Multicopters and their MultiWii Beginnings

With more than five years down the road in this successful hack, [Alexinparis] and his pioneering Nintendo controller hack have been taking eager enthusiasts to the skies with homebrew multicopters armed with MultiWii firmware.

The MultiWii firmware, like most other glorious moments that gloss these pages, was as a hack, and a darn good one. By harvesting the (I²C-based) accel-gyro sensor package in a Nintendo Wii MotionPlus, [Alexinparis] developed control firmware for an Arduino Pro Mini, and, thus: the MultiWii Controller Board was born. With a successful WiiMotion Plus pcb extraction, an Arduino Pro Mini, and some help from the forums, the dedicated hobbyist could build their own flying platform with customizable firmware enabling bi, tri, quad, hex, octo, Y6, and Y4 propeller configurations.

With a working flight controller, [Alexinparis] sent his firmware skyward in a tricopter built from scratch. For a light-but-sturdy shell, he opted for a lost-foam cast hull made from fiberglass and carbon fiber tow. This hull houses most of the electronics safely inside the hollow shell while maintaining the strength to sustain heavy blows from crashes. (The version shown above features additional carbon fiber reinforcement in the center.)

multiwiiLostFoammultiwiiLostFoamHousingmultiwiiDone

More than five years later, MultiWii is a mature open-source project with firmware and wiki under constant update. If you’ve ever considered getting started with multicopters, this project stands as a tested-and-tried road to success. In fact, even RC vendor HobbyKing offers low-cost Multiwii PCBs compatible with the firmware. For more details on the project’s humble beginnings, head on over to the RC Groups thread and followup documentation thread.

We’ve seen MultiWii countless times in the past as the firmware in numerous multicopter builds. It’s about time we give [Alexinparis] some well-deserved credit for paving the way.

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Quadcopter Plane Transformer is Awesome

Is it a quadcopter? A plane?  No, it’s both! [Daniel Lubrich] is at it again with a vertical take off and landing transformer he calls the SkyProwler.

The SkyProwler uses a switch blade type mechanism to move from quadcopter mode to plane mode. The wings can be detached to make it a normal quad that has all the typical bells and whistles. It can follow you around with GPS, fly autonomously via way points, and has this cool gimbal mechanism that keeps the GoPro stable as the drone pitches in flight, allowing for a better video experience.

[Dan’s] ultimate goal is a full size passenger model called the SkyCruiser, which uses the same switchblade transformation mechanism as his much smaller SkyProwler. Be sure to check out the video below if you haven’t already, and let us know of any quadcopter / plane hybrids of your own.

Correction: We previously associated [Daniel Lubrich] with the ATMOS program. This was in error and has been removed from the article. The ATMOS UAV is a separate project which we previously covered.

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1-Hour Quadcopter Build

[marhar] was pretty confident in his quadcopter building skills when he made a bet to build and fly a quadcopter in just one hour! This is a big task but he saved valuable time by using some unlikely parts that were hanging around his parts bin. And to make the task a little more difficult, this build wasn’t done in a nice shop, either. It was built outside on a patio floor with the only power tools available being a hand drill, miter saw and small drill press!

The frame is made from cheap, sturdy and available scrap wood. The center plates are 1/4″ plywood and the arms are 3/4″ square fir strips. Notice the landing gear, yes, those are mini wiffle balls zip-tied to the wooden arms. Although an unlikely candidate for landing gear, they are surprisingly effective.

The flight controller board is an Ardupilot. [marhar] did use a flight controller that he previously had in another quadcopter. He used it as-is, and it worked, but no programming or configuration time is included in the 1-hour limit. Even so, it doesn’t take away from the impressiveness of the build time.  The motors, ESC’s and battery are just standard types used for most multirotors.

[marhar] doesn’t say what he won for completing the ‘copter but we hope it was something good, he deserves it. If you’d like to make something similar, [marhar] gives very detailed instructions and provides templates for the wood parts on his Instructables page. Check out the time-lapse build video after the break…

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Drone-enium Falcon

If you own a quadcopter chances are you own more than one. It’s kind of an addictive thing in that way. So dig out that dinged up model and build something awesome around it. We’d suggest making it look exactly like a Millenium Falcon. Okay, to be fair this is built around a custom quadcopter originally designed to carry a camera and GPS but removed for this project. We’re not sure if stock models have enough extra umph to lift a fancy fuselage like this (maybe you’ll weigh in on that in the comments?).

As with any great build this started with a scale drawing. The drawing was printed for use as a cutting template for the expanded polystyrene. Part of what makes it look so fantastic is that the fuselage isn’t 2-dimensional. There is depth in the places that matter and that’s all because of near-mythical foam cutting/shaping skills on [Olivier’s] part.

Final touches are LEDs on front and to simulate the curved engine on the tail. You can almost see this thing picking up a handless [Luke] below Bespin’s floating city. This Falcon flies like… a quadcopter (what did you expect? The Kessel Run in 12 parsecs?), which you can see in the videos after the break. The second clip shows how easy it is to remove the foam body from the quad frame, yet another nice touch!

Of course if Star Wars isn’t your thing you can give trolling the skies as a flying body a shot.

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Solar Tetroon Spooks Albuquerque

An interesting take on Hackerspace outreach is spooking the local community into calling the FAA and even the Air Force. It wasn’t exactly the plan at Quelab, but after an experimental solar tetroon got away from [Gonner Menning], one of the space’s members, that’s exactly what happened.

This is the first we remember hearing of solar tetroons. A tetroon is actually a fairly common weather balloon design using four triangle-shaped pieces. The solar part is pretty neat, it’s a balloon that uses the sun to heat air inside of a balloon. Instead of filling the bladder with a lighter-than-air gas it is filled with regular air and the sun’s rays heat it to become lighter than the surrounding ambient air.

For this particular flight the balloon was never supposed to be off the tether. Previous iterations had turned out to be rather poor fliers. Of course it figures that when [Gonner] finally tuned the design with an optimal weight to lift ratio it slipped its leash and got away. The GPS package tracked it for quite a while but ended up dying and the craft was nary to be found.

We weren’t going to embed the local news coverage video, but at the end the talking heads end up rolling around the word “Hackerspace” in their mouths like it’s foreign food. Good for a giggle after the break.

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Lego Avengers Assemble to the Helicarrier!

The massive engineering-defying Helicarrier from the Avengers is a brilliant work of CGI. Too bad it’d never actually fly… Like… Never.

Luckily, that didn’t stop our favorite RC hackers over at FliteTest from making a scale model of it — that actually works! If you’re not familiar, the Helicarrier is a fictional ship, the pride of S.H.I.E.L.D’s air force, or is it their navy.

It’s a massive aircraft carrier with four huge repulsor engines built into it, borrowing tech from Stark Industries. The shear size of it is what makes it completely ridiculous, but at the same time, it’s also unbelievably awesome.

Unfortunately, repulsor technology doesn’t seem to exist yet, so the FliteTest crew had to settle with a set of 8 brushless outrunner motors, with two per “engine”. The whole thing is almost 6′ long.

It doesn’t handle that well (not surprising!) but they were able to launch another RC  plane off of it, mid-flight! Landing however… well you’ll have to watch the video. Continue reading “Lego Avengers Assemble to the Helicarrier!”

Upgrading DJI Flight Controllers

DJI, the company that gave us the far too popular Phantom line of quadcopters, doesn’t just make the most popular line of FPV quads. Their top of the line flight controller, The Naza V2, is very good, able to connect to flight planning software that will set waypoints, talk to peripherals over a CAN bus, and has improved flight algorithms. On the other hand, their ‘reduced price’ model, the Naza Light, can’t connect to these nifty CAN bus peripherals and has a bit of a problem with drifting the quad from one side or another.

The Naza V2 sells for around $300, and the Naza Light sells for about $170, both with a GPS module. The hardware inside the V2 and Light is exactly the same. We all know how this is going to go down, right?

[udnham] over on the RC Groups forum figured out a way to load the more capable Naza V2 firmware on the Naza Light, giving the cheaper flight controller features that were, until now, only found in the more expensive V2 hardware. The upgrades include better algorithms for GPS position and altitude hold, the ability to connect to DJI peripherals including the Bluetooth module, the iOSD, and camera gimbals, Octocopter support, the DJI datalink modem, and a bunch of other features.

Even though DJI is using the same hardware in the $170 Naza Light and the $300 Naza V2, upgrading the firmware requires an Internet connection to the DJI servers. [udnham] wrote a utility that modifies the /etc/hosts file on your computer, runs a service, and allows you to upgrade your firmware on the Naza Light. It’s basically a $130 firmware upgrade for a DJI flight controller that’s a single download away.

[udnham] set up a site where you can download the firmware flashing tool with a few videos showing the upgrade process and the improvement over the stock firmware. You can check those out below.

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