Wind Tunnel Vision

While standing inside the Ames 80×120 (dimensions, in feet, of the cross section) wind tunnel today, it was pretty hard not to just keep looking up in awe and thinking ‘man, you could fit my house in here…twice.’ However, when I did glance down, I saw this awesome setup:

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Yes. They are testing a model of the 80×120 wind tunnel inside the 80×120 wind tunnel. [Cue inception bwaaaammmmmmm.]

Specifically, if you look off to the left, they are testing the effects that the new Google Campus will have on the airflow into the wind tunnel. 

The test setup – itty bitty Google next to itty bitty Ames – is like a physical analogy for a big point about modern innovation: the creation and testing of complex hardware takes a significant amounts of time, manpower and equipment. Contrast this to code, which can often be created and iterated upon hundreds of times in a week by a few individuals with nothing but computers and a few gallons of Red Bull.

And while software can make some pretty amazing things possible, I still think that hardware is what opens up truly new capabilities.

The trick, as I see it, is to develop ways to make the ease of developing and testing hardware closer to that of software. Each sliver of time and expense we shave off of that process translates to years of innovation-time (years of innovation-time are like man hours, except I just made up the term to refer to the cumulative time it takes for something to go from idea to an impactful implementation.)

This is why the trend of smaller, more standardized satellites is exciting – while they might not have the capabilities of larger satellites themselves, they will make it far easier to test components and ideas in space, speeding the development of space tech in general.

Oh, and some fun gigantic wind tunnel facts:

-It costs $5500/hr … just for the electricity to run the fans

-It vents so much air that they have to alert local air traffic control

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