Tarpinian: AltCar Expo Report

Bill Goodwin, Greg Bear, and Howard V. Hendrix. (The image behind them is a 3D photo of a 50 mile section of Gale crater)

By John King Tarpinian: The AltCar Expo was held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on September 29. If you are in the market for a 100% electric BMW or a Dodge 2500 CNG pick-up this was the place to be. My little Volvo only has 26,000 miles on it so I’ll have to wait for next year when they show off the hovercrafts.

My attendance and the only reason to run the gauntlet known as Carmageddon was to hear the talk, “Mars and the Heart of Humanity: Ray Bradbury’s Million-Year Picnic.” Bill Goodwin, Greg Bear and Howard V. Hendrix each took turns talking about Mars in fiction and how it relates to reality, giving credit to Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is hard to talk about Mars, in science, without mentioning these four gentlemen and their contributions to literature.

Charles Baker brought with him a $30,000 1/10th scale model of Curiosity along with a 20” diameter wheel from the sister rover that is used to test possible maneuvers here on earth before they try them on the Red Planet.

If you have seen photos of the rover you may have noticed holes in the wheels’ treads. The reason for the holes is so that sand/pebbles will “fall out” and not weigh down the rover. The original design had the openings be the letters JPL but politics got in the way. So they redesigned it with the holes. What the geeks at JPL did not mention was that the three rows on each wheel spell out JPL in Morse Code. The geeks won!!! (You can see the holes in the photo with the rover model sitting on top of the wheel.)

1/10th scale model of Curiosity Rover being held by Charles Baker.

An extra wheel for Curiosity.

3 thoughts on “Tarpinian: AltCar Expo Report

  1. I know of no scale models of Curiosity available to the public, but I do know of a very nice one in 1/18 scale that is made by a company called Sunstar. The scale is the same as many of the diecast cars I have, making it possible to make a direct comparison of size, and even pose suitable figures next to it. The solar panels fold up into their “flight” configuration, the mastcam rotates and tilts, as does the hi-gain antenna, the wheels roll (though the suspension is fixed) and finally the robot arm with the drill and other tools is multi-jointed. In 1/18 scale, the metal and plastic model is about four inches from front to back, five from side to side. It comes with a large display base that respresents the three petaled landing shell. All for forty bucks! Anyone interested can probably find one for sale by googling.

  2. Mattel’s Hot Wheels just came out with a Curiosity. I understand it was snapped up quickly by collectors. Here’s more information.

    People with 3-D printers can reproduce Curiosity model designs that have been uploaded, such as this example.

    Finally, NASA has been creating educational software; the free Spacecraft 3D app runs on Iphones or Ipads. This is “augmented reality” software.

    You print out a special target image on paper. Place it on the kitchen table.

    You point your phone’s camera at the piece of paper. The software looks at the camera’s output, looking for the target image.

    Where it sees the target, it superimposes a 3-D model of Curiosity onto the phone’s display.

    So on the display, Curiosity appears on your kitchen table.

    You can move the camera around, or move the target picture around, to see Curiosity from different angles. You can give the app a command to extend Curiosity’s arm.

    You can even ask the app to snap a picture. Pose with the rover yourself, if you like. Augmented reality.

    People to whom I’ve demonstrated this are usually delighted; some rush off to download Spacecraft 3D themselves.

  3. I just looked the link where the Hot Wheels Curiosity rover can be viewed. Well… it is Hot Wheels, after all, and probably two inches long. The good news is that it certainly wouldn’t cost $40. Maybe $2. I’ll pass on that one.

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