2019-12-16 3 min read


Planning & Strategy.

  • Stripe’s Patrick Collison highlights some large projects that were completed very quickly. One not listed that I’ve been reading about is the U-2 program, which designed and produced 22 planes for the CIA in under a year (and $3.5 million under budget). It’s hard not to immediately compare large public projects happening in our lives now, such as the drastically over-budget F-35 program. Patrick includes another current example at the bottom of his page: San Francisco approved a new bus lane in 2001 that is currently scheduled to be completed in 2021. The city also recently shut down its emergency system of 119 sirens for up to two years to perform security upgrades.
  • The crew that drove a disguised Mercedes AMG in a recent Cannonball run made it from coast to coast in a record 27.5 hours at a blistering and terrifying average speed of 103 mph. The car was outfitted with a gimbaled thermal scope on the roof (for deer spotting, apparently), gyro-stabilized binoculars, a custom fuel cell and more.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • The MIT Biomimetic Robotics Lab recently tested a herd of new mini robotic cheetahs. A blog post by Ben Katz, who did the mechanical and electrical design, includes some great photos from the build process. Ben also wrote extensively on the development of the motor drivers and related challenges.
  • Murata has developed the world’s first 0.1µF capacitor in the tiny 008004 (0.25mm x 0.125mm) package and is scheduled to go into production next year.
  • I love how affordable CNC machine subassemblies have become. This single-axis slide, for example, is ball-screw driven and under $150, which makes it perfect for repetitive tasks that require precision.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

  • As Drew noted last week, astronomers continue to be disturbed by SpaceX’s Starlink network of satellites. They’ve since discussed potential fixes, with CEO Gwynne Shotwell claiming somewhat ridiculously that “We didn’t think of it. The astronomy community didn’t think of it.”
  • Boeing and SpaceX are each under contract with NASA to fly six missions to the ISS with astronauts aboard, to end US reliance on Russia’s Soyuz for commercial crew flights. A major theme in the final testing of their vehicles is the parachutes: one of three in Boeing’s Starliner recently failed to deploy and SpaceX is nearing the end of a long testing campaign for Crew Dragon’s chutes.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • In an effort to reduce the strain that delivery trucks have on city streets, New York will allow Amazon, DHL and UPS to utilize cargo bikes for package delivery. I’m intrigued by the different types of bikes shown in the article: Amazon appears to be using mini bikes with three-wheeled trailers, UPS has front-wheel-drive trikes with windshields and DHL went for a 4-wheeled recumbent design.
  • Autonomous grocery delivery startup Nuro announced that they’ll soon be delivering to Walmart customers in the Houston area with a new prototype. The company has been serving Kroger customers in the area, with earlier prototypes, for a few months.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • The Space Launch System’s fuel tank was tested to failure last week. The test stand used was repurposed from the Apollo program and not only pressurizes the tank but also applies loads with massive hydraulic actuators.
  • Apple continues its expansion of Maps into the Midwest. Justin O’Beirne’s image and annotation-heavy comparison is impressive, as usual.
  • A Twitter bot that highlights aircraft flying in circles.


Beautiful stone carving by Zoe Wilson.

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