This winter, a group of electric vehicle enthusiasts, including [Dane Kouttron], raced their homemade electric go-karts on the semi-frozen tundra nearby as part of their annual winter tradition. These vehicles are appropriately named Atomic Thing and Doom Sled, and need perfect weather conditions to really put them to the test. You want a glass-like race track but snowfall on ice freezes into an ice-mush intermediate that ends up being too viscous for high-speed ice vehicles. The trick is to watch for temperatures that remain well below zero without snow-like precipitation.
The group is from the community makerspace out of MIT known as MITERS and already have EV hacking experience. They retrofitted their VW Things vehicle (originally built for a high speed electric vehicle competition) to squeeze even more speed out of the design. Starting out with an 8-speed Shimano gearbox and a 7kW motor, they assembled a massive 24S 10P battery out of cylindrical A123 cells salvaged from a Prius A123 Hymotion program. This monster operates at 84V with a 22AH capacity, plenty for power for the team to fully utilize the motor’s potential.
The battery is ratchet strapped to the back of the Atomic Thing to provide more traction on the ice. It must feel just like riding on top of a different kind of rocket.
Original configuration of battery packs
Battery packs ratchet strapped
They tried using ice skates in the front of the Atomic Thing, but the steering was difficult to control over rough ice. Studded solid tires perform quite well, resulting in less jarring movement for the driver. Doom Sled is a contraption built from a frame of welded steel tube and a mountainboard truck with ice skate blades for steering. The motor — a Motenegy DC brush [ME909] — was salvaged from a lab cleanout, transferring power to the wheels through a chain and keyed shaft. The shaft-to-wheel torque was duly translated over two keyed hub adapters.
The crew fitted a seat from a longscooter and made a chain guard from aluminum u-channel to keep the flying chain away from the driver’s fingers. The final user interface includes a right-hand throttle and a left-hand “electric brake” (using resistors to remove the stored energy quickly to combat the enormous inertia produced by the vehicle).
Overall, ice racing was a success! You can see the racing conditions were just about perfect, with minimal ice mush on the lake. Any rough patches were definitely buffered smooth by the end of the day.
First Person View (or First Person Video) in RC refers to piloting a remote-controlled vehicle or aircraft via a video link, and while serious racers will mount the camera in whatever way offers the best advantage, it’s always fun to mount the camera where a miniature pilot’s head would be, and therefore obtain a more immersive view of the action. [SupermotoXL] is clearly a fan of this approach, and shared downloadable designs for 3D printed cockpit kits for a few models of RC cars, including a more generic assembly for use with other vehicles. The models provide a dash, steering wheel, and even allow for using a small servo to make the steering wheel’s motions match the actual control signals sent. The whole effect is improved further by adding another servo to allow the viewer to pan the camera around.
Check out the video embedded below to see it in action. There are more videos on the project’s page, and check out the project’s photo gallery for more detailed images of the builds.
Racing is certainly exciting for the person rocketing around the track fast enough to get the speedometer into the triple digits, and tends to be a decent thrill for the spectators if they’ve got good seats. But if you’re just watching raw race videos on YouTube from the comfort of your office chair it can be a bit difficult to appreciate. There’s a lack of context for the viewer, and it can be hard to get the same sense of speed and position that you’d have if you saw the event first hand.
In an effort to give his father’s racing videos a bit more punch, [DusteD] came up with a clever way of adding video game style overlays to the recordings. The system provides real-time speed, lap times, and even a miniature representation of the track complete with a marker to show where the action is taking place. The end result is that recordings of Dad’s exploits on the track could pass as gameplay footage from Gran Turismo (we know GT doesn’t have motorcycles, but you get the idea).
The first part of the system is the tracker itself, which consists of a GPS receiver, an Arduino Pro Micro, and an SD card module. [DusteD] powers the device with two 18650 cells in parallel, and a DC-DC boost converter to step it up to 5V. Everything is contained in a 3D printed enclosure that he designed in OpenSCAD, with the only external elements being a toggle switch, a momentary switch, and most critically, a set of LEDs.
These LEDs play into the second part of the system, the software. The blinking LEDs are positioned so they’ll get picked up by the camera, which is then used to help synchronize the data stored on the SD card with the video. [DusteD] came up with some software that will take the speed and position information from the card, and turn it into PNG files with transparent backgrounds. These are then placed on top of the video with the help of FFmpeg. It takes a little adjustment to get everything lined up properly, but as the video after the break shows the end result is very impressive.
Some people look forward to the day when robots have taken over all our jobs and given us an economy where we can while our days away on leisure activities. But if your idea of play is drone racing, you may be out of luck if this AI pilot for high-speed racing drones has anything to say about it.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has been working for the past two years to develop the algorithms needed to let high-performance UAVs navigate typical drone racing obstacles, and from the look of the tests in the video below, they’ve made a lot of progress. The system is vision based, with the AI drones equipped with wide-field cameras looking both forward and down. The indoor test course has seemingly random floor tiles scattered around, which we guess provide some kind of waypoints for the drones. A previous video details a little about the architecture, and it seems the drones are doing the computer vision on-board, which we find pretty impressive.
Despite the program being bankrolled by Google, we’re sure no evil will come of this, and that we’ll be in no danger of being chased down by swarms of high-speed flying killbots anytime soon. For now we can take solace in the fact that JPL’s algorithms still can’t beat an elite human pilot like [Ken Loo], who bested the bots overall. But alarmingly, the human did no better than the bots on his first lap, which suggests that once the AI gets a little creativity and intuition like that needed to best a Go champion, [Ken] might need to find another line of work.
Paradise means something different for everyone, it could be a sitting by a fire on a rainy night or lying on a sun-kissed beach. But for us, and makers like [liltreat4you], it’s a well stocked scrap pile out behind the house. After buying a racing wheel and pedals for his Xbox, he took a trip out to his little slice of paradise and found nearly all the hardware he needed to build a professional looking race simulator. According to his breakdown, most of the money he spent on this build ended up going into that sweet red paint job and the speed-enhancing stickers.
Not all of us are as lucky as [liltreat4you], and we probably won’t just happen upon a driver’s seat out of a Mazda, or a bunch of perfectly bent metal pipes from an old trampoline out on the back forty. But trolling Craigslist or cruising around for flea markets can still get you parts like these for cheap, so try not to be too discouraged if your backyard isn’t quite as well stocked.
Once he had the metal pipes and seat from the car, the rest of the build came together pretty quickly. After building an oval out of his salvaged pipes, he attached the seat and the arms that would eventually hold the steering wheel and display. A plate was also added at the bottom for the pedals to sit on. By using long bolts, [liltreat4you] was even able to add a degree of adjustment to the wheel position. Being that he got his seat out of a real car, there’s the usual adjustment you’d expect there as well.
Speaking of which, [liltreat4you] casually mentions that you should disconnect the battery of the donor vehicle before taking out the seat, as it’s possible that the removal of the seat or the disconnection of the seat harness can cause the airbags to deploy. We can neither confirm nor deny this, but it’s probably safe advice to follow.
Once you have a track and a kart to race on it, what’s missing? A lap counter that can give your lap times in hardcopy, obviously! That’s what led [the_anykey] to create the Arduino-based Lap Timer to help him and his kids trim those precious seconds off their runs, complete with thermal printer for the results.
The hardware uses an infrared break-beam sensor module (a Velleman PEM10D) to detect when a kart passes by. This module is similar to a scaled-up IR reflective object sensor; it combines an IR emitter and receiver on one end, and is pointed at a reflector placed across the track, up to 10 meters away. When a kart breaks the beam, the module reports the event to the rest of the hardware. Only needing electronics on one side allows the unit to be self-contained.
An obvious shortcoming of this system is the inability to differentiate between multiple karts, but for timing a single driver’s performance it does the trick. What’s great about this project is it showcases how accessible hardware is today; a device like this is possible to put together with what are essentially off-the-shelf components available to any hobbyist, using an Arduino as the glue to hold it together. We’d only comment that a red-tinted piece of plastic as an overlay for the red display (and a grey-tinted one for the green) would make the LED displays much easier to read. Still, this is a very clean and well-documented build. See it in action in the video embedded below.
“DroneClash” is a competition to be held on December 4th (save the date!) in a hangar at Valkenburg airfield in the Netherlands. The game? Teams try to destroy each others’ quadcopters, navigate through a “Hallway of Doom, Death, and Destruction”, and finally enter a final phase of the game where they try to defend their “queen” drone while taking out those of their opponents.
This sounds like crazy and reckless fun. Surprisingly, it’s being sponsored by the Technical University of Delft’s Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) lab. The goal is to enable a future of responsible drone use by having the ability “to take them out if necessary”.
Drone development has grown hugely in recent years, and you can see the anti-drone industry growing too. Ideally, these developments keep each other in check and result in a safe and responsible incorporation of drones in our daily lives. We are organising DroneClash to generate new ideas in order to encourage this process.
We do have to ask ourselves why anyone would want to use another quadcopter to take out illegally operated quadcopters — there must be a million more effective means from a policing standpoint. On the other hand, if we were re-shooting “Hackers” right now, and looking for a futuristic sport, we would swap out rollerblading for drone combat. Registration opens this week. Gentlebots, start your engines.