When Sticks Fly

When it comes to hobby rotorcraft, it almost seems like the more rotors, the better. Quadcopters, hexacopters, and octocopters we’ve seen, and there’s probably a dodecacopter buzzing around out there somewhere. But what about going the other way? What about a rotorcraft with the minimum complement of rotors?

And thus we have this unique “flying stick” bicopter.  [Paweł Spychalski]’s creation reminds us a little of a miniature version of the “Flying Bedstead” that NASA used to train the Apollo LM pilots to touch down on the Moon, and which [Neil Armstrong] famously ejected from after getting the craft into some of the attitudes this little machine found itself in. The bicopter is unique thanks to its fuselage of carbon fiber tube, about a meter in length, each end of which holds a rotor. The rotors rotate counter to each other for torque control, and each is mounted to a servo-controlled gimbal for thrust vectoring. The control electronics and battery are strategically mounted on the tube to place the center of gravity just about equidistant between the rotors.

But is it flyable? Yes, but just barely. The video below shows that it certainly gets off the ground, but does a lot of bouncing as it tries to find a stable attitude. [Paweł] seems to think that the gimballing servos aren’t fast enough to make the thrust-vectoring adjustments needed to keep a stick flying, and we’d have to agree.

This isn’t [Paweł]’s first foray into bicopters; he earned “Fail of the Week” honors back in 2018 for his coaxial dualcopter. The flying stick seems to do much better in general, and kudos to him for even managing to get it off the ground.

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Drone Filming Chile’s Urban Bike Race Takes Some Fancy Radio Gear

Drones have revolutionized the world of videography in perhaps the biggest way since the advent of digital hardware. They’re used to get shots that are impractical or entirely impossible to get by any other means. The [Dutch Drone Gods] specialize in such work. When it came to filming an urban mountain bike race in a dense Chilean city, they had to bust out some serious tricks.

The FPV video feed was grainy, but good enough to keep the pilot on track. The drone carried a separate second camera for capturing high-quality footage of the run.

Typically, running a drone chase cam behind a biker would require some good first-person flying skills and a quick drone. However, for the Red Bull Valparaiso Cerro Abajo urban downhill event, this alone would not be enough. The tight course winds down staircases between thick concrete walls and even through houses, presenting huge challenges to maintaining signal integrity. Without a clear video signal, the pilot can’t fly the drone without crashing.

To make this all possible, the team used a variety of techniques to help combat the uncooperative radio environment. Directional antennas were used to target different sections of the course. Additionally, a second drone was flown high above the course carrying a radio repeater, helping provide a better line-of-sight contact to the camera drone following the riders when the buildings would otherwise block the signal to the pilot.

Even with all this work, the signal was still scratchy and would cut out at some points. However, with a bit of blind faith when cutting through the worst areas, the [Dutch Drone Gods] and the [Red Bull] team were able to put together an amazing FPV drone shot shadowing [Tomas Slavik] on his run down the extremely difficult urban course.

Details on the precise hardware are scarce. However, it’s something that any experienced drone builder could probably whip up without too much trouble. The idea of using a drone-based repeater is particularly exciting, and something we’re sure could help out many pilots who find themselves operating in difficult urban environments.

We’ve seen plenty of great FPV stories over the years, from early experiments in the 1980s to fun DIY cockpit builds of today. Video after the break.

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Hackaday Links: April 17, 2022

There are plenty of stories floating around about the war in Ukraine, and it can be difficult to sort out which ones are fact-based, and which are fabrications. Stories about the technology of the war seem to be a little easier to judge, and so stories about an inside look at a purported Russian drone reveal a lot of interesting technical details. The fixed-wing UAV, reported to be a Russian-made “Orlan,” looks quite the worse for wear as it’s given a good teardown by someone wearing Ukraine military fatigues. In fact, it looks downright homemade, with a fuel tank made from what looks like an old water bottle, liberal use of duct tape to hold things together, and plenty of hot glue sprinkled around — field-expedient repairs, perhaps? The big find, though, is that the surveillance drone carried a rather commonplace — and cheap — Canon EOS Rebel camera. What’s more, the camera is nestled into a 3D printed cradle, strapped in with some hook-and-loop tape, and its controls are staked in place with globs of glue. It’s an interesting collection of hardware for a vehicle said to cost the Russian military something like $100,000 to field. The video below shows a teardown of a different Orlan with similar results, plus a lot of dunking on the Russians by a cheery bunch of Ukrainians.

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Wireless Charging For Border Patrol Drones

It makes sense to use drones to patrol borders or perimeters. But there’s a problem. Drones have to carry batteries or fuel and mostly have a short operating time. A new paper from the University of Houston proposes a solution by recharging drones in flight using a novel wireless charging mechanism. What’s the cost? Another paper explores the economics of the approach.

The system relies on electric lines running along a border wall feeding wireless power transfer devices that allow the drone to recharge in flight. This is akin, we think, to an electric train that takes power from the third rail except, in this case, the power rail is wireless. Also, the drone would still have batteries to enable it to go off the rail as needed.

The paper mentions that the source power could be from wind or solar, but that’s not necessarily important and it also requires a storage battery in the system that you could omit if using conventional power. In addition, you’d think batteries and solar panels might be targets for theft in remote areas.

The paper mentions that another alternative is to simply have charging towers along the wall where drones land to recharge. This is easier, we think, but it does put the drone out of full operation status while charging. On the other hand, cheap drones could work in shifts to cover an area, so it seems like that might be a better solution than charging while flying.

What do you think? How would you make a long-duration drone? Fuel cells? In-flight battery swapping from a refueling drone? Laser power? Maybe a magnetic battery swap system where the drone swoops over a charger to drop off and pick up a fresh battery? Let us know what you would try or — even better — what you have done.

We’ve seen a drone pit stop robot already. Refueling drones have been done, too. But it does seem like something better is possible.

An RF remote control with a LoRa receiver next to it

Reverse Engineering A 900 MHz RC Transmitter And Receiver

For those building their own remote controlled devices like RC boats and quadcopter drones, having a good transmitter-receiver setup is a significant factor in the eventual usability of their build. Many transmitters are available in the 2.4 GHz band, but some operate at different frequencies, like the 868/915 MHz band. The TBS Crossfire is one such transmitter, and it’s become a popular model thanks to its long-range performance.

The channel hopping sequence of a TBS Crossfire transmitter
The channel hopping sequence

When [g3gg0] bought a Crossfire set for his drone, he discovered that the receiver module consisted of not much more than a PIC32 microcontroller and an SX1272 LoRa modem. This led him to ponder if the RF protocol would be easy to decode. As it turns out, it was not trivial, but not impossible either. First, he built his own SPI sniffer using a CYC1000 FPGA board to reveal the exact register settings that the PIC32 sent to the SX1272. The Crossfire uses channel hopping, and by simply looking at the register settings it was easy to figure out the hopping sequence.

Once that was out of the way, the next step was to figure out what data was flowing through those channels. The data packets appeared to be built up in a straightforward way, but they included an unknown CRC checksum. Luckily, brute-forcing it was not hard; the checksum is most likely used to keep receivers from picking up signals that come from a different transmitter than their own.

[g3gg0]’s blog post goes into intricate detail on both the Crossfire’s protocol as well as the reverse engineering process needed to obtain this information. The eventual conclusion is that while the protocol is efficient and robust, it provides no security against eavesdropping or deliberate interference. Of course, that’s perfectly fine for most RC applications, as long as the user is aware of this fact.

If you’re into decoding RF protocols, you might also want to try using a logic analyzer. But if you merely want to replicate an existing transmitter’s signals, it might be easier to simply spoof a few button presses.

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Underwater Drone Films, Is In Film

Having a drone that can follow you running or biking with a camera isn’t big news these days. But French firm Notilo Plus has an underwater drone that can follow and video an underwater diver. The Seasam has been around since 2019, but recently made an appearance in a French film, The Deep House about a couple exploring an underwater haunted house, as reported by New Atlas. You can see a video about the drone — and a trailer for the movie — in the videos below.

To follow a diver, the robot uses an acoustic signal from the user’s control unit to find the approximate location of the user. This works even in dark conditions. Once close enough, computer vision zeros in on the diver while a sonar system allows safe navigation.

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Flying Sausage Rescues Pooch, Drone Pilots Save The Day

When we write about drone stories from the United Kingdom, they often have a slightly depressing air to them as we relate tales of unverified air proximity reports closing airports or bungled official investigations that would make the Keystone Kops look like competent professionals.

But here’s a drone story from this rainswept isle sure to put a smile on the face of multirotor enthusiasts worldwide, as Denmead Drone Search And Rescue, an organisation who locate missing pets using drones, enticed lost dog Millie from a soon-to-be-engulfed tidal mudflat by the simple expedient of dangling a sausage from a drone for the mutt to follow (Facebook).

Lest you believe that Hackaday have lost their marbles and this isn’t worthy of our normal high standards, let us remind you that this is not our first flying sausage story. Behind the cute-puppy and flying meat product jokes though, there’s a serious side. Drones have received such a bad press over recent years that a good news story concerning them is rare indeed, and this one has garnered significant coverage in the general media. Maybe it’s too late to reverse some of the reputational damage from the Gatwick fiasco, but at this point any such coverage is good news.

For anyone wondering what lies behind this, let us take you back to Christmas 2018.