Building A GPS With Bug Eyes And Ancient Wisdom

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is so ingrained into our modern life that it’s easy to forget the system was created for, and is still operated by, the United States military. While there are competing technologies, such as GLONASS and Galileo, they are still operated by the governments of their respective countries. So what do you do if you want to know your position on the globe without relying on any government-operated infrastructure?

According to the team behind [Aweigh], all you have to do is take a cue from ancient mariners and insects and look up. Using two light polarization sensors, a compass, and a bit of math, their device can calculate your latitude and longitude by looking at the daytime sky. With their custom Raspberry Pi shield and open source Python 3 software, the team envisions a future where fully-independent global positioning can be tacked onto all sorts of projects.

The concept relies on the Rayleigh model, which is essentially a polarization map of the sky. As light from the sun is scattered in the Earth’s atmosphere, it creates bands of polarization which can be identified from the ground. Essentially it’s the same principle that makes the sky appear blue when viewed with human eyes, but if you have two light sensors looking at the proper wavelengths, you can use the effect to figure out where the sun is; which the team says is precisely how some insects navigate. Once the position of the sun is known, [Aweigh] operates like a modernized, automatic, sextant.

Naturally, this is not an ideal solution in all possible situations. In an urban environment, a clear view of the sky isn’t always possible, and of course the system won’t work at all once the sun goes down. In theory you could switch over to navigating by stars at night, but then you run into the same problems in urban areas. Still, it’s a fascinating project and one that we’re eager to see develop further.

Incidentally, we’ve seen automated sextants before, if you’re looking for a similar solution that still retains that Horatio Hornblower vibe.

CNC Tellurion Lets You See The Earth And Moon Dance

Kids – they’re such a treasure. One minute you’re having a nice chat, the next minutes they’re testing your knowledge of the natural world with a question like, “Why can we see the Moon during the day?” And before you know it, you’re building a CNC Earth-Moon orbital model.

We’ve got to applaud [sniderj]’s commitment to answering his grandson’s innocent question. What could perhaps have been demonstrated adequately with a couple of balls and a flashlight instead became an intricate tellurion that can be easily driven to show the relative position of the Earth and Moon at any date; kudos for anticipating the inevitable, “Where was the moon when I was born, Grampa?” question. The mechanism is based on the guts of a defunct 3D-printer, with the X-, Y-, and Z-axis steppers now controlling the Earth’s rotation and tilt and the Moon’s orbit respectively, with the former extruder drive controlling the tilt of the Moon’s orbital plane. A complex planetary gear train with herringbone gears, as well as a crossed-shaft helical gear set, were 3D-printed from PLA. The Earth model is a simple globe and the Moon is a ping-pong ball; [sniderj] is thinking about replacing the Moon with a 3D-printed bump-map model, a move which we strongly endorse. The video below shows the tellurion going through a couple of hundred years of the saros at warp speed.

There’s just something about machines that show the music of the spheres, whether they be ancient or more modern. And this one would be a great entry into our 3D-Printed Gears, Pulleys, and Cams contest too.

Continue reading “CNC Tellurion Lets You See The Earth And Moon Dance”

Star Track: A Lesson In Positional Astronomy With Lasers

[gocivici] threatened us with a tutorial on positional astronomy when we started reading his tutorial on a Arduino Powered Star Pointer and he delivered. We’d pick him to help us take the One Ring to Mordor; we’d never get lost and his threat-delivery-rate makes him less likely to pull a Boromir.

As we mentioned he starts off with a really succinct and well written tutorial on celestial coordinates that antiquity would have killed to have. If we were writing a bit of code to do our own positional astronomy system, this is the tab we’d have open. Incidentally, that’s exactly what he encourages those who have followed the tutorial to do.

The star pointer itself is a high powered green laser pointer (battery powered), 3D printed parts, and an amalgam of fourteen dollars of Chinese tech cruft. The project uses two Arduino clones to process serial commands and manage two 28byj-48 stepper motors. The 2nd Arduino clone was purely to supplement the digital pins of the first; we paused a bit at that, but then we realized that import arduinos have gotten so cheap they probably are more affordable than an I2C breakout board or stepper driver these days. The body was designed with a mixture of Tinkercad and something we’d not heard of, OpenJsCAD.

Once it’s all assembled and tested the only thing left to do is go outside with your contraption. After making sure that you’ve followed all the local regulations for not pointing lasers at airplanes, point the laser at the north star. After that you can plug in any star coordinate and the laser will swing towards it and track its location in the sky. Pretty cool.

Continue reading “Star Track: A Lesson In Positional Astronomy With Lasers”