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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No-Laser CNC Engraver Is Something New Under The Sun

Hooking up a laser to a CNC gantry isn’t exactly an Earth-shattering innovation, but it does make for a useful tool. Even a cheap diode laser mounted to an old 3D printer can do engraving, marking, or even light-duty cutting. But what about a laser engraver without the laser? Can that be of any use?

Apparently, the answer is yes, if you can harness the power of the sun. That’s what [Lucas] did with his solar-tracking CNC engraver, the build of which is shown in the video below. The idea is pretty simple — mount a decent-sized magnifying lens where the laser optics would normally go on a laser engraver, and point the thing at the sun. But as usual, the devil is in the details. The sun has a nasty habit of moving across the sky during the day, or at least appearing to, so [Lucas] has to add a couple of extra degrees of freedom to a regular X-Y CNC rig to track the sun. His tracking sensor is simplicity itself — four CdS photocells arranged with a pair of perpendicular shades, and an Arduino to drive the gimbals in the correct direction to keep all four sensors equally illuminated. He had some initial problems getting the jerkiness out of the control loop, but the tracker eventually kept the whole thing pointing right at the Sun.

So how does it work? Not bad, actually — [Lucas] managed to burn some pretty detailed designs into a piece of wood using just the sun. He mentions adding a shutter to douse the cutting beam to allow raster patterns, but even better might be a servo-controlled iris diaphragm to modulate beam intensity and control for varying sun conditions. He might also check out this solar engraver we covered previously for some more ideas, too.

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Omnirotor flies over obstacles with its gimballed, caged, coaxial rotors.

Gimballed Omnirotor Goes Over Great Obstacles

What can drive on the ground, hop in the air, and continuously move its coaxial rotor assembly without ever having to reset its position? The answer is [New Dexterity]’s Omnirotor All-Terrain Platform.

Although still very much a prototype, the video below the break shows that the dexterity claimed by Omnirotor isn’t just a lot of hype. Weaving through, around, and over obstacles is accomplished with relative ease by way of a coaxial rotor configuration that’s sure to turn some heads.

Omnirotor flies over obstacles with its gimballed, caged, coaxial rotors.
Omnirotor’s unique design lends to its agility

While not novel in every aspect, the Omnirotor’s strength comes from a combination of features that are fairly unique. The coaxial rotors are fully gimballed, and as such can be moved to and from any direction from any other direction. In other words, it can rotate in any axis infinitely without needing to return to a home position. Part of this magic comes from a very clever use of resources: The battery, speed controllers, and motors are all gimballed as one. This clever hack avoids the need for large, heavy slip rings that would otherwise be needed to transmit power.

Adding to the Omnirotor’s agility is a set of wheels that allow the craft to push itself along a surface, presumably to decrease power consumption. What if an obstacle is too difficult to drive around or past? The Omnirotor takes to the air and flies over it. The coaxial rotors are caged, protecting them from the typical rotor-snagging dangers you’d expect in close quarters.

[New Dexterity] has Open Sourced the entire project, with the Omirotor design, Firmware, and even the benchmarking platform available on Github so that others can share in the fun and iterate the design forward even further.

You might also enjoy this tetrahedron based omnirotor, or another omnirotor that knows how to play fetch. Really.

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Soldering Iron Plus Camera Gimbal Helps Cancel Out Hacker’s Hand Tremors

Soldering requires steady hands, so when [Jonathan Gleich] sadly developed a condition called an essential tremor affecting his hands, soldering became much more difficult. But one day, while [Jonathan] was chatting with a friend, they were visited by the Good Ideas Fairy and in true hacker fashion, he ended up repurposing a handheld camera stabilizing gimbal to hold a soldering iron instead of a camera or smartphone. Now instead of the gimbal cancelling out hand movements to keep a camera steady, it instead helps keep a soldering iron steady.

While the inner workings of the cheap gimbal unit didn’t need modification, there were a couple of things that needed work before the project came together. The first was to set up a way to quickly and easily connect and disconnect the soldering iron from the gimbal. Thanks to a dovetail-like connector, the iron can be safely stored in its regular holster and only attached when needed.

The other modification is more subtle. The stabilizer motors expect to be managing something like a smartphone, but a soldering iron is both lighter and differently balanced. That meant that the system worked, but not as well as it needed to. After using some small lead weights to tweak the mass and center of gravity of the soldering iron — making it feel and move a bit more like an iPhone, as far as the gimbal was concerned — results were improved.

The soldering iron stabilizer works well enough for now, but we don’t doubt that [Jonathan] already has further tweaks in mind. This is a wonderful repurposing of a consumer device into an assistive aid, so watch it in action in the short video embedded below.

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Orphaned Gimbal Gets Second Chance To Fly

A reality of flying RC aircraft is that at some point, one of your birds is going to fall in the line of duty. It could get lost in the clouds never to be seen again, or perhaps it will become suddenly reacquainted with terra firma. Whatever the reason, your overall enjoyment of the hobby depends greatly on how well you can adapt to the occasional loss.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, we’d say [Rural Flyer] has the right temperament for the job. After losing one of his quadcopters in an unfortunate FPV incident, he decided to repurpose the proprietary gimbal it left behind. If he still had the drone he could have slipped a logic analyzer in between its connection with the motorized camera to sniff out the communication protocol, but since that was no longer an option, he had to get a little creative.

Figuring out the power side of things was easy enough thanks to the silkscreen on the camera’s board, and a common 5 V battery eliminator circuit (BEC) connected to the drone’s 7.4 V battery pack got it online. A cobbled together adapter allowed him to mount it to one of his other quads, but unfortunately the angle wasn’t quite right.

[Rural Flyer] wanted the camera tilted down about 15 degrees, but since he didn’t know how to talk to it, he employed a clever brute force solution. After identifying the accelerometer board responsible for determining the camera’s position, he use a glob of hot glue to push the sensor off of the horizontal. Providing this physical offset to the sensor data caused the camera to automatically move itself to exactly where he wanted it.

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P-51 Cockpit Recreated With Help Of Local Makerspace

It’s surprisingly easy to misjudge tips that come into the Hackaday tip line. After filtering out the omnipresent spam, a quick scan of tip titles will often form a quick impression that turns out to be completely wrong. Such was the case with a recent tip that seemed from the subject line to be a flight simulator cockpit. The mental picture I had was of a model cockpit hooked to Flight Simulator or some other off-the-shelf flying game, many of which we’ve seen over the years.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about the project that Grant Hobbs undertook. His cockpit simulator turned out to be so much more than what I thought, and after trading a few emails with him to get all the details, I felt like I had to share the series of hacks that led to the short video below and the story about how he somehow managed to build the set despite having no previous experience with the usual tools of the trade.

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Subterranean Uses For LIDAR: Cave Surveys

LIDAR has gained much popularity as a means for self-driving cars to survey the space around them. At their most basic, LIDAR is a surveying method that uses lasers to paints the space around the sensors and assembles the distances measured from reflected light into a digital three-dimensional representation. That’s something that has quite a number of other applications, from surveying ancient ruins and rainforests from a bird’s eye view to developing 3D models of indoor spaces.

One fascinating use of LIDAR technology is to map out the routes inside caves, subterranean spaces that are seldom accessed by humans apart from those with specialized equipment and knowledge of how to safely traverse the underground terrain. [caver.adam] has been working on his Open LIDAR project for a few years using an SF30-B High Speed Rangefinder and laser device for a dual-system atop a gimbal with stepper motors for cave scanning.

Originally an entry in the 2016 Hackaday Prize, [Adam] has continued to work on the project. The result shown in the video below is a cheaper 3D LIDAR setup that works by rotating the laser distance module on 2 axes with a sensor centered at the center of rotation. It works for volumetric calculations, detects change over time, and identifies various water patterns and rocks on a surface map. Compared to notebooks, tape measures, and compasses, it’s certainly a step up in cave surveying technology.

Check out some other past underground surveying projects, such as Iowa City’s beer caves scanning projects and National Geographic’s 2014 expedition of the Titan Chamber in southern Guizhou Province in China.

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