I spent some time in the Simulator that I downloaded.
It's pretty good. It has a 15 minute trial that disables the joystick when it's done, but still continues to accept commands from the network, which is how I fly it so the pop-up that tells you your time is up is only minorly inconvenient.
I also wanted to simulate the ardupilot tasks, but when you put on the autopilot, it just kinda crashed the thing. It took me a bit to figure out that the autopilot doesn't listen to the simulator telemetry, and only responds to its own sensory input. Too bad. I'll see if there's a way around this, but I'm not sure.
That does give me confidence though that the system will work in the end. Although I would have preferred to test it in the simuator, knowing why it crashed the sim plane when I put the thing into autopilot makes me more confident that it's not to blame. It was fun moving the board around in RL and watch how it moved the Sim plane.
I'm going to find a way to put the computer on my glider sooner than later. It should help me recover a lot easier without an instructor.
I'm also getting a lot further in compiling the verdex uImage.
I have now joined the local RC club. They had their AGM last night. I dropped in and signed up, and stayed for the whole thing. Why not be social?
I managed to take my glider into the air today, and was fortunate that there was an experienced pilot there to help me. He showed me a few things. The general advice was that I spend more time using a simulator, so that's what I'm doing now. I think it would also be helpful to have the on-board computer running so I can flip a switch and have it go into a holding pattern. I'll work on both fronts.
I also have the new GumStix computer for the Balloon. It's a “verdex” chip. The thing is a bit dated, and I've had a heck of a time with it so far. I think it's because my dev machine is 64bit, and all the cross-compiler stuff is 32bit.
I've downloaded and installed a Ubuntu 32bit 10.4LTS server. I've got the OpenEmbedded download/compile tasks running on it right now. Hopefully, it solves the problem. So far, so good.
I'm just trying to get a boot SD card so I can have an easy boot system. Just plug in the SD card and boot from it. I've already checked out reading from the GPS, and that's as simple as pie. I'm trying to get a Text-to-speech engine to compile for it. We shall see how that goes. Otherwise I'll just have to give up and use the sound-modem type routines I've found to send data over the radio. I'd rather not though as I've explained before.
I awoke this morning to a phone call from John, about the SFOC. He reiterated mostly what I read online.
Before I submit an SFOC, I'll want to put together a really good application. He seemed to also be under the impression that I need a SFOC to launch a balloon, but I don't think so.
I've been doing more research and wanted to make some notes here.
Eventually, I want the Glider to be a full UAV. In order to get it to be certified up here, I'll need an SFOC.
I looked at their website and they have a list of Regional Contacts. I called the number (604 666-5571)
and they put me to an Inspector called “John” to leave a voicemail. Navigating Bureaucracy - that's my speciality.
I'm actually making good progress on all fronts.
I now have quite a lot of components for the Balloon. I'll see what I can construct of styrofoam in the coming days. I'll get the stuff they recommend for making the Pibros. That should be light since the whole thing is 250g, and I'll be making something much smaller.
Current components weigh in at 215g without modification. I just weighed a piece of Styrofoam that's 38cm x 13.5cm x 2cm at around 15g. I could probably just sandwich the components in something constructed from this piece and it would suffice, but I want something a little more aerodynamic in the end.
I've been getting more components in all the time.
I now have everything I need to get the glider working with the drone hardware.
I received my MAAC insurance/membership card in the mail already. I now just need good weather to get
out and fly in.
My efforts to work on the balloon and the glider simultaneously are going well. I have a set of 48KM range
GMRS radios, that although cheap, should be enough to work in the balloon. I've also ordered the GumStix computer
to go with the GPS board I have already.
I was trying to get the soundmodem software to work on my laptop as a proof of concept, but I was having
difficulties with it. I am also a little unclear about the legalities of sending “encoded” signals on the
GMRS radio bands. To avoid any issues, the first balloon will use text-to-speech to tell the chase car where
it is. This also avoids Carl having to become a HAM radio operator in order to use the APRS system.
Thanks to Nick last night for letting me use his equipment to solder the connectors on. He said my soldering was 'pretty good', and then
corrected a bunch of them. In the end, I was left with this:
More thanks to Nick for the extra cables he provided. It's now fully assembled, waiting to be put into a Glider.
The only problem is that the Glider doesn't have aerilons. Without these, I'm not sure if the autopilot can really do much.
I will test that it can at least move the elevator when put into “stabilize” mode.
I'm also going to experiment with the best place to put the APM chip in the wrecked fuselage before I put it in the new one.
I'd hate to mess with the structural integrity more than I have to.
It's starting to become clear that I might have to build a new RC vehicle from scratch, just to make this work. I'm thinking
of starting with something simple like this.
I also purchased my MAAC insurance today. I presume that even though the membership card will take 2-3 weeks to get here,
that I'm still covered regardless. If need be, I can just show my receipt when I join the Coquitlam club either this weekend or next.
I just put everything together with the glider in its current config. No aerilons. The Stabilize mode seems to work,
although it is trying to also control aerilons, even though they're not there. I think I'll concentrate on making some sooner than later.
For now, just check out the video.
I'm meeting with my friend Nick tonight. He's going to help me solder up the DIYdrones board to have the connectors on it.
I'm slightly miffed they didn't come connected, but in the end I'm just as glad to have Nick's help on the project now as a consequence.
You can never have too many reasons to visit with friends!
He's also going to be working on his fibreglass project tonight, so perhaps he'll let me try my hand working that material. I'm not sure if I'll
be using fibreglass in any of my future drones, but it never hurts to learn a fabrication skill.
I'm looking forward to connecting the drone board up and trying the flight simulator with it. Should be fun!
I may just have a drone before I've actually learned to fly. It might make learning easier, actually.
I've officially recruited Carl now for my Calgary Ballooning endeavours. I've also been looking into the practicalities
of things here in Canada and there's good news and bad news.
Putting up a balloon seems pretty simple. You just have to register with the proper authorities. The glider is a little more
complicated. As an amateur you can pretty much do what you want, but if you want to go for profit you need an SFOC.
As long as I don't accept money for anything, I should be fine.
If I want to use APRS, I will need an amateur radio operator's license. It seems like there's no way around this.
I might be able to employ a 900Mhz transmitter instead, but that looks incredibly expensive and not as robust.
I fixed the glider today. It is once again ready for flight. I should have taken more pictures of the configuration
in the wrecked fuselage before disconnecting cables. It was a little more trial and error than the labels implied it would be.
I also feel like reporting that only having one puppy left from my Dalmatian's litter is quite nice.
Although I started this project a week ago, I'd like a place to just journal progress.
I got my two packages in the mail to put me back on track with the Drone this week. Yesterday, the DIYdrone computer
and today the replacement/spare parts for my RC plane.
Although I can't do much this weekend due to other plans and poor weather conditions, I can at least put things together
in whatever spare time I have.
Perhaps during the week we'll get a break in the weather and I'll be able to fly some time. I might even put the drone up.
It's a new year. I haven't forgotten about the site.
Winter is over, and I'm learning to fly.
I've become aware of Flitetest on YouTube, and their content is great! I'd even go so far as to say it's inspiring.
Their intern, David, has done the FPV to space video which pretty much nails what I'd like to do, except more reliably.
So I've decided to use their resources to help me become better at this one step at a time.
Their modular series of builds just makes sense.
I already made their Delta wing and buried it into the ground.
Actually, that was all for Science.
My friend Nick came over this last Friday/Saturday and we had a build day. We both made deltas and he gave me a motor, ESC and brought his hot-glue gun and other tools that helped put things together. Whatever we didn't have, we bought. I now have everything I need to fabricate many a plane. That said, I only made one in the time alotted.
One is enough though!
I knew I could repair the thing, so I loaded it up with everything. It had the auto-pilot, GPS, and air-sensor modules.
That was perhaps a little ambitious.
I found someone at my local airfield who can fly anything. He gave me some tips on setting up the controls, and when I had it to his liking, he took it up completely on Manual mode. That's when I decided to use Science.
I hit the “stablize” mode on the autopilot and the thing just went down like it had no better place to be.
I laughed, and took it home to review what went wrong.
Immediately I noticed that when I blew into the air sensor, the software was behaving strangely. For some reason the orientation of the artificial horizon was changing. I switched the tubes going into the sensor and that fixed that problem.
Re-reading all the docs on the thing, I also noticed that I was mounting the GPS upside-down. Although it's supposed to use the gyros and on-board gizmos to determine which way is up, I can see this being a possible explanation of the crash as well.
Regardless, I managed to repair the thing, except for a prop, which did not survive.
I'll see if there's anything I can use at the local RC shop tomorrow, but regardless I think I should fly the Radian next.
The Radian is doing well. Despite a crash a couple days ago, I've learned a very important lesson in flying the thing. It needs altitude. When I can afford some time, hopefully tomorrow, I will take the thing up and just glide around in circles. I would have done it on Monday, but I was nervous with the few flights I had done and had watched someone plant their plane into a tree and didn't want to do the same and lose what I needed for the aforementioned Delta test.
Now that it's been up, I feel it's the Radian's turn again.
Although I didn't get to take the Radian up, I was able to get a prop for the Delta.
I tested it at the grounds of my church, and it didn't react well to having the air sensor on.
When I have another motor for the thing, or a new motor mount (my attempt to bend aluminum into a usable shape after the hard crash yesterday didn't go too well) I will take it up again.
For now, it's the Radian. Since tomorrow is a meeting-free day, I should be able to get out at lunch at the very latest for a go.
I took a short video from the Radian with my new GoPro.
Despite the propeller banding, it turned out pretty well. I'd like to shoot some more, and post it in the future. It's the first step towards FPS. supposedly the GoPro makes a pretty good FPS camera.
I'll probably end up using it for SCUBA diving as well, but I digress…
I've now decided to switch modes. Although I'll be flying on a regular basis, and making progress on the drone, I'd like to do more with the Balloon side of the equation. I've found a local course that helps you study for the HAM operator's course for $30. I couldn't refuse that deal! If only the person responsible for taking registration wasn't on holiday until Monday…
Should that work out, I'll be certified to use APRS and will have a callsign.
I have been dabbling in another DIY area of my project.
I created a turnstyle antenna for my GPS reporting system.
All I needed was 2 types of cable, SMA ends and steady hands to solder with.
Initially I was discouraged because my test broadcasts weren't going any further than 100'. Then I got out my multimeter and discovered that when I put the SMA ends on, I created a short.
After a little tinker-time, I was ready for another test.
This time, I got around 1300'!!!
That's with houses in the way, and transmitting at 100mW.
Should I put the 7W booster on the thing, I should be able to broadcast much further!
I'm really looking forward to the amateur radio course next weekend. After taking it, I will have nothing stopping me from putting together a practical craft to launch.
I repaired my delta that I built that houses the ArduPilot, APM 2.5 board. I tested it, and it seems like it's ready to go again. I repaired the GPS connector from my man-handling of it bending the pins slightly. It should be good to take off, run in Stablize mode and even RTH.
Once I've proven all that functionality, I'll make a larger delta that integrates as much technology as I can: The OpenBees, The Gumstix, everything.
That said, I'd like to take stock of everything I have, and then compile lists of what's outstanding on the glider and balloon fronts.
Today was a pretty full day.
I attended the first full day of instruction for the Amateur Radio Certification.
It went well. For the most part, I was picking up the concepts. The instructor is very approachable during the breaks to ask questions.
I confirmed an awesome fact. After the course is over, we get tested and certified should we pass. The test is included in the $30 registration fee. That's a pretty killer deal.
After the course concluded for the day (to resume next Friday), I took both model planes to the field.
I wanted to see if I could fly the Delta in stablize mode.
Turns out, that was a great idea! It flew up, and was only a little spongey. I was fighting a bit of wind though, so it wasn't unexpected.
What wasn't a good idea was turning autopilot off. Once again, it met a concrete end.
Fortunately, all components came out of the experience pretty well. The autopilot had some bent pins, but they bent back and booting the thing up showed no operational problems.
Even the motor worked well, only being skuffed.
I'm thinking my next plane should have a rear-mounted prop and plenty of room for gear. Proper landing gear would be a plus too.
I talked to a FPVer I hadn't seen before and he said he did the Amateur Radio Test after reading the book. The test alone cost him $100. One has to appreciate it when one gets a smoking deal.
I didn't want to end the day with a crash, so I took the Radian up. I had a new antenna for my receiver I wanted to try. I think it doubled my range. It got up very high, and was almost too far to see when the single beep went off. I didn't push it to two beeps. All-in-all, a good day.
One final note:
I have a second FrSky receiver, for sake of convenience. I discovered that they have two antennas using u.Fl connectors.
This means I can make a custom 2.4GHz cloverleaf antenna to test my antenna making skills with. Good times.
I made an update to the Balloon page. It's coming along nicely.
I've been taking a summer break, instead of making progress.
That's not entirely true. I tried to make my own Delta glider. It failed. Here are some pics.
Guides were made on both sides of the foam. Each guide has the same amount of marks, top and bottom. These were counted out as we cut with the extremely large hot wire cutter I made.
I wanted an EDF Delta. I know, this was foolish of me. I will re-use the EDF for a smaller plane.
Here are the wings once cut. They look pretty good, although they turned out to be extremely brittle.
I fibreglassed the ailerons, but the entire structure needed reinforcement besides the one carbon spar in the thing.
Here is what it looked like, prior to assembling. You get the idea. It was ambitious, and it flew like a stone.
How we cut the foam worked really well, although two people were definitely needed to do the cuts. I'm tempted to make a foam-cutter machine. My friend made a 3D printer, which works pretty well. The foam cutter is very similar in design, but very pricey considering how little I might use it.
For now, I want to do more drone tests. This time with the Bixler. I have the OpenBee units to allow for 2-way telemetry and ground station control. I repaired my transmitter after it was dropped and busted a few switches. I then mixed a 2-way and the 3-way together to make a 6 position mix that can be used to control the drone.
I've decided the 2-way switch will toggle between two separate types of commands. One way, it's for manual flight, with Manual, RTL and Stabilize options. When I switch it the other way, it's for full drone mode. IT has Guided, Auto and Land. Guided is the mode that allows for dynamic waypoints to be given, in air. Auto is the pre-programmed waypoints. Land is.. well, land.
I got a delivery today.
The APM Xbee board and cable. After some soldering, I had fun connecting the board wirelessly to the Ground Control Station (GCS).
It's worth noting that you MUST unplug the USB from the computer for it to fall back on the XBee port for connecting. This means that GCS connectivity is all done when the flight board is battery powered.
This is no big deal.
I also crafted a mount for the Bixler for the APM board, instead of waiting for a 3D printed one.
Pictures to come.
I can't wait for the battery monitor cable!
Also, I think I will model my next scratch build off the Pathfinder solar-powered plane. There is also an excellent video I would like to share about a real glider being constructed. It's quite informative.
Also, my tracker program is complete.
I tested it around the neighbourhood, and it goes about as far as you can expect for 100mw.
I'll build a Yagi shortly for my ground station to improve range.
I have to give props to Canada Drones. I like a company that you can communicate to, and they respond immediately with a solution to your problem.
Today it's raining. No tests today. Perhaps it's a good day to build that Yagi antenna.
Here it is.
My Brother generously donated some time to help me do a range test.
I'm not sure if this is impressive to 100mw, and truthfully, I'm not sure how it compares to the other antennas I built or even no antenna. We were trying an unobstructed line-of-sight test, which I haven't done with any other antenna and by the time it was over my arm was tired from holding up my laptop. :)
The range was about 750m.
You know that sound when you accidentally ground out a computer component, and you wonder “how much is this going to cost me?”
Today, that is at least $53.
I fried an OpenBee. It just went Pop. I tested the APM board, and it was still fine. I am unsure about the translation board for the OpenBee, but I am sure about the OpenBee.
The clincher test was installing the network analysis tool on it, and seeing it return nothing. Just flat. No data when I tried reading from it manually.
There are just some nights you should quit at 4am….
The good news is that I was able to use the analysis tool to tune my antennas. I am reasonably sure that my Yagi can well exceed 750m now, as I am sure that was only the turnstyle antenna on APM side that was doing all the work. I re-soldered a connection, and its signal strength increased 10x.
Now to wait 1-3 weeks for a replacement to resume testing.
I decided that I could make some drone progress this week without fancy hardware.
I'm building a prototype for my long-range drone.
Perhaps prototype is too confident… I plan on testing this airframe to see if the drone can fly it well, and start gathering some data, such as energy required to keep it flying. Most things about this build are very rough.
Granted, initially I expect it to suck. I'm going to use the only engine I have for the time being, my EDF. It's not the most efficient for this application by a long run.
Currently I have 2 of three wing segments assembled and one of two fuselage pods.
Once built, I will have two aerilons, one elevator and two rudders. The rudders are a big experiment.
Here's two-thirds of the new design.
I also made a 2.5GHz antenna for my receiver to add to my inventory.
I got the OpenBee delivered in the mail today.
It worked like a charm. My brother volunteered some time to test the range with the Yagi antenna.
I dropped him at the bank and drove away, checking the signal every couple hundred meters. Turns out I just should have driven to the end of the road, because when I got that far I was still getting a signal.
I couldn't test signal strength, but it wasn't hard to establish a link as long as I could see where I thought my brother was. In the end, it was a good 3.8km away! I'm not sure how much further I could go, but I'd like to find out.
In the mean time, 3.8km is far enough for drone tests.
The drone prototype is coming along.
Two main compartments attached to the wings. Now to add servos and motors!
I have finished the drone's first setup, although I haven't finished configuring it completely.
I have two different ESCs powering the motors, so it's rather lob-sided. I'd like to see if it can at least get lift-off with this power level of engines. It's going to be a crazy first flight, if at all!
Currently it's a 7 channel setup. Two ailerons, two throttles, one elevator, and two rudders. Just crazy. I'm not sure if the autopilot can handle it in its current config, but I think I can make it work once I get it at its most stable in flight. I managed to set up the throttle channels to have differential thrust based on the rudder controls. It's optional too, enabled by the gear switch in case it's a pain. Hopefully I can get some time tomorrow to try it.
I also just got my video gear. I have a receiver that works on a large 900-1300MHz range. I also have a 900MHz transmitter and a 1.3GHz transmitter. I think the 900MHz can only be used on one frequency locally, but there's two available in the 1.3GHz band. It all works, although the receiver only likes changing channels when it's cooled off. That I'm not too happy about, but it seems to work reliably once it's locked in, so I don't think I'll exchange it.
I also got a USB video capture device. It seems to add a delay in the video, although it might be the GoPro. My money's on the capture device.
All-in-all though, a good amount of progress recently.
I managed to put all the drone equipment in the Bixler and get it up in the air.
Unfortunately, I forgot one cable for connecting the APM 2.5 to the R/C receiver so I had to have manual flight without ailerons. It wasn't a big deal. I was flying in Chilliwack at my mother's horse stable, and my biggest obstacle was time. Mom was able to help with setup, which was nice.
I also learned that with wireless control, you can't do some things you might want, like check to see if the airspeed is enabled. It was, but didn't report that until after it almost crashed a couple of times then connected to the USB directly.
When I finally had that issue corrected, it was pretty much time to go, and I was in too much of a hurry and had a bad launch which resulted in a wing-tip getting broken. It was time to leave the impromptu airfield anyways.
Although I didn't get it working as a full drone, I think I now have the confidence to do it by myself. Hopefully one day this week. The wing tip is repaired, and everything seems good for another test.
On Monday, I decided to try the Bixler as a drone. I only made one config change to the ailerons before taking it up. That proved fatal as I lost control and crashed. Repair was needed, but that was completed that evening.
Tuesday, I just took the Bixler to the field to test-fly it to make sure repairs were good. Everything seemed solid.
Today, I'd like to see if I can go full drone again.
I flew today in Chilliwack again.
I crashed the first time up, due to using the auto modes too close to the ground and losing sight of the plane.
I fixed it up immediately and was back on the field again about an hour later.
This time there were no crashes as I made sure I had plenty of altitude before experimenting with the plane.
I almost crashed it after losing sight of it behind a tree again. Fortunately I was able to recover in time. I had my mom there telling me the altitude so I could at least tell if it was losing altitude when I lost sight of it. In the end, it got down to 17m before I regained complete control and flew it in for a landing.
I reviewed the logs, which I may post today's 500KB log for reference. There is this alt_error parameter which jumps when I switch it to loiter or RTL. I think it's due to the barometer. I may set it to use the GPS for altitude if this keeps up. I will try covering it with gauze first, as is recommended.
There's a tuning guide that recommends I use the fly-by-wire modes before loiter, etc. I should probably do this, but it will require two people methinks.
Well, I've finally expanded my interests to require the Advanced Radio Certification on both fronts.
To Track the Balloon, I need an Advanced cert to have a remote station.. the balloon.
Now, if I want to build a radio for my Drone to experiment with RADAR, I need the advanced cert to build my own equipment.
Although I'm not stuck by any stretch of the imagination, this really underscores the need to have the Advanced certification sooner than later.
My friend Nick, also wants his, and he has another friend who wants to get it, and they in turn know someone who can give us the test. That's a good group, especially given that Nick's friend is SimonK, who is known for making ESC firmwares among other things. Sounds like a cool dude.
Nick and I are also making a CNC machine in my garage. This should be cool, especially since Nick wants it large enough to make complete guitars out of a single piece of wood with the thing. I should be able to use it for plane fabrication on a really interesting scale.
The CNC machine is coming along. I also have learnt a lot with the APM 2.5 autopilot. The thing likes a powerful machine. I shouldn't be using it on the stock Bixler. It loses altitude while manoeuvring as the thing is pretty gutless. People see me flying it manually are even surprised at how bad it is climbing manually. I need to put a bigger motor on the thing.
That said, I have two motors that would work well on it. I was using them for the NaughtPilot (what I now call my custom built plane that is intended to be a drone in the long-term). I think they're underpowered to fly the 9 ft wingspan beast, but will be more than enough for the Bixler. I see others at the airfield using the 2200KV motors on their Bixlers, so I'm sure it will have tons of power once I mount one of them on it.
Others with Bixlers also have them configured for FPV, which I am also glad to say that I have enough to play with on that front too. I managed to get all my gear together so that I can FPV as well, although I've only put all the gear together on my ancient R/C car. Nice to have something to play with that has no consequences.
I will get some reading glasses or single magnifying lens to put in front of my 3.5 in screen so that I can see it better, up close. This is something my friend Nick told me about so it's more immersive.
I had some interesting things happen since last posting. I blew my APM 2.5 power supply using a Y connector sent by the same supplier. The splitter was actually wired backwards, crossing the positive and negative wires. So, yeah.. boom. They sent a replacement for both parts, although I fixed the splitter and have Nick working on replacing the blown capacitor on the power supply. I won't say no to duplicates though!
I also have some SimonK ESCs, which enabled me to test the NaughtPilot with twin engines working together properly. Although it didn't fly as mentioned above, I'm glad to have all the hardware.
I have a new receiver talking CPPM to the APM 2.5, which really lowers the footprint. Only one wire now! Very nice.
Next I will upgrade the Bixler to have the better motor, then try FPV with it. I also have an OSD that works with the APM 2.5, so I can integrate that onto the Bixler too. I have tested the OSD, and it works really well. I will have to change it so it displays only fields I care about, but that shouldn't be too hard.
The NaughtPilot will have to wait until I get larger motors. I'm not sure when that will be.
Here are the latest pics to share.
This shows the blown APM 2.5 power supply, and the Y-connector that's obviously miswired. You can see where the red meets black.
This is the current Video receiver setup. I mounted the display inside an old welder's visor. It was junk. Now it's useful junk.
Here is the transmitting hardware on a foam platform that works for the car. It works. Dogs go woof. Car goes Vroom. The fox doesn't matter.
I have gotten all parts for the drone and the flight computer.
I have plenty of power connectors for my FPV gear and drone equipment.
For Christmas, I got a new bettery charger, a camera, camera mount and camera switcher.
The camera switcher is pretty rad. I'm sure it will work great with my GoPro and new CCD camera.
Today, with Nick as backup, I took the Bixler up with a larger motor mounted on it. One of my 2200KV motors that's a little thrashed.
It worked well, although with only one battery in it, it needed more weight in the nose.
Once we put in my usual battery and the FPV gear in it though, it was easily balanced.
Nicked watched the screen while I flew it line-of-sight.
I would have loved to record it, just to see the quality for myself.
Nick said it looked good enough to fly with.
We decided not to push my luck though, and called it a night before I exceeded my ability.
Next time, I'll put the drone in the Bixler and see if the Home location works before trying to fly it FPV.
That way I can also have the RTL feature if I need it.
Recently, I have also been playing with my large drone.
I have managed to get larger motors, and 13.5“ props. It looks like a beast.
It taxied okay in a parking lot, but wouldn't take off. It could be two things.
Firstly, it was underpowered. It needs 4 cell batteries for optimal power.
It could also be the design. I might need to put the rear wheels in a better pivot position and perhaps even add a tail that has the elevator controls on it.
All-in-all, things are progressing and I feel my end goal is getting closer.
I have not written in a while. I took some time off to work on the CNC machine with Nick, which is slowly nearing completion. I had a few crashes, many fixes and many lessons learned.
Today, I learned a vital lesson. The rudder matters when flying autonomously. I had been going under the assumption that it was configured correctly, but today I flipped the servo in the config after observing how it reacted in stabize mode and then… Voilà, instantly it was circling very well.
This was after a near catostrophic crash yesterday where it circled out of sight and hit the side of a hill.
Now I am looking forward to flying with FPV. I also want to get the RTL working too.
it may be working already, but I lost patience with it before and manually brought it back. Before it went too far away. I suspect it was just lining up for an approach, or that my home coords were set during my flight. I didn't check for a good lock before launching, I was so ready to fly.
Also of note: there is a new AUTOTUNE feature to the APM. This kicks ass.
I have re-engineered the custom foam machine. It now has a full tail, which should give it better maneuverability. I am a little chicken to fly it though. Perhaps when I have the drone features fully figured out, I will put the APM in the custom airframe and have it do everything.
Since there should be a lot of good weather coming up, I look forward to more progress and more contributions to this log.
One more final bit of note: Someone from the East is interested in working with me on the ballooning project. Should we keep in touch, I will mention him explicitly.
Things are good. I got an opportunity to fly today. But first, recent events.
I was playing volleyball the other day when an R/C plane was noticed in an adjacent field. When we were done, I decided to introduce myself. It was this young man and his Dad. He too was a Flitetest fan and had a foamie he had built. I gave him props for his flying chops and asked if this was an OK field to fly in.
Turns out he knows that the field isn't approved for flying, and that he's just doing it there ninja-style. I watched him for a bit, and talked about the hobby for as long as the light was good for flying. He and his dad knew a few places one can just go to fly in between home and Chilliwack, so I might just give them a visit on my way out one day.
I've come to a bit of an epiphany. The local field isn't a learner's field. It's just too small. There's trees everywhere. Everything is intimidating about it.
With that in mind, I'm throwing out the philosophy that I need to learn to fly like a pro before using the drone to its full potential. It can fly better than me, if I let it. I'm pretty sure all of my recent crashes would have been avoided if I was using more computer assistance. That being the case, I am fully embracing this reality. If ever I feel at all nervous, I will have Fly-by-wire on at the minimum. Of course, the emergency switch will always be set to “manual”.
That's not to say the computer is infallible. Today, while playing with modes I think the Autotune somehow managed to convince the computer that level flying was, in fact, at 45 degrees. Although I was able to compensate and land it safely, it was very bizarre. At one point, it looked like the yaw was off too because it was almost like it was strafing.
Even given the computer errors, it's still easier to deal with than my human errors.
Also, I think this means I get to justify buying an APM 2.6 system. My 2.5 has seen more crashes than any flight computer should.
No flying this weekend. Did some white water rafting instead.
I did order a Pixhawk though. It wasn't much of a decision to make the upgrade to it from the APM 2.6, it's the superior choice.
I'll keep flying while I wait, and update this site with the results.
Happy Canada Day!
I took the dogs on a walk down the river today. It is Kateri`s birthday, so I wanted to have a dog day with her.
She's all tuckered out now.
The Pixhawk came in yesterday. I sent the afternoon setting it up. Hopefully tomorrow I can try it out. I've not a lot to do, so I'll be sure to get in the air more in the coming weeks.
I'm a lot happier now.
The APM 2.5 loiters and RTLs with no issue. The turning radius on RTL was set a little large, so it circled into the sun on me. It turned around though, so there was no issue besides retinal scarring.
I now also have the RC club's simulator. I'll use it to learn to fly quads, and my slow-low flying. Practice makes perfect!
I also met up with the early flying crew today. They seem like a friendly bunch. We did lunch.
Not sure if I'll hit the field at 3 today or not. I might just practice at home for a bit. We shall see.
The Pixhawk is installed in the experimental foamie for the time being.
I've got a cable on order that should make telemetry/OSD possible. It should be in the air shortly, as I'm just waiting on a couple of other parts.
Today hailed my maiden FPV flights!
It was pretty cool, despite some problems. One the first flight I didn't realize my OSD didn't turn on. The video was pretty usable though. I didn't land it FPV, but instead brought it back line-of-sight.
The second flight had crap video. I think my receiver overheated. It's kind-of cheap and crappy. It won't change channels after it's been in operation a while, and you have to cycle the power or let it sit before you can change channels again. I'll get another one, I'm sure.
For both flights, I had the plane set to RTL mode, made sure it did that successfully a few times, and then switched to FPV. I think that will be my standard procedure since it's going to be just me more often than not.
I started to lose sight of my plane on he second return, due to the fact I was turning really wide. It let me test my panic procedure. I flipped it to loiter, then RTL (since that's the path I have to go through on the controller). When it was on approach, I took control of it again. It worked like a charm.
I'm not too sure what to test next: the drone mode (preset-waypoints) or some more FPV stuff. There's a Cruise mode that looks worth exploring. I definitely need to get the video receiver issue resolved ASAP though.
I should think of getting the balloon put together more, as that's what this wiki is intended for!
Perhaps when I have a fully autonomous drone, I will put together a little glider that can RTL and report its positioning. Then I can test drop it from the drone and see what improvements need to be done.
Sounds like a plan.
I made 3 FPV flights today. The first from the morning side, the second two from the afternoon side.
The first two were without incident. I even showed the morning guys my setup and they seemed interested. The second time I got out 850m before my radio started to beep, so I turned around.
The third was a learning experience. I flew out to beyond some power lines. It was about 1150m out at my furthest!
My radio started to beep, despite having a relatively good video signal. It worsened quickly over the power lines and soon I saw the drone go into CIRCLE mode, which is its first failsafe.
Then I lost video.
A minute later, it was buzzing over head again. I was pretty relieved, but I was pretty confident in its ability to find its way home. I was just hoping to wait a little longer before testing that out.
In the seconds before my transmitter started beeping again, with no video or anything, my faith in the technology was tested. I was reasonably confident I wasn't going to hit a tree on my way back, as I was at 100m when this all happened. I've since programmed the RTL to go to 100m on its own if need be.
I also just got a package from Hobby King today. I should be able to make my Pixhawk drone tonight and fly it soon. Perhaps tomorrow.
Today was rained out, unlike the last few days.
Yesterday I was able to do full autonomous flight with the APM 2.5 Bixler setup. It took off and landed as it was supposed to.
The first flight needed some help landing. I had it land while it was still at 30m and it just glided the whole length of the field. It would have glided into the bushes if I didn't take control at the end.
The second was pretty much perfect. So, I decided to screw with it, of course. The third did a HUGE circle outside of where I wanted it to, but in the end it returned. I had to make it avoid a tree on landing approach, though.
I was hoping to do some tests with the large foamie, but it had a twitchy aileron servo, so I fixed that today.
Hopefully tomorrow will be better weather. I've got some new autopilot functions to try out, and it would be a bummer if I was rained out two days in a row.
Otherwise, things are progressing quite well.
It has been a fun and productive summer.
I went to Calgary to get my friend Carl into the hobby more. He is still on the simulator, but having fun.
I volunteered to organize the Christmas dinner for my RC club. Then I won the door prize at the meeting. Nice…
I have flown and crashed the large foamie a few times, and I believe that I am near getting it near to flying properly. This should be exciting.
I have been wrestling with the secret to getting FPV w/ OSD and Tablet controlled groundstation. The key was in not being too dedicated to certain hardware. I have 2 different 433Mhz transmitter modules. Flytron and HobbyKing brand. The Flytron is an Open Source solution, which I like in principle. The Hobby King brand needs me to mod the cable in order to use it with my OSD. Since I'm not the biggest fan of slashing factory provided cables apart, I was trying to to everything with the the Flytron chip since.. reasons.
The Flytron looked like it was working, except it couldn't do everything from the tablet that I could do from the computer. This was odd, since I had the impression that other people could edit waypoints, etc from their groundstations. Then I just tried the HK module and it worked. I couldn't use the OSD, but it gave me unparalleled grounstation control of my APM.
That made me think that it had to be the Flytron chip. After some digging into the code, and doing some tests, I was able to figure out unit didn't have any hardware collision detection or anything. No retransmissions or anything. I think it does CRC though. Packets that are received are all in-tact.
So I'm now writing my own TCP for the thing, with ACK, ACK-REQ, DATA and FIN states. It's not so involved so that it's without some design flaws, but it should work well enough.
If I succeed, I'll post my code here.
Technically it's Saturday.
It's almost 4am, and I'm pretty sure I've got it. As promised, Here is the code.
It retransmits if needs be, and I even made it so that it does that less often too.
Unfortunately, after a test with the system, it doesn't seem to be as flawless as I hoped.
More debugging needed. I'll update the ZIP file when I get something more bulletproof.
In the mean time, I rewired the HK transmitters to work with an OSD cable. I think this should work well too. I will tansition to this setup for the near future.
I've just been doing a lot of flying, a lot of crashing and repairing. The drone on the big Bixler was working quite well. Autonomous landing seem to be the tricky part mostly with the landing though.
It had an unfortunate incident with a tree and another mis-repair with a wooden spar versus a now metal spar.
It should be ready to go now.
The big news is that the large foamie is now ready to be tested again. Hopefully I can get out in the next couple of days and see if it flies.
I also managed to get the Hobby King wireless communication up and running with the telemetry. It works like a dream; much better and the Flytron.
I have been flying the bixler with fair frequency this year, as weather allows.
I have also been emboldened to broaden the scope of the drone part of this project to be controlled by an Air Traffic Controller, of my own making.
It occurs to me that the immediate future of drones lies not in flying everywhere, but from designated site-to-site paths. A controller interface that would track all aircraft along a given corridor and route them appropriately is an important piece of infrastructure.
I believe most of the technology to accomplish this already exists. There are many Mavlink compatible programs for controlling an aircraft. They are all capable of connecting to the drone via a network connection as well as directly to the USB transmitter.
Mavproxy is a neccesary in-between that can share one transmitter across many devices, all using Mavlink over tcp/ip.
A pilot can connect to it locally, as well as to an ATC. The drone can be programmed with waypoints that the ATC can read and manipulate.
Development can also be facilitated by Software In The Loop simulations of drones.
More to come.
This is turning out quite well. There is only one hurtle that eludes me, and that is Guided mode. For the time being though, I don't think I need to worry about that funtion to make something functional.
SITL is turning out to be extremely helpful. Hopefully by the end of the weekend, I will have something to show.
If you have MAVProxy set up, you should be able to point them there soon by entering:
output add droneatc.ca:14550
For now I just have 2 test drones flying around in circles.
If you do connect, please note that at this time the site is in Alpha, and I take no responsibility should a drone crash due to interactions with this service. Yeah, disclaimers.
I have tested connection to the domain from within my house, and it seems to work.
I will do a test with my Pi connected to my phone's WiFi, but not at this time.
Thhe algorythm I use is pretty basic, but it should stop collisions for the sake of demoing it as a proof-of-concept at the very least.
For now, I intervene if the drones are within 20 metres of each other, or within 5 seconds of possibly colliding.
It works great if they're chasing each other, doing a head-on collision, or most other angles.
The only scenario that's causing a near-miss is when one is doing a tight turn towards the other and ends up turning into their broadside.
This can easily be fixed by making the conditions where it intervenes more conservative. 20m and 5 seconds is pretty close to be manuvreing together when ther're planes traveling at 20m/s.
I have some to-do items. For one, I have to better track the state of the drones. I am assuming the drone wants to be set to Auto when it is done. That's not always the case. I would like one to just loiter while the other flies at it from different directions.
I also assume the minimum turning radius is 10m.
All these things can be made better by profiling the droens better and assessing their capabilities automatically.
I would like to try sending messages to the pilot's ground station, and perhaps finding a way to interact with them.
It's worth mentioning that the current strategy the back-end takes is to prevent collisions by enforcing distance between two drones. It will intervene even when two drones will fly by eack other within a certain distance of each other.
I'm going to see if I can drum up some interest on other websites.