Way back in the mists of time we used to call the mid-1990s, I attended an automotive show in Detroit. To be honest, it was only then I became aware that Detroit forms one half of the Detroit–Windsor international transborder agglomeration, which comprises the American city of Detroit, Michigan, and the Canadian city of Windsor, Ontario, with the Detroit River separating the two.

When I say “automotive show,” this wasn’t the type of car show festooned with shiny automobiles intended for the hoi polloi. Instead, it was a venue for the creators of automotive design and fabrication tools to flaunt their wares. In my case, the company I was representing was a creator and purveyor of mechanical and electronic design tools.

Remembering that this was around 25 years ago (a quarter of a century) as I pen these words, it’s amazing to think how advanced some of the technologies on display were. For example, there was a “3D Printer” capable of replicating entire automobile engines. The reason I have “3D Printer” in quotes is that it wasn’t what we would consider to be a 3D printer today.

First, it involved a huge bed about 6 feet wide and 9 feet long. At one end was a massive roll of brown paper the width of the bed and about 3 feet in diameter. Two grips on either side of the roll grabbed the ends of the paper and pulled it over the bed, which was perforated with hundreds of thousands of tiny holes. Using these holes, a vacuum sucked the paper down onto the bed, after which lasers cut out the desired shape. The suction was selectively removed from the un-desired areas of paper, which were subsequently subtracted by jets of air. Next, a thin layer of adhesive was sprayed over the remaining paper, after which a new layer of paper was dragged over, sucked down, laser cut, and so on and so forth. Over the course of several hours, as I passed back and forth across the hall, I saw a full-size engine slowly appear.

DIY VR haptic gloves (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: Lucas VRTech)

In another area of the exhibit hall, I had one of my first experiences of virtual reality (VR) coupled with haptic gloves, which are wearable devices that simulate the tactile sensations of handling virtual objects. The idea was that when you donned the VR headset, you saw a series of virtual objects passing before you on a virtual conveyer belt. You could reach out and pick these objects up with your haptic gloves. Each object “felt” (responded) differently depending on the material from which it was supposed to be fabricated. For example, a cylinder of metal felt hard and unyielding, while a water-filled balloon could be distorted by squeezing. The most interesting object was a virtual incandescent light bulb, which was rigid and inflexible at first until — if you squeezed hard enough — it suddenly exploded and your fingers snapped together.

The reason I’m waffling on about this here is that I just saw a project for DIY haptic gloves on Hackaday.io. These little rascals were created by a guy called Lucas. You should also check out Lucas’s TikTok Channel (especially this video in which he says that the haptic gloves he’s wearing cost only $21,89) and his YouTube Channel. I cannot get over this price, remembering that the VR haptic gloves I saw back in the mid-1990s cost thousands of dollars (I dare not even hazard a guess as to the cost of the accompanying VR system).

Don’t ask me how I got there, but whilst tracking down Lucas’s YouTube channel, I ran across this Epic Safety Video from 2014. It turns out that, as the official airline of Middle-earth, Air New Zealand went all out to celebrate the third and final film in The Hobbit Trilogy by creating this Hobbit-inspired airline safety video.

Last but not least, apropos of nothing at all, my chum Charles Pfeil just sent me a link to this video from 2018 showing a rocket being launched from Earth into space as seen by the crew of the International Space Station (ISS).

OMG. This is awesome. It’s like watching a science fiction film with amazing special effects, except that this is the real world and the special effects are provided by nature and the universe (and NASA and the ISS, of course).

So, there you have it — hobbits, haptic gloves, and the high frontier all gathered together in a single Cool Beans Blog, thereby providing you with ten glorious minutes of reading and viewing pleasure. You’re welcome.