Hackaday Links: August 11, 2019

By the time this goes to press, DEFCON 27 will pretty much be history. But badgelife continues, and it’d be nice to have a way of keeping track of all the badges offered. Martin Lebel stepped up to the challenge with a DEF CON 27 badgelife tracker. He’s been tracking the scene since March, and there are currently more than 170 badges, tokens, and shitty add-ons listed. Gotta catch ’em all!

Nice tease, Reuters. We spotted this story about the FAA signing off on beyond-visual-line-of-sight, or BVLOS, operation of a UAV. The article was accompanied by the familiar smiling Amazon logo, leading readers to believe that fleets of Amazon Prime Air drones would surely soon darken the skies with cargoes of Huggies and Tide Pods across the US. It turns out that the test reported was conducted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks along an oil pipeline in the Last Frontier state, and was intended to explore medical deliveries and pipeline surveillance for the oil industry. The only mention of Amazon was that the company reported they’d start drone deliveries in the US “in months.” Yep.

Ever wonder what it takes to get your widget into the market? Between all the testing and compliance requirements, it can be a real chore. Nathaniel tipped us off to a handy guide written by his friend Skippy that goes through the alphabet soup of agencies and regulations needed to get a product to market – CE, RoHS, WEEE, LVD, RED, CE for EMC. Take care of all that paperwork and you’ll eventually get a DoC and be A-OK.

A French daredevil inventor made the first crossing of the English Channel on a hoverboard on Sunday. Yes, we know it’s not an “actual” hoverboard, but it’s as close as we’re going to get with the physics we have access to right now, and being a stand-upon jet engine powered by a backpack full of fuel, it qualifies as pretty awesome. The report says it took him a mere 20 minutes to make the 22-mile (35-km) crossing.


We had a grand time last week around the Hackaday writing crew’s secret underground lair with this delightful Hackaday-Dilbert mashup-inator. Scroll down to the second item on the page and you’ll see what appears to be a standard three-panel Dilbert strip; closer inspection reveals that the text has been replaced by random phrases scraped from a single Hackaday article. It looks just like a Dilbert strip, and sometimes the text even makes sense with what’s going on in the art. We’d love to see the code behind this little gem. The strip updates at each page load, so have fun.

And of course, the aforementioned secret headquarters is exactly what you’d picture – a dark room with rows of monitors scrolling green text, each with a black hoodie-wearing writer furiously documenting the black arts of hacking. OpenIDEO, the “open innovation practice” of global design company IDEO, has issued a challenge to “reimagine a more compelling and relatable visual language for cybersecurity.” In other words, no more scrolling random code and no more hoodies. Do you have kinder, gentler visual metaphors for cybersecurity? You might win some pretty decent prizes for your effort to “represent different terms and ideas in the cybersecurity space in an accessible and compelling way.”

Automate The Freight: Autonomous Delivery Hits The Mainstream

It should come as no surprise that we here at Hackaday are big boosters of autonomous systems like self-driving vehicles. That’s not to say we’re without a healthy degree of skepticism, and indeed, the whole point of the “Automate the Freight” series is that economic forces will create powerful incentives for companies to build out automated delivery systems before they can afford to capitalize on demand for self-driving passenger vehicles. There’s a path to the glorious day when you can (safely) nap on the way to work, but that path will be paved by shipping and logistics companies with far deeper pockets than the average commuter.

So it was with some interest that we saw a flurry of announcements in the popular press recently regarding automated deliveries. Each by itself wouldn’t be worthy of much attention; companies are always maneuvering to be seen as ahead of the curve on coming trends, and often show off glitzy, over-produced videos and well-crafted press releases as a low-effort way to position themselves as well as to test markets. But seeing three announcements at one time was unusual, and may point to a general feeling by manufacturers that automated deliveries are just around the corner. Plus, each story highlighted advancements in areas specifically covered by “Automate the Freight” articles, so it seemed like a perfect time to review them and perhaps toot our own horn a bit.

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Unconventional Drone Uses Gas Thrusters For Control

You’ve got to hand it to [Tom Stanton] – he really thinks outside the box. And potentially outside the atmosphere, to wit: we present his reaction control gas thruster-controlled drone.

Before anyone gets too excited, [Tom] isn’t building drones for use in a vacuum, although we can certainly see a use case for such devices. This is more of a hybrid affair, with counter-rotating props mounted in a centrally located duct providing the lift and the yaw control. Flanking that is a triangular frame supporting three two-liter soda bottle air reservoirs, each of which supplies a down-firing nozzle at each apex of the triangle. Solenoid valves control the flow of compressed air from the bottles to the nozzles, providing thrust to stabilize the roll and pitch axes. As there aren’t many off-the-shelf flight control systems set up for reaction control, [Tom] had to improvise thruster control; an Arduino watches the throttle signals normally sent to a drone’s motors and fires the solenoids when they get to a preset threshold. It took some tuning, but [Tom] was eventually able to get a stable, untethered hover. And he’s right – the RCS jets do sound amazing when they’re firing, as long as the main motors are off.

This looks as though it has a lot of potential, and we’d love to see it developed more. It reminds us a bit of this ducted-prop drone, another great example of stretching conventional drone control concepts to the limit.

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Designing A Drone To Fire From A Grenade Launcher

You might think that tiny autonomous drones that can be fired out of a standard 40 mm grenade launcher for rapid deployment would be the kind of thing the military would love to get their hands on. Which is true, of course, and a number of companies are working on the idea for police and military applications. But [Glytch] thinks the technology could also be used for search and rescue operations, so he’s working on creating a version for us civilians.

During his presentation “3D Printing Canister-Launchable Drones for City-Scale Wardriving” at the 2019 CircleCityCon, [Glytch] gave an overview of his progress towards creating a small fixed-wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that can be built even by those of us who don’t have the budgets of a three letter government agency. He’s not at the point where he can do a test launch just yet, but the design is coming along nicely, and we’re extremely interested in seeing where it goes from here.

The only way you’re fitting a winged aircraft into the bore of a 40 mm launcher is by folding it up, and so far, that’s where [Glytch] has directed most of his efforts. The wings of his UAV will use a rigid leading edge that folds flat until deployment. When in flight mode, ripstop nylon attached between the body of the drone and the leading edge will be pulled taught to form the actual wing surface; think of it sort of like a bat’s wing. A similar trick will be used for the two control surfaces at the rear of the craft.

Internally, the UAV is using all off-the-shelf components which [Glytch] hopes will keep it cheap enough that they could eventually be mass produced. As he explained in a recent YouTube video, the motor, speed controller, receiver, and flight controller, are all the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a small RC quadcopter. To make it easier to manage the UAV in the field, the batteries and payload will be housed in a detachable nose cone; allowing the user to rapidly configure the hardware for different missions.

Right now, [Glytch] says the biggest obstacle keeping his drone out of the air is finding a foldable propeller with the specific characteristics he requires. Unable to find anything commercially available, he’s currently looking into designing it himself and having it 3D printed on an SLA machine. He also needs to design a sabot to hold the drone as it travels through the barrel of the launcher. Incidentally, he’s currently testing his design with an Airsoft grenade launcher, as he doesn’t want to wade through the paperwork involved in getting the real deal.

[Glytch] is no stranger to the world of high-tech UAVs. The “Watch Dog” inspired hacking drone he created last year was a huge hit, and he’s recently been working on a HD video and telemetry link over WiFi with the Raspberry Pi Zero for his flying creations.

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2019 Cornell Cup Winners Include Autonomous Boat, Flapping UAV, And Leaping Rover

For college-aged engineers and designers, finding a problem they’re truly passionate about early on could very well set the trajectory for an entire career. This is precisely the goal of the Cornell Cup, a competition that tasks applicants with solving a real-world problem in a unique and interesting way. From what we saw this is definitely working, as teams showed up with ornithopter-based quadcopters, robotic dinghies, forest fire sniffers, and high-jumping rovers.

With such an open ended approach, individual entries have a tendency to vary wildly, running the gamut from autonomous vehicles to assistive technology. No team feels pressured to pursue a project they aren’t truly invested in, and everyone’s the better for it.

Given such lofty goals, Hackaday was proud to sponsor the 2019 Cornell Cup. Especially as it so closely aligns with the product design focus of this year’s Hackaday Prize. Designing something which solves a real-world problem is definitely part of the formula when the goal is to reach large scale production. And after seeing the entries first-hand during the Finals at Kennedy Space Center, we think every one of them would be a fantastic entry into the Hackaday Prize.

I don’t envy the judges who ultimately had to narrow it down to just a few teams to take home their share of the nearly $20,000 awarded. Join me after the break for a closer look at the projects that ended up coming out on top.

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The Drones And Robots That Helped Save Notre Dame

In the era of social media, events such as the fire at Notre Dame cathedral are experienced by a global audience in real-time. From New York to Tokyo, millions of people were glued to their smartphones and computers, waiting for the latest update from media outlets and even individuals who were on the ground documenting the fearsome blaze. For twelve grueling hours, the fate of the 850 year old Parisian icon hung in the balance, and for a time it looked like the worst was inevitable.

The fires have been fully extinguished, the smoke has cleared, and in the light of day we now know that the heroic acts of the emergency response teams managed to avert complete disaster. While the damage to the cathedral is severe, the structure itself and much of the priceless art inside still remain. It’s far too early to know for sure how much the cleanup and repair of the cathedral will cost, but even the most optimistic of estimates are already in the hundreds of millions of dollars. With a structure this old, it’s likely that reconstruction will be slowed by the fact that construction techniques which have become antiquated in the intervening centuries will need to be revisited by conservators. But the people of France will not be deterred, and President Emmanuel Macron has already vowed his country will rebuild the cathedral within five years.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the men and women who risked their lives to save one of France’s most beloved monuments. They deserve all the praise from a grateful nation, and indeed, world. But fighting side by side with them were cutting-edge pieces of technology, some of which were pushed into service at a moments notice. These machines helped guide the firefighters in their battle with the inferno, and stood in when the risk to human life was too great. At the end of the day, it was man and not machine that triumphed over nature’s fury; but without the help of modern technology the toll could have been far higher.

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Quadcopter Uses Bare Metal STM32

[Tim Schumacher] got a Crazepony Mini quadcopter and has been reprogramming it “bare metal” — that is to say he’s programming the STM32 without using an operating system or do-it-all environment. His post on the subject is a good reference for working with the STM32 and the quadcopter, too.

If you haven’t seen the quadcopter, it is basically a PC board with props. The firmware is open source but uses the Keil IDE. The CPU is an STM32 with 64K of program memory. In addition, the drone sports a wireless module, a digital compass, an altimeter, and a gyro with an accelerometer.

Although the post is really about the quadcopter, [Tim] also gives information about the Blue Pill which could be applied to other STM32 boards, as well. On the hardware side, he’s using a common USB serial port and a Python-based loader.

On the software side, he shows how to set up the linker and, using gcc, control output ports. Of course, there’s more to go to work the other peripherals, and Tim’s planning to investigate CMSIS to make that work easier. Our earlier post on STM32 prompted [Wassim] over on Hackaday.io to review a bunch of IDEs. That could be helpful, too.