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).

You can watch the video on your PC but don’t. If you have Google Cardboard, this is what Cardboard was made to do. If you don’t, at least watch it on a phone or a tablet. You’ll be able to look all around (and up and down) just by moving your phone. It makes for an awesome flight video. If you just have to watch it on a desktop, YouTube will show you some controls to let you navigate the view, but it just isn’t the same.

We’ve seen tilt rotors before, but this is way out in front of just about anything we’ve seen before. Even without the airframe, we’d love to have the camera system on our flying bots.

Photo: NASA Langley/David Bowman

Thanks [Scott Anderson] for the tip.

41 thoughts on “Greased Lightning Shows 360 Degrees

    1. You can’t really get cameras without rolling shutter anymore because they’re all CMOS. No manufacturer uses CCD sensors anymore because they need faster ADCs, which makes them slightly more expensive to implement.

      It’s a bugger in point & shoot cameras as well. 10 years ago some cameras still used CCDs so you could snap a scenery pic from a train without getting trees and utility poles lean over. A Canon A560 still beats just about any cellphone camera.

          1. Its nonsense that he states CCD’s arent used anymore , which they are , much more than one may think. Most of the higher end “board”/”FPV” cameras are CCD’s. They are still made , and used , in pretty great quantities.

          2. CMOS sensors can be designed with a global shutter, and it’s a much smaller change than with a CCD. Forcing readout and exposure to happen separately though works against the goals of high pixel count and high sensitivity.

            As a separate issue rolling shutter artefact is mostly a problem on very cheap sensors and/or when they are being used badly. Jelly (jello), judder and blur is a trade off.

      1. You can get them. They just cost more. DSLR and mirrorless DSLR cameras have global shutters. Black magic and RED cameras have global shutters. Sony has a range of sensors available with global.

        1. I actually meant to post my other replies to a different comment. Something strange occurred on my end, sorry.

          But to respond to your comment. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have quite a pronounced rolling shutter when recording video. This is because they only use the mechanical shutter when shooting photos. The mechanical shutters are rated for a couple hundred thousand attenuations so using them for video would not really be practical, not to mention it would be quite loud. Philip Bloom has some interesting DSLR reviews and he covers the issue of rolling shutter and DSLRs quite well.

  1. Why ten props? Is it for better control in hover? Usually transitioning crafts have poorer stability in hover because of the vertical vings picking up vind, so maybe they have some clever control scheme to counteract that, answering my own question?

    They are also using folding props so they must also consider shutting down some of the motors in horizontal flight to save power.

    1. As far as I know, the ten propellers are for powered air flow over the wings. This can dramatically delay stall and I bet it makes it easier to transition from hover to forward flight on a tilt-wing aircraft.

      I vaguely remember that 2-4 of the folding propellers are optimized for high speeds, so shutting down motors is exactly what they plan to do eventually.

    2. Props all along the leading edge allows for a continuous, high airspeed over the wing at a designed fixed angle off attack. This means that the wing is incapable of stalling in the traditional sense. The airflow over the wing is independent of the movement of the aircraft. As the airfoil can be designed for just one speed, so the wing becomes narrower. A smaller wing surface area reduces drag and makes for heavy wing loading, making the craft much more stable in gusts. Basically airfoils had to content with a lot of compromises over the last 100 years, now all these compromises can be tossed and a wing can be designed for one airspeed and one angle of attack, maximum lift, minimum drag the end. Wing design nirvana, except that the motor’s thrust now have to be accepted as an indispensable part of the design as the wing is only designed for one speed, fast. Landing without motors running is almost impossible. It will have to happen at the cruse angle of arrack, and basically the cruse airspeed.
      Check out the NASA leaptech demonstator… 18 motors. super narrow wing.

    1. No, that´s just what the media/people normally focus on.
      NASA still stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and one of their mission directorates is:

      Aeronautics: manages research focused on meeting global demand for air mobility in ways that are more environmentally friendly and sustainable, while also embracing revolutionary technology from outside aviation

    2. When NASA was formed it was effectively an extension/incorporation of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the acronym for which is still attached to a lot of airfoil sections. It was kind a merger of rocket and airplane researchers (who were competing in the 1940 – 1960s to be the first into space).

      NASA does a lot of research on aircraft ranging from supersonic propellers (which eventually became the high-bypass turbines everyone uses) to radical aircraft designs and propulsion systems.

  2. why is the camera on top of the drone ? unless you want to shoot pictures from the sky you will always have half of the plane itself in all shots and can’t see whats directly below. or does it have multiple cameras and this video is just to show the rotors in action ?

  3. What is even neater about this is the possibilities that high count multi-engine aircraft represent. First they could have a very wide flight envelope, second a great deal of flight control can be assigned to the engines themselves allowing for simple clean airfoils, and of course the safety bonus from high redundancy.

    1. And for those that are willing to do so, what? How would it be any different? When the subject of your video is a multi-rotor UAV, the odds are really good the recording is going to have motor noise… that’s going to show up regardless of how you choose to view it.

    2. Well, if you view it on a PC, you should get a little “navigation puck” up in the corner that lets you swivel the view 360 degrees. The mute button does a great job of curing migrane-inducing noise. It is probably the most used non-character key on my keyboard.

      1. Now, that is cool. No navigation puck appears on my (Windows) screen, but the mouse pointer changes to a hand and I can drag the image around, to change which way I’m looking – all the away around, up in the sky but alas not down at the ground. There are some stitching errors, but still, over all it works very nicely.

  4. Nice. I always wanted to make something like that, although my idea was a fixed tail wing and only an impeller near the back oriented vertically. I presumed the wings were already the fulcrum so you would only need to change the angle. Having props on the tail offer more redundancy and I’m sure more maneuverability.

    I was waiting for this to come along for Amazon. I was hoping I would make it first, but I’m sure many people around the world have had the same idea (except Amazon). Having air plane mode is much better suited to long haul flight and then hover for drop and fly away. (BTW, initial launch would be by catapult).

    Catapault delivery drone with cargo saving on power, drop off cargo, lift off (now much lighter) and fly efficiently back to base.

    I really don’t know why they’re wasting their time with hovering winches. There must be a concern, although probably over emphasized. If the receivers damage the drone you have their address and credit card number.

  5. Am i the only one that got to the end and realized it was a 360 video on a rc plane/copter. Not bad, was wondering if they really needed all props running once it was in plane mode. Shouldn’t need as much power that way i would think.

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