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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

80/20 Extrusion Goes Main Stream

We had to do a double take when we saw this kickstarter campaign video – and we bet you will too. It seem as if some company called [Infento Rides] took generic 80/20 aluminum extrusions and built a viable commercial product out of it – that’s not something you see everyday. 80/20 is meant to be something that engineers use to build things like test rigs and manufacturing fixtures. It’s not exactly an item designed for the consumer or end user. But we think the DIY/teaching aspect of this idea really has legs wheels.

If you’re looking for [Santa] to put this under the tree this Christmas, you might be disappointed as it’s not exactly on store shelves just yet since the kickstarter campaign just ended – but we wish them well, and hope they come through.

If you’re old enough you may remember Erector Sets (they were mechanical equivalent of the 200-in-1 electronics kits) back in the day. Well, this type of product brings back memories of both. It’s a perfect tool for getting kids interested in making – sure, they aren’t “making” much, but we all start somewhere.

The one thing we would like to see is a more open-source type kit like the Chibikart. That and something a little less then the $300-$500 price range.  But can you really put a price on teaching a child to build something, and starting that fire inside of them?  Maybe not.

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Motorized Picnic Table Terrorizes Perth Streets

There is a public menace on the streets of Perth, Australia: two motorized picnic tables. Police are looking for the drivers of the, erm, vehicles, which were seen cruising down the West Coast Highway, complete with passenger casually sitting on the tables having a drink. It looks like the two picnic tables are being driven by a centrally mounted lawnmower motor and are controlled from one of the seats. The police are interested because it is illegal to drive something on the public road in Australia that isn’t properly licensed. I’ll bet that his insurance probably doesn’t cover taking it out for a spin on the highway, either. The accompanying TV news report does not identify the person responsible, but they claim have spoken to the builder, who says that the two tables can manage up to 50 miles per hour. They claim that he is even working on an upgraded model that includes a built-in barbecue, which could bring a whole new meaning to the term drive-thru.

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EV Motor Not Powerful Enough? Make Your Own.

Many of us have tried our hand at the ol’ electric car conversion hack. Yank the engine, throw in an industrial DC or AC motor, and bob’s your uncle. Simple stuff. But if you can’t find just the right motor for your application… why not design and build your own brushless DC motor?

This mind-blowing build is by an electrical engineer who decided to design a 45kW motor (that’s 60HP). That’s not a typo. Design and build a 45kW motor! He has a video series on the design process which includes the CAD and all the calculations he did to make this thing work. Once he had the design complete and ordered the custom parts, he started building it.

In his living room.

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