Extrinsic Motivation: Smart Antenna Tracker for R/C Aircraft

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Long distance FPV (First Person View) flying can be a handful. Keeping a video feed alive generally requires a high gain directional antenna. Going directional creates the chore of keeping the antenna pointed at the aircraft. [Brandon's] smart antenna tracker is designed to do all that automatically. What witchcraft is this, you ask? The answer is actually quite simple: Telemetry! Many flight control systems have an optional telemetry transmitter. [Brandon] is using the 3DRobotics APM or PixHawk systems, which use 3DR’s 915 MHz radios.

The airborne radio sends telemetry data, including aircraft latitude and longitude down to a ground station. Equipped with a receiver for this data and a GPS of its own, the smart antenna tracker knows the exact position, heading and velocity of the aircraft. Using a pan and tilt mount, the smart antenna tracker can then point the antenna directly at the airborne system. Since the FPV antenna is co-located on the pan tilt mount, it will also point at the aircraft and maintain a good video link.

One of the gotchas with a system like this is dealing with an aircraft that is flying directly overhead. The plane or rotorcraft can fly by faster than the antenna system can move. There are a few commercial systems out there that handle this by switching to a lower gain omnidirectional whip antenna when the aircraft is close in. This would be a great addition to [Brandon's] design.

Flying a Drone with an Oculus Rift 

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Controlling autonomous vehicles remotely with the use of virtual reality headsets seems like an obvious next step. Already, a few UAV companies have begun experimenting with these types of ideas by integrating Oculus Rift developer kits into their hovering quadcopters and drones. Parrot released a video on their blog showing that they developed a head-tracking system for their Bebop Drone in an effort to bring FPV flights to fruition. It looks like a lot of fun and we want to try one of these out asap!

As for technical specifications, they can be found in the YouTube description of the video embedded below. A quick glance showed that the operating system is based on Android and uses WiFi to connect the handheld tablet to the autonomous vehicle floating above. The range is a whopping 2km, giving plenty of freedom to explore. Moving one’s head swivels the attached camera giving a more immersive flying experience.

This isn’t the first example of FPV drones that we have seen. Previously, we covered an Oculus Rift + Head Tracking setup and another similar integration with a Black Armor Drone. We are bound to see virtual reality equipment used to control drones more and more as developers get their hands on cutting edge hardware like the Oculus developer kit 2 hardware which is currently shipping.

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Google[x]‘s Project Wing

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Autonomous delivery is the way of the future. Soon, flocks of flying hover crafts will glide through the air like acrobatic birds of flight bringing home items to those who need them. Whether those objects be food, or electronics, or clothes, pretty much anything under the weight limit of these devices can be sent to people anywhere nearby.

Now, Google has stepped into the ring saying that they are interested in delivering products to individuals in the next few years through an innovation they are calling Project Wing. It aspires to reduce the friction of moving things around. Google released a video introducing the idea which shows a man calling up a service asking for some food for his dog. Instantly, a small delivery vehicle took off from the ground and flew to the intended destination dropping off a package containing delicious doggy treats.

Google clearly states in the video that this type of system is still years away from a readily available consumer product, but it is the first prototype that the company wants to stand behind. Google has marketed the design pretty well so far, and the musical use of [Norman Greenbaum]‘s classic 1969 rock song ‘Spirit in the Sky’ was an obvious, yet totally awesome addition to the video. We are curious how services similar to this will affect postal delivery jobs in the future, and also what the legal ramifications will be, but all that information will surely be discussed very soon. In the meantime though, Google has released an interest form that will take the names and emails of those who would like to partner with them in an effort to bring autonomous product delivery to the world.

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Droning On: Maiden Flights

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When we last left off, the Hackaday Drone Testbed was just a box of parts on workbench. Things have changed quite a bit since then! Let’s get straight to the build.

With the arms built and the speed controls soldered up, it was simply a matter of bolting the frame itself together. The HobbyKing frame is designed to fold, with nylon washers sliding on the fiberglass sheets. I don’t really need the folding feature, so I locked down the nylock nuts and they’ve stayed that way ever since. With the arms mounted, it was finally starting to look like a quadcopter.

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Using the correct screws, the motors easily screwed into the frames. I did have to do a bit of filing on each motor plate to get the motor’s screw pattern to fit. The speed controls didn’t have a specific mount, so I attached them to the sides of the arms with double-sided tape and used some zip ties to ensure nothing moved. In hindsight I should have mounted them on the top of the arms, as I’m planning to put LED light strips on the outside of edges of the quad. The LEDs will help with orientation and ensure a few UFO sightings during night flights.

Power distribution is a major issue with multicopters. Somehow you have to get the main battery power out to four speed controls, a flight controller, a voltage regulator, and any accessories. There are PCBs for this, which have worked for me in the past. For the Hackaday Testbed, I decided to go with a wiring harness. The harness really turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. I had to strip down the wires at the solder joint to add connections for the voltage regulator. The entire harness was a bit longer than necessary. There is plenty of room for the excess wire between the main body plates of the quad, but all that copper is excess weight the ‘bench’ doesn’t need to be carrying. The setup does work though. If I need to shed a bit of weight, I’ll switch over to a PCB.

Click past the break to read the rest of the story.

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Axis Glove That Controls a Robot

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This homemade glove and gesture controlled rover was created by [electro18]. It can send temperature, battery level, and object distance to the LCD panel on the wrist. Instead of a typical joystick, this wireless system taps into an embedded accelerometer to maneuver the robot like magic.

The main chassis platform is made of clear acrylic and has additional acrylic strips fixed to the edges for additional strength. A LM35 temperature sensor is wired to the front that monitors the environments that the rover explores. An HC-SR04 Ultrasonic Rangefinder acts as the eyes of the machine. The photodiode is covered with an adaptation of a 6mm heat shrink tube to avoid false readings. Once hooked up and turned on, the robot can be controlled with the futuristic power glove consisting of two parts. An accelerometer strap and a display strap are the biggest parts. The project shows that it is relatively easy to make a system like this. Other items like quadcopters and tiny water boats could be controlled with a similar type of setup.

A video of the axis glove maneuvering the vehicle on a slope can be seen after the break:

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Aerodynamics? Super Honey Badger Don’t Give a @#*^@!

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[Arron Bates] is a pro R/C Pilot from Australia. He’s spent the last few years chasing the dream of a fixed wing plane which could perform unlimited spins. After some promising starts with independently controlled wing spoilers, [Arron] went all in and created The Super Honey Badger. Super Honey Badger is a giant scale R/C plane with the tail of a helicopter and a soul of pure awesome.

Starting with a standard 87″ wingspan Extra 300 designed for 3D flight, [Arron] began hacking. The entire rear fuselage was removed and replaced with carbon fiber tubes. The standard Extra 300 tail assembly fit perfectly on the tubes. Between the abbreviated fuselage and the tail, [Arron] installed a tail rotor from an 800 size helicopter. A 1.25 kW brushless motor drives the tail rotor while a high-speed servo controls the pitch.

[Arron] debuted the plane at HuckFest 2013, and pulled off some amazing aerobatics. The tail rotor made 540 stall turn an easy trick to do – even with an airplane. Flat spins were a snap to enter, even from fast forward flight! Most of [Arron's] maneuvers defy any attempt at naming them – just watch the videos after the break.

Sadly, Super Honey Badger was destroyed in May of 2014 due to a structural failure in the carbon tubes. [Arron] walked away without injury and isn’t giving up., He’s already dropping major hints about a new plane (facebook link).

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Flight For Your Right (And Do It By Friday)

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About a month ago, the FAA – the governing body for nearly everything that flies in US airspace – proposed an interpretation of their rules governing model aircraft. The world hasn’t ended quite yet, but if the proposed rules go into effect, an entire hobby will be destroyed in the United States. While congress has given the FAA authority over nearly everything that flies, there are specific laws saying what the FAA has no jurisdiction over – model aircraft being one of the major exceptions.

Congress, however, is working on a definition of model aircraft that is at least 10 years out of date and doesn’t have any leeway for the huge advances in technology that have happened since then. Specifically, all FPV flight with video goggles would be banned under the proposed FAA rules. Also, because model aircraft are defined as being for, ‘hobby or recreational purposes,’ anyone who flies a model aircraft for money – a manufacturer conducting flight tests on a new piece of equipment, or even anyone who records a video of their flight, uploads it to YouTube, and hits the ‘monetize’ button – would be breaking the law.

The proposed FAA rules for model aircraft are not in effect yet, and you can still make a public comment on the proposal until 11:59 PM EDT Friday. If you leave a comment, please make a well-reasoned statement on why the FAA’s interpretation of the rules governing model aircraft are overly broad, do not take into account technological advances made since the drafting of Congress’ working definition of ‘model aircraft,’ and the effects of a complete ban flying model aircraft for any type of compensation.

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This is not a good comment.

Of course, if the proposed rules for model aircraft go through, the only option will be to turn to the courts. Historically, the FAA simply does not lose court cases. Recently, cases involving drones have come up with successful defenses and judges deciding in favor of drone operators. The legal services for the eventual court case challenging the proposed FAA rules will most likely be funded by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, who just so happen to be offering membership at 50% off.

Below is a video of some RC people we really respect – [Josh] from Flite Test and [Trappy] of Team BlackSheep – talking about what the proposed rule change would do to the hobby. There’s also a great podcast featuring the first lawyer to successfully defend drone use in federal court that’s worth a listen.

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