Congress Destroys A Hobby, FAA Gets The Blame

As ordered by the US Congress, the FAA is gearing up to set forth a standard for commercial UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Systems, and commercial drones operating in America’s airspace. While they’ve been dragging their feet, and the laws and rules for these commercial drones probably won’t be ready by 2015, that doesn’t mean the FAA can’t figure out what the rules are for model aircraft in the meantime.

This week, the FAA released its interpretation (PDF) of what model aircraft operators can and can’t do, and the news isn’t good: FPV flights with quadcopters and model airplanes are now effectively banned, an entire industry centered around manufacturing and selling FPV equipment and autopilots will be highly regulated, and a great YouTube channel could soon be breaking the law.

The FAA’s interpretation of what model aircraft can and cannot do, and to a larger extent, what model aircraft are comes from the FAA Modernization And Reform Act Of 2012 (PDF). While this law states the, “…Federal Aviation Administration may
not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft…” it defines model aircraft as, “an unmanned aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and flown for hobby or recreational purposes.” The FAA has concluded that anything not meeting this definition, for example, a remote controlled airplane with an FPV setup, or a camera, video Tx and Rx, and video goggles, is therefore not a model aircraft, and falls under the regulatory authority of the FAA.

In addition, the FAA spent a great deal of verbiage defining what, “hobby or recreational purposes” in regards to model aircraft are. A cited example of a realtor using a model aircraft to take videos of a property they are selling is listed as not a hobby or recreation, as is a farmer using a model aircraft to see if crops need water. Interestingly, receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft is also not allowed under the proposed FAA guidelines, a rule that when broadly interpreted could mean uploading a video of yourself flying a model plane, uploading that to YouTube, and clicking the ‘monetize’ button could soon be against the law. This means the awesome folks at Flite Test could soon be out of a job.

The AMA, the Academy Of Model Aeronautics, and traditionally the organization that sets the ‘community-based set of safety guidelines’ referred to in every law dealing with model aircraft, are not happy with the FAA’s proposed rules (PDF). However, their objection is a breathless emotional appeal calls the proposed rules a, “a strict regulatory approach to the operation of model aircraft in the hands of our youth and elderly members.” Other than offering comments per the FAA rulemaking process there are, unfortunately, no possible legal objections to the proposed FAA rules, simply because the FAA is doing exactly what congress told them to do.

The FAA is simply interpreting the Modernization And Reform Act Of 2012 as any person would: FPV goggles interfere with the line of sight of an aircraft, thus anyone flying something via FPV goggles falls under the regulatory authority of the FAA. Flying over the horizon is obviously not line of sight, and therefore not a model aircraft. Flying a model aircraft for money is not a hobby or recreation, and if you’re surprised about this, you simply aren’t familiar with FAA rules about money, work, and person-sized aircraft.

While the proposed FAA rules are not yet in effect, and the FAA is seeking public comment on these rules, if passed there will, unfortunately, exactly two ways to fix this. The first is with a change in federal law to redefine what a model aircraft is. Here’s how to find your congresscritter, with the usual rules applying: campaign donations are better than in-person visits which are better than letters which are better than phone calls which are better than emails. They’ll also look up if you have voted in the last few elections.

If passed, the only other way these rules will align with the privileges model aircraft enthusiasts have enjoyed for decades is through a court ruling. The lawsuit objecting to these rules will most likely be filed by the AMA, and if these rules pass, a donation or membership wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Drones and Robots Come Out to Play at Sparkfun’s 6th Annual Autonomous Vehicle Competition

Sparkfun AVC 2014

Sparkfun Electronics held their 6th annual Autonomous Vehicle Competition last weekend, and this year was bigger than ever before. The action was at Boulder Reservoir in Colorado, but anyone could follow along (with a few technical difficulties) on the YouTube LiveStream. (Part 1), and (Part 2).

The story of the day was Team SHARC’s Troubled Child, which won the ground vehicle doping class. Rather than mess around with miniature cars, Team SHARC built their ‘bot out of a freaking Jeep, a 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer to be exact. Troubled Child had no problem getting around the course. One could say it carried the entire team. Literally – the rest of Team SHARC’s robots are riding along on top of Troubled Child in the picture up there.

There was also plenty of action in the aerial competition. Sir Crash-a-Lot was the first drone to find a watery doom at Boulder Reservoir. The last we saw of it on the stream, the team was looking for some divers.

Aircraft can not be hand launched at the AVC. Not a problem for rotary-winged vehicles, but this rule has led to some interesting solutions for fixed wing aircraft. The disguised “Team Falcon” showed up with an incredible compressed air launcher, which used a gallon water jug to fire their delta-winged plane to a clean run.  Team Karma550 wasn’t quite as lucky, with their helicopter crashing hard, and throwing up quite a bit of smoke.

We’re still waiting for more detailed results, but if you want the full scores, they are available on Sparkfun’s AVC scoreboard page.

Goliath: One Drone to Rule Them All


We see quadcopter projects all the time here on Hackaday, so it takes something special to get our attention. [Peter McCloud] has done just that with Goliath, a gas powered quadcopter he’s entered in The Hackaday Prize. By gas, we don’t mean a little glow fuel buzzer, We’re talking about a 30 horsepower V-twin lawnmower engine running good old-fashioned gasoline.

Multicopters powered by a single power source present a unique set of problems. Quadcopter propellers need to rotate in opposite directions to avoid the entire craft spinning due to torque action. With individual electric motors that’s as easy as swapping a couple of wires. Not so with a single rotating engine. [Peter] has accomplished this feat with a clever arrangement of single and double-sided belts.

Control is another issue. Generally, central powered multicopters use collective pitch, similar to a helicopter control system. [Peter] has decided to go with high-efficiency fixed pitch blades and a vane system for directional control. Much like hovercraft use vanes to steer, Goliath will use vanes to affect its attitude and yaw.

goliathPropThe propellers are works of art in their own right. [Peter] modeled the propellers in CAD using the principles of blade element theory, then used a Shopbot style CNC to carve them out of pink insulation foam. Styrofoam alone won’t withstand the 60 lbs each propeller will be supporting, so [Peter] plans to laminate the props in composite cloth. This is the similar to the way many full-scale helicopter rotor blades are assembled.

Goliath’s frame is constructed of Dexion style slotted steel angles, and we have to admit, at 240 lbs with engine, it seems like it’s going to be a heavy beast. Big enough to ride at least. Who knows… if the judges like it [Peter] may ride Goliath all the way to space!



SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

Autonomous Balloon Popping

Quadcopter drone for popping balloons

Taking on an autonomous vehicle challenge, [Randy] put together this drone which can locate and pop balloons. It’s been assembled for this year’s Sparkfun Autonomous Vehicle Competition, which will challenge entrants to locate and pop 99 luftbaloons red balloons without human intervention.

The main controller for this robot is the Pixhawk, which runs a modified version of the ArduCopter firmware. These modifications enable the Pixhawk to receive commands from an Odroid U3 computer module. The Odroid uses a webcam to take images, and then processes them using OpenCV. It tries to locate large red objects and fly towards them.

The vision processing and control code on the Odroid was developed using MAVProxy and Drone API. This allows for all the custom code to be developed using Python.

The Sparkfun AVC takes place tomorrow — June 21st in Boulder, Colorado. You can still register to spectate for free. We’re hoping [Randy]‘s drone is up to the task, and based on the video after the break, it should be able to complete this challenge.

[Read more...]

Oculus Rift + Head Tracking = The Ultimate Drone Experience

oculus rift quad

What happens when you strap a stereoscopic camera onto a drone and transmit the video feed directly to your Oculus Rift? A pretty amazing experience, that’s what!

Several students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology recently finished a term project dubbed Oculus FPV. In it, [Erik Hals], [Jacob Prescott], [Mats Svensson], and [Mads Wilthil] succeeded in combining virtual reality, a head mounted display, and a UAV for a great result.

Drones with cameras are the next big step in search and rescue, remote inspection, and many other use cases in other environments that are typically inaccessible for a human to poke around. What we really like about this project is they also mounted the stereoscopic cameras on a gimbal, allowing for full head movement — this means the pilot can “park” (read “hover”) his drone in remote locations, and then look around, without having to worry about performing complex aerial acrobatics to get the right camera angle.

[Read more...]

R/C Plane Flies with a Cockpit View


That’s not a jet jockey making a low altitude turn up there. In fact, the pilot has his feet planted firmly on the ground. [Reliku] has built a radio controlled BAE Hawk which is flown via First Person View (FPV). FPV models often have a small camera mounted on the exterior of the craft. This camera gives a great field of view, but it isn’t exactly how full scale planes are flown.

[Reliku] took it to the next level by creating a scale cockpit for his plane. The cockpit is accurate to the real BAE Hawk T2, and features back lit simulated screens. Even the pilot got the FPV treatment. Micro servos move the pilot’s right hand in response to aileron and elevator inputs from the radio control system. The pilot’s head has been replaced with the FPV camera, which is mounted on a pan tilt unit. Pan and tilt are controlled by a head tracking system attached to [Reliku's] video goggles. The entire experience is very immersive.

All this is built into a Hobbyking BAE Hawk Electric Ducted Fan (EDF) model, so space is at a premium. Even with the Hawk’s relatively large cockpit, [Reliku] found he was tight on space. While attempting to keep the cockpit scale from the pilot’s view, he found he was barely able to fit a single seat cockpit into a space designed for two! Adding all these modifications to a plane and still keeping the model flyable was not easy, as displayed by [Reliku's] earlier attempt with an F-16.

The ends do justify the means though, as the final model looks great. We’d love to see those static cockpit displays replaced with small LCD or OLED panels for an even more realistic experience!

[Read more...]

Autonomous Plane Flying Across The USA


Somewhere between San Diego and South Carolina is an unmanned aerial vehicle attempting to make the first autonomous flight across the United States. The plane is electric and requires a landing and battery swap every hour or so, however the MyGeekShow guys are so far the only non-military entity to attempt such an ambitious flight.

The plane making the multiple flights is a Raptor 140 capable of cruising at 75 kph for about an hour before requiring a battery swap. Ground control is an RV, loaded up with LCDs and radios; as long as the RV is within a kilometer or so of the plane, the guys should be able to have a constant telemetry link.

Already the guys at MyGeekShow have pulled off a 52 km autonomous flight, following their flying wing in a car. Even though a hard landing required swapping out the carbon fiber spar for an aluminum one, the plane making the truly cross-country flight is still in good condition, ready to land on a South Carolina beach within a week.

You can follow the trip on the MyGeekShow Twitter. The guys are pulling off an incredible amount of updates and even a few live streams from the mobile command station.

UPDATE: It crashed. Tip stalls aren’t your friend, and undercambered wings exist. Good try, though.


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