Can Commodity RC Controllers Stay Relevant?

Visualize some radio controlled airplane fanatic of yesteryear, with the requisite giant controller hanging from a strap, neck craned to see the buzzing dot silhouetted against the sky. It’s kind of a stereotype, isn’t it? Those big transmitters were heavy, expensive, and hard to modify, but that was just part of the challenge. Additionally, the form factor has to a degree remained rigid: the box with gimbals — or for the 3-channel controller, the pistol-grip with the big pot that looks like a cheesy race car wheel.

With so much changing in RC capabilities, and the rise of custom electronics across so many different applications, can commodity RC controllers stay relevant? We’re facing an age where the people who invest most heavily in RC equipment are also the ones most likely to want, and know how to work with customization for their rapidly evolving gear. It only makes sense that someone will rise up to satisfy that need.

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Mindstorms Forkliftbots Gonna Take Your Job

With every advance in robotics, we get closer to being able to order stuff from Amazon and have no human being participate in its delivery. Key step in this dream: warehouse robots, smart forklifts able to control and inventory and entire warehouse full of pallets, without the meat community getting involved. [Thomas Risager] designed just such a system as part of his Masters Thesis in Software Engineering. It consists of five LEGO Mindstorms robots working in concert (video embedded below), linked via WiFi to a central laptop. Mindstorms’ native OS doesn’t support WiFi (!!!) so he reflashed the EV3’s ARM9 chip with software developed using Java and running under LeJOS. On the laptop side [Thomas] wrote a C++ application that handles the coordination and routing of the forklifts. We can see a lot of weary forklift drivers ready to kick back and let a robot have the full-time job for a change.

The robots use WiFi to a central laptop. Mindstorms’ native OS doesn’t support WiFi (!!!) so [Thomas] reflashed the EV3’s ARM9 chip with software developed using Java and running under LeJOS. On the laptop side he wrote a C++ application that handles the coordination and routing of the forklifts. [Thomas] is sharing his forklift design.

Now to scale up — maybe with DIY forklifts like we published earlier? We can see a lot of weary forklift drivers ready to kick back and let a robot have the full-time job for a change.

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Hacking the IKEA Trådfri Light Bulb

[BasilFX] wanted to shoehorn custom firmware onto his IKEA Trådfri light bulb. The product consists of a GU10-size light bulb with a LED driver as well as IKEA’s custom ZigBee module controlling it all. A diffuser, enclosure shell, and Edison-screw base give the whole thing the same form factor as a standard A-series bulb. The Trådfri module, which ties together IKEA’s home automation products, consists of an ARM Cortex M4 MCU with integrated 2.4Ghz radio and 256 Kb of flash — not bad for 7 euros!

Coincidentally, [BasilFX] had just contributed EFM32 support to RIOT-OS (“the friendly OS for IoT”) so he was already halfway there. He used a JTAG/SWD-compatible debugger to flash the chip on the light bulb while the chip was still attached.

[BasilFX] admits the whole project is a proof of concept with no real use yet, though he has turned his eye toward getting the radio to work, with a goal of creating a network of light bulbs. You can find more info on his code repository.

We ran a post on Trådfri hacking earlier this year, as well as one on the reverse-engineering process used to suss out the bulb’s secrets.

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Rewire Your Own Brushless Motors

Hackaday likes the idea of fine-tuning existing hardware rather than buying new stuff. [fishpepper] wrote up a tutorial on rewinding brushless motors, using the Racerstar BR1103B as the example. The BR1103B comes in 8000 Kv and 10000 Kv sizes,  but [fishpepper] wanted to rewind the stock motor and make 6500 Kv and 4500 Kv varieties — or as close to it as he could get.

Kv is the ratio of the motor’s RPM to the voltage that’s required to get it there. This naturally depends on the magnet coils that it uses. The tutorial goes into theory with the difference between Wye-terminated and Star-terminated winding schemes, and how to compute the number of winds to achieve what voltage — for his project he ended up going with 12 turns, yielding 6700 Kv and 17 turns for 4700 Kv. His tutorial assumes the same gauge wire as the Racerstar.

Just as important as the theory, however, the tutorial also covers the physical process of opening up the motor and unwinding the copper wire, cleaning the glue off the stator, and then rewinding to get the required stats.

[fishpepper]’s handle has graced Hackaday before: he created what he calls the world’s lightest brushless FPV quadcopter. In addition to motors and drones, he also rocks a mean fidget spinner.


Drone License Plates: An Idea That Won’t Stave Off the Inevitable

As more and more drones hit the skies, we are beginning to encounter a modest number of problems that promise to balloon if ignored. 825,000 drones above a quarter-kilo in weight were sold in the U.S. in 2016. The question has become, how do we control all these drones?

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UV Light Box Cures Both Sides of a PCB

[GiorgiQ] needed a UV light to cure the etch resist on his printed circuit boards, and what better way to accomplish this than to build the perfect UV light box himself? The box consists of a custom PCB (of course) featuring a pair of 12V relays tripping quad 9×12 matrices of 400nm UV LEDs, with a total of 432 diodes in use — not to mention resistors to protect the LEDs. All of it is run by an Arduino Nano.

The enclosure is made out of 12mm MDF and 3mm cast acrylic, and the circuit board fits into a tray sliding on drawer sliders, allowing a resist-covered board to be placed in a carrier and slid back in.

DIY light boxes mostly don’t look as slick as [GiorgiQ]’s, but they’re a fairly common project. This one also uses 9×12 matrices of UV LEDs, while a distinctly simpler project involves making a UV exposure box out of fluorescent lights.



ESP-Powered Nixie Clock Knows the Time

We see more than our fair share of nixie clocks here at Hackaday, and it’s nice to encounter one that packs some clever features. [VGC] designed his nixie tube clock to use minimal energy to operate: it needs only 5V via USB to work, and draws a mere 200 mA. Nixies require Soviet-approved 180v to trigger, so [VGC] used dynamic indication and a step-up voltage converter to run them, with a 74141 nixie decoder doing the heavy lifting.

The brains of the project is an ESP8266, which connects to his house’s WiFi automatically. The clock simply dials into an NTP server and sets its own time, so no RTC is needed. It also can communicate with the cloud via Telegram, allowing the clock to send alerts to [VGC]’s devices. The ESP’s firmware may likewise be updated over WiFi. The 3D-printed case and flashing second indicators are nice touches on top of the clock functionality.

As we said, everything from wrist watches to dashboard tachometers uses nixies for displays — we love those old-skool tubes!

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