A Hexacopter with FPV


[Robert's] been hard at work becoming a hexacopter expert over the past two years, and he’s offered up a retrospective of his multi rotor build experience since he first clicked the “buy” button on Hobbyking. He’s come a long way from his first build, which used inexpensive carbon rods and 3D-printed parts for a frame, supported by scrap wood and hot glue. It met its end in his car; exposed to direct sunlight, the 3D-printed components melted.

The latest iteration—seen above on the right—is a complete redesign, with a laser-cut frame that dramatically reduced the overall weight and new “Donkey” motors off Hobbyking. It’s strong enough to lift a 1.6kg (3.5lbs) stuffed animal suspended from a rope! Most recently [Robert] has worked out streaming first-person video after fitting a camera to the hexacopter via a 3D-printed attachment and pairing the experience with Zeiss Cinemizer 3D glasses. He still has some bugs to work out, namely screws loosening from vibrations and adding a HUD to the display so he’ll know when the battery levels are low. You can see the poor teddy bear getting hanged along with some other videos, including the first-person video flight, after the break.

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Missing Drone Posters Are a Hilarious Look into the Future


Sure there are reward posters for missing cats, dogs, and other various pets — but now in Denver, a man named [Merrick] makes a plea for his $2400 missing drone.

We couldn’t help but chuckle at this news story because it could be the tip of the iceberg. As drones become more and more common place, seeing missing posters for them could become pretty normal! The problem is, when you’re using a long-range drone, and flying it in a city, it is very possible to lose your line of sight and lose the device altogether. That is exactly what happened to poor [Merrick] the other day. Thinking quickly, he started making lost drone posters, and after channel 7 news reported on it, it was discovered in an alleyway the following day. The person who found it thought it was government related and didn’t want to mess around with it — it’s a pretty serious looking drone. [Read more...]

Welcome to Droning On


Tesla_boat1Welcome to Droning On, Hackaday’s new column covering all things unmanned. In this column we will primarily focus on aerial vehicles, both fixed and rotary wing. Expect to see traditional R/C, as well as First Person View (FPV) models, computer controlled autopilot systems, as well as anything new that shows up on our radar.

First, a little bit of history. The earliest radio control vehicle in history was designed by a man known well to Hackaday, Nikola Tesla. Tesla presented a radio controlled boat at an electrical exhibition in New York in 1898. Tesla called the system “Teleautomaton” and said the craft utilized a borrowed mind. In addition to cruising around a man made pond, the boat could solve equations by blinking lights atop two of its masts. Tesla would encourage viewers to call out math equations, then flash the lights from the boat’s control panel.

For many years R/C as well as its cousins Free Flight and control line were hobbies occupied solely by hackers. One needed to have metal machining skills to build engine parts, draftsman skills to read plans, and carpentry skills to build airframes. Radios were built from tubes. Control, if it may be called such, was all or nothing – so-called “bang-bang” systems. Much like their model railroad compatriots, R/C plane modelers built with the parts they had on hand. Several early DIY R/C planes were controlled by rotary telephone dials. Dial 1 to pull up, 2 to turn left, etc. Control surfaces were moved by rubber powered escapements rather than the servos we’ve come to know and love. Aerodynamics also came into play. With such rudimentary control systems, planes were designed to be inherently stable. Thankfully there were numerous proven air frame designs available from the free flight arena. Slow flight, high dihedral, and docile stall behavior were the rule of the day. Early R/C planes could be thought of as free flight vehicles with occasional suggestions via radio control. Click past the break to find out more about drone history, and to read about the recent FAA judgement.

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Sparkfun’s AVC 2014: Robots, Copters, and Red Balloons of Death, Oh My!


Registration is open for Sparkfun’s 2014 Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC)! Every year the fine folks at Sparkfun invite people to bring their robots, rovers, and drones  to Colorado to see who is the king of the hill – or reservoir as the case may be. We see plenty of robots here at Hackaday, but precious few of them are autonomous. To us that means capable of completing complex tasks without human intervention. Sparkfun has spent the last five years working toward changing that. Each year the robots get more complex and complete increasingly difficult tasks.

The competition is essentially a race through the Boulder reservoir. Time is key, though there are multiple ways to gain bonus points. For aerial vehicles there are two classes: fixed and rotary wing. Planes fall under the fixed wing category. Helicopters, gyrocopters, tricopters, quadcopters, and beyond fall into rotary wing. We’re holding out hope that e-volo shows up with their Octadecacopter. Ground vehicles have a few more class options. Micro/PBR class is for robots with a build cost less than $350 total, or small enough to fit into box that’s 10″x6″x4″. The doping class is unlimited. Sparkfun even mentions costs over $1kUSD+, and weights over 25LBS. Non-Traditional Locomotion class is for walkers, WildCats and the like. Peloton is Sparkfun’s class for robots that don’t fit into the other classes.

Sparkfun is also making a few changes to the course this year. A white chalk line will be drawn through the course, so robots don’t have to rely on GPS alone for navigation. We’re hoping to see at least a few vision systems using that chalk line. Aerial robots will have to contend with three “Red Balloons of Death”. Robots can navigate around the balloons without penalty. The balloons can be bumped or even popped for bonus points, but the robot must do this with its own body. Projectile weapons are not allowed. To say we’re excited about the AVC would be an understatement. As much as we enjoy watching the big players at competitions like the DARPA Robotics Challenge, we love seeing individuals and small teams of hobbyists compete every year at the AVC. Click on past the break for Sparkfun’s AVC 2013 wrap up video.

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Free Falling Quadcopter Experiments End With Splat


Don’t get too attached to the great picture up above, as the quad shooting it was in a death plunge when the frame was snapped. There’s just something tempting about free fall. Nearly every tri/quad/hex/multicopter pilot has the impulse to chop the throttle while flying around. Most quadcopters are fixed pitch, which means that as power drops, so does control authority. When power is cut, they fall like stones. A quick throttle chop usually results in a few feet of lost altitude and a quickened pulse for the pilot. Cut power for much longer than that, and things can get really interesting.  [RcTestFlight] decided to study free fall in depth, and modified a test bed quadcopter just for this purpose.

First, a bit of a primer on free-falling quadcopters and their power systems.  Quadcopters always have two motors spinning clockwise, and two spinning counterclockwise. This configuration counters torque and allows for yaw control. Most large quads these days use sensorless brushless motors, which can be finicky about startup conditions. Brushless controllers are generally programmed to kick a motor into spinning in the proper direction. If a motor is spinning in reverse at several hundred RPM, things can get interesting. There will often be several seconds of stuttering before the motor starts up, if it starts at all. The controller MOSFETS can even be destroyed in cases like this.

When a quadcopter loses power, the motors slow down and thrust drops off. The quad begins to drop. As the falling quadcopter picks up speed, the propellers begin to spin (windmill) due to the air rushing up from below. If the quadcopter started its fall in a normal attitude, all four of  the propellers will rotate reverse of its normal direction.  The now spinning props will actually act as something of an air brake, slowing the fall of the quad. This is similar to a falling maple seed, or autorotation in a helicopter.  The spinning blades will also act as gyroscopes, which will add some level of stabilization to the falling quadcopter. Don’t get us wrong – the quadcopter can still be unstable as it falls, generally bobbing and weaving through the air. None of this is a guarantee that the quad won’t tip over onto its back – which will reverse the entire process.  Through all of this bobbing, weaving, and falling the flight controller has been along for the ride. Most flight controllers we’ve worked with have not been programmed with free fall in mind, so there is no guarantee that they will come back on-line when the throttle is rolled on. Thankfully many controllers are open source, so testing and changes are only a matter of risking your quadcopter.

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Wireless Power Transfer for Quadrotors


Quadrotors are great, but what kind of range can you get on them, really? What if you could charge them up just by flying over high voltage power lines, by or temporarily hovering by a charging station? That’s just what [Dr. Carrick Detweiler] wrote a paper about! (Caution: PDF)

The paper discusses the method of wireless power transfer via magnetic resonance, which, depending on the scale, can transfer power at medium distances (~1 meter). This outperforms inductive coupling which requires a much closer proximity (~1-2 centimeters) for power to transfer. It does still require a certain amount of accuracy, but as we all know, quadrotors have no problem with even the most complex aerodynamic feats!

There is an excellent demonstration video of a small scale wireless quadrotor prototype after the break.

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SkyJack: A Drone to Hack All Drones


Quadcopters are gradually becoming more affordable and thus more popular; we expect more kids will unwrap a prefab drone this holiday season than any year prior. [Samy's] got plans for the drone-filled future. He could soon be the proud new owner of his own personal army now that he’s built a drone that assimilates others under his control.

The build uses a Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 to fly around with an attached Raspberry Pi, which uses everybody’s favorite Alfa adapter to poke around in promiscuous mode. If the SkyJack detects an IEEE-registered MAC address assigned to Parrot, aircrack-ng leaps into action sending deauthentication requests to the target drone, then attempts to take over control while the original owner is reconnecting. Any successfully lassoed drone doesn’t just fall out of the sky, though. [Samy] uses node-ar-drone to immediately send new instructions to the slave.

You can find all his code on GitHub, but make sure you see the video below, which gives a thorough overview and a brief demonstration. There are also a few other builds that strap a Raspberry Pi onto a quadcopter worth checking out; they could provide you with the inspiration you need to take to the skies.

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