Bringing Pro-Level Data Recording To RC Racing

We’re all familiar with the “Black Box” used on commercial aircraft, the flight data recorder which captures the minutia of each and every flight on the off-chance that it’s needed in the event of an accident. But even in less dire circumstances, the complete record of the aircraft’s performance versus what was commanded of it by the pilot can be used to fine tune performance or detect faults before they become serious.

As a data engineer for professional motorsports, [Jussi Luopajärvi] knows similar recorders can be just as useful for vehicles stuck here on terra firma. His entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, TestLogger, aims to bring that same kind of technology to the world of RC racing. The gadget allows the driver to easily record a wealth of data about the vehicle during races, giving them valuable insight into the vehicle’s performance.

So what kind of variables are there to record on a 1/8th or 1/12th scale car? Don’t be fooled by their diminutive wheelbases, the modern RC car relies on an impressive amount of technical wizardry that benefits from a close eye.

Right now, [Jussi] says TestLogger can record not only obvious elements like battery level and throttle, but also more esoteric variables such as steering input, individual drive wheel speed, angular velocity, and even g-force in three dimensions. There’s also support for a trackside IR beacon that allows TestLogger to record lap times.

All of the data is stored on TestLogger’s SD card in standard CSV files, which makes it easy for us hacker types to parse and analyze. But for those who are more interested in driving than delimiting, there’s also a very slick website that will let users upload and compare their data. This complete user experience gives TestLogger a very professional feel, and we can’t wait to see where [Jussi] takes it from here.

With powerful microcontrollers available for a song, we expect this kind of detailed data collection is only going to become more common.

Teardown: D50761 Aircraft Quick Access Recorder

Everyone’s heard of the “black box”. Officially known as the Flight Data Recorder (FDR), it’s a mandatory piece of equipment on commercial aircraft. The FDR is instrumental in investigating incidents or crashes, and is specifically designed to survive should the aircraft be destroyed. The search for the so-called “black box” often dominates the news cycle after the loss of a commercial aircraft; as finding it will almost certainly be necessary to determine the true cause of the accident. What you probably haven’t heard of is a Quick Access Recorder (QAR).

While it’s the best known, the FDR is not the only type of recording device used in aviation. The QAR could be thought of as the non-emergency alternative to the FDR. While retrieving data from the FDR usually means the worst has happened, the QAR is specifically designed to facilitate easy and regular access to flight data for research and maintenance purposes. Its data is stored on removable media and since the QAR is not expected to survive the loss of the aircraft it isn’t physically hardened. In fact, modern aircraft often use consumer-grade technology such as Compact Flash cards and USB flash drives as storage media in their QAR.

Through the wonders of eBay, I recently acquired a vintage Penny & Giles D50761 Quick Access Recorder. This was pulled out of an aircraft which had been in service with the now defunct airline, Air Toulouse International. Let’s crack open this relatively obscure piece of equipment and see just what goes into the hardware that airlines trust to help ensure their multi-million dollar aircraft are operating in peak condition.

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