Hackaday Prize Entry: Raspberry Pi Zeros And Drones

How do you get eyeballs on a blog post? Put Raspberry Pi Zero in the headline. How do you get even more eyeballs? Put the word drone in there too. Lucky for us, there’s one very special project in the Hackaday Prize that combines both. It’s the Pi0drone from [Victor], and it’s exactly what it looks like: a flying Raspberry Pi Zero.

[Victor] has been working on the PXFmini, a ‘shield’ or ‘hat’ for the Raspberry Pi that integrates a barometer, IMU, and a few PWM outputs into a very small form factor that is just a shade larger than the Raspberry Pi Zero itself. It comes with standard connector ports for UART and I2C to attach GPS and on screen display for FPV flying.

Of course, there are dozens of flight controllers for drones and quads out there, but very few are running Linux, and even fewer platforms are as well supported as the Raspberry Pi. To leverage this, [Victor] is running Dronecode on the Pi for mission planning, real autopilot, and everything else that turns a remote controlled quadcopter into a proper drone. It works, and it’s flying, and you can check out the video proof below.

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Find a Drone

Flying a drone usually leads to–sooner or later–crashing a drone. If you are lucky, you’ll see where it crashes and it won’t be out of reach. If you aren’t lucky, you’ll know where it is, but it will be too high to easily reach. The worst case is when it just falls out of the sky and you aren’t entirely sure where. [Just4funmedia] faced this problem and decided to use some piezo buzzers and an Arduino to solve it.

Yeah, yeah, we know. You don’t really need an Arduino to do this, although it does make it easy to add some flexibility. You can pick two tones that are easy to hear and turn on the buzzers with a spare channel or sense a loss of signal or power.

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The Coming Wide-Spread Use of Drones in Agriculture

Whether you call them UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), UAS (Unmanned Aerial System), Drones, or something less polite – people are more familiar than ever with them. We’ll call them drones, and we’re not talking about the remote-controlled toy kind – we’re talking about the flying robot kind. They have sensors (GPS and more), can be given a Flight Plan (instructions on where to go), and can follow that plan autonomously while carrying out other instructions – no human pilot required. Many high-end tractors are already in service with this kind of automation and we’ve even seen automated harvesting assistance. But flying drones are small and they don’t plant seeds or pull weeds, so what exactly do they have to do with agriculture?

There are certain things that drones are very good at, and there are things in agriculture that are important but troublesome to do or get. Some of these things overlap, and in those spaces is where a budding industry has arisen.

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Meet Blue Jay, The Flying Drone Pet Butler

20 students of the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands share one vision of the future: the fully domesticated drone pet – a flying friend that helps you whenever you need it and in general, is very, very cute. Their drone “Blue Jay” is packed with sensors, has a strong claw for grabbing and carrying cargo, navigates autonomously indoors, and interacts with humans at eye level.

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Your Quadcopter Has Three Propellers Too Many

While studying failure modes for quadcopters, and how to get them safely to the ground with less than a full quad of propellers, a group of researchers at the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich came up with a great idea: a mode of flight that’s like the controlled spinning descent of a maple seed.

The Monospinner runs on the absolute minimum number of moving parts. Namely, one. Even a normal helicopter has a swash plate for adjustable blade pitch, and a tail rotor to keep it from spinning. Give up the idea that you want to keep it from spinning, and you can achieve controlled flight with a lot less. Well, one motor and a whole lot of math and simulation.

The Monospinner is carefully weighted so that it’s as stable as possible while spinning, but so far it’s unable to spin itself up from a standstill. In initial tests, they attached it to a pivot to help. The best part of the video (below) is when the researcher throws it, spinning, into the air and it eventually stabilizes. Very cool.

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Debunking the Drone Versus Plane Hysteria

The mass media are funny in the way they deal with new technology. First it’s all “Wow, that’s Cool!”, then it’s “Ooh, that’s scary”, and finally it’s “BURN THE WITCH!”. Then a year or so later it’s part of normal life and they treat it as such. We’ve seen the same pattern repeated time and time again over the years.

The mass media tech story cycle. Our apologies to Gartner. Curve image: Jeremykemp [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
The mass media tech story cycle. Our apologies to Gartner. Curve image: Jeremykemp [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
Seasoned readers may remember silly stories in the papers claiming that the Soviets could somehow use the technology in Western 8-bit home computers for nefarious purposes, since then a myriad breathless exclusives have predicted a youth meltdown which never materialised as the inevitable result of computer gaming, and more recently groundless panics have erupted over 3D printing of gun parts. There might be a British flavour to the examples in this piece because that’s where it is being written, but it’s a universal phenomenon wherever in the world technologically clueless journalists are required to fill column inches on technical stories.

The latest piece of technology to feel the heat in this way is the multirotor. Popularly referred to as the drone, you will probably be most familiar with them as model-sized aircraft usually with four rotors. We have been fed a continuous stream of stories involving tales of near-misses between commercial aircraft and drones, and there is a subtext in the air that Something Must Be Done.

The catalyst for this piece is the recent story of a collision with a British Airways plane 1700ft over West London approaching London Heathrow. The ever-hyperbolic Daily Mail sets the tabloid tone for the story as a drone strike, while the BBC’s coverage is more measured and holds a handy list of links to near-miss reports from other recent incidents. This incident is notable in particular because a Government minister announced that it is now believed to have been caused by a plastic bag, and since there is already appropriate legislation there was little need for more. A rare piece of sense on a drone story from a politician. The multirotor community is awash with plastic bag jokes but this important twist did not seem to receive the same level of media attention as the original collision.

Are multirotors unfairly being given bad press? It certainly seems that way as the common thread among all the stories is a complete and utter lack of proof. But before we rush to their defence it’s worth taking a look at the recent stories and examining their credibility. After all if there really are a set of irresponsible owners flying into commercial aircraft then they should rightly be bought to book and it would do us no favours to defend them. So let’s examine each of those incident reports from that BBC story.

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Has Mankind Gone Too Far With Drone Fishing?

Previously man was limited in his ability to fish the waters of this world by the power of his arm or his ability to procure the services of a boat. Now, as long as man is willing to risk a thousand dollar drone set-up, he can descend upon unsuspecting fish with robotic precision. It is very unfair, and awesome.

The concept is simple. Buy one of those drones every upper middle class teenager seems to get for Christmas. Attach a streaming camera set-up to it. Next, rig it up so that it can fly the fishing line from the rod out, but when the fish bites the line can easily detach. Finally, attach a friend to the controls of the fishing rod.

After that it’s like shooting fish in an ocean. Fly the drone around, pulling the line behind you, until you see a school of fish. Next, dangle the bait in the center of the school. Inevitably one will strike, the line will detach, and it’s up to your friend to reel in your catch. Either that or a bunch of tuna will wreck your drone and you’ll get to watch a livestream of a thousand dollars sink to the ocean floor. Video after the break.

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