2018-03-19 4 min read


I'm proud to be judging the Commercial Equipment section of Core77's design awards this year! The category covers machinery, medical instruments and devices, construction tools, transaction kiosks, weather instruments, and more. Learn more here; I look forward to seeing your submissions :)

On the podcast this week: I talk with Danielle Applestone of Bantam Tools (née Other Machine Company) about the state of desktop manufacturing, the gender gap in engineering, and what it's like to do business with DARPA.

Planning & Strategy.

  • Four regional women-in-manufacturing organizations from that Danielle shared with me after we recorded:
  1. The Southern Automotive Women's Forum.
  2. Tradeswomen, Inc.
  3. Oregon Tradeswomen.
  4. Chicago Women in Trades.
  • Volkswagen will invest $20B in order to reach a goal of selling 3 million electric vehicles per year by 2025. For context, Tesla's 5k/week target (which they're supposed to hit next month) works out to 260k vehicles per year, and previous annual production estimates got them up to a million per year in 2020.
  • In a move that's at least as appropriate and well-reasoned as it is ham-handed, the town of Plattsburgh, NY banned new commercial cryptocurrency mines for a period of 18 months. Plattsburgh is located close to the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project (a cooperative US/Canadian hydroelectric project which produces 820,800 kilowatts of electricity for New York State), and the city is guaranteed an allotment of cheap power every month - the intention being to encourage employers in industries that consume a large amount of power. (See the Icelandic economy for a sense of how this was presumably intended to work.) "Typically, cities welcome large investments from tech companies because of the promise of job creation and investment in the local economy. But the heavily automated nature of cryptocurrency mining means that a large operation can use a significant amount of a municipality’s power, generate little or nothing in tax revenue, and create a negligible number of jobs. Plattsburgh’s government is suffering through a budget crisis that, perhaps with a different set of policies, the influx of mining investment could help solve. But currently, cryptocurrency investors from around the world are using Plattsburgh’s cheap electricity to get rich, and are being subsidized by the city’s residents to do so." Net neutrality advocates (myself included) take note: There are negative aspects to treating all uses of a utility equally.
  • California has a right-to-repair bill in its state legislature.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • A company called, er, Stealth Space Company (or possibly Astra Space, and/or previously Ventions LLC) has been doing hot fires in Alameda. In 2015, the company was awarded two SBIR grants: One for 10-250lbf methane-fueled reactor control engines for in-space propulsion, and one for a pump-fed propulsion system for a Mars ascent vehicle. The rocket shown in the recent reports appears to be ~35' long; for comparison, the Rocket Lab Electron is 56' long.
  • The city of Stockholm, Sweden is building a bypass that includes 18km of underground roadway. Which is long, as far as tunnels go.
  • Ford's patent application for thermally conductive heated headlight lenses. The LED's heat sink is connected to the housing, and the housing is connected to the (thermally conductive but still transparent) lens. Recall that incandescent bulbs put off a lot of thermal energy, which does a good job melting ice on the lenses; traditional LED/lens designs do not.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • A startup called Swarm Technologies may have launched four small microsatellites into orbit on an Indian rocket in January - in violation of the FCC's rejection of their application to do so. The satellites are just .25U each, and the FCC is concerned that "the ability of operational spacecraft to reliably assess the need for and plan effective collision avoidance maneuvers will be reduced or eliminated." It is stories like this that make me skeptical that the space industry will self-regulate the risk of Kessler syndrome to zero.
  • After an 1995 crash that appears to have been the result of human error, the NYC MTA implemented more conservative speed zones throughout the system. "The trains are slower because they slowed the trains down."
  • NYPD has been cracking down on e-bikes, which have dubious legal status in New York State and are used by a *lot* of food delivery people. As Reilly wrote in FoT: "A despicable set of policies in place and complete lack of action on behalf of the delivery services for their contractors."
  • Walmart will distribute groceries locally from 100 of its stores this year. Related, a good summary of the impact that Amazon's Whole Foods acquisition has had on Instacart's business.

Inspection & Testing.

  • A *huge* shout-out to Alex, who took on a project that (apparently) the MTA, DOT, and mayor Bill De Blasio either couldn't or didn't care to: Figuring out how often New York's bus and bike lanes are illegally obstructed. Using public camera feeds and TensorFlow, Alex found that "from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays during the period of study, the bicycle lane in front of the traffic camera was blocked 57 percent of the time, and the bus stop was blocked 55 percent of the time."
  • The Wikipedia page for Supersonic Low Altitude Missiles (SLAMs), a cold war US R&D project to put thermonuclear warheads on nuclear-powered ramjets. Testing them posed significant challenges: "The engine also acted as a secondary weapon for the missile: direct neutron radiation from the virtually unshielded reactor would sicken, injure, or kill living things beneath the flight path; the stream of fallout left in its wake would poison enemy territory; and its strategically selected crash site would receive intense radioactive contamination. These characteristics would have also made the weapon impossible to test and control."
  • NASA's Twins Study released preliminary results showing that 7% of an astronaut's genetic expressions do not return to baseline after two years.
  • "Hedge funds that use artificial intelligence and machine learning in their trading process posted the worst month on record in February."


  • On Wikipedia and YouTube: "When you find out, with no advance notice, that one of the wealthiest companies in the history of the world is going to foist off one of their most complex and fraught cultural problems on a nonprofit org running a largely-volunteer project."
  • Elizabeth Holmes's (Theranos) fall finally seems to be complete.

The official instagram account of the Tokyo Electric Power Company.

Read the full story

The rest of this post is for SOW Subscribers (free or paid) only. Sign up now to read the full story and get access to all subscriber-only posts.

Sign up now
Already have an account? Sign in
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
You've successfully subscribed to Scope of Work.
Your link has expired.
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.
Success! Your billing info has been updated.
Your billing was not updated.