Open Hardware RC Radios

A decade ago, RC transmitters were clunky, expensive and PCM. A decade before that, everything was analog. Now, RC transmitters are completely digital, allowing for hundreds of aircraft to take to the sky. They’re also cheap, thanks to engineers in China. Now, they’re open hardware, too.

An old Futaba radio outfitted with AR Uni electronics. Image source: vikar
An old Futaba radio outfitted with AR Uni electronics. Image source: vikar

An exceptionally long thread over on the RCGroups forums has been going on for a few months, extolling the virtues of the ‘AR Uni’ board that turns old transmitters into full featured digital radios. This board runs everything, from two analog sticks, a directional keyboard, pots galore, switches everywhere, and a fancy LCD that makes programming easy. The joys of Open Hardware, brought to RC geeks. It’s a thing of beauty. Continue reading “Open Hardware RC Radios”

Cheap Toy Airboat Gets a Cheap R/C Upgrade

[Markus Gritsch] and his son had a fun Sunday putting together a little toy airboat from a kit. They fired it up and it occurred to [Markus] that it was pretty lame. It went forward and sometimes sideward when a stray current influenced its trajectory, but it had no will of its own.

The boat was extracted from water before it could wander off and find itself lost forever. [Markus] did a mental inventory of his hacker bench and decided this was a quickly rectified design shortcoming. He applied a cheap knock-off arduino, equally cheap nRF24L01+ chip of dubious parentage, and their equivalent hobby servo to the problem.

Some quick coding later, assisted by prior work from other RC enthusiasts, the little boat was significantly upgraded. Now the boat could be brought back to shore using any R/C controller that supported the, “Bayang,” protocol. He wouldn’t have to face the future in which he’d have to explain to his son that the boat, like treacherous helium balloons, was just gone. Video after the break.

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DIY Electric Pennyboard Can Hit 40Km/h!!

Home-made transportation is a thriving area for makers to flex their skills. Looking to shorten their university commute, [doublecloverleaf] modded his penny board by adding a motor that can have him zipping along at 40 Km/h!

The electric motor is mounted to the rear truck and delivers power to the wheel gear using a HTD 5 m pulley belt. Finding the deck too flexible to mount the battery pack under, [doublecloverleaf] strengthened it with a pair of carbon-fiber tubes bracketed on the underside. A few custom PCB boards connect ten 5 Ah LiPo battery cells in series to create two, five-cell packs which are kept safe by a thick housing mounted between the board’s trucks. [doublecloverleaf] calculates that they could make up to a 15 km trip on a single charge.

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VertiGo Robot Drives Up Walls

This collaboration between ETH and the Disney empire’s research arm is a ultra-light robot that can roll across horizontal surfaces and also transition and climb walls.

The robot has four wheels with one steerable set, but its secret sauce is the two propellers gimbaled on its back. Using these propellers it can move itself across the ground, but also, when approaching a wall, provide enough thrust to overcome the gravity vector.

Naturally, the lighter the robot, the less force will be needed to keep it on the wall. That’s why the frame is made from carbon fiber corrugated sandwich panels. The motors, batteries, and controllers are all also light and small.

We liked how the robot was, apparently, using its propellers to provide additional stability even while on the ground. There is a video after the break, and more information can also be found on the Disney Research webpage.

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R/C Bot Takes Your Strawberries Away

Don’t let the friendly smile on this RC cart fool you, it will take your strawberries away — though that’s kinda the point. It’s an RC car that [transistor-man] and a few friends modified for carrying freshly picked strawberries at strawberry fields so that you don’t have to.

RC strawberry carrying robot before putting on the cooler
RC strawberry carrying robot – WIP

They started with an older Traxxas Emaxx, a 4-wheel drive RC monster truck. The team also bought a suitable sized water cooler at a local hardware store. A quick load test showed that 5lbs collapsed the springs and shock absorbers, causing the chassis to sink close to the ground. The team had two options: switching to stronger springs or locking out the springs altogether. They decided to replace one set of shocks with metal plates effectively locking them. After that it was time for some CAD work, followed by the use of a water jet to cut some aluminum plate. They soon had a mounting plate for the water cooler to sit in. This mounting plate was attached to 4 posts which originally held the vehicle’s Lexan body. A bungee cord wrapped around the cooler and posts on the mounting plate holds the cooler in place.

Thermal image of bad MOSFET
Thermal image of bad MOSFET

Some initial testing showed that the vehicle moved too fast even in low gear and tended to tip over, as you can see in the first video below. Some practice helped but a 3:1 reduction planetary gearbox brought the vehicle down to walking speed, making a big difference. A trip was arranged to go to local strawberry picking field at Red Fire Farms, but not without some excitement first. At 1AM the UNIK 320A High Voltage Speed controller emitted some magic smoke. A quick check with a thermal-camera found the culprit, one of the MOSFETs had failed, and after swapping it with one that was close enough they were back in business.

As you can see in the second video below, testing in the strawberry field went very well, though it wasn’t without some tipping. Kids also found it a fun diversion from picking strawberries, alternating between mock fright and delight.

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R/C Hot Rod Built Completely From Scratch

[ossum]’s R/C hot rod shows what’s possible when a talented hacker takes full advantage of all the modern resources available to them. The results are stunning.

[ossum] had a stack of Amazon and Shapeways credits lying around after winning a few competitions. He had this dream of building an R/C car for a while, and decided now was the time. After ordering all the needed parts from Amazon, he made an extremely nice model of the car in Fusion 360. The CAD model is a great learning resource. If you want to learn how to use reference photos, parts, and more to build a detailed and useful CAD model we recommend downloading it as a Fusion archive and scrubbing through the timeline to see how he did it.

Some of the parts were sent off for laser cutting. Others were 3D printed. The rest he made himself. Thanks to his model, they all went together well. You can see his R/C rod racing in the video after the break.

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Driving BB-8: More Than One Way to Move this Bot

BB-8 is the much loved new droid introduced in the 2016 movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though in my case from the very first trailer released in 2014 I liked it for the interesting engineering problems it posed. How would you make a robot that’s a ball that rolls along, but with a head that stays on top while the ball rolls under it?

To make the ball roll, the answer most people found obvious at first was to use the analogy of a hamster wheel. The hamster running inside makes the wheel turn. In the BB-8 building world, which is quite large, the drive mechanism has come to be called a hamster drive, or just a hamster.

Magnets holding the head on
Magnets holding the head on

For the head, it seemed obvious that there would be magnets inside the ball, perhaps held in place near the top of the ball by a post extending up from the hamster. Corresponding magnets in attraction would then be attached to the underside of the head, and balls (also mounted under the head) would keep the head moving smoothly over the ball.

The magnet approach for the head has turned out to be the method used by all BB-8 builders that I’ve seen. However, the hamster has turned out to be only one of multiple solutions. Since the original debut many different methods have been used in builds and we’re going to have a lot of fun looking at each separate approach. It’s almost like revealing a magic trick; but really it’s all just clever engineering.

Note that for the actual movie, a combination of 7 or 8 props and CGI were used. The official working BB-8s that are shown at various promotional events were built after the movie was made and as of this writing, few details of their construction have been released. One notable detail, however, is that they aren’t using hamster drives.

Below are details of all the different BB-8 drive systems I’ve seen so far that have been built along with how they work.

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