FAA Rescinds Drone Ban Around DC

Late last year, the FAA expanded a Special Flight Rule Area (SFRA) that applied to Unmanned Aerial Systems, drones, and RC airplanes around Washington DC. This SFRA was created around the year 2000 – for obvious reasons – and applies to more than just quadcopters and airplanes made out of foam. Last December, the FAA expanded the SFRA from 15 nautical around a point located at Reagan National to 30 nautical miles. No remote-controlled aircraft could fly in this SFRA, effectively banning quadcopters and drones for six million people.

Today, the FAA has rescinded that ban bringing the area covered under the Washington DC SFRA to 15 nautical miles around a point inside Reagan National. This area includes The District of Columbia, Bethesda, College Park, Alexandria, and basically everything inside the beltway, plus a mile or two beyond. Things are now back to the way they were are few weeks ago.

The 30-mile SFRA included a number of model flying clubs that were shuttered because of the ban. DCRC is now back up. The Capital Area Soaring Association worked with the FAA and AMA to allow club members to fly.

Of course, limitations on remote-controlled aircraft still exist. For the most part, these are rather standard restrictions: aircraft must weigh less than 55 pounds, fly below 400 feet line of sight, and must avoid other aircraft.

Greased Lightning Shows 360 Degrees

A lot of people got drones for Christmas this year (and many Hackaday readers already had one, anyway). A lot of these drones have cameras on them. The expensive ones beam back live video via RF. The cheaper ones just record to an SD card that you can download later.

If you are NASA, of course, this just isn’t good enough. At the Langley Research Center in Virginia, they’ve been building the Greased Lightning (also known as the GL-10) which is a 10-engine tilt-prop unmanned aerial vehicle. The carbon fiber drone is impressive, sure, but what wows is the recent video NASA released (see below).

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Anti-Drone Mania Reaches Panic Levels for Superbowl

According to this report at FOX News Technology, the FAA may use “deadly force” against your remote-controlled quadcopter, ahem, “drone” if you’re flying within a 36-mile radius of the Super Bowl this weekend. We call shenanigans on using “deadly” for things that aren’t alive to begin with, but we have no doubt that they intend to take your toys away if you break the rules. We are curious to see how they’re going to do it, though.

sect_6_6446The actual Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) has the details, and seems pretty comprehensive. You can’t fly your sea plane or go crop dusting either. Model rocketry is off the table within the circle on Sunday afternoon. It tickles our superiority-bone to note that only “drones” made the headlines.

But we also see our loophole! The ban only extends from the ground’s surface up to 18,000 ft (5,500 m) above sea level. (No, we’re not thinking of flying quadcopters in tunnels under the stadium.) They didn’t rule out high-altitude balloon flight over the Super Bowl? Don’t even think about it.

On the other hand, those of you near the game should count your blessings that you don’t live within 30 miles of the US Capitol and spend the day drone racing.

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Naviator Drone Uses its Propellers to Fly and Swim

Rutgers University just put out a video on a “drone” that can fly and then drop into a body of water, using its propellers to move around. This isn’t the first time we’ve covered a university making sure Skynet can find us even in the bathtub, but this one is a little more manageable for the home experimenter. The robot uses a Y8 motor combination. Each motor pair on its four arms spin in opposite directions, but provide thrust in the same direction. Usually this provides a bit more stability and a lot more redundancy in a drone. In this case we think it helps the robot leave the water and offers a bit more thrust underwater when the props become dramatically less efficient.

We’re excited to see where this direction goes. We can already picture the new and interesting ways one can lose a drone and GoPro forever using this, even with the integral in your toolbox. We’d also like to see if the drone-building community can figure out the new dynamics for this drone and release a library for the less mathematically inclined to play with. Video after the break.

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CES: Self-Flying Drone Cars

CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, is in full swing. Just for a second, let’s take a step back and assess the zeitgeist of the tech literati. Drones – or quadcopters, or UAVs, or UASes, whatever you call them – are huge. Self-driving cars are the next big thing. Flying cars have always been popular. On the technical side of things, batteries are getting really good, and China is slowly figuring out aerospace technologies. What could this possibly mean for CES? Self-flying drone cars.

The Ehang 184 is billed as the first autonomous drone that can carry a human. The idea is a flying version of the self-driving cars that are just over the horizon: hop in a whirring deathtrap, set your destination, and soar through the air above the plebs that just aren’t as special as you.

While the Ehang 184 sounds like a horrendously ill-conceived Indiegogo campaign, the company has released some specs for their self-flying drone car. It’s an octocopter, powered by eight 106kW brushless motors. Flight time is about 23 minutes, with a range of about 10 miles. The empty weight of the aircraft is 200 kg (440 lbs), with a maximum payload of 100 kg (220 lbs). This puts the MTOW of the Ehang 184 at 660 lbs, far below the 1,320 lbs cutoff for light sport aircraft as defined by the FAA, but far more than the definition of an ultralight – 254 lbs empty weight.

In any event, it’s a purely academic matter to consider how such a vehicle would be licensed by the FAA or any other civil aviation administration. It’s already illegal to test in the US, authorities haven’t really caught up to the idea of fixed-wing aircraft powered by batteries, and the idea of a legal autonomous aircraft carrying a passenger is ludicrous.

Is the Ehang 184 a real product? There is no price, and no conceivable way any government would allow an autonomous aircraft fly with someone inside it. It is, however, a perfect embodiment of the insanity of CES.

Surviving the FAA Regulations: Modelers Move Indoors

New FAA rules are making radio-controlled aircraft a rough hobby to enjoy here in the USA. Not only are the new drone enthusiasts curtailed, but the classic radio-controlled modelers are being affected as well. Everyone has to register, and for those living within 30 miles of Washington DC, flying of any sort has been effectively shut down. All’s not lost though. There is plenty of flying which can be done outside of the watchful eye of the FAA. All it takes is looking indoors.

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Open-Source Firmware for a Mini Quadrotor

Since you’re going to have to be flying your “drones” indoors anyway in the USA, at least in the US Capitol region, you might as well celebrate the one freedom you still have — the freedom to re-flash the firmware!

The Eachine H8 is a typical-looking mini-quadcopter of the kind that sell for under $20. Inside, the whole show is powered by an ARM Cortex-M3 processor, with the programming pins easily visible. Who could resist? [garagedrone] takes you through a step-by-step guide to re-flashing the device with a custom firmware to enable acrobatics, or simply to tweak the throttle-to-engine-speed mapping for the quad. We had no idea folks were doing this.

Spoiler alert: re-flashing the firmware is trivial. Hook up an ARM SWD programmer (like the ST-Link V2) and you’re done. Wow. All you need is firmware.

The firmware comes from [silverxxx], and he’s written all about it on the forum at RCGroups.com. He’s even got the code up on GitHub if you’re interested in taking a peek. It looks like it’d be fun to start playing around with the control algorithms. Next step, Skynet!

Reading the forum post, it looks like you’ll have to be a little careful to get the right model quad, so look before you leap. But for the price, you can also afford to mess up once. Heck, at that price you could throw away the motors and you’d have a tricked-out ARM dev kit.

And if you insist on hacking everything, you can probably re-purpose a wireless mouse controller to control the thing. Write your own code for the controller and you’ve got an end-to-end open firmware quadcopter for a pittance.