DEF CON Badgelife: Someone Finally Did It

Badgelife is the celebration of electronic conference badges, a way of life that involves spending far too much time handling the logistics of electronics manufacturing, and an awesome hashtag on Twitter. Badgelife isn’t a new thing; it’s been around for a few years, but every summer we see a massive uptick in the lead up to Def Con.

For the last few years, the designers and engineers deep into Badgelife have had the same conversation dozens of times. One person says, “you know, someone should build a badge that’s a quadcopter.” Another person replies, “Can you imagine how annoying that would be? You’d be putting ten thousand people in a room during the closing ceremonies at DefCon, and a few dozen people would have quadcopters. It would be horrible” Yes, there have been plans to build a quadcopter badge for the last few years, but cooler heads prevailed.

Someone finally did it. The wearable electronic conference badge that’s also a quadcopter is finally here. It’s the work of [b1un7], and it’s going to be exactly as annoying as you would expect.

This badge is actually two PCBs, the first being the quadcopter itself, the second being the joystick/controller. The quad is shaped like the familiar jolly roger found in most Whiskey Pirate badges ([b1un7] hangs with that crew), and the controller is a pirate’s treasure map loaded up with joysticks, buttons, and radios. The motors for this quad appear to be brushed, not brushless, and it looks like the arms of the quad have some space for obnoxiously bright LEDs.

This is an awesome badge but it’s still [b1un7]’s first attempt at making a badge. Right now, there’s still a bit of work to do — there’s only one week until Defcon — but with any luck [b1un7] will have 25 of these wearable electronic conference badges buzzing around. It’s a terrible idea and we love it.

Manned Multirotor Flies Again, Electric Style

You can’t keep a good hacker down. [Amazingdiyprojects] wants to build a reliable manned multirotor, and by golly, he’s doing it.  After a crash of his petrol powered design, [Amazingdiyprojects] went back to the drawing board. The new version is called chAIR, and is electric-powered.

The flying machine is lifted by 76 Multistar Elite quadcopter motors. Control is passed through 5 KK 2.1 quadcopter controllers. The KK board is a very simple controller, and we’re a bit surprised [Amazingdiyprojects] didn’t go with a newer setup. Batteries are 80x Multistar 4S 5.2Ah packs, stored below the seat. If these names sound familiar, it’s because just about every electrical part was purchased from Hobby King – an online hobby retailer.

The machine has an all up weight of 162 kg. A bit more than a single person can carry, but chAIR breaks down for easy transport.

We’re blown away by all the little details on chAIR – including the new control system. The left stick controls throttle, while right appears to control aileron/elevator and twist for the rudder control. Somewhat different from the collective/cycle controls found on conventional helicopters!

Even the battery connectors needed custom work. How do you connect 20 batteries at once? [AmazingDiyProjects] mounted XT60 connectors in a metal ring. The ring is compressed with a central screw. A quick spin with a battery-powered drill allows this new aviator to connect all his batteries at once. Is this the future of aviation, or is this guy just a bit crazy? Tell us in the comments!

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Harrier-like Tilt Thrust in Multirotor Aircraft

A traditional quadcopter is designed to achieve 6 degrees of freedom — three translational and three rotational — and piloting these manually can prove to be a challenge for beginners. Hexacopters offer better stability and flight speed at a higher price but the flight controller gets a bit more complex.

Taking this to a whole new level, the teams at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) and Zurich University of the Arts (ZHDK) have come together to present a hexacopter with 6 individually tiltable axes. The 360-degree tilt in rotors allows for a whopping 12-degrees of freedom in flight and allows the UAV to fly in essentially any direction including parallel to walls.

In addition to the acrobatic capabilities of the design, the team has done some testing with autonomous control using external cameras. Their blog contains videos of their testing at various stages and it interesting to see the project evolve over a short span of nine months. Check out the video below of the prototype in action.

With Amazon delivering packages via drone and getting patents for parachute labels, UAV design is evolving faster now than ever. We can’t wait to see where this 12 DOF takes the state of the art. Continue reading “Harrier-like Tilt Thrust in Multirotor Aircraft”

FAA’s Drone Registration System Struck Down For Hobbyists

The US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has struck down a rule requiring recreational drone users and model aircraft pilots to register their drones with the FAA.

This began when [John Taylor], an RC hobbyist and attorney, filed suit against the FAA questioning the legitimacy of the FAA’s drone registration program. This drone registration began early last year, with the FAA requiring nearly all drones and model aircraft to be registered in a new online system. This registration system caused much consternation; the FAA Modernization And Reform Act of 2012 states, ““…Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft…”, defining model aircraft as any unmanned aircraft flown within visual line of sight for hobby or recreational purposes. Despite this mandate from Congress, the FAA saw fit to require registration for every model aircraft weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds, regardless of the purpose of its flight.

In our coverage of the FAA’s drone registration program, we couldn’t make heads or tails of the reasons behind this regulation. In addition to the questionable legality of this regulation, there are questions over the FAA’s mandate to regulate anything flying under the 400 foot ceiling cited in the FAA’s rules. The question of safety is also open — a 2 kg drone is likely to cause injury to a passenger on a commercial flight only once every 187 million years of operation. In short, the FAA might not have the mandate of managing the air traffic, certification, and safety of the nation’s airspace when it comes to model aircraft.

While the Circuit court struck down the rule for registration concerning model aircraft, this still only applies to small (under 55 pounds) planes and quads flown within line of sight. Commercial drone operators still fall under the purview of the FAA, and for them the drone registration system will stand.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Electric Variable Pitch Props

Barring the smallest manned airplanes, most aircraft that are pulled around by a prop have variable pitch propellers. The reason for this is simple efficiency. Internal combustion engines are most efficient at a specific RPM, and instead of giving the engine more gas to speed up, pilots can simply change the pitch of a propeller. With a gas powered engine, the mechanics and design of variable pitch propellers are well understood and haven’t really changed much in decades. Adding variable pitch props to something pulled around by an electric motor is another matter entirely. That’s what [Peter McCloud] is building for his entry to the Hackaday Prize, and it’s going into the coolest project imaginable.

This project is designed for a previous Hackaday Prize entry, and the only 2014 Hackaday Prize entry that hasn’t killed anyone yet. Goliath is a quadcopter powered by a lawnmower engine, and while it will hover in [Peter]’s test rig, he’s not getting the lift he expected and the control system needs work. There are two possible solutions to the problem of controlling the decapatron: an ingenious application of gimballed grid fins, or variable pitch rotors. [Peter] doesn’t know if either solution will work, so he’s working on both solutions in parallel.

[Peter]’s variable pitch rotor system is basically an electronic prop mount that connects directly to the driven shafts on his gas-powered quadcopter. To get power to the electronics, [Peter] is mounting permanent magnets to the quad’s frame, pulling power from coils in the rotor hub, and rectifying it to DC to drive the servos and electronics. Control of the props will be done wirelessly through an ESP32 microcontroller.

Variable pitch props are the standard for everything from puddle jumpers to acrobatic RC helis. In the quadcopter world, variable pitch props are at best a footnote. The MIT ACL lab has done something like this, but perhaps the best comparison to what [Peter] is doing is the incredible Stingray 500 quad. Flite Test did a great overview of this quad (YouTube), and it’s extremely similar to a future version of the Goliath. A big motor (in the Stingray’s case, a brushless motor) powers all the props via a belt, and the pitch of the props is controlled by four servos. The maneuverability of these variable pitch quads is unbelievable, but since the Goliath is so big and has so much mass, it’s doubtful [Peter] will be doing flips and rolls with his quads.

You can check out a video of [Peter]’s build below.

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Welcome to the Drone Wars

DroneClash” is a competition to be held on December 4th (save the date!) in a hangar at Valkenburg airfield in the Netherlands. The game? Teams try to destroy each others’ quadcopters, navigate through a “Hallway of Doom, Death, and Destruction”, and finally enter a final phase of the game where they try to defend their “queen” drone while taking out those of their opponents.

This sounds like crazy and reckless fun. Surprisingly, it’s being sponsored by the Technical University of Delft’s Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) lab. The goal is to enable a future of responsible drone use by having the ability “to take them out if necessary”.

Drone development has grown hugely in recent years, and you can see the anti-drone industry growing too. Ideally, these developments keep each other in check and result in a safe and responsible incorporation of drones in our daily lives. We are organising DroneClash to generate new ideas in order to encourage this process.

We do have to ask ourselves why anyone would want to use another quadcopter to take out illegally operated quadcopters — there must be a million more effective means from a policing standpoint.  On the other hand, if we were re-shooting “Hackers” right now, and looking for a futuristic sport, we would swap out rollerblading for drone combat. Registration opens this week. Gentlebots, start your engines.

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Frankenquad takes to the air

Modern quadcopter flight controllers perform a delicate dance of balancing pitch, yaw, bank, and throttle. They can do this thanks to modern MEMS gyros and accelerometers. The job is easy when the motors, propellers and speed controllers are relatively well matched. But what if they’re not? That’s the questions [SkitzoFPV] set out to answer by building Frankenquad.  Frankenquad is a 250 sized FPV quadcopter with 4 different motors and 4 different propellers. The props are different sizes from different manufacturers, and even include a mix of 3 and 4 blade units. If all that wasn’t enough [SkitzoFPV] used 3 different electronic speed controller. Each speed controller has a micro running different firmware, meaning it will respond slightly differently to throttle inputs.

Keeping all this in check was [SkitzoFPV’s] branded version of the Raceflight Revolt R4 flight controller. The Revolt is powered by an STM32F4 series ARM microcontroller. Most of these controllers run variants of the cleanflight open source flight control software. The question was – would it be able to handle the unbalanced thrust and torque of 4 different power combinations?

The flight tests proved the answer was a resounding yes. The quad hovered easily. As the video shows [SkitzoFPV] went on to burn a few holes in the sky with it. Admittedly [SkitzoFPV] is a much better pilot than any of us. He did notice a bit of a bobble and a definite yaw toward the smaller propeller. Still, it’s rather amazing how easily a modern flight controller was able to turn a pile of junk-box components into a flying quadcopter. You can learn more about flight controllers right here.

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