The Drones and Robots that Helped Save Notre Dame

In the era of social media, events such as the fire at Notre Dame cathedral are experienced by a global audience in real-time. From New York to Tokyo, millions of people were glued to their smartphones and computers, waiting for the latest update from media outlets and even individuals who were on the ground documenting the fearsome blaze. For twelve grueling hours, the fate of the 850 year old Parisian icon hung in the balance, and for a time it looked like the worst was inevitable.

The fires have been fully extinguished, the smoke has cleared, and in the light of day we now know that the heroic acts of the emergency response teams managed to avert complete disaster. While the damage to the cathedral is severe, the structure itself and much of the priceless art inside still remain. It’s far too early to know for sure how much the cleanup and repair of the cathedral will cost, but even the most optimistic of estimates are already in the hundreds of millions of dollars. With a structure this old, it’s likely that reconstruction will be slowed by the fact that construction techniques which have become antiquated in the intervening centuries will need to be revisited by conservators. But the people of France will not be deterred, and President Emmanuel Macron has already vowed his country will rebuild the cathedral within five years.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the men and women who risked their lives to save one of France’s most beloved monuments. They deserve all the praise from a grateful nation, and indeed, world. But fighting side by side with them were cutting-edge pieces of technology, some of which were pushed into service at a moments notice. These machines helped guide the firefighters in their battle with the inferno, and stood in when the risk to human life was too great. At the end of the day, it was man and not machine that triumphed over nature’s fury; but without the help of modern technology the toll could have been far higher.

Continue reading “The Drones and Robots that Helped Save Notre Dame”

Gliding Back Home From 60,000ft

If you want to play around with high altitudes, weather balloons are the way to go. With a bit of latex and some helium, it’s possible to scrape up against the edge of space without having to start your own rocketry program. [Blake] was interested in doing just this, and decided to build a near space glider which could capture the journey.

There are certain challenges involved with this flight regime, which [Blake] worked to overcome. There was significant investment in the right antennas and radio hardware to enable communication and control of the aircraft at vast distances. Batteries were chosen for their ability to work at low temperatures in the high altitude environment, and excess heat from the transmitters was use to keep them warm.

The glider was also fitted with an Ardupilot Mega which would control the gliders’s flight after separation from the lift balloon. [Blake] had some success flying the aircraft at 60,000 feet, but found that due to communications issues, the autopilot was doing a better job. The initial flight was largely a success, with the glider landing just 9 miles off target due to headwinds.

We’ve seen glider builds on other autopilot platforms, too. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Gliding Back Home From 60,000ft”

Quadcopter Uses Bare Metal STM32

[Tim Schumacher] got a Crazepony Mini quadcopter and has been reprogramming it “bare metal” — that is to say he’s programming the STM32 without using an operating system or do-it-all environment. His post on the subject is a good reference for working with the STM32 and the quadcopter, too.

If you haven’t seen the quadcopter, it is basically a PC board with props. The firmware is open source but uses the Keil IDE. The CPU is an STM32 with 64K of program memory. In addition, the drone sports a wireless module, a digital compass, an altimeter, and a gyro with an accelerometer.

Although the post is really about the quadcopter, [Tim] also gives information about the Blue Pill which could be applied to other STM32 boards, as well. On the hardware side, he’s using a common USB serial port and a Python-based loader.

On the software side, he shows how to set up the linker and, using gcc, control output ports. Of course, there’s more to go to work the other peripherals, and Tim’s planning to investigate CMSIS to make that work easier. Our earlier post on STM32 prompted [Wassim] over on Hackaday.io to review a bunch of IDEs. That could be helpful, too.

The FAA Mandates External Registration Markings For Drones

Drone fliers in the USA must soon display their registration markings on the exterior of their craft, rather than as was previously acceptable, in accessible interior compartments. This important but relatively minor regulation change has been announced by the FAA in response to concerns that malicious operators could booby-trap a craft to catch investigators as they opened it in search of a registration. The new ruling is effective from February 25th, though they are inviting public comment on it.

As airspace regulators and fliers across the world traverse the tricky process of establishing a safe and effective framework for multirotors and similar craft we’ve seen a variety of approaches to their regulation, and while sometimes they haven’t made complete sense and have even been struck down in the courts, the FAA’s reaction has been more carefully considered than that in some other jurisdictions. Rule changes such as this one will always have their detractors, but as an extension of a pre-existing set of regulations it is not an unreasonable one.

It seems inevitable that regulation of multirotor flight will be a continuing process, but solace can be taken at the lower end of the range. A common theme across the world seems to be a weight limit of 250 g for otherwise unrestricted and unregistered craft, and the prospects for development in this weight category in response to regulation are exciting. If a smaller craft can do everything our 2 kg machines used to do but without the burden of regulation, we’ll take that.

Downloadable 3D Cockpits Enhance FPV Racing

First Person View (or First Person Video) in RC refers to piloting a remote-controlled vehicle or aircraft via a video link, and while serious racers will mount the camera in whatever way offers the best advantage, it’s always fun to mount the camera where a miniature pilot’s head would be, and therefore obtain a more immersive view of the action. [SupermotoXL] is clearly a fan of this approach, and shared downloadable designs for 3D printed cockpit kits for a few models of RC cars, including a more generic assembly for use with other vehicles. The models provide a dash, steering wheel, and even allow for using a small servo to make the steering wheel’s motions match the actual control signals sent. The whole effect is improved further by adding another servo to allow the viewer to pan the camera around.

Check out the video embedded below to see it in action. There are more videos on the project’s page, and check out the project’s photo gallery for more detailed images of the builds.

Continue reading “Downloadable 3D Cockpits Enhance FPV Racing”

Drones Rain Down Rat Poison on the Galapagos

If your favorite movie is Ratatouille, now would be a good time to read a different article. Rats on the Galápagos Islands are an invasive species and eradication is underway. This is not a first for the islands, and they are fiercely protected since they are the exclusive home to some species including the distinctive tortoise from which the island derives its name and of course finches. Charles Darwin studied the finches while writing On the Origin of Species. So yeah, we want to keep this island from becoming unbalanced and not disturb the native wildlife while doing it. How do we check all these boxes? Technology! Specifically, hexacopters carrying rat poison.

The plan is simple, drive a truck to a central location, release the hounds drones and fifteen minutes later they come back after flying high above the indigenous wildlife and dropping pest control pellets. The drones save time and labor, making them a workhorse rather than a novelty. This work experience on their resume (CV) could open the door to more dirty work or more wholesome activities. Who is to say that the same drones, the exact same ones, couldn’t deliver plant seeds, or nourishing food to the dwindling species harmed by the rat population explosion.

What would you deliver with drones? How about providing parcels or just learning a better way to navigate?

Via IEEE Spectrum.

Drone Gives Up Its Wireless Secrets To Zigbee Sniffer

There’s something thrilling about decoding an unknown communications protocol. You start with a few clues, poke at the problem with some simple tools, and eventually work your way up to that first breakthrough that lets you crack the code. It can be frustrating, but when you eventually win, it can be very rewarding.

It seems that [Jason] learned this while decoding the wireless conversation between his mass-market quad and its controller. The quad in question, a Yuneec Q500, is one of those mid-range, ready-to-fly drones that’s targeted at those looking to get in the air easily and take some cool pictures. Unsure how the drone and controller were talking, [Jason] popped the covers and found a Zigbee chipset within. With the help of a $14 Zigbee USB dongle and some packet sniffing software from TI, [Jason] was able to see packets flowing, but decoding them was laborious. Luckily, the sniffer app can be set up to stream packets to another device, so [Jason] wrote a program to receive and display packets. He used that to completely characterize each controller input and the data coming back from the drone. It’s a long and strange toolchain, but the upshot is that he’s now able to create KML in real time and track the drone on Google Earth as it flies. The video below shows the build and a few backyard test flights.

Congratulations to [Jason] for breaking the protocol and opening up drones like this for other hackers. If you’re interested in learning more about Zigbee sniffing, you can actually hack a few smarthome gadgets into useful sniffers.

Continue reading “Drone Gives Up Its Wireless Secrets To Zigbee Sniffer”