How many grown-up hardware hackers whiled away their youth playing Tetris or Mario on their Game Boy? Fond memories for many, but unless you are lucky your Game Boy will probably be long gone. Not for [Gautier Hattenberger] though, he had an unexpected find at his parents’ house; his Game Boy Classic, unloved and forgotten for all those years. Fortunately for us his first thought was whether he could use it as a controller for a drone, and better still he’s shared his work for all of us to see.
Back in the day a would-be Game Boy hacker would have been deterred by Nintendo’s legal defences against game piracy, but with the benefit of a couple of decades the handheld console’s hardware is now an open book. Unfortunately for [Gautier], he seems to be the first to use one as a flight controller, so he had to plough his own furrow. His Game Boy Game Link serial port feeds an Arduino/FTDI combination that converts Game Link to USB, which is then sent to his laptop on which a small piece of software converts them to commands for the drone through the Paparazzi UAV framework.
All his code is in a GitHub repository, and he’s posted a video of his work which you can see below the break. For a child of the early ’90s, the mere thought that their handheld console could do this would have been mindblowing!
There is an artistic technique known as stippling where an artist creates a picture using small dots of ink or paint. The result is almost like using a dot matrix printer at low resolution. [Paul Kry] at McGill University doesn’t directly teach art, but he did teach drones to produce pictures using the stippling technique.
As you can see in the video below, the drones carry an ink-soaked sponge. Internal sensors and a motion capture system get them to the right spot and then they move to put the ink down on the work surface. It isn’t perfect, but it does make recognizable drawings and presumably a little inconsistency makes it even more artsy.
We last covered the project when he had, unfortunately, wrecked the thing in a remote-controlled test flight. He later discovered that the motor’s crankshaft bearings had, well, exploded. The resulting shrapnel destroyed the motor and crashed the drone. He described this failure mode as “concerning”.
Also concerning is the act of stepping into the seat once all the propellers are started up. He tags this as “watch your step or die”. Regardless, he also describes flying in the thing as so incredibly fun that it’s hard to stay out of it; like a mechanical drug. It explains why his channel has been lately dominated by videos of him testing the multicopter. Those videos are found after the break.
The device drinks 0.65-0.7 liters per minute of gasoline, and he’s been going through reserves working out all the bugs. This means everything from just figuring out how to fly it to discovering that the dust from the ground effect tends to clog up the air filters; which causes them to run lean, subsequently burning up sparkplugs. Dangerous, but cool.
We hear a lot about drone surveillance, drone package delivery, drone this, and drone that. Honestly, though, the best use of drones has been taking cool aerial videos and posting them online. Until now.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to cover acres upon acres of prairie-dog habitat with vaccine-laced, peanut-butter coated M&Ms. The snacks also include a dye that will show up in the whiskers of prairie dogs that take the bait, allowing scientists to assess the efficacy of the program. And this is all in the name of saving endangered black-footed ferrets which share burrows with the prairie dogs. It seems they were getting the plague from the prairie dogs.
The quads are outfitted with a “glorified gumball machine” that spreads the vaccine tidbits around. Why a quad? They can cover more space with less disruption to the animals’ habitat. That’s a great application in our book.
One of the problems with a cheap drone is getting good video, especially in real time. Cheap hobby quadcopters often have a camera built-in or mounted in a fixed position. That’s great for fun shots, but it makes it hard to get just the right shot, especially as the drone tilts up and down, taking the camera with it. Pricey drones often have a gimbal mount to keep the camera stable, but you are still only looking in one direction.
Some cheap drones now have a VR (virtual reality) mode to feed signal to a headset or a Google Cardboard-like VR setup. That’s hard to fly, though, because you can’t really look around without moving the drone to match. You can mount multiple cameras, but now you’ve added weight and power drain to your drone.
MAGnet Systems wants to change all that with a lightweight spherical camera made to fit on a flying vehicle. The camera is under 2.5 inches square, weighs 62 grams, and draws less than 3 watts at 12 volts. It picks up a sphere that is 360 degrees around the drone’s front and back and 240 degrees centered directly under the drone. That allows a view of 30 degrees above the horizon as well as directly under the drone. There is apparently a different lens that can provide 280 degrees if you need that, although apparently that will add size and weight and be more suitable for use on the ground.
The software (see video below) runs on Windows or Android (they’ve promised an iOS version) and there’s no additional image processing hardware needed. The camera can also drive common VR headsets.
If you are like most people, your drone flights start on the ground and end either on the ground or–in more cases than most of us want to admit–in a tree. Earlier this year, DARPA awarded initial contracts for the Gremlins program. The idea is to produce unmanned aircraft that can launch from another aircraft and then later have another aircraft recover it.
The idea is to allow a plane to launch an unmanned sensor, for example, while out of range of enemy fire. Later another aircraft can retrieve the drone where a ground crew would get it ready for another flight within 24 hours. An aircraft facing missile fire could unleash a swarm of drones, confusing attackers. The drones have a limited life of about twenty flights, allowing for inexpensive airframes that use existing technology. You can see a concept video from DARPA about how air-launched drones might play a role in future air combat below.
Killer robots are a mainstay of science fiction. But unlike teleportation and flying cars, they are something that we are likely to see within our lifetime. The only thing that’s stopping countries like the USA, South Korea, the UK, or France from deploying autonomous killing machine in the very near term is that they’re likely to be illegal under current international humanitarian law (IHL) — the rules of war.
But if you just sighed in relief that the fate of humanity is safe, think again. The reason that autonomous killing machines are illegal is essentially a technicality, and worse, it’s a technicality that’s based on the current state of technology. The short version of the story, as it stands right now, is that the only thing making autonomous robotic killing weapons illegal is that it’s difficult for a robot to tell a friend from an enemy. When technology catches up with human judgement, all bets are off.
Think I’m insane? The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the folks who bring you the rules of warfare, started up a working group on killer robots three years ago, and the report from their 2016 meeting just came out. Now’s as good a time as any to start taking killer robots seriously.