Reaction Wheels Almost Control This Unusual Drone

When you think about all the forces that have to be balanced to keep a drone stable, it’s a wonder that the contraptions stay in the air at all. And when the only option for producing those forces is blowing around more or less air it’s natural to start looking for other, perhaps better ways to achieve flight control.

Taking a cue from the spacecraft industry, [Tom Stanton] decided to explore reaction wheels for controlling drones. The idea is simple – put a pair of relatively massive motorized wheels at right angles to each other on a drone, and use the forces they produce when they accelerate to control the drone’s pitch and roll. [Tom]’s video below gives a long and clear explanation of the physics involved before getting to the build, which results in an ungainly craft a little reminiscent of a lunar lander. The drone actually manages a few short, somewhat stable flights, but in general the reaction wheels don’t seem to be up to the task. [Tom] chalks this up to the fact that he’s using the current draw of each reaction wheel motor as a measure of its torque, which is not exactly correct for all situations. He suggests that motors with encoders might do a better job, but by the end of the video the little drone isn’t exactly in shape for continued experimentation.

Of course, dodgy reaction wheels don’t only cause problems with drones. They can also be a problem for spacecraft when the Sun gets fussy too.

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The BNC Connector and How It Got That Way

When I started working in a video production house in the early 1980s, it quickly became apparent that there was a lot of snobbery in terms of equipment. These were the days when the home video market was taking off; the Format War had been fought and won by VHS, and consumer-grade VCRs were flying off the shelves and into living rooms. Most of that gear was cheap stuff, built to a price point and destined to fail sooner rather than later, like most consumer gear. In our shop, surrounded by our Ikegami cameras and Sony 3/4″ tape decks, we derided this equipment as “ReggieVision” gear. We were young.

For me, one thing that set pro gear apart from the consumer stuff was the type of connectors it had on the back panel. If a VCR had only the bog-standard F-connectors like those found on cable TV boxes along with RCA jacks for video in and out, I knew it was junk. To impress me, it had to have BNC connectors; that was the hallmark of pro-grade gear.

I may have been snooty, but I wasn’t really wrong. A look at coaxial connectors in general and the design decisions that went into the now-familiar BNC connector offers some insight into why my snobbery was at least partially justified.

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Fail of the Week: Two Rotors Are Not Better Than Four

Fair warning: [Paweł Spychalski]’s video is mostly him talking about how bad his “dualcopter” ended up. There are a few sequences of the ill-fated UAV undergoing flight tests, most of which seem to end with it doing a reasonable impression of a post-hole auger. We have to admit that it’s a pretty poor drone. But one can only truly fail if one fails to have some fun doing it, [Paweł] enjoyed considerable success, at least judging by the glee with which he repeatedly cratered the craft.

The overall idea seems to make sense, with coaxial props mounted in the middle of a circular 3D-printed frame. Mounted below the props are crossed vanes controlled by two servos. The vanes sit in the rotor wash and provide pitch and roll control, while yaw and thrust are controlled by varying the speeds of the counter-rotating props. [Paweł] knew going in that this was a sketchy aerodynamic design, and was surprised it performed as well as it did. But with ground effects limiting roll and pitch control close to the ground, the less-than-adequate thrust due to turbulence between the rotors, and the tendency for the center of mass and the center of gravity to get out whack with each other, all made for a joyously unstable and difficult to control aircraft.

Despite the poor performance, [Paweł] has plans for a Mark II dualrotor, a smaller craft with some changes based on what he learned. He’s no slouch at pushing the limits with multirotors, with 3D-printed racing quad frames and using LoRa for control beyond visual range. Still, we’re sure he’d appreciate constructive criticism in the comments, and we wish him luck with the next one.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Coaxial Drones

[Glytch] has been building drones since before they were called drones. Instead of submitting his time machine into the Hackaday Prize, he’s throwing his pocket sized, 3D printable coaxial drone into the ring.

His focus is on designing small and very portable drones, preferably one that has folding arms and can fit into a backpack. His portfolio even includes a clone of the DJI Mavic, the gimbaled camera-carrying consumer drone known for its small volume when folded.

Navi — [Glitch]’s entry for the Hackaday Prize — is a complete departure from quadcopters with folding arms. It’s simple to use, and all he needs to do to launch it is hold it in the air and press a button. It does this by being a coaxial drone, or a cylinder with a pair of folding props sticking out the side. The chassis and mechanics for this drone are 3D printable, making this an awesome entry for the Hackaday Prize.

A Friendly Flying Robot Pet

[luca] has always wanted a flying robot, but despite the recent popularity of quadcopters and drones [luca] has never seen a drone that is truly autonomous. Although sometimes billed as autonomous, quadcopters and fixed wing aircraft have always had someone holding a remote, had to stay in a controlled environment, or had some off-board vision system.

Computers are always getting smaller and faster, battery and motor technology is always getting better. That’s why [luca] is building a truly autonomous flying robot for the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

Since [luca] is building a coaxial copter – something that looks like a ducted fan with a few vanes at the bottom – there will be control issues. Normal helicopters use the pitch of the blades and the torque produced by the tail rotor to keep flying straight. A quadcopter uses two pairs of motors spinning in opposite directions to stay level. With just two rotors mounted on top of each other, you would think [luca]’s coaxial copter is an intractable problem. Not so; there are bizarre control systems for this type of flying machine that make it as nimble in the sky as any other helicopter.

The design of this flying robot is a bit unlike anything on the market. It looks like a flying ducted fan, with a few electronics strapped to the bottom. It’s big, but also has the minimum number of rotors, to have the highest power density possible with current technology. With a few calculations, [luca] predicted this robot will be able to hoist an IMU, GPS, ultrasonic range finder, optical flow camera, and a LIDAR module in the air for about fifty minutes. That’s a remarkably long flight time for something that hovers, and we can’t wait to see how [luca]’s build turns out.

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What Lies Beneath: The First Transatlantic Communications Cables

For some reason, communications and power infrastructure fascinates me, especially the long-haul lines that move power and data over huge distances. There’s something about the scale of these projects that really gets to me, whether it’s a high-tension line marching across the countryside or a cell tower on some remote mountain peak. I recently wrote about infrastructure with a field guide that outlines some of the equipment you can spot on utility poles. But the poles and wires all have to end at the shore. Naturally we have to wonder about the history of the utilities you can’t see – the ones that run under the sea.

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UAV Coaxial Copter Uses Unique Drive Mechanism

Personal UAV’s are becoming ubiquitous these days, but there is still much room for improvement. Researchers at [Modlab] understand this, and they’ve come up with a very unique method of controlling pitch, yaw, and roll for a coaxial ‘copter using only the two drive motors.

In order to control all of these variables with only two motors, you generally need a mechanism that adjusts the pitch of the propeller blades. Usually this is done by mounting a couple of tiny servos to the ‘copter. The servos are hooked up to the propellers with mechanical linkages so the pitch of the propellers can be adjusted on the fly. This works fine but it’s costly, complicated, and adds weight to the vehicle.

[Modlab’s] system does away with the linkages and extra servos. They are able to control the pitch of their propellers using just the two drive motors. The propellers are connected to the motors using a custom 3D printed rotor hub. This hub is specifically designed to couple blade lead-and-lag oscillations to a change in blade pitch. Rather than drive the motors with a constant amount of torque, [Modlab] adds a sinusoidal component in phase with the current speed of the motor. This allows the system to adjust the pitch of the blades multiple times per rotation, even at these high speeds.

Be sure to watch the demonstration video below. Continue reading “UAV Coaxial Copter Uses Unique Drive Mechanism”