Frankenquad takes to the air

Modern quadcopter flight controllers perform a delicate dance of balancing pitch, yaw, bank, and throttle. They can do this thanks to modern MEMS gyros and accelerometers. The job is easy when the motors, propellers and speed controllers are relatively well matched. But what if they’re not? That’s the questions [SkitzoFPV] set out to answer by building Frankenquad.  Frankenquad is a 250 sized FPV quadcopter with 4 different motors and 4 different propellers. The props are different sizes from different manufacturers, and even include a mix of 3 and 4 blade units. If all that wasn’t enough [SkitzoFPV] used 3 different electronic speed controller. Each speed controller has a micro running different firmware, meaning it will respond slightly differently to throttle inputs.

Keeping all this in check was [SkitzoFPV’s] branded version of the Raceflight Revolt R4 flight controller. The Revolt is powered by an STM32F4 series ARM microcontroller. Most of these controllers run variants of the cleanflight open source flight control software. The question was – would it be able to handle the unbalanced thrust and torque of 4 different power combinations?

The flight tests proved the answer was a resounding yes. The quad hovered easily. As the video shows [SkitzoFPV] went on to burn a few holes in the sky with it. Admittedly [SkitzoFPV] is a much better pilot than any of us. He did notice a bit of a bobble and a definite yaw toward the smaller propeller. Still, it’s rather amazing how easily a modern flight controller was able to turn a pile of junk-box components into a flying quadcopter. You can learn more about flight controllers right here.

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Disposable Drones

How do you deliver medical supplies to a war zone cheaply? The answer, according to this project, might be to make a disposable drone. Created by friends of Hackaday [Star Simpson] and the Sky Machines group at Otherlab, this project is looking to make drones out of cheap biodegradable products like cardboard.

Rather than risk an expensive drone that might never return, the project imagines a drone that flies to the target, delivers its cargo with an accuracy of about 10 meters and then be easily disposed of. The prototype the team is working on is part of a DARPA project called Inbound, Controlled Air-Releasable Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS) and is a glider designed to be released from a plane or helicopter. Using a cheap GPS receiver and controller, the drone then glides to the destination.

It’s an interesting take on the drone: making it so simple and cheap that you can use it once and throw it away. And if you want to get a feel for how [Star] and Otherlabs approach problems like this, check out the awesome talk that [Star] gave at our recent SuperConference on making beautiful circuit boards.

Thanks for the tip, [Adrian]!

Taking First Place at IMAV 2016 Drone Competition

The IMAV (International Micro Air Vehicle) conference and competition is a yearly flying robotics competition hosted by a different University every year. AKAMAV – a university student group at TU Braunschweig in Germany – have written up a fascinating and detailed account of what it was like to compete (and take first place) in 2016’s eleven-mission event hosted by the Beijing Institute of Technology.

AKAMAV’s debrief of IMAV 2016 is well-written and insightful. It covers not only the five outdoor and six indoor missions, but also details what it was like to prepare for and compete in such an intensive event. In their words, “If you share even a remote interest in flying robots and don’t mind the occasional spectacular crash, this place was Disney Land on steroids.”

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The World’s Lightest Brushless FPV Quadcopter

When a claim is made for something being the world’s lightest it is easy to scoff, after all that’s a bold assertion to make. It hasn’t stopped [fishpepper] though, who claims to have made the world’s lightest brushless FPV quadcopter. Weighing in at 32.4 grams (1.143 oz) it’s certainly pretty light.

The frame is a circular design cut from carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer, and on it are mounted four tiny brushless motors. In the center are the camera and battery on a 3D printed mount, as well as custom flight and speed controller boards. There are a series of posts detailing some of the design steps, and the result is certainly a capable aircraft for something so tiny. If you fancy experimenting with the design yourself, the files are available for download on the first page linked above.

There are two aspects to this build that make it interesting to us. First, the lightest in the world claim. We think someone will come along with something a bit lighter, and we can’t wait to see a lightest multirotor arms race. Good things come of technology races, which brings us to the second aspect. Governments are busy restricting the use of larger multirotors, to the extent that in some parts of the world all that will be available for non professionals will be sub-200g toy craft. Any project like this one which aims to push the boundaries of what is possible with smaller multirotors is thus extremely interesting, and we hope the community continue to innovate in this direction if only to make a mockery of any restrictions.

To get some idea of the sort of legislative measures we might be seeing, take a look at our coverage of a consultation in just one country.

Adding Drone Instrumentation With No Additional Parts

Soon the skies will be filled with drones, or so the conventional wisdom goes, and these flying droids will deliver pizza, mail, packages, and medical supplies right to one of the taller trees in our backyards. To date, advanced fixed-wing UAVs and toy quadcopters have proven themselves to be exceptionally dumb; they have no idea what their airspeed is, and no, ground speed measured by GPS will not keep you in the air.

The sensors to measure airspeed and angle of attack can be adapted to small drones, but [gallinazo] has a better idea: why not estimate these figures using sensors a drone already has? He’s measuring synthetic airspeed, something that would have already saved a few hundred lives if it were implemented passenger airliners.

Small drones are able to take a few measurements of their surroundings using standard accelerometers, magnetometers, and of course recording the position of the throttle and control surfaces. All of these variables are related to airspeed – at a constant throttle setting, with no movement of the control surfaces, an aircraft will eventually settle at a stable airspeed.

The trick, though, is to tie all of these variables together to produce a number related to the airspeed of the drone. This is done with a Python script implementing a radial basis function and eating all the memory on [gallinazo]’s desktop. This Python script is effectively a black box that turns the throttle position, bank angle, elevator position, and pitch rate into an airspeed.

Does this black box work? Judging by the graphs comparing synthetic airspeed to measured airspeed, this is amazing work. [gallinazo]’s airspeed estimator accurately and reliably matches the measured airspeed. It does this with zero extra parts on the airframe.

All of the code required to implement this synthetic airspeed indicator is available on GitHub, and could conceivably be implemented in a small RC plane after all the variables are pre-computed. Awesome work that pushes the state of the art forward quite a bit.

 

UK Government to Hold Drone Licensing Consultation

All over your TV and radio this morning if you live in the UK is the news that the British government is to hold a consultation over the licensing of multirotors, or drones as they are popularly known. It is being reported that users will have to sit a test to acquire a licence before they can operate any machine that weighs above 250 g, and there is the usual fog of sloppy reporting that surrounds any drone story.

This story concerns us on several fronts. First, because many within our community are multirotor enthusiasts and thus we recognise its importance to our readership. And then because it takes as its basis of fact a series of reported near misses with aircraft that look very serious if taken at face value, but whose reported facts simply don’t match the capabilities of real multirotors. We’ve covered this issue in the past with an incident-by-incident analysis, and raised the concern that incident investigators behave irresponsibly in saying “It must have been a drone!” on the basis of no provable evidence. Indeed the only proven British collision was found to have been with a plastic bag.

Of course irresponsible multirotor fliers who threaten public safety should be brought to book. Lock them up, throw away the key, whatever is appropriate. But before that can be done, any debate must be conducted on a level playing field. Our final concern is that this is an issue which is being framed almost entirely on the basis of one side’s interest groups and hysteria on the part of the uninformed about a new technology, rather than a balanced examination of the issues involved. It’s the old “People are having fun. This must be stopped!” idea that infects so much lawmaking, and it’s not very pretty.

Fortunately while it is being reported in some quarters as a done deal as in “Drone fliers must sit a test”, in fact this story is “The Government will ask people what they think about drone fliers sitting a test”. It’s a consultation, which means a Parliamentary committee will sit down and hear evidence before deciding on any legislation. The good news about consultations is that they are open to submissions from the general public, so if you are a British multirotor flier you can submit your own arguments. We will keep you posted with any news about the consultation as we have it.

Header image: 최광모 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Be Your Own Google Mapper

Google Maps is one of the modern wonders of the world. It is hard to remember how expensive it used to be to get high-quality aerial  images. Of course, you don’t get to pick when they fly over a particular piece of the planet. If you are like [Dennis Baldwin] that’s not good enough. He’s been using his drone to document the construction of a high school stadium.

[Dennis] uses the open-source GDAL tools to create Google Map tiles from drone imagery. Even better, he’s documented the process in the video you can find below. Once you can make your own map tiles, you can control when you take the images — important if you are documenting construction like [Dennis] did.

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