The ISS Is Getting A New WC

Every home needs renovations after a few decades, and the International Space Station is no different. This fall, they’ll be getting a new Universal Waste Management System (UWMS), aka a new toilet.

Though the news coincides with increased traffic to the ISS, this move stems from a more serious issue with bacterial contamination during longer-term space travel. Today’s ISS toilets already recycle urine back into potable water and scrub the air reclaimed from solid waste as it gets compacted and stored. The new UWMS will act more like a food dehydrator, reducing the water content as much as possible to save on space, and petrifying the poo to inactivate the bacteria.

The current commode on the American side of the ISS was designed in the 1990s and is based on the Space Shuttle’s facilities. It has a funnel with a hose for urine and a bag-lined canister with a seat for solid waste, both of which are heavily vacuum-assisted.

Though the current toilet still does everything it’s supposed to do, there is room for improvement. For instance, women find it difficult to engage both parts of the system at the same time, and almost everyone prefers the toe bars on the Russian toilet to the more encumbering thigh bars on the American throne. Also, the current commode’s interface is more complicated than it needs to be, which takes up valuable crew time. Continue reading “The ISS Is Getting A New WC”

Hackaday Links: June 28, 2020

You can imagine how stressful life is for high-power CEOs of billion-dollar companies in these trying times; one is tempted to shed a tear for them as they jet around the world and plan their next big move. But now someone has gone and upset the applecart by coming up with a way to track executive private jets as they travel across North America. This may sound trivial, but then you realize that hedge fund managers pay big money for the exact same data in order to get an idea of who is meeting with whom and possibly get an idea of upcoming mergers and acquisitions. It’s also not easy, as the elites go to great lengths to guard their privacy. Luckily, the OpenSky Network lists all ADS-B traffic its web of ground stations receives, unlike other flight monitoring sites which weed out “sensitive” traffic. Python programs scrape the OpenSky API and cross-reference plane registrations with the FAA database to see which company jets are doing what. There are plenty of trips to Aspen and Jackson Hole to filter out, but with everyone and his little brother fancying themselves a day trader lately, it’s another tool in the toolbox.

We got a nice note from Michelle Thompson this week thanking us for mentioning the GNU Radio Conference in last week’s Links article, and in particular for mentioning the virtual CTF challenge that they’re planning. It turns out that Michelle is deeply involved in designing the virtual CTF challenge, after having worked on the IRL challenges at previous conferences. She shared a few details of how the conference team made the decision to go forward with the virtual challenge, inspired in part by the success of the Hack-A-Sat qualifying rounds, which were also held remotely. It sounds like the GNU Radio CTF challenge will be pretty amazing, with IQ files being distributed to participants in lieu of actually setting up receivers. We wish Michelle and the other challenge coordinators the best of luck with the virtual con, and we really hope a Hackaday reader wins.

Amateur radio is often derided as a hobby, earning the epithet “Discord for Boomers” according to my son. There’s more than a grain of truth to that, but there are actually plenty of examples where a ham radio operator has been able to make a big difference in an emergency. Case in point is this story from the Western Massachusetts ARRL. Alden Jones (KC1JWR) was hiking along a section of the Appalachian Trail in southern Vermont last week when he suddenly got light-headed and collapsed. A passing hiker who happened to be an emergency medical technician rendered aid and attempt to contact 911 on his cell phone, but coverage was spotty and the dispatcher couldn’t hear him. So Alden, by this point feeling a little better, pulled out his handy talkie and made an emergency call to the local repeater. Luckily the Western Massachusetts Traffic Net was just about to start, so they went into emergency mode and coordinated the response. One of the hams even went to the rescue staging area and rigged up a quick antenna to improve the signal so that rescuers could finally get a helicopter to give Alden a ride to the hospital. He’s fine now, and hats off to everyone who pitched in on the eight-hour rescue effort.

And finally, there are obviously a lot of details to be worked out before anyone is going to set foot on the Moon again. We’ve got Top People™ working on all the big questions, of course, but apparently NASA needs a little help figuring out how and where the next men and first women on the Moon are going to do their business. The Lunar Loo Challenge seeks innovative designs for toilets that can be used in both microgravity and on the lunar surface. There is $35,000 in prize money for entrants in the Technical division; NASA is also accepting entries in a Junior division, which could prove to be highly entertaining.

Smart Toilet Paper Holder Keeps Track Of White Gold

As we all woke up in 2020 on New Year’s Day, few of us would have predicted how terrible everything would get in just a few short months. Worldwide shortages of toilet paper were just the tip of the iceberg, making everyone more keenly aware of their stocks at home. This was something [thepenguinmaster] decided to take a stab at managing in the cloud. Enter the Smart Toilet Paper Roll.

The device consists of a 3D printed toilet roll holder, outfitted with sensors to track usage of the precious material. A magnetic rotary encoder is used to monitor rotation of the roll, with a LIDAR device used to sense when a user’s hand is in close proximity. Data is trucked to the cloud by an Avnet Azure Sphere MT3620. The link with Azure allows for the automatic generation of graphs and access from anywhere over the Internet.

The project goes to show that just about anything around the house can be monitored over the Internet. We’d love to see the tracker go even further, measuring usage on a per-sheet basis and automatically ordering more when supplies get low. We’ve seen similar work before, too.

Rock Out With Toilet Paper Rolls

Singing in the shower is such a common phenomenon, rarely anyone ever bats an eye about it. Singing in the toilet on the other hand is probably going to raise an eyebrow or two, and it’s not for nothing that the Germans euphemistically call it “stilles Örtchen”, i.e. the little silent place. But who are we to judge what you do in the privacy of your home? So if you ever felt a lack of instrumental accompaniment, or forgot to bring your guitar, [Max Björverud] has just the perfect installation for you. (Video, embedded below.)

Inspired by the way bicycle computers determine your speed, [Max] took a set of toilet paper holders, extended each roll holding part with a 3D-printed attachment housing a magnet, and installed a Hall-effect sensor to determine the rolling activity. The rolls’ sensor data is then collected with an Arduino Mega and passed on to a Raspberry Pi Zero running Pure Data, creating the actual sounds. The sensor setup is briefly shown in another video.

Before you grab your pitchforks, [Max] started this project a little while back already, long before toilet paper became an object of abysmal desire. Being an artist in the field of interactive media, this also isn’t his first project of this kind, and you can find some more of his work on his website. So why of all things did we pick this one? Well, what can we say, we definitely have a weakness for strange and unusual musical instruments. And maybe there’s potential for some collaboration here?
Continue reading “Rock Out With Toilet Paper Rolls”

Fail Of The Week: Toilets And High Voltage Do Not Mix

Imagine if you will that you are enthroned upon the porcelain, minding your own business while doing your business. You’re catching up on Hackaday on your phone – c’mon, admit it – when a whir and a buzz comes from behind you. You sit up in alarm, whereupon your lower back suddenly feels as if someone is scrubbing it with a steel wool pad. Then the real pain sets in as super-hot plasma lances into your skin, the smell of burning flesh fills the bathroom, and you crack your head on the towel bar trying to escape this torture chamber in a panic.

Sound good? Then [Vije Miller]’s plasma-powered toilet air freshener is a must-build for you. We’re not entirely sure where this was going, but the name of the project seems to indicate a desire to, ahem, clear the air near your derrière with the power of ions. While that might work – we’ve recently seen an electrostatic precipitator for 3D-printer fumes – the implementation here is a bit sketchy. The ball of steel wool? It was possibly intended as a way to disperse the ions, but it served as nothing more than fuel when touched by the plasma. The Contact-esque gimballed rings? Not a clue what they’re for, but they look cool. And hats off to [Vije] for the intricate 3D-printed parts, the geartrain and linkages, and the DIY slip rings.

It may be a head-scratcher of a build, but the video below is entertaining. Check out some of [Vije]’s other projects of dubious value, like his licorice launcher or the smartphone back scratcher.

Continue reading “Fail Of The Week: Toilets And High Voltage Do Not Mix”

It’s Time To Embrace The Toilet Of The Future

You use things every day that are very different from the same items from even a decade ago. Your car, your cellphone, and your computer all have probably changed a lot in the last ten years. But there’s something you almost certainly use every day that hasn’t changed much in a very long time: your toilet. That is unless you live in Japan where some toilets are a high tech delight. Lifehacker recently did a video about the toilet of the future, which might be coming to the US soon if Toto — one of the Japanese toilet makers — has its way.

It made us think. For as ubiquitous as the porcelain throne is, we don’t see many hacks related to it. There are several really obvious ones. For example, in the Lifehacker video, the seat automatically raises when you approach. We don’t know how it could figure out if you were going to stand or sit, but maybe that’s a good application for machine learning. What we really want is one that can clean itself. That would be worth something. Every time we see a Sanisette washing itself in Paris we want to take it home.

Continue reading “It’s Time To Embrace The Toilet Of The Future”

Flying Convenience Not So Convenient

It’s a situation that plays out every day, all over the world – you walk into work, and there’s a full-scale foam toilet sitting on the bench, demanding to be used in a crackpot project. This time, it happened to be at the [FliteTest] workshop, and naturally, they set about making it fly.

The team at [FliteTest] are well resourced, with a laser cutter being used to quickly produce a set of custom foam board wings. However, after wing failures on their previous projects, this time the team opted for a riveted aluminium wing spar to add strength. A twin-boom tail is used to try to avoid the cistern from interfering with airflow over the elevator, and careful attention is paid to make sure the center of gravity is in the right position for stable flight.

Despite the team’s laudable efforts, the toilet (somewhat unsurprisingly) flies like crap. It just goes to show, you can strap a brushless power system on to just about anything, but aerodynamics will still be standing ready to bring it all crashing down to Earth.

We’ve seen some great builds from [FliteTest] over the years – before the throne, it was an IKEA chair that soared amongst the clouds. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!] Continue reading “Flying Convenience Not So Convenient”