Retrotechtacular: Wire Splicing The Army Way

For those of us who started experimenting with electricity when we were very young, one of the essential first skills was learning how to twist wires together. It seems like there’s not much to learn, but after a few failed attempts with nothing but your fingers, you learned a few tricks that are probably still with you to this day. It’s not surprising, then, that there’s an official US Army way to twist wires together, as this Signal Corps training film from 1941 shows.

Considering that the Signal Corps had nearly 80 years of experience with wiring battlefield communications at the outbreak of World War II, their methods were pretty solid, as were their materials. The film mainly concerns the splicing together of rolls of type W110-B field wire, used by the Signal Corps to connect command posts to forward positions, observation posts, and the rear echelons. More often than not laid directly upon the ground, the wire had to be tough, waterproof, and conductive enough that field telephone gear would still work over long loop lengths. As such, the steel-reinforced, rubber-and-fabric clad cable was not the easiest stuff to splice. Where we might cringe at the stresses introduced by literally tying a conductor in knots, it was all part of the job for the wire-laying teams that did the job as quickly as possible, often while taking enemy fire.

The film also has a section on splicing a new line into an existing, in-service circuit, using a T-splice and paying careful attention to the topology of the knots used, lest they come undone under stress. It’s fascinating how much thought was put into something as mundane as twisting wires, but given the stakes, we can appreciate the attention to detail.

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Quantum Sensor Receives From 0 Hz To 1000 GHz

Although it isn’t that uncommon to have broadband radio coverage in a single device, going from 0 Hz to 1000 GHz with one antenna and receiver is a bit much. But not for the US Army it seems, because they’ve developed a quantum sensor that can cover that range.

The technology uses Rydberg atoms, which are atoms with a highly excited valence electron. They’ve been used for a variety of sensing applications before, such as reading the cosmic microwave background radiation. However, until the Army’s work there has been no quantitative analysis of using them for wide-spectrum communications.

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Automate The Freight: Front Line Deliveries By Drone

Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC, once said that “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” That’s true in many enterprises, but in warfare, the side that neglects logistics is likely to be the loser. Keeping soldiers fed, clothed, and armed is the very essence of effectively prosecuting a war, and the long logistical chain from rear supply depots to forward action is what makes that possible.

Armies have had millennia to optimize logistics, and they have always maximized use of new technologies to position supplies where they’re needed. Strong backs of men and beasts sufficed for centuries, supplemented by trains in the 19th century and supplanted by motor vehicles in the 20th. Later, aircraft made an incalculable impact on supply chains, allowing rapid mobilization of supplies and supporting the industrial scale death and destruction of the 20th-century’s wars.

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Retrotechtacular: Rocket Sleds

If you need to test rockets, missiles, or ejection-seat systems, your first instinct would be to shoot them up in the air and see what happens. But if you want data, film footage, or the ability to simply walk away from a test, you might consider running your experiment on a rocket sled.

The Holloman High Speed Test Track is a 15 km long stretch of meticulously straight railroad track located in the middle of the New Mexico desert, and bristling with measurement equipment. Today’s Retrotechtacular video (embedded below) gives you the guided tour. And by the way, the elderly colonel who narrates? He doesn’t just run the joint — he was one of the human test subjects put on a rocket sled to test the effects of high acceleration on humans. You can see him survive a run around 1:00 in. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Rocket Sleds”

Sand Flea Literally Leaps Tall Buildings In A Single Bound

The hidden abilities of this robot that is no larger than a dinner plate are quite impressive. It doesn’t let an obstacle like a building get in its way. The Sand Flea, like its namesake, posses a remarkable jumping ability. When it encounters a tall obstruction two levers incline the front of the robot and it launches itself up to thirty feet in the air. In the case of a one-story build this means it will end up on the roof, and it’ll do so much quicker and more reliably than any wall climber we’ve seen.

It’s being developed for the US Army by Boston Dynamics, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the concept. But the video after the break gives a much better look than the grainy twenty-second clip from last year. Of course they’re not giving up too many details so we have to guess a bit. We’d wager the launching mechanism is a solenoid, but at about eleven pounds you need a lot of juice to get that much of a jump. We suppose it’s also possible that there’s an explosive system like the butane combustion used in a framing nailer. The video summary mentions that there’s a stabilization system to keep the body oriented during flight. That’s got to be a gyroscope. Let us know what you think in the comments. Continue reading “Sand Flea Literally Leaps Tall Buildings In A Single Bound”

Quadruped Military Vehicles From Back In The Day


While Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog is pretty impressive, check out this video of the US Army’s first attempt at a quadruped vehicle. Created in the early 1960s with the help of GE, this Army experiment was the first successful attempt of replicating a four-legged animal with a mechanical machine.

This “Walking Truck” was driven by a single operator who moved each of the vehicle’s legs using force-feedback hydraulic levers. Choreographing the machine’s movement was quite complicated, and during testing the Army found that the operator needed a mental break after only 15 minutes of use. As you can see in the video, the vehicle flexes some serious muscle. It kicks a Jeep out of its way with little effort, but it is still able to gently step on a light bulb without breaking it, due to the level of tactile feedback received by the operator.

If it weren’t for government budget cuts, we could be living out [George Lucas’] dream of AT-AT based combat right this minute!

[via Gizmodo]

Ripsaw MS1


The Ripsaw MS1 is an unmanned ground vehicle built by two brothers in Maine. The tracked vehicle can go 0-60 in 3.5 seconds with an 80mph top speed. In its current form, it has a 2000 pound capacity, which opens the possibility for many different types of weapon systems. Control is provided by two people: one driver and one gunner. They work in independent remote stations. The Ripsaw could potentially be used in any application normally reserved for a tank. It could lead a charge without putting soldiers at risk.

We’ve been watching this project mature since 2005 when it was being marketed as a Grand Challenge competitor. This week it’s being demoed at the Army Science Conference. Check out footage of it in motion below.

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