Navigate Burning Man With Ease With This Custom Tool

When setting up a city in the desert, the team behind Burning Man does its best to lay things out in an ordered fashion. Even still, getting around at ground level can be a challenge at times, and it’s easy to get lost. To help get around easier, [Zach] developed a nifty GPS device built specifically for navigating the ephemeral clock-like city.

The device is built for a few simple purposes. It shows where you are, it helps you navigate somewhere you’ve been before, and it helps you navigate to portable toilets. It’s set up to be usable both on bike and on foot, the typical ways of getting around the playa. Since Black Rock City is fairly simple, it uses an arrow to point to a desired waypoint, and is capable of storing up to five points of interest. It’s built using a cheap GNSS receiver and transflective LCD screen, and a Pi Pico is the brains of the operation.

The value of the device is obvious, particularly when exploring deeper areas of the playa, or after the road signs have been removed or structures have been taken down or burnt to ashes. We’ve seen some other great projects from the desert festival before, too. If you’ve got your own playa-spec hacks, don’t hesitate to let us know!

Polynesian Wayfinding Traditions Let Humans Roam The Pacific Ocean

Polynesian cultures have a remarkable navigational tradition. It stands as a testament to human ingenuity and an intimate understanding of nature. Where Western cultures developed maps and tools to plot courses around the world, the Polynesian tradition is more about using human senses and pattern-finding skills to figure out where one is, and where one might be going.

Today, we’ll delve into the unique techniques of Polynesian navigation, exploring how keen observation of the natural world enabled pioneers to roam far and wide across the breadth of the Pacific.

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Fancy Gyroscopes Are Key To Radio-Free Navigation

Back in the old days, finding out your location on Earth was a pretty involved endeavor. You had to look at stars, use fancy gimballed equipment to track your motion, or simply be able to track your steps really really well. Eventually, GPS would come along and make all that a bit redundant for a lot of use cases. That was all well and good, until it started getting jammed all over the place to frustrate militaries using super-accurate satellite-guided weapons.

Today, there’s a great desire for more accurate navigational methods that don’t require outside communications that can easily be jammed. High-tech gyroscopes have long been a big part of that effort, allowing the construction of inertial navigation systems with greater accuracy than ever before.

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Hackaday Links: August 20, 2023

In some ways, we’ve become a little jaded when it comes to news from Mars, which almost always has to do with the Ingenuity helicopter completing yet another successful flight. And so it was with the report of flight number 54 — almost. It turns out that the previous flight, which was conducted on July 22, suffered a glitch that cut the flight short by forcing an immediate landing. We had either completely missed that in the news, or NASA wasn’t forthcoming with the news, perhaps until they knew more. But the details of the error are interesting and appear related to a glitch that happened 46 flights before, way back in May of 2021, that involves dropped frames from the video coming from the helicopter’s down-facing navigational camera. When this first cropped up back on flight six, it was only a couple of missed frames that nearly crashed the craft, thanks to confusion between the video stream and the inertial data. Flight engineers updated the aircraft’s software to allow for a little more flexibility with dropped frames, which worked perfectly up until the aborted flight 53.

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Cosmic Ray Navigation

GPS is a handy modern gadget — until you go inside, underground, or underwater. Japanese researchers want to build a GPS-like system with a twist. It uses cosmic ray muons, which can easily penetrate buildings to create high-precision navigation systems. You can read about it in their recent paper. The technology goes by MUWNS or wireless muometric navigation system — quite a mouthful.

With GPS, satellites with well-known positions beam a signal that allows location determination. However, those signals are relatively weak radio waves. In this new technique, the reference points are also placed in well-understood positions, but instead of sending a signal, they detect cosmic rays and relay information about what it detects to receivers.

The receivers also pick up cosmic rays, and by determining the differences in detection, very precise navigation is possible. Like GPS, you need a well-synchronized clock and a way for the reference receivers to communicate with the receiver.

Muons penetrate deeper than other particles because of their greater mass. Cosmic rays form secondary muons in the atmosphere. About 10,000 muons reach every square meter of our planet at any minute. In reality, the cosmic ray impacts atoms in the atmosphere and creates pions which decay rapidly into muons. The muon lifetime is short, but time dilation means that a short life traveling at 99% of the speed of light seems much longer on Earth and this allows them to reach deep underground before they expire.

Detecting muons might not be as hard as you think. Even a Raspberry Pi can do it.

Royal Navy Tests Quantum Navigation

GPS has changed the way we get around the globe. But if you command a warship, you must think about what you would do if an adversary destroyed or compromised your GPS system. The Royal Navy and Imperial College London think a quantum navigation system might be the answer.
Of course, Heisenberg says you can’t know your speed and position simultaneously. But at the real-world level, you can apparently get close enough. The quantum sensors in question are essentially accelerometers. Unlike conventional accelerometers, though, these devices use ultracold atoms to make very precise measurements using a laser optical ruler, which means they do not drift as rapidly as, say, the accelerometer in your phone. Navigating with accelerometers is well understood, but the issue is how often you have to correct your computed position with an actual reference due to drift and other error accumulation. You can see a Sky News report on the trial below. Continue reading “Royal Navy Tests Quantum Navigation”

Inside Globus, A Soviet-Era Analog Space Computer

Whenever [Ken Shirriff] posts something, it ends up being a fascinating read. Usually it’s a piece of computer history, decapped and laid bare under his microscope where it undergoes reverse engineering and analysis to a degree that should be hard to follow, but he still somehow manages to make it understandable. And the same goes for this incredible Soviet analog flight computer, even though there’s barely any silicon inside.

The artifact in question was officially designated the “Индикатор Навигационный Космический,” which roughly translates to “space navigation indicator.” It mercifully earned the nickname “Globus” at some point, understandable given the prominent mechanized globe the device features. Globus wasn’t actually linked to any kind of inertial navigation inputs, but rather was intended to provide cosmonauts with a visual indication of where their spacecraft was relative to the surface of the Earth. As such it depended on inputs from the cosmonauts, like an initial position and orbital altitude. From there, a complicated and absolutely gorgeous gear train featuring multiple differential gears advanced the globe, showing where the spacecraft currently was.

Those of you hoping for a complete teardown will be disappointed; the device, which bears evidence of coming from the time of the Apollo-Soyuz collaboration in 1975, is far too precious to be taken to bits, and certainly looks like it would put up a fight trying to get it back together. But [Ken] still manages to go into great depth, and reveals many of its secrets. Cool features include the geopolitically fixed orbital inclination; the ability to predict a landing point from a deorbit burn, also tinged with Cold War considerations; and the instrument’s limitations, like only supporting circular orbits, which prompted cosmonauts to call for its removal. But versions of Globus nonetheless appeared in pretty much everything the Soviets flew from 1961 to 2002. Talk about staying power!

Sure, the “glass cockpit” of modern space vehicles is more serviceable, but just for aesthetics alone, we think every crewed spacecraft should sport something like Globus. [Ken] did a great job reverse-engineering this, and we really appreciate the tour. And from the sound of it, [Curious Marc] had a hand in the effort, so maybe we’ll get a video too. Fingers crossed.

Thanks to [saintaardvark] for the tip.