TWIE 141: Apollo Engines Recovered

This Week in Engineering - Apollo engines recovered; sand running rover; robot chimp; Mars radio silence; water cuts diamond; and drone-proof privacy.

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Apollo engines recovered
Billionaire founder of Jeff Bezos has led an expedition to find and recover F-1 rocket engines -- the first stage from Apollo-era Saturn V rockets -- from the Atlantic. Using Remote Operating Vehicles at a depth of up more than 14,000 feet, the expedition has recovered enough components to assemble two F-1 rocket engine displays. While corrosion has masked the serial numbers, the team believes further cleaning will match the rocket engines with their mission. Bezos hopes that NASA, who still technically owns the rockets, will place one in the Smithsonian and the other in the Seattle Museum of Flight.

Sand running rover
Physicists from the Georgia Institute of Technology have been experimenting with robots moving over sand, and have created a biologically-inspired rover with six C-shaped legs, which the team has found to be most efficient on sand. The team has now published a paper with equations that predict a robot's motion over granular media like sand and gravel. In addition to inspiring future robots, the work might help biomechanicists understand how animals move through sandy environments. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I say the best way to travel over sand is to plant a thumper and hook you a worm. It's an extraterrestrial being a redneck from another world.

Robot chimp
The DARPA Robotics Challenge offers a $2 million prize for the first humanoid robot that can drive a vehicle, climb a ladder, close a valve, and perform other tasks too dangerous for a human in a disaster scenario. Now, a team from Carnegie Mellon has announced the CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform, or CHIMP, which looks vaguely like a primate, but also has tank treads underneath each of the four limbs. The robot can stand or move on two limbs, but its normal mode of transport is on four, reducing the robot's computational complexity. A robot chimp, and a tank? Why was this idea never a Decepticon? Woulda been way cooler than that Boom Box guy.

Mars radio silence
In April, there will be a Mars solar conjunction, an occurrence that happens about every 26 months, in which the red planet will be moving behind the sun, making radio communication with Earth unreliable. As a result, transmissions to Mars, including orbiters Odyssey and MRO and rovers Curiosity and Opportunity, will be suspended, to prevent an impaired command from endangering a mission. The missions will continue making observations, and the orbiters will record data sent from the rovers, until after the solar conjunction has passed and transmissions can resume.

Water cuts diamond
Researchers from the National University of Singapore have etched diamonds with superheated water. The team was investigating how graphene -- a one-atom thick layer of carbon -- would react with another form of carbon, the diamond. By putting a wet graphene membrane on top of a diamond crystal and heating them up to 1835 degrees Fahrenheit, the graphene bonded with the diamond, trapping the water at such a high pressure and temperature that it reached supercritical, where the distinction between liquid and vapor disappears. The supercritical water corroded tiny squares in the diamond. See, water cuts diamond! Anyone who thinks water is soft and gentle has never mistimed a tuck from the ten meter platform. Trust me, water is angry and vengeful.

Drone-proof privacy
Unmanned aerial vehicles are becoming very inexpensive and common, and it's only a matter of time before drone owners use their technology to invade people's privacy. Now, startup Domestic Drone Countermeasures is offering non-military technology to prevent drones from spying. While the company is not publicly stating how its technology works, it promises that the system is "non-offensive, non-combative and not destructive", and that it simply does not allow cameras on the drones any clarity. When I'm nude sunbathing, I already have a defense against drones taking pictures: being thoroughly unattractive when nude sunbathing. It's called a disincentive.