Foam F-35 Learns To Hover

With cheap RC hardware, powerful motors, and high-capacity battery packs, getting something to fly has never been easier. It also helps that, whether you’re into fixed-wing craft or multirotors, there’s plenty of information and prior art floating around online that you can use to jumpstart your own build. But when it comes to homebrew vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) planes, things are a bit trickier.

Luckily for us, [Nicholas Rehm] has made all the plans and information necessary to duplicate his incredible RC F-35 available for anyone who wants to experiment with these relatively niche fliers. Even if it was a standard park flier, the build would be worth a close look thanks to the vectored thrust motors that give it phenomenal maneuverability and a top speed in the neighboorhood of 120 KPH (80 MPH). But with the flick of a switch, the plane transitions into a tricopter-like flight mode that allows it to land and takeoff vertically.

How does it work? The downward facing motor just behind the “cockpit” lifts up the front of the foam flier and tilts left and right to provide yaw control, while the two motors on the back tilt down to lift up the rear of the aircraft. Aviation buffs in the audience may recognize this as being fairly close to how the actual F-35B hovers, although on the real jet fighter, downward thrust under the wings is generated by redirected turbine exhaust rather than dedicated motors, and yaw control is provided by swiveling the engine’s nozzle rather than the front lift fan.

Getting the plane to takeoff vertically was one thing, but being able to transition from a hover into forward flight was quite another. To make this aerial transformation possible [Nicholas] actually had to write his own flight controller software, which he calls dRehmFlight. The GPLv3 code runs on the Teensy 4.0 and uses the common GY-521 MPU6050 gyroscope/accelerometer, so you don’t need to get any custom boards spun up just to give it a test drive flight. In the video below he walks through configuring the software for VTOL operation by defining how each control surface and motor is to respond to control input given the currently selected flight mode.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that this isn’t the first time [Nicholas] has experimented with unusual flying machines. Last year we covered his RC Starship, which managed to stick the “belly flop” landing even before SpaceX managed to get the real life version down in one piece.

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DRehmFlight: Customizable Flight Stabilisation For Your Weird Flying Contraptions

The availability of cheap and powerful RC motors and electronics has made it possible for almost anyone to build an RC flying machine. Software is usually the bigger challenge, which has led to the development of open-source packages like BetaFlight and Ardupilot. These packages are very powerful, but not easy to modify if you have unconventional requirements. [Nicholas Rehm] faced this challenge while doing his master’s degree, so he created dRehmFlight, a customizable flight controller for VTOL aircraft. Overview video after the break.

dRehmFlight runs on Teensy 4.0 with a MPU6050 or MPU9250 IMU

[Nicholas] has been building unique VTOL aircraft for close to a decade, and he specifically wanted flight stabilization software that is easy to modify and experiment with. Looking at the dRehmFlight code, we think he was successful. The main flight controller package is a single file of fewer than 1600 lines. It’s well commented and easy to figure out, even for an inexperienced programmer. A detailed PDF manual is also available, with full descriptions for all the functions and important variables, and a couple of tutorials to get you started. Libraries for interfacing with accelerometers and RC gear is also included. It runs on a 600 Mhz Teensy 4.0, and all the programming can be done from the Arduino IDE.

[Nicholas] has repeatedly demonstrated the capabilities of dRehmFlight with several unique aircraft, like the belly flopping RC Starship we covered a while ago, a VTOL quad rotor biplane, VTOL F35, and the cyclocopter seen in the header image. dRehmFlight might not have the racing drone performance of BetaFlight, or advanced autopilot features of Ardupilot, but it’s perfect for getting unconventional aircraft off the ground. Continue reading “DRehmFlight: Customizable Flight Stabilisation For Your Weird Flying Contraptions”

Controlling A Quadcopter With One Dead Motor

Quadcopters have incredible flying abilities, but if one loses just a single motor, it drops like a rock. Researchers from the University of Zurich’s Robotics and Perception Group have proven that this does not need to be the case by keeping a quadcopter flying with only three motors.

A quadcopter usually has enough thrust to stay aloft with only three motors, but it will spin uncontrollably in the yaw axis. It is impossible to stop a quadcopter from spinning, so the focus for researchers was on keeping the drone controllable while it’s spinning. To achieve this, accurate position and motion estimation is required, so they attached a pair of cameras to the bottom of the craft for visual-inertial odometry (VIO). One is a normal optical camera, while the other is an event camera, which has pixels that can independently respond to changes in light as they occur. This means that it has better low light performance and does not suffer from motion blur.

The feeds from the cameras are analyzed in real-time by an onboard Nvidia Jetson TX2 for state estimation, which is then used with an optical range sensor and onboard IMU to maintain controlled flight, as demonstrated in the video after the break. The research paper is free to read, and all the code is available on GitHub.

New developments in drone control schemes are always fascinating, like this hexacopter with an innovative motor layout to achieve six degrees of freedom, or a conventional helicopter with a virtual swash plate.
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Flies Like A Quadcopter, But This Drone Design Has Only One Propeller

When mentioning drones, most people automatically think of fixed-wing designs like the military Reaper UAV or of small quadcopters. However, thanks in large part to modern electronics, motors, and open-source control systems, it is possible to build them in a variety of shapes and sizes. [Benjamin Prescher] is working on the second version of his single rotor Ball-Drone, which uses four servo-actuated fins for control.

Mk II in action

The first version of the ball drone flew but was barely controllable and had a tendency to tip over. After a bit of research, he found that he had fallen victim to the drone pendulum fallacy by mounting the heavy components below the propeller and control fins. Initially, he also used conventional fin control that caused the servos to jitter due to high torque loading. By changing to grid fins, the actuation torque was reduced, eliminating the servo jitter.

Mk2 corrected the pendulum problem by moving most of the components to the top of the drone. The 3D printed frame (available on Thingiverse) was also dramatically changed and simplified to reduce weight. Although [Benjamin] designed a custom flight controller with custom control software, the latest parts list contains an off-the-shelf flight controller. He mentions that he had started working with Betaflight. The most complex part of a drone is not the mechanics or even the electronics, but the control software. Thanks to open source projects like Betaflight and Ardupilot, you don’t need to write control software from scratch to get something in the air.

The ball drone seems well suited to an indoor environment, but we’re not sure if it has any real advantages over a quadcopter with ducted propellers. Servos are cheaper than motors and ESCs, so there might be a small cost saving. Drop your thoughts on the advantages/disadvantages in the comments below. Continue reading “Flies Like A Quadcopter, But This Drone Design Has Only One Propeller”

Hybrid Robot Walks, Transforms, And Takes Flight

[Project Malaikat] is a 3D printed hybrid bipedal walker and quadcopter robot, but there’s much more to it than just sticking some props and a flight controller to a biped and calling it a day. Not only is it a custom design capable of a careful but deliberate two-legged gait, but the props are tucked away and deployed on command via some impressive-looking linkages that allow it to transform from walking mode to flying mode.

Creator [tang woonthai] has the 3D models available for download (.rar file) and the video descriptions on YouTube contain a bill of materials, but beyond that there doesn’t seem to be much other information available about [Malaikat]. The creator does urge care to be taken should anyone use the design, because while the robot may be small, it does essentially have spinning blades for hands.

Embedded below are videos that show off the robot’s moves, as well as a short flight test demonstrating that while control was somewhat lacking during the test, the robot is definitely more than capable of actual flight.

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Frankendrones: Toy Quads With A Hobby Grade Boost

If you’re not involved in the world of remote controlled vehicles, you may not know there’s a difference between “toy” and “hobby” grade hardware. For those in the RC community, a toy is the kind of thing you’ll find at a big box store: cheap, works OK, but lacking in features and build quality. On the other hand, hobby hardware is generally considered to be of higher quality and performance, as well as being more modular. At the risk of oversimplification: if you bought it ready to go from a store it’s probably a toy, and if you built it from parts it would generally be considered hobby grade.

But with the rock bottom prices of toy quadcopters, that line in the sand is having a harder time than ever holding some in the community back. The mashup of toy and hobby grade components is giving rise to the concept of “frankendrones” that combine the low cost of toy hardware with key upgrades from the hobby realm. Quadcopter blogger [garagedrone] has posted a roundup of modifications made to the Bayangtoys X16, a $99 quadcopter which is becoming popular in the scene.

Some of the modifications are easy enough for anyone to do. Swapping out the original propellers for ones meant for the DJI Phantom 3 increases performance and doesn’t even require tools. If you want to go a bit further down the rabbit hole, you can cut off the X16’s battery connector and replace it with a standard XT60. That lets you use standard 3S LiPo batteries, which are cheaper and higher capacity than the proprietary ones the toy shipped with.

If you have a 3D printer, there are also a number of upgraded parts you can print which will bolt right onto the X16. Payload adapters, landing gear, and GoPro mounts are all just a few clicks (and some filament) away. This library of 3D printable parts is made possible in part because the X16’s frame is itself a clone of another toy quadcopter, the popular Syma X8C. So anything listed as compatible with the Syma X8C should work with the X16 (and vice versa).

Finally, if you really want to take the X16 to the next level, you can swap out the flight controller with an open source and better supported hobby grade model. Some of these flight controllers and associated new receivers can end up costing about half as much as the X16 did to begin with, but the vast improvement in performance and capability should more than make up for the cost.

We’ve covered previous efforts to increase the performance of low cost quadcopters in the past, as well as builds that put frugality front and center. It seems that no matter what your budget is a screaming angel of death is available if you want it.

Thanks to [Calvin] for the tip.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Yet Another Unmanned Vehicle Controller

To build any sort of autonomous vehicle, you need a controller. This has to handle all sorts of jobs – reading sensor outputs, controlling motors and actuators, managing power sources – controlling a vehicle of even moderate complexity requires significant resources. Modern cars are a great example of this – even non-autonomous vehicles can have separate computers to control the engine, interior electronics, and safety systems. In this vein, [E.N. Hering] is developing a modular autonomous vehicle controller, known as YAUVC.

The acronym stands for Yet Another Unmanned Vehicle Controller, though its former name – Fly Hard With A Vengeance – was not without its charms. The project is built around the concept of modularity and redundancy. The controller, designed primarily for flying vehicles, has an ATMega328P as its primary processor, into which various modules can be plugged in to handle different tasks.

This design choice has several benefits – having separate processors to handle individual jobs can make sense in real-time systems. You’d hardly want your quadcopter to crash because the battery management routines were stealing CPU time from the flight dynamics calculations. Instead, by offloading tasks to individual modules, each can run without interfering with the others. Modularity does come with drawbacks however — the problem of maintaining efficient communication between modules is one of them. [Hering] also plans to make sure the system can be set up to use multiples of the same module for redundancy – similar to modern flight systems in passenger aircraft that weigh the results of several computers to make decisions.

Much work has already been done – with the YAUVC platform already fleshed out with a backbone design as well as modules for WiFi, accelerometers and GPS navigation. We look forward to seeing YAUVC reaching flight-ready status soon!