MIT’s new Navion chip for better Nano drone navigation

Read an article this week in Science Daily (Chip upgrade help’s bee-sized drones navigate) about a recent chip created by MIT, called Navion, that reduces size and power consumption for electronics used in drone navigation. The chip is also documented on MIT’s Navion project homepage and in a technical  paper describing the new VIO (Visual-Inertial Odometry ) Navion chip.

The Navion chip can perform inertial measurement at 52Khz as well as process video streams of 752×480 stereo images at 171 frames per second in a 20 sqmm package consuming only 24mW of power. The chip was fabricated on a 65nm CMOS process line.

Navion is the result of a collaborative design process which optimized electronics required to perform  drone navigation processing. By placing all the memory required for inertial measurement and image analysis and all the processing hardware on the same chip, they have substantially reduced power consumption and space requirements for drone navigation.

Navion architecture

Navion uses a state of the art, non-linear factor graph optimization algorithm to navigate in space.  It doesn’t sound like  DL neural net image recognition but more like a statistical/probabilistic approach to image mapping and place estimation. The chip uses image compression, two stage memory, and sparse linear solver memory to reduce image processing memory requirements from 3.5MB to less than 1MB.

The chip uses 3 inputs: two images (right &  left image) and IMU (inertial management unit sensor) and has one (complex output), its estimate of the current state of where it is on the map.

Navion processing creates and maintains a 3D map using stereo images and provides navigational support to move through that space.  According to the paper, the Navion chip updates the state(s) and sparse 3D map at a KF (Kalman filter) rate of between 16 and 90 fps. Navion also offers configurations options to maximize accuracy, throughput or energy efficiency.

Navion compares well to other navigation electronics

The table shows comparisons of the Navion chip against other traditional navigational systems that use Xeon, ARM or FPGA chips. As far as I can tell it’s either much better or at least on a par with these other larger, more complex, power hungry systems.

Nano drones are coming to our space, sooner than anyone expects.


Photo credit(s): System overview from Navion project page (c) 2018 MIT;

Picture of chip with layout  from Navion project page (c) 2018 MIT;

Navion: A Fully Integrated Energy-Efficient Visual-Inertial Odometry Accelerator for Autonomous Navigation of Nano Drones (c) 2018 MIT

Stanford Data Lab students hit the ground running…

Read an article (Students confront the messiness of data) today about Stanford’s Data Lab  and how their students are trained to cleanup and analyze real world data.

The Data Lab teaches two courses the Data Challenge Lab course and the Data Impact Lab course. The Challenge Lab is an introductory course in data gathering, cleanup and analysis. The Impact Lab is where advanced students tackle real world, high impact problems through data analysis.

Data Challenge Lab

Their Data Challenge Lab course is a 10 week course with no pre-requisites that teaches students how to analyze real world data to solve problems.

Their are no lectures. You’re given project datasets and the tools to manipulate, visualize and analyze the data. Your goal is to master the tools, cleanup the data and gather insights from the data. Professors are there to provide one on one help so you can step through the data provided and understand how to use the tools.

In the information provided on their website there were no references and no information about the specific tools used in the Data Challenge Lab to manipulate, visualize and analyze the data. From an outsiders’ viewpoint it would be great to have a list of references or even websites describing the tools being used and maybe the datasets that are accessed.

Data Impact Lab

The Data Impact lab course is an independent study course, whose only pre-req is the Data Challenge Lab.

Here students are joined into interdisplinary teams with practitioner partners to tackle ongoing, real world problems with their new data analysis capabilities.

There is no set time frame for the course and it is a non-credit activity. But here students help to solve real world problems.

Current projects in the Impact lab include:

  • The California Poverty Project  to create an interactive map of poverty in California to supply geographic guidance to aid agencies helping the poor
  • The Zambia Malaria Project to create an interactive map of malarial infestation to help NGOs and other agencies target remediation activity.

Previous Impact Lab projects include: the Poverty Alleviation Project to provide a multi-dimensional index of poverty status for areas in Kenya so that NGOs can use these maps to target randomized experiments in poverty eradication and the Data Journalism Project to bring data analysis tools to breaking stories and other journalistic endeavors.


Courses like these should be much more widely available. It’s almost the analog to the scientific method, only for the 21st century.

Science has gotten to a point, these days, where data analysis is a core discipline that everyone should know how to do. Maybe it doesn’t have to involve Hadoop but rudimentary data analysis, manipulation, and visualization needs to be in everyone’s tool box.

Data 101 anyone?

Photo Credit(s): Big_Data_Prob | KamiPhuc;

Southbound traffic speeds on Masonic avenue on different dates | Eric Fisher;

Unlucky Haiti (1981-2010) | Jer Thorp;

Bristol Cycling Level by Wards 2011 | Sam Saunders

Information flows everywhere – part 1

Read an article today from Scientific American (Sewage is helping cities flush out the opioid crisis) about how using chemical analysis of wastewater can be used to assess the extent of the opioid crisis in their city.

Wastewater information highway

There’s a lab at ASU (Arizona State University) that chemically analyzes samples of wastewater to determine the amount of drugs that a city’s population excretes. They can provide a near real-time assessment of the proportion of drugs in city sewage and thereby, in a city’s population.

The problem with public drug use surveys and hospital data gathering is that they take time.  Moreover, surveys and hospital data gathering typically come long after drugs problem have become a serious problem in a city’s population.

Wastewater sample drug analysis can be done in a matter of days and can be redone as often as needed. Such data could be used to track intervention activities and see if they have a real impact (positive or negative) on drug use in a population.

Neighborhood health

In addition, by sampling sewage at a neighborhood level, one can gain an assessment of drug problems at any sub-division of a city that’s needed.

The above article talks about an MIT program with Cary, NC (from  that is designing robots to traverse sewer pipes and analyze wastewater chemical makeup in real time, reporting this back to ground stations around the city.

With such an approach, one could almost zero in (depending on sewer pipe networks) on any neighborhood in a city, target specific interventions at that level and measure impact in (digestion delayed) real time. Doing so, cities or states for that matter, could  experiment with different interventions on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis and gain statistical evidence on drug problem intervention effectiveness.

But, you can analyze wastewater for any number of variables, such as viruses, bacteria, enzymes, etc. Any of which can lead to a better understanding of a population’s health.


Two things I want to leave you with:

First, public health has had a major impact on human health and has doubled our lifespan in 200 years. All modern cities have water treatment plants today to insure water quality and thereby, have reduced the incidence of cholera and other waterborne epidemics in their cities. Wastewater analysis has the potential for significant improvements in population health monitoring. Just like water treatment, wastewater analysis will someday become common public health practice in modern cities throughout the world.

Second, I was at a conference this week which presented a slide that there was no cold data anymore (Pure//Accelerate 2018). This was in reference to  re-analyzing old, cold data can often lead to insights and process improvements that were not obvious at first glance.

But it’s not just data anymore. Any activity done by man needs to be analyzed for (inherent & invisible) information flows that could be extracted to make the world a better place.

Photo Credit(s):

Random access, DNA object storage system

Read a couple of articles this week Inching closer to a DNA-based file system in ArsTechnica and DNA storage gets random access in IEEE Spectrum. Both of these seem to be citing an article in Nature, Random access in large-scale DNA storage (paywall).

We’ve known for some time now that we can encode data into DNA strings (see my DNA as storage … and Genomic informatics takes off posts).

However, accessing DNA data has been sequential and reading and writing DNA data has been glacial. Researchers have started to attack the sequentiality of DNA data access. The prize, DNA can store 215PB of data in one gram and DNA data can conceivably last millions of years.

Researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington have come up with a solution to the sequential access limitation. They have used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers as a unique identifier for files. They can construct a complementary PCR primer that can be used to extract just DNA segments that match this primer and amplify (replicate) all DNA sequences matching this primer tag that exist in the cell.

DNA data format

The researchers used a Reed-Solomon (R-S) erasure coding mechanism for data protection and encode the DNA data into many DNA strings, each with multiple (metadata) tags on them. One of tags is the PCR primer tag header, another tag indicates the position of the DNA data segment in the file and an end of data tag that is the same PCR primer tag.

The PCR primer tag was used as sort of a file address. They could configure a complementary PCR tag to match the primer tag of the file they wanted to access and then use the PCR process to replicate (amplify) only those DNA segments that matched the searched for primer tag.

Apparently the researchers chunk file data into a block of 150 base pairs. As there are 2 complementary base pairs, I assume one bit to one base pair mapping. As such, 150 base pairs or bits of data per segment means ~18 bytes of data per segment. Presumably this is to allow for more efficient/effective encoding of data into DNA strings.

DNA strings don’t work well with replicated sequences of base pairs, such as all zeros. So the researchers created a random sequence of 150 base pairs and XOR the file DNA data with this random sequence to determine the actual DNA sequence to use to encode the data. Reading the DNA data back they need to XOR the data segment with the random string again to reconstruct the actual file data segment.

Not clear how PCR replicated DNA segments are isolated and where they are originally decoded (with a read head). But presumably once you have thousands to millions of copies of a DNA segment,  it’s pretty straightforward to decode them.

Once decoded and XORed, they use the R-S erasure coding scheme to ensure that the all the DNA data segments represent the actual data that was encoded in them. They can then use the position of the DNA data segment tag to indicate how to put the file data back together again.

What’s missing?

I am assuming the cellular data storage system has multiple distinct cells of data, which are clustered together into some sort of organism.

Each cell in the cellular data storage system would hold unique file data and could be extracted and a file read out individually from the cell and then the cell could be placed back in the organism. Cells of data could be replicated within an organism or to other organisms.

To be a true storage system, I would think we need to add:

  • DNA data parity – inside each DNA data segment, every eighth base pair would be a parity for the eight preceding base pairs, used to indicate when a particular base pair in eight has mutated.
  • DNA data segment (block) and file checksums –  standard data checksums, used to verify and correct for double and triple base pair (bit) corruption in DNA data segments and in the whole file.
  • Cell directory – used to indicate the unique Cell ID of the cell, a file [name] to PCR primer tag mapping table, a version of DNA file metadata tags, a version of the DNA file XOR string, a DNA file data R-S version/level, the DNA file length or number of DNA data segments, the DNA data creation data time stamp, the DNA last access date-time stamp,and DNA data modification data-time stamp (these last two could be omited)
  • Organism directory – used to indicate unique organism ID, organism metadata version number, organism unique cell count,  unique cell ID to file list mapping, cell ID creation data-time stamp and cell ID replication count.

The problem with an organism cell-ID file list is that this could be quite long. It might be better to somehow indicate a range or list of ranges of PCR primer tags that are in the cell-ID. I can see other alternatives using a segmented organism directory or indirect organism cell to file lists b-tree, which could hold file name lists to cell-ID mapping.

It’s unclear whether DNA data storage should support a multi-level hierarchy, like file system  directories structures or a flat hierarchy like object storage data, which just has buckets of objects data. Considering the cellular structure of DNA data it appears to me more like buckets and the glacial access seems to be more useful to archive systems. So I would lean to a flat hierarchy and an object storage structure.

Is DNA data is WORM or modifiable? Given the effort required to encode and create DNA data segment storage, it would seem it’s more WORM like than modifiable storage.

How will the DNA data storage system persist or be kept alive, if that’s the right word for it. There must be some standard internal cell mechanisms to maintain its existence. Perhaps, the researchers have just inserted file data DNA into a standard cell as sort of junk DNA.

If this were the case, you’d almost want to create a separate, data  nucleus inside a cell, that would just hold file data and wouldn’t interfere with normal cellular operations.

But doesn’t the PCR primer tag approach lend itself better to a  key-value store data base?

Photo Credit(s): Cell structure National Cancer Institute

Prentice Hall textbook

Guide to Open VMS file applications

Unix Inodes CSE410

Key Value Databases, Wikipedia By ClescopOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

AI reaches a crossroads

There’s been a lot of talk on the extendability of current AI this past week and it appears that while we may have a good deal of runway left on the machine learning/deep learning/pattern recognition, there’s something ahead that we don’t understand.

Let’s start with MIT IQ (Intelligence Quest),  which is essentially a moon shot project to understand and replicate human intelligence. The Quest is attempting to answer “How does human intelligence work, in engineering terms? And how can we use that deep grasp of human intelligence to build wiser and more useful machines, to the benefit of society?“.

Where’s HAL?

The problem with AI’s deep learning today is that it’s fine for pattern recognition, but it doesn’t appear to develop any basic understanding of the world beyond recognition.

Some AI scientists concede that there’s more to human/mamalian intelligence than just pattern recognition expertise, while others’ disagree. MIT IQ is trying to determine, what’s beyond pattern recognition.

There’s a great article in Wired about the limits of deep learning,  Greedy, Brittle, Opaque and Shallow: the Downsides to Deep Learning. The article says deep learning is greedy because it needs lots of data (training sets) to work, it’s brittle because step one inch beyond what’s it’s been trained  to do and it falls down, and it’s opaque because there’s no way to understand how it came to label something the way it did. Deep learning is great for pattern recognition of known patterns but outside of that, there must be more to intelligence.

The limited steps using unsupervised learning don’t show a lot of hope, yet

“Pattern recognition” all the way down…

There’s a case to be made that all mammalian intelligence is based on hierarchies of pattern recognition capabilities.

That is, at a bottom level  human intelligence consists of pattern recognition, such as vision, hearing, touch, balance, taste, etc. systems which are just sophisticated pattern recognition algorithms that label what we are hearing as Bethovan’s Ninth Symphony, tasting as grandma’s pasta sauce, and seeing as the Grand Canyon.

Then, at the next level there’s another pattern recognition(-like) system that takes all these labels and somehow recognizes this scene as danger, romance, school,  etc.

Then, at the next level, human intelligence just looks up what to do in this scene.  Almost as if we have a defined list of action templates that are what we do when we are in danger (fight or flight), in romance (kiss, cuddle or ?), in school (answer, study, view, hide, …), etc.  Almost like a simple lookup table with procedural logic behind each entry

One question for this view is how are these action templates defined and  how many are there. If, as it seems, there’s almost an infinite number of them, how are they selected (some finer level of granularity in scene labeling – romance but only flirting …).

No, it’s not …

But to other scientists, there appears to be more than just pattern recognition(-like) algorithms and lookup and act algorithms, going on inside our brains.

For example, once I interpret a scene surrounding me as in danger, romance, school, etc.,  I believe I start to generate possible action lists which I could take in this domain, and then somehow I select the one to do which makes the most sense in this situation or rather gets me closer to my current goal (whatever that is) in this situation.

This is beyond just procedural logic and involves some sort of memory system, action generative system, goal generative/recollection system, weighing of possible action scripts, etc.

And what to make of the brain’s seemingly infinite capability to explain itself…

Baby intelligence

Most babies understand their parents language(s) and learn to crawl within months after birth. But they haven’t listened to thousands of hours of people talking or crawled thousands of miles.  And yet, deep learning requires even more learning sets in order to label language properly or  learning how to crawl on four appendages. And of course, understanding language and speaking it are two different capabilities. Ditto for crawling and walking.

How does a baby learn to recognize these patterns without TB of data and millions of reinforcements (“Smile for Mommy”, say “Daddy”). And what to make of the, seemingly impossible to contain wanderlust, of any baby given free reign of an area.

These questions are just scratching the surface in what it really means to engineer human intelligence.


MIT IQ is one attempt to try to answer the question that: assuming we understand how to pattern recognition can be made to work well on today’s computers what else do we need to do to build a more general purpose intelligence.

There are obvious ethical questions on whether we want to engineer a human level of intelligence (see my Existential risks… post). Our main concern is what it does (to humanity) once we achieve it.

But assuming we can somehow contain it for the benefit of humanity, we ought to take another look at just what it entails.


Photo Credits:  Tech trends for 2017: more AI …., the Next Silicon Valley website. 

HAL from 2001 a Space Odyssey 

Design software test labeling… 

Exploration in toddlers…, Science Daily website

Better landslide/avalanche/mudslide modeling

Read an article the other week from Scientific American on Looming Landslide Stokes Fears, … about the Rattlesnake Ridge landslide that’s taking place in Washington State in the US. Apparently there’s a fissure that has been slowly widening  and is -slowly causing a landslide in the area.

Of course, recently there’s been significant mudslides in Montecito near  Las Angeles, that have resulted in a number of deaths and destruction of many millions of dollars of property. Now mudslides and landslides are not exactly the same but my guess is by improving our understanding of landslides may also help us better understand mudslides and hopefully, provide a better way to predict the dangers inherent in both. Ditto for snow avalanches.

Science to the rescue

Geologist and geomorphologists from Washington State and the USGS  have been instrumenting Rattlesnake Ridge with over 70 GPS sensors. They are also following the landslide using LIDAR snapshots to map terrain movement to try to better understand that movement over time.

It appears that Rattlesnake Ridge is moving about 1.6 ft/week. There’s a small community at the bottom of the ridge, and in the event of a complete collapse, knowing where and when to evacuate can save lives.

The belief is that the landslide at Rattlesnake Ridge and elsewhere are the result of an interaction of subsurface materials that holds ground in place and surface material moving down the a mountain side. It is the interface between these two layers that determines the rapidity of the landslide and its direction.

Land/snow/mud slides occur all the time

There’s a website called the Watchers that records significant landslides around the world. Aside from Rattlesnake Ridge and Montecito, they list a significant snow avalanche in South East France that cut off a village of 151 people, floods and landslides in the Philippines resulting from hurricane Kai-Tak that killed 26 people, a massive mudslide in Southern Chile which left 3 dead, 15 missing, and a new lake forming in India  after the Gangotri glacier collapsed that rerouted a river flowing from the glacier melt, all of which occurred during December 2017.

Snow avalanches, mudslides, landslides, etc. are all similar activities involving matter moving down a mountainside. The extent, direction and rapidity of its movement, all depend on the surface topology and subsurface and surface materials present in an area.

Knowing when to call an evacuation of the area immediately in a destructive path of a land/mud/snow slide and knowing where that destructive path is going to be is what the team at Rattlesnake Ridge are trying to help find out.




Photo Credit(s): 2104[sic] Washington Landslide by USGS 

Fissure by Ronan Jouve

SR6 Mudslide by Washington State DoT

Blockchain, open source and trusted data lead to better SDG impacts

Read an article today in Bitcoin magazine IXO Foundation: A blockchain based response to UN call for [better] data which discusses how the UN can use blockchains to improve their development projects.

The UN introduced the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDG) to be achieved in the world by 2030. The previous 8 Millennial Development Goals (MDG) expire this year.

Although significant progress has been made on the MDGs, one ongoing determent to  MDG attainment has been that progress has been very uneven, “with the poorest and economically disadvantaged often bypassed”.  (See WEF, What are Sustainable Development Goals).

Throughout the UN 17 SDG, the underlying objective is to end global poverty  in a sustainable way.

Impact claims

In the past organizations performing services for the UN under the MDG mandate, indicated they were performing work toward the goals by stating, for example, that they planted 1K acres of trees, taught 2K underage children or distributed 20 tons of food aid.

The problem with such organizational claims is they were left mostly unverified. So the UN, NGOs and other charities funding these projects were dependent on trusting the delivering organization to tell the truth about what they were doing on the ground.

However, impact claims such as these can be independently validated and by doing so the UN and other funding agencies can determine if their money is being spent properly.

Proving impact

Proofs of Impact Claims can be done by an automated bot, an independent evaluator or some combination of the two . For instance, a bot could be used to analyze periodic satellite imagery to determine whether 1K acres of trees were actually planted or not; an independent evaluator can determine if 2K students are attending class or not, and both bots and evaluators can determine if 20 tons of food aid has been distributed or not.

Such Proofs of Impact Claims then become a important check on what organizations performing services are actually doing.  With over $1T spent every year on UN’s SDG activities, understanding which organizations actually perform the work and which don’t is a major step towards optimizing the SDG process. But for Impact Claims and Proofs of Impact Claims to provide such feedback but they must be adequately traced back to identified parties, certified as trustworthy and be widely available.

The ixo Foundation

The ixo Foundation is using open source, smart contract blockchains, personalized data privacy, and other technologies in the ixo Protocol for UN and other organizations to use to manage and provide trustworthy data on SDG projects from start to completion.

Trustworthy data seems a great application for blockchain technology. Blockchains have a number of features used to create trusted data:

  1. Any impact claim and proofs of impacts become inherently immutable, once entered into a blockchain.
  2. All parties to a project, funders, services and evaluators can be clearly identified and traced using the blockchain public key infrastructure.
  3. Any data can be stored in a blockchain. So, any satellite imagery used, the automated analysis bot/program used, as well as any derived analysis result could all be stored in an intelligent blockchain.
  4. Blockchain data is inherently widely available and distributed, in fact, blockchain data needs to be widely distributed in order to work properly.


The ixo Protocol

The ixo Protocol is a method to manage (SDG) Impact projects. It starts with 3 main participants: funding agencies, service agents and evaluation agents.

  • Funding agencies create and digitally sign new Impact Projects with pre-defined criteria to identify appropriate service  agencies which can do the work of the project and evaluation agencies which can evaluate the work being performed. Funding agencies also identify Impact Claim Template(s) for the project which identify standard ways to assess whether the project is being performed properly used by service agencies doing the work. Funding agencies also specify the evaluation criteria used by evaluation agencies to validate claims.
  • Service agencies select among the open Impact Projects whichever ones they want to perform.  As the service agencies perform the work, impact claims are created according to templates defined by funders, digitally signed, recorded and collected into an Impact Claim Set underthe IXO protocol.  For example Impact Claims could be barcode scans off of food being distributed which are digitally signed by the servicing agent and agency. Impact claims can be constructed to not hold personal identification data but still cryptographically identify the appropriate parties performing the work.
  • Evaluation agencies then take the impact claim set and perform the  evaluation process as specified by funding agencies. The evaluation insures that the Impact Claims reflect that the work is being done correctly and that the Impact Project is being executed properly. Impact claim evaluations are also digitally signed by the evaluation agency and agent(s), recorded and widely distributed.

The Impact Project definition, Impact Claim Templates, Impact Claim sets, Impact Claim Evaluations are all available worldwide, in an Global Impact Ledger and accessible to any and all funding agencies, service agencies and evaluation agencies.  At project completion, funding agencies should now have a granular record of all claims made by service agency’s agents for the project and what the evaluation agency says was actually done or not.

Such information can then be used to guide the next round of Impact Project awards to further advance the UN SDGs.

Ambly project

The Ambly Project is using the ixo Protocol to supply childhood education to underprivileged children in South Africa.

It combines mobile apps with blockchain smart contracts to replace an existing paper based school attendance system.

The mobile app is used to record attendance each day which creates an impact claim which can then be validated by evaluators to insure children are being educated and properly attending class.


Blockchains have the potential to revolutionize financial services, provide supply chain provenance (e.g., diamonds with Blockchains at IBM), validate company to company contracts (Ethereum enters the enterprise) and now improve UN SDG attainment.

Welcome to the new blockchain world.

Photo Credit(s): What are Sustainable Development Goals, World Economic Forum;

IXO Foundation website

Ambly Project webpage

A steampunk Venusian rover

Read an article last week in theEngineer on “Designing a mechanical rover to explore … Venus“, on a group at JPL, led by Jonathon Sauder who are working on a mechanical rover to study Venus.

Venus has a temperature of ~470c, hot enough to melt lead, which will fry most electronics in seconds. Moreover, the Venusian surface is under a lot of pressure, roughly equivalent to a mile under water or ~160X the air pressure at Earth’s surface (from NASA Venus in depth). Extreme conditions for any rover.

Going mobile

Sauder and his team were brainstorming mechanical rovers, that operated similar to Theo Jansen’s StrandBeest which walks using wind energy alone. (Checkout the video of the BEEST walking).

Jansen had told Sauder’s team that his devices work much better on smooth surfaces and that uneven, beach like surfaces presented problems.

So, Sauder’s team started looking at using something with tracks instead of legs/feet, sort of like a World War 1 tank. That could operate upside down as well as rightside up.

Rather than sails (as the StrandBeest), they plan to use multiple vertical axis wind turbines, called Sarvonius rotors, located inside the tank to create energy and store that energy in springs for future use.

Getting data

They’re not planning to ditch electronics all together but need to minimize the rovers reliance on electronics.

There are some electronics that can operate at 450C based on silicon carbide and gallium carbide which have a very low level of integration at this time, just a 100 transistors per chip.  And they could use this to add electronic processing and control to their mechanical rover.

Solar panels can supply electricity to the high temperature electronics and can operate at 450C.

But to get information off the rover and back to the Earth, they plan to use a highly radio reflective spot on the rover and a mechanical shutter mechanism. The mechanism can be closed and opened and together with an orbiting satellite generating radio pulses and recording the rover’s reflectivity or not, send Morse code from rover to satellite. The orbiting satellite could record this information and then transmit it to Earth.

The rover will make use of simple chemical reactions to measure soil, rock and atmospheric chemistry. Soil and rocks suitable for analysis can be scooped up, drilled out and moved to the analysis chamber(s) via mechanical devices. Wind speed and direction can be sensed with simple mechanical devices.

In order to avoid obstacles wihile roving around the planet, they  plan to use a mechanical probe out othe front (and back?) of the rover with control systems attached to this to avoid obstacles. This way the rover can move around more of the planets surface.

Such a mechanical rover with high temperature electronics might also be suitable for other worlds in the solar system, Mercury for sure but moons of the Jovian planets, also have extreme pressure environments.

And such a electrical-mechanical rover also might work great to probe volcano’s on earth, although the temperatures are 700 to 1200C, ~2 to 3X Venus. Maybe such a rover could be used in highly radioactive environments to record information and send this back to personnel outside the environment or even effect some preprogrammed repairs. Ocean vents could also be another potential place where such a rover might work well.

Possible improvements

Mechanical probes would need to be moved vertically and swing horizontally to be effective and would necessarily have to poke outside the tanks envelope to read obstacles ahead.

Sonar could work better. Sounds or clicks could be produced mechanically and their reflections could be also received mechanically (a mic is just a mechanical transducer). At the pressures on Venus, sound should travel far.

Morse code was designed to efficiently send alpha-numerics and not much else. It would seem that another codec could be designed to send scientific information faster. And if one mechanical spot is good, multiple spots would be better assuming the satellite could detect multiple radio reflective spots located in close proximity to one another on the rover.

Radio works but why not use infrared. If there were some way to read an infrared signal from the probe, it could present more information per pass.

For instance, an infrared photo of the rover’s bottom or top, using with a flat surface, could encode information in cold and hot spots located across that surface.

This could work at whatever infrared resolution available from the satellite orbiting overhead and would send much more information per orbital pass.

In fact, such an infrared surface readout might allow the rover to send B&W pictures up to the satellite. Sonar could provide a mechanism to record a (sound) picture of the environment being scanned. The infrared information could be encoded across the surface via pipes of cool and hot liquids, sort of like core memory of old.

What about steam power. With 450C there ought to be more than enough heat to boil some liquid and have it cool via expansion. Having cool liquid could be used to cool electronics, chemical and solar devices.  And as the high temperatures on Venus seem constant, steam power and liquid cooling would be available all the time and eliminating any need for springs to hold energy.

And the cooling liquid from steam engines could be used to support an infrared signaling mechanism.

Still not sure why we need any electronics. A suitably configured, shrunken, analytical engine could provide the rudimentary information processing necessary to work the shutter or other transmitter mechanisms, initiate, readout and store mechanical/chemical/sonar sensors and control the other items on the rover.

And with a suitably complex analytical engine there might be some way to mechanically program it with various modes using something like punched tape or cards. Such a device could be used to hold and load information for separate programs in minimal space and could also be used to store information for later transmission, supplying a 100% mechanical storage device.

Going 100% mechanical could also lead to a potentially longer lived rover than something using some electronics and mostly mechanical devices on a planet like Venus. Mechanical devices can fail, but their failure modes are normally less catastrophic, well understood. Perhaps with sufficient mechanical redundancy and concern for tribology, such a 100% mechanical rover could last an awful long time, without any maintenance, e.g., like swiss watches.


Photo Credit(s): World War One tank – mark 1 by Photos of the Past

Vintage Philmor morse code practice … by Joe Haupt

Accompanied by an instructor… by vy pham;

Core memory more detail by Kenneth Moore;

Model of the Analytical Engine By Bruno Barral (ByB), CC BY-SA 2.5;

Punched tape by Rositslav Lisovy

Steam locomotives by Jim Phillips