Electro-permanent magnets for quadcopters


Imagine a quadcopter hovering above a payload – a can of beans, perhaps. The ‘copter descends onto the payload, activates an electromagnet, and flies away with a hobo’s dinner. Right now, this is a bit of an impossibility. A normal electromagnet that powerful would consume an amazing amount of power, something quads don’t usually have in abundance. With the OpenGrab project, the dream of a remote-controlled skycrane is within reach, thanks to some very clever applications of magnetics.

The tech behind the OpenGrab is an electro-permanent magnet, basically an electromagnet you can turn on and off, but doesn’t require any power to stay on. OpenGrab was heavily influenced by a PhD thesis aimed at using these devices for self-assembling buildings.

This project had a very successful Kickstarter campaign and has seen some great progress in the project. While beer doesn’t come in steel cans anymore, we can imagine a whole lot of really cool applications for this tech from infuriating electronic puzzles to some very cool remote sensing applications.

How do you think this quadcopter feels?


You don’t speak the language of dogs and yet you can tell when one is angry, excited, or down in the dumps. How does that work, and can it be replicated by a robot? That’s the question which [Megha Sharma] set out to study as part of her graduate research at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

The experiment starts by training the robot in a series of patterns meant to mimic emotion. How, you might ask? Apparently you hire an actor trained in Laban Movement. This is a method of describing and dealing with how the human body moves. It’s no surprise that the technique is included in the arsenal of some actors. The training phase uses stationary cameras (kind of like those acrobatic quadcopter projects) to record the device as it is moved by the actor.

Phase two of the experiment involves playing back the recorded motion with the quadcopter under its own power. A human test subject watches each performance and is asked to describe how the quadcopter feels. The surprising thing is that when asked they end up anthropomorphising the inanimate device even further; making up small stories about what the thing actually wants.

It’s an interesting way to approach the problem of the uncanny valley in robotic projects.

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Kebab skewer quadcopter


Quadcopters are the epitome of high-tech hobby electronics. We’re quite used to seeing the frames built out of modern materials (carbon fiber, 3d printed, etc). But it’s pretty hard to beat the strength-to-weight ratio of kebab skewers. You heard us correctly. [Shiny Shez] built his quadcopter frame from kebab skewers.

You might want to get that Boy Scout Handbook out and brush up on your lashing skills. Lashing is a method of using rope (string in this case) to fasten together wooden sticks (bamboo kebab skewers). Once the lashed joints are precisely oriented [Shiny] applies a liberal coat of super glue to cement them in place.

He went the easy route when it comes to control hardware. You can get spare parts for the Husban X4, a commercially available quadcopter. Its main controller is used here. The single board controls the motors, monitors an IMU to keep the aircraft stable while in flight, and includes a wireless transceiver. On the receiving side [Shiny] uses an Arduino with a wireless module. This way he can control the quadcopter from his laptop, or go one step further and use an Android phone.

Turning anything into a drone


For his graduate project, [Jasper] wanted to do something with a quadcopter drone. Not content with simply building any old drone, he decided to make a kit that turns anything into a drone. Everything from a bicycle wheel, to a computer keyboard, and even a phone is more than able to take flight with [Jasper]‘s Drone It Yourself kit.

The DIY drone kit consists of a few 3D printed parts that include four clamps and mounts for the four engines. Also on board are ESCs, a battery, receiver, and an OpenPilot autopilot that will hopefully keep a drone in any shape imaginable hovering in the air. All this packaged in a sleek aluminum briefcase make it look like something out of an eccentric Bond film parody.

This project isn’t for sale – at least until the Brookstone catalog steals the idea – but you can get the bill of materials directly from [Jasper], just in case you’d like to make your own random flying object.

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The Thunderball jetpack becomes a quadcopter


At the beginning of the fourth Bond film, 007 escapes from a French château with a jetpack. While the jetpack has yet to take off for those of us who aren’t secret agents, there is a way for anyone to fly just like Bond. It can’t lift a full-scale human yet, but [Rodger]‘s Project Thunderball can let a mannequin hover for several minutes.

The stand in for [Sean Connery] in [Rodger]‘s build is a 2.2 lb mannequin – actually an ‘inflatable companion’, if you will – stuffed with styrofoam peanuts. The actual jet pack is a quadcopter souped up with larger motors, propellers, and enough batteries to deliver 1kW. There’s no belt for this quad; the mannequin rides the machine like you would a horse, straddling the electronics while very high-speed props spin just inches away from the tender bits of an inflatable plastic doll.

[Rodger] is able to get about 8 minutes of hover time out of his quadpack, an impressive feat that also allows his flying machine to deliver beer and pizzas.

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Brushless gimbal 3D printed and bolted to quadcopter


A handful of 3D printed parts, some brushless motors, and a bit of control hardware add a flair of cinematography to this quadcopter.

[Sean] sent in a tip about his work after seeing yesterday’s feature of a brushless gimbal being used to improve image stability with a shoulder mounted camera. That rig was designed to be used with a quadcopter, and this hacks shows why. It’s obvious from the demo footage that the gimbal — which is mounted directly to the frame of the TBS Discovery quadcopter — does a great job of keeping the image steady. The panning and tilting in directions contrary to the physics of flight make for a much more interesting video experience. Watch the inset video which is a live feed from the aircraft to the pilot. As the quadcopter makes very sharp banking turns you wouldn’t even be able to tell the pitch or roll have changed in the HQ version.

You can see a pair of images detailing the 3D printed parts and the assembled gimbal below.

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Best robot demos from ICRA 2013


The 2013 IEEE International Conference of Robotics and Automation was held early in May. Here’s a video montage of several robots shown off at the event. Looks like it would have been a blast to attend, but at least you can draw some inspiration from such a wide range of examples.

We grabbed a half-dozen screenshots that caught our eye. Moving from the top left in clockwise fashion we have a segmented worm bot that uses rollers for locomotion. There’s an interesting game of catch going on in the lobby with this sphere-footed self balancer. Who would have thought about using wire beaters as wheels? Probably the team that developed the tripod in the upper right. Just below there’s one of the many flying entries, a robot with what looks like a pair of propellers at its center. The rover in the middle is showing off the 3D topography map it creates to find its way. And finally, someone set up a pool of water for this snake to swim around in.

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