US Navy Looking To Retire Futuristic Prototype Ships

From the Age of Sail through to the Second World War, naval combat was done primarily in close quarters and with cannons. Naturally the technology improved quite a bit in those intervening centuries, but the idea was more or less the same: the ship with the most guns and most armor was usually the one that emerged victorious. Over the years warships became larger and heavier, a trend that culminated in the 1940s with the massive Bismarck, Iowa, and Yamato class battleships.

But by the close of WWII, the nature of naval combat had begun to change. Airplanes and submarines, vastly improved over their WWI counterparts, presented threats from above and below. A few years later, the advent of practical long-range guided missiles meant that adversaries no longer had to be within visual range to launch their attack. Going into the Cold War it became clear that to remain relevant, warships of the future would need to be smaller, faster, and smarter.

The aft flight deck of a modular LCS

It was this line of thinking that lead the US Navy to embark on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program in the early 2000s. These ships would be more nimble than older warships, able to quickly dash through shallow coastal waters where adversaries couldn’t follow. Their primary armament would consist of guided missiles, with fast firing small-caliber guns being relegated to defensive duty. But most importantly, the core goal of the LCS program was to produce a modular warship.

Rather than being built for a single task, the LCS would be able to perform multiple roles thanks to so-called “mission modules” which could be quickly swapped out as needed. Instead of having to return to home port for a lengthy refit, an LCS could be reconfigured for various tasks at a commercial port closer to the combat area in a matter of hours.

A fleet of ships that could be switched between combat roles based on demand promised to make for a more dynamic Navy. If the changing geopolitical climate meant they needed more electronic reconnaissance vessels and fewer minesweepers, the Navy wouldn’t have to wait the better part of a decade to reshuffle their assets; the changeover could happen in a matter of weeks.

Unfortunately, the Littoral Combat Ships have been plagued with technical problems. Citing the expensive refits that would be required to keep them operational, the Navy is now looking at retiring the first four ships in the fleet, the newest of which is just six years old.

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One More Weekend To Sculpt Your Circuits!

Drop what you’re doing and get thee to thy workshop. This is the last weekend of the Hackaday Circuit Sculpture Contest, the perfect chance for you to exercise the creative hacker within by building something artistic using stuff you already have on hand.

The concept is simple: build a sculpture where the electronic circuit is the sculpture. Wire the components up in a way that shows off that wiring, and uses it as the structure of the art piece. Seven top finishers will win prizes, but really we want to see everyone give this a try because the results are so cool! Need proof? Check out all the entries, then ooh and ah over a few we’ve picked out below. You have until this Tuesday at noon Pacific time to get in the game.

These are just three awesome examples of the different styles we’ve seen so far in the contest. Who needs a circuit board for a retro computer? Most people… but apparently not [Matseng] as this Z80 computer is freformed yet still interactive.

Really there can’t be many things more horrifying than the thought of spider robots, but somehow [Sunny] has taken away all of our fears. The 555 spider project takes “dead bug” to a whole new level. We love the angles in the legs, and the four SMD LEDs as spider eyes really finish the look of the tiny beast.

Finally, the 3D design of [Emily Valesco’s] RGB Atari Punk Console is spectacular. It’s a build that sounds great, and looks as though it will hold up to regular use. But visually, this earns a place on your desk long after the punky appeal wears off. We also like it that she added a color-coded photograph to match up the structure to the schematic, very cool!

What are you waiting for, whether it’s a mess of wires or a carefully structured electron ballet, we want to see your Circuit Sculpture!

Problems That Plagued An Edible Marble Machine

Prolific creator [Martin Raynsford] recently created a plus-sized edible version of his laser-cut Marble Machine for a Cake International exhibit and competition; it seemed simple to do at first but had quite a few gotchas waiting, and required some clever problem-solving.

Gears are three layers, stacked and cemented with sugar glue, and coated with a hard edible shine.

The original idea was to assemble laser-cut gingerbread parts to make the machine. Gingerbread can be laser-cut quite well, and at first all seemed to be going perfectly well for [Martin]. However, after a few days the gingerbread was sagging badly. Fiddling with the recipe and the baking was to no avail, and it was clear [Martin] needed to find something other than gingerbread to work with. After experimenting, he settled on a modified sugar paste which kept its shape and dried hard enough to work with. (While appearing to stretch most people’s definition of “cake” past the breaking point, the category [Martin] entered in the competition allows it.) The parts were cut by hand using laser-cut wood parts as a guide, then finished in a food dehydrator overnight.

The next problem was how to create the large spiral which forms the main ramp. The answer was to laser-cut a custom support structure that supported the piece while it dried out, and doubled as a way to transport the piece safely. High stress points got extra layers cemented with sugar glue, and some parts were reinforced internally with strands of uncooked spaghetti. Everything was sealed with an edible shine, which [Martin] says acts as a kind of varnish for cakes. A video demonstration is embedded below. Continue reading “Problems That Plagued An Edible Marble Machine”

Surfboard Industry Wipes Out, Innovation Soon Follows

For decades, Gordon Clark and his company Clark Foam held an almost complete monopoly on the surfboard blank market. “Blanks” are pieces of foam with reinforcing wood strips (called “stringers”) in a rough surfboard shape that board manufacturers use to make a finished product, and Clark sold almost every single one of these board manufacturers their starting templates in the form of these blanks. Due to environmental costs, Clark suddenly shuttered his business in 2005 with virtually no warning. After a brief panic in the board shaping industry, and a temporary skyrocketing in price of the remaining blanks in existence, what followed next was rather surprising: a boom of innovation across the industry.

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Artificial Intelligence At The Top Of A Professional Sport

The lights dim and the music swells as an elite competitor in a silk robe passes through a cheering crowd to take the ring. It’s a blueprint familiar to boxing, only this pugilist won’t be throwing punches.

OpenAI created an AI bot that has beaten the best players in the world at this year’s International championship. The International is an esports competition held annually for Dota 2, one of the most competitive multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games.

Each match of the International consists of two 5-player teams competing against each other for 35-45 minutes. In layman’s terms, it is an online version of capture the flag. While the premise may sound simple, it is actually one of the most complicated and detailed competitive games out there. The top teams are required to practice together daily, but this level of play is nothing new to them. To reach a professional level, individual players would practice obscenely late, go to sleep, and then repeat the process. For years. So how long did the AI bot have to prepare for this competition compared to these seasoned pros? A couple of months.

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Welcome To The Drone Wars

DroneClash” is a competition to be held on December 4th (save the date!) in a hangar at Valkenburg airfield in the Netherlands. The game? Teams try to destroy each others’ quadcopters, navigate through a “Hallway of Doom, Death, and Destruction”, and finally enter a final phase of the game where they try to defend their “queen” drone while taking out those of their opponents.

This sounds like crazy and reckless fun. Surprisingly, it’s being sponsored by the Technical University of Delft’s Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) lab. The goal is to enable a future of responsible drone use by having the ability “to take them out if necessary”.

Drone development has grown hugely in recent years, and you can see the anti-drone industry growing too. Ideally, these developments keep each other in check and result in a safe and responsible incorporation of drones in our daily lives. We are organising DroneClash to generate new ideas in order to encourage this process.

We do have to ask ourselves why anyone would want to use another quadcopter to take out illegally operated quadcopters — there must be a million more effective means from a policing standpoint.  On the other hand, if we were re-shooting “Hackers” right now, and looking for a futuristic sport, we would swap out rollerblading for drone combat. Registration opens this week. Gentlebots, start your engines.

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Taking First Place At IMAV 2016 Drone Competition

The IMAV (International Micro Air Vehicle) conference and competition is a yearly flying robotics competition hosted by a different University every year. AKAMAV – a university student group at TU Braunschweig in Germany – have written up a fascinating and detailed account of what it was like to compete (and take first place) in 2016’s eleven-mission event hosted by the Beijing Institute of Technology.

AKAMAV’s debrief of IMAV 2016 is well-written and insightful. It covers not only the five outdoor and six indoor missions, but also details what it was like to prepare for and compete in such an intensive event. In their words, “If you share even a remote interest in flying robots and don’t mind the occasional spectacular crash, this place was Disney Land on steroids.”

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