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.

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.

Automate the Freight: Amazon Tackles the Last Mile Problem On Wheels

We’ve been occasionally exploring examples of what could be the killer application for self-driving vehicles: autonomous freight deliveries, both long-haul and local, as well as some special use cases. Some, like UAV delivery of blood and medical supplies in Kenya, have taken off and are becoming both profitable and potentially life-saving. Others, like driverless long-haul trucking, made an initial splash but appear to have gone quiet since then. This is to be expected, as the marketplace picks winners and losers in a neverending quest to maximize return on investment. But the whole field seems to have gotten a bit sleepy lately, with no big news of note for quite a while.

That changed last week with Amazon’s announcement of Scout, their autonomous delivery vehicle. Announced first on Amazon’s blog and later picked up by the popular and tech press who repeated the Amazon material almost verbatim, Scout appears at first glance to be a serious attempt by Amazon to own the “last mile” of delivery – the local routes that are currently plied by the likes of UPS, FedEx, and various postal services. Or is it?

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Make Your Lego Fly

We probably all used to make our Lego fly by throwing it across the room, but Flite Test have come up with a slightly more elegant solution: they converted a Lego quadcopter to fly. They did it by adding a  miniature flight controller, battery and motors/rotors to replace the Lego ones in the Lego City Arctic Air Transport kit. This combination flies surprisingly well, thanks to a thoughtful design that balances the heavier components inside the case.

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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.

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Can You Take Control Of A TinyWhoop?

Regular readers will have followed our series of posts looking at the issues surrounding reports of drones in proximity to aircraft, and will have noted that we recently asked our community how they would approach the detection and handling of marauding drones in controlled airspace. We are mere amateurs though by comparison to a team with its roots in Delft University of Technology’s Micro Air Vehicle Laboratory, because they have approached the problem through DroneClash, a spectacle best described as akin to a Robot Wars competition for drones. Their website states that “Anything goes, with one exception: no jamming“, and teams will do battle before an audience for a share in a considerable prize fund.

The fun is not however limited to team members. People in the audience will also be able to participate, by being invited to try their luck at bringing down a TinyWhoop that will periodically fly into the arena for a chance at their own prize. The ubiquitous cheap toy drone will be accessible through software, and would-be attackers are invited to register in advance to take a pop at it.

It looks as if DroneClash will be an unmissable event for anyone able to make it to the Netherlands on March 16th. We’ve mentioned it in past years, and we look forward to seeing what comes out of it this year too.

TinyWhoop header image: Dan Lundmark, (CC BY 2.0).