3D Drone Video

If you enjoy flying quadcopters, it is a good bet that you’ll have a drone with a camera. It used to be enough to record a video for later viewing, but these days you really want to see a live stream. The really cool setups have goggles so you can feel like you are actually in the cockpit. [Andi2345] decided to go one step further and build a drone that streams 3D video. You can see a video of the system, below.

Outdoors, there’s probably not a lot of advantage to having a 3D view, but it ought to be great for a small indoor drone. The problem is, of course, a small drone doesn’t have a lot of capacity for two cameras. The final product uses two cameras kept in sync with a sync separator IC and a microcontroller, while an analog switch intersperses the frames.

On the viewing side, a USB frame grabber and a Raspberry Pi splits the images again. At first, the system used an LCD screen married with a Google Cardboard-style goggle, but eventually, this became a custom Android application.

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It’s a Spider! It’s a Droideka! It’s Both!

Beware, arachnophobes, the robots are coming for you!

What else would you be expected to think if you watched a hexapod robot display its best Transformers impression by turning into a wheel and pushing itself in your direction? The BionicWheelBot — developed by [Festo] — should rightly remind you of the cartwheeling Flic-Flac spider, the main inspiration for the robot. Of course, Star Wars fans might justifiably see a Droideka.

The BionicWheelBot can — almost — seamlessly transition between crawling around on six legs, to literally rolling away. To do so, its three pairs of legs sequentially fold up into a shape befitting its namesake and then pauses for a moment — almost for dramatic effect — before the real fun begins.

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Handheld Propulsion Is Noisy, Awesome

Lithium batteries are ubiquitous, cheap, and incredibly powerful. Combine them with some brushless DC motors and you’ve got serious power in a compact package. [Ivan Miranda] decided to use this to his advantage, building the Handheld Self Propelling System #1. 

Yes, we’ll come right out and say it – it’s a giant fan, and it blows. Or more accurately, it’s four moderately sized fans in one fetching wrist-mounted package. The one thing that seems completely absent from the video is an answer to the obvious question – why? Other than doing damage to the hearing of anyone nearby in an enclosed space, [Ivan] demonstrates its use with the help of a skateboard in the back end of the video.

It’s built with off-the-shelf RC parts and the body is 3D printed. This is the kind of print you want to get right first time – it takes several days to print and uses a significant amount of filament.

Overall, it’s a terrifying device that promises to do something awesome when finished. [Ivan]’s just finished the thrust test and we can’t wait to see what comes next. 

If you’re looking for another way to propel yourself on a skateboard, well – there’s always the more conventional electric path.

Watch This Tiny Dome Auto-open and Close into a Propeller

Careful planning and simulation is invaluable, but it can also be rewarding to dive directly into prototyping. This is the approach [Carl Bugeja] took with his Spherical Folding Propeller design which he has entered into the Open Hardware Design Challenge category of The 2018 Hackaday Prize. While at rest, the folding propeller looks like a small dome attached to the top of a motor. As the motor fires up, centrifugal forces cause the two main halves of the dome to unfold outward where they act as propeller blades. When the motor stops, the assembly snaps shut again.

[Carl] has done some initial tests with his first prototype attached to a digital scale as a way of measuring thrust. The test unit isn’t large — the dome is only 1.6 cm in diameter when folded — but he feels the results are promising considering the small size of the props and the fact that no simulation work was done during the initial design. [Carl] is looking to optimize the actual thrust that can be delivered, now that it has been shown that his idea of a folding dome works as imagined.

Going straight to physical prototyping with an idea can be a valid approach to early development, especially nowadays when high quality components and technologies are easily available even to hobbyists. Plus it can be great fun! You can see and hear [Carl]’s prototype in the short video embedded below.

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Terrible RC Transmitter Made Less Terrible

It should probably go without saying that we’ve got nothing against the occasional bout of elaborate troubleshooting and repair, in fact it’s one of the most common things we cover here. As it turns out, people aren’t overly fond of being fleeced, and there are a lot of smart people out there who will put a lot of work in to keep from having to toss a favorite piece of gear into the trash. We can’t fault them for that.

But we have to say, we generally don’t see those kind of elaborate repairs for something brand new. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what [Marek Baczynski] had to do when trying to review the new iRangeX transmitter for his YouTube channel “dronelab”. He found a transmitter that was so poorly designed and constructed that he had to address a laundry list of issues to make the thing halfway tolerable. As you might expect, he’s not suggesting anyone go run and pick this one up.

The biggest problem is a fundamental flaw with how the gimbals are constructed. Due to poorly mated surfaces between the potentiometer and the stick itself, the accuracy of the controller is very low. The potentiometers don’t even return to zero when the sticks are released. Some tape was used to tighten up the connection and make the controller usable, but such poor tolerances are hard to forgive when accurate control is essentially the whole point of the device.

The other issues took a bit more debugging to figure out. The TX made an absolutely terrible screeching sound when turned on, but [Marek] was sure he was hearing a little bit of melody under the din. Putting the signal through the oscilloscope, he was able to confirm his suspicions. As it turns out, the buzzer used in the TX has a built in tone generator that was overriding the intended melody. Switching it out for a basic buzzer fixed the issue. Similarly, an issue where the radio wouldn’t turn on if it was recently turned off was tracked back to a resistor of the wrong value. Putting a higher lower value resistor in its place sorted that out as well.

It’s hard to imagine how this device made it out of the factory with so many wrong or unsuitable components, but here we are. Not that this would be acceptable at any price point, but as [Marek] points out in the video, it isn’t as if this radio is even all that cheap. For nearly $90 USD, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect something that actually works.

This isn’t the first time he’s put “cheap” RC hardware through the wringer. We recently covered his efforts to quantify latency in different transmitters. As the RC transmitter world gets increasingly competitive, detailed analysis like these help separate the real gear from the toys.

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Control a Swarm of RC Vehicles with ESP8266

Over at RCgroups, user [Cesco] has shared a very interesting project which uses the ever-popular ESP8266 as both a transmitter and receiver for RC vehicles. Interestingly, this code makes use of the ESP-Now protocol, which allows devices to create a mesh network without the overhead of full-blown WiFi. According to the Espressif documentation, this mode is akin to the low-power 2.4GHz communication used in wireless mice and keyboards, and is designed specifically for persistent, peer-to-peer connectivity.

Switching an ESP8266 between being a transmitter or receiver is as easy as commenting out a line in the source code and reflashing the firmware. One transmitter (referred to as the server in the source code) can command eight receiving ESP8266s simultaneously. [Cesco] specifically uses the example of long-range aircraft flying in formation; only coming out of the mesh network when it’s time to manually land each one.

[Cesco] has done experiments using both land and air vehicles. He shows off a very hefty looking tracked rover, as well as a quickly knocked together quadcopter. He warns the quadcopter flies like “a wet sponge”, but it does indeed fly with the ESP’s handling all the over the air communication.

To be clear, you still need a traditional PPM-compatible RC receiver and transmitter pair to use his code. The ESPs are simply handling the over-the-air communication. They aren’t directly responsible for taking user input or running the speed controls, for example.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an ESP8266 take the co-pilot’s seat in a quadcopter, but the maniacal excitement we feel when considering the possibility of having our very own swarm of flying robots gives this particular project an interesting twist.

Zip Tie Quadcopter Frame is as Cheap as They Come

We’ve seen some cheap quadcopter builds over the years, but this one takes the cake. After seeing somebody post a joke about building a quadcopter frame out of zip ties and hot glue, [IronMew] decided to try it for real. The final result is a micro quadcopter that actually flies half-way decently and seems to be fairly resistant to crash damage thanks to the flexible structure.

The first attempts at building the frame failed, as the zip ties (unsurprisingly) were too flexible and couldn’t support the weight of the motors. Eventually, [IronMew] realized that trying to replicate the traditional quadcopter frame design just wasn’t going to work. Rather than a body with arms radiating out to hold the motors, the layout he eventually came up with is essentially the reverse of a normal quadcopter frame.

Zip ties reinforced with a healthy coating of hot glue are arranged into a square, with a motor at each corner. Then four zip ties are used to support the central “pod” which holds the battery and electronics. No attempt is made to strengthen this part of the frame, and as such the heavy central pod hangs down a bit in flight. [IronMew] theorizes that this might actually be beneficial in the end, as he believes it could have a stabilizing effect when it comes time to record FPV video.

He mentions that he’s still struggling to get the PID values setup properly in the flight computer, but in the video after the break you can see that it’s flying fairly well for a first attempt. We wouldn’t recommend you tear into a bag of zip ties when it comes time to build your first quadcopter, but it does go to show that there’s plenty of room for experimentation.

We’ve covered a number of unique quadcopter frames if you’re looking for something to set your next build apart from the rest. If you’ve got a big enough bed you can 3D print a very nice frame, but if you’ve got more time than equipment, you could always cut one out of a piece of plywood.

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