DIY Space: Operate a Very Expensive Backhoe

Not quite like this–but it would be cool if it were…

I worked with some plumbing fellows this last year to remove some huge amounts of dirt to get at our very clogged up house waste line.  One of the pieces of equipment we used to remove the dirt was a very small, but effective, backhoe.  They let me help them with the backhoe occasionally (when I wasn’t just shoveling).  I actually enjoyed operating the backhoe.  So when I first played this Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Canadarm2 simulator, I actually felt a little bit at home with it, once I settled in.

Now I know the simulator is not intended to train future backhoe operators, but it actually works a lot, at least in the simulator, like a backhoe.  The controls for moving the arms around the axes, even though they are on the keyboard, remind me of the different controls for axes on a backhoe.  And just like when using a backhoe, there is a very big safety factor that needs to be considered when operating a huge mechanical arm around people and equipment.  Although admittedly, the equipment being moved around the International Space Station (ISS), where the Canadarm2 is mounted, is probably more expensive than the plumber’s truck.

The simulator is somewhat fascinating, especially if an operator treats it like the real deal.  There’s a very annoying music soundtrack, which can thankfully be turned off.  If this is evidence of current Canadian musical tastes, then maybe it’s a good thing they aren’t storming the entertainment world right now?  Give me Bryan Adams or Alanis any day instead of that (good lord, did I just say that?).  But that said, the simulator will start you off with a few practice runs on general movement.  It does help in this case to read the directions instead of jumping in, because the controls, at least as they’re being taught, aren’t intuitive.

After practice, you’re off and running.  There’re three different camera views to allow you to see just how you’re moving the arm.  I’m assuming that’s similar to the set up in real life on the ISS.  There are only two tasks you need to do.  If you’re a superstar pro at this stuff and you successfully complete both tasks, then you can just enable “smug mode” for the rest of the day.  Or just understand there are backhoe operators around the world who will probably do this so quickly that your “smug mode” gets disabled.

As for the plumbing problem at my house:  we had to dig 14 feet down, making a hole about 15 feet in diameter.  The problem was an eight inch clay pipe that had cracked and was filled with roots.  Digging and refilling the hole probably took about eight hours with people like me not familiar with the backhoe.  But it certainly made things easier and quicker.  I can’t imagine that making such a big hole with shovels only would’ve taken the same amount of time.  Technology is our friend.

By the way, if you don’t have it installed, you do need to install Unity on your browser to play the game.

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