The much-anticipated video from the entry descent and landing (EDL) camera suite on the Perseverance rover has been downlinked to Earth, and it does not disappoint. Watch the video below and be amazed.

The video was played at the NASA press conference today, which is still ongoing as we write this. The brief video below has all the highlights, but the good stuff from an engineering perspective is in the full press conference. The level of detail captured by these cameras, and the bounty of engineering information revealed by these spectacular images, stands in somewhat stark contrast to the fact that they were included on the mission mainly as an afterthought. NASA isn’t often in the habit of adding “nice to have” features to a mission, what with the incredible cost-per-kilogram of delivering a package to Mars. But thankfully they did, using mainly off-the-shelf cameras.

The camera suite covered nearly everything that happened during the “Seven Minutes of Terror” EDL phase of the mission. An up-looking camera saw the sudden and violent deployment of the supersonic parachute — we’re told there’s an Easter egg encoded into the red-and-white gores of the parachute — while a down-looking camera on the rover watched the heat shield separate and fall away. Other cameras on the rover and the descent stage captured the skycrane maneuver in stunning detail, both looking up from the rover and down from the descent stage. We were surprised by the amount of dust kicked up by the descent engines, which fully obscured the images just at the moment of “tango delta” — touchdown of the rover on the surface. Our only complaint is not seeing the descent stage’s “controlled disassembly” 700 meters away from the landing, but one can’t have everything.

Honestly, these are images we could pore over for days. The level of detail is breathtaking, and the degree to which they make Mars a real place instead of an abstract concept can’t be overstated. Hats off to the EDL Imaging team for making all this possible.

Continue reading “Stunning Footage Of Perseverance Landing On Mars”

There are all sorts of fun ways to make music with empty jugs and other things that resonate with a popping sound when poked with a finger. Should you ever get stuck on that proverbial desert island, you can entertain yourself by making cheerful, staccato music with nothing but a fingertip and the inside of your cheek. At the very least, it will keep your spirits up until you can fashion an ocarina from a coconut.

[Nicolas Bras] loves to make homemade instruments. When he saw all the scrap pieces of perfectly finger-sized PVC tubing piling up around the workshop, he decided to make an instrument specifically to play the effervescent synth tune “Popcorn”. (Video, embedded below.) He plays it by plugging and quickly unplugging wood-capped pipes with his fingers, and using another PVC tube to blow across the tops of them to fill out the orchestration.

[Nicolas] started by making a two-octave chromatic scale with 25 pipes ranging from C4 to C6. He kept building on it from there in both directions, ultimately ending up with a poppin’ 68-note pipe organ that sounds fantastic. If you’re interested in getting the sound samples, [Nicolas] has those and the instrument plans available through Patreon.

Be sure to check out the build and demo video below — it’s a joy to see it come together, and the whole thing clocks in under six minutes. Take our word for it and don’t jump to the “Popcorn” cover, because the build-up is necessary for maximum enjoyment.

Hungry for more “Popcorn”? Here’s a robotic glockenspiel busting out a striking cover.

Continue reading “PVC Pipes Play “Popcorn” Perfectly”

Jerry Seinfeld launched his career with Bee Movie, an insect-themed animated feature that took the world by storm in 2007. It posed the quandary – that supposedly, according to all known laws of aviation, bees should not be able to fly. Despite this, the bee flies anyway, because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.

The quote isn’t easily attributed to anyone in particular, but is a cautionary tale about making the wrong assumptions in an engineering context. Yes, if you model a bee using the same maths as an airliner, of course you’ll find that it shouldn’t be able to fly. Its tiny wings can’t possibly generate enough lift to get its body off the ground. But that’s because the assumption is an erroneous one – because bees don’t fly in the same way planes do. Bees flap their wings. But that’s just the beginning. The truth is altogether more complex and interesting! Continue reading “Flapping Wings And The Science Of How Bees Can Fly”

Join us on Wednesday, February 24 at noon Pacific for the DIY Neuroscience Hack Chat with Timothy Marzullo!

Watch a film about a mad scientist from the golden age of Hollywood and chances are good that among the other set pieces, you’ll see human brains floating in jars of cloudy fluid wired up to electrodes and fancy machines. It’s all made up, of course, but tropes work because they’re based on a kernel of truth, and we in the audience know that our brains and the other parts of our nervous system do indeed work on electricity. Or more precisely, excitable tissues in our nervous systems pass electrochemical signals between themselves as waves of potential across cell membranes.

Studying this electrical world locked away inside our heads is a challenging, but by no means impossible, pursuit. Usable signals can be picked up, amplified, digitized, and recorded to help us understand what’s going on when we think, feel, move, sleep, wake, or just be. Neuroscience has made tremendous strides looking at these signals, but the equipment to do so has largely remained the province of large universities and teaching hospitals with ample budgets, leaving the amateur neuroscientist out of luck.

Tim Marzullo, co-founder of Backyard Brains, is looking to change all that. While working on his Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Michigan, he and Greg Gage looked for ways to make the tools of neuroscience research affordable to everyone. The result is the Neuron SpikerBox, a low-cost bioamplifier that can tap into the “spikes” of action potential in live neurons. Open-source tools like these have helped educators bring neuroscience experiments to STEM students, and even helped other scientists set up novel, low-cost experiments.

Tim will join us on the Hack Chat to talk about doing DIY neuroscience and designing the instruments that make it possible. Bring your “mad scientist” questions as we push back the veil of ignorance on how our brains work, one neuron at a time.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 24 at 12: 00 PM Pacific time (UTC-8). If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Continue reading “DIY Neuroscience Hack Chat”

Most 3D printers use leadscrews for at least one axis. These are simple devices that are essentially a steel screw thread and a brass nut that travels on it. However, for maximum precision, you’d like to use a ball screw. These are usually very expensive but have many advantages over a leadscrew. [MirageC] found cheaper ball screws but, since they were inexpensive, they had certain limitations. He designed a simple device that improves the performance of these cheap ball screws.

Superficially, a ball screw looks like a leadscrew with an odd-looking thread. However, the nut is very different. Inside the nut are ball bearings that fit in the grooves and allows the nut to spin around with much less friction. A special path collects the ball bearings and recirculates them to the other side of the nut. In general, ball screws are very durable, can handle higher loads and higher speeds, and require less maintenance. Unlike leadscrews, they are more expensive and are usually quite rigid. They are also a bit noisier, though.

Ball screws are rated C0 to C10 precision where C10 is the least accurate and the price goes up — way up — with accuracy. [MirageC] shows how cheaper ball screws can be rolled instead of precision ground. These screws are cheaper and harder, but exhibit more runout than a precision screw.

This runout caused wobble during 3D printing that was immediately obvious on the prints. Using a machinist’s dial gauge, [MirageC] found the screws were not straight at all and that even a relatively poor C7 ball screw would be more precise.

The solution? A clever arrangement of 3D printed parts. ball bearings, and magnets. The device allows the nut to move laterally without transmitting it to the print bed. It is a clever design and seems to work well.

Continue reading “Improving Cheap Ball Screws”

It was around the year 1590 when mankind figured out how to use optical lenses to bring into sight things smaller than the natural eye can observe. With the invention of the microscope, a new and unexplored world was discovered. It will likely be of great surprise to the reader that scientists of the time did not believe that within this new microscopic realm lay the source of sickness and disease. Most would still hold on to a belief of what was known as Miasma theory, which dates back to the Roman Empire. This theory states that the source of disease was contaminated air through decomposing organic materials. It wouldn’t be until the 1850’s that a man by the name of Louis Pasteur, from whom we get “pasteurization”, would promote Germ Theory into the spotlight of the sciences.

Louis Pasteur experimenting in his lab.
Louis Pasteur. Source

Pasteur, considered by many as the father of microbiology, would go on to assist fellow biologist Charles Chameberland in the invention of the aptly named Pasteur Chamberland filter — a porcelain filter with a pore size between 100 and 1000 nanometers. This was small enough to filter out the microscopic bacteria and cells known at that time from a liquid suspension, leaving behind a supply of uncontaminated water. But like so many other early scientific instrumentation inventions it would lead to the discovery of something unexpected. In this case, a world far smaller than 100 nanometers… and add yet another dimension to the ever-shrinking world of the microscopic.

This is when we began to learn about viruses.

Continue reading “A Brief History Of Viruses”

A bench oscilloscope is one of the most invaluable tools in the hardware hacker’s arsenal, but even the slimmest digital models are a bit large to be part of your everyday electronic carry. Sure you could throw one of those cheap pocket scopes in your bag, but what if there was an even easier way to take a peek at a few signals while you’re on the go?

For those who roam, the Arduino-web-oscilloscope project created by [David Buezas] is worth a close look. Using the Web Serial API built into recent versions of Google’s Chrome browser, this project allows you to pop open a software oscilloscope without installing anything locally. Whether it’s a public computer or that cheap Chromebook you keep around for emergencies, a valuable tool is just a few clicks away.

Flashing the MCU from the web interface.

Of course, there has to be some hardware involved. Despite what you might think given the name of the project, the code currently only supports the Logic Green LGT8F328P microcontroller. This cheap ATmega328P clone not only runs at 32 Mhz but according to [David], many operations can be done in fewer clock cycles than on the original 328P. In short it’s fast, and fast is good if you want more samples.

One of the best parts about this project is that a function to flash the firmware to the LGT8F328P is built right in the web interface. With the oscilloscope running in the browser, you just need to plug in a blank board, click the button to flash it, and start taking measurements. You could outfit a whole classroom or hackerspace with basic oscilloscopes in minutes, with a per-seat cost of just a few bucks.

Of course, there are some pretty hard limits on what you can realistically measure with this setup. For one thing, the board can’t handle anything higher than 5 volts. Even the cheapest oscilloscope kit is still going to be an upgrade, but the fact you can spin this up almost anywhere for the cost of a cheap MCU board makes it hard to complain about the results.

[Thanks to Bill for the tip.]