Light Friday: How Ingenuity and a Toothbrush Saved the Space Station
Image credit: NASA TV
Image credit: NASA TV

Plus: A New Popcorn-Delivery System, LEGO Machine Fun and a Visual History of Vintage Racecar Design.

The Ultimate Popcorn-Delivery System?

As one company apparently sees it, the problem with popcorn is that you have to reach into the bag or bowl and place the popped kernels in your mouth. The firm has been working on an in-house project to solve that problem – by creating a machine that catapults popcorn directly into your mouth.

Described as “the world’s first fully automated, voice-activated popcorn shooter triggered by the word ‘pop,’” The Popinator is supposedly equipped with voice activation and binaural microphones to help pinpoint the user’s location and figure out the correct trajectory. The device is able to pinpoint where in the room the spoken word originated from and shoot a piece of popcorn toward it.

Unfortunately, CNN has debunked the device’s claimed abilities, at least in part. Soon after the device took the Web by storm, it came to light that the kernel-delivery system is actually a guerilla marketing campaign for a popcorn company. Although the device does catapult popcorn, it is actually remote controlled rather than automatic.

Nevertheless, based on CNN’s report, it does look like the developers behind the machine are working on making the voice-activated version a reality. If and when that happens, we will have to append our Christmas list.

Fun with LEGOs, Pt. 687

Check out this new, super-complex, super-hypnotic LEGO machine:

“Built in his house by Lego genius Akiyuki over the course of two years, for a total of 600 hours of construction time,” Gizmodo explains, “the machine has staggering dimensions: 17 modules that process 500 balls for a length of 101.7 feet (31 meters) at a rate of one ball per second. The total size is 5 by 21 feet (1.5 meters by 6.5 meters).”

In Space, Necessity Is the Mother of Awesome

There are innumerable examples throughout history of engineers improvising to make do with limited resources. For engineers, ingenuity is rarely in short supply, as recent news from the International Space Station (ISS) makes clear.

The ISS, having battled electrical malfunctions for more than a week, was repaired earlier this month with an improvised combination of tools that would have impressed MacGuyver: an allen wrench, a bolt, a wire brush and a toothbrush.

Astronauts aboard the ISS needed to replace a key part of the station’s power system, but were unable to bolt a replacement into position. As reports, it appeared that there was significant debris, described as metal shavings, that had amassed inside the bolts and was preventing the electrical unit from being attached to the spacecraft.

So the team, along with their colleagues back on Earth, put their heads together to figure out a way to fix the problem. The astronauts, including NASA’s Sunita Williams, spent the week fashioning tools to clean the bolt and its receptacle of metal shavings and the other debris believed to be causing the problem.

As Reuters explains, the makeshift instruments included a wire brush formed from a spare cable and another fashioned out of a toothbrush, plus a can of nitrogen gas.

Venturing outside the space station with their new tools, Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihido Hoshide’s repairs worked, with the brushes cleaning the thread and puffs of compressed nitrogen blowing away the debris.

“Looks like you guys just fixed the station,” astronaut Jack Fischer radioed from Houston. “It’s been like living on the set of Apollo 13 the past few days. NASA does impossible pretty darn well, so congratulations to the whole team.”

Improvised cleaning tools that were used during installation. Credit: NASA TV

Visual History of Vintage Racecar Design

In this short documentary, via The Atlantic, designer and artist Sven Völker describes the evolution of racecar design. Based on his book Go Faster – a collection of more than 100 examples of racecar design – the film looks at, among other things, how cars developed the colors, stripes and logos that are today associated with NASCAR and Formula 1.




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