Monday, October 20, 2008, 02:03 AM - Flying ContraptionsBuckypaper 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.
Friday, October 17, 2008, 04:47 PM - Flying ContraptionsBertrand 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.
Thursday, October 16, 2008, 04:04 PM - Misc TechnoToysThe 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.
Thursday, October 2, 2008, 06:33 PM - RoboticsThere 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).
Wednesday, October 1, 2008, 08:57 AM - Flying ContraptionsHong 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).
Sunday, September 28, 2008, 10:42 PM - Flying ContraptionsOkay, 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.
Sunday, September 28, 2008, 10:01 PM - Flying ContraptionsInter-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.
Sunday, September 28, 2008, 09:19 PM - Flying ContraptionsA $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).
Saturday, September 27, 2008, 03:54 PM - ElectronicsOver 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.
Saturday, September 27, 2008, 03:43 PM - Flying ContraptionsHammacher Schlemmer has yet-another-r/c-toy that is out of the ordinary: a R/C hoverboard. It's a helicopter with two contra-rotating rotors, one in the front, one in the back. It's entirely clear to me how the roll stability is ensured, but unlike with other low-cost R/C toy helis, this one should have good pitch control.
It sells for $90 only at Hammacher Schlemmer, which probably
means that you will find it for $50 in every store in a few months.
Monday, September 22, 2008, 12:33 PM - TechnoPoliticsAs a French-American who lived through the French bashing campaign around the start of the Iraq war, I can't help but link to this fun CNN/Time Magazine article: How we Became the United States of France. A rare fun read, in these times of economic and diplomatic disasters (thanks to Patrick for the pointer).
It's almost as funny as Bill Maher's tirade on the French.
Thursday, September 11, 2008, 11:00 PM - JazzThere is a delightful small jazz club called "The bar next door" at la Lanterna Caffe, on 129 MacDougal St, just south of Washington Square Village in New York City.
Every Tuesday, they host a fantastic trio, led by tenor sax player Joel Frahm, with bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Bill Campbell.
The trio is totally delightful, if you like post-bop/hard-bop straight-ahead jazz. Joel Frahm is an amazing improviser who can play just about everything with gusto.
I have become somewhat of a regular there over the last few months.
You can get Joel's recording at Amazons MP3 download store.
Joel and Joe have both played with one of my favorite composers/pianists on the NYC jazz scene: David Berkman.
Monday, August 25, 2008, 05:19 PM - ElectronicsSparkfun is offering a new version of the Arduino: the Arduino Pro, which
is lighter, cheaper, and slightly more compact than the Decimilia.
The supply voltage is 3.3v, which makes it compatible with things like gyros and accelerometer sensors. Too bad news is that the clock is only 8MHz, instead of the 16MHz od most other Arduinos.
Monday, August 25, 2008, 01:23 PM - Flying ContraptionsThe Universal Aerial Video Platform is an open source design for a quadrocopter. The UAVP controller board is based on a PIC microcontroller, and has a number of optional sensors, such as gyros, accelerometers, and altitude sensors.
Several sites in Europe and the US sell the UAVP controller board and associated components. QuadroUFO is a US supplier of parts for DIY Quadrocopters. Most parts that they sell, except for the controller board, can be found from R/C store, such as BP Hobbies, or electronics/robotics suppliers like Sparkfun.
A fully populated controller board with all the sensors is $435. The blank PCB is only $15, but the sensors are expensive.
I'm working on a cheap Arduino-based DIY quadrorotor controller. Stay tuned.....
Monday, August 25, 2008, 01:12 PM - Flying ContraptionsQuadrocopter building has become an increasingly popular activity in Europe, particularly in Germany.
The MikroKopter Wiki has tons of information (mostly in German), equipment, instructions, and software for quadrocopters.
In particular, it has this huge list of quadrocopters with characteristics, pictures, and links to more details.
Among other things, the site has the schematics and software for a brushless motor speed control, something I have never seen anywhere else.
This other site contains a huge collection of pictures shot at the 2008 Quadrocopter meeting in Germany. There is a bunch of nice-looking QCs there.
Monday, August 25, 2008, 12:27 PM - Flying ContraptionsHartmut Kaak in Germany has produced a series of extremely impressive micro-sized quad-rotor flying contraptions over the last few years. The most impressive aspect is the size of his latest creation, the diminutive Smarty: 15g, and 80mm in length.
TheSmarty uses 4 motors and props cannibalized from a Silverlit X-Twin R/C toy airplane.
Hartmut built his own mixer/stabilizer/controller around an Atmega88 microcontroller and three ADXRS300 solid-state gyros. His software directly produces the PWM signals for the (brushed) motors. More interestingly, he was able to power the whole thing with a single 145mAh LiPo using a MAX1686 voltage pump chip from Maxim (which generates 5V from the LiPo 3.6V).