Drone Snags A Snag, Pilot Faces Fine

If you hail from somewhere to which Australian beers have been exported, you could be forgiven for forming a view of the country based solely on TV adverts for Foster’s, or Castlemaine XXXX. Entertaining 30-second stories of wily young Aussies, and their inventive schemes to get their hands on a cool glass of the Amber Nectar.

Whether it’s an accurate depiction or not is something you’d have to ask an Australian, but it seems to provide a blueprint for at least some real-life stories. An Australian man in Sunbury, west of Melbourne, is to face a fine of up to A$9000 for using his multirotor to pick up a sausage in a bun from a stall in a superstore car park, and deliver it to him relaxing in his hot tub.

From one perspective the video of the event which we’ve posted below the break is a very entertaining film. We see the flight over houses and a main road to a local branch of Bunnings, an Australian hardware store chain. Their sausage sizzle is a weekly institution in which local non-profit groups sell barbecued sausages from a stall in the car park as a fundraiser. The drone lowers a bag on a string over people queuing, with a note saying “Please buy snag(Aussie slang for sausage) and put in bag, here’s $10”. Someone complies, and the tasty treat is flown back over suburbia to our hero in his tub. It’s fairly obviously a production with many takes and supporting actors rather than a real continuous flight, but the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority is nevertheless investigating it. Breaches of the rules are reported as being use of a drone within 30 metres of people, as well as flight beyond the line of sight and over a populated area. The original video has been taken down, but it lives on courtesy of Australian tech site EFTM.

Aside from providing our readership with entertainment courtesy of our Australian friends there is an important message to take away from this story. It’s likely that if they can adequately prove that their flight was never out of the line of sight they can escape some of the charges, but even so they have strayed into difficult territory. We’ve written about drone hysteria on the part of authorities before, and we are living in an age during which twitchy agencies have shown themselves willing to view what we know to be little more than grown-up toys as something akin to terror weapons. Of course people who use multirotors for wilful endangerment should be brought to book in no uncertain terms, but the line between that and innocuous use feels sometimes to have been shifted in an alarming direction. Please keep entertaining us with your multirotor exploits and hacks, but never take your eye off how what you are doing could be misconstrued by those in authority. We’d prefer not to be writing up drone stories involving fines.

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Debunking the Drone Versus Plane Hysteria

The mass media are funny in the way they deal with new technology. First it’s all “Wow, that’s Cool!”, then it’s “Ooh, that’s scary”, and finally it’s “BURN THE WITCH!”. Then a year or so later it’s part of normal life and they treat it as such. We’ve seen the same pattern repeated time and time again over the years.

The mass media tech story cycle. Our apologies to Gartner. Curve image: Jeremykemp [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
The mass media tech story cycle. Our apologies to Gartner. Curve image: Jeremykemp [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
Seasoned readers may remember silly stories in the papers claiming that the Soviets could somehow use the technology in Western 8-bit home computers for nefarious purposes, since then a myriad breathless exclusives have predicted a youth meltdown which never materialised as the inevitable result of computer gaming, and more recently groundless panics have erupted over 3D printing of gun parts. There might be a British flavour to the examples in this piece because that’s where it is being written, but it’s a universal phenomenon wherever in the world technologically clueless journalists are required to fill column inches on technical stories.

The latest piece of technology to feel the heat in this way is the multirotor. Popularly referred to as the drone, you will probably be most familiar with them as model-sized aircraft usually with four rotors. We have been fed a continuous stream of stories involving tales of near-misses between commercial aircraft and drones, and there is a subtext in the air that Something Must Be Done.

The catalyst for this piece is the recent story of a collision with a British Airways plane 1700ft over West London approaching London Heathrow. The ever-hyperbolic Daily Mail sets the tabloid tone for the story as a drone strike, while the BBC’s coverage is more measured and holds a handy list of links to near-miss reports from other recent incidents. This incident is notable in particular because a Government minister announced that it is now believed to have been caused by a plastic bag, and since there is already appropriate legislation there was little need for more. A rare piece of sense on a drone story from a politician. The multirotor community is awash with plastic bag jokes but this important twist did not seem to receive the same level of media attention as the original collision.

Are multirotors unfairly being given bad press? It certainly seems that way as the common thread among all the stories is a complete and utter lack of proof. But before we rush to their defence it’s worth taking a look at the recent stories and examining their credibility. After all if there really are a set of irresponsible owners flying into commercial aircraft then they should rightly be bought to book and it would do us no favours to defend them. So let’s examine each of those incident reports from that BBC story.

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1-Hour Quadcopter Build

[marhar] was pretty confident in his quadcopter building skills when he made a bet to build and fly a quadcopter in just one hour! This is a big task but he saved valuable time by using some unlikely parts that were hanging around his parts bin. And to make the task a little more difficult, this build wasn’t done in a nice shop, either. It was built outside on a patio floor with the only power tools available being a hand drill, miter saw and small drill press!

The frame is made from cheap, sturdy and available scrap wood. The center plates are 1/4″ plywood and the arms are 3/4″ square fir strips. Notice the landing gear, yes, those are mini wiffle balls zip-tied to the wooden arms. Although an unlikely candidate for landing gear, they are surprisingly effective.

The flight controller board is an Ardupilot. [marhar] did use a flight controller that he previously had in another quadcopter. He used it as-is, and it worked, but no programming or configuration time is included in the 1-hour limit. Even so, it doesn’t take away from the impressiveness of the build time.  The motors, ESC’s and battery are just standard types used for most multirotors.

[marhar] doesn’t say what he won for completing the ‘copter but we hope it was something good, he deserves it. If you’d like to make something similar, [marhar] gives very detailed instructions and provides templates for the wood parts on his Instructables page. Check out the time-lapse build video after the break…

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Rotor DR1 and Collaborative Development

In a post apocalyptic world ravaged by the effects of a virus, a young man searches for his father. He forms a friendship with a young woman and a delivery drone that seems oddly sentient. Together they have to fight through abandoned buildings, and past gangs of thugs, to find…

That’s the hook for Rotor DR1, a web series currently in production. Rotor DR1 isn’t a big budget movie, but an independent series created by [Chad Kapper]. [Chad] isn’t new to film or drones, his previous project was Flite Test, which has become one of the top YouTube channels for drones and radio controlled aircraft in general. With the recent sale of Flite Test to Lauren International, [Chad] has found himself with the time to move forward on a project he’s been talking about for years.

Click past the break for more information, and to check out the Rotor DR1 trailer.

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THP Semifinalist: Autonomous Recharging For Multirotors

Even with visions of quadcopters buzzing around metropolitan areas delivering everything from pizzas to toilet paper fresh in the minds of tech blogospherites, There’s been a comparatively small amount of research into how to support squadrons of quadcopters and other unmanned aerial vehicles. The most likely cause of this is the FAA’s reactionary position towards UAVs. Good thing [Giovanni] is performing all his research for autonomous recharging and docking for multirotors in Australia, then.

The biggest obstacle of autonomous charging of a quadcopter is landing a quad exactly where the charging station is; run of the mill GPS units only have a resolution of about half a meter, and using a GPS solution would require putting GPS on the charging station as well. The solution comes from powerful ARM single board computers – in this case, an Odroid u3 – along with a USB webcam, OpenCV and a Pixhawk autopilot.

Right now [Giovanni] is still working out the kinks on his software system, but he has all the parts and the right tools to get this project up in the air, down, and back up again.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a semifinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

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?

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Heavy lifting copters can apparently lift people

Online RC store Hobby King is once again encouraging people to push the limits of what quadcopters and other multirotor remote control vehicles can do. They call it the beerlift and the goal is simple: build a multirotor craft capable of carrying the greatest amount of beer (or water, everything is measured by weight).

The competition is over, but the results were spectacular. The vehicle with the largest lift capacity – pictured above – was built by [Olaf Frommann] and carried 58.7 kilograms, or nearly 128 pounds to a hover a few feet off the ground. Last year the biggest lift was a mere 47 kg with an eight-rotor craft.

It was still an impressive showing all around. The biggest lift in the 700 class – 700 mm from rotor to rotor – was done by [David Ditch] with 19.6 kg. You can check out some of the best entries below, including an amazing aerobatic quadcopter that can successfully loop carrying a cup of beer,

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