3D Printering: The Search For Better Search

There’s no question that a desktop 3D printer is at its most useful when it’s producing parts of your own design. After all, if you’ve got a machine that can produce physical objects to your exacting specifications, why not give it some? But even the most diligent CAD maven will occasionally defer to an existing design, as there’s no sense spending the time and effort creating their own model if a perfectly serviceable one is already available under an open source license.

But there’s a problem: finding these open source models is often more difficult than it should be. The fact of the matter is, the ecosystem for sharing 3D printable models is in a very sorry state. Thingiverse, the community’s de facto model repository, is antiquated and plagued with technical issues. Competitors such as Pinshape and YouMagine are certainly improvements on a technical level, but without the sheer number of models and designers that Thingiverse has, they’ve been unable to earn much mindshare. When people are looking to download 3D models, it stands to reason that the site with the most models will be the most popular.

It’s a situation that the community is going to have to address eventually. As it stands, it’s something of a minor miracle that Thingiverse still exists. Owned and operated by Makerbot, the company that once defined the desktop 3D printer but is today all but completely unknown in a market dominated by low-cost printers from the likes of Monoprice and Creality, it seems only a matter of time before the site finally goes dark. They say it’s unwise to put all of your eggs in one basket, and doubly so if the basket happens to be on fire.

So what will it take to get people to consider alternatives to Thingiverse before it’s too late? Obviously, snazzy modern web design isn’t enough to do it. Not if the underlying service operates on the same formula. To really make a dent in this space, you need a killer feature. Something that measurably improves the user experience of finding the 3D model you need in a sea of hundreds of thousands. You need to solve the search problem.

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Hackaday Celebrates 15 Years And Oh How The Hardware Has Changed

Today marks exactly 15 years since Hackaday began featuring one Hack a Day, and we’ve haven’t missed a day since. Over 5,477 days we’ve published 34,057 articles, and the Hackaday community has logged 903,114 comments. It’s an amazing body of work from our writers and editors, a humbling level of involvement from our readers, and an absolutely incredible contribution to open hardware by the project creators who have shared details of their work and given us all something to talk about and to strive for.

What began as a blog is now a global virtual hackerspace. That first 105-word article has grown far beyond project features to include spectacular long-form original content. From our community of readers has grown Hackaday.io, launched in 2014 you’ll now find over 30,000 projects published by 350,000 members. The same year the Hackaday Prize was founded as a global engineering initiative seeking to promote open hardware, offering big prizes for big ideas (and the willingness to share them). Our virtual connections were also given the chance to come alive through the Hackaday Superconference, Hackaday Belgrade, numerous Hackaday Unconferences, and meetups all over the world.

All of this melts together into a huge support structure for anyone who wants to float an interesting idea with a proof of concept where “why” is the wrong question. Together we challenge the limits of what things are meant to do, and collectively we filter through the best ideas and hold them high as building blocks for the next iteration. The Hackaday community is the common link in the collective brain, a validation point for perpetuating great ideas of old, and cataloging the ones of new.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the last 15 years of Hackaday is how much the technological landscape has changed. Hackaday is still around because all of us have actively changed along with it — always looking for that cutting edge where the clever misuse of something becomes the base for the next transformative change. So we thought we’d take a look back 15 years in tech. Let’s dig into a time when there were no modules for electronics, you couldn’t just whip up a plastic part in an afternoon, designing your own silicon was unheard of, and your parts distributor was the horde of broken electronics in your back room.

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Are Hydrogen Cars Still Happening?

Potentially coming to a service station near you.

In every comment section, there’s always one. No matter the electric vehicle, no matter how far the technology has come, there’s always one.

“Only 500 miles of range? Electric cars are useless! Me, and everyone I know, drives 502 miles every day at a minimum! Having to spend more than 3 minutes to recharge is completely offensive to my entire way of life. Simply not practical, and never will be.”

Yes, it’s true, electric cars do have limited range and can take a little longer to recharge than a petrol or diesel powered vehicle. Improvements continue at a rapid pace, but it’s not enough for some.

To these diehards, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may have some attractive benefits. By passing hydrogen gas through a proton-exchange membrane, electricity can be generated cleanly with only water as a byproduct. The technology holds a lot of promise for powering vehicles, but thus far hasn’t quite entered our daily lives yet. So what is the deal with hydrogen as a transport fuel, and when can we expect to see them in numbers on the ground?

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Global Radiation Montoring And Tracking Nuclear Disasters At Home

Many of us don’t think too much about radiation levels in our area, until a nuclear disaster hits and questions are raised. Radiation monitoring is an important undertaking, both from a public health perspective and as a way to monitor things like weapon development. So why is it done, how is it done, and what role can concerned citizens play in keeping an eye on things?

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Kilopower: NASA’s Offworld Nuclear Reactor

Here on Earth, the ability to generate electricity is something we take for granted. We can count on the sun to illuminate solar panels, and the movement of air and water to spin turbines. Fossil fuels, for all their downsides, have provided cheap and reliable power for centuries. No matter where you may find yourself on this planet, there’s a way to convert its many natural resources into electrical power.

But what happens when humans first land on Mars, a world that doesn’t offer these incredible gifts? Solar panels will work for a time, but the sunlight that reaches the surface is only a fraction of what the Earth receives, and the constant accumulation of dust makes them a liability. In the wispy atmosphere, the only time the wind could potentially be harnessed would be during one of the planet’s intense storms. Put simply, Mars can’t provide the energy required for a human settlement of any appreciable size.

The situation on the Moon isn’t much better. Sunlight during the lunar day is just as plentiful as it is on Earth, but night on the Moon stretches for two dark and cold weeks. An outpost at the Moon’s South Pole would receive more light than if it were built in the equatorial areas explored during the Apollo missions, but some periods of darkness are unavoidable. With the lunar surface temperature plummeting to -173 °C (-280 °F) when the Sun goes down, a constant supply of energy is an absolute necessity for long-duration human missions to the Moon.

Since 2015, NASA and the United States Department of Energy have been working on the Kilopower project, which aims to develop a small, lightweight, and extremely reliable nuclear reactor that they believe will fulfill this critical role in future off-world exploration. Following a series of highly successful test runs on the prototype hardware in 2017 and 2018, the team believes the miniaturized power plant could be ready for a test flight as early as 2022. Once fully operational, this nearly complete re-imagining of the classic thermal reactor could usher in a whole new era of space exploration.

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The Death Of A Weather Satellite As Seen By SDR

What is this world coming to when a weather satellite that was designed for a two-year mission starts to fail 21 years after launch? I mean, really — where’s the pride these days?

All kidding aside, it seems like NOAA-15, a satellite launched in 1998 to monitor surface temperatures and other meteorologic and climatologic parameters, has recently started showing its age. This is the way of things, and generally the decommissioning of a satellite is of little note to the general public, except possibly when it deorbits in a spectacular but brief display across the sky.

But NOAA-15 and her sister satellites have a keen following among a community of enthusiasts who spend their time teasing signals from them as they whiz overhead, using homemade antennas and cheap SDR receivers. It was these hobbyists who were among the first to notice NOAA-15’s woes, and over the past weeks they’ve been busy alternately lamenting and celebrating as the satellite’s signals come and go. Their on-again, off-again romance with the satellite is worth a look, as is the what exactly is going wrong with this bird in the first place.

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Holey Moley: Fixing The Mars InSight Mole

In the early 1990s, NASA experienced a sea change in the way it approached space exploration. Gone were the days when all their programs would be massive projects with audacious goals. The bulk of NASA’s projects would fall under the Discovery Project and hew to the mantra “faster, better, cheaper,” with narrowly focused goals and smaller budgets, with as much reuse of equipment as possible.

The idea for what would become the Mars InSight mission first appeared in 2010 and was designed to explore Mars in ways no prior mission had. Where Viking had scratched the surface in the 1970s looking for chemical signs of life and the rovers of the Explorer program had wandered about exploring surface geology, InSight was tasked with looking much, much deeper into the Red Planet.

Sadly, InSight’s primary means of looking at what lies beneath the regolith of Mars is currently stuck a few centimeters below the surface. NASA and JPL engineers are working on a fix, and while it’s far from certain that that they’ll succeed, things have started to look up for InSight lately. Here’s a quick look at what the problem is, and a potential solution that might get the mission back on track.

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