Category Archives: Engineering

BLOODHOUND SSC Making Progress Toward a World Land Speed Record Attempt in 2017

The BLOODHOUND Project bills itself as an international education initiative focused around a 1,000 mph World Land Speed Record attempt.

“The primary objective of the Project is to inspire the next generation to pursue careers in science, engineering, technology and math – by demonstrating how they can be harnessed to achieve the impossible, such as a jet and rocket powered car capable of setting a new World Land Speed Record.”

Since my first post in the BLOODHOUND Project on 2 March 2015, the project team has made great progress in designing, developing, constructing and testing the BLOODHOUND SSC (supersonic car) and its many components and systems.  This will be a very interesting year as the BLOODHOUND Project works up to a world land speed record attempt currently planned for November 2017 on Hakskeen Pan in South Africa.

You’ll find the BLOODHOUND website, with its many resources, at the following link:

http://www.bloodhoundssc.com

You can subscribe to the BLOODHOUND newsletter here:

http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/newsletter-signup

The project team has established an extensive video record of their work on YouTube. Starting at their YouTube home page at the following link, you can navigate through a very interesting video library.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsBrBl7xmnNBkosxCeHGqPA

On 9 January 2017, the BLOODHOUND Project announced that they had launched a new series of short video programs that will take viewers through the inner workings of the land speed record car. The first video in the Anatomy of the Car series is at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bfL2XC0Fa0

BLOODHOUND SSCBLOODHOUND SSC X-raySource, both images: The BLOODHOUND Project

You can subscribe to the BLOODHOUND videos directly on their YouTube home page.

I hope you will share my enthusiasm for this inspirational international project and take time to understand the remarkable systems integration work being done by the BLOODHOUND Project.

Mechs are not Just for Science Fiction any More

Mechs (aka “mechanicals” and “mechas”) are piloted robots that are distinguished from other piloted vehicles by their humanoid / biomorphic appearance (i.e., they emulate the general shape of humans or other living organisms). Mechs can give the pilot super-human strength, mobility, and access to an array of tools or weapons while providing protection from hazardous environments and combat conditions. Many science fiction novels and movies have employed mechs in various roles. Now, technology has advanced to the point that the first practical mech is under development and entering the piloted test phase.

Examples of humanoid mechs in science fiction

If you saw the 2009 James Cameron’s movie Avatar, then you have seen the piloted Amplified Mobility Platform (AMP) suit shown below. In the movie, this multi-purpose mech protects the pilot against hazardous environmental conditions while performing a variety of tasks, including heavy lifting and armed combat. The AMP concept, as applied in Avatar, is described in detail at the following link:

http://james-camerons-avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Amplified_Mobility_Platform

 Avatar AMP suitAvatar AMP suit. Source: avatar.wikia.com

 The 2013 Guillermo del Toro’s movie Pacific Rim featured the much larger piloted Jaeger mechs designed to fight Godzilla-size creatures.

 Pacific Rim JaegersJaegers. Source: Warner Bros Pictures

 Actual fighting mechs

One of the first actual mechs was Kuratas; a rideable, user-operated mech developed in Japan in 2012 by Suidobashi Heavy Industry for fighting mech competitions. Kuratas’ humanoid torso is supported by four legs, each riding on a hydraulically driven wheel. This diesel-powered mech is 4.6 meters (15 feet) tall and weighs about five tons.

kuratas Kuratas. Source: howthingsworkdaily.com

Suidobashi Heavy Industry uses its own proprietary operating system, V-Sido OS. The system software integrates routines for balance and movement, with the goal of optimizing stability and preventing the mech from falling over on uneven surfaces or during combat. While Kuratas is designed for operation by a single pilot, it also can be operated remotely by an internet-enabled phone.

suidobashi-heavy-industrys-ceo-kogoro-kurataKuratas cockpit. Source IB Times UK

For more information on Kuratas’ design and operation watch the Suidobashi Heavy Industry video at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29MD29ekoKI

Also visit the Suidobashi Heavy Industry website at the following link:

http://suidobashijuko.jp

It appears that you can buy your own Kuratas on Amazon Japan for  ¥ 120,000,000 (about $1.023 million) plus shipping charges. Here’s the link in case you are interested in buying a Kuratas.

https://www.amazon.co.jp/水道橋重工-SHI-KR-01-クラタス-スターターキット/dp/B00H6V3BWA/ref=sr_1_3/351-2349721-0400049?s=hobby&ie=UTF8&qid=1483572701&sr=1-3

You’ll find a new owner’s orientation video at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iZ0WuNvHr8

A competitor in the fighting mech arena is the 4.6 meter (15 feet) tall, 5.4 ton MegaBot Mark II built by the American company MegaBots, Inc. The Mark II’s torso is supported by an articulated framework driven by two tank treads that provide a stable base and propulsion.

Megabot Mark IIMegaBot Mark II. Source: howthingsworkdaily.com

Mark II’s controls are built on the widely-used Robot OS (ROS) operating system, which is described by the OS developers as:

“….a flexible framework for writing robot software. It is a collection of tools, libraries, and conventions that aim to simplify the task of creating complex and robust robot behavior across a wide variety of robotic platforms.”

For more information, visit the ROS website at the following link:

http://www.ros.org/about-ros/

An actual battle between Kuratas and MegaBot Mark II has been proposed (since 2014), but has been delayed many times. On October 2016, MegaBots, Inc. determined that the Mark II was unsafe for hand-to-hand mech fighting and announced it was abandoning this design. Its replacement will be a larger (10 ton) Mk III with a safer cockpit, more powerful engine, higher speed (10 mph) and faster-acting hydraulic valves. Development and operation of MegaBot Mark III is shown in a series of 2016 videos at the following link:

https://www.megabots.com/episodes

Here’s a look at a MegaBot Mark III torso (attached to a test base instead of the actual base) about to pick up a car during development testing.

Megabot Mark IIIMegaBot Mark III. Source: MegaBot

Worldwide  interest in the Kuratas – MegaBot fighting match has spawned interest in a future mech fighting league.

Actual potentially-useful mechs

South Korean firm Hankook Mirae Technology has developed a four-meter-tall (13-foot), 1.5 ton, bipedal humanoid mech named Method v2 as a test-bed for various technologies that can be applied and scaled for future operational mechs. Method v2 does not have an internal power source, but instead receives electric power via a tether from an external power source.

The company chairman Yang Jin-Ho said:

“Our robot is the world’s first manned bipedal robot and is built to work in extreme hazardous areas where humans cannot go (unprotected).”

See details on the Hankook Mirae website at the following link:

http://hankookmirae.tech/main/main.html

As is evident in the photos below, Method v2 has more than a passing resemblance the AMP suit in Avatar.

Method v2Method v2. Source: Hankook Mirae Technology

A pilot sitting inside the robot’s torso makes limb movements that are mimicked by the Method v2 control system.

Method v2 torsoMethod v2 torso mimics pilot’s arm and hand motions. Source: Hankook Mirae Technology

Method v2 cockpitMethod v2 cockpit. Source: Hankook Mirae Technology

The first piloted operation of the Method v2 mech took place on 27 December 2016. Watch a short video of manned testing and an unmanned walking test at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9y34ghJNU0

You can read more about the test at the following link:

http://phys.org/news/2016-12-avatar-style-korean-robot-baby.html

New Safe Confinement Structure Moved into Place at Chernobyl Unit 4

Following the Chernobyl accident on 26 April 1986, a concrete and steel “sarcophagus” was built around the severely damaged Unit 4 as an emergency measure to halt the release of radioactive material into the atmosphere from that unit. For details on the design and construction of the sarcophagus, including many photos of the damage at Unit 4, visit the chernobylgallery.com website at the following link:

http://chernobylgallery.com/chernobyl-disaster/sarcophagus/

The completed sarcophagus is shown below, at left end of the 4-unit Chernobyl nuclear plant. In 1988, Soviet scientists announced that the sarcophagus would only last 20–30 years before requiring restorative maintenance work. They were a bit optimistic.

Sarcophagus overview photoThe completed sarcophagus at left end of the 4-unit Chernobyl nuclear plant. Source: chernobylgallery.com

Sarcophagus closeup photoClose-up of the sarcophagus. Source: chernobylgallery.com

Inside-sarcophagusCross-section of the sarcophagus. Source: chernobylgallery.com

The sarcophagus rapidly deteriorated. In 2006, the “Designed Stabilization Steel Structure” was extended to better support a damaged roof that posed a significant risk if it collapsed. In 2010, it was found that water leaking through the sarcophagus roof was becoming radioactively contaminated as it seeped through the rubble of the damaged reactor plant and into the soil.

To provide a longer-term remedy for Chernobyl Unit 4, the  European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) funded the design and construction of the New Safe Confinement (NSC, or New Shelter) at a cost of about €1.5 billion ($1.61 billion) for the shelter itself. Total project cost is expected to be about €2.1 billion ($2.25 billion).

Construction by Novarka (a French construction consortium of VINCI Construction and Bouygues Construction) started in 2012. The arched NSC structure was built in two halves and joined together in 2015. The completed NSC is the largest moveable land-based structure ever built, with a span of 257 m (843 feet), a length of 162 m (531 feet), a height of 108 m (354 feet), and a total weight of 36,000 tonnes.

NSC exterior viewNSC exterior view. Source: EBRD

NSC cross section

NSC cross-section. Adapted from phys.org/news

Novarka started moving the NSC arch structure into place on 14 November 2016 and completed the task more than a week later. The arched structure was moved into place using a system of 224 hydraulic jacks that pushed the arch 60 centimeters (2 feet) each stroke. On 29 November 2016, a ceremony at the site was attended by Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, diplomats and site workers, to celebrate the successful final positioning of the NSC over Chernobyl Unit 4.

EBRD reported on this milestone:

“Thirty years after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the radioactive remains of the power plant’s destroyed reactor 4 have been safely enclosed following one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects.

Chernobyl’s giant New Safe Confinement (NSC) was moved over a distance of 327 meters (1,072 feet) from its assembly point to its final resting place, completely enclosing a previous makeshift shelter that was hastily assembled immediately after the 1986 accident.

The equipment in the New Safe Confinement will now be connected to the new technological building, which will serve as a control room for future operations inside the arch. The New Safe Confinement will be sealed off from the environment hermetically. Finally, after intensive testing of all equipment and commissioning, handover of the New Safe Confinement to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant administration is expected in November 2017.”

You can see EBRD’s short video of this milestone, “Unique engineering feat concluded as Chernobyl arch reaches resting place,” at the following link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH1bv9fAxiY

The NSC has an expected lifespan of at least 100 years.

The NSC is fitted with an overhead crane to allow for the future dismantling of the existing sarcophagus and the remains of Chernobyl Unit 4.

Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE and Lunar XPrize are Paving the way for Commercial Lunar Missions

Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE and Lunar XPrize are two competitions promoting the development of technologies, vehicles and systems by private firms for landing unmanned vehicles on the Moon and demonstrating functional capabilities that can support future lunar exploration missions. The legal and regulatory framework for U.S. commercial space activities was greatly simplified in November 2015, when the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act was signed into law. See my 31 December 2015 post for details on this Act.

On 3 August 2016, Lunar XPrize competitor Moon Express became the first private enterprise to be licensed by the U.S. Government (the Federal Aviation Administration) to conduct a mission to the lunar surface. Other Lunar XPrize competitors also are seeking similar approvals in preparation for lunar missions before the end of 2017.

Let’s take a look at how the private sector got this far.

Northrop Grumman / NASA Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE

In October 2007, XPrize and Northrop Grumman, in partnership with NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, launched the $2 million Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE, in which competing teams designed small rocket vehicles capable of routine and safe vertical takeoff and landing for lunar exploration and other applications. You’ll find details on the Lunar Lander XChallenge at the following link and an overview in the following text:

http://lunarlander.xprize.org

Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE badge   Source: XPrize

The XCHALLENGE was divided into two levels.

Level 1:

  • Required a rocket to take off from a designated launch area; climb to a low, fixed altitude of about 50 meters (164 feet); and fly for at least 90 seconds while translating horizontally to a precise landing point on a different landing pad 100 meters (328 feet) from the launch point. The flight must be repeated in reverse within a two and a half hour period.
  • Armadillo Aerospace, of Mesquite, TX won the $350K Level 1 first prize in October 2008. Masten Space Systems of Mojave, CA won the $150K Level 1 second place prize on 7 October 2009 when their Xombie rocket completed its flight with an average landing accuracy of 6.3 inches (16 cm).
  • You can watch a short video on the 2008 Level 1 competition and Armadillo Aerospace’s winning Level 1 flight at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhnY5tT4YeE

Armadillo Level 1 winner Armadillo Aerospace Level 1 winner. Source: NASA

Level 2:

  • Similar to the Level 1 flight profile, but required the rocket to fly for 180 seconds before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface constructed with craters and boulders 100 meters (328 feet) from the launch point. The minimum flight time was calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulated the power needed to perform a real descent from lunar orbit down to the surface of the Moon.

XCHALLENGE lunar landing siteLevel 2 landing site. Source: NASA

  • Masten Space Systems won the $1M Level 2 first prize with the flight of their Xoie rocket on 30 October 2009. Xoie completed its Level 2 flight with an average landing accuracy of about 7.5 inches (19 cm). Armadillo Aerospace took second place and a $500K prize with the 12 September 2009 flight of their Scorpius (Super-mod) rocket, which had an average landing accuracy of about 34 inches (89 cm). These prizes were awarded on 5 November 2009 in Washington D.C.

Xoie winning Level 2 flightMasten Aerospace Xoie: Level 2 winner. Source: NASA.

  • You can watch a short video summary on the XCHALLENGE results, including the winning flight by Xoie at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAvZxa1VXKI

Armadillo Scorpius Level 2Armadillo Aerospace’s Scorpius: Level 2 second place. Source: NASA

  • You can watch a short video on the Scorpius 2009 flight at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALKvai4p7OE

The other XCHALLENGE competitors, TrueZer0 and Unreasonable Rockets, failed to qualify for Level 1 or 2.

Google Lunar XPrize

The Google Lunar XPrize was created in 2007, overlapping with the Northrop Grumman / NASA Lunar Lander XCHALLENGE. The Lunar XPrize is intended to actually deliver payloads to the Moon and “incentivize space entrepreneurs to create a new era of affordable access to the Moon and beyond.” The motto for the Google XPrize is: “Back to the Moon for good.”

The basic mission requirements are:

  • Land a privately funded rover on the Moon at a site announced in advance.
  • Travel at least 500 meters along a deliberate path on the lunar surface.
  • Transmit two “Mooncasts” from the surface of the Moon, including specified types of videos and still images.
  • Receive specified data uplinks from Earth and re-transmit the data back to Earth.
  • Deliver a small payload provided by XPrize (not to exceed 500 grams).
  • Private funding for 90% of the total mission cost. No more than 10% government funding, including the value of in-kind support.
  • Launch contract in place by the end of 2016 and mission completion by the end of 2017.

The primary incentives are large financial award to the first and second teams that accomplish all of the mission requirements: $20 million Grand Prize and $5 million for second place. In addition, there are several other financial prizes that add up to total awards of more than $40 million. Of course, the winner will have bragging rights for a long time to come.

  • Milestone prizes: $5.25 million already has been awarded to teams that demonstrated robust hardware in three categories: landing, mobility, and imaging. The following Milestone prize winners have been announced:

Milestone prize winnersSource: XPrize

  • Bonus prizes: Up to $4 million for successfully completing additional scientific and technical tasks not in the mission requirements
  • Apollo Heritage Bonus Prize: $4 million for making an Apollo Heritage Mooncast from the site of an Apollo moon landing.
  • Heritage Bonus Prize: $1 million for making a Mooncast from another site of interest to XPrize.
  • Range Bonus Prize: $2 million for a rover that can traverse five kilometers on the Moon’s surface.
  • Survival Bonus Prize: $2 million for successfully operating on two separate lunar days.
  • Water Detection Bonus Prize: $4 million for producing scientifically conclusive proof of the presence of water on the Moon.

The Google Lunar XPrize home page is at the following link, where you can navigate to many details on this competition and sign up for an XPrize newsletter:

http://lunar.xprize.org

The Google Lunar XPrize began with 29 teams and now 16 remain. As noted above, five teams already have won Milestone prizes.

The three teams that competed in the landing milestone competition are taking different approaches. Astrobotics is using a lunar lander developed by Masten Aerospace. Indus and Moon Express are developing their own lunar landers.

So far, only two teams have launch contracts:

  • On 7 October 2015, the Israeli team SpaceIL became the first Lunar XPrize team to sign a launch contract. They signed a launch services contract with Spaceflight Industries for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher in the second half of 2017.
  • On 8 December 2017, XPrize verified the Moon Express launch contract with Rocket Lab USA. Moon Express contracted for three launches using an Electron booster, which, as of mid-2016, is still being developed.

By the end of 2016, all competitors that intend to continue into the finals must have a launch contract in place.

So far, only three nations have made a soft landing on the Moon: USA, Russia and China. In 2017, a privately funded team may be added to that list.  That would be a paradigm shift for lunar exploration, opening the door for private teams and commercial firms to have regular, relatively low cost access to the Moon.

Update 23 December 2016: Google Lunar XPrize Status

On 22 December 2016, author Daniel Clery posted an article, “Here’s who could win the $20 million XPrize for roving on the moon—but will any science get done?” The author reports that six teams claim to have booked flights to the moon for their lunar landers / rovers. The following chart provides a summary for five of the competitors. The small (4 kg) rover for the sixth competitor, Japan’s Team Hakuto, will be delivered to the moon on the same lander as India’s Team Indus.

LunarXPrixe competitors Dec 2016

Click on the graphic above to enlarge. Source: G. Grullón/Science

As I noted previously, all competitors that intend to continue into the Lunar XPrize finals must have a launch contract in place by the end of 2016, and the mission to the moon must be completed by the end of 2017.

You can read Daniel Clery’s complete article on the Sciencemag.org website, at the following link:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/12/heres-who-could-win-20-million-xprize-roving-moon-will-any-science-get-done?utm_campaign=news_daily_2016-12-22&et_rid=215579562&et_cid=1068715

 

 

NASA’s Valkyrie (R5) Humanoid Robot is Being Groomed to Support Future Space Exploration Missions

The design of National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) humanoid robot R5, commonly known as Valkyrie, started in October 2012 and it was unveiled in December 2013.

NASA Valkyrie robot  Source: NASA

Valkyrie was developed by a team from NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, in partnership with the University of Texas and Texas A&M and with funding from the state of Texas to compete in the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency’s (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC).  You’ll find a technical description of Valkyrie on the IEEE Spectrum website at the following link:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/military-robots/nasa-jsc-unveils-valkyrie-drc-robot

In the 2013 DRC Trials Valkyrie was a Track A entry, but it failed to score any points, largely due to unforeseen data communications problems.  An assessment of the developmental and operational problems encountered during the 2013 DRC Trials and another assessment of Valkyrie by the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) is reported on the IEEE Spectrum website at the following link:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/update-nasa-valkyrie-robot

Valkyrie did not compete in the 5 – 6 June 2015 DRC Finals. Instead, NASA brought two Valkyrie robots to the DRC Finals for display and demonstration and to help promote NASA’s Space Robotics Challenge (SRC), which was announced in March 2015.

NASA describes the SRC as follows:

“The Space Robotics Challenge is currently contemplated as a dual level, two-track challenge. The Level I challenge would involve a virtual challenge competition in software simulation and the Level II demonstration challenge would involve use of software to control a robot to perform sequences of tasks. Both Levels of the challenge would have a Track A and Track B option. A competitor would pick only one track in which to compete. Track A would utilize the Robonaut 2 platform and focus on simulated in-space tasks such as spacecraft maintenance and operations in transit to Mars, while Track B would utilize the R5 platform robot to perform simulated tasks on planetary surfaces, such as precursor habitat deployment on Mars, or disaster relief in an industrial setting on Earth.”

The highest scoring teams from the Level I (simulation) challenge will be given access to NASA-provided robots to prepare for the Level II (physical) challenge.

You can download a NASA Fact Sheet on SRC at the following link:

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/fs_space_robotics_150908.pdf

As part of SRC, NASA awarded Valkyrie robots to two university groups that competed in the DRC Finals. The winners announced in November 2015 were:

  • A team at MIT under the leadership of Russ Tedrake. Team MIT placed 6th in the 2015 DRC Finals with an Atlas robot built by Boston Dynamics
  • A team at Northeastern University under the leadership of Taskin Padir, who formerly was Co-PI of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) – Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) team that placed 7th in the DRC Finals with an upgraded Atlas robot known as Warner.

Each team has possession of a Valkyrie robot for two years; receives up to $250,000; and has access to onsite and virtual technical support from NASA. NASA stated that, “The robots will have walking, balancing and manipulating capabilities so that future research may focus on the development of complex behaviors that would advance autonomy for bipedal humanoid robots.” These two teams will not compete in the SRC Level I challenge, but will be eligible to compete in the Level II challenge.

An assessment of Valkyrie’s potential roles in future missions to Mars was published in 23 June 2015 on the IEEE Spectrum website. You can read this article at the following link:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/nasa-wants-help-training-valkyrie-robot-to-go-to-mars

The types of activities a humanoid robot might perform on a Mars mission are expected to become tasks to be demonstrated by each team choosing Track B in the SRC.

In the time between the DRC Finals and the SRC Level II competitions, I’m sure we’ll see substantial improvements in humanoid robot performance.

Solar Impulse 2 is Making its way Across the USA

If you have been reading the Pete’s Lynx blog for a while, then you should be familiar with the remarkable team that created the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft and is attempting to make the first flight around the world on solar power.  The planned route is shown in the following map.

Solar Impulse 2 route map

Image source: Solar Impulse

I refer you to my following posts for background information:

  • 10 March 2015: Solar Impulse 2 Designed for Around-the-World Flight on Solar Power
  • 3 July 2015: Solar Impulse 2 Completes Record Solo, Non-Stop, Solar-Powered Flight from Nagoya, Japan to Oahu, Hawaii
  • 27 February 2016: Solar Impulse 2 Preparing for the Next Leg of its Around-the-World Journey

Picking off where these stories left off in Hawaii, Solar Impulse 2 has made four more flights:

  • 21 – 24 April 2016: Hawaii to Moffett Field, near San Francisco, CA; 2,539 miles (4,086 km) in 62 h 29 m
  • 2 – 3 May 2016: San Francisco to Phoenix, AZ; 692 miles (1,113 km) in 15 h 52 m
  • 12 – 13 May 2016: Phoenix to Tulsa, OK; 976 miles (1,570 km) in 18 h 10 m
  • 21 – 22 May 2016: Tulsa to Dayton, OH; 692 miles (1,113 km) in 16 h 34 m

From the above distances and flight times, the average speed of Solar Impulse 2 across the USA was a stately 43.6 mph (70.2 kph).  Except for the arrival in the Bay Area, I think the USA segments of the Solar Impulse 2 mission have been given remarkably little coverage by the mainstream media.

SI2 flying above the USAImage source: Solar Impulse

Regarding the selection of Dayton as a destination for Solar Impulse 2, the team posted the following:

“On his way to Dayton, Ohio, hometown of Wilbur and Orville Wright, André Borschberg pays tribute to pioneering spirit, 113 years after the two brothers succeeded in flying the first power-driven aircraft heavier than air.

To develop their wing warping concept, the two inventors used their intuition and observation of nature to think out of the box. They defied current knowledge at a time where all experts said it would be impossible. When in 1903, their achievement marked the beginning of modern aviation; they did not suspect that a century later, two pioneers would follow in their footsteps, rejecting all dogmas to fly an airplane around the world without a drop of fuel.

This flight reunites explorers who defied the impossible to give the world hope, audacious men who believed in their dream enough to make it a reality.”

Wright Bros and SI2 pilotsImage source: Solar Impulse.

You can see in the above route map that future destinations are not precisely defined. Flight schedules and specific routes are selected with due consideration for en-route weather.

The Solar Impulse 2 team announced that its next flight is scheduled to take off from Dayton on 24 May and make an 18-hour flight to the Lehigh Valley Airport in Pennsylvania. Following that, the next flight is expected to be to an airport near New York City.

If you haven’t been following the flight of Solar Impulse 2 across the USA, I hope you will start now. This is a remarkable aeronautical mission and it is happening right now. You can check out the Solar Impulse website at:

http://www.solarimpulse.com

If you wish, you can navigate to and sign up for e-mail updates on future flights. Here’s the direct link:

http://www.solarimpulse.com/subscribe

With these updates, you also will be able to access live video feeds during the flights. OK, the videos are mostly pretty boring, but they are remarkable nonetheless because of the mission you have an opportunity to watch, even briefly, in real time.

There’s much more slow, steady flying to come before Solar Impulse 2 completes its around-the-world journey back to Abu Dhabi. I send my best wishes for a successful mission to the brave pilots, André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, and to the entire Solar Impulse 2 team.

 

 

 

Polymagnets® will Revolutionize the Ways in Which Magnets are Used

The U.S firm Correlated Magnetics Research (CMR), Huntsville, AL, invented and is the sole manufacturer of Polymagnets®, which are precision-tailored magnets that enhance existing and new products with specific behaviors that go far beyond the simple attract-and-repel behavior of common magnets. Polymagnets have been granted over 100 patents, all held by CMR. You can visit their website at the following link:

http://www.polymagnet.com

CMR describes Polymagnets® as follows:

“Essentially programmable magnets, Polymagnets are the first fundamental advance in magnets in 180 years, since the introduction of electromagnets. With Polymagnets, new products can have softer ‘feel’ or snappier or crisper closing or opening behavior, and may be given the sensation of a spring or latch”.

On a conventional magnet, there is a North (N) pole on one surface and a South (S) pole on the opposite surface. Magnetic field lines flow around the magnetic from pole to pole. On a Polymagnet®, many small, polarized (N or S) magnetic pixels (“maxels”) are manufactured by printing in a desired pattern on the same surface. The magnetic field lines are completed between the maxels on that surface, resulting in a very compact, strong magnetic field. This basic concept is shown in the following figure.

Polymagnet field comparison

The mechanical 3-D behavior of a Polymagnet® is determined by the pattern and strength of the maxels embedded on the surface of the magnet. These customizable behaviors include spring, latch, shear, align, snap, torque, hold, twist, soften and release. The very compact magnetic field reduces magnetic interference with other equipment, opening new applications for Polymagnets® where a conventional magnet wouldn’t be suitable.

The above figure is a screenshot from the Smarter Every Day 153 video, which you can view at the following link. Thanks to Mike Spaeth for sending me this is a 10-minute video, which I think you will enjoy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IANBoybVApQ

More information on Polymagnet® technology, including short videos that demonstrate different mechanical behaviors, and a series of downloadable white papers, is available at the following link.

http://www.polymagnet.com/polymagnets/

This is remarkable new technology in search of novel applications. Many practical applications are identified on the Polymagnet® website. What are your ideas?

If you really want to look into this technology, you can buy a Polymagnet® demonstration kit at the following links:

https://www.magnetics.com/product.asp?ProductID=164

or,

http://www.mechanismsmarket.com/kits/

Polymagnet demo kit   Source: Mechanisms Market

 

VBB-3, the World’s Most Powerful Electric Car, will Challenge the Land Speed Record in 2016

Venturi Buckeye Bullet-3 (VBB-3) is an all-electric, four wheel drive, land speed record (LSR) car that has been designed to exceed 400 mph (643.7 km/h). The organizations involved in this project are:

  • Venturi Automobiles:

This Monaco-based company is a leader in the field of high performance electric vehicles. Read more at the Venturi website at the following link:

http://en.venturi.fr/challenges/world-speed-records

  • Ohio State University (OSU) Center for Automotive Research (CAR):

OSU’s CAR has been engaged in all-electric LSR development and testing since 2000. On 3 October 2004 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the original nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery-powered Buckeye Bullet reached a top speed of 321.834 mph (517.942 km/h).

In an on-going program known as Mission 01, started in 2009, OSU partnered with Venturi to develop, test, and conduct the land speed record runs of the hydrogen fuel cell-powered VBB-2, the battery-powered VBB-2.5, and the more powerful battery-powered VBB-3.  Read more at the OSU / CAR website at following link:

https://car.osu.edu/search/node/VBB-3

 The Venturi – OSU team’s accomplishments to date are:

  • 2009:  The team’s first world land speed record was achieved on the Bonneville Salt Flats with hydrogen fuel cell-powered VBB-2 at 303 mph (487 km/h).
  •  2010:  The team returned to the salt flats with the 700 hp lithium-ion battery powered VBB-2.5 which set another world record at 307 mph (495 km/h); with a top speed at 320 mph (515 km/h).
  •  2013:  The 3,000 hp lithium iron phosphate battery-powered VBB-3 was unveiled. Due to the flooding of the Bonneville Salt Flats, the FIA and the organizers of the world speed records program cancelled the 2013 competition.
  •  2014Poor track conditions at Bonneville persisted after flooding from a summer storm. Abbreviated test runs by VBB-3 yielded a world record in its category (electric vehicle over 3.5 metric tons) with an average speed of 212 mph (341 km/h) and a top speed of 270 mph (435 km/h).
  •  2015:  Poor track conditions at Bonneville persisted after flooding from a summer storm. Abbreviated test runs by VBB-3 yielded a world record in its category (electric vehicle over 3.5 metric tons) with an average speed of 212 mph (341 km/h) and a top speed of 270 mph (435 km/h).

You will find a comparison of the VBB-2, VBB-2.5 and VBB-3 vehicles at the following link:

http://en.vbb3.venturi.fr/about/the-car

VBB-3 has a 37.2 ft. (11.35 meter) long, slender, space frame chassis that houses eight battery packs with a total of 2,000 cells, two 1,500 hp AC induction motors developed by Venturi for driving the front and rear wheels, a coolant system for the power electronics, disc brakes and a braking parachute, and a small cockpit for the driver. The basic internal arrangement of these components in the VBB-3 chassis is shown in the following diagram.

VBB-3 internalSource: Venturi

You can see a short video of a test drive of VBB-3 without its external skin at the following link:

http://en.vbb3.venturi.fr

The exterior aerodynamic carbon fiber shell was designed with the aid of the OSU Supercomputer Center to minimize vehicle drag and lift.

VBB-3 skinSource: Venturi

The completed VBB-3 with members of the project team is shown below.

VBB-3 completeSource: Venturi

A good video showing the 2010 VBB-2.5 record run and a 2014 test run of VBB-3 is at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLn07Y-t1Xc&ebc=ANyPxKqkVxPKQWnYXzUemRbE5WWlRIJUbaXA-UN6XPNoiDZG1O4NsFq8RE08QlrfdbfkxKmE32MEf5g2Qw0_WQbFXBvKYz9qwg

VBB-3 currently is being prepared in the OSU / CAR workshop in Columbus, Ohio, for another attempt at the land speed record in summer 2016. A team of about 25 engineers and students are planning to be at the Bonneville Salt Flats in summer 2016 with the goal of surpassing 372 mph (600 km/h).

You can subscribe to Venturi new releases on VBB-3 at the following link:

http://en.venturi.fr/news/the-vbb-3-gets-ready

VBB-3 at BonnevilleSource: Venturi

Update 2 January 2017: VBB-3 sets new EV land speed record

On 19 September 2016, VBB-3 set an electric vehicle (Category A Group VIII Class 8) land-speed record of 341.4 mph (549 kph), during a two-way run within one hour on the Bonneville salt flats in Utah. You can read the OSU announcement at the following link:

https://news.osu.edu/news/2016/09/21/ohio-states-all-electric-venturi-buckeye-bullet-3-sets-new-landspeed-record/

You also can watch a short video of VBB-3’s record run at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIqT4qLtGcY

Certification of this EV speed record by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile’s (FIA) is still pending.

The Venturi-OSU team believes VBB-3 has the capability to achieve 435 mph (700 kph) in the right conditions, so we can expect more record attempts in the future.

New From The National Academies Press

My 14 March 2015 post provided an introduction to The National Academies Press (NAP), which is a very good source for reports and other documents on the following topics:

  • Agriculture
  • Behavioral & social sciences
  • Biographies & autobiographies
  • Biology & life sciences
  • Computers & information technology
  • Conflict & security issues
  • Earth sciences
  • Education
  • Energy & energy conservation
  • Engineering & technology
  • Environment & environmental studies
  • Food & nutrition
  • Health & medicine
  • Industry & labor
  • Mathematics, chemistry & physics
  • Policy for science & technology
  • Space & aeronautics
  • Transportation

Most of the NAP reports can be downloaded for free as pdf files if you establish a MyNAP account. If you haven’t set up such an account, you can do so at the following link:

http://www.nap.edu/content/using-mynap

With this account, you also can get e-mail notifications of new NAP reports.

For those of you who have not set up a MyNAP account, here are several new NAP reports that I found to be interesting.

Infusing Ethics into the Development of Engineers (2016)

Ethical practice in engineering is critical for ensuring public trust in the field and in its practitioners, especially as engineers increasingly tackle international and socially complex problems that combine technical and ethical challenges. This report aims to raise awareness of the variety of exceptional programs and strategies for improving engineers’ understanding of ethical and social issues and provides a resource for those who seek to improve ethical development of engineers at their own institutions.

NAP-infuse engineers  Source: NAP

Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors (2016)

Today, 74 civilian research reactors around the world, including 8 in the U.S., use or are planning to use HEU fuel. In the past decades, many civilian reactors around the world have been either shut down or converted from HEU to low enriched uranium fuel. Despite this progress, the large number of remaining HEU-fueled reactors demonstrates that further progress is needed on a worldwide scale.

Print  Source: NAP

Enhancing Participation in the U.S. Global Change Research Program (2016)

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is a collection of 13 Federal entities charged by law to assist the U.S. and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change. As the understanding of global change has evolved over the past decades and as demand for scientific information on global change has increased, the USGCRP has increasingly focused on research that can inform decisions to cope with current climate variability and change, to reduce the magnitude of future changes, and to prepare for changes projected over the coming decades.

NAP-global change  Source: NAP

Frontiers of Engineering – Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2015 Symposium (2016)

This volume presents papers on the following topics covered at the National Academy of Engineering’s 2015 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium:

  • Cyber security and privacy
  • Engineering the search for Earth-like exoplanets
  • Optical and mechanical metamaterials
  • Forecasting natural disasters

NAP-frontiers of engg 2015  Source: NAP

There are many other annual reports in the NAP “Frontiers of Engineering” series, dating back to at least 1997, and covering many other engineering topics.

I hope you’ll take some time and browse the NAP library for documents that are of interest to you. You can start your browsing, without a MyNAP account, at the following link:

http://www.nap.edu

Just How Flat is Hakskeen Pan?

If you will be driving the UK’s Bloodhound supersonic car (SSC) in 2016, you really care about the answer to that question.

Hakskeen Pan is a very flat region in the Northwestern corner of South Africa, and it is the site selected by the Bloodhound Project team for a 16 km (9.94 mile) track that will be used for their world land speed record attempt.

Hakskeen Pan mapSource: adapted from http://southafricamap.facts.co/

My 2 March 2015 post introduced you to the Bloodhound Project and gave you the link to their website where you can get a complete update on the project and sign up for their blog. Here again is the link to the Bloodhound Project home page:

http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/project

So, how flat is Hakskeen Pan and how much does it matter to a land speed record car traveling at 1,000 mph (1,609 kph)? The Cape Town, South Africa, survey company Lloyd & Hill surveyed the entire 16 km by 500 meter wide track surface (an area of about 8 million square meters) measuring the elevation in each square meter to an accuracy of 10 mm (0.39 in) or less. Using laser-scanning technology to collect data, and some considerable computing resources, Lloyd & Hill reduced four billion laser measurements into a 3-dimensional surface map of Hakskeen Pan. Key findings were:

  • Hakskeen Pan has a very gentle slope from north to south: dropping 300 mm in 16 km (about one foot in 10 miles)
  • Across the whole surface, the biggest ‘bumps’ and ‘dips’ are less than 50 mm (2 inches) from the average elevation
  • There’s an 80 mm (3.12 in) ‘step’ that occurs in a distance of 180 m (590 ft) running across the Pan, just over 9 km from the northern end of the track, and just where the car will be travelling at 1,000 mph.

BLOODHOUND SSC-scanned area of Hakskeen PanSource: The Bloodhound Project

The Bloodhound SSC has independent double-wishbone suspension on all four wheels. Preliminary dynamic analysis of the Bloodhound SSC’s suspension response to the measured surface irregularities shows that the vehicle should not be subject to loads of more than 1.0 – 1.5 g during it’s world land speed record attempt.   The suspension is designed to cope with up to 4 g.

Check out the details of the Hakskeen Pan site survey and the vehicle dynamic analysis at the following link:

http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/blog/andy-green’s-diary-–-august-2015

Also check out the Education tab on the Bloodhound Project website. I think you will be pleased to see how this exciting engineering project is working to engage with and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

23 January 2017 Update – Hakskeen Pan floods

 Hakskeen Pan flooded Jan2017Source: The Bloodhound Project

The Bloodhound team reported:

“This particular flood was caused mainly by the rain in Namibia and flooding from the rivers, rather than actual rainfall on the Pan and surrounding catchment area, as there are many rivers that flow into the Pan.

Having the desert flood like this is very good news for us, as flooding helps to repair the surface from any damage that may have been caused in the final preparation and clearance of the desert, and it helps to create the best possible surface for land speed record racing.”

Read more at the following link:

http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/news/hakskeen-pan-update-0