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Boston Dynamics Gave Its Robot Dog an Upgrade

The last time we saw the little robot dog it was loading a dishwasher. Also, Fisker is back and promising 500 miles on a one-minute charge, and testing supersonic parachutes.

Boston Dynamics’ Robot Dog Gets a Makeover

Boston Dynamics has given the SpotMini a makeover. The last time we saw the little robot dog it was using its mouth at the end of a long, articulated neck to load a dishwasher.

Not to be confused with the BigDog for the military or the SpotMini's bigger brother, Spot, the new design is sleeker, and was given a fresh coat of yellow paint. According to the company, which is now a subsidiary of Softbank after the division was sold off by Google parent Alphabet, the new design still has the ability to pick up and handle objects with an arm with 5 degrees of freedom as well as a new suite of sensors. SpotMini is about 2.75 feet tall, weighs about 55 pounds, but if you want the arm, it will add about 11 pounds.

The new SpotMini can still only go for about 90 minutes on a single charge, depending on the task, but it has to power a host of equipment, including stereo and depth cameras, position and force sensor, and an inertial measurement unit.

From the teaser footage, the new design looks a bit more nimble than its predecessor, and while some may think that it is taking a bow in the early footage, they are clearly not dog owners, because that looks like a dog checking out a potential threat, and then moving along. Still no word on where the design stands when it comes to marking its territory.

NASA Tests Supersonic Parachute

In early October, NASA performed its first supersonic parachute test. A 58-foot tall two stage rocket was launched in Virginia and accelerated to more than three times the speed of sound as it made it halfway to the edge of space. The rocket carried a bullet-nosed payload that carried a supersonic parachute made of nylon, technora, and kevlar.

The special parachute is part of NASA's Mars 2020 mission and it's tasked with slowing down a spacecraft as it comes into the Martian atmosphere at more than 12,000 mph. After all, if we're going to fire millions of dollars of test equipment to the red planet, we might want to make sure that it lands safely.

For the first time since the test, NASA has released footage of the test, including when the 100-pound parachute is deployed at nearly 100 miles per hour in half a second. They even slow to 30 frames per second. The video was actually shot at 1000 FPS so researchers can study every nanosecond of the deployment to see what, if anything, was overstressed.  

The moment that the parachute inflates, the parachute is going about 1300 miles per hour, and generating nearly 35,000 pounds of drag force.

We even get to see footage of the payload splashing down into the sea. And I know what you're thinking, how did we get a NASA story without a new strained acronym? Fun fact: The mission's parachute-testing series is called Aspire, which stands for the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment. #TheMoreYouKnow

Fisker is Back & Promising 500 Miles on a 1-minute Charge

Henrik Fisker, the man behind failed luxury electric startup Fisker Automotive, is back in the electic vehicle game, and this time, if you can believe it, he's making event bolder claims than when he said electric cars should be be beautiful and exciting and fun to drive.

According to a report in Digital Trends, Fisker has filed patents for solid-state batteries that can be recharged in a one minute. For a comparison, I charged my phone for a minute, and it gave me a 1% boost. Time for an upgrade -- actually, it was less than a 1% boost, just didn't go anywhere.

The new company is called Fisker Inc., not to be confused with Fisker Automotive, and the company believes that these batteries will be 2.5 times more energy dense than current EV batteries, and could be in production within the next five years (by 2023). The increased density will also mean a range of 500 miles per charge.

This is Engineering By Design with David Mantey. 

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