Hackaday readers might know [Victor Scheinman] as the pioneer who built some of the first practical robot arms. But what was a kid like that doing in high school? Thanks to a film about the 1958 New York City Science Fair, we know he was building a voice-activated typewriter. Don’t believe it? Watch it yourself below, thanks to [David Hoffman].
Ok, we know. Voice typing is no big deal today, and, frankly, [Victor’s] attempt isn’t going to amaze anyone today. But think about it. It was 1958! All those boat anchor ham radios behind him aren’t antiques. That’s what radios looked like in 1958. Plus, the kid is 16 years old. We’d say he did pretty darn good!
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Voice Controlled Typewriter Science Project In 1958” →
When we first saw this 1944 US Office of Education film about hand soldering, we figured it might still have some good information. Well, perhaps it does, but the 1944 soldering was with a giant iron, and the work looked more like metal bricks than anything we’ve soldered lately. Of course, the physics is all the same, but some of the terminology, like “sweating in” isn’t anything we’ve heard before, although we have heard of sweat soldering.
They do show some electronic soldering on components, including some interesting-looking coils. But the irons look more like a bad science fiction movie’s idea of a lightsaber. The solder is equally huge, of course.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Solder Like Its 1944!” →
While you might think the military doesn’t have a sense of humor with names. Take the AN/MSQ-19 “automated tactical operations central” for example. (Video, embedded below.) But then, when you find out that the truck-sized computer at the heart of it was MOBIDIC — yes, that’s pronounced Moby Dick — you know someone had a good chuckle somewhere. The video below was a promotional video from the early 1960s, and although it shows the unit in operation, it was most likely a mockup and not fully functional.
The MOBIDIC program ran from 1960-1964 and cost a whopping $25 million in 1960-era money. In 1964, testing revealed the system was too unwieldy, requiring at least five tractor-trailers, eight generators, portable buildings, and several large trucks to move around.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Military Graphics In The 1960s” →
In the United States in 1939, television sets still had a long way to go before they pretty much sold themselves. Efforts to do just that are what led to RCA’s Lucite Phantom Telereceiver, which aimed to show people a new way to receive broadcast media.
Created for the 1939 World’s Fair, the TRK-12 Lucite Phantom Telereceiver introduced people to the concept of television. Production models were housed in contemporary wood cabinets, but the clear acrylic (itself also a relatively new thing) units allowed curious potential customers to gaze within, and see what was inside these devices.
One interesting feature is the vertically-mounted cathode ray tube, which reflects off a mirror in the top cover of the cabinet for viewing. This meant that much of the bulk of the TRK-12 could be vertical instead of horizontal. Important, because the TRK-12 was just over a meter tall and weighed 91 kilograms (or just over 200 lbs.)
Clearly a luxury item, the TRK-12 sold for $600 which was an eye-watering sum for the time. But it was a glimpse of the future, and as usual, the future is made available a few ticks early to those who can afford the cost.
Want to see one in person? You might be in luck, because an original resides at the MZTV Museum of Television in Toronto, Canada.
In 1986, a group of NASA engineers faced a difficult choice in solving their data processing woes: continue tolerating the poor performance of PC architecture, or pony up the cash for exotic workstations. It turns out that the Commodore Amiga was an intriguing third choice, except for the fact that, paradoxically, it didn’t cost enough. Oh, and Apple wanted nothing to do with any of it.
Steeped in history, NASA’s Hangar AE is a hub for launch vehicle telemetry and other mission communications, primarily during prelaunch phases for launches at Cape Canaveral. Throughout the late 20th century, Hangar AE supported NASA launch vehicles in all shapes and sizes, from the Atlas-Centaur evolutions to the mighty Titan family. It even supported user data from the Space Shuttle program. Telemetry from these missions was processed at Hangar AE before being sent out to other NASA boffins, and even transmitted worldwide to other participating space agencies.
Coming down from decades of astronomical levels of funding, the 1980s was all about tightening the belt, and NASA needed budget solutions that didn’t skimp on mission safety. The Commodore Amiga turned out to be the right choice for processing launch vehicle telemetry. And so it was still, when cameras from the Amiga Atlanta group were granted permission to film inside Hangar AE.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Amiga Pips The PC For Mission-Critical Computing At NASA” →
If you’ve got 10 minutes, how about a quick break to watch a video about renewable clean electric power? Must be a recent video, right? Nope. The Coronet Instruction Film below is from 1948 and covers using rivers to generate power. Hydropower isn’t a new idea, of course, and the film starts out with an old-fashioned water wheel. That’s not really what they are driving at, though.
The announcer sounds just like the guy who narrated all the film strips you saw in school. There are some good vintage shots of Niagra Falls and some other dams. The video also makes some economic arguments about hydroelectric versus coal and why some rivers aren’t suitable for power generation.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Renewable Energy, 1948 Edition” →
To get its engineers thinking about design for assembly back in the 1980s, Westinghouse made a video about a product optimized for assembly: the IBM Proprinter. The technology may be dated, but the film presents a great look at how companies designed not only for manufacturing, but also for ease of assembly.
It’s not clear whether Westinghouse and IBM collaborated on the project, but given the inside knowledge of the dot-matrix printer’s assembly, it seems like they did. The first few minutes are occupied by an unidentified Westinghouse executive talking about design for assembly in general terms, and how it impacts the bottom line. Skip ahead to 3:41 if talking suits aren’t your thing.
Once the engineer gets going on the printer, though, things get really interesting. The printer’s guts are laid out before him, ready to be assembled. What’s notably absent from the table are tools — the Proprinter was so well designed that the only tool needed is a pair of human hands. And they don’t have to be particularly dexterous hands, either — the design favors motions that are straight down, letting gravity assist the assembly process and preventing assemblers from the need to contort their bodies. Almost everything is held in place by compliant mechanisms built into the plastic parts. There are a few gems in the film, like the plastic lead screw that drives the printhead, obviating the need to string a fussy timing belt, or the unique roller that twists to lock onto a long shaft, rather than having to be pushed to its center.
We found this film which we’ve placed below the break to be very instructive, and the fact that a device as complex as a printer can be assembled in just a few minutes without picking up a single tool is pretty illustrative of the power of designing for assembly. Slick designs that can’t be manufactured at scale are all too common in this age of powerful design tools and desktop manufacturing, so these lessons from the past might be worth relearning.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Design For Assembly, 1980s-Style” →