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Apr 26 2012

Arducopter Progresses, Octocopter Components Still Arriving

It’s been slow going with the Arducopter, working with it this semester has often seemed like two steps forward and one step back.  However after several stumbling blocks like the Ardupilot board being of the older model now, and  ailing Electronic Speed Controllers:  things are starting to look up!

I was able to update the Arducopter to four brand new ESCs, since one of our big orders just came in (will get to that in a bit).   Earlier we’d had trouble calibrating the Arducopter for flight, it kept wobbling and flipping over.  I feel rather foolish now; the problem was that the ESCs were mismatched!  One had been replaced because it was suspected to be burned out.  I only yesterday realized that of course it would need four identical speed controllers to fly stabile.  Since our Octokopter order of ESCs came in, there were enough spares to outfit the Arducopter for testing.

So a new order did come in!  Our large order from DIYDrones is now in the lab: it included ESCs, propellers, power distribution boards, and Ardupilot boards.  Combined with our previous order from Aeroquad (Mikrokopter OctoXL Frame), we now have most of the components to build an Octokopter, and enough spare parts to build a second one (minus what we’re still waiting on.)  The jDrones order went out yesterday; it was mostly parts that have been out of stock until now.  This order includes the last set of components we’ll need to make a working Octo, the motors.

Things are looking good for the next gen of Ecosynth aircraft; at this point I think that Octokopter work will start as soon as summer research starts, when aircraft moves into the bigger lab.

Mar 20 2012

New Jersey Pinelands Fire Research Flight

This past Tuesday (3/6/12) Jonathan and I travelled to New Jersey to conduct wildfire research.

We left Monday evening and drove to the New Jersey Pinelands, where we stayed overnight at the research center.  Our first obstacle was the smoke research payload.  When Jonathan did this smoke research in the past, he had suspended the payload (consisting chiefly of a smoke detector and data logger) on a tether beneath the hexakopter.  The reasoning behind this was that we needed to keep the payload well away from the air disturbance made by the hexa's propellers.  However, the problem with this method is that the hexakopter is unable to self stabilize under a suspended payload, and ends up swinging the payload wildly and eventually crashing.

Jonathan and I did a brief test to confirm that this behavior was still present with the fire payload, it was.  As a solution, we mounted the payload on top of the hexakopter's dome.  A strip of ribbon attached to the top of the payload served to demonstrate that the propellers did not significantly interfere with the airflow though the payload when it was mounted on top.  The hexakopter was perfectly stable with the top mounted payload. 

Tuesday during the wildfire we flew from the research compound which was downwind of the wildfire in the smoke plume.  The hexakopter flew up in 50 meter increments and back down every half hour or so for several hours.  Overall our data collection was a success.  Towards the end we even had the time to mount a camera on top of the payload to take a rather jittery video of the wildfire from the air.

Feb 27 2012

SERC Leaf-off Hexakopter Mission

This past Sunday (2/26/2012) Jonathan, Shelby, and I went to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to fly a hexakopter mission during leaf-off.  The image on the left was taken by the camera mounted to "Sally" as it was coming in for a landing.

Since "Raven" still has what we believe is a motor controller issue (contacting Nisarg about this), we brought "Roflkopter and "Sally" to SERC.  Initially "Roflkopter" was designated the primary flight hexakopter, because "Sally" had been noticed as having stripped threads on one of the propeller mounts on top of a motor.  Since the other two holes in the propeller mount were not stripped, we still considered "Sally" flightworthy, just not primary.

Once on site, Shelby and I set up a series of twelve orange contractor buckets along the road through the forest we were surveying.  Jonathan had programmed the rough distribution of them into the dog-tracker GPS to follow when we were setting them out.  Then throughout the rest of the day during flights and other work, we used a handheld GPS tool to determine the precise coordinates of each bucket.  These coordinates will be applied to the buckets in the point cloud representation.

As it turned out, "Roflkopter" was not our best choice for primary hexakopter.  Although it was certainly flightworthy, during flight it bobbed up and down instead of flying in a straight line.  Jonathan believes it is due to the hexakopter's vertical lock setting being miscalibrated or otherwise dysfunctional. 

We decided to fly "Sally" to see if we could collect data from a smooth flight.  After some test flights, we determined that the stripped screw on "Sally's" propeller mount was not going to be an issue this mission, although it will still be replaced.  On "Sally's" first mission, everything seemed to go well but when it returned the camera had run out of battery.  This was odd since the battery we used was most definitely fresh.  The camera did not seem to respond well to new batteries either, so we flagged it for later investigation and switched to a new camera.  Finally, "Sally" flew a successful flight and collected what looks like it will be a complete set of pictures of the forest canopy.

Feb 18 2012

New Undergrads learn the ropes of flying the Hexakopter

Shelby and I are the new mechE undergraduates for the Ecosynth project.  This past week we started learning the ropes to flying the hexakopters.  We started by bringing all three hexacopters to flight-readiness.  "Sally" was already operational, so we used her a s a model for repairing the other two. 

When we started, "Raven" needed new propellers as well as ribbon cables.  "Roflkopter" (I'm very fond of that name) needed its computer reassembled and mounted, as well as new propellers and the arms secured on.  Shelby and I did these repairs with little prior experience, so we were actually a bit surprised when both "Raven" and "Roflkopter" flew successfully.

By the time we finished, none of the three hexacopters were flight-ready any more.  The attached video is actually my one successful landing, the hexakopter controls take a lot of finesse and a lot of practice.  I managed to break a propeller on "Sally" by tipping over on landing, and Shelby managed to break "Roflkopter" 's landing gear with a hard landing.  "Raven" stopped working because of an issue with one of the motor controllers.  We took it back to the lab for analysis, but we called it a day and decided to reconvene next week.

Shelby and I are looking forward to working with these hexakopters and the Ecosynth team.

Nov 02 2011

Baby-Steps: Taking 'Personal' Multicopter to a Whole New Level

My friend just sent me a link to a Gizmodo article about a truly personal multirotor aircraft: a 16 motor electric (li-po?) behemoth equipped with its own passenger/driver seat and designed by the e-volo team in Germany.  Check out the video on their website, I want one!

Not only could this provide an interesting platform for the personal remote sensing we are interested in with Ecosynth - but I can only imagine the thrill of skimming above the tree tops, getting a truly birds-eye view of the canopy.

The future is so cool.

So Garrett and Nisarg...next lab project?

Image credit: http://www.e-volo.com/Prototype_files/e-volo_IMGP2420.jpg

Nov 01 2011

Personal remote sensing goes live: Mapping with Ardupilot

Folks all over are waking up to the fact that remote sensing is now something you really should try at home!  Today DIYDrones published a fine example of homebrew 3D mapping using an RC plane, a regular camera, and a computer vision software: hypr3d (one I’ve never heard of).  Hello Jonathan!

 

PS: I’d be glad to pay for a 3D print of our best Ecosynth- hypr3D can do it, so can landprint.com

Oct 18 2011

Gatewing UAV Mapping Awarded 'Most Disruptive Innovator'

The Gatewing UAV mapping company was recently acknowledged as the 'Most Disruptive Innovator' at the 2011 Intergeo conference in Germany.  Gatewing sells very high-end solutions for automated RC aircraft mapping with digital cameras, automatically generating orthophotos and DSMs at high resolution.  While the software is proprietary, I have no doubt that it is grounded in both photogrammetry and computer vision.

I have to agree with the award, it is given out "for the innovative application of existing technologies that will cause a significant shift in the market." (Gatewing email, 10/18/2011).  I think that the Ecosynth computer vision approach to ecological remote sensing also represents a disruptive new technology for the research community along those same lines.  Ecosynth is an application of existing technologies that will allow individual ecologists the ability to make very high-quality 3D color scans of landscape vegetation.  The Ecosynth approach means that field researchers can make useful and accurate measurements of study sites using remote sensing, without the need for fixed wing aircraft fly-overs, at relatively low cost, and without being remote sensing experts.  

Now, if only I had realized that the Gatewing office is in Ghent during my family trip in Belgium earlier in the month, 'D'oh!'

Aug 18 2011

Cheapest RC Helicopter Video Ever! (with crash)

Nothing like an RC helicopter ($42) and lightweight video camera ($50) to make some fun on vacation!

Yes, this video lasts only a few seconds and ends with a crash- but… we are still good to go- maybe we’ll even make a great video after a few more tries.

Here’s the first:

Cheapest RC video ever?
Apr 22 2011

MAV (Micro Air Vehicle) enters Fukushima

Yet another use for a small drone!  The main thing I Iiked about this article is the use of a new term (new to me at least): “MAV” = Micro Air Vehicle or Micro Aerial Vehicle, to describe small drones similar to those we are using for Ecosynth.  

Should we start using this term?  Does it apply to the Mikrokopter Hexakopter and/or Ardupilot drones?

Link: http://www.engadget.com/2011/04/21/t-hawk-uav-enters-fukushima-danger-zone-returns-with-video/

Apr 07 2011

Drone photos: Fukushima Dai-ichi Aerials

Pictures speak for themselves: “On March 24, 2011, a small unmanned drone flew over and photographed the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, giving a bird's eye view of the damage.”   http://photos.oregonlive.com/photo-essay/2011/03/fukushima_dai-ichi_aerials.html