Star Wars Car that Never was: Obi-Shawn’s Custom Z-Wing

Star Wars never had cars. Sure, there was the Landspeeder, and the Speeder Bike, but both point to a lack of wheels a long time ago. So those who want to drive around a Star Wars craft are left to their own imagination to come up with one. This is exactly what [Obi-Shawn], aka [Shawn Crosby], did to build his Z-Wing.

Continue reading “Star Wars Car that Never was: Obi-Shawn’s Custom Z-Wing”

Aircraft Hackchat This Thursday

This Thursday, December 10th at 5pm PST we will be hosting a live HackChat about aircraft. If it’s man-made and it files, it’s on topic! Full scale and model planes, helicopters, multicopters, gyros, blimps and gliders will be on the agenda. Our host this week will be Hackaday Community Editor [Adam Fabio] who is also the author of this well-written blog entry. In addition to being an electrical engineer, [Adam] brings 30 years of experience as a Radio Control model enthusiast. Over the years he’s worked as a professional R/C Blimp Pilot for the New York Islanders Hockey team and as an aerial photographer. On the full-scale aircraft side, he’s designed radar and air traffic control software used to keep the skies safe over land and sea.

Aircraft HackChat starts Thursday at 5pm PST (here’s a timezone cheat sheet if you need it). Participating in this live chat is very simple. Those who are already part of the Hacker Channel can simply click on theTeam Messaging button. If you’re not part of the channel, just go to the hacker Channel page, scroll to the bottom of the “TEAM” list in the left sidebar and click “Request to join this project”.

HackChat takes place in the Hacker Channel every few weeks and is a friendly place to talk about engineering and the projects you’re working on.

Airport Land Art is (Acoustic) Baffling

According to an article in the Smithsonian magazine, these geometrically arranged hills aren’t landing signs for extra-terrestrials, but instead effectively sound baffles worked into the ground behind a runway at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport.

Photo by Alexis Glass, via Wikipedia
Photo by Alexis Glass, via Wikipedia

The 80 acres of hills and valleys are called the Buitenschot ‘land art park’ and supposedly reduce noise in the nearby neighborhood by around 50%. They work by sending the reflections in random directions that would otherwise skip off of the ground, just like anti-echo baffles in a sound studio. A nice touch for the local residents, they also contain jogging trails.

People have made land art before — we particularly like Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake — but as far as we know this is the first land art “piece” that’s also functional.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Unfortunately, as the Smithsonian notes, nobody is beholding it. Because Buitenschot aims to diffuse the takeoff noise coming out of the rear of the planes, they are always flying away from it; passengers don’t get to see it from the air.

Volvo Trucks: Kid Tested, Mother Approved

If that looks like a four year old with a remote control driving a full-size dump truck — that’s because it is. As part of their Live Test Series, Volvo made a ridiculous obstacle course, and then let a four year old take the wheel of one of their heavy duty dump trucks. Viral advertising maybe — but too awesome not to share.

And don’t worry, there is a hack involved! The remote control setup in the truck isn’t that polished, and can’t possibly be a commercial “RC kit”. Which means some lucky hacker got to build a remote control system for a freaking dump truck. Consider us jealous.

Surprisingly (or maybe not), the truck seems to withstand everything the four year old throws at it. Including rolling it sideways down a hill, and of course smashing through an entire building. It’s well worth the watch and had us grinning from ear to ear.

Continue reading “Volvo Trucks: Kid Tested, Mother Approved”

Toward the Optionally Piloted Aircraft

Aviation Week and Space Technology, the industry’s leading magazine, has been publishing “pilot reports,” on new aircraft for decades. Its pilot report on an aircraft called Centaur ⁠was the first in which the pilot doing the test never touched the controls. Centaur is an optionally-piloted aircraft, or OPA.

The reporter conducted the test while sitting in the back seat of the small, twin engine aircraft. Up front sat a person acting as the safety pilot, his arms calmly resting on his lap. Sitting beside him, in what is ordinarily the co-pilot’s seat, was an engineered series of linkages, actuators, and servos. The safety pilot pulled a lever to engage the mechanisms, and they began moving the pilot’s control stick and pressing the rudder pedals. The actuators are double and redundant; if one set fails another will immediately take over. The safety pilot can disengage the mechanism with a single pull of the lever if something goes wrong; unless something goes wrong he does not touch the controls.

In the back seat, the “operator,” commanded the plane through a laptop, using an interface identical to that of the ground control station for an unmanned vehicle. Through the screen, he could change altitude, fly to waypoints, takeoff or land. Pushing the “launch” button began an autonomous takeoff. The computer held the brakes, pushed the throttles forward, checked the engines and instruments, and released the brakes for the takeoff roll. The plane accelerated, took to the air, and began to climb out on a semi-autonomous flight.

Continue reading “Toward the Optionally Piloted Aircraft”

Is Via Rail On Time?

Personally, I’m a fan of trains. They’re a nice, albeit slow, way to get around the country. Canada isn’t the best candidate for rail transit, given the rather large space between coasts, but Via Rail does operate regular train service in their corridor between Windsor and Quebec City.

Unfortunately, passenger rail has to yield to commercial rail in Canada which often causes delays. After noticing that some trains have very frequent delays, it seemed like it would be useful to know the average performance of each Via train. Via does not provide this data publicly.

However, they do provide some data about arrival and departure times. Digging into the data available through any browser viewing the Via Rail site, it was possible to query for past scheduled/actual arrival data. The result is TrainStats.ca, a display of Via’s on time performance. Join me after the break as I discuss how this all works, and how to pick a winner when buying your next train ticket.

Continue reading “Is Via Rail On Time?”

Motorcycle Headlight Modulator is a Bright Idea

Motorcyclists are paranoid about being hit by cars, and with reason. You’re a lot safer when you’re encased in a metal shell, with airbags and seatbelts. The mass difference between a car and a motorcycle doesn’t work out well for the biker, either. Unfortunately for bikers, motorcycles are also slimmer and generally less visible than cars.

A few decades ago, motorcycle manufacturers switched over to daytime running headlights to make bikes more visible. In the meantime, however, cars have done the same, leading many bikers to fear that their visibility advantage is losing it’s impact. The solution? Blink the headlights gently during the daytime, and run them normally at night.

[William Dudley] was unsatisfied with commercial versions, so he built a custom headlight modulator for his motorcycle.

head_mod_cds_7_schem And believe it or not, he did it with a 555 timer IC and a light-dependent resistor (plus some transistors and a whole slew of miscellaneous parts). But [William]’s design is a good one, and he walks you through all of the choices he made in building the light-sensing circuit that disables the 555.

Whether you need a motorcycle headlight modulator or are interested to learn how this problem would be solved in the pre-Arduino days, go check out [William]’s post. And while you’re on the nostalgic electronics trip, check out this nixie tube speedometer.