Ducted Fan Drone Flies

A while back, we wrote about the ducted fan, single rotor, VTOL drone that [Armin Strobel] was working on. It wasn’t quite finished then, and hadn’t got off the ground yet. He’s posted an update, and from the looks of it, he’s made tons of progress, including a first flight with successful take-off and landing.

The successful flight was no coincidence. Tuning any kind of ‘copter is a tricky business. Handling them manually during testing could be outright dangerous. So he built two different test-beds from pieces of wood, some 3D printed parts and bearings. One lets him mount the drone and tune its pitch (and roll), while the other lets him tune the yaw parameters. And just like they do in wind tunnel testing, he fixed short pieces of yarn at various points on the air frame to check for turbulence. Doing this also gave him some insight into how he could improve the 3D printed air-frame in the next iteration. He repeated the tests on the two test beds, going back and forth to make sure the tuning parameters were not interfering with each other. He also modified the landing gear to improve stability during take-off and landing and to prevent tipping. [Armin] is using the PixHawk PX4 for flight control and a BeagleBone Black for higher level functions and control.

Once the first flight showed that the drone could do stable flight, he attached a Go-Pro and recorded some nice video on subsequent flights. The next steps are to fine tune the flight control parameters to ensure stable hovering with position hold and way point following. He may also 3D print an improved air-frame. For details about the build, check out our earlier blog post on the Ducted Fan Drone. Check out the two videos below – one showing the first flight of the Drone, and the other one about the test beds being used for tuning.

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Autonomous Drones Now Carry People

There are a handful of companies trying to build the first autonomous car, but this project makes us think that they all might be heading in the wrong direction. [Thorstin] wanted to use a quadcopter to transport people, and built a working prototype of an autonomous quadcopter-esque vehicle that is actually capable of lifting a person.

The device isn’t actually a quadcopter anymore; that wouldn’t be able to generate enough lift. It has sixteen rotors in total, making it a sexdecacopter (we suppose). This setup generates 282 pounds of static thrust, which as the video below shows, is enough to lift an average person off of the ground along with the aluminum alloy frame and all of the lithium ion batteries used to provide power to all of those motors.

With the PID control system in place, the device is ready for takeoff! We like hobby projects that suddenly become life-sized and rideable, and we hope to see this one fully autonomous at some point too. Maybe soon we’ll see people ferried from waypoint to waypoint instead of being driven around in their ground-bound autonomous cars.

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The Shady World of Drone Racing

No one noticed the two men in the alley as the darkness of midnight approached – their long, black trench coats acting like a soldier’s camouflage.

“You got the goods?”

“Yeah, these are hot man…super fast..check this…”

The bark of a police siren broke their whispered conversation like a shattering glass, causing the two men to briefly freeze in their steps.

“Johnny B. got busted last week…did you hear?”

“No way man! What he get busted for?”

“Drone racing man…drone racing.”

Deep within the shadows of abandoned warehouses and dilapidated factories on the outskirts of Australian suburbia, the telltale buzz of numerous drones can be heard. Zipping to and fro at speeds upwards of 60km/h, these drones are not just flying. They’re racing each other. The operators use specialized FPV goggles that allow them to see the raceway in real time. This method, unfortunately, puts them on the wrong side of the law.

The dated laws governing drones in Australia are similar to those in the US, which were written for the radio controlled plane industry. While they technically forbid any flying outside of line-of-site, the Australian Civil Aviation Authority seems to be OK with the drone racing so long as it’s done indoors and poses no risk to people or property.

Know of any drone racing in your country? Is it legal? Do people do it anyway? Let us know in the comments.

The Trials Of Quadcopter Graffiti

Last April, graffiti artist [KATSU] strapped a can of red spray paint to a Phantom quadcopter, flew it up against one of the largest billboards in New York City, and pressed a button. Now, [KATSU], [Dan Moore], and Adafruit’s [Becky Stern] are trying to perfect a flying can of spraypaint, and they’ve met with some success and surely many broken props.

The team used an Iris+ for this project instead of the Phantom used by [KATSU] earlier this year, but the principle of the entire endeavor remains the same: fly up against a wall, flick a switch, and watch paint come out of a spray gun. To get the can spraying paint, they modified a can gun to accept a micro servo. This servo is connected to the trigger mechanism of the can gun, and the entire unit is slung under the quad.

Getting a quadcopter to put paint exactly where you want it is hard, even indoors. Luckily, the Pixhawk inside the Iris has sensor inputs and an ‘altitude hold’ mode that can accept a sonar sensor and can be programmed to stay a set distance away from a wall. These sensors are susceptible to interference, and a proper, shielded cable had to be made, but the sensor did work.

Flying the quad did not go as smoothly. The swinging can of paint changes the center of gravity of the quad, and even flying indoors proved difficult. Still, if you’d like to give it a go, [Becky] put up the instructions for their build. You can see the hover attempts in the video below.

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Ducted Fan Drone Uses 1 Rotor for VTOL

Multi-rotor fixed-pitch aircraft – quad, hexa, octa copters – are the current flavor of the season with hobby and amateur flight enthusiasts. The serious aero-modeling folks prefer their variable-pitch, single rotor heli’s. Defense and military folks, on the other hand, opt for a fixed wing UAV design that needs a launch mechanism to get airborne. A different approach to flight is the ducted fan, vertical take-off and landing UAV. [Armin Strobel] has been working on just such a design since 2001. However, it wasn’t until recent advances in rapid-prototyping such as 3D printing and availability of small, powerful and cheap flight controllers that allowed him to make some progress. His Ducted Fan VTOL UAV uses just such recent technologies.

Ducted fan designs can use either swivelling tilt rotors that allow the craft to transition from vertical flight to horizontal, or movable control surfaces to control thrust. The advantage is that a single propeller can be used if the model is not too big. This, in turn, allows the use of internal combustion engines which cannot be used in multi-rotor craft (well, they’ve proven difficult to use thus far).

[Armin] started this project in 2001 in a configuration where the centre of gravity is located beneath trust vectoring, giving the advantage of stability. Since there were no hobby autopilots available at the time, it was only equipped with one gyroscope and a mechanical mixer to control the vehicle around the vertical axis. Unfortunately, the craft was destroyed during the first flight, after having managed a short flight, and he stopped further work on it – until now. To start with, he built his own 3D printer – a delta design with a big build volume of 400mm3. 3D printing allowed him to build a structure which already included all the necessary mount points and supports needed to fix servos and other components. The in-fill feature allowed him to make his structure stiff and lightweight too.

Intending to build his own auto-pilot, he experimented with a BeagleBone Black connected to a micro controller to interface with the sensors and actuators. But he wasn’t too happy with initial results, and instead opted to use the PixHawk PX4 auto-pilot system. The UAV is powered by one 3-cell 3500mAh LiPo. The outside diameter of the duct is 30cm (12”), the height is 55cm (22”) and the take-off weight is about 1.2kg (2.6 pound). It has not yet been flown, since he is still waiting for the electronics to arrive, but some bench tests have been conducted with satisfactory results. In the meantime, he is looking to team up with people who share similar interests, so do get in touch with him if this is something up your alley.

If you want to look at other interesting designs, check this UAV that can autonomously transition from quadcopter flight to that of a fixed-wing aircraft or this VTOL airplane / quadcopter mashup.

Project Sea Rendering Autonomously Renders Sea Bottoms

[Geir] has created a pretty neat device, it’s actually his second version of an autonomous boat that maps the depths of lakes and ponds. He calls it the Sea Rendering. The project is pretty serious as the hull was specially made of fiberglass. The propulsion is a simple DC motor and the rudder is powered by an RC servo. A light and flag adorn the top deck making the small craft visible to other larger boats that may be passing by. Seven batteries are responsible for all of the power requirements.

Sea Rendering

The craft’s course is pre-programmed in Mission Planner and uses ArduPilot loaded on an Arduino to steer to the defined way points. An onboard GPS module determines the position of the boat while a transducer measures the depth of the water. Both position and depth values are then saved to an SD card. Those values can later be imported into a software called Dr Depth that generates a topographic map of the water-covered floor.

[Geir] has sent this bad boy out on an 18 km journey passing through 337 way points. That’s pretty impressive! He estimates that the expected run time is 24 hours at a top speed of 3 km/h, meaning it could potentially travel 72 km on a single charge while taking 700 depth measurements during the voyage.

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Hackaday Links: May 24, 2015

A few months ago, we heard about a random guy finding injection molds for old Commodore computers. He did what the best of us would do and started a Kickstarter to remanufacture these cool old cases. It’s the best story on retrocomputing this year, and someone else figured out they could remanufacture Commodore 64 keycaps. If you got one of these remanufactured cases, give the keycaps a look.

Remember this Android app that will tell you the value of resistors by reading their color code. Another option for the iOS crowd was presented at Maker Faire last weekend. It’s called ResistorVision, and it’s perfect for the colorblind people out there. An Android version of ResistorVision will be released sometime in the near future.

A few folks at Langly Research Center have a very cool job. They built a hybrid electric tilt wing plane with eight motors on the wing and two on the tail. It’s ultimately powered by two 8 hp diesel engines that charge Liion batteries. When it comes to hydrocarbon-powered hovering behemoths, our heart is with Goliath.

A bottom-of-the-line avionics panel for a small private plane costs about $10,000. How do you reduce the cost? Getting rid of FAA certification? Yeah. And by putting a Raspberry Pi in it. It was expoed last month at the Sun ‘N Fun in Florida, and it’s exactly what the pilots out there would expect: a flight system running on a Raspberry Pi. It was installed in a Zenith 750, a 2-seat LSA, registered as an experimental. You can put just about anything in the cabin of one of these, and the FAA is okay with it. If it’ll ever be certified is anyone’s guess.