Stories tagged engineering

After 19 hours of work yesterday, the crippled cruise ship Costa Concordia was successfully tipped upright. You can read more about the science involved in the parbuckling process used to make it happen right here.


Solar plane: The plane Solar Impulse is making a cross-country trek over the USA.
Solar plane: The plane Solar Impulse is making a cross-country trek over the USA.Courtesy © Solar Impulse | Revillard |
It's one flight down and four more to go for Solar Impulse, the completely solar airplane that's soaring its way across the USA. Solar Impulse flew from San Francisco to Phoenix on May 3, taking a shade over 18 hours to complete the trip. Over the next couple months, it will fly legs to Dallas, St. Louis, Washington D.C. and New York City with the New York trip scheduled to conclude in early July.

For the stat freaks, the solar plane averaged a speed of 40 miles an hour at an average altitude of 10,000 feet. It soared to a maximum altitude of 21,000 feet over the 650 mile trip. And yes, it took off and landed in the dark.

More information about the Solar Impulse project can be found at its website here and to follow its progress flying across the country.

So how does a solar airplane work exactly?

Made of carbon fiber, the plane has the wingspan of a Boeing 747 (208 feet) and the weight of a small car (3,527 lbs). It is the result of seven years of intense work by a team of about 80 people and 100 partners and advisors. The 12,000 solar cells built into the wing provide four 10 horsepower electric motors with renewable energy. By day the solar cells recharge lithium batteries which allow the plane to fly at night. Swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard (chairman) and André Borschberg (CEO) are the founders, pilots and the driving forces behind Solar Impulse.

The plane made its first night flight in 2010 and has a record endurance flight of 26 hours, 10 minutes, 19 seconds.

Solar Impulse wants to inspire and motivate as many people as possible throughout its journey across America. “We want to show that with clean technologies, a passionate team and a fa-reaching pioneering vision one can achieve the impossible.” said Piccard, adding “If we all challenged certitudes by driving change and being pioneers in our everyday lives, we can create innovative solutions for society’s biggest challenges.”

Here's some more nitty gritty about the plane's specs and future:
• The electricity produced by the solar panels is about the same as needed to run a scooter for 24 hours.
• The light plane is sensitive to turbulence. Winds cannot exceed 11.5 miles per hour at take off and crosswinds at takeoff can be no more than 4.6 miles per hour.
* A second plane is now being constructed.
* Solar Impluse has a goal of making an around-the-world trip in 2015, with 2-3 day flights over continents and 4-6 day legs over oceans.

And just to prove it actually flies, here's video shot in the San Francisco skies before Solar Impulse began its USA journey.

Here's a long, but very inspirational, report on a 14-year-old Michigan girl who is rebuilding a Pontiac Fiero car all on her own. Her goal, to drive it on her 16th birthday.


The ATV-2: The astronauts filled it with trash, and then burned it. But, to be fair, they probably ate that trash several times before they finally tossed it.
The ATV-2: The astronauts filled it with trash, and then burned it. But, to be fair, they probably ate that trash several times before they finally tossed it.Courtesy NASA
I am adding a’s to the end of words to make them sound a little like “NASA.” Try it. It’s funa.

Anywaya, I thought I’d run a little idea I had by y’all.

I got trash. Who doesn’t? You use stuff, you make trash, and it just piles up. Under your couch, in the freezer, on top of the cat … what are you supposed to do with it? Put it on the curb? I guess, but what’s exciting and easy about that? So, my idea—which I got from the world’s various space agencies—is to take my trasha up to the roofa of my apartment building (three stories!!) and just drop it. If I’m at all accurate in my understanding of acceleration and atmospheric friction, all those Sears catalogues, plastic cups, and mouse skeletons should burn up before they hit the ground.

I mean, it’s what NASA, the European Space Agency and all of their ilk do, and it seems to work for them. Take the ESA’s recently launched ATV-3 (Automated Transfer Vehicle-3). The large, unmanned space capsule will deliver about 7 tons of cargo to the International Space Station (a few hundred pounds of food, water and oxygen, and about 6.5 tons of candy), stay docked for 4 to 6 month while the astronauts use it like a missing roommate’s walk-in closet, and then, once it’s completely full of trash, it will detach, fall towards Earth, and incinerate in the atmosphere. Easy peasy. Easya peasya.

Despite it being what I think is an elegant solutiona to waste accumulationa, there are plenty of folks out there, who may or may not be smarter than hundreds of NASA systems engineers, that believe this proves that astronauts are the worst recyclers ever. To this, I have three things to say:

1) You’re no fun.
2) Think about the fuel it takes to get those tons of junk into space. You’re worried about the waste that happens after that?
3) Wrong! In a lot of respects, astronauts on the ISS are the best recyclers in the histories of re and cycling.

See, here’s the thing about #3: astronauts may dump their candy wrappers, dead pets, banana peels and old undies (JK, they wear those undies for months) into a fiery and unforgiving atmosphere, but there’s a lot of stuff that they re-use again and again that you’d never even think of. Air, for one. And water.

When you’re breathing, farting, sweating and peeing for months on end in an airtight box floating in space, and a fresh glass of water costs between $10,000 and $15,000 for delivery, you have to be clever.

And the engineers of the ISS are clever! Consider the Environmental Control and Life Support System. Astronauts, like most of us, breath out poisonous carbon dioxide, fart out poisonous methane and sweat out poisonous ammonia. ECLSS filters out all of that to produce fresh air again. The system also splits water molecules apart to create breathable oxygen, and reclaims moisture from urine and other waist to produce more water for drinking (or ultimately breathing). I don’t know about you, but I rarely save my farts, sweat, breath and urine, much less reuse them.

All things considered, I think the ISS has a pretty sweet setup figured out. A two hundred and fifty mile trash drop-n-burn (awesome), and a system that can recycle pretty much anything that comes out of your body (also awesome). The rest of us should be so luckya.

Carl J.E. Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin Standing Next to His Snowmobile Prototype
Carl J.E. Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin Standing Next to His Snowmobile PrototypeCourtesy Carl Eliason Family
84 years ago from today, on November 22, 1927, the first U.S. patent for a snowmobile (No. 1,650,334) was awarded to Carl Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin. Carl was an auto mechanic, blacksmith and general store owner, and he loved the outdoors. However, he struggled with a foot deformity that made it difficult to use skis or snowshoes. So he built a lightweight personal machine that could follow the narrow ski and snowshoe trails made by his friends. His "motor toboggan" had ski-like front runners controlled by a rope, a rear drive track fashioned with bicycle sprockets and chains, wooden cleats, and was powered by a 2.5-horsepower outboard motor.

Today, snowmobiling provides a winter recreational activity enjoyed by many worldwide. For years, snowmobiles had a history of noise pollution, high emissions, and poor fuel economy. However, with the implementation of the U.S. EPA's reduced emissions program phases scheduled for completion in 2012, and rising cost in fuel prices, snowmobile enthusiasts and manufacturers are now seeking ways to make snowmobiles more eco-friendly and fuel efficient. Two-stroke engines used in motorcycles, snowmobiles, chainsaws, and marine outboard motors are not as efficient as their four-stroke counterparts, but they are lighter, less complex, and easier to manufacture. Many groups are manufacturing exhaust trapping systems that dramatically reduce EPA-regulated emissions such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and NOx.

Peter Britanyak of the University of Idaho's Department of Mechanical Engineering prototyped the idea of Synchronous Charge Trapping (SCT) on a two-stroke snowmobile engine as part of his thesis for a masters degree. A second generation prototype was created by Team SHORT CIRCUIT of the University of Idaho, and a preliminary patent has been issued.

Other designs have been manufactured through the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge. In 2010, Minnesota-based manufacturer Polaris Industries teamed with University of Wisconsin-Madison to win the 2010 Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Next year, a record number of teams are expected to participate in the SAE 2012 Snowmobile Challenge, scheduled for March 5-10, 2012 at the Keweenaw Research Center of Michigan Technological University.

And research from snowmobiles and off-road vehicles is being applied to space exploration as well. Earlier this year, Quebec-based manufacturer Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. (BRP) announced that they are contributing to Canadian exploration programs of the moon and Mars. BRP will develop the chassis and locomotion systems for a Lunar Exploration Light Rover and a Mars Exploration Science Rover, from contracts awarded by the Canadian Space Agency.

I'm on a roll, now. Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday
"Water striders don't really stride, they row on the water. But their legs are spindly and don't seem good for paddling. David Hu, mechanical engineer at Georgia Tech, wanted to understand the basic physics of how water striders glide. By filming them stride on food coloring and building his own robotic strider, he found out that the secret to the stride is in the paddle."
OK, it's Monday, not Friday, but last week's Science Friday video is too cool to skip. Without further ado... Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday
"Maxwell von Stein, a 22-year-old graduate of The Cooper Union, built bicycle that uses a flywheel to store energy. Instead of braking, Max can transfer energy from the wheel to the flywheel, which spins between the crossbars. The flywheel stores the kinetic energy until Max wants a boost, then he can transfer the energy back to the wheel using a shifter on the handlebars."

It's Friday. Yes, I know I missed it last week. But it's time for a new Science Friday video.

Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday
This week,
"The latest on the bug beat: To survive floods, fire ants band together to form a raft. They can sail for weeks. But how does the raft stay afloat? Researchers report the answer in PNAS this week. Plus, engineers at Tufts are looking to the caterpillar for inspiration for soft-bodied robots. The problem is that squishy bodies make it difficult to move quickly--but some caterpillars have developed a workaround."

It's Friday, and y'all know what that means. Yup, time for a new Science Friday video.

Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday

This week,

"Many mammals have whiskers but not all whisk. Cats don't. Rats do. To whisk, rats use special muscles in their face to brush their whiskers against an object. From the bending bristles, rats seem to be able to decode an object's shape and texture and Mitra Hartmann, engineer at Northwestern University, wants to understand how. This week, Hartmann and colleagues published a 3D whisker model, which she says will help quantify what information the brain receives from a whisk."