Hackaday Links: June 28, 2015

The iBookGuy is using CPU heatsinks to cool microwave dinners. It’s an old Pentium II heatsink and a modern fan, cobbled together into a device that can quickly and effectively cool down a microwave dinner. I have several heatsinks from some old Xeon servers in my kitchen, but I don’t use them to cool food; I use them to defrost food. It’s very effective, and now I need to get some data on how effective it is.

[juangarcia] is working on a 3D printable PipBoy – the one in the upcoming Fallout 4. The extra special edition of Fallout 4 include a PipBoy that works with your cellphone, but if you want one before November, 3D printing is the way to go.

[Collin] over at Adafruit is teaching Oscilloscope Basics. Note the use of the square wave output to teach how to use the controls. Also note the old-school DS1052E; the Rigol 1054Z is now the de facto ‘My First Oscilloscope’

[Donovan] has one of those V212 toy quadcopters. The remote has a switch that controls a bunch of lights on the quad. This switch can be repurposed to control a small camera. All it takes is some wire, an optocoupler, and a bit of solder. Very cool. Video here.

I go to a lot of events where hackers, devs, and engineers spend hours banging away on their laptops. The most popular brand? Apple. The second most popular brand for savvy consumers of electronics? Lenovo, specifically ThinkPad X- and T-series laptops (W-series are too big, and do you really need a workstation graphics card for writing some node app?). They’re great computers, classic works of design, and now there might be a ThinkPad Classic. With a blue Enter key, 7-row keyboard, a multi-color logo, ThinkLights, a bunch of status LEDs, and that weird rubberized paint, it’s a modern realization of what makes a ThinkPad great. Go comment on that Lenovo blog post; the designer is actually listening. Now if we could just get a retina display in a MacBook Air (the one with ports), or get manufacturers to stop shipping displays with worse than 1080 resolution…

Need a fan guard? Know OpenSCAD? Good. Now you have all the fan guards you could ever want. Thanks [fridgefire] for sending this one in.

Autonomous Drones Now Carry People

There are a handful of companies trying to build the first autonomous car, but this project makes us think that they all might be heading in the wrong direction. [Thorstin] wanted to use a quadcopter to transport people, and built a working prototype of an autonomous quadcopter-esque vehicle that is actually capable of lifting a person.

The device isn’t actually a quadcopter anymore; that wouldn’t be able to generate enough lift. It has sixteen rotors in total, making it a sexdecacopter (we suppose). This setup generates 282 pounds of static thrust, which as the video below shows, is enough to lift an average person off of the ground along with the aluminum alloy frame and all of the lithium ion batteries used to provide power to all of those motors.

With the PID control system in place, the device is ready for takeoff! We like hobby projects that suddenly become life-sized and rideable, and we hope to see this one fully autonomous at some point too. Maybe soon we’ll see people ferried from waypoint to waypoint instead of being driven around in their ground-bound autonomous cars.

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The Trials Of Quadcopter Graffiti

Last April, graffiti artist [KATSU] strapped a can of red spray paint to a Phantom quadcopter, flew it up against one of the largest billboards in New York City, and pressed a button. Now, [KATSU], [Dan Moore], and Adafruit’s [Becky Stern] are trying to perfect a flying can of spraypaint, and they’ve met with some success and surely many broken props.

The team used an Iris+ for this project instead of the Phantom used by [KATSU] earlier this year, but the principle of the entire endeavor remains the same: fly up against a wall, flick a switch, and watch paint come out of a spray gun. To get the can spraying paint, they modified a can gun to accept a micro servo. This servo is connected to the trigger mechanism of the can gun, and the entire unit is slung under the quad.

Getting a quadcopter to put paint exactly where you want it is hard, even indoors. Luckily, the Pixhawk inside the Iris has sensor inputs and an ‘altitude hold’ mode that can accept a sonar sensor and can be programmed to stay a set distance away from a wall. These sensors are susceptible to interference, and a proper, shielded cable had to be made, but the sensor did work.

Flying the quad did not go as smoothly. The swinging can of paint changes the center of gravity of the quad, and even flying indoors proved difficult. Still, if you’d like to give it a go, [Becky] put up the instructions for their build. You can see the hover attempts in the video below.

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Quadrotor Control Systems And Kerbal Harriers

Kerbal Space Program, the game that teaches engineers at JPL and SpaceX the basics of rocket design and orbital mechanics, recently had a giant update. There are now science contracts that require you to fly Kerbals all over their tiny globe, collect data, and transmit it back to the Kerbal Space Center. As would be expected, this is a grind for XP, and the contracts sometimes don’t make sense – you need to collect data from cliff faces and mountain tops. Landing a Kerbal jet at these places is hard.

[Matt Thiffault] wanted to do these science contracts more efficiently. The best way to get to a remote location without a landing strip would be a helicopter, but a harrier jump jet would do just as well. This isn’t supported in the stock game, so [Matt] wrote a complete control system for four engines to control a hovering Kerbal jet.

[Matt]’s work is built on kOS, a scriptable autopilot mod for Kerbal that was originally intended to be something like the Apollo Guidance Computer. People have been using it to make computerized skycranes and automated rendezvous and docking programs, but these are actually relatively simple examples; there’s far more math involved in flying a quadcopter than there is getting into orbit.

To build his automated hovering harrier, [Matt] needed an aircraft. His Kerrier has parts from the Kerbal Aircraft Expansion, B9, and Infernal Robotics mods for KSP, but this is only half the problem. Anyone can put four tilt jets on an airplane, and it takes a real wizard to force a control system to hover. Hover control of the Kerbal harrier is accomplished with a complete control system for a four-engined aircraft, with proper PID control loops and code updating at 20Hz.

With kOS, the proper plane, and the right software running on this emulated guidance computer, [Matt] is able to park his plane in mid-air, have a Kerbal descend the ladder, perform some science, and return to base. It’s an impressive amount of work for a video game. A good thing, too: [Matt] is looking to get into controls engineering professionally. Whether this will go on his resume is another question entirely.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A 3D Mapping Drone

Quadcopters show a world of promise, and not just in the mediums of advertising and flying Phantoms over very large crowds. They can also be used for useful things, and [Sagar]’s entry for The Hackaday Prize does just that. He’s developing a 3D mapping drone for farmers, miners, students, and anyone else who would like high-resolution 3D maps of their local terrain.

Most high-end mapping and photography work done with quadcopters these days uses heavy DSLRs to record the images that are brought back to the base station to be stitched into a 3D image. While this works, those GoPros are getting really, really good these days, and with 4k resolution, too. [Sagar] is mounting one of these to a custom quad and flying around an area to get images of an area from every angle.

To stitch the images together [Sagar] will be using the Pix4D mapping software, an impressive bit of software that will convert a multitude of still images to a 3D scene. It’s an expensive piece of software – $8500 for a perpetual license, but the software can be rented for $350/month until a FOSS alternative can be developed.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Foldable Quadrotor is Origamilicious

A team at the École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne has developed and built a quadcopter with arms that unfold just before takeoff. The idea is that you can fold the device back up when you’re done with it, making it possible to store a bunch more of the quads in your backpack for instance.

The unfolding mechanism relies on the torque of the rotors spinning up to swing the arms into place. Once fully extended, a spring-loaded flap folds up, catches on some magnets, and forms an L-shaped structure that won’t re-fold without human intervention.

quadcopter_animUnder normal flying conditions, quads have a two left-handed propellers and two right-handed ones and the motors spin in opposite directions. In order to do the unfolding, two of the motors need to run essentially in reverse until the frame has clicked into place. They use a sensor (Hall effect?) to detect the arm locking, and then the rotors quickly switch back to their normal rotation before the quad hits the floor. In the video, they demonstrate that they’ve got this so well tuned that they can throw it up into the air to launch. Wow.

Everything’s still in prototype phase, and one of the next goals is “strengthening the arms so they can withstand crashes”, so don’t expect to see these in your local hobby store too soon. In the mean time, you’ll be able to see them in the flesh if you head up to the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle that started today and runs through Friday. If anyone goes, take more video and post in the comments?

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Density Altitude Gauge

Despite what extraordinarily overpowered quadcopters suggest, the air pressure of whatever a flying machine flys at is extremely important. Pressure is dependent on altitude and temperature, and there are hundreds of NTSB investigations that have concluded density altitude – pressure altitude corrected for nonstandard temperature variations – was the reason for a crash. Normally density altitude is computed through a slide rule or a flight computer, with the pilot entering in altitude and temperature, but somehow accidents still happen. For his entry to The Hackaday Prize, [Neil McNeight] is building an automated density altitude calculator to automate the process entirely.

Instead of having a pilot enter the altitude and temperature into a flight computer manually, [Neil]’s device grabs the current altitude from a GPS unit, and reads the temperature with a tiny sensor acquired from SparkFun. With just a little bit of math, this device will spit out the altitude an airplane or ‘copter thinks it’s at.

While the FAA won’t allow instruments that are cobbled together on a breadboard, this does have a few applications in the RC world. There are extremely high performance racing quadcopters out there now, and knowing how the craft will perform before flying it will save a few props.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: