CLOSE
O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory
O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory

5 Machines that Simulate Natural Disasters

O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory
O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory

Natural disasters can strike at any time, causing huge loss of life and billions of dollars in damage. Scientists are using these machines to help us be better prepared.

1. UC San Diego Jacobs School Shake Table

If you were the kind of kid who liked to build houses out of blocks then knock them down, consider enrolling or getting a job at UC San Diego, where scientists do that kind of thing pretty often: They build full-sized structures on top of a 25 x 40-foot table—the largest in the country—then shake it to see how well different types of construction, various kinds of materials, and retrofits to existing buildings might stand up in a quake.

The $5.9 million hydraulically-driven machine can vibrate at 6 feet per second with a maximum force of 4.2 Gs. The machine has been used to test everything from “wind turbines, to masonry, wood-frame and precast concrete buildings, as well as non-structural building elements, such as stairs, elevators and even hospital equipment,” according to a school press release. You can watch the table shake a 4-story 1920s-style building retrofitted with cross-laminated timber above.

2. Iowa State University Tornado Simulator

This first-of-its-kind machine, which opened in 2004, consists of two parts: a huge cylinder, suspended from a 5-ton crane, that contains a 6-foot-wide fan; and a test bed that can be raised and lowered. Scientists construct model towns on the test bed, then fire up the fan—which creates a tornado-like vortex with 55mph winds—and move it over the “town.” The machine’s sheer size allows scientists to build bigger model structures, creating a more realistic version of what might happen in an actual tornado.

3. and 4. Oregon State University’s Tsunami Basin and Large Wave Flume

The O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory at Oregon State University has a pair of wave-generating machines. The 160-foot-long, 87-foot-wide, and 7-foot-deep Directional Tsunami Wavemaker is equipped with electric motors and uses pistons to push out 29 waveboards to create tsunami-like waves.

The Large Wave Flume (the largest in North America) measures 342 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 15 feet deep, and can create waves 5 feet high. In both structures, scientists study the effects of the kinds of waves seen in nature on models of everything from buildings to telephone poles to levees. Recent research done using the machines showed that coastal forests might help mitigate tsunami damage.

5. Florida International University’s “Wall of Wind” Hurricane Simulator

This massive, $8 million machine consists of 12 fans, each 6 feet in diameter and 700hp, that can generate winds up to 157 mph—the kinds of winds you’d see in a Category 5 hurricane. At peak flow, the system pumps as much air as 7650 leaf blowers. In one demonstration, the FIU team built two structures: One built to code before 1992's Hurricane Andrew, and one built with codes created after. According to the Miami Herald,

The first things to go were roof shingles but pre-Andrew designs, rated for just 60 mph, held up nearly as well as heavier products rated for 130 mph. Half of the supposedly stronger shingles began peeling away as the digital wind gauge hit 109 mph, just Cat 2 strength. But as the wind increased, there was no comparison between old and new. At Cat 3, the older design lost half the tar paper intended to keep out rain. At Cat 4, a whole section of thinner plywood sheathing began buckling furiously, then flew off in a flash.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
The North Face
arrow
Design
The North Face's New Geodesic Dome Tent Will Protect You in 60 mph Wind
The North Face
The North Face

You can find camping tents designed for easy set-up, large crowds, and sustainability, but when it comes to strength, there’s only so much abuse a foldable structure can take. Now, The North Face is pushing the limits of tent durability with a reimagined design. According to inhabitat, the Geodome 4 relies on its distinctive geodesic shape to survive wind gusts approaching hurricane strength.

Instead of the classic arching tent structure, the Geodome balloons outward like a globe. It owes its unique design to the five main poles and one equator pole that hold it in place. Packed up, the gear weighs just over 24 pounds, making it a practical option for car campers and four-season adventurers. When it’s erected, campers have floor space measuring roughly 7 feet by 7.5 feet, enough to sleep four people, and 6 feet and 9 inches of space from ground to ceiling if they want to stand. Hooks attached to the top create a system for gear storage.

While it works in mild conditions, the tent should really appeal to campers who like to trek through harsher weather. Geodesic domes are formed from interlocking triangles. A triangle’s fixed angles make it one of the strongest shapes in engineering, and when used in domes, triangles lend this strength to the overall structure. In the case of the tent, this means that the dome will maintain its form in winds reaching speeds of 60 mph. Meanwhile, the double-layered, water-resistant exterior keeps campers dry as they wait out the storm.

The Geodome 4 is set to sell for $1635 when it goes on sale in Japan this March. In the meantime, outdoorsy types in the U.S. will just have to wait until the innovative product expands to international markets.

[h/t inhabitat]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Jonathan How, MIT
arrow
technology
New MIT Technology to Help Drones Dodge Obstacles May Make Deliveries Easier
Jonathan How, MIT
Jonathan How, MIT

New technology developed by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) may help drones dodge collisions as they fly, making things like drone pizza delivery a whole lot more plausible on a large scale.

Whether you’re a human or a drone, moving through a city always involves a certain amount of uncertainty. Will that light turn green as you approach? Will a pedestrian bump into you? Will a pigeon fly in your face? Will there be a sudden road closure for a parade, or a newly installed crane at a construction site? And if there’s one thing that machines tend to be bad at, it’s dealing with uncertainty. For a fast-flying drone, navigating with a static map just won’t cut it in the real world.

So CSAIL researchers created NanoMap, a new system that can model uncertainty, taking into account that, as a drone flies, the conditions around it might change. The technology helps the drone plan for the fact that it probably doesn’t know precisely where it is in relation to everything else in the world. It spends less time calculating the perfect route around an obstacle, relying instead on a more general idea of where things are and how to avoid them, allowing it to process and avoid potential collisions more quickly.

It features depth sensors that constantly measure the distance between the drone and the objects around it, creating a kind of image for the machine of where it has been and where it is going. “It’s kind of like saving all of the images you’ve seen of the world as a big tape in your head,” MIT researcher Pete Florence explains in a press release. “For the drone to plan motions, it essentially goes back into time to think individually of all the different places that it was in.”

In testing, the NanoMap system allowed small drones to fly through forests and warehouses at 20 miles per hour while avoiding potential collisions with trees and other obstacles.

The project was funded in part by the Department of Defense’s DARPA, so it could be used as part of military missions, but it would also be helpful for any kind of drone-based delivery—whether it’s ferrying relief supplies to combat zones or your latest Amazon Prime package.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios