Last week I had a great chat with the guys running the US operations of Pict'Earth
. The company was originally started by a team in France
who created their own UAV and real-time Google Earth integration. To get a sense of how cool that is, check out this video:
That was based on a custom UAV that cost around $10,000. The US team is targeting cheaper applications. First, the put a Nokia N95 cameraphone (it's got the best camera and optics of any smart phone available) in an EasyStar foam R/C powered glider. After losing one in the Pacific (ouch), they've managed to get some great real-time images, which you can check out on their site here
. It's a little like our own GeoCrawler 3, but their smartphone is just a camera and transmission system (although a better one than the iPaq 6515 I use, albeit at four times the price), not an autopilot. So it's not a real UAV yet.
But they're just starting (UAVs are coming) and it's been fascinating watching their progress. This weekend they flew an iPhone and got it to work remotely. How? Well, it wasn't easy. There's no good way to trigger the shutter of the phone's camera remotely, and it doesn't even have a mechanical shutter button that you can push with a servo. It's touchscreen is optimised for human fingers.
How do you get a servo to simulate a human finger's touch? It turns out that it has something to do with the salt on the skin, something they simulated by using a french fry! Now, french frys are a little too floppy to be part of a aircraft control system, so read their blog post
to find out how they found a solution that worked.