One of the major choices a newcomer to the RC flying hobby must make is on the RC link protocol. To add the list of choices (or confusion) there is now a new open-source, low latency, and long-range protocol named ExpressLRS.
ExpressLRS’s claim to fame is high packet rates of up to 500 Hz, with plans for 1000 Hz, and latency as low as 5 ms. Long-range testing has pushed it out to 30 km with a flying wing (video below), but this is not unheard of for other protocols. Most modern RC protocols run either in the 2.4 GHz or 915/868 MHz bands, with the latter having a definite advantage in terms of range.
ExpressLRS has options to run on either band, using Semtech SX127x (915/868 MHz) or SX1280 (2.4 GHz) LoRa transceivers, connected to STM32, ESP32, or ESP8285 microcontrollers. The ESP microcontrollers also allow software updates over Wi-Fi.
We’re excited to see an open-source competitor to the proprietary protocols currently dominating the market, but several open-source protocols have come and gone over the years. Hardware availability and compatibility is a deciding factor for a new protocol’s success, and ExpressLRS already has an advantage in this regard. Existing Frsky R9 transmitters and receivers, and Immersion RC Ghost receivers are compatible with the firmware. There are also DIY options available, and the GitHub page claims that several manufacturers are working on official ExpressLRS hardware.
If you’re already into the RC hobby, and you have compatible hardware lying around, be sure to give it a try and give some feedback to the developers! One scenario we would like to see tested is high interference and congested band conditions, like at RC flying events.
All the source code and hardware designs are available on GitHub, and there are active community discussions on Discord. Continue reading “ExpressLRS: Open Source, Low Latency, Long Range RC Protocol”
Apparently, in the drone scene, sticker wraps are popular for a custom aesthetic. [Useless Mod] wanted to go a little further, however, and decided to build a full crystal enclosure for his Mavic Mini, facing some hurdles along the way. (Video, embedded below.)
The first stage of the build was disassembly, with the compact 249 gram drone requiring a deft touch to avoid damaging the delicate ribbon cables and mechanisms inside. With the drone stripped down to its bare components, a silicone mould was made of each individual piece of the case, with new parts being cast in clear epoxy. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, with many undercuts and complex features to contend with. However, [Useless Mod] managed to produce the parts and get it all back together.
An initial test flight ended poorly, when the drone entered an uncontrollable wobble due to the case not being fully assembled. However, with fresh internals and with everything properly put together, everything worked! It’s not a build we’d suggest for the inexperienced, as the moulds required are complex and the electronics quite fragile. The final result is a good one though, and it even weighs 10 grams less than the original casing!
For those in the US, the world of drones is set to change drastically in short order.
Continue reading “Mavic Mini Gets Custom Clear Case”
Modern multirotors are very maneuverable but are mostly limited to hovering in a single orientation. [Peter Hall] has gotten around this by building an omnicopter drone with six motors mounted in different orientations on a collapsed tetrahedron frame.
The shape of the frame consists of six tetrahedrons all joined together at a single point. With a motor in each frame, the drone can produce a thrust vector in any direction, to achieve six degrees of freedom. The control system is the challenging part of this project, but fortunately [Peter] is one of the Ardupilot developers. Unlike a standard multirotor, it doesn’t need to tilt to move around laterally but can keep its orientation constant. One of the limiting factors is that the motors need to stop and reverse rotation for direction changes, which takes time. At slow maneuvering speeds this isn’t a major problem, but at higher speeds rotation is noticeably less smooth.
Because the drone is symmetrical all around, keeping track of orientation is challenging for a human pilot, but it’s perfect for an autopilot system like Ardupilot. In the video after the break, [Peter] demonstrates this by flying the drone around while the autopilot rotates it randomly. The 6DoF control system is open source and a pull request is live to integrate it into the official version of Ardupilot. The obvious application for this sort of drone is for inspection in and around structures.
This omnicopter is an entry into the Lynchpin drone competition by the celebrity [Terrence Howard]. We’re not quite following his claims regarding the scientific significance of this shape, which he named the “Lynchpin”, but it works for drones. Continue reading “Six Degrees Of Freedom Omnicopter With Ardupilot”
When flying drones in and around structures, the size of the drone is generally limited by the openings you want to fit through. Researchers at the University of Tokyo got around this problem by using an articulating structure for the drone frame, allowing the drone to transform from a large square to a narrow, elongated form to fit through smaller gaps.
The drone is called DRAGON, which is somehow an acronym for the tongue twisting description “Dual-Rotor Embedded Multilink Robot with the Ability of Multi-Degree-of-Freedom Aerial Transformation“. The drone consists of four segments, with a 2-DOF actuated joint between each segment. A pair of ducted fan motors are attached to the middle of each segment with a 2-DOF gimbal that allows it to direct thrust in any direction relative to the segment. For normal flight the segments would be arranged in the square shape, with minimal movement between the segments. When a small gap is encountered, as demonstrated in the video after the break, the segments rearrange into a dragon-like shape, that can pass through a gap in any plane.
Each segment has its own power source and controller, and the control software required to make everything work together is rather complex. The full research paper is unfortunately behind a paywall. The small diameter of the propellers, and all the added components would be a severe limiting factor in terms of lifting capacity and flight time, but the concept is to definitely interesting.
The idea of shape shifting robots has been around for a while, and can become even more interesting when the different segment can detach and reattach themselves to become modular robots. The 2016 Hackaday Grand Prize winner DTTO is a perfect example of this, although it did lack the ability to fly. Continue reading “Transforming Drone Can Be A Square Or A Dragon”
If new rules from the FAA regarding unmanned aircraft operations in the US are any indication, drones are becoming less of a niche hobby and more integrated into everyday life. Of course, the devil is in the details, and what the Federal Aviation Administration appears to give with one hand, it takes away with the other.
The rule changes, announced on December 28, are billed as “advanc[ing] safety and innovation” of the drone industry in the United States. The exciting part, and the aspect that garnered the most attention with headline writers, is the relaxation of rules against night operation and operating above people and moving vehicles. Since 2016, it has been against FAA regulations to operate drones less than 55 pounds (25 kg) at night or over people without a waiver. This rule can be seen as stifling innovations in drone delivery, since any useful delivery service will likely need to overfly populated areas and roadways and probably do so at night. The new rules allow these operations without a waiver for four categories of drones, classified by how much damage they would do if they were to lose control and hit someone. The rules also define the inspection and certification regimes for both aircraft and pilot, as well as stipulating that operators have to have their certificate and ID on their person while flying.
While this seems like great news, the flip side of the coin is perhaps less shiny. The rule changes also impose the requirement for “Remote ID” (PDF link), which is said to be “a major step toward full integration of drones into the national airspace system.” Certain drones will be required to carry a system that transmits identification messages directly from the aircraft, including such data as serial number, location and speed of the drone, as well as the location of the operator. The rules speculate that this would likely be done over WiFi or Bluetooth, and would need to be receivable with personal wireless devices. The exact technical implementation of these rules is left as an exercise to manufacturers, who have 30 months from the time the rules go into effect in January to design systems, submit them for certification, and get them built into their aircraft. Drone operators have an additional year to actually start using the Remote ID drones.
For the drone community, these rule changes seem like a mixed bag. To be fair, it’s not exactly unexpected that drones would be radio tagged like this, and the lead time allowed by the FAA for compliance on Remote ID seems generous. The ability to operate in riskier environments will no doubt be welcomed by commercial drone operators. So who knows — maybe the rules will do what they say they will, and this will stimulate a little innovation in the industry. If so, it could make this whole thing a net positive.
The wide availability and power density of 18650 lithium-ion cells have made them a good option for everything from electric cars to flashlights. [Theo] needed a new power source for his FPV drone goggles, so he designed his own power bank with a very compact charge controller.
While [Theo] could charge the batteries with an RC battery charger, he preferred the convenience of one with a standard 5V micro USB input, and wanted battery level indication to avoid having the FPV goggles die unexpectedly mid-flight. When four 18650 cells are held in a cube arrangement, a 8x8x65 mm gap is formed between the cells. In this space [Theo] was able to fit a custom PCB with a micro USB jack, 1.3 mm power jack, BQ25606 charge controller, TPS61085 boost converter, and ATtiny MCU with LED for battery level feedback. The charge controller also allows 5V devices to be charged via USB, while the boost converter outputs 9V via the 1.3mm jack for [Theo]’s FPV goggles. Everything fits inside a nice compact 3D printed enclosure.
The project was not without hiccups. After ordering and building the PCB he discovered some minor PCB layout mistakes, and realized the boost converted could only output 600mA at 9V, which was not enough for his more power-hungry googles. He plans to fix this in the next version.
We’ve seen custom power banks in quite a few shapes and sizes, including one that runs on power tool batteries (which probably also have 18650s inside) and one that has just about every output you could want, including AC and wireless QI charging.
It’s taken two years, but finally it’s happened. Finally a respected national mass-media outlet has asked the question Hackaday were posing shortly after the event: what evidence was there that a drone was actually present in restricted airspace?
The Guardian newspaper in the UK is the outlet looking into the mystery of the Gatwick drone. It was the worldwide story of the moment around this time back in 2018 when the London airport closed down for several days in response to a series of drone reports. The assumption being put forward was that bad actors in the drone community were to blame, but there was significant disquiet in those ranks as the police and media story simply lacked credibility to anyone with knowledge of drones. At no point could they point to evidence that held water, the couple they arrested turned out to be innocent, and eventually a police officer admitted that there might not have been a drone after all. The damage had by then been done, as Received Opinion had it that irresponsible drone enthusiasts had put lives in danger and caused huge economic damage by closing an airport for several days.
The Guardian piece paints a fascinating and detailed picture of the events surrounding the investigation, by bringing the investigative journalism resources of a national newspaper into tracing and interviewing people involved from all sides. They talk to former Gatwick employees, off-the-record police officers with knowledge of the case, a drone specialist journalist, and the drone community including some of its members with significant professional experience in the world of aviation. It talks about the slow drip-feed of freedom of information requests revealing the machinations behind the scenes and furthermore the continuing lack of tangible proof of a drone. It’s very much worth a read, and we hope it will prompt further investigation of the events without the focus being on a non-existent drone.
We’d like to invite you to read Hackaday’s coverage from a few days after the event, and for an overview of the subject including the later Heathrow event, watch the CCCamp talk I presented on the topic in 2019. Then as now, our wish is for competent police investigations, responsible media reporting of drone stories, and credible official investigations of air proximity reports surrounding drones.
Header: Lucy Ingham, CC BY-SA 4.0.