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.

Continue reading “Upgrading DJI Flight Controllers”

UAV Coaxial Copter Uses Unique Drive Mechanism

Personal UAV’s are becoming ubiquitous these days, but there is still much room for improvement. Researchers at [Modlab] understand this, and they’ve come up with a very unique method of controlling pitch, yaw, and roll for a coaxial ‘copter using only the two drive motors.

In order to control all of these variables with only two motors, you generally need a mechanism that adjusts the pitch of the propeller blades. Usually this is done by mounting a couple of tiny servos to the ‘copter. The servos are hooked up to the propellers with mechanical linkages so the pitch of the propellers can be adjusted on the fly. This works fine but it’s costly, complicated, and adds weight to the vehicle.

[Modlab’s] system does away with the linkages and extra servos. They are able to control the pitch of their propellers using just the two drive motors. The propellers are connected to the motors using a custom 3D printed rotor hub. This hub is specifically designed to couple blade lead-and-lag oscillations to a change in blade pitch. Rather than drive the motors with a constant amount of torque, [Modlab] adds a sinusoidal component in phase with the current speed of the motor. This allows the system to adjust the pitch of the blades multiple times per rotation, even at these high speeds.

Be sure to watch the demonstration video below. Continue reading “UAV Coaxial Copter Uses Unique Drive Mechanism”

Quadcopter Beer Delivery System

One of the major design challenges when it comes to building an efficient quadcopter is weight. The idea here is that the more you can trim down the weight of the frame, motors, and circuitry, the longer the batteries will last. Or, in [dalbyman]’s case, the more beer it can carry.

[Dalbyman]’s housemate built the actual quadcopter, but then [dalbyman] got a little inebriated and decided that, while the quadcopter was exciting on its own, it would be even better with this modification. The actual device is a modified Pringles can with two servo motors on the bottom with arms that hold the beer. A parachute is attached to the beverage can and the assembly is loaded in. With a simple press of a button, the servos turn the arms and the beer falls out of the tube. Hopefully the parachute deploys and gently (and accurately) floats the beer to the thirsty person on the ground!

This project is a simple step that goes a long way towards a beer delivery system even Amazon could be proud of, and also shows off the capabilities of quadcopters in general. Perhaps the next step could be to automate the beer delivery system!


Reverse Engineering the Proto X Quadcopter Radio

Just a few years ago, palm sized radio controlled toys were nothing more than a dream. Today, you can find them at every mall, toy store, and hobby shop. [Alvaro] couldn’t resist the tiny Estes Proto X quadcopter. While he enjoyed flying the Proto X, he found that the tiny controller left quite a bit to be desired. Not a problem for [Alvaro], as he embarked on a project to reverse engineer the little quad.

Inside the quadcopter and its lilliputian radio, [Alvaro] found a STM8 based processor and an Amiccom A7105 2.4G FSK/GFSK Transceiver radio. The A7105 is well documented, with datasheets easily obtained on the internet.  The interface between the processor and the radio chip was the perfect place to start a reverse engineering effort.

With the help of his Saleae logic analyzer, [Alvaro] was able to capture SPI data from both the quadcopter and the transmitter as the two negotiated a connection. The resulting hex files weren’t very useful, so [Alvaro] wrote a couple of Python scripts to decode the data. By operating each control during his captures, [Alvaro] was able to reverse engineer the Proto X’s control protocol. He tested this by removing the microcontroller from the remote control unit and wiring the A7105 to a STM32F4 dev board. Connecting the STM32 to his computer via USB, [Alvaro] was able to command the quad to take off. It wasn’t a very graceful flight, but it did prove that his grafted control system worked. With basic controls covered, [Alvaro] knocked up a quick user interface on his computer. He’s now able to fly the quadcopter around using keyboard and mouse. Not only did this prove the control system worked, it also showed how hard it is to fly a real aircraft (even a tiny model) with FPS controls.

The Estes Proto X is actually manufactured by Hubsan, a China based manufacturer best known for the x4 series of mini quadcopters. Since the Proto X and the x4 share the same communication protocol, [Alvaro’s] work can be applied to both. With fully computer controlled quads available for under $30 USD, we’re only a few cameras (and a heck of a lot of coding) away from cooperative drone swarms akin to those found in the University of Pennsylvania GRASP Lab.

Continue reading “Reverse Engineering the Proto X Quadcopter Radio”

Modular Multicopter Core Flies in Multiple Orientations

[Ioannis Kedros] claims to be rather new to the game of building multi-rotor drones. You’d never know it looking at his latest creation. Yes, we’re talking about the quadcopter seen here, but it’s the core of the machine that’s so interesting. He came up with a PCB hub that allows multiple orientations to be used with the same board. These include tri-copter, and quadcopter with different strut angles for different applications.

multicopter-hub-pcbThe silk screen of the PCB has dotted lines showing the different angles possible for one pair of motor supports. One set makes a perfect “X” for traditional quadcopter flight. Another reduces the angle between front and back struts for higher-performance quad flight, while the last set is intended for a tricopter setup.

We’d recommend taking a look at [Ioannis’] project writeup whether this particular application interests you or not. His design techniques go through all possible manner of checks before placing the PCB order. There is no substitute for this process if you want to avoid getting burnt by silly mistakes.

Continue reading “Modular Multicopter Core Flies in Multiple Orientations”

An Extremely Tiny 5.8GHz FPV Transmitter

Flying RC aircraft with a first person view is the latest and greatest thing in the hobby. In a fact that I’m sure will be shocking to 90% of people, you don’t need to buy a Phantom quad fly FPV. The guys at Flite Test show how you can build a tiny 5.8GHz FPV transmitter for under $100.

The parts used for this build are pretty much jelly bean parts at this point, but [Peter] at Flite Test is going for extremely lightweight parts for this build. He found an NTSC board camera that only weighs 1g and added a wide-angle lens. The transmitter is a tiny 200mW module that only weighs about 2g.

Why are the Flite Test crew going for small and light FPV setups? They just launched a new line of planes that can be built from a single piece of foam board. If you have a small micro quad, you can easily add FPV to it with this rig.