Laser power system keeps UAVs flying indefinitely

Drone technology is driving the aerospace industry as companies trip over each other trying to develop the next big thing. Here’s a good example of what we’re talking about. Lasers can no be used to keep a UAV in the air indefinitely. The trick is to add an array of photovoltaic cells specifically tuned to an IR laser’s wavelength. A ground system then directs a high-intensity laser beam onto the aircraft’s cell array to transfer energy while in flight.

After the break you can catch a video from a trade show where a Lockheed Martin employee describes the successful testing of such a system. But there’s a lot more information available in the white paper (PDF) which Laser Motive has released. They’re the folks behind the technology who have teamed up with LM to implement the system. The laser unit on the ground can track a UAV visually, but there is also a method of using GPS coordinates to do so in the case of overcast skies.

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Autonomous Plane? Quadrotor? Both? Meet the ATMOS!

If you’ve been trying to decide between building an autonomous quadcopter or a fixed wing UAV, you may not have to choose anymore.  [Team ATMOS] from Tu Delft University in the Netherlands, has developed a UAV that can autonomously transition from quadcopter flight to that of a fixed-wing aircraft. Although the world has seen several successful examples of transitioning-flight or VTOL aircraft, team [ATMOS] claims to have made the first autonomous transition of this type of craft.

This UAV was featured in their school newspaper, which provides a write-up about the work that went into creating this hybrid UAV. When you’re done with that, be sure to check out the two videos after the break. The first shows the [ATMOS] taking off vertically and flying off as a flying-wing fixed aircraft. The second video shows this and other UAVs in the [DARPA] competition that it was designed for. Fast forward to 2:24 to see this aircraft do a fly-by.

Thanks for the tip [Dirk]!

RC plane made specifically for UAVs

We’ve seen our fair share of remote-controlled planes turned into UAVs and FPV platforms, but the Techpod is the first airplane we’ve seen specifically designed to be used as a camera-equipped robotic airplane.

The Techpod is the brainchild of [Wayne Garris]. He has been flying camera-equipped FPV airplanes for a while now, but recently realized the current offerings of remote control planes didn’t match his needs. [Wayne] decided to design his own plane specifically designed with a pan/tilt camera mount in the nose.

[Wayne]’s prototype was designed with some very fancy aeronautical design software packages and milled out of foam. From the videos after the break, we can see the Techpod flies beautifully, but needs the Kickstarter community to bring his model to the masses.

The specs for the Techpod put it up there with other high-performances FPV and UAV models; with its 102 inch (2590 mm) wingspan and a pair of batteries wired in parallel, the Techpod can stay aloft transmitting video for up to one hour.

Video of the plane in action after the break.

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What does the government think about that drone in your home?

The world is buzzing about drones right now. Even we’re joining in the fun with some antics of our own. Right now, it is basically a legal free-for all since no one is enforcing regulation, but is that about to change? Should it?

Lets start off by establishing the definition of a “drone”. For this article, we’ll settle for any “unmanned aerial vehicle”, though we can all agree that that limiting this to airspace is fairly restrictive. This is the specific type that are making the news right now and quite possibly catching the eye of people who make the rules.

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Rocket telemetry from UAV hardware

When we posted our call for rocketry hacks and builds, we expected to see a few altitude sensors and maybe a GPS module or two. Apparently, we forgot similar hardware is very popular in the remote-controlled aircraft world, and can be successfully added to a rocket as [Kevin] and his ArduPilot equipped J motor rocket showed us

The ArduPilot is a small Arduino comparable board designed for UAVs, quadcopters, and other whirligigs not powered by rocket motors. To get real-time telemetry from his rocket, [Kevin] attached a GPS receiver and an XBee transmitter. When launched on an H165 motor, [Kevin] was able to keep a radio lock on his rocket, allowing him to pull down data in real-time.

There are a few drawbacks to using the ArduPilot to collect flight data; the ArduPilot only reports ground speed, a somewhat useless feature if the vehicle is going straight up. Also, there is no way for [Kevin] to record data to an SD card; the ground team must be able to receive the XBee, lest bits of data go missing. For most rockets the radio issue shouldn’t be a problem. [Kevin] launched the same hardware on a J motor and was able to receive data from 3600 AGL.

Spoofing GPS and getting your own UAV

A couple folks over at the Radionavigation Lab at UT Austin successfully spoofed GPS to take control of a small helicopter drone this weekend. Of course, this attracted the attention of the Department of Homeland security, so you’d better stock up on GPS spoofing equipment while there’s still time.

The DHS, CIA, and US Military have a huge interest in spoofing GPS; Iran stole a drone late last year using the same method. The UT Austin team used only about $1000 worth of equipment to take control of an autonomous drone and pilot it away under unauthorized control. Of course with matters of homeland security, the open-source hacker scene has yet to publish how this spoofing attack was actually done, but here’s a paper covering what is needed to remotely control up to four GPS-guided drones.

While waiting on the details of this build to be made public, feel free add your own insight in the comments as to how this attack was actually performed.

Awesome little UAV flies 1 km

After going to an SMD soldering workshop at the Stuttgart hackerspace ShackSpace, [Corvus] decided to be an over achiever and build a flight controller for his very own unmanned aerial vehicle.

The airplane itself is a regular store-bought foam contraption, and not terribly interesting in and of itself. Autonomous flight piques some interest, though. A custom flight controller PCB was designed and built by [Corvus] to work alongside a tiny STM32 Linux board. These two boards, combined with the OpenPilot project allow the plane to keep altitude, bearing, speed, and position in check autonomously. Telemetry between the ground station and vehicle is handled by UAVTalk and a ThinkPad.

In the video after the break, [Corvus] piloted the plane up to altitude, then directed it to fly 500 meters North and turn around. The result was an autonomous flight of over one kilometer. The next stage of the project is implementing some SLAM applications with optical path finding and obstacle avoidance.

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