Tech Tuesday – Finland Edition (08/01/17)

Why Finland? Because I got a lot of respect for Finland. Lots of the feel-good social democracy stuff of their neighbors, but still have a tradition of not taking crap from the communists next door. And everyone goes about with a puukko. I catch flak from people who freak out I carry a folding pocket knife everywhere I go.

Aerospace

Aero1 – The successful launch and flight of a hypersonic glider (Mach 8).  Yes, a glider.  It was mounted on a very fast rocket (watch that video, that thing takes off like a missile, probably because it is), then released at altitude.  The purpose of the test was to play around with the controls of a hypersonic aircraft.  Remember, hypersonic flight doesn’t really happen down near the earth.  Mach 8 anywhere the surface of the earth would require an airframe constructed of materials we don’t have in abundance, with manufacturing methods were are still figuring out.  So Mach 8 happens up where the air is very, very thin, which makes aerodynamic controls challenging.

Aero2 – The Russians have launched a lighthouse satellite.  It’s a small, reflective pyramid designed to be reference object for light magnitude.  It’s also testing a de-orbit strategy (the deployed reflector is slowing it down).  Yes, you can see it from Earth, but only for a limited time (because, you know, it’s de-orbiting).  Yes, there is an app for that.

Aero3 – I’m not sure how Google got the Street View car up there, but you can use Street View to tour the ISS.

Aero4 – Making crew habitat modules from old cargo containers.  A new spin on an older idea (I remember proposals to turn the big orange tank from the shuttle days into habitat modules).  Still, using what you got is better than hauling up something purpose built from the ground, if you can swing it.  Obviously these prototypes will be purpose built using the old cargo containers as a handy shell, but imagine if a space station could grow a bit every time a supply run was done, just by hanging onto the cargo pod.

Aero5 – Cassini is nearing retirement, yet it’s still delivering the scientific goods.  Good thing NASA went ahead with the launch despite the fear-mongering from some corners.

Bio/Medical

Bio1 – Only 20 million of the little pests?  Are we sure that’s enough?  I’m OK with releasing a few billion more.

Bio2 – A vaccine for Type 1 Diabetes begins human trials.  In Finland.   If it’s approved, and the FDA decides to put it through the full rigor to satisfy their wants, I’d be curious how much tourism to Finland will increase in the intervening years.

Bio3 – A blood test that can spot Alzheimer’s before your spouse starts wondering about you.

Bio4 – Making edible protein from air and electricity.  I kinda wanted to put this in Aerospace, since the application there is obvious, but this is mostly Bio, so here it sits.

Bio5 – Putting DNA on your skin to prevent DNA damage.

Bio6 – Need to close a wound when it’s raining out, and that soggy band-aid just ain’t getting it done?  Grab a slug!  I remember some years back there was a similar effort made with mollusks.

Computing

Comp1 – A neural network, on a stick.

Energy

Engr1 – Google is applying machine learning to the problem of fusion power.

Engr2 – Using solar power to drive cargo ships.  This isn’t crazy.  Most ships are hybrid drive now (only older ships are direct drive), and once you get a cargo ship up to speed, keeping it there isn’t that energy intensive, so switching off the diesels and cruising on PV solar is doable.  As battery tech improves, I suspect we will see ships being built without the heavy diesels, and only having, maybe, some smaller diesels as backup generators/APUs.  Also, despite what action movies suggest, most cargo ships sail predominantly in the sun.  With modern weather forecasting, the only rain a ship will see are fast moving squalls that last a few hours at most.  Getting caught in a heavy storm is a rare thing for ships (and even then, you are in them for half a day at most, storms at sea are either fast moving, or slow and easy to avoid), which is something you can plan for and ensure you have sufficient charge on the batteries (or fire up the diesels).

Materials

Mat1 – Floating aluminum.  This isn’t some new formulation, it’s just aluminium foam sandwiched between thin sheets of aluminium, but it the sheet can float on it’s own, rather than as a result of it’s watertight shape, it has what is known as “reserve buoyancy”, which makes it a lot harder to sink.

Mat2 – Finally, home 3D printing goes Metal!  Well, home if you can drop $120K on a 3D printer.  The cool bit is that this uses no lasers or loose metal powders.  The metal powder is mixing with a polymer bonding agent and printed like you would with ABS, etc.  Then it get put into a solvent bath and run through a microwave sintering furnace, which takes the metal to just below it’s melting point, allowing any remaining polymer to bake off, and the metal to fuse. – via Michael Cain

Mat3 – What do you get when you mix quartz and carbon nano-tubes?  A water filter that can remove toxic heavy metals from water, and be rinsed out with some vinegar, and ready to clean again.

Military

Navy1 – The Navy’s new railgun is ready for field testing, and it’s starting to look like a proper naval gun, all imposing barrel and Navy grey, they also one to have the best gun cleaning kits available for whenever they need them.  Oh, it can also do rapid fire, because let’s be honest, if something is worth flinging one hypersonic slug at, it’s probably worth flinging more than one at it, and in quick succession.  Just to be sure.

Navy2 – The final incident report about the USS Fitzgerald is still many months away, but that doesn’t stop people from running scenarios.

Physics

WTF1 – In an exciting new quantum physics breakthr… Oh to hell with it!  This is quantum physics, I’m not entirely sure the English language is fitted with the right terms to make sense of it.  Listen, you push a quantum particle forward, it goes backward, because why the hell not!

WTF2 – Oh, and here is a particle that is it’s own anti-particle (think matter/anti-matter), because QP/QM is the universe making sure we are actually paying attention.

WTF3 – And here is one that is about how simulated gravitational anomalies make electrons behave like other electrons, because QM/QP is the Honey Badger of physics.

Seriously, quantum physics is both fascinating and confusing as hell at times.

Robotics

Robo1 – Surfing the water mains, looking for leaks.

Robo2 – This is an interesting application of advanced water snake technology, but imagine being stuck under some rubble, and that thing comes crawling through a small gap.   Maybe I’ve watched too many horror movies where very bad things happen when the tentacles show up.

Robo3 – Did these folks never watch RoboCop or Terminator?

Wacky, Weird, and Wonderful

WWW1 – Back to Finland, this time with the cardboard baby crib.  Well, Finland because they send new mothers home with a cardboard box full of baby supplies, and the box itself doubles as a crib.  Personally, I’m a fan, but man I see how people get about baby stuff, and I can hear the local news report about the dangers (wildly extrapolated from one or two very tragic cases) already.

WWW2 – Winnowing the wheat from the chaff with Star Wars!  I especially like the use of midichlorians.

WWW3 – The Segway mutates again.  Ever since Kamen popularized the gyro stabilization tech, I always figured stuff like this would pop-up all over.  Honestly, I’m surprised I don’t see more such offerings.

WWW4 – Finally, a four legged cafe table that stays level.  The trick is in the pedestal base, where the feet are not joined as a solid piece, but instead can rotate a bit and jam up against the other legs.  Set it down on an uneven surface and the feet find their level and lock against each other.  First world problems, I know, but inventive nonetheless.

Image by scanlime


Associate Editor

A Navy Turbine Tech who learned to spin wrenches on old cars, Oscar has since been trained as an Engineer & Software Developer & now writes tools for other engineers. When not in his shop or at work, he can be found spending time with his family, gardening, hiking, kayaking, gaming, or whatever strikes his fancy & fits in the budget. ...more →

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10 thoughts on “Tech Tuesday – Finland Edition (08/01/17)

  1. Bio3 – while I know there are medications that can *slow* the progress of Alzheimer’s, there’s still no real treatment for it. How awful to know, “I’m doomed to develop this disease that will rob me of my memories and what makes me, me.”

    I would not be surprised to see physician-assisted suicides be the outcome of positive results on the blood test….I tend to be pretty anti-suicide but I confess if I were in that situation of “Yes, you’re not wrong, your memory is starting to go and it will only get worse” I might want a quicker exit than Nature would grant me.

    (Also, if the person were still working, would they lose their job? What would happen with their health insurance? These are all things I worry about when some test for an untreatable degenerative condition comes out….)

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  2. [Engr1] — Now that is cool.

    Myself, I’m wondering if they could learn from the human-controlled total ordering and try to map the experiments to some kind of Gaussian process that over time could “branch out into weird regions for the purposes of learning” — which is a big advantage of the Gaussian processes approach.

    Which is to say, I get why this would be a bad idea when tweaking a literal fusion reactor. Broad jumps in parameter space are obviously a bad idea when creating tiny suns. On the other hand, I can see using a similar technique for less explosively dramatic experiments, where bigger jumps through parameter space would be worth it.

    Anyway, cool cool cool. This optimization nerd is glowing.

    (Not literally, unless there is secretly a fusion reactor under my desk.)

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    • It makes sense, right? If you have a pretty good idea of the problem space and the variables involved, and you can develop some kind of heuristic algorithm to process the data from each shot, why not let the computer do it’s thing.

      So yeah, it’s pretty friggin’ cool.

      Also, I can’t find it, but I’ve linked to Tri-Alpha in the past, a few years back. I’m excited to see they are still plugging away at this.

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    • Perhaps they need to apply themselves to fission…

      On Monday, the utility consortium building two new fission power reactors in South Carolina announced they were abandoning the project. South Carolina regulators previously allowed costs associated with the project — $9B in spending to date — into the rate base. Estimates are that 18% of the typical South Carolina Electric & Gas customer’s bill is due to costs associated with the now-abandoned project.

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