Modified R/C Jet Cannon Spews Nerf, Slays Cardboard Tanks

[ajw61185] made a video overview of a radio-controlled A-10 jet modified to spew a hail of harmless Nerf balls as it strafes helpless cardboard cutouts of T-72 tanks on a bright, sunny day.

A10 Nerf LoadingThe firing assembly in the jet comes from a Nerf Rival Zeus Blaster, which is itself an interesting device. It uses two electric flywheels to launch soft foam balls – much like a pitching machine. With one flywheel running a little faster than the other, the trajectory can be modified. For example, a slight topspin gives the balls a longer and more stable flight path. Of course, foam balls slow down quickly once launched and at high speeds the aircraft can overtake the same projectiles it just fired, but it’s fun all the same.

Cramming the firing assembly into aircraft took some cleverness. The front of the jet contains the flywheel assembly, and a stripped-down removable magazine containing the foam balls fits behind it. A flick of a switch on the controller spins up the flywheels, and another flick controls a servo that allows the balls to enter the firing assembly and get launched. The ammo capacity on the jet is low at only twelve shots per load, and it fires all twelve in roughly half a second. Since the balls are fired at the ground in a known area, they’re easy to retrieve.

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Fly With A Game Boy Classic

How many grown-up hardware hackers whiled away their youth playing Tetris or Mario on their Game Boy? Fond memories for many, but unless you are lucky your Game Boy will probably be long gone. Not for [Gautier Hattenberger] though, he had an unexpected find at his parents’ house; his Game Boy Classic, unloved and forgotten for all those years. Fortunately for us his first thought was whether he could use it as a controller for a drone, and better still he’s shared his work for all of us to see.

How to connect a drone and a Game Boy
How to connect a drone and a Game Boy

Back in the day a would-be Game Boy hacker would have been deterred by Nintendo’s legal defences against game piracy, but with the benefit of a couple of decades the handheld console’s hardware is now an open book. Unfortunately for [Gautier], he seems to be the first to use one as a flight controller, so he had to plough his own furrow. His Game Boy Game Link serial port feeds an Arduino/FTDI combination that converts Game Link  to USB, which is then sent to his laptop on which a small piece of software converts them to commands for the drone through the Paparazzi UAV framework.

All his code is in a GitHub repository, and he’s posted a video of his work which you can see below the break. For a child of the early ’90s, the mere thought that their handheld console could do this would have been mindblowing!

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Drones, Clever Hacks, and CG Come Together For Star Wars Fan Film

We weren’t certain if this Star Wars fan film was out kind of thing until we saw the making of video afterwards. They wanted to film a traditional scene in a new way. The idea was to take some really good quadcopter pilots, give them some custom quadcopters, have them re-enact a battle in a scenic location, and then use some movie magic to bring it all together.

The quadcopters themselves are some of those high performance racing quadcopters with 4K video cameras attached. The kind of thing that has the power to weight ratio of a rocket ship. Despite what the video implies, they are unfortunately not TIE Fighter shaped. After a day of flying and a few long hikes to retrieve the expensive devices after inevitable crashes (which, fortunately, provided some nice footage), the next step was compositing.

However, how to trick the viewer into believing they were in a X-Wing quadcopter? A cheap way to do it would be to spend endless hours motion tracking and rendering a cockpit in place. It won’t look quite real. The solution they came up with is kind of dumb and kind-of brilliant. Mount a 3D printed cockpit on a 2×4 with a GoPro. Play the flight footage on a smartphone while holding the contraption. Try to move the cockpit in the same direction as the flight. We’re not certain if it was a requirement to also make whooshing and pew pew laser noises while doing so, but it couldn’t hurt.

In the end it all came together to make a goofy, yet convincingly good fan film. Nice work! Videos after the break.

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Drone Doesn’t Know Much About Art, But Knows What It Likes

There is an artistic technique known as stippling where an artist creates a picture using small dots of ink or paint. The result is almost like using a dot matrix printer at low resolution. [Paul Kry] at McGill University doesn’t directly teach art, but he did teach drones to produce pictures using the stippling technique.

As you can see in the video below, the drones carry an ink-soaked sponge. Internal sensors and a motion capture system get them to the right spot and then they move to put the ink down on the work surface. It isn’t perfect, but it does make recognizable drawings and presumably a little inconsistency makes it even more artsy.

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Repaired Manned Multicopter Flies without Horrifying Crash

[amazingdiyprojects] has been making lots of test flights in his crazy eight propeller gasoline powered danger bucket.

We last covered the project when he had, unfortunately, wrecked the thing in a remote-controlled test flight.  He later discovered that the motor’s crankshaft bearings had, well, exploded. The resulting shrapnel destroyed the motor and crashed the drone. He described this failure mode as “concerning”.

Also concerning is the act of stepping into the seat once all the propellers are started up. He tags this as “watch your step or die”. Regardless, he also describes flying in the thing as so incredibly fun that it’s hard to stay out of it; like a mechanical drug. It explains why his channel has been lately dominated by videos of him testing the multicopter. Those videos are found after the break.

The device drinks 0.65-0.7 liters per minute of gasoline, and he’s been going through reserves working out all the bugs. This means everything from just figuring out how to fly it to discovering that the dust from the ground effect tends to clog up the air filters; which causes them to run lean, subsequently burning up sparkplugs. Dangerous, but cool.

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Government Drones to Toss M&Ms to Prarie Dogs

We hear a lot about drone surveillance, drone package delivery, drone this, and drone that. Honestly, though, the best use of drones has been taking cool aerial videos and posting them online. Until now.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to cover acres upon acres of prairie-dog habitat with vaccine-laced, peanut-butter coated M&Ms. The snacks also include a dye that will show up in the whiskers of prairie dogs that take the bait, allowing scientists to assess the efficacy of the program. And this is all in the name of saving endangered black-footed ferrets which share burrows with the prairie dogs. It seems they were getting the plague from the prairie dogs.

The quads are outfitted with a “glorified gumball machine” that spreads the vaccine tidbits around. Why a quad? They can cover more space with less disruption to the animals’ habitat. That’s a great application in our book.

But if you think this is a case of the USF&WS showing outrageous innovation, consider the way rabies was all but eliminated in Europe: throwing hundreds of thousands of vaccine-doped chicken heads out of helicopters across France, Switzerland, and Germany. You couldn’t make this up.

(Via [Popular Science], where the title is even more clickbaity than ours. Get it? “Clickbait”?)

Headline image: US Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie

A Drone Photosphere is Worth 4000 Times Pi Words

One of the problems with a cheap drone is getting good video, especially in real time. Cheap hobby quadcopters often have a camera built-in or mounted in a fixed position. That’s great for fun shots, but it makes it hard to get just the right shot, especially as the drone tilts up and down, taking the camera with it. Pricey drones often have a gimbal mount to keep the camera stable, but you are still only looking in one direction.

Some cheap drones now have a VR (virtual reality) mode to feed signal to a headset or a Google Cardboard-like VR setup. That’s hard to fly, though, because you can’t really look around without moving the drone to match. You can mount multiple cameras, but now you’ve added weight and power drain to your drone.

MAGnet Systems wants to change all that with a lightweight spherical camera made to fit on a flying vehicle. The camera is under 2.5 inches square, weighs 62 grams, and draws less than 3 watts at 12 volts. It picks up a sphere that is 360 degrees around the drone’s front and back and 240 degrees centered directly under the drone. That allows a view of 30 degrees above the horizon as well as directly under the drone. There is apparently a different lens that can provide 280 degrees if you need that, although apparently that will add size and weight and be more suitable for use on the ground.

The software (see video below) runs on Windows or Android (they’ve promised an iOS version) and there’s no additional image processing hardware needed. The camera can also drive common VR headsets.

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