Ground Effect Drone Flies Autonomously

There are a number of famous (yet fictional) sea monsters in the lakes and oceans around the world, but in the Caspian Sea one turned out to be real. This is where the first vehicles specifically built to take advantage of the ground effect were built by the Soviet Union, and one of the first was known as the Caspian Sea Monster due to the mystery surrounding its discovery. While these unique airplane/boat hybrids were eventually abandoned after several were built for military use, the style of aircraft still has some niche uses and can even be used as a platform for autonomous drones.

This build from [Think Flight] started off as a simple foam model of just such a ground effect vehicle (or “ekranoplan”) in his driveway. With a few test flights the model was refined enough to attach a small propeller and battery. The location of the propeller changed from rear-mounted to front-mounted and then back to rear-mounted for the final version, with each configuration having different advantages and disadvantages. The final model includes an Arudino running an autopilot program called Ardupilot, and with an air speed sensor installed the drone is able to maintain flight in the ground effect and autonomously navigate pre-programmed waypoints around a lake at high speed.

For a Cold War technology that’s been largely abandoned by militaries in favor of other modes of transportation due to its limited use case and extremely narrow flight tolerances, ground effect vehicles are relatively popular as remote controlled vehicles. This RC ekranoplan used the same Ardupilot software but paired with a LIDAR system instead of GPS to navigate its way around its environment.

Thanks to [TTN] for the tip!

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Modding A Hot Wheels Car Into A Radio Controlled Drift Weapon

Hot Wheels are some of the most popular diecast toy cars worldwide. The car bodies are faithful recreations of the real thing, though the models are mere stationary playthings. That wasn’t good enough for [Jakarta Diecast Project], who set about modifying a little BMW E30 M3 into an awesome radio-controlled drift car.

The build starts by disassembling the original car, and pulling out the original wheels. The baseplate is then modified to accept a new rear suspension and axle assembly. A small DC motor is mounted to the assembly to drive the rear wheels. A set of front steering knuckles are then installed up front, with their own suspension and hooked up to a tiny servo for steering. Everything’s controlled by a compact off-the-shelf RC receiver, which even features a gyro to help keep the tiny car straight under acceleration.┬áThe bodyshell is then stripped of paint, and given a sweet bodykit, before receiving a lurid orange paint job and decals. It’s reattached to the car’s baseplate via magnets, which make taking the car apart easy when service or modifications are required.

While the build doesn’t go into the nitty gritty on some of the harder parts, like the construction of the incredibly complex front knuckles, it’s nonetheless a great guide to building such a tiny and well-presented RC car. In looks and performance, the result trounces typical commercial offerings in the same scale, as you’d expect from such a hand-crafted masterpiece. It may not be the smallest RC car we’ve featured, but it is one of the coolest. Video after the break.

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Remote Controlled Car Gets Active Suspension

Active suspensions are almost a holy grail for cars, adding so much performance gain that certain types have even been banned from Formula 1 racing. That doesn’t stop them from being used on a wide variety of luxury and performance cars, though, as they can easily be tuned on the fly for comfort or improved handling. They also can be fitted to remote controlled cars as [Indeterminate Design] shows with this electronic servo-operated active suspension system for his RC truck.

Each of the four servos used in this build is linked to the mounting point of the existing coilover suspension on the truck. This allows the servo to change the angle that the suspension is positioned while the truck is moving. As a result, the truck has a dramatic performance enhancement including a tighter turning radius, more stability, and the capability of doing donuts. The control system runs on an Arduino with an ESP32 to enable live streaming of data, and also includes an MPU6050 to monitor the position of the truck’s frame while it is in motion.

There’s a lot going on in this build especially with regard to the control system that handles all of the servos. Right now it’s only programmed to try to keep the truck’s body relatively level, but [Indeterminate Design] plans to program several additional control modes in the future. There’s a lot of considerations to make with a system like this, and even more if you want to accommodate for Rocket League-like jumps. Continue reading “Remote Controlled Car Gets Active Suspension”

ExpressLRS: Open Source, Low Latency, Long Range RC Protocol

One of the major choices a newcomer to the RC flying hobby must make is on the RC link protocol. To add the list of choices (or confusion) there is now a new open-source, low latency, and long-range protocol named ExpressLRS.

ExpressLRS’s claim to fame is high packet rates of up to 500 Hz, with plans for 1000 Hz, and latency as low as 5 ms. Long-range testing has pushed it out to 30 km with a flying wing (video below), but this is not unheard of for other protocols. Most modern RC protocols run either in the 2.4 GHz or 915/868 MHz bands, with the latter having a definite advantage in terms of range.

ExpressLRS has options to run on either band, using Semtech SX127x (915/868 MHz) or SX1280 (2.4 GHz) LoRa transceivers, connected to STM32, ESP32, or ESP8285 microcontrollers. The ESP microcontrollers also allow software updates over Wi-Fi.

We’re excited to see an open-source competitor to the proprietary protocols currently dominating the market, but several open-source protocols have come and gone over the years. Hardware availability and compatibility is a deciding factor for a new protocol’s success, and ExpressLRS already has an advantage in this regard. Existing Frsky R9 transmitters and receivers, and Immersion RC Ghost receivers are compatible with the firmware. There are also DIY options available, and the GitHub page claims that several manufacturers are working on official ExpressLRS hardware.

If you’re already into the RC hobby, and you have compatible hardware lying around, be sure to give it a try and give some feedback to the developers! One scenario we would like to see tested is high interference and congested band conditions, like at RC flying events.

All the source code and hardware designs are available on GitHub, and there are active community discussions on Discord. Continue reading “ExpressLRS: Open Source, Low Latency, Long Range RC Protocol”

A Rocket Powered Ejection Seat For Model Aircraft

As radio control planes don’t typically have human pilots onboard, the idea of installing an ejection seat in one is somewhat frivolous. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a lot of fun, and [James Whomsley] has set his mind to achieving the task.

The build process is an iterative one, with [James] solving problems step-by-step and testing along the way. The first task was to successfully launch a small action figure and his flight seat vertically in a controlled fashion. After a few attempts, a combination of rocket motors and guide rails were settled upon that could achieve the goal. Next up, a drogue parachute system was designed and tested to stabilize the seat at the height of its trajectory. Further work to come involves handling seat separation and getting the action figure safely back to the ground.

While action figures aren’t alive and the ejection seat serves no real emergency purpose, we can imagine it would be a hit at the local flying field – assuming the parachutes don’t get tangled in someone else’s model. For those interested in the real technology, our own [Dan Maloney] did a great piece on the topic. Video after the break.

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ESP8266 Does RC Without The Transmitter

While the cost of a hobby-grade remote control transmitter has dropped significantly over the last decade or so, even the basic models are still relatively expensive. It’s not such a big deal if you only need to get one for personal use, but for a school to outfit a classroom’s worth of students their own radios, they’d need to have a serious STEM budget.

Which is why [Miharix], himself an educator with a decade of experience, developed a project that leverages the ESP8266 to create affordable RC vehicles that can be controlled with a smartphone’s web browser. There’s a bit of irony at play since the smartphones are more expensive than the RC transmitters would have been; but with more and more school-age kids having their own mobile devices, it takes the cost burden off of the educators. Depending on the age of the students, the teacher would only need to keep a couple of burner phones on hand for student that doesn’t have a device of their own.

A custom PCB makes connections easier for students.

In its fully realized form, the project uses an open hardware board that allows standard RC hobby servos to be connected to the GPIO pins of a ESP-12E module. But if you don’t want to go through the trouble of building the custom hardware, you could put something similar together with an ESP development board. From there it’s just a matter of installing the firmware, which starts up a server providing a touch-based controller interface that’s perfect for a smartphone’s screen.

Since the ESP8266 pops up as an Access Point that client devices can connect to, you don’t even need to have an existing network in place. Or Internet access, for that matter. [Miharix] says that in tests, the range between a common smartphone and the ESP8266 is approximately 85 meters (260 feet), which should be more than enough to get the job done.

In the videos after the break you can see this system being used with an RC car and boat, though the only limit to what you could control with this project is your own imagination.

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Rocket Plane Build Aims For High Speed Flight

[James Whomsley] likes flying, and likes flying fast. After reaching a speed of 114 miles an hour with an RC plane, he wanted to go further and break that record. To do so, he looked towards rocket power, and started a new build.

The design consists of a combination of 3D printed parts, laser-cut plywood bulkheads, and foamboard flight surfaces, with a few carbon fiber stiffeners thrown in here and there. For this early prototype, power is solely from hobby rocket motors, providing thrust for 1.6 seconds, meaning flight times are necessarily short. The craft is launched from an aluminium profile rail thanks to a 3D printed sliding guide pin.

Initial tests with two rocket motors were promising, leading to a second trial with a full six motors fitted. The thrust line was a little low, however, and a major pitch-up just after launch meant the plane only reached around 62 miles an hour. [James] still has a ways to go to beat his previous record, so intends to explore adding ducted fan propulsion to get the plane in the air before using the rockets as a speed booster in steady flight.

Of course, if you can’t lay your hands on rocket engines, you could always consider spinning up your own. (Or ditch the engine entirely.) Video after the break.

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