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Old August 19th, 2019, 03:24 AM
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Default Electronics and Traveller

I debated posting this here or in Random Static, and decided here as it has its affect on how I run My Traveller Universe and view the game.

A couple of months ago, the radio in the car my wife primarily uses decided to go out. Now, it turned out that the radio controlled a bit more than just the radio. It also controlled most of the climate controls, the interior lighting, the back-up warning, and the USB inputs. About the only thing that it did not control was the starter, speedometer, and odometer. After several trips to the dealer, they finally decided that there was a short in the radio, and replaced it with what they claimed was a new unit. We were looking at going out of town, so we took the car that I usually drive, and left my wife's car to be repaired when we got back.

Well, this afternoon, my wife arrived back home from a craft fair, and had me come out and take a look at the radio. Quite simply, the touch screen was no longer working. No climate controls, no radio controls, no compass, nothing dependent upon the touch screen to change. Again, we are looking at going out of town, so I am not exactly a happy camper at this point. The radio is a sealed unit, so all the service department does is replace it. I am not sure if they even have the ability or knowledge to fix it. I can see the same thing happening on a star ship.

Thus, this problem with overly complex electronic controls is one of the main reason why I do not go with the standard crewing for Traveller ships. I do not go with one engineer, I go with 4 as a minimum. One chief engineer, who does not stand watch, and 3 assistants that do stand watches, 4 hours on and 8 off. Not one bridge crewman, but at least 4. A captain/owner aboard who monitors everything, and at least 3 bridge officers to stand watch. For the cargo/passenger section, again at least 3, all of whom have Steward skill and can prepare fresh meals. Plus a medic on all ships of 100 tons and larger, with more medics as needed. The cargo/passenger section gets a least 3 so that someone is on duty 24 hours a day for meals and passenger needs. A high passenger wakes up in the middle of the ship's night, and decides that he wants something more than a snack to eat. Then there is the crew standing watch that need to eat, possibly at their stations, so the food needs to be brought to them.

A crewman cannot be expected to be 100% efficient for an 8 hour stretch, and clearly, the standard Traveller ship is highly dependent on electronics for all types of monitoring. Now what happens when those electronics develop problems with the solitary crewman is sleeping is never addressed. Will problems develop, see Murphy on that, with the corollary that "problems show up at the worst possible time."
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Old August 19th, 2019, 04:28 AM
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It gets worse. Even if you had the gear to trouble shoot it, and the knowledge and schematics to figure out what part(s) needed replacing, the components have gotten so small and in some ways delicate that you can't replace them even if you wanted to.

Imagine on some more advanced electronic device in terms of Traveller having components that are microscopic and were laid down in layers on a film of some sort using some grossly expensive equipment at a factory in a sterile environment.

There's no way you're fixing that on a ship even if you had some 3D printer of some sort, even a good one.

You might have to peel away layers just to get at the part needing replacement.

Worse, the module could be "ruggedized" and potted in something like an epoxy plastic that has to be whittled off carefully just to get at the components. But, you're likely not to get it all off or will likely damage something doing it.

It'd be like trying to repair an IC chip today. That realistically isn't possible.

Of course, you'd also likely run into issues getting parts. I have enough experience doing that to know that the first problem is your "standardized" whatever-it-is isn't so standardized.
The part you need is the mid production variant that was used between date x and y before it was superseded by an improved model that was later replaced in production models with a completely different unit that was deemed "better."
So, it turns out your particular part is the "rare" one nobody makes anymore simply because it's rare. In order to replace it with the "better" module, you have to also replace six other modules because those won't work with the "better" one even though they worked with your rare variant.
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Old August 19th, 2019, 06:28 AM
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Does that mean instead of "repairing a part, electrical components might be sort of modular instead so like you either buy, manufacture, or pull out a spare and slot it in?

For example, for a Transhumanist 2300 AD story they were setting up, a poster I know happened upon this as an idea for servicing weapons:
Modern firearms are, like all transhuman technology, exquisitely crafted and powerful devices. However, this also turns their innards far more complex than ever before. A modern railgun requires finely crafted and secured armatures to keep itself from flying appart during firing. Coilguns and plasers both house complex sequential electromagnetic acceletators, and them and lasers all rely on high-powered, volatile power supplies that buffer megawatts of power per shot from solenoid power cells. Servicing such intricate electronics under field conditions in dirt, dust and hostile atmospheres is nigh-impossible, especialy electronic components.

Modern weapons overcome this issue via the Whitebox system, a functional replication of old gunpowder firearms that were made up of easily stripped and serviced components. Components such as the trigger, control computer, power supply, feeds, bolt assembly, accelerator, data and power feeds and others are encapsulated in enviromentally sealed polymer blocks - a so-called whitebox. Assembling these inside a polymer-and-metal framework creates a fully functional gun. If a component breaks down, the weapon can be opened under adverse field conditions, the offending whitebox module removed, and replaced with a packaged replacement part. For detailed diagnosis, the whitebox can then be introduced into a Field Maintenance Fabber on-site or rolled back through the logistics tail for diagnosis, repair or recycling.

Whiteboxes themselves are relatively simplistic. They contain a basic diagnostics computer with RFID output and a manual E-paper diagnostics display as well as instructions for handling and changing (as well as specifications) with attached QR ID code, and their casing is made from CNT-doped polymer with c-allotrope stability frameworks. Ports allow every nessecary component to be connected, bolt holes or attachment strips serve as mechanical attachment points for the assembled gun.

Field Weaponsmith Robot
FWRs are box-shaped, automated weaponsmith robots, a mixture of centerline workspace sorounded by robotic arms, a replacement parts bay, and a medium-sized specialist fabber with attached feedstock reserves. Most FWRs are about the size of a large suitcase to a light nanosuspension coffin, more lengthy than boxy as their workspace has to accomodate longguns also. FWRs can perform all menial and several specialist duties sorounding modern guns - Rapid cleaning, stripping and inspection, weapon parts modification and attachment managment (with attached storage, fabrication, and recycling), basic and advanced repairs, and advanced models can even craft some guns from scatch, or "frankenstein" cutomized gun models as per demand.

The Kasakeyli Heavy Industries TTC-4 is a typical FWR as carried by combat squads, usualy in the belly compartment of a squads assignerd mules. When not in use, the unit compacts down into a solid block, but when activated it unfolds upwards and outwards, opening up its main workspace. The system can service normal carbines, assault rifles, and gun- and launcher-type heavy weapons. Emplaced weapons in full are beyond its capacity, as are missiles and other shoulder-mounted heavy guns.

FWRs are operated by an LAI and Expert System cloud that specializes in Weaponsmithing. Software and hardware upgrades may be applied to extend the service libary or capabilties of the FWR.

Home Weaponsmith Robot
These civilian variants of FWRs were created as off-shots of the first weapon autoservicing robots, and a widespread "Autobench" item on the colonial frontier. Almost every modern gunowner will have some kind of HWR. Sometimes they are integrated with gun lockers/dispensers and recharge stations, as well. Compared to FWRs, HWRs aren't very transportable - they usualy rely on a homes intergated feedstock distribution system for main fabrication mass (only containing specilaized feedstock silos) and are the size of a workbench, CNC lathe, or a locker, with appropiate weight. Colonial models however, very often do have a UPS power supply and emergency bunker on board together with alternate power and feedstock hook-ups so that they can work somewhat infrastructure-independent.

Unlike FWRs, HWRs have a few advantages. Their greater service space, potential for multiple service spaces are one. They also usualy have facilities for rapidly recharging power cells, refilling civilian plaser cartridges, and fabricating and loading kinetic ammunition, a feature many FWRs ommit out of space concerns. However, without software patches many HWRs are unable to service military firearms, especialy SpecOps models, and they may lack the fabrication and brush bot precision required for various associated components.

(Both FWRs and HWRs are great ways for PCs to customize and maintain their weapons if they cannot do it themselves, or lack the primary knowledge to perform gun modifications - a quit possible obstacle on the frontier. Treat them as expert system gunsmiths, with military systems or priporitory civilian models having a certain capability to adapt and improvise. Civilian systems are also likely to have knowledge on the maintenance of bush guns (and appropiate service spaces), whereas military models have better manipulators and coding expertise for adopting various hardware, as well as "frankensteining" guns. The Autoarmory, a Smart Room that may be installed in spaces of sufficient size and infrastructure, is related to both.)
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Old August 19th, 2019, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Enoki View Post
Imagine on some more advanced electronic device in terms of Traveller having components that are microscopic and were laid down in layers on a film of some sort using some grossly expensive equipment at a factory in a sterile environment.
Different software architecture is one thing... imagine different physical architecture.

Electromagnetic computing is one thing... What about psionic electronics... psychotronics if you will?

It can get really exotic.

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Old August 19th, 2019, 12:33 PM
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One school I attended in the US Navy told us no more component replacement, like transistors or vacuum tubes/valves. We would replace entire printed circuit boards.

Its only gotten worse.

Having repaired desktop computers since then, we just replaced the motherboard. Didn't even try to replace components, unless they were in a chip socket.

One of my Arduinos has surface mount chips that I have to use a magnifier, about 6 power, just to see the leads on it.
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Old August 19th, 2019, 01:13 PM
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Replacement of entire modules speeds up maintenance and turnaround; I think the Hornet was first fighter jet that incorporated that.

And the Navy has decided to remove control touchscreens from some of their destroyers.
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Old August 19th, 2019, 02:40 PM
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The term of art is "Field Replaceable Unit", or FRU.

This is the part that gets shipped out and swapped in the field and then returned to the manufacturer who then repairs it in house and tosses it on their spares shelf. Even if the unit requires specialized spares unique to the unit, those will be maintained at the depot or the manufacturer, and sent out as a whole unit that's more efficiently swapped out in the field.

Now, whether any of that happens with an automotive infotainment unit, who knows.

Modern manufacturing methods are very, very specialized. Whether it's an alternator or an ABS control unit. Nobody is going to fix those in the field, they're going to swap them out.
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Old August 19th, 2019, 03:53 PM
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In the 80's, the USN was bragging about how Naval Aviation was using unit-swaps on planes to return planes to service much faster...

Time for deep engine maintenance? pull it, swap in the spare, and the bird flies missions today, while the engine shop does the deep maintenance.

Buggered radar? Pop it out, pop in a new, known working one... if that doesn't work, swap the emitters in the radome/nose . Soon as the bad component is ID'd, send it down to Avionics for repair.

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Old August 19th, 2019, 04:57 PM
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I do not go with one engineer, I go with 4 as a minimum. etc
works great with a naval ship that has only one bottom line - victory. for a civie ship that requires profits, won't work.

I can see the same thing happening on a star ship.
I've often thought that would be the best reason why traveller computers are so big and primitive - so that there's at least a possibility that they can be repaired in low-tech settings. also why ship bridges are .02 of ship volume - human-repairable components, located in human-accessible bays.
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Old August 19th, 2019, 05:22 PM
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Originally Posted by flykiller View Post
I've often thought that would be the best reason why traveller computers are so big and primitive - so that there's at least a possibility that they can be repaired in low-tech settings. also why ship bridges are .02 of ship volume - human-repairable components, located in human-accessible bays.
This has always been my assumption.
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