Category Archives: Hardware

New Robots on Way to the ISS

(See my other posts on Robots) – Today’s Cygnus cargo flight with 7,600 pounds of science, supplies & cargo for the ISS includes a pair of new robots. These will replace the current SPHERES robots on the International Space Station (ISS). The Astrobee robots have been developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center.

The new Astrobee robots are autonomous cubes designed to be flown around the ISS. The first pair of Astrobee robots are named Honey and Bumble. A third named Queen is scheduled to fly to the ISS later this year. These are very modular robots with hardware and software designed for a wide range of tasks and experiments. 

The robots are intended to fly around the ISS autonomously, perform experiments, and take video. While they will generally be operated by humans from the ground, they will occasionally operate without any supervision.

Each Astrobee robot is about 12 inches (30 cm) square.  They will use pressurized air from 12 different nozzles to propel themselves around the ISS. They can rotate in any direction and have no need to refuel as air is compressed and used from the ISS atmosphere.

The Astrobees are based on ROS and are equipped with six cameras, sensors, and enough computing power to allow them to operate autonomously. They can be fitted with modular payloads in their three different payload bays for a variety of experiments. Later this year a small arm will become available for manipulating objects and grabbing hold for maintaining their position. The robots will be able to undock, redock and perch within the ISS independently of the crew.

The robots should complete their checkout before the end of April. After that, they will map and be calibrated for the ISS modules. Final commissioning of the entire Astrobee system should be complete before the end of the year.

The Speeds of USB

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Tech Tips – I wrote a week ago about the different connectors in use for USB (Universal Serial Bus). This article is on the three versions of the USB specification.

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USB 1.x

The USB 1.0 standard was released in January 1996 and updated to 1.1 in August 1998. USB 1.0 data rates of 1.5 Mbit/s (Low Speed) and 12 Mbit/s (Full Speed). While communication is bidirectional, data transfers are half-duplex (only one direction at a time). Few USB compatible devices were released until the 1.1 specification. Both USB 1.0 and 1.1 use the Type A and Type B connectors.

USB 2.0

The 2.0 specification was released in April 2000. This specification increased the data rate to a theoretical maximum of 480 Mbit/s but remained half-duplex. Introduced along with USB 2.0 were the USB Mini and Micro connectors. USB 2.0 is backward compatible (a USB 1.1 peripheral can be used with a computer that has a USB 2.0 port) with USB 1.0 & 1.1 devices.

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USB 3.x

The USB 3.0 standard was released in November 2008. The 3.0 standard increased the theoretical maximum speed of USB to the ‘SuperSpeed’ rate of 5.0 Gbit/s. Data communication was also upgraded to full-duplex (both directions at the same time). Connectors for 3.0 connections are distinguished by their blue inserts for the standard Type A connectors.

In July 2013 the standard was upgraded again to 3.1. The 3.1 standard further increased the speed of USB to the ‘SuperSpeed+’ theoretical maximum rate of 10 Gbit/s. The Micro B SuperSpeed connector was introduced.

serveimage-3In September of 2017, the most recent upgrade to the standard was released with USB 3.2. Two new SuperSpeed+ transfer modes were introduced both using the USB Type C connector. These new SuperSpeed+ modes provide a maximum theoretical data transfer rate of 10 and 20 Gbit/s respectively.

USB 3.x is backward compatible with USB 1.0, 1.1, and 2.0 devices. Backward compatibility means that the connection will function at the speed of the slowest component. To achieve the best performance the peripheral, cable, and computer port must be compatible with the same USB standard.

USB 4.x

Announced by the USB Promoter Group on March 4, 2019. Expect speeds up to 40 Gbit/s, though the standard has not yet been released.

So Your iPhone XS Shows You Have 5G

Tech Tips – First, what is 5G? 5G stands for “Fifth Generation” and is the next generation of wireless communications. Most of our devices are operating on 4G at the moment. 5G will give us peak transmission speeds up to 20 Gb per second, far faster than what 4G provides. 5G will also provide reduced latency, energy savings, lower cost, higher system capacity, and massive device connectivity.

The first phase of 5G specifications in Release-15 is not scheduled to be released until April 2019, with the second phase (Release-16) scheduled for completion by April 2020. Even then it has to be approved by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). While most carriers have test networks in place in selected locations, the worldwide commercial launch of 5G is not expected until 2020.

So how are AT&T customers seeing a “5GE” icon on their phones now? This is best attributed to some marketing efforts by AT&T. Their “5GE” is simply an enhanced version of the 4G LTE network you have been using. Users with 5GE capable phones may see faster performance in some areas. iPhone users must have iOS 12.2 or newer installed to be 5GE capable. For Android users, they need Android Pie or newer.

Only the iPhone XS and XS Max, as well any Android phone that uses 4×4 MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output radio), have the hardware compatible with 5GE. No iPhones currently on the market are 5G compatible. 5G requires different hardware.

References

  1. Everything You Need to Know About 5G
  2. AT&T 5GE on iPhone and Android phones: What you need to know
  3. 5G

Product Review: W-18 Thunder Plus Fast Charging Wireless Charger

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Product Reviews – After I purchased an iPhone 8 last fall, I saw these Qi chargers for sale in one of the Malls in Singapore. We purchased a pair of these as my wife also has an iPhone 8.

So far they have worked well for us. I should have placed a ruler in the photo to give a feel of the size of the charging pad. It is 4″ square and about 1/4″ thick. Power is supplied to the charging pad by a USB Micro connector from any 5V 2A source. As you can see from the photo, the charging pad is lit by a green LED when not in use. When you place your device on the charging pad the LED changes to a slowly pulsating deep blue.

Pros

  • The convenience of just laying your device on the pad to charge
  • Supports iOS 7.5W charging
  • lightweight, easy to transport

 

Cons

  • pulsating blue light while charging might be a little distracting when at your bedside at night for some

 

This is a product that I would recommend.

USB Connector Types

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(Image above from Wikipedia)

Tech Tips – We all use USB (an abbreviation for Universal Serial Bus) cables, often many times each day. We know from experience that USB cables come with a variety of connectors, but do you know how to identify each one?serveimage

The early USB cables were equipped with the A and B connectors (the male versions of the connectors are shown in the photo above). The Type B connectors are often used to connect to devices such as printers and scanners. The Mini and Micro connectors, which were introduced in April of 2000 and January of 2007 respectively, can be found on many different peripheral devices. All of the above connectors can be found on cables that are compatible with the USB 1.0 and USB 2.0 standards.

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A slightly different set of connectors were introduced with the November 2008 USB 3.0 standard. Note that connectors BM, AM, and AF will have a blue insert to distinguish them as USB 3.0 compatible. The AM and AF connectors look just like the Type A connector (other than they have the blue insert) and are backward compatible (they can be used anywhere a Type A can be used),

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The Type C connector was introduced in August 2014. It is different from prior designs in that it is a reversible connector allowing insertion into a device in either orientation.

Listen to Thriller Played by the FLOPPOTRON

I came across this and wanted to share it. I have posted about one other ‘musical’ piece played on the FLOPPOTRON in the past (“FLOPPY DRIVE PLAYS GOT THEME” July 31, 2016). I am amazed at how old really otherwise useless computer hardware can be used to produce art. In this case music.

Clearly, a fair amount of Hardware and Software Engineering went into assembling this ‘musical’ instrument.

Significant Hardware Hack Alleged Against China

Updated 10/9/18

Cyber Security – I read the article “The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies” and . . . WOW. This reads like the plot to a science fiction thriller.

The idea of hardware being secretly hijacked during the manufacturing process has been around for a while. This allegation, if true, is significant! On the other hand, Apple has denied finding altered hardware in their official statement “What Businessweek got wrong about Apple“.

Since this article was just published October 4, I think there will be a lot of fallout over the next few days, weeks and months. It could have a significant impact on the cost of electronic products as supply chains reconsider off-shore manufacturing.

Added 10/9 – The article “Asian Countries and Industry Players Erupt over the China Spy Chip Controversy first started in the U.S.” still does not confirm the allegations against the Chinese, but it does indicate that there is a significant concern through the electronics sector.

Singapore, Singapore – P20 Mobile Accessories

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Locations – I recently had to buy a new iPhone. I woke up one morning and my 32-month-old iPhone 6 was simply dead. I ended up replacing it with an iPhone8, which I really like so far.

I have kept my last two iPhones in Otterbox Defender cases and I have been very pleased with the protection they provide. I dropped my iPhones on several occasions and these cases really came through. Unfortunately, the new iPhone 8 does not fit the Otterbox case I have for the old iPhone 6. The camera lens is larger on the 8. I needed to find a new case.

Now here in Singapore, there are phone accessory stores everywhere. The problem is that they only carry the fashionable cases, not Otterbox cases. I finally located a shop less than a kilometer away that carried Otterbox. I walked over there a couple of days ago and found the small shop “P20 Mobile Accessories” located at 175 Bencoolen Street #01-03 Burlington Square, Singapore 189649.

It was a little hard to find, but they had what I was looking for. In fact, the small shop had a good selection of iPhone and iPad cases, cables, and other accessories. If I am looking for items not carried by the Apple Store in the future, I will know just where to go in Singapore.


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