A Drone Photosphere is Worth 4000 Times Pi Words

One of the problems with a cheap drone is getting good video, especially in real time. Cheap hobby quadcopters often have a camera built-in or mounted in a fixed position. That’s great for fun shots, but it makes it hard to get just the right shot, especially as the drone tilts up and down, taking the camera with it. Pricey drones often have a gimbal mount to keep the camera stable, but you are still only looking in one direction.

Some cheap drones now have a VR (virtual reality) mode to feed signal to a headset or a Google Cardboard-like VR setup. That’s hard to fly, though, because you can’t really look around without moving the drone to match. You can mount multiple cameras, but now you’ve added weight and power drain to your drone.

MAGnet Systems wants to change all that with a lightweight spherical camera made to fit on a flying vehicle. The camera is under 2.5 inches square, weighs 62 grams, and draws less than 3 watts at 12 volts. It picks up a sphere that is 360 degrees around the drone’s front and back and 240 degrees centered directly under the drone. That allows a view of 30 degrees above the horizon as well as directly under the drone. There is apparently a different lens that can provide 280 degrees if you need that, although apparently that will add size and weight and be more suitable for use on the ground.

The software (see video below) runs on Windows or Android (they’ve promised an iOS version) and there’s no additional image processing hardware needed. The camera can also drive common VR headsets.

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Gremlins are Air to Air Drones

If you are like most people, your drone flights start on the ground and end either on the ground or–in more cases than most of us want to admit–in a tree. Earlier this year, DARPA awarded initial contracts for the Gremlins program. The idea is to produce unmanned aircraft that can launch from another aircraft and then later have another aircraft recover it.

The idea is to allow a plane to launch an unmanned sensor, for example, while out of range of enemy fire. Later another aircraft can retrieve the drone where a ground crew would get it ready for another flight within 24 hours. An aircraft facing missile fire could unleash a swarm of drones, confusing attackers. The drones have a limited life of about twenty flights, allowing for inexpensive airframes that use existing technology. You can see a concept video from DARPA about how air-launched drones might play a role in future air combat below.

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Taking Killer Robots Seriously

Killer robots are a mainstay of science fiction. But unlike teleportation and flying cars, they are something that we are likely to see within our lifetime. The only thing that’s stopping countries like the USA, South Korea, the UK, or France from deploying autonomous killing machine in the very near term is that they’re likely to be illegal under current international humanitarian law (IHL) — the rules of war.

But if you just sighed in relief that the fate of humanity is safe, think again. The reason that autonomous killing machines are illegal is essentially a technicality, and worse, it’s a technicality that’s based on the current state of technology. The short version of the story, as it stands right now, is that the only thing making autonomous robotic killing weapons illegal is that it’s difficult for a robot to tell a friend from an enemy. When technology catches up with human judgement, all bets are off.

Think I’m insane? The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the folks who bring you the rules of warfare, started up a working group on killer robots three years ago, and the report from their 2016 meeting just came out. Now’s as good a time as any to start taking killer robots seriously.

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Master’s UAV Project Takes Flight

Pushing the maker envelope all the way to the Master level, [Przemyslaw Brudny], [Marek Ulita], and [Maciej Olejnik] from the Politechnika Wroclawska in Poland packed a UAV full of custom sensor boards for their thesis project.

The Skywalker X-8 FPV drone underwent extensive modifications to accommodate the embedded systems as well as upgrading the chassis with carbon glass to withstand the high load and speeds they would need to perform their tests. The ailerons were customized for finer control of the drone. But for our money, it’s all the board design that supports those sensors which is really fun to delve into.

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Greased Lightning Shows 360 Degrees

A lot of people got drones for Christmas this year (and many Hackaday readers already had one, anyway). A lot of these drones have cameras on them. The expensive ones beam back live video via RF. The cheaper ones just record to an SD card that you can download later.

If you are NASA, of course, this just isn’t good enough. At the Langley Research Center in Virginia, they’ve been building the Greased Lightning (also known as the GL-10) which is a 10-engine tilt-prop unmanned aerial vehicle. The carbon fiber drone is impressive, sure, but what wows is the recent video NASA released (see below).

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Hackaday Links: January 24, 2016

The RepRap wiki was spammed this week. Everything is fine now, but I feel I should call attention to the fact that the RepRap wiki needs some people to contribute, organize, and maintain everything. The wikis for obscure anime shows are better than the RepRap wiki, so if you’re looking to contribute to an important open source project, there ‘ya go.

The 200cc, 5.5HP, 4-stroke OHV Honda GX200 engine is found in a whole lot of tools, and is a fantastic power plant to build a go-kart around. It also costs about $350. There are clones of this engine available direct from China for about $100. Here’s how you add a turbo to one of these clone engines.

Freescale makes some pretty cool sensors and [Juan Ignacio Cerrudo] figured they needed breakout boards. He has some boards for a low-power three-axis accelerometer, an accelerometer and magnetometer, and a pressure sensor.

The Tektronix TDS744A is an older but still extremely capable 500MHz, 2Gsps, 4-channel scope. You can upgrade it to the 1GHz TDS784A by desoldering a few resistors. Very cool if you’re looking for a cheap-ish 1GHz scope.

[TheBackyardScientist] hung out with some cub scouts a few weekends ago and launched a high altitude balloon over Florida. The payload included a game camera, APRS tracker, GoPro, and a few other bits and bobs. The balloon reached 106,000 feet and landed only a few miles from Cape Canaveral.

Big RC planes – UAVs especially – are a pain to launch. Flying wings above a certain size are just dangerous to launch by hand, and landing gear is heavy and for the most part unnecessary. What’s the next best solution? A trebuchet, of course. It mounts on a car and is able to give a UAV a little bit of altitude and some speed. A pretty good idea that could be easily implemented with some load-bearing PVC pipe.

Everybody likes the Game of Life, so here’s one built with a 6502. It’s built around a Western Design Center 65c816 board we’ve seen before, nine MAX7219 LED controllers mapped to the VIA, and nine 8×8 LED matrix displays. Here’s a video of it in action.

About a month ago, a search of AliExpress turned up Apple’s A8 CPU. I bought one. Here’s what I got. It’s a stupidly small pitch BGA, and I don’t have a datasheet. What am I going to do with it? Make a non-functioning board with a few ports, resistors, no traces, and the A8 chip planted square in the middle.

Drone Registration is just FAA Making You Read Their “EULA”

Over the last few weeks we’ve waded through the debate of Drone restrictions as the FAA announced, solicited comments, and finally put in place a registration system for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Having now had a week to look at the regulation, and longer to consider the philosophy behind it, I don’t think this is a bad thing. I think the FAA’s move is an early effort to get people to pay attention to what they’re doing.

The broad picture looks to me like a company trying to get users to actually read an End User Licensing Agreement. I’m going to put the blame for this firmly on Apple. They are the poster children for the unreadable EULA. Every time there is an update, you’re asked to read the document on your smartphone. You scroll down a bit and think it’s not that long, until you discover that it’s actually 47 pages. Nobody reads this, and years of indoctrination have made the click-through of accepting an EULA into a pop-culture reference. In fact, this entire paragraph has been moot. I’d bet 99 out of 103 readers knew the reference before I started the explanation.

So, we have a population of tech adopters who have been cultivated to forego reading any kind of rules that go with a product. Then we have technological advancement and business interests that have brought UAS to the feet of the general public both with low costs, wide availability, and pop-culture appeal. What could possibly go wrong? Let’s jump into that, then cover some of the other issues people are concerned about, like the public availability of personal info on the drone registry.

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