Entries in Science (4)



One of the nice aspects of being a technical illustrator is the constant variety of projects that I get to work on. Even if I'm rendering something relatively mundane like a radiator valve, I'm always learning new things about topics I might not have even considered. But it's especially fun when I get to create art for an industry that really excites me, like aviation. Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine recently had me create some illustrations to accompany some fascinating articles. This one was for a story explaining the secretive processes involved in stealth technologies; specifically the application of radar absorbent/deflective paint by robots onto the skin of modern fighter planes.



Punkin Chunkin technical illustrationIt's playfully referred to as Punkin Chunkin, and it's an annual competition that sees an odd collection of contraptions and their passionate inventors convening in the Delaware farmlands to see who can toss a pumpkin the farthest. Machine names like Pumpkin Slayer and Roman Revenge are as interesting and quirky as their designs, but the technical expertise and physics involved in launching a pumpkin thousands of feet is
serious business.

Discovery Channel covers the competition each Fall, and I've enjoyed the opportunity to provide them with 3D models of the various contraptions over the last few years. These models get animated as line drawings to help explain how the machines work. Be sure to tune in on Thanksgiving to watch!



Working from a home office allows me to avoid driving a car to a large extent. Still, it amazes me that I can experience two or three "incidents" on the road in a typical morning commute to drop the kids off at school. "Daddy, why did you call that man a f__ing a-hole?" was a question innocently posed to me by my four year old the other day. Looking down at her like the Grinch encountering Cindy Lou Who, I tried to reassure her that Daddy had said no such words. Inside I was still seething that the massive Toyota Sequoia, it's driver blithely chatting on her cell-phone as she peered over her steering wheel, had nearly T-boned us at the last intersection.

I like cars. I used to drive a black VW GTI. Then my girls came along and I reluctantly agreed that a minivan might more easily accommodate three car seats than my beloved coupe, though I briefly argued to the contrary. Now I think of cars as utilitarian people-movers. And to that end I've become fascinated with the advent of autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles are cars that basically drive themselves. Various automakers and organizations predict that by 2040 the majority of cars on the road will be autonomous. Cars will communicate with each other, sharing their relative positions and intended routes with each other and a central station that could coordinate their movements. Traffic efficiency and car safety will be vastly improved.

I'm sure the average driver will be reluctant to give up the steering wheel. Perhaps insurance companies could help encourage them by offering safe-driver incentives to adopt the technology. And older drivers would likely welcome a personal "robot chauffeur" to relieve some of the pressures they're facing to give up their licenses or be re-tested. Other technical and legal obstacles will need to be addressed, like assessing liability in the event of accidents. Do you blame the driver or the technology manufacturer?

But self-driving cars are inevitable and I'm all for them. Let me know what you think. Do you want to drive your car, or have your car drive you?



Cyborg Beetle technical illustration

I've been interested in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) ever since I did some work at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Mesa, Arizona, where one of the programs was the development of the Predator drone. These pilotless aircraft are flown in dangerous reconnaissance and strike missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan while controlled remotely thousands of miles away. I've always been fascinated by the technology, and wondered what kind of peaceful applications could be possible.

A class of UAVs, called Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) has been in the news recently. These are tiny aircraft that are being developed to observe hazardous situations that are inaccessible to ground vehicles. Because of the small sizes involved with these machines (some having as little as 15cm wingspans!) one of the challenges with MAVs has been aerodynamic stability. Bird and insect flight has been an inspiration for engineers trying to overcome this, but practical limitations continue to exist.

One bizarre but fascinating variation on MAV development is the "Cyborg Beetle". In this approach (pictured above), various components are deployed directly onto a host insect (a green june beetle, in this case) to in effect "hijack" the insect. A piezoelectric energy harvester converts energy from wing movements to power sensory instruments like cameras and microphones. Additional electricity is gathered from thin-film solar cells as well as a thermoelectric energy harvester which taps the insects body heat. A neural implant allows a human "pilot" to control the insects flight. One could imagine a swarm of these being released into a mine disaster or earthquake relief situation, their tiny sensors relaying information from areas inaccessible to relief workers.

I thought the blending of organic and electrical components in this amazing, yet vaguely disturbing technology would make an interesting technical illustration. Let me know what you think of the rendering, the cyborg beetle technology, or MAVs in general!