How to Rescue Your Quadcopter from a Tree

Whether it’s a new rocket, your latest quadcopter, or [Charlie Brown]’s kite, it always seems like there’s a tree waiting to catch and eat airborne projects. Sometimes you get lucky and find a way to climb up the tree to retrieve your wayward build, but most times you’re reduced to looking for rocks or sticks to fling up there in an attempt to shake it loose. But if you want to improve your chances of getting your stuff back, [U.S. Water Rockets] has a build for a retrieval tool made mostly from scrap bin parts that will help.

All you need is some PVC tubing, an old fishing reel and line, some latex surgical tubing, and a few dowels for projectiles. You can tell everything about the build from the BOM and stills, but the video after the break gives detailed instructions and shows it in action. Adding some fins to the dart or even substituting a cheap arrow from the sporting goods department of your favorite retailer might help with your aim. Even without fletching, the accuracy of the launcher is pretty good, and the range isn’t half bad either. Once the fishing line is over the branch that ate your quad it can be used to haul up successively stouter ropes, and pretty soon you’ll be shaking the tree like a boss.

Even if getting stuff out of trees isn’t on your immediate to-do list, this little hack could be put to other uses. Hams will use it to loft antennas up into trees, and tag-line placement for tree removal could be simplified with this tool. But if you still find yourself needing to retrieve stuff, you might want to be proactive and make your aerial robot tree-proof. That still won’t eliminate the need for drone-on-drone rooftop rescues.

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Operation Drone Rescue

When [Harrison Howes] lost his Syma X5C drone on a neighbor’s roof, he thought all hope was lost. There was no easy access to get up there, and the neighbor wasn’t interested in him attempting a rescue. Months past, and [Harrison] got a new quad. And not just any quad — a DJI Phantom 3 Professional. It was time to attempt an aerial rescue operation!

Using some old coat hangers and some green painter’s tape for visibility, [Harrison] crafted two hooks to hang below the Phantom. He also tilted the FPV module straight down for maximum visibility of the rescue.

Set to the soundtrack of No Time for Caution by Hans Zimmer (from Intersteller), watch our hero deftly air lift his old quad off the roof and back to safety.

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No, Mounting A Gun To A Quadcopter (Probably) Isn’t Illegal

Earlier this month, [Austin Haghwout] posted a video on YouTube of a remote controlled quadcopter armed with a semiautomatic handgun. While there are no details of this build, it’s safe to say any reasonably sized quadcopter could be armed in such a manner; just strap a pistol to the frame, add a servo, and connect the servo to the RC receiver. We don’t think this is the first time it’s been done, but has garnered the most attention.

There is nothing novel about mounting a handgun to a quadcopter. Anyone with any experience with RC flying could replicate this build, and the only interesting part of watching a video of a quad firing a gun is seeing how the flight controller reacts to the recoil. However, in the pursuit of the exploitation of a fear of technology, this video has gone viral.

The Verge calls it, ‘totally illegal’, while The Christian Science Monitor asks how it is legal. Wired posits it is, ‘most likely illegal,’ while CNET suggests, ‘surely this isn’t legal.’ In a rare break from reality, YouTube commentors have demonstrated a larger vocabulary than normal, calling the build, ‘felonious.’

With so many calling this build illegal, there should be someone who could point out the laws or regulation [Austin Haghwout] is violating. This information is surprisingly absent. In a Newsweek post, a representative from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is quoted as saying:

“ATF has reviewed the video with local law enforcement and other federal agencies. It does not appear that the device violates any existing firearms regulations…”

The Associated Press reports no state laws were broken by [Austin]. With the BAFTE and Connecticut State Police both signing off on this build, the issue of jurisdiction becomes more pronounced. How, exactly, is a gun mounted on a quad illegal?

The answer, as with all things involving quadcopters, comes from the FAA. We could find no regulations explicitly banning handguns on remote controlled quadcopters, but of all stories and posts on [Austin]’s handiwork, this is the closest anyone has come to providing the framework for calling this build illegal:

No pilot in command of a civil aircraft may allow any object to be dropped from that aircraft in flight that creates a hazard to persons or property. However, this section does not prohibit the dropping of any object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property.

-FAR Part 91 Sec. 91.15

That’s it. The closest anyone has come to providing a reason why a semiauto quadcopter is illegal: because the cartridge (and bullet), are ‘dropped’ from a quad. The Feds charging [Austin] with “dropping” a bullet from a quadcopter is like taking down [Al Capone] for Income Tax Evasion. The difference being that [Al] was a notorious criminal who had obviously harmed a large swath of people and [Austin] doesn’t seem to be harming anyone.

Although [Austin]’s video of a gun toting quad is only fourteen seconds long, a few reasonable assumptions can be made about his small experiment in flying firepower. The video shows the quad hovering a few feet above the ground. This is surely allowed by the recently published safety guidelines for sUAS users. The gun itself appears to be firing into an offscreen hillside – a sensible precaution. If the only justification for the FAA’s investigation of [Austin]’s video is FAR 91.15, he’s on easy street.

“Drones” Endanger Airborne Wildfire Fighting

usdaThere is no denying that personal drones are in the public eye these days. Unfortunately they tend to receive more negative press than positive. This past weekend, there were news reports of a wildfire in California. Efforts to fight the fire were hampered when no less than five drones were spotted flying in the area. Some reports even stated that two of the drones followed the firefighting aircraft as they returned to local airports. This is the fourth time this month firefighting planes have been grounded due to unmanned aircraft in the area. It’s not a new problem either, I’ve subscribed to a google alert on the word “Drone” for over a year now, and it is rare for a week to go by without a hobby drone flying somewhere they shouldn’t.

The waters are muddied by the fact that mass media loves a good drone story. Any pilotless vehicle is now a drone, much to the chagrin of radio control enthusiasts who were flying before the Wright brothers. In this case there were two fields relatively close to the action – Victor Valley R/C Park, about 10 miles away, and the Cajun Pass slope flying field, which overlooks the section of I-15 that burned. There are claims on the various R/C forums and subreddits that it may have been members from either of those groups who were mistaken as drones in the flight path. Realistically though, Victor Valley is too far away. Furthermore, anyone at the Cajun pass flying site would have been fearing for their own safety. Access requires a drive through 3 miles of dirt road just to reach the site. Not a place you’d want to be trapped by a wildfire for sure. Who or whatever was flying that day is apparently lying low for the moment – but the problem persists.

Rules and Regulations

In the USA, the FAA rules are (finally) relatively clear for recreational drone operations. The layman version can be found on the knowbeforeyoufly.org website, which was put together by the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), and other groups in partnership with the FAA.

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Send In The Drones: Putting Wheels And Wings On The Internet Of Things

Imagine you’re a farmer trying to grow a crop under drought conditions. Up-to-the-minute data on soil moisture can help you to decide where and when to irrigate, which directly affects your crop yield and your bottom line. More sensors would mean more data and a better spatial picture of conditions, but the cost of wired soil sensors would be crippling. Wireless sensors that tap into GSM or some sort of mesh network would be better, but each sensor would still need power, and maintenance costs would quickly mount. But what if you could deploy a vast number of cheap RFID-linked sensors in your fields? And what if an autonomous vehicle could be tasked with the job of polling the sensors and reporting the data? That’s one scenario imagined in a recent scholarly paper about a mobile Internet of Things (PDF link).

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In the paper, authors [Jennifer Wang], [Erik Schluntz], [Brian Otis], and [Travis Deyle] put a commercially available quadcopter and RC car to the hack. Both platforms were fitted with telemetry radios, GPS, and an off-the-shelf RFID tag reader and antenna. For their sensor array, they selected passive UHF RFID tags coupled to a number of different sensors, including a resistance sensor used to measure soil moisture. A ground-control system was developed that allowed both the quad and the car to maneuver to waypoints under GPS guidance to poll sensors and report back.

Beyond agriculture, the possibilities for an IoT based on cheap sensors and autonomous vehicles to poll them are limitless. The authors rightly point out the challenges of building out a commercial system based on these principles, but by starting with COTS components and striving to keep installed costs to a minimum, we think they’ve done a great proof of concept here.

Controlling Quadcopters With Wireless Mouse Dongles

Last week we gave away a few Crazyflie 2.0 quadcopters to some cool Hackaday Prize entries. This quadcopter ships with the intention of being controlled by your smartphone. But it can also be controlled by a PC with USB dongle and an nRF24LU1+ SOC. [ajlitt] didn’t figure out he wanted the USB dongle (the Crazyradio) that can control this quad until after he used his gift code to claim his Crazyflie quad. No matter; the dongles for Logitech wireless keyboards and mice use the same radio as the Crazyflie and can be modded to make this quad fly.

The board inside the Logitech unifying receiver is a simple affair, with some pads for the USB connector, a crystal, the nRF24LU1+ radio module, and a few passives. To get this radio chip working with his computer, [ajlitt] simply needed to break out the SPI pins and wire everything to a Bus Pirate.

Getting the Crazyradio firmware onto this proved to be a little harder than soldering some magnet wire onto a few pins. The chip was first flashed without a bootloader, a full image with the bootloader was found, after wrangling a single byte into place, [ajlitt] had a working Crazyflie radio made from a wireless mouse dongle. The range isn’t great  – only 30 feet or so, or about as far as you would expect a wireless mouse to work. Excellent work, even if [ajlitt] is temporarily without a mouse.

The Crazyflie 2.0 is available from the Hackaday Store, along with the add-ons if you don’t want to hack your own.

Ducted Fan Drone Flies

A while back, we wrote about the ducted fan, single rotor, VTOL drone that [Armin Strobel] was working on. It wasn’t quite finished then, and hadn’t got off the ground yet. He’s posted an update, and from the looks of it, he’s made tons of progress, including a first flight with successful take-off and landing.

The successful flight was no coincidence. Tuning any kind of ‘copter is a tricky business. Handling them manually during testing could be outright dangerous. So he built two different test-beds from pieces of wood, some 3D printed parts and bearings. One lets him mount the drone and tune its pitch (and roll), while the other lets him tune the yaw parameters. And just like they do in wind tunnel testing, he fixed short pieces of yarn at various points on the air frame to check for turbulence. Doing this also gave him some insight into how he could improve the 3D printed air-frame in the next iteration. He repeated the tests on the two test beds, going back and forth to make sure the tuning parameters were not interfering with each other. He also modified the landing gear to improve stability during take-off and landing and to prevent tipping. [Armin] is using the PixHawk PX4 for flight control and a BeagleBone Black for higher level functions and control.

Once the first flight showed that the drone could do stable flight, he attached a Go-Pro and recorded some nice video on subsequent flights. The next steps are to fine tune the flight control parameters to ensure stable hovering with position hold and way point following. He may also 3D print an improved air-frame. For details about the build, check out our earlier blog post on the Ducted Fan Drone. Check out the two videos below – one showing the first flight of the Drone, and the other one about the test beds being used for tuning.

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