Pixhawk: Beagleboard-based UAV autopilot at ETHZ 
Sunday, November 30, 2008, 01:22 PM - Robotics
While we are on the topic of the Beagleboard, it is worth mentioning that a group at ETH in Zurich is working on a micro-UAV autopilot project based on the Beagleboard called the Pixhawk. The main difference with most other open source autopilot projects is that this one will include a camera and a vision system. The beagleboard OMAP processor is powerful enough for simple vision algorithms (the alternative being the Blackfin processor).
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Make Magazine's definitive guide to open source hardware 
Sunday, November 30, 2008, 01:11 PM - Electronics
Make Magazine's blog has a great list of opne source hardware projects for 2008. The list includes most flavors of Arduinos (although not the stickduino, that we mentioned before), as well as various UAV autopilots, synths, and other projects.

Perhaps it is worth reminding our esteemed readers of the existence of the Beagleboard, a $150 board available from Digikey with a super-powerful OMAP3530 chip from Texas Instruments. The OMAP contains a super-scalar 600MHz ARM Cortex-A8 core and a 430MHz TMS320C64x+ DSP. The Beagleboard can run Linux.

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Lady Ada's Xbee carrier board and tutorial 
Sunday, November 9, 2008, 09:15 AM - Electronics
Lady Ada from Adafruit Industries has a nicely detailed tutorial on configuring a pair of Xbee wireless modules to talk wirelessly to an Arduino. It is an expanded version of another tutorial by Rob Faludi, a researcher in the Interactive Telecommunication Program at NYU

Adafruit conveniently sells (for $10) an Xbee carrier board which contains the level shifters, voltage regulator, and pin headers required to easily talk to an Xbee.

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Using an Xbee for R/C 
Saturday, November 8, 2008, 11:33 PM - Electronics
Effet de Bord is a French blog (written in English) that talks about using an Xbee module as the basis of an R/C system. Xbee Pro modules establish a bidirectional serial communication link with a range of roughly 1.5 km.

The blog is connected to the O24RCP project whose purpose is to build an open design for a 2.4GHz R/C system out of off-the-shelf components (such as the Xbee).
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Jump Jet quadrocopter available at Hammacher-Schlemmer 
Thursday, November 6, 2008, 07:10 PM - Flying Contraptions
The Jump Jet quadrocopter that we mentioned early October is available in the US for $120 at Hammacher Schlemmer.

They also have the Flying Saucer quadrocopter for $80.


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Kyosho 4-channel Minium AD: Piper Cherokee and Micro Heli 
Friday, October 24, 2008, 01:30 AM - Flying Contraptions
Kyosho has been distributing the Minium series of micro-R/C aiplanes for a while. The Minium series combine a 410mm wingspan micro-R/C airplane, with a 3-channel 2.4GHz radio at a low price.

The new Piper Cherokee Minium has 4 channels (with ailerons!) with a 410mm wingspan and a mass of 26 grams. Availability is announced for November on the Kyosho web site.

There is also a Minium AD micro-heli, which is a 200mm rotor, 30 gram, full-function heli with 4-channel control.

The Kyosho America online store has the Piper and the heli on pre-order for $180, with delivery in late November. Strangely, some other US retailer has the Cherokee available on pre-order for $170 with expected delivery in late January 2009....

The YouTube video below shows other Minimum planes, some of which don't seem to have been announced.



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How parrots fly: rotating feathers 
Friday, October 24, 2008, 01:13 AM - Flying Contraptions
I was watching an amazing set of slow motion movies and pictures of parrots in flight, and suddenly realized why birds have feathers. I've always thought feathers were a kind of kludge, an accident of evolution. But the videos clearly show the advantage of feathers. The large feathers at the trailing edge of a parrot's wing are flat and overlap slightly, forming a solid trailing edge on the down stroke, like the blades of a closed venetian blind. But in the up stroke, they rotate in such a way that they slice through the ambient airflow. The trailing edge now looks like open venetian blinds. The drag in the upswing is therefore considerably less than the thrust in the upswing. I'm guessing this effect is more pronounced in slow flight where the wings are moved forward in the down stroke and back in the upstroke so as to create more lifts at slower air speed. It's the equivalent of flaps in an airplane. It's a neat trick. None of the R/C ornithopters do this.
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Your next flying contraption made of buckypaper? 
Monday, October 20, 2008, 02:03 AM - Flying Contraptions
Buckypaper is a thin "paper" made of carbon nanotubes. It will be a while before it becomes widely available (at a reasonable price), but someday, your ultralight/ultrastrong micro-RC flying contraption might be made of buckypaper.

Buckypaper is being developed at the High-Performance Materials Institute at Florida State University. It is 10 times lighter than steel and, in theory (not yet in practice), 250 times stronger.


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R/C fish blimp: peaceful 
Friday, October 17, 2008, 04:47 PM - Flying Contraptions
Bertrand pointed us to this nice video of an R/C "flying fish". It's a blimp
with an oscillating tail for propulsion and fins
for directional control. Peaceful.


Air Art from flip on Vimeo

It is reminiscent of the Festo Manta Ray blimp that appeared a while ago.

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Minoru 3D webcam 
Thursday, October 16, 2008, 04:04 PM - Misc TechnoToys
The Minoru3D Webcam is a stereo webcam soon to be released by its British manufacturer. The website is a single front page with almost no information, beside a few pictures and the address of a marketing company Promotion and Display Technology Ltd. The big questions are the price and the date of availability.

Another British company Nvela, which is sponsored by the Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge, UK, has produced a stereo webcam called the Hydra, but at 300 pounds ($600) it's way too expensive, and (so far) their SDK is for Windows only. They have been promising versions for Linux and Mac, but since the SDK was developed by Microsoft Research, I wouldn't hold my breath.



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CNC machine using modified R/C servos 
Thursday, October 2, 2008, 06:33 PM - Robotics
There is a new Instructable describing an XY table CNC machine that uses modified hobby servos. Apparently, they simply replaced the regular potentiometers in the servo by 10-turn pots.

The authors indicate that ServoCity sells Hitec HS-6965HS digital servo with the pot already modified for continuous rotation (with the pot hanging outside the case).

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Slew of VTOL/quadrocopters from Alien Tech Ltd 
Wednesday, October 1, 2008, 08:57 AM - Flying Contraptions
Hong Kong manufacturer Alien Technology Ltd has a whole series of low-cost micro R/C VTOL contraptions. They are behind the 20cm quadrocopter that we mentioned earlier.

They came out with a new micro quadrocopter called the Jump Jet, with a 34cm wingspan, a mass of 65 grams, and infrared control. The rotors are titled off the vertical axis in opposite pairs, so as to create a torque for better yaw control.

The Jump Jet was actually designed by UK designer Phil Jermyn, and is commercialized worldwide by UK company Snelflight. Snelflights sells the Jump Jet for 65 pounds (about $130 or 90 Euros). Wowzzers in the US claims they will have it around October 10 for $130.

There is a nice video of the Jump Jet on YouTube.

Snelflight has links to other user videos, as well a link to the user manual (PDF).

Alien's secret seems to be that they found a supplier of super cheap gyro sensors (ST Micros?), which allows them to price a flying contraption with a 3-axis gyro for less than $100, such as their 20cm quadrocopter.



(Thanks to Bertrand for the tip).

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Pictures from Crespiere 2008 
Sunday, September 28, 2008, 10:42 PM - Flying Contraptions
Okay, this comes a bit late, but here are some pics and a movie of the Crespiere Electric R/C meeting which took place in the spring 2008. Crespiere is a get-together of electric R/C airplanes which takes place every year near Paris.



The pictures were taken by Jean-Claude Le Cun.

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Picture and Videos from Inter-Ex 2008 
Sunday, September 28, 2008, 10:01 PM - Flying Contraptions
Inter-Ex, the annual meeting of European builders of unusual miniature flying contraptions took place in Boissy sous Saint Yon, in the south of Paris.

I happened to be in France on business that week-end and attended the Sunday session. I took pictures and movies of the event.

Serge Encaoua of Verti-4 fame was present with his Verti-4. I had a nice chat with him about his design.

Serges flew his Verti-4 in rather turbulent wind, but impressed the crowd with his hover/translation/hover transition, as shown on this video.



The winner of the day was a scale model of White Knight 1 and SpaceShip 1.

Other participants showed a variety of unusual flying contraptions, including a bunch of autogyros, a giant flying daisy flower (by the unequaled Peter Haas), a flying Eiffel tower, a flying squirrel, and a...well, a... how can I say this, a...awww, chucks, just see for yourself. This "thing" didn't fly, but it clearly looked like it was going to fly soon.

The unparalleled Gerard Jumelin brought his Calder-inspired plane, several bird-shaped planes, and "Vague Souvenir", a beautiful translucent blue flying wing shaped like a wave.



Some more videos shot by Stephan Brehm are available here.


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$100 quadrocopter, 20cm diameter 
Sunday, September 28, 2008, 09:19 PM - Flying Contraptions
A $100 micro-quadrocopter, with a diameter of only 20cm is available at ThinkGeek and Hammacher Schlemmer.

It is the lowest cost and smallest quadrocopter I have ever seen. There is a demo video on YouTube. This flying contraption is manufactured by Hong Kong company Alien Tech Ltd.

How can they sell it for so cheap when an InvenSense IDG-300 dual axis accelerometer chip is $35 in quantity? Perhaps they use two LISY300AL from ST Micro, which still cost about $9 in quantity.

Incidentally, ThinkGeek also has an ultra-tiny flying saucer , which they claim is the smallest flying R/C device ever. The good news is that it's $25, the bad news is that you can only control the thrust (you can't actually make it go anywhere, other than by blowing on it).



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Stickduino: A nice addition to the Arduino family 
Saturday, September 27, 2008, 03:54 PM - Electronics
Over the summer I have been playing with a new member of the Arduino family, the Stickduino, and have become quite fond of it.

The Stickdiono's main advantages are: it is very small, it plugs directly into the USB port of a computer, it costs less than $20 assembled, and $4 for the bare circuit board.
Even better, it gives you 8 analog inputs instead of just 6 like the original Arduino. It uses a 16MHz Atmega168 like the Arduino Decimilia.

The only downside is that the pc board USB plug is a little too thin to fit snuggly into a typical USB socket. It doesn't seem to cause any problem with electrical contacts, but it still makes me nervous. I simply glued a piece of thin plastic (cut from an ABS or styrene sheet) underneath the pc board.


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