major to providing the first images of Saturn’s largest ring, it’s difficult to overstate the breadth of Spitzer’s discoveries. But these accomplishments are all the more impressive when you consider the mission’s storied history, from its tumultuous conception to the unique technical challenges of long-duration spaceflight.
Nuclear power is great if you want to generate a lot of electricity without releasing lots of CO2 and other harmful pollutants. However, the major bugbear of the technology has always been the problem of waste. Many of the byproducts from the operation of nuclear plants are radioactive, and remain so for thousands of years. Storing this waste in a safe and economical fashion continues to be a problem.
Alternative methods to deal with this waste stream continue to be an active area of research. So what are some of the ways this waste can be diverted or reused?
Fast Breeders Want To Close The Fuel Cycle
One of the primary forms of waste from a typical nuclear light water reactor (LWR) is the spent fuel from the fission reaction. These consist of roughly 3% waste isotopes, 1% plutonium isotopes, and 96% uranium isotopes. This waste is high in transuranic elements, which have half-lives measured in many thousands of years. These pose the biggest problems for storage, as they must be securely kept in a safe location for lengths of time far exceeding the life of any one human society.
The proposed solution to this problem is to instead use fast-neutron reactors, which “breed” non-fissile uranium-238 into plutonium-239 and plutonium-240, which can then be used as fresh fuel. Advanced designs also have the ability to process out other actinides, also using them as fuel in the fission process. These reactors have the benefit of being able to use almost all the energy content in uranium fuel, reducing fuel use by 60 to 100 times compared to conventional methods.