Students to launch rocket with Vaio laptops

Sony challenges high school students to design, build, and launch a rocket using its laptops. The big blast is scheduled for Thursday.

Matt Hickey
With more than 15 years experience testing hardware (and being obsessed with it), Crave freelance writer Matt Hickey can tell the good gadgets from the great. He also has a keen eye for future technology trends. Matt has blogged for publications including TechCrunch, CrunchGear, and most recently, Gizmodo. Matt is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CBS Interactive. E-mail Matt.
Matt Hickey
2 min read

Sony Rocket Project
Whoosh! Zoom! A student on the Sony Rocket Project team examines a virtual-reality model of the craft. Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

Sony has taken eight promising high school students from across America, given them Vaio laptops, and challenged them to use the devices to build and launch a rocket. Sounds pretty cool, but why did Sony do this?

To answer a question that had never occurred to me until the press release hit my inbox: Can Vaio laptops (which, Sony reminds us, feature Intel processors) launch a rocket? Considering analog devices of 1960s could, we're betting on the "yes" end of the spectrum. But it's still fun to watch.

Tom Atchinson
Sony Rocket Project mentor Tom Atchinson Sony

Intel i5-powered Z series Vaios were used to analyze the performance of the rocket, using simulations and virtual-reality models, before the real one was even built. In fact, the computers were used for "CAD, aerodynamic simulation, computational fluid dynamics, dispersion analysis, Monte Carlo simulation...and calculations for dispersion analysis, gas dynamics, aerodynamic stability, dynamic stability, structural loading, thermal heat transfer flux, fin flutter stability and much, much more." I'm guessing that means Rocketville on Facebook, too.

In addition, an i7-equipped F series will be used in the control room when the projectile is (hopefully) launched on Thursday in Nevada as per the plan. We're not sure what role the laptops have in actually launching the thing, though. A couple of weeks ago I launched many rockets with a Zippo.

That does bring up a question. The teens are being mentored by rocket expert Tom Atchinson of Rocket Mavericks, a nonprofit dedicated to raising public awareness of civilian space travel. Presumably, he's launched rockets before, but how did he do so without super-advanced Vaio laptops? Clearly this man is of another world.

That said, this is a unique opportunity for the technology-minded students and the project must be a blast (geddit!?). As a kid, I'd build model rockets and was satisfied when they'd reach the 110-foot mark. This thing, if all goes well, could reach the stratosphere. And really, "rocket science" is a good thing to have on a resume.

The rocket is 29 feet tall, weighs more than 500 pounds, and is due to launch Thursday from the Black Rock Desert outside of Reno. That's the same desert where the annual Burning Man countercultural arts festival takes place, so if the worst case scenario happens and the thing blows up, there will be plenty of spare parts to finish the Rocketdude 3000 costume you left back at your dorm in Oregon.