It seems a group of faculty & students have taken an NXT where no NXT has gone before… into space. OK, OK, I know the technical definitions, and they didn’t get quite that far, but it’s an amazing use of off-the-shelf technology none the less. Part of the NevadaSat program at the University of Nevada, Reno, is to launch high-altitude balloons carrying student experiments, including dataloggers & cameras. It seems one of the devices they use in these experiment packages are NXTs to control things like the cameras (off-the-shelf digital cameras) and take data. On Mission NBS-07-06, the balloon reached roughly 97,000’, and a later mission (also carrying an operating NXT) reached 101,253’. For those of you that are wondering, that’s 19 miles above sea level, about three times as high as a commerical airliner, where temperatures are sub-zero and the equipment is practically operating in a vacuum. They reported that the NXT works great, and is recovered and reused even though some of the “landings” are a bit rough (decent speeds at ground impact are around 1000 ft/min (about 10 mph), although they have reached close to 2000 ft/min in some cases). They are programmed in ROBOLAB or NXT-G (depending on the experience of the students), and have used sensors like accelerometers, gyros, temperature, pressure, etc., to monitor the 1-2 hour flight.
To me this is a really amazing and inspiring use of the NXT – as an educational & research tool, & well beyond “a simple toy”. I was once asked if an NXT-based rover could function on Mars, and opinioned that I didn’t know, but doubted it: conditions on Mars are sub-freezing, and the atmospheric pressure is only bout 1% Earth sea level, almost a vacuum... certainly not on the list of environments the NXT was designed for. But here is an example of such “consumer electronics” performing under similar conditions, at least for a limited time. Pressure at 100,000 feet (30 km) is roughly 1200 Pascals… or just 1.2% of the sea level pressure. And temperatures in the payloads hover around 0° C (32° F) (they use small internal heaters to keep it that warm). Not too far from roving around on a Martian sand dune.
An amazing accomplishment for the NXT, especially for the students and advisors in the BalloonSat program. Congratulations!