Google
 

Aardvark Daily

New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

Content copyright © 1995 - 2019 to Bruce Simpson (aka Aardvark), the logo was kindly created for Aardvark Daily by the folks at aardvark.co.uk



Please visit the sponsor!
Please visit the sponsor!

Hey, that is pretty cool

20 April 2021

Little more than a century after man first took to the air in sustained, controlled, powered flight here on earth, we've just flown a helicopter on Mars.

Okay, there was nobody in the Mars copter but the sheer technological achievement that this represents can not be overstated.

The challenges involved in getting this small unmanned coaxial helicopter to fly on a world that is presently some 160 million Km away are astonishing and that we succeeded is an impressive testiment to mankind's ingenuity and perserverence (puns intended).

My gob is well and truly smacked.

Even if we set aside the difficulties and complexities of getting this little helicopter to the red planet, the work required to design, build, test and deploy this craft was huge.

Due to the extreme distances involved and the latency this introduces into any control/telemetry connections, the craft had to be totally autonomous -- capable of flying itself without any realtime input or corrections from those back on planet earth.

Also, many of the support technologies we take for granted when flying drones here on our planet are simply missing on Mars. There is no GPS to accurately determine the craft's position, speed or heading and there isn't even a magnetic field that can be used for orientation like our own North and South poles.

Don't even get me started on the difficulty associated with producing sufficient lift from an atmosphere that is just one percent the density of our own. Despite the fact that Mars has only one third the gravity of earth, that paltry atmosphere requires that the helicopter's rotors spin at almost 3,000 RPM in order to generate enough thrust.

Then there's the issue of powering and protecting the onboard systems.

Essentially the helicopter is 100 percent solar powered. Every day it must spend many hours simply sitting in the sun and recharging its batteries in anticipation of a very brief flight. What's more, it can't use all its stored energy for flying, a good deal of it must be reserved for keeping the storage cells and electronics warm through the bitter-cold Martian night.

What is most interesting to me is that this "drone" flying on a far away world owes so much to the pioneers in the RC hobby. Much of the technology used in this drone was first experimented with and developed by avid hobbyists. As we toiled away with rudimentary gyros and crudely cobbled together bits of electronics and firmware, little did we envisage, just a decade or so ago, that we'd be seeing a craft like this hovering on Mars such a short time later.

Of course it saddens me immensely that while the world (and the US government) are busy celebrating this milestone of man's achievement, the very hobby that gave birth to much of this tech, knowledge and skill is being almost regulated out of existance.

How quickly they forget the importance of a few very clever people who just want to have some good safe fun and are willing to freely invest their own time, knowledge and abilities to do so.

I honestly worry about where the world is headed when we have a government that is proposing that small flying toys and their owners (including kids) will need to be registered with the state for fear of -- what exactly?

Without the freedom to create, experiment and enjoy the fruits of one's labours in this way, we will become a civilization that simply forgets how to innovate -- for fear of falling foul of some ridiculous, unjustified rule or regulation and facing a stiff fine or other censure for our efforts.

Please visit the sponsor!
Please visit the sponsor!

Have your say in the Aardvark Forums.

PERMALINK to this column


Rank This Aardvark Page

 

Change Font

Sci-Tech headlines

 


Features:

The EZ Battery Reconditioning scam

Beware The Alternative Energy Scammers

The Great "Run Your Car On Water" Scam

 

Recent Columns

The tech cold-war gets real
In the past I have written a few columns about the way that China is gaining rapidly on the US in terms of technological and military capabilities...

Criminal masterminds?
This is the sort of thing you wouldn't believe if it was in a book or a movie...

If I could, I would
One of my fantasies is to buy a big block of land, erect a wall around its perimeter, go off-grid and simply set up my own principality...

Mine crypto, get a free lunch?
Norton Antivirus has come up with a new business model that could set a trend...

Could higher taxes boost crypto?
Crypto-currency seems to be very popular with those who consider the laws to be advisory rather than compulsory...

Doing more with less?
It is looking as if the current chip shortage may last longer than originally thought...

Should free shipping be illegal?
One of the biggest drawcards for online shopping is the promise by some vendors that you'll get free shipping...

Publisher or platform?
Dealing with user-generated content online is a tricky problem...

Something to watch this weekend
This weekend is going to be cold and wet in most places around the country -- perfect weather to read a book or watch a movie...

Google has no ethics
I was searching online for inspiration this morning and I spotted a small banner ad served up by Google's ad network...

Lunar eclipse, for the last time?
Apparently there is a full lunar eclipse taking place tonight...