“Who is John Galt?” Finally Answered

For those who haven’t read [Ayn Rand’s] philosophical tome Atlas Shrugged, there’s a pretty cool piece of engineering stuffed in between the 100-page-long monologues. Although fictional, a character manages to harness atmospheric static electricity and convert it into kinetic energy and (spoilers!) revolutionize the world. Harnessing atmospheric static electricity isn’t just something for fanciful works of fiction, though. It’s a real-world phenomenon and it’s actually possible to build this motor.

who-is-john-galt-thumbAs [Richard Feynman] showed, there is an exploitable electrical potential gradient in the atmosphere. By suspending a tall wire in the air, it is possible to obtain voltages in the tens of thousands of volts. In this particular demonstration, a hexacopter is used to suspend a wire with a set of needles on the end. The needles help facilitate the flow of electrons into the atmosphere, driving a current that spins the corona motor at the bottom of the wire.

There’s not much torque or power generated, but the proof of concept is very interesting to see. Of course, the higher you can go the more voltage is available to you, so maybe future devices such as this could exploit atmospheric electricity to go beyond a demonstration and do useful work. We’ve actually featured the motor that was used in this demonstration before, though, so if you’re curious as to how a corona motor works you should head over there.

Continue reading ““Who is John Galt?” Finally Answered”

Drones Are Getting A Lot Smarter

[DJI], everyone’s favorite — but very expensive — drone company just announced the Manifold — an extremely capable high performance embedded computer for the future of aerial platforms. And guess what? It runs Ubuntu.

The unit features a quad-core ARM Cortex A-15 processor with an NVIDIA Keplar-based GPU and runs Canonical’s Ubuntu OS with support for CUDA, OpenCV and ROS. The best part is it is compatible with third-party sensors allowing developers to really expand a drone’s toolkit. The benefit of having such a powerful computer on board means you can collect and analyze data in one shot, rather than relaying the raw output down to your control hub.

And because of the added processing power and the zippy GPU, drones using this device will have new artificial intelligence applications available, like machine-learning and computer vision — Yeah, drones are going to be able to recognize and track people; it’s only a matter of time.

We wonder what this will mean for FAA regulations…

Who Is Responsible When Machines Kill?

This morning I want you to join me in thinking a few paces into the future. This mechanism let’s us discuss some hard questions about automation technology. I’m not talking about thermostats, porch lights, and coffee makers. The things that we really need to think about are the machines that can cause harm. Like self-driving cars. Recently we looked at the ethics behind decisions made by those cars, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg.

A large chunk of technology is driven by military research (the Internet, the space race, bipedal robotics, even autonomous vehicles through the DARPA Grand Challenge). It’s easy to imagine that some of the first sticky ethical questions will come from military autonomy and unfortunate accidents.

Continue reading “Who Is Responsible When Machines Kill?”

BitDrones are Awesome, Ridiculous at Same Time

At first we thought it was awesome, then we thought it was ridiculous, and now we’re pretty much settled on “ridiculawesome”.

Bitdrones is a prototype of a human-computer interaction that uses tiny quadcopters as pixels in a 3D immersive display. That’s the super-cool part. “PixelDrones” have an LED on top. “ShapeDrones” have a gauzy cage that get illuminated by color LEDs, making them into life-size color voxels. (Cool!) Finally, a “DisplayDrone” has a touchscreen mounted to it. A computer tracks each drone’s location in the room, and they work together to create a walk-in 3D “display”. So far, so awesome.

It gets even better. Because the program that commands the drones knows where each drone is, it can tell when you’ve moved a drone around in space. That’s extremely cool, and opens up the platform to new interactions. And the DisplayDrone is like a tiny flying cellphone, so you can chat hands-free with your friends who hover around your room. Check out the video embedded below the break.

Continue reading “BitDrones are Awesome, Ridiculous at Same Time”

Shoot Down Drones with Pumpkin Cannons

Are you worried about the inevitable drone invasion? Have you been waiting for a defense system that you can trust? Look no further. This video shows just how effective the system is — no smoke and mirrors. Just results.

Forget RF jamming or WiFi hacking. If those devices work at all, they’re probably only good for stopping consumer devices. If you want to be sure that a drone is taken down, you’ll need a pumpkin cannon.

Continue reading “Shoot Down Drones with Pumpkin Cannons”

3D Printed Turbofan Features Reverse Thrust

[Harcoreta] has created a 3D printed model of the GE GEnx-1B Turbofan. This is the engine that powers Boeing’s 787 dreamliner. What sets this model apart is that it has a complete working reverse thrust system. A real jet engine would be asking a bit much of 3D printed ABS plastic. This model is more of an Electric Ducted Fan (EDF). An NTM 1400kv 35mm brushless motor hides in the core, cooled by a small impeller.

jet-nakedWhat sets this apart from other jet models is the working reverse thrust system. [Harcoreta] painstakingly modeled the cascade reverse thrust setup on the 787/GEnx-1B combo. He then engineered a way to make it actually work using radio controlled plane components. Two servos drive threaded rods. The rods move the rear engine cowling, exposing the reverse thrust ducts. The servos also drive a complex series of linkages. These linkages actuate cascade vanes which close off the fan exhaust. The air driven by the fan has nowhere to go but out the reverse thrust ducts. [Harcoreta’s] videos do a much better job of explaining how all the parts work together.

The model was printed on an Reprap Prusa I3 at 0.1mm layer height. [Harcoreta] smoothed his prints using acrylic thinner, similar to the acetone vapor method. Unfortunately, [Harcoreta] has only released a few of the design files on rcgroups, but we’re hoping he will drop the whole model. We can’t wait to see a model dreamliner landing just like the big boys!

Continue reading “3D Printed Turbofan Features Reverse Thrust”

Radio Jamming Rifle Claimed to Disable Drones

[Battelle], an Ohio-based non-profit R&D firm has just unveiled a device they call the DroneDefender — a long-range anti-drone defense weapon. It almost sounds like they’ve brought the fictional drone hunter’s RF cannon to life. But does it really work?

According to the site, it uses radio frequency disruption to blast unwanted drones out of the sky. Cool concept, but does it actually work? Unlike the hackable MAVLink protocol used by Parrot AR, ArduPilot and a handful of other consumer drones, this weapon uses brute radio signal force to disable any(?) consumer drone.

There’s a video after the break demonstrating a simulated use of the technology, which leaves us a bit confused. They show the drone slowly landing all nicely after being “guided” down by the rifle. If the system is jamming both GPS and the 2.4 GHz control link, the behavior will all depend on the software loaded on the drone. Some will go to a fail-safe mode, which is low throttle or motor power off, assuming the pilot has set fail-safe. Others may attempt to loiter on IMU sensors only.

Continue reading “Radio Jamming Rifle Claimed to Disable Drones”