German Experiment Shows Horses Beating Local Internet Connections

These days, we’re blessed with wired and wireless networks that can carry huge amounts of data in the blink of an eye. However, some areas are underprovisioned with bandwidth, such as Schmallenberg-Oberkirchen in Germany. There, reporters ran a test last December to see which would be faster: the Internet, or a horse?

The long and the short of it is that Germany faces issues with disparate Internet speeds across the country. Some areas are well-served by high-speed fiber services. However, others deemed less important by the free market struggle on with ancient copper phone lines and subsequently, experience lower speeds.

Thus, the experiment kicked off from the house of photographer [Klaus-Peter Kappest], who started an Internet transfer of 4.5GB of photos over the Internet. At the same time, a DVD was handed to messengers riding on horseback to the destination 10 kilometers away. The horses won the day, making the journey in about an hour, while the transfer over [Kappest’s] copper connection was still crawling along, only 61% complete.

Obviously, it’s a test that can be gamed quite easily. The Internet connection would have easily won over a greater distance, of course. Similarly, we’ve all heard the quote from [Andrew Tanenbaum]: “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.”

Notably, [Kappest’s] home actually had a fiber line sitting in the basement, but bureaucracy had stymied any attempts of his to get it connected. The stunt thus also served as a great way to draw attention to his plight, and that of others in Germany suffering with similar issues in this digital age.

Top speeds for data transfer continue to rise; an Australian research team set a record last year of 44.2 terabits per second. Naturally, the hard part is getting that technology rolled out across a country. Sound off below with the problems you’ve faced getting a solid connection to your home or office.

At MIT, Clothing Fiber Watches You

[Yoel Fink] and his team at MIT have announced their creation of a fiber that can sense and store data. In addition, they can use data from a shirt made of the material to infer the wearer’s activity with high accuracy. The fiber contains hundreds of microscale silicon chips into a preform used to create a polymer fiber that connects the chips using four 25 micron tungsten wires. You can read the paper directly in Nature Communications.

The fiber contains temperature sensors and enough memory (24CW1280X chips) to store a short movie for two months without power. It also contains 1,650 neural network elements, which means the fiber can train to infer activity itself without additional help.

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Hackaday Links: May 2, 2021

Mars is getting to be a busy place, what with helicopters buzzing around and rovers roving all about the place. Now it’s set to get a bit more crowded, with the planned descent of the newly-named Chinese Zhurong rover. Named after the god of fire from ancient Chinese mythology, the rover, which looks a little like Opportunity and Spirit and rides to the surface aboard something looking a little like the Viking lander, will carry a suite of scientific instruments around Utopia Planitia after it lands sometime this month. Details are vague; China usually plays its cards close to the vest, and generally makes announcements only when a mission is a fait accompli. But it appears the lander will leave its parking orbit, which it entered back in February, sometime this month. It’s not an easy ride, and we wish Zhurong well.

Speaking of space, satellites don’t exactly grow on trees — until they do. A few groups, including a collaboration between UPM Plywood and Finnish startup Arctic Astronautics, have announced intentions to launch nanosatellites made primarily of wood. Japanese logging company Sumitomo Forestry and Kyoto University also announced their partnership, formed with the intention to prove that wooden satellites can work. While it doesn’t exactly spring to mind as a space-age material, wood does offer certain advantages, including relative transparency to a wide range of the RF spectrum. This could potentially lead to sleeker satellite designs, since antennae and sensors could be located inside the hull. Wood also poses less of a hazard than a metal spaceframe does when the spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere. But there’s one serious disadvantage that we can see: given the soaring prices for lumber, at least here in the United States, it may soon be cheaper to build satellites out of solid titanium than wood.

If the name Ian Davis doesn’t ring a bell with you, one look at his amazing mechanical prosthetic hand will remind you that we’ve been following his work for a while now. Ian suffered a traumatic amputation of the fingers of his left hand, leaving only his thumb and palm intact, and when his insurance wouldn’t pay for a prosthetic hand, he made his own. Ian has gone through several generations, each of which is completely mechanical and controlled only by wrist movements. The hands are truly works of mechanical genius, and Ian is now sharing what he’s learned to help out fellow hand-builders. Even if you’re not building a hand, the video is well worth watching; the intricacy of the whiffle-tree mechanism used to move the fingers is just a joy to behold, and the complexity of movement that Ian’s hand is capable of is just breathtaking.

If mechanical hands don’t spark your interest, then perhaps the engineering behind top fuel dragsters will get you going. We’ll admit that most motorsports bore us to tears, even with the benefit of in-car cameras. But there’s just something about drag cars that’s so exciting. The linked video is a great dive into the details of the sport, where engines that have to be rebuilt after just a few seconds use, fuel flows are so high that fuel lines the size of a firehouse are used, and the thrust from the engine’s exhaust actually contributes to the car’s speed. There’s plenty of slo-mo footage in the video, including great shots of what happens to the rear tires when the engine revs up. Click through the break for more!

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Micromachining Glass With A Laser — Very, Very Slowly

When it comes to machining, the material that springs to mind is likely to be aluminum, steel, or plastic. We don’t necessarily think of glass as a material suitable for machining, at least not in the chuck-it-up-in-the-lathe sense. But glass is a material that needs to be shaped, too, and there are a bunch of different ways to accomplish that. Few, though, are as interesting as micromachining glass with laser-induced plasma bubbles. (Video, embedded below.)

The video below is from [Zachary Tong]. It runs a bit on the longish side, but we found it just chock full of information. The process, formally known as “laser-induced backside wet-etching,” uses a laser to blast away at a tank of copper sulfate. When a piece of glass is suspended on the surface of the solution and the laser is focused through the glass from the top, some interesting things happen.

The first pulse of the laser vaporizes the solution and decomposes the copper sulfate. Copper adsorbs onto the glass surface inside the protective vapor bubble, which lasts long enough for a second laser pulse to come along. That pulse heats up the adsorbed copper and the vapor in the original bubble, enough to melt a tiny bit of the glass. As the process is repeated, small features are slowly etched into the underside of the glass. [Zachary] demonstrates all this in the video, as well as what can go wrong when the settings are a bit off. There’s also some great high-speed footage of the process that’s worth the price of admission alone.

We doubt this process will be a mainstream method anytime soon, not least because it requires a 50-Watt Nd:YAG fiber laser. But it’s an interesting process that reminds us of [Zachary]’s other laser explorations, like using a laser and Kapton to make graphene supercapacitors.

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MIT Makes Washable LED Fabric

Let’s face it, one of the challenges of wearable electronics is that people are filthy. Anything you wear is going to get dirty. If it touches you, it is going to get sweat and oil and who knows what else? And on the other side it’s going to get spills and dirt and all sorts of things we don’t want to think about on it. For regular clothes, that’s not a problem, you just pop them in the washer, but you can’t say the same for wearable electronics. Now researchers at MIT have embedded diodes like LEDs and photodetectors, into a soft fabric that is washable.

Traditionally, fibers start as a larger preform that is drawn into the fiber while heated. The researchers added tiny diodes and very tiny copper wires to the preform. As the preform is drawn, the fiber’s polymer keeps the solid materials connected and in the center. The polymer protects the electronics from water and the team was able to successfully launder fabric made with these fibers ten times.

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Stephanie Kwolek: Saving Lives With Kevlar

Almost a really bad day in the woods.

Like most accidents, it happened in an instant that seemed to last an eternity. I had been felling trees for firewood all afternoon, and in the waning light of a cold November day, I was getting ready to call it quits. There was one tiny little white pine sapling left that I wanted to clear, no thicker than my arm. I walked over with my Stihl MS-290, with a brand new, razor sharp chain. I didn’t take this sapling seriously — my first mistake — and cut right through it rather than notching it. The tree fell safely, and I stood up with both hands on the saw. Somehow I lost my footing, swiveled, and struck my left knee hard with the still-running chainsaw. It kicked my knee back so hard that it knocked me to the ground.

In another world, that would likely have a been a fatal injury — I was alone, far from the house, and I would have had mere minutes to improvise a tourniquet before bleeding out. But as fate would have it, I was protected by my chainsaw chaps, full of long strands of the synthetic fiber Kevlar.

The chain ripped open the chaps, pulled the ultrastrong fibers out, and instantly jammed the saw. I walked away feeling very stupid, very lucky, and with not a scratch on me. Although I didn’t realize it at the time,  I owed my life to Stephanie Kwolek.

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Making Prints More Resilient With Fibre-Filled Filament

For all that we love 3D printers, sometimes the final print doesn’t turn out as durable as we might want it to be.

Aiming to mimic the properties of natural structures such as wood, bone, and shells, a research team lead by [Jennifer A. Lewis] at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Lewis Lab have developed a new combined filament and printing technique which they call rotational 3D printing.

Minuscule fibres are mixed in with the epoxy filament and their controlled orientation within the print can reinforce the overall structure or specific points that will undergo constant stresses. To do so the print head is fitted with a stepper motor, and its precisely programmed spin controls the weaving of the fibres into the print. The team suggests that they would be able to adapt this tech to many different 3D printing methods and materials, as well as use different materials and printed patterns to focus on thermal, electrical, or optical properties.

Be it adding carbon nano-tubes or enlisting the expertise of spiders to refine our printed materials, we’re looking forward to the future of ever stronger prints. However, that doesn’t mean that existing methods are entirely lacking in endurance.

[Thanks for the tip, Qes!]