Tech reports on the 2006 UAV competition 
Monday, March 19, 2007, 01:00 AM - Flying Contraptions
This page has a collection of papers by the participants of the 2006 student competition of Unmanned Air Vehicles. There is quite a lot of details about the hardware used in each of the participants' planes.
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Kestrel Autopilot for Micro UAVs 
Monday, March 19, 2007, 12:47 AM - Electronics
Procerus Technologies offer the Kestrel micro UAV auto-pilot. It weighs 16.5 grams and contains a 6 degree of freedom inertial measurement unit, a magnetometer, an absolute and differential altitude sensor, and an airspeed sensor. It's built around a Rabbit micro-controller. The only thing that's not light about it is its price: 5 kilodollars.



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Wowwee's R/C Dragonfly 
Sunday, March 18, 2007, 11:28 PM - Flying Contraptions
My friend Jeff Han recently went to the TED Conference and brought back one of Wowwee's new Flytech R/C Dragonflies. I tried it out and took a few close-up pictures.

The dragonfly flies quite nicely. Its control system is somewhat unique: it has a small propeller on the tail (spun by a pager motor) to pull the tail to the left or to the right. It has a "beginner" mode and an "expert" mode. In beginner mode, the Dragonfly turns rather sluggishly, but in expert mode, it is quite maneuverable. However, it loses a lot of altitude in tight turns, so flying in cramped spaces takes a little bit of practice.

There are 4 wings, but they actually are rigidly attached in pairs. The pairs oscillate in opposite phase as shown on this picture.

The LiPo battery is recharged in 25 minutes (probably not to full capacity) by plugging the Dragonfly into the transmitter. A magnet hods it still on the transmitter.




More pictures are available here.

The Dragonfly is available from Radio Shack for $50.00

UPDATE: Doug Setzer points us his DragonFly forum, and to this photo series that shows the innards of a dissected DragonFly.

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Reflex Helicopter from SpinMaster/AirHogs 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 10:46 PM - Flying Contraptions
SpinMaster came out with the Reflex R/C Helicopter. Like many recent toy R/C helicopters, the reflex has two contra-rotating rotors for stability. The new twist is that it has two "thrust" motors and prop (one on each side of the body) to make it move forward, backward, and to rotate. They claim an un-precendented maneuverability, which I can believe. It has to be easier to control than the Picoo-Z and AirHogs's own Havoc.

The price is $70.


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FoxBoard: tiny Linux board from Italy 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 03:04 PM - Robotics
ACME Systems in Italy is selling the FOX Board, a tiny 66x72mm, 37gram board built around the ETRAX 100LX CPU from AXIS Communications. The board runs Linux 2.4.x or 2.6.x.. It has USB, Ethernet, and can support webcams through the spca5xx-le driver. It sells for 130 to 150 Euros, depending on the version.

The FOX Board can accept a daughterboard called FOX VHDL which has a 250K gate Actel ProAsic3 FPGA. Hmmm....

Some people have done pretty cool things with the FOX Board, including this hexapod robot.


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Qwerk: All-Inclusive ARM-based Linux robot controller 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 02:43 PM - Robotics
For some time now, Charmed Labs has been selling the Qwerk embedded robot controller ($350). It has a rather unique combination of features: ARM9 CPU with FPU, Linux and eCOS operating systems, a Xilinx Spartan 3E FPGA for fast custom I/O, ethernet, Wifi, USB ports with Webcam support, 4 DC motor controller (2.0 Amps), 16 servo outputs, 8 Analog inputs (12 bits), 16 digital I/O lines, quadrature encoder inputs. The software was developed at CMU. The Qwerk is the basis of CMU's Terk Telepresence Robot Kit.


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Lightweight webcam driver for embedded Linux 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 02:20 PM - Robotics
Michel Xhaard has developed spca5xx-LE, a lightweight version of the spca5xx USB webcam driver for Linux. This driver is useful for using webcams with embedded linux boards such as the FOXboard (based on the Axis ETRAX 100LX CPU).

Michel also maintains this list of webcams supported under Linux, particularly those supported by the spca5xx(-LE) driver.

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New ARM9-based Linux board from KwikByte 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 12:24 PM - Electronics
KwikByte is rolling out the KBAT9261 single-board computer based on the 200MHz Atmel AT91SAM9261 with DSP intruction set. The board has 128MB RAM, 8MB boot flash, CF interface, ethernet, 2xUSB 2.0 ports, VGA port, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, audio in/out. It comes with Linux/Gnome. The price is $190, and the 13x12x2.5cm case is optional.


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Grand Illusions 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 02:59 AM - Misc TechnoToys
Grand Illusions is an interesting on-line store that sells various techno-toys, particularly focused on optical illusions and bizarre effects.


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Yet Another Desktop Humanoid Robot 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 02:30 AM - Robotics
Japanese company Plen has a cute little desktop humanoid robot with a USB interface that can skate. The noisy all-Flash website is a bit annoying, but the videos are cute.

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More R/C sensors from EagleTree 
Saturday, March 3, 2007, 05:50 PM - Flying Contraptions
EagleTree Systems just rolled out a bunch of new sensors for their MicroPower E-Logger system. The E-Logger can record a number of quantities in a flying airplane, such as motor current, RPM, battery voltage and temperature, etc. The new sensors include: altitude (with better than 1 meter resolution), airspeed, and servo current.

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Nao: commercial humanoid robot from France 
Thursday, March 1, 2007, 06:37 PM - Robotics
French company Aldebaran Robotics is developing a humanoid robot called Nao that should hit the shelves by the summer (or perhaps by the end of the year), and should cost between 2000 and 3000 Euros. The company has around 15 employees, and has been working on the Nao for a few years. Unlike many humanoid robots on the market, the Nao has a lot of on-board compute power, and includes speech recognition and synthesis, vision with real-time face detection, and Wifi communication. The embedded computing platform runs Linux. A number of video clips are available from this page, including a 50 minute TV show in which a semi-working prototype was demonstrated.



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Urbi: event-driven language for robotics 
Thursday, March 1, 2007, 06:24 PM - Robotics
French company Gostai offers the URBI platform, a set programming language, SDK, and software tools for programming robots. The URBI language features parallel execution, event-driven programming, a remote object protocol called UObject and other niceties. The open source URBI SDK can be downloaded from Urbiforge, and is available Linux, Mac, and Windows (under minGW). URBI engines are available for Aibo, Khepera robots, and (apparently) for the upcoming Nao humanoid robot from another French company Aldebaran Robotics.



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Spyke wifi-controlled robot with camera 
Sunday, February 25, 2007, 12:00 AM - Robotics
The 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.



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Interstellar Travel: working out the numbers 
Sunday, February 18, 2007, 03:45 PM - Misc TechnoToys
A 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.

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Coltrane's Giant Steps played by a Robot 
Wednesday, February 14, 2007, 02:44 AM - Robotics
The 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.


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