Extraterrestrial Autonomous Lander Systems To Touch Down On Mars

The future of humans is on Mars. Between SpaceX, Boeing, NASA, and every other national space program, we’re going to Mars. With this comes a problem: flying to Mars is relatively easy, but landing a large payload on the surface of another planet is orders of magnitude more difficult. Mars, in particular, is tricky: it has just enough atmosphere that you need to design around it, but not enough where we can use only parachutes to bring several tons down to the surface. On top of this, we’ll need to land our habitats and Tesla Roadsters inside a very small landing ellipse. Landing on Mars is hard and the brightest minds are working on it.

At this year’s Hackaday Superconference, we learned how hard landing on Mars is from Ara Kourchians (you may know him as [Arko]) and Steve Collins, engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in beautiful Pasadena. For the last few years, they’ve been working on COBALT, a technology demonstrator on how to use machine vision, fancy IMUs, and a host of sensors to land autonomously on alien worlds. You can check out the video of their Supercon talk below.

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Christal Gordon: Sensors, Fusion, And Neurobiology

Some things don’t sound like they should go together, but they do. Peanut butter and chocolate. Twinkies and deep frying. Bacon and maple syrup. Sometimes mixing things up can produce great results. [Dr. Christal Gordon’s] expertise falls into that category. She’s an electrical engineer, but she also studies neuroscience. This can lead to some interesting intellectual Reese’s peanut butter cups.

At the 2017 Hackaday Superconference, [Christal] spoke about sensor fusion. If you’ve done systems that have multiple sensors, you’ve probably run into that before even if you didn’t call it that. However, [Christal] brings the perspective of how biological systems fuse sensor data contrasted to how electronic systems perform similar tasks. You can see a video replay of her talk in the video below.

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Mike Harrison At The Superconference: Flying LCD Pixels

Mike Harrison, perhaps better known to us as the titular Mike of YouTube channel mikeselectricstuff, is a hardware hacking genius. He’s the man behind this year’s Superconference badge, and his hacks and teardowns have graced our pages many times. The best thing about Mike is that his day job is designing implausibly cool one-off hardware for large-scale art installations. His customers are largely artists, which means that they just don’t care about the tech as long as it works. So when he gets together with a bunch of like-minded hacker types, he’s got a lot of pent-up technical details that he just has to get out. Our gain.

He’s been doing a number of LCD installations lately. And he’s not using the standard LCD calculator displays that we all know and love, although the tech is exactly the same, but is instead using roughly 4″ square single pixels. His Superconference talk dives deep into the behind-the-scenes cleverness that made possible a work of art that required hundreds of these, suspended by thin wires in mid-air, working together to simulate a flock of birds. You really want to watch this talk.


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Danielle Applestone: Building The Workforce Of 2030

You wake up one morning with The Idea — the one new thing that the world can’t do without. You slave away at it night and day, locked in a garage expending the perspiration that Edison said was 99 percent of your job. You Kickstart, you succeed, you get your prototypes out the door. Orders for the new thing pour in, you get a permanent space in some old factory, and build assembly workstations.  You order mountains of parts and arrange them on shiny chrome racks, and you’re ready to go — except for one thing. There’s nobody sitting at those nice new workstations, ready to assemble your product. What’s worse, all your attempts to find qualified people have led nowhere, and you can’t even find someone who knows which end of a soldering iron to hold.

Granted, the soldering iron lesson is usually something that only needs to happen once, but it’s not something the budding entrepreneur needs to waste time on. Finding qualified workers to power a manufacturing operation in the 21st century is no mean feat, as Dr. Danielle Applestone discussed at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference. Dr. Applestone knows whereof she speaks — she was the driving force behind the popular Othermill, serving as CEO for Other Machine Co. and orchestrating its rise to the forefront of the desktop milling field. Now rebranded as Bantam Tools, the company is somewhat unique in that it doesn’t ship its manufacturing off to foreign shores — they assemble their products right in the heart of Berkeley, California. So finding qualified workers is something that’s very much on her mind on a daily basis.

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Alan Yates: Introduction To Vacuum Technology

When we mention vacuum technology, it’s not impossible that many of you will instantly turn your minds to vacuum tubes, and think about triodes, or pentodes. But while there is a lot to interest the curious in the electronics of yesteryear, they are not the only facet of vacuum technology that should capture your attention.

When [Alan Yates] gave his talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference entitled “Introduction To Vacuum Technology”, he was speaking in a much more literal sense. Instead of a technology that happens to use a vacuum, his subject was the technologies surrounding working with vacuums; examining the equipment and terminology surrounding them while remaining within the bounds of what is possible for the experimenter. You can watch it yourself below the break, or read on for our precis.

In the first instance, he introduces us to the concept of a vacuum, starting with the work of [Evangelista Torricelli] on mercury barometers in the 17th century Italy, and continuing to explain how pressure, and thus vacuum, is quantified. Along the way, he informs us that a Pascal can be explained in layman’s terms as roughly the pressure exerted by an American dollar bill on the hand of someone holding it, and introduces us to a few legacy units of vacuum measurement.

In classifying the different types of vacuum he starts with weak vacuum sources such as a domestic vacuum cleaner and goes on to say that the vacuum he’s dealing with is classified as medium, between 3kPa and 100mPa. Higher vacuum is beyond the capabilities of the equipment available outside high-end laboratories.

Introduction over, he starts on the subject of equipment with a quick word about safety, before giving an overview of the components a typical small-scale vacuum experimenter’s set-up. We see the different types of vacuum gauges, we’re introduced to two different types of service pumps for air conditioning engineers, and we learn about vacuum manifolds. Tips such as smelling the oil in a vacuum pump to assess its quality are mentioned, and how to make a simple mist trap for a cheaper pump. There is a fascinating description of the more exotic pumps for higher vacuums, even though these will be out of reach of the experimenter it is still of great interest to have some exposure to them. He takes us through vacuum chambers, with a warning against cheap bell jars not intended for vacuum use, but suggests that some preserving jars can make an adequate chamber.

We are then introduced to home-made gas discharge tubes, showing us a home-made one that lights up simply by proximity to a high voltage source. Something as simple as one of the cheap Tesla coil kits to be found online can be enough to excite these tubes, giving a simple project for the vacuum experimenter that delivers quick results.

Finally, we’re taken through some of the tools and sundries of the vacuum experimenter, the different types of gas torches for glass work, and consumables such as vacuum grease. Some of them aren’t cheap, but notwithstanding those, he shows us that vacuum experiments can be made within a reasonable budget.

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Sarah Petkus On Building A Cartoon To Go To Mars

Sarah Petkus is a robot mom (which means she’s the mother to a robot, not that Sarah herself is a robot, at least as far as we’re aware), whose child, Noodle Feet, is a character in Sarah’s graphic novel Gravity Road. Unlike every other robot on the planet, Noodle Feet is a content-based robot. Instead of robotic arms welding car panels together or 3D printers squiring out goo, Noodle Feet isn’t a robot built for a specific function. Noodle Feet’s design is derived from his personality in his graphic novel. In the graphic novel, Noodle Feet tastes with his feet, clambers over rocks, and explores his surroundings. That’s what the real-life version of Noodle Feet must do, and that means building the hardware to do just that.

Sarah has been working on Noodle Feet for about two years now, and last year she presented a talk about tasting feet and salivating toes. It’s odd, yes, but it is a fantastic exploration of what can be done with robotics.

This year, Sarah had the opportunity to be an artist in residence at ESA, where Noodle Feet could at least test out his dream of living on Mars. There, Noodle Feet played around in the ESA’s Mars yard, where he made friends with a copy of the ExoMars rover.

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Joe Kim: Where Technology And Art Collide

The rewards of being a writer for Hackaday are many, but aside from the obvious perks like the secret Hackaday handshake and admission to the private writer’s washroom, having the opportunity to write original content articles is probably the best part of the job. It gets even better, though, because after you submit an article, you’ll eventually get an email from Supplyframe Art Director Joe Kim with a Dropbox link to the original art he has created to accompany your piece. No matter where I am when that email comes in, I click on the link immediately, eager to see what Joe has come up with. And I’m never disappointed.

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