Government leadership in Shanghai wants to build 100 community hackerspaces funded by the Chinese government. Each space will be at least 100 square meters, open 200 days a year, and come equipped with wood and metal lathes, saws, drills, grinders, mills, and more electronics than we can imagine.
The official government statement (translated here) says the Shanghai Science and Technology Network wants to build a few dozen ‘innovation houses,’ ostensibly to create a breeding ground for new, innovative ideas and to nurture young builders.
The first Chinese hackerspace, Xin Che Jian, opened last year and they’re doing some pretty cool stuff. A RepRap Mendel is already on the build roster (pictured above) along with a few quadrocopters and small racing robots.
As far as what this means for western countries, we’re going to editorialize a little bit and say that government-funded hackerspaces would increase innovation a little bit more than watching our representatives argue about homosexuals or taxes. Who knows, if this Chinese experiment proves successful, it may move out of Asia and onto the Americas and Europe.
We’ve seen quadrocopters galore over the past few years. We’ve never seen one big enough to lift a person until now.
[Thomas], [Stephan], and [Alexander] of e-volo have been working on a gigantic, human-lifting multicopter for a few years now. A few days ago, their prototype took to the air carrying a fully human pilot. There aren’t a whole lot of details on their build, but from what we can tell the flight was powered entirely by batteries.
The test vehicle looks to be a study in minimalism. The landing gear looks to be a repurposed yoga ball, and the chassis is just four pieces of aluminum tube welded into a cross. The the power plant for the prototype is four brushless motors in each quadrant of the vehicle. That’s right – there are 16 motors spinning around the pilot.
The good news is the e-volo team wants to improve their prototype and sell it to the masses. The bad news for Americans is the FAA hasn’t taken too kindly to electric flying machines. The team is working on a hybrid drive version, and as long as the weight is kept down, we can always get an ultralight cert.
Check out the video of some 16-blade hovering action after the break.
Swarm robotics is really starting to produce some interesting results. This image is from the video embedded after the break that show a group of five robots creating a landing platform for a quadrotor helicopter. The four that actually make up the platform are not in contact with each other, but instead following commands from the leader. We’re impressed by the helicopter’s ability to target and land on the moving platform. Takeoff appears to be another issue, as the platform bots stop moving until the quadcopter is airborne again.
These robots are part of a Graduate project at Georgia Tech. [Ted Macdonald] has been working along with others to implement an organizational algorithm that guides the swarm. The method requires that the robots have an overview of the location of all others in the swarm. This is done with high-speed cameras like we’ve seen in other robotic control projects. But that doesn’t discourage us. If you already have a flying robot as part of the swarm, you might as well add a few more to serve as the eyes in the sky.
Like many other hacks, they are using Kinect to monitor their joint positions, mapping a handful of actions to the operator’s movements. Once the quadrotor is aloft, it can be directed around the room using the operator’s right hand. The gesture recognition system responds almost instantly, guiding the vehicle in all directions with ease. When the user’s left hand is raised, the quadrotor does a mid-air flip and awaits its next command, while a quick clap of the hands brings the machine to rest on the ground.
For the protection of anyone testing out the system, overhead motion tracking cameras are used to keep track of the Kinect’s position, creating an invisible midair barrier through which the quadrotor is not allowed to pass.
If you have a minute, check out the video below – controlling quadrotors looks way more fun than any Kinect game we’ve come across.
Reports say that it can hit a top speed of 40 mph, but it seems that the fun is relatively short-lived, as the drone runs out of juice after about 8 minutes. While it is flying, the drone appears to be incredibly agile and fairly easy to control. The built-in camera isn’t top end, but it looks more than sufficient for general surveillance use.
While we love quadrocopters and all of the cool acrobatics they pull off, there’s something awesome about a drone that can hit the ground at speed, roll, and take off again without incurring any serious damage.
Anyone care to start work on a civilian prototype with a longer battery life?
[Pritika] is a user experience design student who just finished up an autonomous blimp project designed to react to voices and communicate, “his friendliness and eagerness to be noticed.”
The instructable [Pritika] posted goes through the build – a 850mAh LiPo battery powers an Arduino Pro Mini, which controls two 3.6 gram servos. While not much in the way of electronics, the real beauty behind this build is the implementation. From watching the video of Ollie interacting with people, we’re pretty sure [Pritika] met her objective of making her pet blimp friendly and unobtrusive.
With quadrocopters getting somuchattention as of late, it’s interesting to see development in lighter-than-air robotics. Our back of the envelope math (which is almost certainly wrong) tells us that Ollie’s ‘body’ can lift 60 grams when filled with Helium, and double that with Hydrogen. While this isn’t much lifting capacity, it’s not inconceivable that a slightly larger blimp could have more sensors or a live video feed, especially considering the 16 gram ornithopter we covered last year.
A team from the University of Maryland will be taking their human-powered helicopter to the air tomorrow. The current flight record for this type of vehicle is just over 19 seconds of flight at a height of about 8 feet. What surprises us about this attempt is that they’re not pedaling just one main rotor. It seems that the most success in man-powered helicopter flight has come from helicopters with a total of four rotors.
The image seen above is a 2009 test of just one of the four rotor arms that will go into UMD’s finished chopper. Fully assembled it will be about 1/3 the size of a football field, dwarfing the autonomous quadcopters we usually see around here. Get the details about the design from the video after the break. It’s interesting to hear [Dr. Antonio Filipone] talk about the need to generate both the lift and the thrust, where human-powered fixed-wing aircraft only need the thrust. He predicts that human-powered helicopter flight is possible, but that it will only lift the aircraft, with little possibility of moving it in one direction or the other.
The team is attempting to grab the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize with their creation. We wish them the best of luck.