Waterjet-Powered Speedboat For Fun And Research

There are a lot of cliches about the perils of boat ownership. “The best two days of a boat owner’s life are the day they buy their boat, and the day they sell it” immediately springs to mind, for example, but there is a loophole to an otherwise bottomless pit of boat ownership: building a small robotic speedboat instead of owning the full-size version. Not only will you save loads of money and frustration, but you can also use your 3D-printed boat as a base for educational and research projects.

The autonomous speedboats have a modular hull design to make them easy to 3D print, and they use a waterjet for propulsion which improves their reliability in shallow waters and reduces the likelihood that they will get tangled on anything or injure an animal or human. The platform is specifically designed to be able to house any of a wide array of sensors to enable people to easily perform automated tasks in bodies of water such as monitoring for pollution, search-and-rescue, and various inspections. A monohull version with a single jet was prototyped first, but eventually a twin-hulled catamaran with two jets was produced which improved the stability and reliability of the platform.

All of the files needed to get started with your own autonomous (or remote-controlled) speedboat are available on the project’s page. The creators are hopeful that this platform suits a wide variety of needs and that a community is created of technology enthusiasts, engineers, and researchers working on autonomous marine robotic platforms. If you’d prefer to ditch the motor, though, we have seen a few autonomous sailboats used for research purposes as well.

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Animation In Education, 1950’s Style

Back before the days of computers, animation was drawn by hand. We typically think of cartoons and animated feature films, but there were other genres as well. For example, animation was also used in educational and training films. [Javier Anderson] has tracked down a series of antenna and RF training videos from the Royal Canadian Air Force in the 1950s and 60s and posted them on his YouTube channel.

He has found three of these gems, all on the topic of antenna fundamentals: propagation, directivity, and bandwidth (the film on propagation is linked below the break). Casually searching for the names listed in the film’s credits will lead you down an endless and fascinating rabbit hole about the history of Canadian animation and the formation of the Canadian National Film Board and its Studio A group of pioneering young artists (one can easily lose a couple of hours doing said searches, so be forewarned). For these films that [Javier] located, the animator is [Kaj Pindal]. [Kaj] (1927-2019) was a Dane who learned his craft as a teenager, drawing underground anti-Hitler comics in Copenhagen until fleeing for his life. He later emigrated to Canada, where he had a successful career as an artist and educator.

Animator [Kaj Pindal] at his desk, c.2012
Anyone who has tried to really grasp the physical connection between currents flowing in an antenna wire and the resultant radiated signal described by the second-order partial differential electromagnetic wave equation, all while using only a textbook, will certainly agree — unarguably this is a topic whose teaching can be significantly improved by animations such as [Kaj]’s. And if you’d like to sprinkle more phrases like “… in time-phase and space-quadrature …” into your conversations, then this film series is definitely for you.

Have you encountered any particularly helpful or well-made animated educational videos in your education and/or career? Are there any examples of similar but modern films made using computer generated images? Thanks to reader [Michael Murillo] for tipping us off to these old films.

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Hearing The Unhearable

My wife was watching a crime drama, and one of the plot twists involved a witness’ hearing aid malfunctioning so that he could hear electromagnetic waves around him. It’s not so implausible, if you think about it. Many hearing aids have a t-coil, which is essentially an inductor that’s designed to couple with the speaker in a telephone. If that went haywire, maybe you could hear all the changing magnetic fields around you, and if you could escape the constant hum of the mains power line, it might even be interesting.

So of course, she turns to me and says “we need to make one!” It shouldn’t be hard at all — a big inductor and an amplifier should do the trick. In fact, it’ll probably be easy enough that it’ll make a good introduction-to-electronics project for my son. But there are also enough unknowns here that it’ll be interesting. How big a coil? How close? How sensitive? What about that mains frequency bit? Ferrite core or not?

None of this is rocket science, for sure, but it will probably be full of kludges, discoveries, and straight-up exploration. In short, the perfect weekend project. And in the end, it’ll expose something that’s normally invisible, and that’s where the fun lies.

This must be the same urge that drove Faraday and Marconi, Volta and Maxwell. There’s something amazing about directly sensing, seeing, hearing, and understanding some of the stuff that’s outside of our limited hearing and eyesight, and yet is all around us. I can write down the equations that describe it — I learned them in school after all — but there’s no substitute for poking around in your own home. Who knows, maybe in a few more weekends we’ll build ourselves an all-band receiver.

What’s your favorite super power?

Are Hackers Being Let Down In Education?

In my work for Hackaday over the years I have been privileged to interact with some of the most creative people I have ever met, I have travelled far more than I ever did when I toiled unseen in an office in Oxford, and I have been lucky enough to hang out in our community’s spaces, camps, and dives across Europe.

Among the huge diversity of skills and ideas though, it’s striking how many of us share similar experiences and histories that have caused us to find our people in rooms full of tools and 3D printers. One of these things I found surprising because I thought I was the only one; I never fit in with the other kids at school, I found much of the teaching incomprehensible and had to figure things out for myself. As an exercise recently I did a straw poll among some of my friends, and found that a significant majority had a similar experience. Clearly something must have gone badly wrong in the way we were being taught that so many of us could have been let down by our schooling, and maybe to understand the needs of our community it’s time to understand why.

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A Look Back On A Decade Of Kerbal Space Program

Just a few weeks before Atlantis embarked on the final flight of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, a small Mexican company by the name of Squad quietly released Kerbal Space Program (KSP) onto an unsuspecting world. Until that point the company had only developed websites and multi-media installations. Kerbal wasn’t even an official company initiative, it started as a side project by one of their employees, Felipe Falanghe. The sandbox game allowed players to cobble together rockets from an inventory of modular components and attempt to put them into orbit around the planet Kerbin. It was immediately addictive.

There was no story to follow, or enemies to battle. The closest thing to a score counter was the altimeter that showed how far your craft was above the planet’s surface, and the only way to “win” was to put its little green occupant, the titular Kerbal, back on the ground in one piece. The game’s challenge came not from puzzles or scripted events, but from the game’s accurate (if slightly simplified) application of orbital mechanics and Newtonian dynamics. Building a rocket and getting it into orbit in KSP isn’t difficult because the developers baked some arbitrary limitations into their virtual world; the game is hard for the same reasons putting a rocket into orbit around the Earth is hard.

One of my early rockets, circa 2013.

Over the years official updates added new components for players to build with and planets to explore, and an incredible array of community developed add-ons and modifications expanded the scope of the game even further. KSP would go on to be played by millions, and seeing a valuable opportunity to connect with future engineers, both NASA and the ESA helped develop expansions for the game that allowed players to recreate their real-world vehicles and missions.

But now after a decade of continuous development, with ports to multiple operating systems and game consoles, Squad is bringing this chapter of the KSP adventure to a close. To celebrate the game’s 10th anniversary on June 24th, they released “On Final Approach”, the game’s last official update. Attention will now be focused on the game’s ambitious sequel, which will expand the basic formula with the addition of interstellar travel and planetary colonies, currently slated for release in 2022.

Of course, this isn’t the end. Millions of “classic” KSP players will still be slinging their Kerbals into Hohmann transfer orbits for years to come, and the talented community of mod developers will undoubtedly help keep the game fresh with unofficial updates. But the end of official support is a major turning point, and it seems a perfect time to reminisce on the impact this revolutionary game has had on the engineering and space communities.

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Growing Up With Computers

My son is growing up with computers. He’s in first grade, and had to list all of the things that he knows how to do with them. The list included things like mousing around, drawing ghosts with the paint program, and — sign of the times — muting and unmuting the microphone when he’s in teleconferences. Oh yeah, and typing emojis. He loves emojis.

When I was just about his age, I was also getting into computers. But home computers back then were in their early years as well. And if I look back, I’ve been getting more sophisticated about computers at just about the same pace that they’ve been getting more sophisticated themselves. I was grade school during the prime of the BASIC computers — the age of the Apple II and the C64. I was in high school for the dawn of the first Macs and the Amiga. By college, the Pentiums’ insane computational abilities just started to match my needs for them to solve numerical differential equations. And in grad school, the rise of the overclockable multi-cores and GPUs powered me right on through a simulation-heavy dissertation.

We were both so much younger then.

When I was a kid, they were playthings, and as a grownup, they’re powerful tools. Because of this, computers have never been intimidating. I grew up with computers.

But back to my son. I don’t know if it’s desirable, or even possible, to pretend that computers aren’t immensely complex for the sake of a first grader — he’d see right through the lie anyway. But when is the right age to teach kids about voice recognition and artificial neural networks? It’s a given that we’ll have to teach him some kind of “social media competence” but that’s not really about computers any more than learning how to use Word was about computers back in my day. Consuming versus creating, tweeting versus hacking. Y’know?

Of course every generation has its own path. Hackers older than me were already in high-school or college when it became possible to build your own computer, and they did. Younger hackers grew up with the Internet, which obviously has its advantages. Those older than me made the computers, and those younger have always lived in a world where the computer is mature and taken for granted. But folks about my age, we grew up with computers.

Engineering The Less Boring Way

We have to admire a YouTube channel with the name [Less Boring Lectures]. After all, he isn’t promising they won’t be boring, just less boring. Actually though, we found quite a few of the videos pretty interesting and not boring at all. The channel features videos about mechanical engineering and related subjects like statics and math. While your typical electronics project doesn’t always need that kind of knowledge, some of them do and the mental exercise is good for you regardless. A case in point: spend seven minutes and learn about 2D and 3D vectors in two short videos (see below). Or spend 11 minutes and do the whole vector video in one gulp.

These reminded us of Kahn Academy videos, although the topics are pretty hardcore. For example, if you want to know about axial loading, shear strain, or free body diagrams, this is a good place to look.

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