Hackaday Links: November 30, 2014

Tired of wiring up the power rails and serial adapter every time you build something on a breadboard? [Jason] has you covered. He put his Breadboard Buddy Pro up on Indiegogo, and it does everything you’d expect it to: power rails, USB to UART bridge, and a 3.3 V regulator. Oh, he’s not using an FTDI chip. Neat.

With Christmas around the corner, a lot of those cheap 3-channel RC helicopters are going to find their way into stockings. They’re cool toys, but if you want to really have fun with them, you’ll need to add a penny.

Here’s a crowdfunding campaign for a very interesting IoT module. It’s a UART to WiFi adapter that has enough free Flash and RAM to run your own code, GPIOs, SPI, and PWM functions. Wait a second. This is just an ESP8266 module. Stay classy, Indiegogo.

Mankind has sent space probes to the surface – and received pictures from – Venus, Mars, the Moon, Titan, asteroids Itokawa and Eros, and comet Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. In a beautiful bit of geological irony, every single one of these celestial bodies looks like a rock quarry in Wales. That quarry is now for sale.

Here’s something exceptionally interesting. It’s a browser plugin that takes a BOM, and puts all the components into a cart. Here’s the cool bit: it does it with multiple retailers. The current retailers supported are Mouser, Digikey, Farnell/Element14, Newark, and RS Components.

Want a death ray? Too bad, because it’s already been sold.

Self-Learning Helicopter Uses Neural Network

model helicopter attached to boom

Though this project uses an RC helicopter, it’s merely a vessel to demonstrate a fascinating machine learning algorithm developed by two Cornell students – [Akshay] and [Sergio]. The learning environment is set up with the helicopter at its center, attached to a boom. The boom restricts the helicopter’s movement down to one degree of motion, so that it can only move up from the ground (not side to side or front to back).

The goal is for the helicopter to teach itself how to get to a specific height in the quickest amount of time. A handful of IR sensors are used to tell the Atmega644 how high the helicopter is. The genius of this though, is in the firmware. [Akshay] and [Sergio] are using an evolutionary algorithm adopted from Floreano et al, a noted author on biological inspired artificial intelligences. The idea is for the helicopter to create random “runs” and then check the data. The runs that are closer to the goal get refined while the others are eliminated, thus mimicking evolutions’ natural selection.

We’ve seen neural networks before, but nothing like this. Stay with us after the break, as we take this awesome project and narrow it down so that you too can implement this type of algorithm in your next project.


Continue reading “Self-Learning Helicopter Uses Neural Network”

Decoding News Helicopter Signals on YouTube


A serendipitous YouTube video recommendation led [Oona] to a raw copy of a news helicopter car chase video. While watching the video she noticed an odd sound playing from her left speaker. That was all it took to put [Oona] on the hunt. Decoding mystery signals is a bit of an obsession for her. We last saw [Oona] decoding radio signals for bus stop displays. She isolated the left audio channel and sent it through baudline software, which helped her determine it was a binary frequency shift keyed (BFSK) signal. A bit more work with SoX, and she had a 1200 baud bit stream.

Opening up the decoded file in a hex editor revealed the data. Packets were 47 bytes each. Most of the data packets was static. However, thee groups of bytes continuously changed. [Oona] decoded these numbers as latitude and longitude, and plotted the resulting data on Google Earth. Plotting her data against the position of the car in the video revealed a match. [Oona] had a complete track of the news helicopter as it followed the car. The telemetry data is in 7-bit Bell 202 ASCII, and is most likely part of an Interruptible Foldback (IFB) system used by the helicopter news crew and the studio producers. Click past the break for the YouTube video that started this all.

Continue reading “Decoding News Helicopter Signals on YouTube”

e-volo VC200 Makes Maiden Flight. Flying Cars Incoming

The e-volo VC200 has made it’s maiden unmanned flight. Does the craft above look a bit familiar? We first reported on the e-volo team back in 2011. Things have been going great for the team since then. They’ve created an 18 motor (Octadecacopter?) prototype dubbed the VC200. The group has taken a smart approach to building their craft. Rather than try to keep everything in-house, they’ve created a network by partnering with a number of companies who are experts in their fields. A sailplane company laid up the carbon fiber composite frame for the EC200. Junkers Profly, a German aviation company, developed a ballistic parachute system in case something goes wrong in flight.

From the outside, the VC200 looks like a grown up version of the Quadcopters we’ve seen here on Hackaday. Even the control system used for the test flight looks like a modified Radio Control Transmitter. The motors are outrunner brushless motors. Props are carbon fiber. We’re hoping the control system is a bit more evolved (and redundant) than the systems used in R/C quads though. Just like in smaller scale models, batteries are still the limiting factor. The VC200 will only fly for about 20 minutes on a charge. However, e-volo says that new technology should allow it to extend that time to around an hour. Not very much for a cross country flight, but plenty to pioneer a new type of aircraft. Where do we sign for the beta program?

Continue reading “e-volo VC200 Makes Maiden Flight. Flying Cars Incoming”

Should all Quadrotors Look like This?

In recent years, quadrotors have exploded in popularity. They’ve become cheap, durable, and can do some really impressive things, but are they the most efficient design? The University of Queensland doesn’t think so.

Helicopters are still much more efficient and powerful due to their one big rotor, and with the swashplate mechanism, perhaps even more maneuverable — after all did you see our recent post on collective pitch thrust vectoring? And that was a plane! A few quick searches of helicopter tricks and we think you’ll agree.

The new design, which is tentatively called the Y4, or maybe a “Triquad” is still a quadrotor, but it’s been jumbled up a bit, taking the best of both worlds. It has a main prop with a swashplate mechanism, and three smaller rotors fixed at 45 degree angles, that provide the counter torque — It’s kind of like a helicopter with three tails.

Regarding efficiency, the researchers expect this design could achieve an overall increase of about 25% in performance, compared to that of a standard quadrotor. So, they decided to test it and built a quad and a Y4 as similar as possible — the same size, mass, batteries, arms, and controller board. The results? The Y4 had an increased run time of 15%! They think the design could very well make the 25% mark, because in this test study, the Y4 was designed to meet the specifications of the quad, whereas a more refined Y4 without those limitations could perhaps perform even better.

Unfortunately there’s no video we can find, but if you stick around after the break we have a great diagram of how (and why) this design works!

Continue reading “Should all Quadrotors Look like This?”

Hackers in Africa are building their own aircraft


While you’re trying to come up with an idea for your next project this guy’s been building his own helicopter from whatever parts he can find. He’s just one of the aeronautical hackers featured in a story in the Daily Mail. The article’s narrative leaves us with many questions, but there’s enough info to make it worth a look.

In addition to the heli seen above there are also a couple of airplane builds to gawk at. Africa has already produced a couple of very ingenious hacks like [William Kamkwamba’s] projects which improved his village infrastructure. He gained enough notice from his work to land a scholarship to continue his education and that opportunity has also been afforded the creators of these aircraft.

At first we figured this helicopter project was possible because of lack of air traffic regulation in this part of the world. That’s not the case as [Onesmus Mwangi] — who makes his living as a farmhand — has been forbidden to fly the craft by local police. There may be another opportunity for him to fly later in life. He’s received funding to study aircraft maintenance abroad.+

Unfortunately we couldn’t find any video of this thing in action. If that’s unacceptable to you try getting your fix from this human-sized octocopter.

[Thanks Brandon]

Hackaday Links: February 28th, 2013

Xbox 360 control for a toy heli


[Jason] leveraged the IR control libraries for Arduino to use an Xbox 360 controller to fly his Syma S107G helicopter.

Windows 7 running on Raspberry Pi


Why, oh god why? Well, the guys at Shackspace got their hands on a laser cutter that can only be driven with a Windows program. Their solution was to run Win7 on RPi as a virtual machine.

Twin-servos for your third hand


After growing tired of constantly flipping over the substrate being held with a third hand [Nidal] came up with a better way. He mounted his third hand on two servo motors so that it can be positioned with a joystick.

Depopulating SMD resistors


If you’ve ever tried to remove small surface mount resistors or capacitors with an iron you know it can be tricky. Take a look at the technique that [Scott] uses to remove the components.

Photographing the die of MSP430, Z80, PIC, and several other chips


Here’s the latest work from [Michail] on photographing the die of various chips. You may remember reading his previous post on decapping chips with boiling sulfuric acid.