The Hoberman Sphere
Artist and engineer Chuck Hoberman talks about what led him to his famous invention, which will soon be put into orbit around the Earth.
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The Hoberman Sphere for kids is made of little plastic rods folded together into a spikey ball. When you pull out the segments, it opens up into a big ball, three times its original size. It turns out this is a very useful feature for scientists, and now a big Hoberman Sphere will orbit the earth.
On "Studio 360" artist and engineer Chuck Hoberman talks about how he became the inventor of the Hoberman Sphere and many other things.
Before any of his inventions came into being, Chuck was an artist who liked to incorporate movement into his sculptures. He also went to Columbia University to major in mechanical engineering. And he ended up working at a small robotics company, an even though he loved his job, he was itching to make art again.
By then it was the early 1980s, and everyone was really into the first Macintosh computers, which inspired Hoberman: "People were obsessed with Macintosh icons -- how you can make 16 pixels look like a paint brush and all of this, and I got this idea, well what about three-dimensional pixels."
He started building origami models out of paper and scotch tape: "And in fact the whole idea of a three-dimensional pixel display was soon discarded as being horribly impractical, but the process of creating pop-up shapes had taken on a life of its own."
Chuck says creating those origami pixels was the smartest thing he ever did. It got him a meeting at NASA and eventually led to the invention of the Hoberman Sphere. Not too long ago, he got a letter from someone who wanted to blast his toy sphere into outer space: "I was concerned that, you know ... this might be a very eccentric person, but the return address was the Naval Research Laboratory ...".
And Paul Bernhardt who wrote that letter is completely serious -- he needs to calibrate the radar systems that study the electromagnetic disturbances in the upper atmosphere. It's called space weather, and it's to blame for some pretty petty annoyances here on earth.
To get around the disturbances, Bernhardt needs something in space, an object in a fixed orbit to bounce radar off of. Apparently, there's nothing up there that can do the job: "There's the space station, there's space shuttles, but there's something wrong with those objects ... they're not regular objects; they're funny shaped. What we wanted ... was a round thing, you know round things have a nice property that no matter what direction you look at it, it looks the same."
A colleague of his at Cornell University, a guy with kids said, 'what about that toy sphere?' And it turns out, the Hoberman Sphere was perfect for the job.
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