Autonomous Spaceplane Travels to 10 km, Lands Safely 200 km Away

Space balloons, where one sends instrument packages to the edge of space on a weather balloon, are a low-cost way to scratch the space itch. But once you’ve logged the pressure and temperature and tracked your balloon, what’s the next challenge? How about releasing an autonomous glider and having it return itself to Earth safely?

That’s what [IzzyBrand] and his cohorts did, and we have to say we’re mightily impressed. The glider itself looks like nothing to write home about: in true Flite Test fashion, it’s just a flying wing made with foam core and Coroplast reinforced with duct tape. A pair of servo-controlled elevons lies on the trailing edge of the wings, while inside the fuselage are a Raspberry Pi and a Pixhawk flight controller along with a GPS receiver. Cameras point fore and aft, a pair of 5200 mAh batteries provide the juice, and handwarmers stuffed into the avionics bay prevent freezing.

After a long series of test releases from a quadcopter, flight day finally came. Winds aloft prevented a full 30-kilometer release, so the glider was set free at 10 kilometers. The glider then proceeded to a pre-programmed landing zone over 80 kilometers from the release point. At one point the winds were literally pushing the glider backward, but the little plane prevailed and eventually spiraled down to a perfect landing.

We’ve been covering space balloons for a while, but take a moment to consider the accomplishment presented here. On a shoestring budget, a team of amateurs hit a target the size of two soccer fields with an autonomous aircraft from a range of almost 200 kilometers. That’s why we’re impressed, and we can’t wait to see what they can do after a release from the edge of space.

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An Interview with Alex Williams, Grand Prize Winner

Alex Williams pulled off an incredible engineering project. He developed an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) which uses a buoyancy engine rather than propellers as its propulsion mechanism and made the entire project Open Source and Open Hardware.

The design aims to make extended duration missions a possibility by using very little power to move the vessel. What’s as remarkable as the project itself is that Alex made a goal for himself to document the project to the level that it is fully reproducible. His success in both of these areas is what makes the Open Source Underwater Glider the perfect Grand Prize winner for the 2017 Hackaday Prize.

We got to sit down with Alex the morning after he won to talk about the project and the path he took to get here.

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Automate the Freight: Front Line Deliveries by Drone

Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC, once said that “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” That’s true in many enterprises, but in warfare, the side that neglects logistics is likely to be the loser. Keeping soldiers fed, clothed, and armed is the very essence of effectively prosecuting a war, and the long logistical chain from rear supply depots to forward action is what makes that possible.

Armies have had millennia to optimize logistics, and they have always maximized use of new technologies to position supplies where they’re needed. Strong backs of men and beasts sufficed for centuries, supplemented by trains in the 19th century and supplanted by motor vehicles in the 20th. Later, aircraft made an incalculable impact on supply chains, allowing rapid mobilization of supplies and supporting the industrial scale death and destruction of the 20th-century’s wars.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Underwater Glider Offers Low-Power Exploration

[Alex Williams] created his Open Source Underwater Glider project as an entry to The Hackaday Prize, and now it’s one of our twenty finalists. This sweet drone uses motor-actuated syringes to serve as a ballast tank, which helps the glider move forward without the use of traditional propellers.

Unlike most UAVs, which use motors to actively move the craft around, [Alex]’s glider uses the syringes to change the buoyancy of the craft, and it simply glides around on its wings. When the craft starts getting too deep, the syringes push out the water and the glider rises toward the surface until it’s ready for another glide.

This low-power solution allows for long-term science projects and research. In addition to conserving power, the glider’s slow travel does not disturb the water or sea life.

[Alex]’s goal is to make his glider open source and 3D printable, combined with off-the-shelf hardware and ArduSub under the hood.

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Why the Wright Brothers Succeeded

The types of steps and missteps the Wright brothers took in developing the first practical airplane should be familiar to hackers. They started with a simple kite design and painstakingly added only a few features at a time, testing each, and discarding some. The airfoil data they had was wrong and they had to make their own wind tunnel to produce their own data. Unable to find motor manufacturers willing to do a one-off to their specifications, they had to make their own.

Sound familiar? Here’s a trip through the Wright brothers development of the first practical airplane.

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Hackaday Links: January 31, 2016

[Damien] has been working on MicroPython for a while now. We did an interview with him a while ago about porting Python to tiny microcontrollers, and soon the BBC micro:bit will be getting Python into the hands of millions of British schoolchildren. Now [Damien] has a Kickstarter to get MicroPython to the bare metal of an ESP8266. That would be extremely interesting; there’s a lot you can do with an easily scriptable Internet Thing running Python.

A little over a month ago, [Renier] won the Hackaday Prize Best Product competition with the Vinduino, a device that cuts water usage of vinyards (and orchards, I guess) by 25%. Now he’s won the IoT awards for Best DIY Project.

We have lost a great inventor. [Artur Fischer], inventor of the plastic drywall plug, fischertechnik, the plastic wall plug, photo flash light, and holder of over 1100 patents (more than the great Edison), passed away this week.

Who remembers Glider? That old Macintosh game where you fly a paper airplane around a house is now available on GitHub. The creator of Glider, [John Calhoun] put all the code up a few days ago. If you have Metrowerks Code Warrior sitting around on an old box, feel free to dig around.

 In the ‘this guy totally won’t get sued’ column is MagSafe for iPhones. The MagSafe power adapter is Apple’s largest contribution to humanity, but they are a little protective about it.

We have two calls for the community: [jimie] had a go at programming the latest, coolest, open source radio. Programming it is hard. Has anyone found an improved guide? Second, I now have a Tadpole Computer that was former property of Quallcom. I can’t find any info on getting *nix or *BSD on it. Anyone have any experience?

RC Glider Flies By Twisting Its Wings

Remote control gliders typically fly like their full-size counterparts. Tail and wing rudders control the direction of flight — but what if the wings themselves could twist and change their profile, similar to that of a bird? Well, RC glider manufacturer [Jaro Müller] did just that — and it is pretty cool (You’ll need a translation to read it though).

Called the Mini Ellipse, the RC glider is designed to be able to fly in slow thermals and maneuver even better than previous models. The entire wing profile can be controlled by wing flexion — the wing itself is very flexible. Unfortunately we don’t have any info about how it actually goes about doing that, but it’s probably either servo motors pulling wires, or maybe nitinol memory wire… but we’re just guessing. Regardless — take a look at the following video and let us know what you think!

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