Pictures of a cow wearing a pair of comically oversized virtual reality goggles recently spread like wildfire over social media, and even the major news outlets eventually picked it up. Why not? Nobody wants to read about geopolitical turmoil over the holidays, and this story was precisely the sort of lighthearted “news” people would, if you can forgive the pun, gobble up.
But since you’re reading Hackaday, these images probably left you with more questions than answers. Who made the hardware, what software is it running, and of course, why does a cow need VR? Unfortunately, the answers to the more technical questions aren’t exactly forthcoming. Even tracking the story back to the official press release from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region doesn’t tell us much more than we can gather from the image itself.
But it does at least explain why somebody went through the trouble of making a custom bovine VR rig: calm cows produce more milk. These VR goggles, should they pass their testing and actually be adopted by the Russian dairy industry, will be the newest addition to a list of cow-calming hardware devices that farmers have been using for decades to get the most out of their herds.
As the world gets more connected and computerized, it is easy to have an unintended consequence pop up and bite you. Especially because, so much of the time, today, things just work. The days of fretting over how to connect two computers, or how to store reasonable amounts of data are gone. Most of us never have to sift through assembly language programs finding three extra bytes to add a feature. Some Russian scientists recently found out about unintended consequences the hard way.
In the United States, the Eagle was long on the endangered species list, but apparently they have a similar problem in Russia. Scientists put a tracker on some migrating eagles in southern Russia and Kazakhstan. A few decades ago, this would have been a big technical challenge, but now you just use cellular technology and have the tracker text its location, right?
On August 8th, an experimental nuclear device exploded at a military test facility in Nyonoksa, Russia. Thirty kilometers away, radiation levels in the city of Severodvinsk reportedly peaked at twenty times normal levels for the span of a few hours. Rumors began circulating about the severity of the event, and conflicting reports regarding forced evacuations of residents from nearby villages had some media outlets drawing comparisons with the Soviet Union’s handling of the Chernobyl disaster.
Today, there remain more questions than answers surrounding what happened at the Nyonoksa facility. It’s still unclear how many people were killed or injured in the explosion, or what the next steps are for the Russian government in terms of environmental cleanup at the coastal site. The exceptionally vague explanation given by state nuclear agency Rosatom saying that the explosion “occurred during the period of work related to the engineering and technical support of isotopic power sources in a liquid propulsion system”, has done little to assuage concerns.
The consensus of global intelligence agencies is that the test was likely part of Russia’s program to develop the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile. Better known by its NATO designation SSC-X-9 Skyfall, the missile is said to offer virtually unlimited flight range and endurance. In theory the missile could remain airborne indefinitely, ready to divert to its intended target at a moment’s notice. An effectively unlimited range also means it could take whatever unpredictable or circuitous route necessary to best avoid the air defenses of the target nation. All while traveling at near-hypersonic speeds that make interception exceptionally difficult.
Such incredible claims might sound like saber rattling, or perhaps even something out of science fiction. But in reality, the basic technology for a nuclear-powered missile was developed and successfully tested nearly sixty years ago. Let’s take a look at this relic of the Cold War, and find out how Russia may be working to resolve some of the issues that lead to it being abandoned. Continue reading “Echos Of The Cold War: Nuclear-Powered Missiles Have Been Tried Before”→
Electric bikes may be taking the world by storm, but the world itself doesn’t have a single way of regulating ebikes’ use on public roads. Whether or not your ebike is legal to ride on the street or sidewalk where you live depends mostly on… where you live. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place where a bicycle is legally defined as having fewer than four wheels and capable of being powered by a human, though, this interesting bike from Russia might be the best homemade ebike we’ve ever seen. (Video embedded below the break.)
While some of the details of this build might be lost on those of us who do not know any Slavic languages, the video itself shows off the features of this electric vehicle build quite well. It has a custom built frame with two wheels up front, each with its own independent suspension, allowing it to traverse extremely rough terrain with ease even a mountain bike might not be able to achieve. It seems to be powered by a relatively simple rear hub in the single rear wheel, and can probably achieve speeds in the 20 km/h range while holding one passenger and possibly some cargo.
The impressive part of this build isn’t so much the electrification, but rather the suspension components. Anyone looking for an offroad vehicle may be able to take a bit of inspiration from this build. If you’re more interested in the drivetrain, there are plenty of other vehicles that use unique electric drivetrains to check out like this electric boat. And, if you happen to know Russian and see some other interesting details in this build that the native English speakers around here may have missed, leave them in the comments for us.
If you don’t live in a former Eastern Bloc country, odds are that you’ve never seen a Lada driving around your neighborhood. This car is ubiquitous in Russia and its neighboring countries, though, and for good reason: price. Lada gave many people access to affordable transportation who otherwise would have been walking, but this low price means that it’s a great platform for some excellent car hacks as well.
The guys at [Garage 54], an auto shop in Russia, outfitted one of these discount classics with two extra engines. This goes beyond normal bolt-on modifications you typically see to get modest horsepower gains from a daily driver. The crew had to weld a frame extending out of the front of the car to hold all the extra weight, plus fabricate all the parts needed to get the crankshafts on each engine to connect to each other. After that, it was the “simple” job of tuning the engines to all behave with one another.
This video is really worth watching, as the car was also upgraded with a dually setup on the back with studded tires for extra grip on their ice track. Odds are pretty good that this car isn’t street legal so this is likely the only place they’ll be able to drive it. Other things can be built out of Ladas as well, like lawn mowers for example.
With a highly publicized test firing and pledge by President Vladimir Putin that it will soon be deployed to frontline units, Russia’s Avangard hypersonic weapon has officially gone from a secretive development program to an inevitability. The first weapon of its type to enter into active service, it’s capable of delivering a payload to any spot on the planet at speeds up to Mach 27 while remaining effectively unstoppable by conventional missile defense systems because of its incredible speed and enhanced maneuverability compared to traditional intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
In a statement made after the successful test of Avangard, which saw it hit a target approximately 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) from the launch site, President Putin made it clear that the evasive nature of the weapon was not to be underestimated: “The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defense means of the potential adversary.” The former Soviet KGB agent turned head of state has never been one to shy away from boastful claims, but in this case it’s not just an exaggeration. While the United States and China have been working on their own hypersonic weapons which should be able to meet the capabilities of Avangard when they eventually come online, there’s still no clear deterrent for this type of weapon.
Earlier in the year, commander of U.S. Strategic Command General John Hyten testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the threat of retaliation was the best and perhaps only method of keeping the risk of hypersonic weapons in check: “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force.” Essentially, the threat of hypersonic weapons may usher in a new era of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD), the Cold War era doctrine that kept either side from firing the first shot knowing they would sustain the same or greater damage from their adversary.
With President Putin claiming Avangard has already entered into serial production and will be deployed as soon as early 2019, the race is on for the United States and China to close the hypersonic gap. But exactly how far away is the rest of the world from developing an operational hypersonic weapon? Perhaps more to the point, what does “hypersonic weapon” really mean?
The Russian space program experienced its first serious incident on a manned mission in 35 years when Soyuz MS-10 failed during ascent on October 11th, 2018. The abort system worked as designed, and crew members Aleksey Ovchinin and Nick Hague landed safely approximately 430 km from the launch site in Baikonur. Beyond being put through unusually high G forces, the two men suffered no injuries and will have their mission recycled for a future flight.
From an abort standpoint, the event went as well as could possibly be expected. The fact that the crew walked away unharmed is a testament to the emergency systems on the rocket and spacecraft, and serve as a reminder of why these functions are designed into manned rockets even if they are rarely (if ever) used. The success is especially impressive considering the Soyuz’s launch abort tower, the solid fuel rocket designed to pull the spacecraft away from the failing booster rocket, had already been jettisoned before the event occurred. The spacecraft was instead pulled to safety by the secondary abort thrusters, which were added to the vehicle’s design in 1975 as a contingency and until now had never been used in a real-life scenario.
What Went Wrong?
But while the safe return of the crew was naturally the first priority for all agencies involved, the questions soon turned to the Soyuz itself. What caused the loss of the rocket? Is it a defect which could be present in the other Soyuz rockets currently under construction? Perhaps most importantly, when could the Soyuz fly again? As it’s currently the only way to put humans into space, the International Space Station is completely dependent on regular Soyuz flights, and a delay in the program could endanger the orbiting outpost.
Now, with the initial findings of the Russian incident investigation being made public, we’re starting to get answers on some of those questions. The official report so far agrees with the conclusions many “Armchair Astronauts” made watching the live stream of the launch, and the evidence suggests that the core issue is the same which doomed previous Russian vehicles.