Sunday, January 28, 2018

We're in!

Without further fanfare, we've been fully accepted to the HASP 2018 flight.

This is exciting for many reasons:

  1. we were competing for one of the coveted 4 large payloads (HASP features 12 total seats, 4 large and 8 small)
  2. we're going back to space (and, by extension, NASA facilities in New Mexico, Texas, Maryland, and Virginia)
  3. our payload proposition is much more ambitious this year, and much closer to state-of-the-art than our tamer atmospheric experiment, GOAT
  4. WE WERE FULLY ACCEPTED on the first try with ZERO NEED FOR REVISIONS. For contrast, our proposal for GOAT came back with 4 pages of comments and to-dos, which turned into a solid month of work.
  5. Not only do we have ZERO REVISIONS, the comments were utterly glowing:

This is particularly validating, as we have always striven for excellence in our technical writing. We put a lot of time into our paperwork, since we believe that strong communication is particularly essential in the world of grant-funded, public-outreach-oriented science. Our HAB team was awarded "Best Documentation," something we're still proud about years later. Making our way onto HASP's website as an example has been our ambition from the get-go. (We'll see if we actually get there, but even being recommended for it is high honor.)

Thanks to all the reviewers and administrators of the HASP program: y'all do a lot of work for us students, and we deeply appreciate it. Project-based learning like this is excellent experience for life.

Those of you watching from home may recall our earlier post about what our project actually is: we're flying a robot arm of our own design & manufacture.
During flight, the arm will be autonomously running through repeated dexterity exercises, using its own on-board camera 'eyes' and computer 'brain' to flick switches, press buttons, turn knobs, and grasp and move blocks.
We'll be measuring its performance to see how well it holds up over the entire flight, since [near-]space is a harsh, harsh place even for handsome robots:
  • heat can build up, especially with the sun hitting us full-blast, 
  • electronics might misbehave, and 
  • our semi-liquid lubricants will exposed to an environment that really doesn't encourage anything staying as a liquid. As anyone who's read or seen The Wizard of Oz can attest, machines with moving parts really don't work well without lubricants.
Now we've got to go actually try and build this thing. We're only a month or so behind, so stay tuned for some high-quality panicked flailing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Spotlight on HAB

One of the other science teams at Durham Tech is working on a project called High-Altitude Ballooning, or HAB. These crazy kids are hard at work right now on their Preliminary Design Review. The team is lead by Dan K., also of the Unacceptable Risks and Durham Programmabulls. Spencer is the mechanical engineer, Oliver the camera guy, Ruthie is tackling documentation, Chris is the parachute guy, Citlalli and Kevin are the wind trackers, and Destiny the social media rounds out the bunch. Stay tuned for more news from the HAB team as they tackle this project!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Nerd Paparazzi

I decided to take a break from badgering everyone with constant queries of "Hey, are you doing anything cool today? No? Why not? Do something cool." So I used my time incredibly wisely to roundup my favorite shots from our journey so far.

A man of eternal calm and serenity. I give you....Zen-cer.

This is pretty much how I see Dan in my head at all times.

Noah thinks he can escape my camera by sitting in the far corner of the lab, but he can't! And so far he's the one doing the most visually interesting work. (Take that, Noah!)

Soham, International Man of Mystery. Actually, it was FREEZING in DSBF and Soham was periodically checking the temp to confirm that yes, we were all in danger of becoming hypothermic.

I like to call this one "The HASP Supper". I think it belongs on r/accidentalrenaissance.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Fundraising, funraising, and fun raisins.

Yes, we still need money.

We have more money this year than we did last year and that is due to the continued generosity of NC Space Grant and the cleverness of Dr. Paris. 

We're lucky to have big teams and we're incredibly fortunate to have all of these invitations to travel. However, getting all of these students to one place isn't cheap! We're trying to plan trips to Maryland, Orlando, Texas, New Mexico, and possibly Louisiana. Airfare, hotels, and rental cars add up and we're really hoping that every student on the team can go to at least one trip. (Especially Spencer because he's never been on a plane!) 

And we're still trying to get enough in the GoFundMe to be able to chop off Dan's hair. The way our funds are set up this year, if you donate to Murrr's GoFundMe (or the GoDe-BunMe as we call it), your donation helps all of the teams.

We're also still selling our amazing t-shirts with our fantastic new logos. (Although, if you donate to the GoFundMe you can also get a shirt.)

We visited our favorite local restaurant, The QShack, for a working lunch and we're really excited because they said that we can use our logo on the back of our official team shirts!

We also have a fundraiser in the works with Gizmo Brewery so mark your calendars for 02/03/18. 

Murrr reached out to some hotel chains to try to get our rooms for Swarmathon donated. It's a long shot but it would be a TREMENDOUS way to save money for supplies. 

And while we raise money, the real work continues!

Handsome Dan came in this week and checked the models of the arm. Everyone agreed on some adjustments to the DOF that will help the performance of the arm and simplify the design.

The snow day on Thursday slowed us down but the NCCU fab lab gave us shelter from the storm. We were happy to get back to the DSBF on Friday to end the week strong before classes start on Monday.

We've all been donating a lot of tech to the DBSF to hopefully streamline some of our modeling. The computer we had with SolidWorks kept crashing so Dan brought in his huge gaming rig from home and they set it up to run SolidWorks an ROS so we can use it for HASP and Swarm.

I am really proud of all of the students for the work they put in over the break. It feels like a lot of folks made new discoveries. Sometimes that discovery was, "Oh no. This isn't going to work," but that's still fantastic. That's science. That's engineering. Congratulations! You learned a thing!

Next week HAB, Swarm, HASP and a possible new team will all converge in the DSBF. I think it's understatement to say that everyone is excited to see what Spring 2018 has to offer. We have a lot of deadlines in March and early April so it will be a sprint! 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


As Supreme Arbiter of Social Media Justice, I get to kind of sit back and watch the science and chaos happen as an omnipresent observer. A lot of really cool and really silly things happen pretty much constantly, and there's always a great energy in the lab when the team gets together.

Here's today's workday from my POV.


Dunno how cold but it's less than 66 degrees F.

(292 Kelvin)

(AH.  Our other thermometer says it's 54 degrees F)

Back to Work

Campus was open so HASP got back to work today. The DSBF was pretty chilly because the heat had been off for a few weeks, but we pretended it was brisk and refreshing.

The primary order of business was to evaluate the 3D printed robo arm prototype.

And continue working on some of the math needed to program the movement of the arm.

We're hoping to get a good, solid head start before the semester begins in earnest.