“Watch Dogs” Inspired Hacking Drone Takes Flight

They say that life imitates art, which in modern parlance basically means if you see something cool in a video game, movie or TV show, you might be inclined to try and build your own version. Naturally, such things generally come in the form of simple props, perhaps with the occasional embedded LED or noise making circuit. It’s not as if you can really build a phaser from Star Trek or a phone booth that’s bigger on the inside.

But after seeing the hacking quadcopter featured in the video game Watch Dogs 2, [Glytch] was inspired to start work on a real-world version. It doesn’t look much like the drone from the game, but that was never the point. The idea was to see how practical a small flying penetration testing platform is with current technology, and judging by the final build, we’d say he got his answer.

All the flight electronics are off the shelf quadcopter gear. It’s running on a Betaflight OMNIBUS F4 Pro V2 Flight controller with an M8N GPS mounted in the front and controlling the 2006 2400KV motors with a DYS F20A ESC. Interestingly [Glytch] is experimenting with using LG HG2 lithium-ion cells to power the quad rather than the more traditional lithium-polymer pack, though he does mention there are some issues with the voltage curve between the two battery technologies.

But the real star of the show is the payload: a Hak5 Pineapple Nano. As the Pineapple provides a turn-key penetration testing platform on its own, [Glytch] just needed a way to safely carry it and keep it powered. The custom frame keeps it snug, and the 5 Volt Battery Eliminator Circuit (BEC) on the DYS F20A ESC combined with a female USB port allows powering the Pineapple without having to make any hardware modifications.

We’ve seen quadcopters with digital weaponry before, though not nearly as many as you might think. But as even the toy grade quadcopters become increasingly capable, we imagine the airborne hacking revolution isn’t far away.

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RC Paper Airplane From Guts Of Quadcopter

Mini indoor drones have become an incredibly popular gift in the last few years since they’re both cool and inexpensive. For a while they’re great fun to fly around, until the inevitable collision with a wall, piece of furniture, or family member. Often not the most structurally sound of products, a slightly damaged quad can easily be confined to a cupboard for the rest of its life. But [Peter Sripol] has an idea for re-using the electronics from a mangled quad by building his own RC controlled paper aeroplane.

[Peter] uses the two rear motors from a mini quadcopter to provide the thrust for the aeroplane. The key is to remove the motors from the frame and mount them at 90 degrees to their original orientation so that they’re now facing forwards. This allows the drone’s gyro to remain facing upwards in its usual orientation, and keep the plane pointing forwards.

The reason this works is down to how drones yaw: because half of the motors spin the opposite direction to the other half, yaw is induced by increasing the speed of all motors spinning in one direction, mismatching the aerodynamic torques and rotating the drone. In the case of the mini quadcopter, each of the two rear motors spin in different directions. Therefore, when the paper plane begins to yaw off-centre, the flight controller increases power to the appropriate motor.

Mounting the flight controller and motors to the paper plane can either be achieved using a 3D-printed mount [Peter] created, or small piece of foam. Shown here is the foam design that mounts the propellers at wing level but the 3D printed version has then under the fuselage and flies a bit better.

Making paper planes too much effort? You could always use the one-stroke paper plane folder, or even the paper plane machine gun.

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3D Drone Video

If you enjoy flying quadcopters, it is a good bet that you’ll have a drone with a camera. It used to be enough to record a video for later viewing, but these days you really want to see a live stream. The really cool setups have goggles so you can feel like you are actually in the cockpit. [Andi2345] decided to go one step further and build a drone that streams 3D video. You can see a video of the system, below.

Outdoors, there’s probably not a lot of advantage to having a 3D view, but it ought to be great for a small indoor drone. The problem is, of course, a small drone doesn’t have a lot of capacity for two cameras. The final product uses two cameras kept in sync with a sync separator IC and a microcontroller, while an analog switch intersperses the frames.

On the viewing side, a USB frame grabber and a Raspberry Pi splits the images again. At first, the system used an LCD screen married with a Google Cardboard-style goggle, but eventually, this became a custom Android application.

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Hackaday Links: March 25, 2018

File this one under, ‘don’t do this yourself, but we’re glad they filmed it.’ [Denis Koryakin] flew a quadcopter to 10km, or about 33,000 feet. This was just an experiment to see if it was possible. A few items of note from the video: this thing was climbing at 14-15 m/s when it first took off. It was barely climbing at 2 m/s at 10km. Second: it was really, really cold. The ground temperature was -10 C, and temperatures at 8km reached -50 C. Density altitude is on this guy’s side, and I don’t know if this would be possible in warmer temperatures.

Hold on to your hats, there’s a gigantic space station that’s going to crash sometime in the next few weeks. Tiangong-1, an 8-ton space station launched in 2011, is going to reenter the atmosphere ‘sometime between March 30 and April 6’. Because of orbits and stuff, it’s more likely to reenter at the highest latitudes, and this space station has an inclination of 42.7 degrees. If your latitude is 42° N or 42° S, you should probably pull a Liza Minnelli on this situation and spend the next month in bed.

Hey, cool! The Tindie Badge is being used to teach orphans in Bosnia how to solder.

The BBC has decided to cancel Robot Wars. No, it’s not Battlebots — the house robots always seemed to be a bit overkill and added too much drama. No, it’s not Scrapheap Challenge or Junkyard Wars, but Robot Wars was legitimately fun, and cheap-to-produce reality TV. The engineering that went into these bots was amazing, and this is a loss for the entire engineering community. Here’s a change.org petition against its cancellation, but we all know how successful those change.org petitions can be.

FREE CHIPS!. Free motor drivers, actually, which is even more impressive. Aisler puts together BOMs for projects and such — think of it as an on-demand kitting service. They’re throwing in free Trinamic drivers with orders. Someone should build a motor driver breakout.

Control a Swarm of RC Vehicles with ESP8266

Over at RCgroups, user [Cesco] has shared a very interesting project which uses the ever-popular ESP8266 as both a transmitter and receiver for RC vehicles. Interestingly, this code makes use of the ESP-Now protocol, which allows devices to create a mesh network without the overhead of full-blown WiFi. According to the Espressif documentation, this mode is akin to the low-power 2.4GHz communication used in wireless mice and keyboards, and is designed specifically for persistent, peer-to-peer connectivity.

Switching an ESP8266 between being a transmitter or receiver is as easy as commenting out a line in the source code and reflashing the firmware. One transmitter (referred to as the server in the source code) can command eight receiving ESP8266s simultaneously. [Cesco] specifically uses the example of long-range aircraft flying in formation; only coming out of the mesh network when it’s time to manually land each one.

[Cesco] has done experiments using both land and air vehicles. He shows off a very hefty looking tracked rover, as well as a quickly knocked together quadcopter. He warns the quadcopter flies like “a wet sponge”, but it does indeed fly with the ESP’s handling all the over the air communication.

To be clear, you still need a traditional PPM-compatible RC receiver and transmitter pair to use his code. The ESPs are simply handling the over-the-air communication. They aren’t directly responsible for taking user input or running the speed controls, for example.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an ESP8266 take the co-pilot’s seat in a quadcopter, but the maniacal excitement we feel when considering the possibility of having our very own swarm of flying robots gives this particular project an interesting twist.

Zip Tie Quadcopter Frame is as Cheap as They Come

We’ve seen some cheap quadcopter builds over the years, but this one takes the cake. After seeing somebody post a joke about building a quadcopter frame out of zip ties and hot glue, [IronMew] decided to try it for real. The final result is a micro quadcopter that actually flies half-way decently and seems to be fairly resistant to crash damage thanks to the flexible structure.

The first attempts at building the frame failed, as the zip ties (unsurprisingly) were too flexible and couldn’t support the weight of the motors. Eventually, [IronMew] realized that trying to replicate the traditional quadcopter frame design just wasn’t going to work. Rather than a body with arms radiating out to hold the motors, the layout he eventually came up with is essentially the reverse of a normal quadcopter frame.

Zip ties reinforced with a healthy coating of hot glue are arranged into a square, with a motor at each corner. Then four zip ties are used to support the central “pod” which holds the battery and electronics. No attempt is made to strengthen this part of the frame, and as such the heavy central pod hangs down a bit in flight. [IronMew] theorizes that this might actually be beneficial in the end, as he believes it could have a stabilizing effect when it comes time to record FPV video.

He mentions that he’s still struggling to get the PID values setup properly in the flight computer, but in the video after the break you can see that it’s flying fairly well for a first attempt. We wouldn’t recommend you tear into a bag of zip ties when it comes time to build your first quadcopter, but it does go to show that there’s plenty of room for experimentation.

We’ve covered a number of unique quadcopter frames if you’re looking for something to set your next build apart from the rest. If you’ve got a big enough bed you can 3D print a very nice frame, but if you’ve got more time than equipment, you could always cut one out of a piece of plywood.

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3D Printing a Better Quadcopter Frame

Before you smash the “Post Comment” button with the fury of Zeus himself, we’re going to go ahead and say it: if you want to build a decent quadcopter, buy a commercial frame. They are usually one of the cheaper parts of the build, they’re very light for how strong they are, and replacement parts are easily available. While you could argue the cost of PLA/ABS filament is low enough now that printing it would be cheaper than buying, you aren’t going to be able to make a better quadcopter frame on a 3D printer than what’s available on the commercial market.

The frame features a surprisingly low part count.

Having said that, [Paweł Spychalski] has recently shown off his 3D printed FPV racing quadcopter frame with some surprising results. The frame ended up being surprisingly stiff, and while the weight is a bit high, it’s actually lighter than he expected. If you’re looking to build a quad with the absolute minimum of expense his design might be something to look into.

Of course, [Paweł] is hardly the first person to think about printing a quad frame. But he did give his design some extra consideration to try and overcome some of the shortcomings he noticed in existing 3D printed designs. For one, rather than have four separate arms that mount to a central chassis, his design has arms that go all the way across with a thick support that goes between the motors. The central chassis is also reassuringly thick, adding to the overall stiffness of the frame.

The key here is that [Paweł] printed all the parts with 2 mm thick walls. While that naturally equates to longer print times and greater overall weight, it’s probably more than worth it to make sure the frame doesn’t snap in half the first time it touches the ground.

Beyond the printed parts, all you need to assemble this frame are about a dozen M3 nuts and bolts. Overall, between the hardware and the plastic you’re looking at a total cost of under $5 USD. In the video below [Paweł] puts the frame through its paces doing some acrobatic maneuvers, and it looks like 5 bucks well spent to us.

If you want to go all-in on 3D printed quadcopter parts, you can pair this frame with some printed propellers. Perhaps even a printed camera gimbal while you’re at it. Continue reading “3D Printing a Better Quadcopter Frame”