Phenox: Wherein Quadcopters Get FPGAs


The computing power inside a quadcopter is enough to read a few gyros and accelerometers, do some math, and figure out how much power to send to the motors. What if a quadcopter had immensely more computing power, and enough peripherals to do something cool? That’s what Phenox has done with a micro quad that is able to run Linux.

Phenox looks like any other micro quad, but under the hood things get a lot more interesting. Instead of the usual microcontroller-based control system, the Phenox features a ZINQ-7000 System on Chip, featuring an ARM core with an FPGA and a little bit of DDR3 memory. This allows the quad to run Linux, made even more interesting by the addition of two cameras (one forward facing, one down facing), a microphone, an IMU, and a range sensor. Basically, if you want a robotic pet that can hover, you wouldn’t do bad by starting with a Phenox.

The folks behind Phenox are putting up a Kickstarter tomorrow. No word on how much a base Phenox will run you, but it’ll probably be a little bit more than the cheap quads you can pick up from the usual Chinese retailers.

Videos below.

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Reading 2.4GHz Transmitters With An Arduino

QuadThere are a lot of cheap quadcopter kits out there, sold ready to fly with a transmitter and battery for right around $50 USD. One of the more popular of these micro quads is the V2X2 series. They are, unfortunately not compatible with any other radio protocol out there, but [Alexandre] has managed to use the transmitter included with his V202 quad to send data to an Arduino.

Like most quads, the transmitter that came with [Alexandre]‘s V202 operates on 2.4GHz. Listening in on that band required a little bit of hardware, in this case a nordic Semiconductors nRF24L01p. Attached to this chip is a regular ‘ol Arduino running a bit of code that includes [Alexandre]‘s V202 library.

Right now, the build can detect if the quad is bound or not, and read the current position of the throttle, yaw, pitch, and roll, as well as all the associated trims. It’s just the beginnings of [Alexandre]‘s project, but his eventual goal is to build an Arduino bot based on the code, complete with RC servos. Not bad for a transmitter that will be utterly useless when the microquad eventually breaks.

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Quadcopter Built From Recycled Motherboards

A quadcopter built from a motherboard

[Eric] has figured out a great way to build quadcopters out of recycled computer motherboards. Multicopters come in all shapes and sizes these days. As we mentioned in the last issue of Droning On, they can be bought or built-in a multitude of materials as well. Drones have been built using materials as varied as wood, PVC pipe, carbon fiber, and aluminum.

One of the more common commercial materials is G10 fiberglass sheet. It’s stiff, strong, and relatively light. Printed circuit boards are generally made of FR-4 fiberglass, G10’s flame resistant cousin. It’s no wonder [Eric] had quadcopters in his eyes when he saw a pile of motherboards being thrown out at his university.

[Eric] used a heat gun and a lot of patience to get all the components off the motherboard. With a bit of care, most of the components can be saved for future hardware hacks. This is one step that’s best performed outside. Hot melting plastics, metals, and resin fumes aren’t the greatest things to inhale.

Computer motherboards being cut on a shopbotClean PCBs in hand, [Eric] headed to his local TechShop. He drew his dead cat style frame in SolidWorks and cut it out on a ShopBot. While a high-end CNC cutter is nice, it’s not absolutely necessary. The fiberglass sheets could be cut with a rotary tool or a jigsaw. No matter how you cut it, be sure to wear a mask rated for fiberglass resins and some protective clothing. Fiberglass plate is nasty stuff to cut.

Once the upper and lower frame plates were cut, [Eric] completed his quad frame with some square wooden stock for arms. The final quad is a great flier, and spare parts are easy to source. Nice work on the recycling, [Eric]!

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Star Wars Training Droid Uses The Force

Star Wars Training Droid

We all know the scene, Obi-Wan Kenobi gives Luke a helmet with the blast shield down. He tells Luke “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them. Stretch out with your feelings!” Easy for Obi-Wan to say – he doesn’t have a remote training droid flying around and shooting at him. [Roeland] and his team are working to create a real-life version of the training droid for Hackday’s Sci-Fi contest.

The training droid in Star Wars may not have had the Force on its side, but it was pretty darn agile in the air. To replicate this, the team started with a standard Walkera Ladybird micro quadcopter. It would have been simple to have a human controlling the drone-turned-droid, but [Roeland and co] wanted a fully computer controlled system. The Ladybird can carry a small payload, but it just doesn’t have the power to lift a computer and sensor suite. The team took a note from the GRASP Lab and used an external computer with a camera to control their droid.

Rather than the expensive motion capture system used by the big labs, the team used a pair of Wii Remote controllers for stereo vision. A small IR LED mounted atop the droid made it visible to the Wii Remotes’ cameras. A laptop was employed to calculate the current position of the droid. With the current and desired positions known, the laptop calculated and sent commands to an Arduino, which then translated them for the droid’s controller.

Nice work guys! Now you just have to add the blaster emitters to it!

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Droning On: The Anatomy of A Drone



These last few weeks I’ve been ordering parts for the Hackaday Testbed, a basic quadcopter to be used here at Hackaday. The top question I see when surfing multicopter forums is “What should I buy”. Which frame, motors,  props, speed controller, and batteries are best?  There aren’t easy answers to these questions with respect to larger quads (300mm or more) . There are a myriad of options, and dozens of vendors to choose from.

Advice was simple in the pre-internet days of R/C planes and helicopters: just head down to your local hobby shop, and see what lines they carry. Hook up with a local club and you’ll have some buddies to teach you to fly. This advice still holds true to a certain extent. Some hobby shops carry the DJI and Blade lines of multicopters. However, their flight control systems are closed source. If you really want to dig in and adjust parameters, you have to either buy a combo package with an open source flight control system, or buy every part separately. Unfortunately, very few local hobby shops can afford to stock individual parts at that level.

In the online world there are several “big” vendors. The classic names in the USA have always been Tower Hobbies and Horizon Hobby. Some new US-based companies are All e RC and ReadyMadeRC. Several Chinese companies, including HobbyKing and RcTimer, maintain warehouses in several parts of the world. I’m only listing a few of the big names here. If I’ve left out your favorite site, drop some info in the comments section.

The killer with many of these companies is supply. A popular component will often go out of stock with no hint as to when it will be available again. When it comes to single parts like batteries, it’s easy to just order a different size. But what about motors or speed controls? These components need to be matched on a multicopter. Changing one for a different model means changing all of them, so it pays to buy a spare or two when ordering! Click past the break for a breakdown of some multicopter parts.

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Building a Quadcopter with a CNC Mill and a 3D Printer


Quadcopters are a ton of fun to play with, and even more fun to build. [Vegard] wrote in to tell us about his amazing custom DIY quadcopter frame that uses a commercial flight control system.

Building a quadcopter is the perfect project to embark upon if you want to test out your new CNC mill and 3D printer. The mechanical systems are fairly simple, yet result in something unbelievably rewarding. With a total build time of 30 hours (including Sketchup modeling), the project is very manageable for weekend hackers. [Vegard's] post includes his build log as well as some hard learned lessons. There are also tons of pictures of the build. Be sure to read to read the end of the post, [Vegard] discusses why to “never trust a quadcopter” and other very useful information. See it in action after the break.

While the project was a great success, it sadly only had about 25 hours of flight-time before a fatal bird-strike resulted in quite a bit of damage. Have any of your quadcopters had a tragic run-in with another flying object? Let us know in the comments.

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Droning On: Resources and First Steps


It’s been quiet these last few weeks in drone news. Some members of the commercial community are performing missions, while others are waiting on the results of the FAA’s appeal to the NTSB. There is no denying that drones are getting larger as an industry though. Even Facebook has jumped into the fray, not for drones to deliver real world pokes, but to provide internet access in remote areas.


One of the high points in the news was an octocopter operator’s discovery of 2500 year old rock drawings, or petroglyphs in the Utah desert. While exploring a known archeological site, Bill Clary of GotAerial LLC flew his octocopter up to a cliff face. The rock formation would have made rappelling down the face difficult at best. He found an amazing collection of petroglyphs which he documented in this video. While the authenticity of the petroglyphs hasn’t been proven yet, they appear to date back to the Basketmaker people who lived in the area from approximately 500 BC through 860AD.

Maybe you’re asking yourself how you can get in on some of these sweet drone adventures? Whether you’re considering your very first flight, or already own multiple aircraft, you’ll want to read our discussion of getting started (specifically: acquiring your first drone) and discovering drone-related communities. Hit that “read more” link to stay with us.

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