Yellow journalism runs amok with another Drone Drama, getting it wrong, again:
The San Francisco Chronicle (a notorious hack-blatt with an accuracy record roughly that of the National Enquirer) has stolen re-posted a story and video clip from something called "Business Insider" (is that an allusion to illegal stock trading, or what?) under the headline
It Looks Like Raging Hockey Fans Destroyed An LAPD Drone Last Night
The video clearly shows a plain vanilla Phantom (or clone), stupidly piloted low over the crowd by someone who I will bet my Pixhawk is about as far from being an LAPD member as is Justin Beiber. As for the drone, LAPD has a pair of yet undeployed Draganflyer X6's, a gift from Seattle PD who were prevented by the Luddites of that notoriously tech-shy region from using them.
The Russian approach to aircraft design has always been famous for robustness and extreme simplicity, and this now extends to multicopters! Here's their latest, with these features: moving part count, zero; electronic circuit count, zero; flight time, indefinite; cost, approx. 140 Pecks of potatoes.
Needless to say, FAA restrictions prohibit use of this brilliant aircraft in the US.
An interesting article on Mother Nature Network "Thermal images captured by a small drone allowed archaeologists to peer under the surface of the New Mexican desert floor, revealing never-before-seen structures in an ancient Native American settlement." (See article for more)
It was inevitable, really, that car and flying drone would meet. And at this week’s Auto Expo India, they did. Renault’s Kwid concept off-roader broke cover in Delhi, and amid the usual show-car flourishes, including an amusing 1+2+2 seating arrangement, it showed off something entirely new: a built-in quadcopter drone. Called the Flying Companion, the drone operates either autonomously, following a pre-programmed flight sequence, or in manual mode, controlled via a tablet computer inside the car. According to Renault’s press materials, “The Flying Companion can be used for a variety of purposes, including scouting traffic, taking landscape pictures and detecting obstacles on the road ahead.” Renault states that the diminutive Kwid could be production-ready within two years – which, from the company that built such oddities as the Avantime and Twizy, are words to take seriously." (Photo: Renault, Text: BBC)
Here we go again. BBC this morning reports a major further move into robotics by Google's acquisition of seven robotics companies. But the headline to the report references the Amazon drone publicity stunt, as though it is an established part of the landscape. I fully expect to hear the word "Amazon" the next time I fly my Hex in sight of John Q. Public. I think I'd almost prefer the "whirling-blades-of-death" reaction... BBC story is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25212514
Here's a short clip, somewhat adulterated by YouTube, of a test of this inexpensive gimbal and controller that I bought from goodluckbuy.com. The Goodluckbuy SKU is 98952, you can look at it by entering that in their search engine. It's made to mount on a Phantom but it's not hard to work up a mount for most any copter.
Here I'm flying it on my DJI 550 Hex "The Witch." I didn't use the provided vibration mounts but rather some stiffer "lord" type mounts I had lying around. Also there are rubber grommets involved.
This gimbal comes without a shred of documentation and I haven't yet figured out how to find the appropriate software. However, it works "out of the box". The only problem is a slight off-level lean on the roll axis, which I've fixed for the moment by simply shimming one end of the GoPro. Build quality is very high. It's all aluminum so not super light.
In this video I've intentionally left bits of the airframe visible to show how hard and well the gimbal is working.
The entire 8 minute flight is as smooth as the 29 seconds seen here.
Slightly off-topic: This clip starts with the hex under manual control in "stabilize" mode, approaching a Geofence that starts at the weed line. When the hex hits the fence it goes into RTL and heads home. It overshoots home (the red landing pad) and neatly turns back to it and ends up right where it should be, at which point I take back control and the clip ends. The slow flight home is my setting, and I think the overshoot might be a result of settings I've made as well, as I'm looking for smoothness, not speed, when I'm tuning.
I'm excited by this gimbal. The YouTube video doesn't really do it justice. If anyone else is using one of these I'd like to hear from you.
A Seattle Web site that resembles a supermarket tabloid has published a silly bit of drivel under the headline Worried about peeping flying drones? Defenses coming on line that links to the above YouTube video in which a voice full of teenage angst, complete with ominous background drumbeat, begs for funding by trying to frighten you about the inevitable hordes of drones that are about to cluster around your bathroom and bedroom windows like moths around a streetlight. Hi-tech props include a Parrot "drone" strapped to a laptop and a mockup of the proposed product, cleverly named "DroneShield," that appears to be a pack of cigarettes painted flat black. Now, all DroneShield supposedly will do is send you an email or text when it detects a drone in the vicinity, which it does by listening and comparing what it hears to an "open source" database. I'm not sure where the "shield" part comes in, though maybe it could be used like a fig-leaf. The accompanying text alternates between pathetic and hilarious, as do the comments on YouTube. Don't watch/read this thing with a mouthful of coffee!
So an insufferably "upscale" fishmonger/burger joint in the UK has posted a video on YouTube claiming to show a tray of food being flown to a customer's table on the back of a quad. The quad appears to be a Parrot (or close to one) and it seems that these folks have discovered some secret to carrying massive weight that has eluded all of us here! Either that or someone was real busy hollowing out blocks of Styrofoam, or maybe just real handy with video trickery. Well, at least they don't have this little quad listening to everyone's phone calls ...
Senior Oregon Drone Prevention Agent Griswald Krockoberry mans the 1.2 million dollar Pyongyang-made "Iron Wonder Blossom" Drone Detector near the border of California.
January 1, 2013: The sovereign state of Oregon enacts legislation making the possession or use of airborne photo-imaging devices a felony.
January 3, 2013: A Coos Bay, Oregon woman, apparently upset by a caller, was arrested after lofting her iPhone into a trash can next to a Dunkin' Donuts shop in full view of at least a dozen uniformed police officers who happened to be in and around the location. She was charged with operating an airborne photo-imaging device.
January 14 , 2013: Timmy McSyte, age 11, was arrested and booked into the major crimes wing of the Klutch County, Oregon Juvenile Detention Facility after he was observed leaving the ground while skateboarding with a GoPro camera attached to his wrist. A spokesman for the Klutch County Sheriff's Office stated that apparently the young felon's parents had failed to properly secure the device at home and that they might be charged for that negligence.
February 2, 2013: Portland, Oregon police served a search warrant on a Lufthansa Airbus 380 with 532 passengers and crew aboard that had just landed after a flight from Frankfurt. 356 of the passengers along with the pilot and chief purser were arrested and charged with felonies related to their possession and/or use of airborne photo-imaging devices while over the state of Oregon. The aircraft was seized and presumably will be forfeited to the Portland Police Department, whose spokesperson stated that the department was looking forward to using the 380 for traffic enforcement work.
February 5, 2013: Farfetch County, Oregon District Attorney Iam Longschnabel has served a subpoena on the Oregon offices of Google, Inc. requiring that company to divulge the names and addresses of firms providing overhead satellite images for use in Google Earth and Google Maps. The subpoena also demands information about any instances of a Google "Street View" vehicle having been elevated on a hydraulic lift at an oil-changing facility. DA Longschnable stated that "we believe that such controlled vertical elevation meets the definitions of the law and that not only the operator of the vehicle but also the person operating the lift are subject to indictment." He further stated that "we are looking into the issue of persons who enter elevators while in possession of imaging devices, especially those scary transparent elevators."
February 14, 2013: In a moment of clarity TSA administrators at various Oregon airports have declined the request of the Oregon Attorney General to seize photo-imaging devices that passengers attempt to take through airport security. TSA spokesperson Wanta Lotte said, "Much as we would like to support our brother and sister bureaucrats we estimate that we would be seizing three to five tons of phones, tablets, laptaps and of course cameras per day and we just don't have the room to store these awful things securely. However, we will provide the names and, um, photographs of scofflaws to local law enforcement."
February 27, 2013: Oregon State Senator Spud Tuberless is sponsoring a bill to outlaw whole potatoes in the state of Oregon. Tuberless said at a press conference held in front of the Portland Farmers' Market that "it is a well known fact, as can be seen by a look at any page of YouTube, that potatoes are being used as video cameras by large numbers of people. This poses an unacceptable threat to the privacy of the citizens of Oregon and must be stopped. Under my bill only potatoes that have been grated, sliced or otherwise rendered incapable of capturing images will be allowed to enter the state." In related news, a Klamath Falls man was arrested for operating an airborne photo-imaging device when he fired a potato from an improvised cannon.
March 1, 2013: In an effort to protect the citizens of Oregon from the trauma and heartbreak of being photographed in public places by their fellow citizens, the state has initiated a no-questions-asked "Camera Buyback" program. Persons voluntarily surrendering their imaging devices receive their choice of a half-cord of firewood or five bales of hay or one pond-reared salmon or one pound of wild mushrooms or (TBA) one of the other two items made in that state. On the first day of operation the program took in three Blackberry phones, one iPhone, one 1923 Kodak Brownie and 384 red-light cameras.
March 11, 2013: California entrepreneurs are setting up "grey market" shops within inches of the largely unsecured and unpatrolled border between California and Oregon, where they are buying up Oregon-outlawed airborne photo-imaging devices brought to them furtively and usually under cover of darkness by frightened but greedy citizens.
March 15, 2013: X-Ray equipment may be outlawed in Oregon: State Representative Michelle Barkfrau, expressing further concerns for her constituents' privacy, has proposed an amendment to the state's airborne photo-imaging device ban that would outlaw x-ray equipment. "We may not need a new law to accomplish this as it is clear that x-rays travel through air and thus fall under the current ban," said Rep. Barkfrau, "but new laws are always a good idea."
April 1, 2013: Peep Party Prevails in Oregon Election: The grass-roots Peep Party, unheard of a year ago, has swept the spring elections in Oregon. The Peep Party platform was largely based on outrage that the state's ban on airborne photo-imaging devices did not go nearly far enough in protecting Oregonians' rights to privacy while in public places. Peep Party spokesman Harry Keller stated at the victory celebration that "the people of Oregon have concurred with us that the human eye, coupled to a brain, constitutes an intrusive imaging device that is designed to violate the privacy of the citizens of this great state." He went on to outline legislation that he said "will correct, once and for all, an outrageous affront to common sense and decency." The legislation will make it a felony to expose an eyeball in public. An amendment will outlaw the possession and sale of eyeglasses and contact lenses. "Aside from the obvious benefit of protecting privacy," Keller said, "this legislation will be an enormous boon to the economy, especially to the makers of robotic devices which will necessarily be tasked with performing many functions now conducted by means of those gross, slimy invasive orbs that were so obviously invented by the Devil."
Here's a short hi-def video of a tilt/roll camera gimbal that's quick and easy to build, using parts from a nifty line of unique CNC'd aluminum hardware developed and marketed by Servo City (servocity.com) of Kansas and used mostly, it seems, for terrestrial robotics. (I hasten to add that I don't work for them etc., just want to pass on what I think is some really cool stuff.)
Before continuing I'll mention that I am aware of the drawbacks of driving camera gimbals directly with servos (more on that later), and I am also aware of the negative effects of the more or less random geometry employed here. But I'm not looking for professional results, but rather just a solid, simple mount for basic video that won't make the viewer seasick.
I don't like any of the cheap box-frame style gimbals I've been playing with for several years (on trad helis and now on multicopters) They tend to be rickety, sloppy and fragile and all look like they were cobbled together by a ten year old with an incomplete erector set. Yes, I know there's good stuff out there and I also know what it costs.
While experimenting with some alternative ideas, I recently ran across Servo City's modular servo mounting blocks. Two of these simply bolted directly together, with the camera attached directly to one of them, provides direct tilt and roll (a third one could provide pan, if desired). The structure is compact and rock solid with zero play or flex and depending on the servos used could handle a much heavier camera than my cased GoPro 3. The hardware connecting the assembly to the airframe is also from the same source, off-the-shelf, and no machining or other complications were necessary. All the pieces have (sometimes multiple) identical hole patterns (some tapped 6-32, some sized to pass a 6-32) so there are many ways things can be put together with no need for drilling etc.
From the top down I used an aluminum disk (again with all sorts of predrilled/tapped holes, which makes for all sorts of options for mounting it below the airframe), a tube-clamp fitting bolted to that disk, a short aluminum tube, then another tube-clamp with an integral extension having, again, the same bolt pattern, to which the first servo block is mounted.
These servo mounting blocks are the heart of the matter. They are made in versions for HiTec and for Futaba standard (full) size servos. There's an even larger version, probably not of much interest to us, but unfortunately they don't offer smaller ones, which might be useful here. They look expensive (at least to anyone who has bought trad heli or r/c car CNC upgrade stuff) but they're not. Rather than trying to describe them further here, I suggest having a look at them at servocity.com and in the photos in my video.
So. The second servo block is bolted to the first at a right angle, and the camera is bolted to the second servo's output shaft/flange. With this arrangement the first servo provides tilt by rotating the second servo and the thereto attached camera, while the second servo provides roll.
The camera is a GoPro H3 Black in its hardshell case (I refuse to fly my GoPro out of the case, tempting though it is). The case is attached to the output flange of the servo block by four 6-32 screws passing through holes drilled in a spare “deep” GoPro case back, the kind that comes with rear-mounted accessories. (In an earlier version I had mounted a thin aluminum plate to the servo output shaft and then used an industrial-grade Velcro-like material to attach the case. I didn't like that so much, next thought about gluing but since I had several deep backs on hand I ended up drilling one and bolting it on.)
I'll mention the servos briefly (as this is a topic that can go on forever). The servos de jour are HiTec analogs, model HS485HB. This is the third model I've tried, and so far gives the best results. I started with HiTec digitals, model HS562MG. The results were not good, with a lot of jitter in the video. Next I tried a pair of very inexpensive HiTec analogs, HS322HD. These were smoother but still pretty shaky. On the advice of a Servo City tech I installed the analog 485s, (cheap enough at under $20) and they are noticeably smoother than the others. I would like to try a pair of the new brushless Futabas, but they are over $100 a pop and I'd also need to buy Futaba-compatible servo blocks ($26 each) so I'm hoping someone else will try these and let us know how they are. From all of this it might be concluded that analog servos are categorically smoother than digitals, but I don't claim to know that, I just know what's happening here at the moment. And as indicated in the beginning, this is not a path that will likely lead to perfection, but it looks like with a little more tweaking it might deliver quite good results.
Which brings up another issue, one that's not limited to this setup, regarding the gimbal outputs on APM 2/2.5. As has been noted elsewhere, the supposed “fast” (490hz) outputs (RC8 -7) don't seem to work at all. Everything I've done, digital and analog, has been off of RC 11 and 10, which are supposedly running at 50hz. I don't know if the faster outputs would make a visible difference. It would be nice to be able to find out and I'm hoping this will be possible after the next firmware upgrade.
Folks to whom light weight is a primary issue probably won't like this setup. This hardware is robust, it's not designed for aircraft. But it's not all that heavy. Personally, I don't have a problem trading some flight time for the extra stability and smoothness that comes with weight, especially when flying manually.
The 6-32 washerless Phillips-head (yuk!) screws supplied with the above referenced hardware are subject to backing out if not dead tight. Use Loctite.
If you want to replicate my setup and can't figure out exactly what to order PM me on DIYD and I'll give you a list.
Comments, suggestions and questions (other than “Why the f. would anyone do that?” ) are welcome.
For the record, the gimbal is currently mounted on a DJI Flamewheel 550 Hex (“The Witch”) with upgraded T-Motor model MT2216-11 900 Kv motors spinning Graupner 10 X 5 inch carbon “E-Props” and driven by 30 amp “Opto” ESCs which in turn are powered by a parallel pair of 3300 mAh 4S Turnigy “Nano” Lipos. Control is through a JR 12X Tx to a JR 921 Rx with two satellite antennas, feeding an APM 2.5 w. Ublox GPS. Electronics are powered off the mains via a 20 amp Castle BEC. Camera gimbal servos are powered via a separate 1200 mAh 2S Lipo (overkill) and a 10 amp Castle BEC. Two strips of ultra-bright LEDs, red and green, are powered directly off the mains and provide orientation. Weight is 6 pounds 12 ounces. Flight time as configured is 10 minutes with a 3 minute reserve.
I hope all of this is of some use to someone. I'll update as appropriate.