Colin Furze Flies the Dangerous Skies

To quote our tipster: “Furze is my hero … You just need to know how to weld and have zero consideration for your personal well-being.” We’re not exactly sure that he has no consideration, but [Colin Furze] definitely pulls off some dangerous hacks. This time? Two-engine hoverbike. We don’t have to tell you to watch the video, do we? Continue reading “Colin Furze Flies the Dangerous Skies”

The Immersive, VR, Internet of Things Unicycle

Want something that you’ll try for fifteen minutes before realizing it’s extremely stupid and has limited utility before throwing it in the back of a closet to eventually sell at a yard sale? No, it’s not the Internet of Things, but good guess. I’m speaking, of course, about unicycles.

[retro.moe] is a unicycle and Commodore 64 enthusiast, and being the enterprising hacker he is, decided to combine his two interests. This led to the creation of the Uni-Joysti-Cle, the world’s first unicycle controller for the Commodore 64, and the first video game to use this truly immersive, better-than-an-Oculus unicycle controller.

The build began with the creation of Uni Games, the unicycle-enabled video game for the Commodore 64. This game was coded purely in 6502 assembly and features realistic physics, cutting edge graphics, and two game modes. It’s available on [retro.moe]’s site for the C64 and C128 jin PAL and NTSC formats.

Every game needs a controller, and for this [retro.moe] turned to his smartphone. A simple Android app with a few buttons to send up, down, left, and right commands to an ESP8266 chip attached to the C64’s joystick connector.

While a smartphone transmitting controller commands may seem like a vastly over-engineered joystick, there’s at least one thing a smartphone can do that a joystick cannot: poll an accelerometer. When the joystick senses movement, it transmits movement commands to the video game. Strap this phone to the pedal of a unicycle, and it’s the world’s first unicycle controller for a video game. Brilliant, and [retro.moe] can ride that thing pretty well, too.

Thanks [nfk] for sending this one in.

Continue reading “The Immersive, VR, Internet of Things Unicycle”

Split-flap Train Display Uses Punch Cards; Serviced with Station Ingenuity

short but highly detailed documentary by [Krzysztof Tyszecki] explores the split-flap display system in place at the Łódź Kaliska train station in Poland as well as the efforts needed by the staff to keep it running and useful to this day. Split-flap displays might be old technology, but many are still in use throughout the world. But even by those standards, the unit at Łódź Kaliska is a relic you wouldn’t expect to see outside a museum. “I doubt you’ll find an original anywhere else,” says a staff member. It requires constant upkeep to remain operational, and meeting the changing demands of a modern station within the limitations of the original system takes some cleverness. “In general the failure rate of the device is terrible,” he adds.

Operator console for Czech PragotronThe system runs on punch cards. You can’t buy them anymore, so a local printer makes them – several hundred are needed every time there is a schedule change. The punching pliers (which also can no longer be purchased) get so worn out they replace the pins with custom-made ones from a local locksmith. The moving parts of the card reader have split-pins which need to be replaced every week or two – the stress of repeated movement simply wears them away. There’s nothing to do but replace them regularly. The assembly needs regular cleaning since dust accumulates on the cards and gets into the whole assembly. The list goes on… and so does the station.

There is no computation in the modern sense – it’s an electromechanical signing system managed and updated by human operators. It has more in common with a crossbar switch based telephone exchange than anything else. The punch cards are just a means of quickly, accurately, and repeatedly setting the displays to known states.

The short documentary goes into a lot of detail about every part of the system. The cards themselves are described in detail (1:07), as is the operator’s routine (2:27). We even see the back end controller (9:41), as well as see a split-flap module taken apart and tested (14:33) with an old tester the staffer isn’t sure will even work – but as with everything else we see, of course it does.

Split-flap displays are fascinating pieces of technology. We have even seen people build their own split-flap displays from scratch!

Continue reading “Split-flap Train Display Uses Punch Cards; Serviced with Station Ingenuity”

RFID Lock Keeps Your Bike Safe

What do you do with an RFID chip implanted in your body? If you are [gmendez3], you build a bike lock that responds to your chip. The prototype uses MDF to create a rear wheel immobilizer. However, [gmendez3] plans on building a version using aluminum.

For the electronics, of course, there’s an Arduino. There’s also an RC522 RFID reader. We couldn’t help but think of the Keyduino for this application. When the system is locked, the Arduino drives a servo to engage the immobilizer. To free your rear wheel, simply read your implanted chip. The Arduino then commands the servo to disengage the immobilizer. You can see the system in operation in the video below.

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Hoverboards are here – If You’re Crazy Enough to Try

A new video has been stirring questions on the internet this week. It shows a test of the Flyboard Air, a device that is somewhere between a Back to the Future Hoverboard and Green Goblin’s glider. The video depicts pilot [Frank Zapata] taking off, flying around, and landing an a platform not much larger than a milk crate. Plenty of folks are calling the video a fake. After a few back of the napkin calculations though, we’re coming out to say we think it’s real. Details are few and far between, so much of the information in this article is educated guessing based upon the video.

Here’s our hypothesis: Flyboard Air is a jet powered platform with little or no built-in intelligence. Balance, stability and control are all handled by the pilot. A hand controller simply provides throttle to adjust altitude, take off, and land.

jetfeetLet’s start with the jet powered part. During the video, [Frank] looks down at his board and the water below. Between his sneakers we can see two round openings – which look a lot like jet intakes. At the end of the video, [Frank] flies over the camera. stopping the action shows a split second where four exhaust holes are visible on the bottom of the board. These jets look quite a bit like model aircraft jet engines.

We don’t know exactly which engines [Frank] is using, but as an example, the Jet-Cat P 400 RX-G packs 88 lbs of thrust into a shell less than 6 inches in diameter, weighing less than 8 lbs. Four of those engines would provide 352 lbs of thrust. That’s plenty to lift [Frank], the board, and a few gallons of Jet-A strapped to his back.

Why no built-in intelligence? Even the smallest quadcopters have gyros, accellerometers, and PID loops keeping them upright. The problem boils down to the physics of jet engines. Active stability in a fixed pitch rotary blade system requires very fast throttle response. Quadcopters have this with their brushless motors. Turbines however, have throttle lag on the order of seconds. You can’t beat physics. Accelerating 3 or 4 pounds metal from 78,000 RPM (~70% throttle) to 98,000 RPM (~100 % throttle) takes time.

flyboard1Standing on a column of uncontrolled thrust would take quite a bit of skill on the part of the pilot. As it turns out, [Frank] is one of the world’s most experienced thrust riders. His previous invention, the Flyboard uses a personal watercraft to create a column of thrust which the rider stands on. These boards have become tremendously popular at vacation spots in the last few years. There are plenty of videos on [Frank’s] YouTube channel showing the amount of control a skilled ride has over the board. Loops, spins, and other aerobatics look easy.

With that much skill under his belt, [Frank] would have no problem keeping balanced on four jet engines.

Such a skilled rider means that control wouldn’t really be needed on the board. We’re betting that the only electronics are the remote throttle control and the Engine Control Computers (ECU) needed to keep the jets running and synchronized. The two electric ducted fans on the sides of the Flyboard Air appear to be running all the time, only shutting down when [Frank] lands the board.

One final thought – taking off and landing a jet vertically is difficult. Ground effects destabilize the craft. Engines can suck in their own exhaust, stalling them. These are problems faced by the harrier jump jet and the joint strike fighter. [Frank’s ] solution is not never get too close to the ground. If you watch closely, he takes off and lands from a perforated metal platform mounted off the back of a van. The metal doesn’t reflect enough thrust to cause the Flyboard to become unstable or stall.

So is the video real? We think so. This is an amazing achievement for [Frank Zapata]. Is it practical or safe? Heck no! Nor is it cheap – those engines cost €8,845.00 each.  That said, we’d love a chance to ride the Flyboard Air – after a few hours of training on the original Flyboard of course.

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After the Prize: What’s Next for the Light Electric Utility Vehicle

Winner of the third place in last year’s Hackaday Prize was [Chris Low]’s Light Electric Utility Vehicle. In case you think that once a Hackaday Prize is in the bag then that’s it and the project creator packs up and goes home, [Chris] dispels that idea, he’s invested his winnings straight back into his project and posted his latest progress on an improved Mk3 model.

Light Electric Utility Vehicle, 2015-style
Light Electric Utility Vehicle, 2015-style

We first covered the Light Electric Utility Vehicle back in June 2015 when it was first entered for the 2015 Hackaday Prize. The aim was to produce a rugged and simple small electric vehicle that could be powered by solar energy and that was suitable for the conditions found in South Sudan, where [Chris] works. The vehicle as we saw it then was an articulated design, with chain drive to bicycle-style wheels. The Mk3 version by comparison has lost the articulation in favour of rack-and-pinion steering, has in-hub motors instead of chain drive, and now features coil-spring suspension. You might comment that it has lost some of its original simplicity and become something more like a conventional electric UTV, but along the way it has also become more of a practical proposition as an everyday vehicle.

You can follow the entire build log on the Light Electric Utility Vehicle’s project page on hackaday.io, and below the break have a look at [Chris]’s video showing it in action. Continue reading “After the Prize: What’s Next for the Light Electric Utility Vehicle”

Autonomous Tractor Brings In The Harvest

[Matt Reimer] is a farmer in Southwestern Manitoba, Canada. It’s grain country, and at harvest time he has a problem. An essential task when harvesting is that of the grain cart driver, piloting a tractor and grain trailer that has to constantly do the round between unloading the combine harvester and depositing the grain in a truck. It’s a thankless, unrelenting, and repetitive task, and [Matt]’s problem is that labour is difficult to find when every other farmer in the region is also hiring.

His solution was to replace the driver with a set of Arduinos and a Pixhawk autopilot controlling the tractor’s cab actuators, and running ArduPilot, DroneKit, and his own Autonomous Grain Cart software. Since a modern tractor is effectively a fly-by-wire device this is not as annoying a task as it would have been with a tractor from several decades ago, or with a car. The resulting autonomous tractor picks up the grain from his combine, but he reminds us that for now it still deposits the harvest in the truck under human control. It is still a work-in-progress with only one harvest behind it, so this project is definitely one to watch over the next few months.

Writing from the point of view of someone who grew up on a farm and has done her share of harvest-time tractor driving it’s possible to see both the strengths and weaknesses of an autonomous grain cart. His fields on the Canadian prairie are very large and flat, there is plenty of space and the grain makes its way from the field to the elevator in a truck. To perform the same task in the smaller and irregular fields of southern England for example with a mile round trip down country lanes to the grain store would be a much greater challenge. Aside from that it’s worth noting that his John Deere is a 220hp 4WD workhorse that is capable of going over almost any terrain on a farm with very few obstacles able to stop it. This thing can do serious damage to life and property simply by running it over or driving straight through it, so safety has a dimension with an autonomous tractor in a way that it never will with for example a vacuum cleaner or even a lawnmower.

Those observations aside, this kind of technology undeniably represents a step change in farming practice on a par with the move from horse power to tractors in the first half of the last century. However the technological barriers that remain end up being solved, it’s likely that you’ll see plenty more machines like this in the fields of the future.

The video below the break shows the autonomous grain cart in action. Plenty of big-sky tractoring action, and for those of you unfamiliar with farming it should provide some understanding of the task of getting grain from combine to store.

We’ve talked about robotic farming more than once here at Hackaday. The gantry-based Farmbot, the six-legged Prospero robot farmer, or another hexapod confusingly also called Farmbot, for example. But these have all been hacker’s solutions to the problem using the concepts with which they are familiar. What makes [Matt]’s project different is that it is a farmer’s solution to a real farming problem by automating the machinery he already uses to do the job. Farmers have been doing what we would now call hacking at the hardware of their craft since time immemorial, [Matt]’s work is just the latest manifestation of a rich heritage.

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