Last week, we noted an attempt to fix a hardware problem with software, which backfired pretty dramatically for Ford when they tried to counter the tendency for driveshafts to fall out of certain of their cars by automatically applying the electric parking brake.
This week, the story is a little different, but still illustrates how software and hardware can interact unpredictably, especially in the automotive space. The story centers on a 2015 Optima recall for a software update for the knock sensor detection system. We can’t find the specifics, but if this recall on a similar Kia model in the same model year range and a class-action lawsuit are any indication, the update looks like it would have made the KSDS more sensitive to worn connecting rod damage, and forced the car into “limp home mode” to limit damage to the engine if knocking is detected.
A clever solution to a mechanical problem? Perhaps, but because the Kia owner in the story claims not to have received the snail-mail recall notice, she got no warning when her bearings started wearing out. Result: a $6,000 bill for a new engine, which she was forced to cover out of pocket. Granted, this software fix isn’t quite as egregious as Ford’s workaround for weak driveshaft mounting bolts, and there may very well have been a lack of maintenance by the car’s owner. But if you’re a Kia mechanical engineer, wouldn’t your first instinct have been to fix the problem causing the rod bearings to wear out, rather than papering over the problem with software?
Some people loved it, and a lot of space nerds really hated it. Either way, it’s hard to argue with the fact that NASA’s Space Shuttle program resulted in some pretty amazing engineering, and that artifacts from the program are highly sought-after as museum pieces. And perhaps no artifact is more highly prized than the three remaining orbiters, one of which will soon be at the center of a unique and awe-inspiring display. Endeavor (OV-105), which was moved to the California Science Center in Los Angeles in 2012 to much well-deserved fanfare, is going to be displayed in a full-stack, upright configuration. The orbiter will be reunited with external tank ET-94 and a pair of solid rocket boosters for the first time since she last flew in 2011. The 20-story stack will be erected over the next six months or so, after which a new wing of the museum will be built around it. It’ll be the first time a Space Shuttle full-stack assembly will be attempted outside of a NASA facility. We’re keen to see how this whole thing goes together — it’ll make for some interesting crane work.
Also in space news, we just learned that a US Senate subcommittee slashed the budget for the Mars Sample Return mission. And dramatically so; NASA wanted $949 million to fund fiscal year 2024 work on the mission, but senators offered just a third of that. NASA has already spent $1.74 billion on the Sample Return mission, which was supposed to fly in 2028 but looks like it’ll slip, drawing enough of the lawmakers’ ire for them to threaten to reallocate the $300 million to Artemis if NASA can’t prove the whole Sample Return mission won’t cost more than $5.3 billion. We’ve covered some of the ideas NASA is batting around for collecting and returning the sample tubes Perseverance is leaving on the surface of Mars; looks like they might have to scale things back a bit.
Is this it? Are we finally in the flying car future? Judging by the buzz recently, we’d be inclined to say yes, that is if we didn’t live in a reality-based world with multiple decades of observing just how poorly humans handle maneuvering a vehicle in only two dimensions. But still, we’re seeing a lot of stories about the FAA’s approval of the Alef Aeronautics Model A flying car. It’s important to note that this certification is for testing only, so it’s not like these things will be
rolling flying off the assembly line anytime soon. Also in the zeitgeist is the in-no-way-sketchy ASKA A5 flying car, about which we can add little by way of comment to what you’ll see in the video below.
And finally, from the “If it ain’t broke, for the love of God, don’t touch it!” department, we were tipped off to a factory in Japan that’s relying on a 40-year-old computer to design their textiles. We couldn’t find any technical details, and the machine doesn’t seem to be any of the usual suspects from that era, although the keyboard layout and cassette drive bear a passing resemblance to a Commodore PET. The machine is shown only briefly and seems to run custom software for designing fabric patterns, which are stored on cassette tape and transferred to punch tape sheets for a Jacquard loom.
The rest of the video is a fascinating look inside an industry that is usually so optimized and scaled to ludicrous levels that watching the machines work is unsatisfying. Here you can actually see what’s going on with the looms that make the fabric for hanten, which are traditional winter coats. The handwork needed to manufacture these garments, which look remarkably cozy, is also a treat, especially the part where the padding is inserted. Enjoy the show.