A Brief History Of ‘Drone’

In the early 1930s, Reginald Denny, an English actor living in Los Angeles, stumbled upon a young boy flying a rubber band-powered airplane. After attempting to help the boy by adjusting the rubber and control surfaces, the plane spun into the ground. Denny promised he would build another plane for the boy, and wrote to a New York model manufacturer for a kit. This first model airplane kit grew into his own hobby shop on Hollywood Boulevard, frequented by Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.

The business blossomed into Radioplane Co. Inc., where Denny designed and built the first remote controlled military aircraft used by the United States. In 1944, Captain Ronald Reagan of the Army Air Forces’ Motion Picture unit wanted some film of these new flying targets and sent photographer David Conover to the Radioplane factory at the Van Nuys airport. There, Conover met Norma Jeane Dougherty and convinced her to go into modeling. She would later be known as Marilyn Monroe. The nexus of all American culture from 1930 to 1960 was a hobby shop that smelled of balsa sawdust and airplane glue. That hobby shop is now a 7-Eleven just off the 101 freeway.

Science historian James Burke had a TV wonderful show in the early 90s – Connections – where the previous paragraphs would be par for the course. Unfortunately, the timbre of public discourse has changed in the last twenty years and the worldwide revolution in communications allowing people to instantaneously exchange ideas has only led to people instantaneously exchanging opinions. The story of how the Dutch East India Company led to the rubber band led to Jimmy Stewart led to remote control led to Ronald Reagan led to Death of a Salesman has a modern fault: I’d have to use the word ‘drone’.

The word ‘propaganda’ only gained its negative connotation the late 1930s – it’s now ‘public relations’. The phrase ‘global warming’ doesn’t work with idiots in winter, so now it’s called ‘climate change’. Likewise, quadcopter pilots don’t want anyone to think their flying machine can rain hellfire missiles down on a neighborhood, so ‘drone’ is verboten. The preferred term is quadcopters, tricopters, multicopters, flying wings, fixed-wing remote-controlled vehicles, unmanned aerial systems, or toys.

I’m slightly annoyed by this and by the reminder I kindly get in my inbox every time I use the dreaded d-word. The etymology of the word ‘drone’ has nothing to do with spying, firing missiles into hospitals, or illegally killing American civilians. People like to argue, though, and I need something to point to when someone complains about my misuse of the word ‘drone’. Instead of an article on Hollywood starlets, the first remote control systems, and model aviation, you get an article on the etymology of a word. You have no one else to blame but yourself, Internet.

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Don’t Like the FAA’s Drone Registration? Sue Them!

When the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began requiring registration of quadcopters (“drones”) in the US, it took a number of hobbyists by surprise. After all, the FAA regulates real 747s, not model airplanes. [John Taylor], an RC hobbyist, has done what you do when faced with a law that you believe is unjust: he’s filed a lawsuit in the DC District Court, claiming that the FAA has overstepped their mandate.

Which one is the "aircraft"?
Which one is the “aircraft”?

The lawsuit will hinge (as legal battles often do) on the interpretation of words. The FAA’s interpretation of quadcopters to be “aircraft” rather than toys is at the center of the dispute. Putting hobbyists into a catch-22, the FAA also requires recreational RC pilots to stay under a height of 400 feet, while requiring “aircraft” to stay above 500 feet except for emergencies, take-off, or landing. Which do they mean?

The editorial staff at Hackaday is divided about whether the FAA ruling makes no sense at all or is simply making hobbyists “sign their EULA“. This writer has spent enough time inside the Beltway to know an expanse of a mandate when he sees it, and no matter which body of the US government is to blame, regulating toy planes and helicopters as if they were commercial aircraft is an over-reach. Even if the intentions are benign, it’s a poorly thought-out ruling and should be revisited.

If you agree, you now have the chance to put your money where your mouth is. The DC Area Drone User Group is putting together a legal defense fund to push [Taylor]’s case. Nobody would be cynical enough to suggest that one can buy the legal system in the US, but, paraphrasing Diamond Dave, it sure as heck can buy a good enough lawyer to get the law changed.

Canary Island Team Wins World Robotic Sailing 2016

If you’re like us, you had no idea that there even was a World Robotic Sailing Championship. But we’re glad that we do now! And congratulations to the team of A-Tirma G2, the winning boat. (Link in Spanish, difficult to translate — if you can figure out how, post in the comments?)

The Championship has apparently been going on for nine years now, and moves to a different location around the world each year. The contests for 2016 (PDF) are by no means trivial. Besides a simple there-and-back regatta, the robot boats have to hold position, scan a prescribed area, and avoid a big obstacle and return quickly back to their lane. All of this with wind power, of course.

The winning boat used solid sails, which act essentially as vertical wings, and was designed for rough weather. This paid off in the area-scanning test; the winds were so strong that the organizers considered calling it off, but team A-Tirma’s boat navigated flawlessly, giving them enough points to win the event even though camera malfunction kept them from completing the obstacle avoidance.

stationkeepingtrackingUnless you’ve sailed, it’s hard to appreciate the difficulty of these challenges to an autonomous vehicle. It’s incredibly hard to plan far ahead because the boat’s motive power source, the wind, isn’t constant. But the boat has, relatively speaking, a lot of inertia and no brakes, so the robot has to plan fairly far in advance. That any of the 2-4 meter long boats could stay inside a circle of 20 meters is impressive. Oh, and did we mention that A-Tirma did all of this calculating and reacting on solar power?

Because the wind is so fickle, drone sailboats are much less popular than drone motorboats — at least using the Hackaday Blogpost Metric ™. The hackerboat project is trying out sails, but they’re still mostly working on powered propulsion. We do have an entry in the 2016 Hackaday Prize, but it’s looking like the development process is in the doldrums. Still, sailing is the best way to go in the end, because windpower is essentially free on the open ocean, which means less work for the solar panels.

As far as role-models go, you’ve basically got the entrants in the World Robotic Sailing Championships. So kudos to the A-Tirma team, and thanks [Nikito] for the tip!

Real-Life Space Invaders with Drones and Lasers

We’ve seen a proliferation of real-life video game builds lately, but this one is a jaw-dropper! [Tomer Daniel] and his crew of twelve hackers, welders, and coders built a Space Invaders game for GeekCon 2016.

[Tomer] et al spent more time on the project than the writeup, so you’re going to have to content yourselves with the video, embedded below, and a raft of photos that they sent us. ([Tomer] wrote in and wanted to thank each of you, and his sponsors, by name, but that would be a couple paragraphs on its own. Condider yourselves all thanked!)
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Hackaday Links: September 18, 2016

No Star Trek until May, 2017, at which time you’ll have to pay $5/month to watch it with ads. In the meantime, this is phenomenal and was shut down by Paramount and CBS last year ostensibly because Star Trek: Discovery will be based around the same events.

Tempest in a teacup. That’s how you cleverly introduce the world’s smallest MAME cabinet. This project on Adafruit features a Pi Zero, a 96×64 pixel color OLED display, a few buttons, a tiny joystick, and a frame made out of protoboard. It’s tiny — the height of this cabinet just under two wavelengths of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom. Being based on the Pi Zero, it’s a capable arcade cabinet, although we would struggle to find a continuous rotation pot small enough to play Tempest the way it should be played. Check out the video.

[Graham] sent an interesting observation in on the tip line. It’s an election year in the US, and that can mean only one thing. It’s coroplast season. Coroplast is that strange material used for political signage, famous for its light weight, being waterproof, and reasonably strong, depending on how you bend it. There is a severe lack of coroplast builds, but if you have some be sure to send them in.

The ESP32, the followup to the hugely popular ESP8266 , is shipping. [Elliot] got his hands on one and found it to be a very promising chip, but the ESP3212 modules I bought from Seeed haven’t arrived yet. That hasn’t stopped [Ptwdd] from making a breakout board for the ESP3212, though. We don’t know if it works, but it’s just a breakout board, anyway.

The usual arguments for drones involve remote sensing, inspection, and generally flying around for a very long time. Quadcopters don’t do this, but fixed wings can. Over on DIYDrones, [moglos] just flew 425km on a single charge. The airframe is a 3 meter Vigilant C1 V tail, using the stock 300kV motor. The battery is a bunch of Panasonic 18650 cells arranged in 6S 9P configuration for 30600mAh. The all-up weight is 5.7kg. This is significant, and we’re seeing the first glimmer of useful tasks like pipeline monitoring, search and rescue, and mapping being done with drones. It is, however, less than half the range a C172 can fly, but batteries are always getting better. Gas goes further because it gets lighter as you fly.

Drone Flies 12 cm on Wireless Power

[Sam M] wrote in with a quick proof-of-concept demo that blows our socks off: transferring enough power wirelessly to make a small quadcopter take flight. Wireless power transfer over any real distance still seems like magic to us. Check out the videos embedded below and you’ll see what we mean.

What’s noteworthy about this demo is that neither the transmitter nor the receiver are particularly difficult to make. The transmitting loop is etched into a PCB, and the receiver is made of copper foil tape. Going to a higher frequency facilitates this; [Sam M] is using 13.56 MHz instead of the kilohertz that most power-transfer projects use. This means that all the parts can be smaller and lighter, which is obviously important on a miniature quadrotor.

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Waste Shark Aims To Clean Our Harbours And Oceans

Drones are adding functionality to our everyday lives, and automation is here to help humanity whether we’re ready for it or not. In a clever combination of the two, [Richard Hardiman] of RanMarine has developed small drone-boats that scoop up garbage from the ocean — he calls them ‘Waste Sharks.’

The two models — slim and fatboy — aim to collect up to 1,100 pounds of garbage apiece in the ‘mouths’ just below the water’s surface. The Waste Sharks are still restricted to remote control and are only autonomous when traveling between waypoints, but one can see how this technology could evolve into the “Wall-E of water.”

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