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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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.

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