Drone Takes Off With a Flick of the Wrist

One of the companion technologies in the developing field of augmented reality is gesture tracking. It’s one thing to put someone in a virtual or augmented world, but without a natural way to interact inside of it the user experience is likely to be limited. Of course, gestures can be used to control things in the real world as well, and to that end [Sarah]’s latest project uses this interesting human interface device to control a drone.

The project uses a Leap Motion sensor to detect and gather the gesture data, and feeds all of that information into LabVIEW. A Parrot AR Drone was chosen for this project because of a robust API that works well with this particular software suite. It seems as though a lot of the grunt work of recognizing gestures and sending commands to the drone are taken care of behind-the-scenes in software, so if you’re looking to do this on your own there’s likely to be quite a bit more work involved. That being said, it’s no small feat to get this to work in the first place and the video below is worth a view.

To some, gestures might seem like a novelty technology with no real applications, but they do have real-world uses for people with disabilities or others with unusual workflow that require a hands-free approach. So far we’ve seen hand gesture technologies that drive cars, help people get around in the physical world, and even play tetris.

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Harrier-like Tilt Thrust in Multirotor Aircraft

A traditional quadcopter is designed to achieve 6 degrees of freedom — three translational and three rotational — and piloting these manually can prove to be a challenge for beginners. Hexacopters offer better stability and flight speed at a higher price but the flight controller gets a bit more complex.

Taking this to a whole new level, the teams at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) and Zurich University of the Arts (ZHDK) have come together to present a hexacopter with 6 individually tiltable axes. The 360-degree tilt in rotors allows for a whopping 12-degrees of freedom in flight and allows the UAV to fly in essentially any direction including parallel to walls.

In addition to the acrobatic capabilities of the design, the team has done some testing with autonomous control using external cameras. Their blog contains videos of their testing at various stages and it interesting to see the project evolve over a short span of nine months. Check out the video below of the prototype in action.

With Amazon delivering packages via drone and getting patents for parachute labels, UAV design is evolving faster now than ever. We can’t wait to see where this 12 DOF takes the state of the art. Continue reading “Harrier-like Tilt Thrust in Multirotor Aircraft”

Automate the Freight: Maritime Drone Deliveries

Ships at sea are literally islands unto themselves. If what you need isn’t on board, good luck getting it in the middle of the Pacific. As such, most ships are really well equipped with spare parts and even with raw materials and the tools needed to fabricate most of what they can’t store, and mariners are famed for their ability to make do with what they’ve got.

But as self-sufficient as a ship at sea might be, the unexpected can always happen. A vital system could fail for lack of a simple spare part, at best resulting in a delay for the shipping company and at worst putting the crew in mortal danger. Another vessel can be dispatched to assist, or if the ship is close enough ashore a helicopter rendezvous might be arranged. Expensive options both, which is why some shipping companies are experimenting with drone deliveries to and from ships at sea. Continue reading “Automate the Freight: Maritime Drone Deliveries”

Hand-Wound Brushless Motors Revive Grounded Quad

You’re happily FPVing through the wild blue yonder, dodging and jinking through the obstacles of your favorite quadcopter racing course. You get a shade too close to a branch and suddenly the picture in your goggles gets the shakes and your bird hits the dirt. Then you smell the smoke and you know what happened – a broken blade put a motor off-balance and burned out a winding in the stator.

What to do? A sensible pilot might send the quad to the healing bench for a motor replacement. But [BRADtheRipper] prefers to take the opportunity to rewind his burned-out brushless motors by hand, despite the fact that new ones costs all of five bucks. There’s some madness to his method, which he demonstrates in the video below, but there’s also some justification for the effort. [Brad]’s coil transplant recipient, a 2205 racing motor, was originally wound with doubled 28AWG magnet wire of unknown provenance. He chose to rewind it with high-quality 25AWG enameled wire, giving almost the same ampacity in a single, easier to handle and less fragile conductor. Plus, by varying the number of turns on each pole of the stator, he’s able to alter the motor’s performance.

In all, there are a bunch of nice tricks in here to file away for a rainy day. If you need to get up to speed on BLDC motor basics, check out this primer. Or you may just want to start 3D printing your own BLDC motors.

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Amazon Gets a Patent For Parachute Labels

Delivery by drone is a reality and Amazon has been pursuing better and faster methods of autonomous package delivery. The US Patent and Trademark Office just issued a patent to Amazon for a shipping label that has an embedded parachute to ensure soft landings for future deliveries.

The patent itself indicates the construction consisting of a set of cords and a harness and the parachute itself is concealed within the label. The label will come in various shapes and sizes depending upon the size of the package and is designed to “enable the workflow process of shipping and handling to remain substantially unchanged”. This means they are designed to look and be used just like a normal printed label.

The objective is to paradrop your next delivery and by the looks of the patent images, they plan to use it for everything from eggs to the kitchen sink. Long packages will employ multiple labels with parachutes which will then be monitored using the camera and other sensors on the drone itself to monitor descent.

The system will reduce the time taken per delivery since the drone will no longer have to land and take off. Coupled with other UAV delivery patents, Amazon may be looking at more advanced delivery techniques. With paradrops, the drone need not be a multi rotor design and the next patent may very well be a mini trajectory correction system for packages.

If they come to fruition we wonder how easy it will be to get your hands on the labels. Materials and manufacture should both be quite cheap — this has already been proven by the model rocket crowd, and to make the system viable for Amazon it would have to be put into widespread use which brings to bear an economy of scale. We want to slap them on the side of beer cans as an upgrade to the catapult fridge.

A Flying, Fetching, Helping-Hand Omnicopter

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a flying machine that could maneuver in any direction while rotating around any axis while maintaining both thrust and torque? Attach a robot arm and the machine could position itself anywhere and move objects around as needed. [Dario Brescianini] and [Raffaello D’Andrea] of the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich, have come up with their Omnicopter that does just that using eight rotors in configurations that give it six degrees of freedom. Oh, and it plays fetch, as shown in the first video below.

Omnicopter propeller orientations
Omnicopter propeller orientations

Each propeller is reversible to provide thrust in either direction. Also on the vehicle itself is a PX4FMU Pixhawk flight computer, eight motors and motor controllers, a four-cell 1800 mAh LiPo battery, and communication radios. Radio communication is necessary because the calculations for the position and outer attitude are done on a desktop computer, which then sends the desired force and angular rates to the vehicle. The desktop computer knows the vehicle’s position and orientation because they fly it in the Flying Machine Arena, a large room at ETH Zurich with an infrared motion-capture system.

The result is a bit eerie to watch as if gravity doesn’t apply to the Omnicopter. The flying machine can be just plain playful, as you can see in the first video below where it plays fetch by using an attached net to catch a ball. When returning the ball, it actually rotates the net to dump the ball into the thrower’s hand. But you can see that in the video.

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The Tri Rotor Drone: Why Has It Been Overlooked?

A DJI Phantom 3. Zimin.V.G. [CC BY-SA 4.0]
If you are a watcher of the world of drones, or multirotors, you may have a fixed idea of what one of these aircraft looks like in your mind. There will be a central pod containing batteries and avionics, with a set of arms radiating from it, each of which will have a motor and a propeller on its end. You are almost certainly picturing a four-rotor design, such as the extremely popular DJI Phantom series of craft.

Of course, four-rotor designs are just one of many possible configurations of a multirotor. You will commonly see octocopters, but sometimes we’ve brought you craft that really put the “multi” in “multirotor”. If the computer can physically control a given even number of motors, within reason, it can be flown.

There is one type of multirotor you don’t see very often though, the trirotor. Three propellers on a drone is a rare sight, and it’s something we find surprising because it’s a configuration that can have some surprising benefits. To think about why, it’s worth taking a look at some of the characteristics of a three-rotor machine’s flight.

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