Posts about Engineering

Simple and Cheap Security Camera with 2 Way Audio and Backup to Cloud via Wifi

This is a cool product at a very reasonable price: $30.

The device offers a 1080p HD smart home camera with 14 days of free rolling cloud storage, wide-angle lens, two-way audio and the ability to send alerts to your phone. You setup the device to use a local wifi network and control it via a smartphone application.

I have long wanted such a product (they have been available for a few years but haven’t been cheap) and now they are available at a great price. The main drawback I see is that it requires a power connection (it doesn’t have a battery option). So setting it up as a doorbell is a bit of an issue (you have to get power to it somehow).

Order your camera. Learn more about the device from Wyzecam

Related: Camera Trap Images of Very Rare Wild CatsAnswer Your Doorbell with Your Smartphone Wherever You Are (and see video of who is at the door) (from 2015Video Cat CamCanon PowerShot SX60 HS Digital Camera

Building a Network of Tunnels Underground to Ease the Flow of Traffic

Guest post by Aron Alba

“Roads must go 3D” – Elon Musk

The Boring company plans to build the network of tunnels under the ground in order to combat traffic congestions all over United States. As seen in their presentation video, the idea is to construct a system of tunnels in which electric vehicles autonomously zip around cars, people and cargo transport in high speed under the surface (like a scene from a science fiction movie).

The ride would begin with the lift that lowers the vehicles from the surface into the tunnel system. These lifts could be a possible bottleneck for the entire system, but it may be the best solution. To secure the vehicle to the autonomous pod and possibly select the end destination would take some time anyways, so this transition into the tunnel system could go unnoticed. Pods could travel at higher speeds than those allowed for the human driver, since the system is autonomous and completely monitored. The scenery wouldn’t be much though, so probably not the most interesting ride, but certainly fast.

Why build a tunnel network in the first place?
Traffic congestion is a very common nuisance in american lives. With the problem just getting worse. In order to solve this problem you have to build more roads or have fewer cars on them with arranging a better public transport. The land for the roads is scarce. The alternative of going up using drones to fly people around may not become possible due to safety concerns in a long time. Where to go then? Underground.

This has not been done before for obvious reasons, it is really expensive. The most expensive roads to build are tunnels and bridges. Tunnels have even more problems the larger they get. With people driving inside of them there needs to be proper ventilation to get rid of the carbon-monoxide. Resting stops for people. Great deal of risk with so many people driving inside a closed tunnel. The subway system is one solution to many of these problems. Except subways lack the flexibility and require substantially more infrastructure.

Elon Musk’s big plan is to use the technology that his other company Tesla already has developed. Instead of trains like in a subway system, Musk plans to have autonomous pods that run on battery power to zip along the tunnels. This has several advantages. First the battery powered pods to not require power lines to be continuously run through the tunnel like the train does, this saves on the costs of the tunnel. Also since the pods will be autonomous, this saves on personnel needed to operate the system. But probably the smartest idea behind the Boring company’s plans is to build a tunnel with a smaller bore diameter. Probably large enough to fit a pod with a largest planned Tesla vehicle but certainly smaller than the current tunnels for trains.

The Boring company plans to build the tunnel network using a tunnel boring machines. These machines are massive systems build to bore tunnels with circular cross section. They consist of cutting head system, a system for removing earth, systems for advancing the cutting head, systems for laying the concrete walls around the bore. At the end these machines leave a tunnel pretty much ready to use.

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Large Scale Redox Flow Battery (700 megawatt hours)

Scientists and engineers in Germany have created the largest battery in the world with redox flow technology.

Redox flow batteries are liquid batteries. The Friedrich Schiller University of Jena has developed a new and forward-looking salt-free (brine) based metal-free redox flow battery. This new development will use salt caverns as energy storage.

schematic for salt-free (brine) based metal-free redox flow battery

Schematic for salt-free (brine) based metal-free redox flow battery by Ewe Gasspeicher. Two caverns each have a volume of 100,000 cubic meters.

A redox flow battery consists of two storage tanks and an electrochemical cell in which the reactions take place. Storage for solar and wind sources of power is an important challenge being explored in many ways today. Efforts such as this one provide a path to continue the rapid adoption of more solar and wind power.

In the electrochemical cell the two storage liquids – catholyte and anolyte – are separated from one another by a membrane. This prevents the large storage liquids from mixing with one another. The ions, however, can pass unimpeded through the membrane from one electrolyte solution into the other.

When charging the battery, the charging current ensures that electrons are deposited on the polymers of the anolyte. At the same time, the catholyte releases its electrons.

The charged catholyte and anolyte molecules are pumped from the cell into storage containers and replaced by uncharged ones. When the battery is discharged, the reaction is reversed. The anolyte molecules emit their electrons, which are available as electrical current.

Both charged electrolytes can be stored for several months. The maximum storage capacity of this redox-flow battery is limited only by the size of the storage containers for the electrolyte liquids.

The project is being ramped up now, going through a test phase before bringing the full system online; they are aiming to achieve this in 6 years. The electrical capacity of 700 megawatt hours will be enough to supply over 75,000 households with electricity for one day.

Related: Molten Salt Solar Reactor Approved by California (2010)Battery Breakthrough Using Organic Storage (2014)Chart of Global Wind Energy Capacity by Country from 2005 to 2015

Drone Deliveries to Hospitals in Rwanda

Partnering with the Government of Rwanda, Zipline serves 21 hospitals nation-wide. They provide instant deliveries of lifesaving blood products for 8 million Rwandans.

Their drones are tiny airplanes (instead of the more common tiny helicopter model). Supplies are delivered using parachute drops from the drone. Landings are similar to landings on aircraft carriers (they grab a line to help slow down the drone) and, in a difference from aircraft carrier landings, the drone line drops them onto a large air cushion.

Zipline Muhanga Distribution Center launched in October 2016 making Rwanda the first country to integrate drones into their airspace and to begin daily operations of autonomous delivery.

As of May 2017, Zipline had completed over 350 delivery flights to real hospitals and their pace is accelerating. Zipline can cut delivery time from 4 hours to 15 minutes (which is extremely important in time critical health care emergencies).

I wrote in 2014 about the huge potential for drone delivery of medical supplies. It is wonderful to see Zipline improving people’s lives with their effort.

Related: Inspirational Engineer, William Kamkwamba from Malawi (2008)Using Rats to Sniff Out TBUS Fish and Wildlife Service Plans to Use Drones to Drop Vaccine Treats to Save FerretsWater Wheel

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Small Farm Robots

The IdaBot was created by researchers at Northwest Nazarene University (Idaho, USA).

Using robots in farming is limited today but the future could see a huge growth in that use. Benefits of introducing more robots to farming include reducing the use of pesticides and chemicals to control weeds.

Reducing labor costs is also a potential benefit but at current market prices (due to high costs of robotics and available cheap labor) that is more something for the future than today. However that can change fairly quickly – as for example the collapse in solar panel costs have made solar energy economically very attractive. In areas with high labor costs (Japan etc.) or areas where there are active efforts to reduce the supply of labor (in the USA where a significant portion of labor does not have proper visa to work in the USA and the current administration is seeking to reduce that labor availability) robots become more attractive economically.

Robot farmers are coming to a field near you

In Japan, using robots to harvest strawberries is roughly cost-equivalent to human labor if the ‘bots are shared between multiple farms, Lux Research said.

“With strawberry-picking being slow and labor-intensive, and labor scarce and expensive — the average agricultural worker in Japan is over 70 years old – the robot is quickly likely to become the cheaper option,” it said.

Lux Research also forecast European lettuce-growing — a major industry on the continent — would become automated by 2028.

“Automated lettuce weeding is already competitive with human labor in Europe, thanks to regulatory limitations on agrochemicals. Lettuce thinning is still accomplished manually at lower cost, but robots are likely to reach breakeven with human labor in 2028,”

The global market for agricultural robots will explode to $73.9 billion by 2024, up from $3.0 billion 2015

Related: For Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower CostSustainable Ocean FarmingCool Robot Locomotion: Transforms from Wheeled to Walking For Stairs and Rough Terrain (2012)Lean Science: Using Cheap Robots to Aid ResearchMoth Controlled Robot (2009)

Hacker News Suggestions for Engineering Team Blogs

See this comment page on Hacker News suggestions for engineering team blogs. Some of the suggested blog:

Somehow the Hacker News discussion missed the Curious Cat Science and Engineering blog. It must be that we are not an “engineering team” blog.

Related: Science and Engineering BlogsCurious Cat Top Management Improvement BlogsCurious Cat Popular Software Testing Blogs

Robot Prints a Building in 14 hours

The system consists of a tracked vehicle that carries a large, industrial robotic arm, which has a smaller, precision-motion robotic arm at its end. This highly controllable arm can then be used to direct any conventional (or unconventional) construction nozzle, such as those used for pouring concrete or spraying insulation material, as well as additional digital fabrication end effectors, such as a milling head.

Unlike typical 3-D printing systems, most of which use some kind of an enclosed, fixed structure to support their nozzles and are limited to building objects that can fit within their overall enclosure, this free-moving system can construct an object of any size. As a proof of concept, the researchers used a prototype to build the basic structure of the walls of a 50-foot-diameter, 12-foot-high dome — a project that was completed in less than 14 hours of “printing” time.

For these initial tests, the system fabricated the foam-insulation framework used to form a finished concrete structure. This construction method, in which polyurethane foam molds are filled with concrete, is similar to traditional commercial insulated-concrete formwork techniques. Following this approach for their initial work, the researchers showed that the system can be easily adapted to existing building sites and equipment, and that it will fit existing building codes without requiring whole new evaluations, Keating explains.

Ultimately, the system is intended to be self-sufficient. It is equipped with a scoop that could be used to both prepare the building surface and acquire local materials, such as dirt for a rammed-earth building, for the construction itself. The whole system could be operated electrically, even powered by solar panels. The idea is that such systems could be deployed to remote regions, for example in the developing world, or to areas for disaster relief after a major storm or earthquake, to provide durable shelter rapidly.

The ultimate vision is “in the future, to have something totally autonomous, that you could send to the moon or Mars or Antarctica, and it would just go out and make these buildings for years,” says Keating, who led the development of the system as his doctoral thesis work.

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Insect Architecture

In this webcast The Brain Scoop takes an interesting look at the homes of eusocial animals and other insects. The video includes many interesting details including that adult weaver ants can’t produce the silk used to weave leaves together so they pick up their larva and use them like a glue stick.

Related: For Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower CostWhy Don’t All Ant Species Replace Queens in the Colony, Since Some DoSymbiotic relationship between ants and bacteriaHuge Termite Mound in Nigeria

Solar Storm Could Do $2 Trillion in Damage

I read an interesting article from NASA recently, Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012

According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.

By extrapolating the frequency of ordinary storms to the extreme, he calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next ten years.

The answer: 12%.

Our high technology is far more at risk than most people appreciate. I don’t understand why the odds are so high (given that the last such event was in 1859 but I would guess there are sensible reasons for them to calculate such high odds. Others (in a quick web search) offer lower odds, but still 7 or 8% of such an event in the next 10 years.

The 2012 event would have done a great deal of damage. Luckily it was directed away from the sun in a direction away from where the earth was at the time. NASA has satellites arrayed around the sun (even where the earth isn’t) and one of those was able to capture data on the event.

There is also disagreement about how much damage such a solar storm would cause on earth. The main direct damage is expected to be done to the power system (of the USA and the rest of the world).

Related: Solar Storm (2006)photo of Solar Eruption (2006)Solar Flares May Threaten GPS (2007)Magnetic Portals Connect Sun and Earth (2008)

NASA explored this idea in a webcast:

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WindTree – Harnessing Breezes for Electricity

This style of wind power looks cool. The WindTree turns small breezes into electricity. Its production varies with the wind speed and its average output ranges between 1,500 kWh and 2,000 kWh. Peak power is 3,500 kWh.

But I don’t see how it can be effective given the large cost. The WindTree is being offered for installation late in 2017 in the USA and Canada at $67,500 – excluding delivery, installation and taxes (they estimate almost $100,000 total). It really seems to me the prices would have to come down by more than 75% to make any real impact in the market.

An average household in the USA uses 901 kWh per month.

The tree is 36 feet tall and 26 feet in width. The first trees were installed in France in 2015, the company is based in France.

It is good to see us investigating numerous ways to generate clean energy. But unless the price of this drastically reduces over time it doesn’t seem likely to contribute much to our energy needs.

Related: Chart of Wind Power Generation Capacity Globally 2005-2012Capture Wind Energy with a Tethered Turbine (2007)Engineering Floating Wind Farms (2010)Sails for Modern Cargo Ships (2008)

14 Year Old Signs $700,000 MOU for a Drone to Detect and Defuse Land Mines

Harshwardhan Zala, from Gujarat, India has signed an agreement worth Rs. 5 crore (US$733,940) to explore the possibility of commercial production of a drone created by him which can help in detecting and defusing landmines.

Harshwardhan started work on the prototype of the landmine-detecting drone last year after reading in newspapers about high army casualties due to landmines. Aerobotics7 is the company founded by the 14 years old.

Harshwardhan Zala, 14-year-old trends for Rs 5 crore deal at Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2017!

Explaining more about the drone, the zealous 14-year-old said, “The drone is designed to send out waves that cover eight sq. mt area while flying two feet above the surface; the waves detect land mines and communicate their location with a base station. The drone also carries a bomb weighing 50 gram that can be used to destroy the landmine.” Harshwardhan Zala’s proud father Pradhyumansinh is an accountant with a plastic company in Naroda, and his mother Nishaba is a homemaker.

[missing video – removed 🙁 ]

The video has Harshwardhan speaking a bit of English but mainly some other language that I don’t understand. If I understand right, his drone is 98% accurate at identifying mines (where the current solutions are 92% accurate – and much more dangerous for those having to walk around testing). His solution is 17 times faster and 22 times cheaper than the current solutions. Once the mine is detected by the drone through an infrared sensor, a 50 gram detonator will complete the task of defusing it (blowing it up).

This video shows a bit of the drone itself (non-English audio)

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    • Alex: This is certainly the future. It is hart warming to see developing countries benefiting from such...
    • Donnie S. Willson: Underground tunnel is a good idea for traffic managment.i really appreciate it.
    • Richard Hopp: Awesome blog post, love the biodiversity. Really excited after watching this video, since I...
    • Robbie Miller: How fantastic, not only a great subject to study, but to be able to travel the world too....
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    • Marcus Williams: This is actually a marvelous piece of engineering. Kudos for sharing!
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