Insanely-Quick 3D Tracking with 1 Camera

Let’s face it: 3-dimensional odometry can be a computationally expensive problem often requiring expensive 3D cameras and optimized algorithms that can be difficult to wrap our head around. Nevertheless, researchers continue to push the bounds of visual odometry forward each year. This past year was no exception, as [Christian], [Matia], and [Davide] have tipped the scale in terms of speed with an algorithm that can track itself in 3D in real time.

In the video (after the break), the landmarks are sparse, the motion to track is relentlessly jagged, but SVO, or Semi-Fast Visual Odometry [PDF warning], keeps tracking its precision with remarkable consistency, making use of “high frequency texture” as a reference. Several other implementations require two cameras or a depth camera variant, but not SVO. It uses a single camera with a high frame rate between 55 and 300 frames per second. Best of all, the trio at the University of Zürich have made their codebase open source and available as a package for ROS.

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FAA Reauthorization Bill Includes Provisions For Hobbyists

Every year, Congress passes bills directing the funding for various departments and agencies. Sometimes, this goes swimmingly: congress recently told NASA to attempt a landing on Europa, Jupiter’s ice-covered moon. Sometimes, it doesn’t go as well. The draft of the FAA Reauthorization act of 2016 (PDF) includes provisions for drones and model airplanes amid fears of privacy-encroaching quadcopters.

As would be expected, the 2016 FAA Reauthorization act includes a number of provisions for unmanned aerial systems, a class of aircraft that ranges from a Phantom quadcopter to a Predator drone. The draft of the act includes provisions for manufacturers to prevent tampering of modification of their product, and provide the FAA with a statement of compliance, and prohibit these devices from being sold unless these conditions are met.

For a very long time, the Congress and the FAA have had special rules for model aircraft. Since 2012, the special rules for model aircraft have been simple enough: model aircraft are flown for hobby or recreational use, must operate in accordance with community-set safety guidelines, weigh less than 55 pounds, give way to manned aircraft, and not be flown within five miles of an airport. The 2016 FAA Reauthorization bill adds several updates. No model aircraft may be flown higher than 400 feet above ground level, and the operator of a model aircraft must pass a knowledge and safety test administered by the FAA. Under this draft of the FAA Reauthorization bill, you will have to pass a test to fly a quadcopter or model plane.

While this is only a draft of the 2016 FAA Reauthorization bill, there is a considerable risk flying model planes could quickly go the way of amateur radio with a Morse requirement for the license. This, of course, is due to Congress’ fears of the impact drones and model airplanes could have on safety, despite recent studies that show a 2kg drone is likely to cause injury to a human passenger once every 187 million years of operation. In other words, politicians don’t understand statistics.


[Brainsmoke] had a simple plan. Make a quadcopter with lots of addressable LEDs.

Not just a normal quadcopter with ugly festoons of LED tape though. [Brainsmoke] wanted to put his LEDs in a ball. Thus was born the polyhedrone, the idea of a flying deltoidal hexecontahedron covered as you might expect with all those addressable LEDs.

polyhedrone-PCB-kicadA Catalan solid makes a good choice for the homebrew polyhedron builder because its faces are all identical. Thus if you are making PCBs to carry LEDs, for example, you need only create a single PCB design to use on all faces. A bit of work in KiCAD, and a single face design with interlocking edges was ready. The boards were tested, a wiring layout was worked out, and the polyhedron was assembled.

But [Brainsmoke] didn’t stop there. He produced a flight case for the polyhedron, in the form of a larger polyhedron from what looks like lasercut thin ply.

Having a finished polyhedron, the next thing was to hook up a Raspberry Pi and write some software. First in Python, then in Go.

polyhedrone-light-1The results are simply stunning. If the mathematics and construction of a polyhedron were not enough to make this project worth a second look, then the gallery of images should be enough. You’ll notice that this is ostensibly a quadcopter project, yet no mention of flying has been made on this page. That’s because this is still a work in progress at Tech Inc Amsterdam, and there is more to come. But it honestly doesn’t matter if this project never moves a millimeter off the ground, as far as we are concerned [Brainsmoke] has created a superbly built thing of beauty in its own right, and we like that.

As you might expect, this is just the latest of many projects featured here that have involved addressable LEDs or quadcopters. Of note among them is this LED polyhedron that cleverly closes in all its bits, and this LED-equipped quadcopter that generates very pleasing patterns with a hi-res cross of pixels.

Very Pretty Gimbal With Long Feature List

What can you do when you have a nice CNC machine, but build beautiful things like this 3-axis gimbal? We covered some of [Gal]’s work before, and he does not subscribe to the idea that hacks should look like hacks. If you’re going to spend hours and hours on something, why not make it better looking than anything you could buy off-the-shelf.

The camera is held stationary with three hollow shaft gimbal motors with low cogging. We weren’t aware of hollow shaft motors, but can think of lots of sensor mounts where such a motor could be used to make very compact and smooth sensor mounts instead of the usual hobby servo configuration. The brains are an off-the-shelf gimbal controller. The gimbal has a DB9 port at the back which handles charging of the internal LiPo batteries as well as giving him a place to input R/C signals for manual control.

The case is made from CNC’d wood and aluminum. There are lots of nice touches. For example, he added two buttons so he could fine tune the pitch of the gimbal. Each button is individually engraved with an up/down arrow.

[Gal] reverse engineered the connector on Garmin action camera he’s using so he can keep it powered, stream video, or add an external mic. Next he built a custom 5.8Ghz video transmitter based on a Boscam module. The transmitter connects to the DB9 charging port on the gimbal.

It’s very cool when someone builds something for themselves that’s far beyond anything they could buy. A few videos of it in operation after the break.

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Mini Quadcopter Becomes Paper Airplane

Several of us got Cheerson CX-10 mini quadcopters last year. We even bought some more to hand out as Christmas gifts. If you haven’t seen them, they are diminutive little flyers about the size of an English muffin. Thee’s no denying they are fun to fly around the house, and they do annoy the dogs.

However, like all cute toys, you eventually get bored just buzzing the dogs and cats. [JustforFun Media TK] decided that his needed a facelift, so he converted it into a paper airplane. This isn’t the paper airplane you folded up in school, either. This is a slick-looking jet aircraft.

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Imperial Shuttle Drone Is Sure To Scare the Cat

[Adam Woodworth] tries to build some kind of RC plane every month. He’s been at it for almost a decade, and he’s getting pretty damn good at it. By day, he’s a Hardware Engineer at Google, though he went to MIT for Aerospace Engineering. Coincidence? We think not.

His latest project is an Imperial Shuttle drone, or to be specific, a Lambda class imperial shuttle — the infamous Shuttle Tydirium. You have to watch this thing unfold.

Using paper model plans, [Adam] printed out the shuttle on a combination of 3mm and 6mm thick foam board (Depron), and then assembled it. This kept the model light enough that the set of quad rotors would have more than enough power to fly it around.

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A Quadcopter Controlled By A Pi Zero

Flight controllers for quadcopters and other drones are incredible pieces of engineering. Not only do these boards keep an aircraft level, they do so while keeping the drone in one place, or reading a GPS sensor and flying it from waypoint to waypoint. The latest of these flight controllers is built on everyone’s favorite $5 computer, the Raspberry Pi Zero.

The PXFmini controller and autopilot shield is the latest project from Erle Robotics that puts eight servo outputs on the Pi, barometer and IMU sensors, a power supply, and all the adapters to turn the Raspberry Pi Zero into a capable flight controller. Since the Pi Zero will have some computational horsepower left over after keeping a quadcopter level, there’s a possibility of some very cool peripherals. Erle Robotics has been working with depth cameras and Lidar on more than a few drones. This makes for some interesting applications we can only imagine now.

The schematics for the PXFmini are open source in the best traditions of the RC and drone community and will be available soon. You can check out a video of the FXPmini flying around an office below.

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