Reflecting On Margaret Hamilton: 50 Years After Apollo 11

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, Google created a 1.4-square-mile portrait of NASA software developer Margaret Hamilton using more than 107,000 mirrors from the Ivanpah Solar Facility in the Mojave Desert, a solar thermal power plant with a gross capacity of 392 megawatts.

The fields of heliostat mirrors (173,500 in total) ordinarily focus sunlight on receivers located on the solar power towers, which subsequently generate steam to drive steam turbines. The facility was first connected to the electrical grid in September 2013 before formally opening in February 2014, during which it was the world’s largest solar thermal power station. Ivanpah was developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel, with Google contributing $168 million towards its $2.2 billion in costs. Google no longer invests in the facility, however, due to the decline of the price of photovoltaic systems.

The facility has historically taken steps to avoid disrupting the natural wildlife, which includes desert tortoises. The effect of mirror glare on airplane pilots, water concerns, and collisions with birds has also been addressed by the operators of the installation.

According to Google, the image was larger than Central Park and could be seen a mile above sea level. The mirrors are all attached to a rotating mount that maneuvers the mirrors in order to create lighter and darker shades to make up the image.

The Apollo 11 mission, manned by Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins, was the first to bring humans to the moon in 1969. Hamilton‘s role in the team included programming the in-flight software for all of NASA’s Apollo missions. She had also worked on satellite tracking software for the Air Force through Lincoln Lab (started by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and later joined the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. It was, however, her work on creating computer systems to predict and track weather systems for use in anti-aircraft air defenses that made her a candidate for a lead developer role at NASA.

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Robot Graffiti

There’s talk of robots and AIs taking on jobs in many different industries. Depending on how much stock you place in that, it might still be fair to say the more creative fields will remain firmly in the hands of humans, right?

Well, we may have some bad news for you. Robots are now painting our murals.

Estonian inventor [Mihkel Joala] — also working at SprayPainter — successfully tested his prototype by painting a 30m tall mural on a smokestack in Tartu, Estonia. The creative procedure for this mural is a little odd if you are used to the ordinary painting process: [Joala] first takes an image from his computer, and converts it into a coordinate grid — in this case, about 1.5 million ‘pixels’. These pixels are painted on by a little cart loaded with five colours of spray paint that are able to portray the mural’s full palette once combined and viewed at a distance. Positioning is handled by a motor at the base of the mural controlling the vertical motion in conjunction with tracks at the top and bottom which handle the horizontal motion.

For this mural, the robot spent the fourteen hours trundling up and down a set of cables, dutifully spraying the appropriate colour at such-and-such a point resulting in the image of a maiden cradling a tree and using thirty cans of spray paint in the process.

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