RC Drag Racing Christmas Tree and Speed Trap

In the drag racing world, a Christmas tree is the post at the start line that sequentially lights up a set of yellow lights followed shortly after by a green light to tell the drivers to go, the lights obviously giving it its seasonal name. Included at the base of the tree are lasers to detect the presence of the cars.

[Mike] not only made his own Christmas tree for his RC cars, but he even made an end-of-track circuit with LED displays telling the cars how long they took. Both start and finish hardware are controlled by Pololu Wixel boards which has TI CC2511F32 microcontrollers with built-in 2.4 GHz radios for wireless communications.

In addition to the LEDs, the Christmas tree has a laser beam using a 650nm red laser diode for each car at the start line that’s aimed at a TEPT5600 phototransistor. If a car crosses its beam before the green light then a red light signals the car’s disqualification.

The end-of-track circuit has 7-segment displays for each car’s time. [Mike] designed the system so that the Christmas tree’s microcontroller tells the end-of-track circuit’s microcontroller when to reset the times, start the times, and clear the times should there be a disqualification. The finish line controller has lasers and phototransistors just like the starting line to stop the timers.

Oh, and did we mention that he also included 1980’s car racing game sounds? To see and hear it all in action check out the video after the break. If the cars seem a little drunk it’s because pushing left or right on the controller turns the wheel’s fully left or right.

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Books You Should Read: Engineer to Win By Carroll Smith

One problem with engineering education today is a lack of experimental teaching. Oh sure you may have a project or two, but it’s not the focus of the program because it’s hard to standardize a test around. Typically sections of the field are taught in a highly focused theoretical course by a professor or graduate student with a specialization in that section. Because classes treat individual subject areas, it’s entirely possible to get a really good understanding of two pieces of the same puzzle, but never realize that they fit together to make a picture. It’s only when a freshly minted engineer gets out into the real world that they start to make the connections between seemingly disparate fields of knowledge.

This is why Carroll Smith’s book “Engineer to Win” is so good. He spent a lifetime as a practicing engineer in a field where a small failure could mean the death of a friend. So when he set out to write a book, he wrote a book that related everything needed to properly conceptualize and solve the mechanical engineering problems in his field.

One warning though; the book is not for the faint of heart. If you want to learn something difficult well, then this is book for you. Carroll skips the comforting analogies and gives the information exactly. It can get a little dense, but he makes the assumption that the reader is there to learn and, most importantly, understand. This takes work.

2016-08-01_02h06_34For example, you can’t really understand why a rolled bolt is stronger than a bolt cut on a screw machine until you understand how metal works on a crystalline level. The same goes for metal fatigue, brittle fractures, ductile failures, and all the maladies that metal can suffer. The difference between an engineer and a technician is this deep understanding. Otherwise the equations learned are just parts in a toolbox and not paint on an artist’s palette.

This is why the first half of the book is dominated by all things metallurgical. The book starts with the simple abstractions of the crystalline structures of metal. Unlike my materials class in university, it maintains a practical bend to the presentation of the information throughout the whole process. For example, it moves on to what all this practically means for metals undergoing stresses and failures before it launches into a (short) digression on how metals are made and their history.

However, if racecar plumbing is your thing his treastise, "Carroll Smith's Nuts, Bolts, Fasteners and Plumbing Handbook" is also fantastic.
However, if racecar plumbing and fasteners are kinda your thing, “Carroll Smith’s Nuts, Bolts, Fasteners and Plumbing Handbook” is also a fantastic read.

This first half of the book touches on non-ferrous metals and their proper use as well. After that comes some of the best explanations of metal fatigue, fasteners, and metal bonding I’ve ever read. When the failure of a joint causes a mechanism to fail in a toaster that’s one thing, but when it fails in a racecar people get hurt. Carroll is very exacting in what constitutes a forgivable oversight in engineering, and what does not.

Once the book has finished conveying a working understanding of metals and fasteners it seems to fracture into a pot-luck of different racecar-related topics. During my first reading of the book I resisted this strange turn of events. For example, I didn’t really want to read about racecar plumbing in the eighties, or what kind of springs and aerofoils Carroll likes. However, when I reread those sections in a more focused manner, I realized that many of them were teaching the practical application of the knowledge learned in the previous chapters. How does the metal make a good spring? Why is one kind of plumbing better than another?

Importantly, the anecdotes at the end of the book impart an understanding of the importance of professionalism in engineering. What is the true responsibility of an engineer? He teaches not to take the trust others place in your skills for granted. He teaches to trust in the skills of others. The book teaches humility as an engineer. He shows the kind of person one can become after a lifetime of earnest study in their craft.

Thanks to reader, [Dielectric], for recommending the book to me. Also, from the bit of research I’ve done, the older motorworks edition is generally considered to have better quality reproductions of the diagrams than the newer printings of the book.

Drones, Clever Hacks, and CG Come Together For Star Wars Fan Film

We weren’t certain if this Star Wars fan film was out kind of thing until we saw the making of video afterwards. They wanted to film a traditional scene in a new way. The idea was to take some really good quadcopter pilots, give them some custom quadcopters, have them re-enact a battle in a scenic location, and then use some movie magic to bring it all together.

The quadcopters themselves are some of those high performance racing quadcopters with 4K video cameras attached. The kind of thing that has the power to weight ratio of a rocket ship. Despite what the video implies, they are unfortunately not TIE Fighter shaped. After a day of flying and a few long hikes to retrieve the expensive devices after inevitable crashes (which, fortunately, provided some nice footage), the next step was compositing.

However, how to trick the viewer into believing they were in a X-Wing quadcopter? A cheap way to do it would be to spend endless hours motion tracking and rendering a cockpit in place. It won’t look quite real. The solution they came up with is kind of dumb and kind-of brilliant. Mount a 3D printed cockpit on a 2×4 with a GoPro. Play the flight footage on a smartphone while holding the contraption. Try to move the cockpit in the same direction as the flight. We’re not certain if it was a requirement to also make whooshing and pew pew laser noises while doing so, but it couldn’t hurt.

In the end it all came together to make a goofy, yet convincingly good fan film. Nice work! Videos after the break.

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Line Following Robot Trains Runners

 

Can your line following robot move faster than [Usain Bolt] who has been described as “The World’s Fastest Timed Human”? Puma, the athletic footwear, apparel and accessories company, created such a robot to help train their company sponsored athletes.

The shoebox-sized robot exceeds [Bolt]’s top speed of 44-km/hour. At that speed, following a line gets tricky. It took the development team 8 prototypes to attain that capability. Inside the BeatBot an Arduino reads 9 infrared sensors for line detection at 100 samples a second. A digital servo controls the Ackerman steering mechanism to follow the line on the track or floor. Wheel encoders provide the data for speed and distance measurement.

The user can set the distance of the run and the time to beat. Run pacing can also be adjusted. LEDs on the robot provide the starting ‘gun’ and help the runner see the BeatBot using peripheral vision. Two GoPro cameras, front and rear, provide a visual record of the run.

Puma believes that actually running against a competitor, even a robot, improves performance more than just running against the clock. They’re betting a grown-up line follower will help Olympic class athletes improve their performance. Continue reading “Line Following Robot Trains Runners”

Forty-Year-Old Arcade Game Reveals Secrets of Robot Path Planning

What’s to be gained from reverse engineering a four-decade-old video game? As it turns out, quite a lot, and as you’ll learn from [Norbert]’s recent talk at the ViennaJS meetup, it’s not just about bringing a classic back to life.

The game in question is Kee Game’s Sprint 2, a monochrome 2D car race that allowed two players to compete head to head. The glorious Harvest Gold and Burnt Orange color scheme just screams 1970s, and it might be hard to see why this game was once a popular quarter-eater. But it was quite engaging for the day, and [Norbert] was interested in reverse engineering it. That he did, using JavaScript to build a faithful browser-based emulation of the game. And he took it further, creating a 3D first-person version of the game.

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String Racing Robots are Here !

This could be the start of a new thing. [HarpDude] showed off his String Car Racers over on the Adafruit forum. It’s like a small model cable car on caffeine. String up enough of them and go head to head racing with others.

A motor with a small pulley runs over a length of string stretched between 2 posts. Below the pulley, acting as a counterweight balance, is the rest of the racer. A Trinket board, motor driver, 9V battery and a pair of long lever micro switches to detect end of travel. The switches also help reverse the motor. A piece of galvanized wire acts as a guide preventing the String Car from jumping off the string. And discovering the benefits of a micro-controller design, as against discrete TTL/CMOS, old timer [HarpDude] added two operational modes via software. “Pong”, where the String Car keeps going back and forth over the string until it stops of (battery) exhaustion. The other mode is “Boomerang” – a single return trip back and forth.

We are guessing the next upgrade would be to add some kind of radio on the car (ESP8266 perhaps) and build an app to control the String Car. That’s when gaming could become fun as it opens up possibilities. One way to improve performance would be to add two “idler” pulleys in line with the main drive pulley, and then snake the string through the three of them. Now you know what to do with all of those old motors you’ve scavenged from tape drives, CD drives and printers. Let the Games begin!

Thanks [Mike Stone] for tipping us off on this.

Making Mario Kart Real

If you’ve ever had a casual go-kart experience, you might be able to relate to [HowToLou]. He noticed that whenever he tried to race, the same situation inevitably always happened. One racer would end up in front of the pack, and no one else would be able to pass them. The result was more of a caravan of go-karts than an actual race. That’s when he realized that video games like Mario Kart had already figured out how to fix this problem long ago. [Lou] took ideas from these games and implemented them onto a real life go-kart in order to improve the experience. The result is what he calls a Flash Kart.

The key to improving the experience was to add more features that you don’t normally get in a real word go-karting experience. The Flash Kart uses an electronic drive system that is controlled by computer. This setup allows the computer to limit the speed of the kart so they are all the same. The system includes a Logitech gaming steering wheel with built-in control buttons. There is also a color LCD screen mounted as a heads up display. The screen displays the racer’s speed in miles per hour, as well as multiple MP3 music tracks to choose from. The system provides the user with a limited number of speed boost tokens, listed on the heads up display. The user can also view their current ranking, their location on the track, or even get a view directly behind them.

The back of the kart includes a 23″ LCD screen that shows other players who you are and what team you are on. For added fun, the rider can display taunting messages to other racers using this screen. The front of the kart includes a laser cannon for shooting other karts as well as a “token scoop” sensor. This allows the riders to pick up virtual items such as laser cannon ammo, shields, or extra speed boost tokens.

To pack in all of this added functionality, [Lou] started with a typical go-kart chassis. From there, he built a custom fiber glass shell for the back-end. This houses most of the sensitive electronics. The system is powered by three 12V deep cycle batteries. A 15HP electric motor drives the rear wheels. The throttle is controlled with a gas pedal that simply feeds to a sensor that is hooked up to the control computer. The heart of the system is a computer that runs on a 2.6Ghz small footprint Zotac motherboard with Windows XP. The software is custom written in C#. The computer is plugged into a miniLAB 1008 interface board. This is how it communicates with all of the various sensors. The interface board is also used to control a number of relays which in turn control the speed of the kart.

Unfortunately [Lou] built this kart years ago and doesn’t include many details about what sensors he is using, or how the software works. Still, this was such a cool idea that we had to share it. Be sure to watch [Lou’s] video below to see the kart in action. Continue reading “Making Mario Kart Real”