Sunday, February 25, 2007, 12:00 AM - RoboticsThe Spyke Robot will be available in April for 300 UK Pounds ($580). It has a camera, can play music, and can be used as a Skype phone. It is controllable via Wifi, and comes with open source software.
Sunday, February 18, 2007, 03:45 PM - Misc TechnoToysA really nice blog on Physics, Computation and Philosopy called Strange Paths has a long article on interstellar travel. This very detailed article works out the numbers in terms of energy, time (proper and otherwise), velocity, etc. It also has a design for a self-sustaining "ark". An interesting read. The blog also has an extensive list of online and offline books and other resources on mathematics and physics.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007, 02:44 AM - RoboticsThe Takashima R&C Laboratory at Hosei University in Japan has been developing robots that play (real) wind instruments for mnay years. They have a saxophone-playing robot and a trumpet-playing robot. Their web site has pictures and MP3s of their robots playing various pieces, including one of my favorite Jazz pieces of all times: John Coltrane's Giant Steps. Another recording has their robot playing Coltrane's Giant Steps solo faster than Coltrane.
They also have various videos of their Sax robot playing various pieces, including Giant Steps, as well as videos of other robots (trumpet, trombone, shakuhachi).
A video is also available on YouTube.
The recordings were apparently done in 1999.
I'm not sure if this entry belongs to the Robotics or to the Jazz category. I'll go with robotics.
Sunday, February 11, 2007, 07:28 PM - Flying ContraptionsIn the last couple of years, a deluge of ultra-low-cost ready-to-flay R/C plane seems to have engulfed toy retailers. Because servos are the most expensive part of R/C planes, most cheap planes have multiple motors and use differential speed control to control turns.
The Air Panther, available at R/C Trading Post uses a different idea: a small propeller inside the vertical fin. I remember reading about this idea many years ago in the "Cloud 9" column in the now defunct magazine R/C MicroFlight. Now, you can buy a ready-to-fly plane for 35 bucks that uses it.
Sunday, February 4, 2007, 09:54 PM - Flying ContraptionsThe Future of Things has a story about MIT's micro turbine project. The goal of the project is to produce turbines that are a few mm in size using the same technology used to produce integrated circuits.
Prof Alan Epstein, who has been leading this research for about 10 years, expects an energy density of 500-700 Watt.hour/kg in the near term, and 1200-1500 W.h/kg in the longer term. This includes the turbine and the fuel supply. The energy density for current Li-ion batteries is about 120-150 Watt-hours/kg.
He says commercial versions producing 10 to 50 Watts could appear in 3 to 5 years.
Sunday, February 4, 2007, 09:54 PM - Flying ContraptionsAir Midi Micros sells Micro R/C equipment from Slovakian manufactrurer Microinvent. They have Gasparin/Potensky motors, including geared pager motors, 4g outrunner brushless motors, magnetic actuators, brushless ESC, and receivers. Not cheap, but worth a look.
Saturday, February 3, 2007, 02:42 PM - RoboticsThe 2007 Flying Insects and Robots Symposium will take place August 12-17, 2007 in Ascona, Switzerland. The deadline for submitting abstracts is March 31st.
Looks like fun.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007, 06:23 PM - Flying ContraptionsThe Drenalyn is a popular indoor R/C design in France (I built many such planes myself, see here, here, and here).
It was only a matter of time before a Chinese toy company would produce a low-cost ready-to-fly version. I actually approached the Air Hogs people a few years ago with the PMAV concept, but they were not interested.
Chinese R/C toy company Hongxin Toys is selling a Drenalyn-like R/C toy, which they call a "Kite Airplane". The widget is available in the US from Geeks.com at the incredibly low price of 70 bucks (complete, with transmitter, battery, and on-board LEDs for night flying!).
Most low-cost R/C toy planes are boring 1 or 2-axes types (without ailerons), but this one has elevons, and is probably fully aerobatic.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007, 05:57 PM - Flying ContraptionsYou probably figured out by now that we are fond of flying pancakes at Yann's Techno Toys. R/C plane builders have long built fun planes with low aspect ratio or circular wings. The first example I ever saw was Plessier's "Soucoupe", a circular wing built by legendary French modeler Francis Plessier in the mid 1970's. Plessier flew a Soucoupe (with a smiley face painted on the bottom side) at the annual Cirque des Cigognes in Bretigny. I built my first Soucoupe in 1975, right after seeing his. Francis Plessier always came up with crazy ideas for the "Cirque", such as a flying dog house (below), a flying iron (below), flying lawnmower, and many others. His ideas have been ripped
off (often without proper credit) by airplane kit companies in the US.
Pictures of Plessier's Soucoupe, Iron, and Dog House are available at this page.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007, 04:12 PM - ElectronicsInstructables shows a nice method for desoldering surface-mount devices . The idea is to bend a piece of copper wire all around the SMD so that it touches all the pads. Heating the wire with an iron distributed the heat to all the pads.
Watch the video.
Sunday, January 28, 2007, 11:38 PM - Misc TechnoToysL'Hydroptere, a radical new sailboat design, has exceeded the speed of 47 knots during its third test this week. Last week-end, l'Hydroptere managed to run one nautical mile at an average of 41.74 knots (a non-official record). The pictures and videos of the Hydroptere flying on its hydrofoils are spectacular.
This the 5th version of the Hydroptere, a concept originally proposed by legendary sailor Eric Tabarly, and developed over the last 15 years by Alain Thebault and his team.
They are hoping to beat the 500 meter speed record (48.7 knots, held by Finian Maynard on a windsurfer), the 1 NM speed record (39.97 knots, also held by Maynard), and to eventually circle the globe in less than 40 days (the current record is 50 days, held by Bruno Peyron).
Thursday, January 25, 2007, 01:53 AM - RoboticsMiniBox.com has a small form-factor barebones PC for $400. The size is 21x26.5x6.6cm, which is a bit too big to fit in those new hackable Roombas.
Thursday, January 25, 2007, 01:46 AM - ElectronicsSyscompDesign is selling a USB digital storage oscilloscope for $190, which comes with open protocol specs and open source software on Linux and Windoze. It has 2 channels and can go up to 20 million samples per second.
Finally, someone has realized that hardware hackers are also likely to be Linux/open source freaks. It took a while.
Saturday, January 20, 2007, 02:46 PM - Flying ContraptionsThis UK site has an excellent tutorial on electric helicopters by Toshiyasu Morita. The tutorial is available in English and French.
Friday, January 19, 2007, 07:08 PM - Flying ContraptionsThere is an excellent series of tutorial articles on the design and performance of brushless outrunner motors at site of the Southern Soaring Club. The articles give all kinds of details on how to morph CD-ROM and hard-drive motors into airplane motors (click on "articles from Southeasters, and look for the article series by Brian Mulder).
Tuesday, January 16, 2007, 11:36 PM - Flying ContraptionsMy friend Steve Crandall pointed me to this video of a Sukhoi 30 being flown by (according to Steve) a "reasonably competent pilot". I didn't realize they could put those SU-30 in reverse.
UPDATE: IraqiGeek tells us this is actually an SU-35, and points us to another nice SU-35 video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY8Yv8AM-p8]here[/url].