Fail of the Week: Capturing Data from a Laser Rangefinder

fotw-laser-measuring-tape

We’re changing it up this week with a reverse engineering fail which [Itay] pointed out to us. A couple of years ago [Nate] over at Sparkfun agreed to help a friend with a project that required precise distance measurement. He knew that laser rangefinders are a good way to go and mentions their use in golfing and the building trades. He picked up this handheld version billed as a laser tape measure. He put up a valiant effort to reverse engineer the PCB in hopes of finding a hook for the measurement data.

Obviously his endeavor failed or we wouldn’t be talking about it in this column. But there’s a lot to learn about his methods, and a few of the comments associated with his original post help to shed light on a couple of extra things to try.

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Autonomous fixed-wing drone threads the needled in a parking garage

We’ve got something of a love affair going on with quadcopters, but there’s still room for a little something on the side. This fixed-wing drone can pull off some pretty amazing navigation. MIT’s Robust Robotics Group is showing off the work they’ve done with the plane, culminating in a death-defying flight through a parking garage (video after the break). This may not sound like a huge accomplishment, but consider that the wingspan is over two meters and repeated runs at the same circuit brought it within centimeters of clipping support columns.

Unlike the precision quadcopters which depend on stationary high-speed cameras for feedback, this drone is self-contained. It does depend on starting out with a map of its environment, using this in conjunction with a laser rangefinder and inertial sensors to plot its route and adjust as necessary. We think the thing must have to plan a lot further ahead than a quadcopter since it lacks the ability to put on the brakes and hover. This is, however, one of the strengths of the design. Since it uses a fixed-wing approach it can stay in air much longer than a quadcopter with the same battery capacity.

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Automotive backup alarm

[Dino’s] project of the week is a backup alarm for your car. This is a feature that has become popular on many large vehicles like SUVs where visibility is an issue when moving in reverse. But it doesn’t sound like he was motivated by the need to have this in his own car. Instead, he was looking for something to build using a laser range finder.

[Joe Grand] (the brains behind DEFCON badges) has been working on an inexpensive laser range finder for Parallax. He sent one of the first-run prototype boards to [Dino] for beta testing and we’re glad that [Dino] decided to show it off. It uses a small red laser diode and a camera module to measure distance in millimeters. The board communicates serially and this particular project uses an Arduino along with a character LCD and speaker to display distance and sound an alarm when the car is within a meter of an object.

Check out the video after the break to see the build in its entirety. The system works reasonably well, if the object you’re about to hit is perfectly lined up with the laser dot.

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