Lighthouse Locates Drone; Achieves Autonomous Battery Swap

The HTC Vive’s Lighthouse localization system is one of the cleverest things we’ve seen in a while. It uses a synchronization flash followed by a swept beam to tell any device that can see the lights exactly where it is in space. Of course, the device has to understand the signals to figure it out.

[Alex Shtuchkin] built a very well documented device that can use these signals to localize itself in your room. For now, the Lighthouse stations are still fairly expensive, but the per-device hardware requirements are quite reasonable. [Alex] has the costs down around ten dollars plus the cost of a microcontroller if your project doesn’t already include one. Indeed, his proof-of-concept is basically a breadboard, three photodiodes, op-amps, and some code.

His demo is awesome! Check it out in the video below. He uses it to teach a quadcopter to land itself back on a charging platform, and it’s able to get there with what looks like a few centimeters of play in any direction — more than good enough to land in the 3D-printed plastic landing thingy. That fixture has a rotating drum that swaps out the battery automatically, readying the drone for another flight.

If this is just the tip of the iceberg of upcoming Lighthouse hacks, we can’t wait!

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How Many Drones Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb?

Imagine. There you are, comfortable in your lounge pants. Lounging in your lounge. Suddenly in the distance you hear a buzzing. Quiet at first, then louder. A light bulb goes on in your head.

You forgotten that you’d scheduled an Amazon drone repair service in partnership with The Home Depot and Dewalt. They break through the window, spraying you with shards. They paint the spots on the walls. Snap photos of the brands in your closet. Change the light bulbs. Place a bandaid on your glass wounds. Pick up the shards and leave. Repairing it on their way out.

Horrible.

Of course the first step before this dark future comes to be is to see if it can be done; which is what [Marek Baczynski] and a friend accomplished many broken light bulbs later. Using an off the shelf drone with three springy prongs glued to the top they try time and time again to both unscrew and screw in a light bulb. They try at first with a lighter drone, but eventually switch to a more robust model.

After a while they finally manage it, so it’s possible. Next step, automate. Video after the break.

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Automate the Freight: Robotic Deliveries Are on the Way

Seems like all the buzz about autonomous vehicles these days centers around self-driving cars. Hands-free transportation certainly has its appeal – being able to whistle up a ride with a smartphone app and converting commute time to Netflix binge time is an alluring idea. But is autonomous personal transportation really the killer app that everyone seems to think it is? Wouldn’t we get more bang for the buck by automating something a little more mundane and a lot more important? What about automating the shipping of freight?

Look around the next time you’re not being driven to work by a robot and you’re sure to notice a heck of a lot of trucks on the road. From small panel trucks making local deliveries to long-haul tractor trailers working cross-country routes, the roads are lousy with trucks. And behind the wheel of each truck is a human driver (or two, in the case of team-driven long-haul rigs). The drivers are the weak point in this system, and the big reason I think self-driving trucks will be commonplace long before we see massive market penetration of self-driving cars.

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Drone Vs. Airplane? Who Will Win? Science Knows.

Ignore the article, watch the video at the top of the page. The article is about some idiot, likely not even a hacker, who bought a drone somewhere and nearly rammed it into a plane. He managed this with concentrated idiocy, intention was not involved. While these idiots are working hard to get our cool toys taken away, researchers elsewhere are answering the question of exactly how much threat a drone poses to an airplane.

droneexplode_thumbAirplanes are apparently armored to withstand a strike from an 8lb bird. However, even if in a similar weight class, a drone is not constructed of the same stuff. To understand if this mattered, step one was to exactly model a DJI Phantom and then digitally launch it at various sections of a very expensive airplane.

The next step, apparently, was to put a drone into an air cannon and launch it at an aluminum sheet. The drone explodes quite dramatically. Some people have the best jobs.

The study is still ongoing, but from the little clips seen; the drone loses. Along with the rest of us.

Perhaps the larger problem to think about right now is how to establish if a “drone” has actually been involved in an incident with a passenger aircraft. It seems there are a lot of instances where that claim is dubious.

Drone Snags A Snag, Pilot Faces Fine

If you hail from somewhere to which Australian beers have been exported, you could be forgiven for forming a view of the country based solely on TV adverts for Foster’s, or Castlemaine XXXX. Entertaining 30-second stories of wily young Aussies, and their inventive schemes to get their hands on a cool glass of the Amber Nectar.

Whether it’s an accurate depiction or not is something you’d have to ask an Australian, but it seems to provide a blueprint for at least some real-life stories. An Australian man in Sunbury, west of Melbourne, is to face a fine of up to A$9000 for using his multirotor to pick up a sausage in a bun from a stall in a superstore car park, and deliver it to him relaxing in his hot tub.

From one perspective the video of the event which we’ve posted below the break is a very entertaining film. We see the flight over houses and a main road to a local branch of Bunnings, an Australian hardware store chain. Their sausage sizzle is a weekly institution in which local non-profit groups sell barbecued sausages from a stall in the car park as a fundraiser. The drone lowers a bag on a string over people queuing, with a note saying “Please buy snag(Aussie slang for sausage) and put in bag, here’s $10”. Someone complies, and the tasty treat is flown back over suburbia to our hero in his tub. It’s fairly obviously a production with many takes and supporting actors rather than a real continuous flight, but the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority is nevertheless investigating it. Breaches of the rules are reported as being use of a drone within 30 metres of people, as well as flight beyond the line of sight and over a populated area. The original video has been taken down, but it lives on courtesy of Australian tech site EFTM.

Aside from providing our readership with entertainment courtesy of our Australian friends there is an important message to take away from this story. It’s likely that if they can adequately prove that their flight was never out of the line of sight they can escape some of the charges, but even so they have strayed into difficult territory. We’ve written about drone hysteria on the part of authorities before, and we are living in an age during which twitchy agencies have shown themselves willing to view what we know to be little more than grown-up toys as something akin to terror weapons. Of course people who use multirotors for wilful endangerment should be brought to book in no uncertain terms, but the line between that and innocuous use feels sometimes to have been shifted in an alarming direction. Please keep entertaining us with your multirotor exploits and hacks, but never take your eye off how what you are doing could be misconstrued by those in authority. We’d prefer not to be writing up drone stories involving fines.

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Anti-Drone Fence: Science or Snakeoil?

Remember when it was laser pointers? Well, now it’s drones.

[Thinkerer] sent us this link to what’s essentially a press release for a company called Sensofusion that makes a UAV detector and (they claim) smart jammer, and apparently one is being installed at Denver International airport.

We buy that the “Airfence” system will be able to detect known systems by signature, and possibly even take them over. We’ve seen two exploits of quadcopter radio protocols (one a timing attack and the other a controller ID spoof) that would allow them to do just that. But is that the problem? Don’t most of the major manufacturers fence off airports in software these days anyway? And are drones really the droids that you’re looking for?

They also make some claims about being able to detect and stop DIY copters, but we don’t see how. Imagine that your copter ran encrypted on 2.4 GHz. How is this different from any other WiFi signal? Or imagine that it sends and receives infrequent data in the congested pager bands? And short of jamming, we don’t see how they’re going to take down anything that they don’t already understand.

So, commenteers, how would you do it? Detect and even take over an arbitrary drone? Possible or snakeoil?

Easy UFO Lights on your Drone for Halloween

Sometimes it’s not so much what you put together, it’s how you use it. The folks at Adafruit have put up a project on how to dress up your drone with ‘UFO lights’ just in time for Halloween. The project is a ring of RGB LEDs and a small microcontroller to give any quadcopter a spinning ‘tractor beam light’ effect. A 3D printed fixture handles attachment. If you’re using a DJI Phantom 4 like they are, you can power everything directly from the drone using a short USB cable, which means hardly any wiring work at all, and no permanent changes of any kind to the aircraft. Otherwise, you’re on your own for providing power but that’s probably well within the capabilities of anyone who messes with add-ons to hobby aircraft.

One thing this project demonstrates is how far things have come with regards to accessibility of parts and tools. A 3D printed fixture, an off-the-shelf RGB LED ring, and a drop-in software library for a small microcontroller makes this an afternoon project. The video (embedded below) also demonstrates how some unfamiliar lights and some darkness goes a long way toward turning the otherwise familiar Phantom quadcopter into a literal Unidentified Flying Object.

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