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Black Friday – Seagull UAV

Seagull UAV is having "BLACKDAYS" sales which will be running from 23rd - until 26th of November. Be sure to checkout the webshop and equip your platforms with the latest Seagull tech!

Link to the webshop: www.seagulluav.com

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Ion drive drone — NO moving parts!

From Ars Technica. I played with ion drives a long time ago, but never got anything this large to lift. Great work!

The Johnson Indoor Track at MIT probably won't go down in history in the same way as Kitty Hawk has, but it was the scene of a first in powered flight. A team of researchers has managed to build the first aircraft powered by an ionic wind, a propulsion system that requires no moving parts. While the flight took place using a small drone, the researchers' calculations suggest that the efficiency of the design would double simply by building a larger craft.

Ionic wind

In conventional aircraft, air is pushed around by moving parts, either propellers or the turbines within jet engines. But we've known for a while that it's also possible to use electrical fields to push air around.

The challenge is that air is largely made of uncharged molecules that don't respond to electric fields. But at sufficiently high voltages, it's possible to ionize the nitrogen and oxygen that make up our atmosphere, just as lightning does all the time. The electrons that are liberated speed away, collide with other molecules, and ionize some of them as well. If this takes place in an electric field, all those ions will start moving to the appropriate electrode. In the process, they'll collide with neutral molecules and push them along. The resulting bulk movement of atmospheric molecules is called an ionic wind.

Calculations done decades ago, however, suggested that it wasn't possible to generate a practical amount of thrust using an ionic wind. Given advances in batteries, electronics, and materials, however, a team from MIT decided the time may have come to revisit the issue.

Doing so requires navigating a large series of trade-offs. For example, the lower the electric field strength of an ionic wind drive, the more thrust you get for a given power. Of course, if you drop the field strength enough, nothing will get ionized in the first place. Since the thrust per unit area is small, a more extensive thruster system makes sense—other than the fact that it will add to the drag and slow the craft down.

Still, after playing around with different thruster designs, the researchers found that it should be possible to generate sufficient thrust to get something airborne: "This level of performance suggested that steady-level flight of a fixed-wing unmanned aircraft might be feasible but at the limit of what is technologically possible using current materials and power electronics technology."

Finding a balance

The design they chose has a thin wire as its leading edge, where nitrogen and oxygen get ionized. Trailing behind that is a thin airfoil covered by the second electrode. This can both provide a little additional lift and allow the generation of an electric field that accelerates the ionized molecules from the wire to the foil.

But this design had to be integrated with the battery and electronics that make it work, as well as the wing and body that turned the whole thing into an aircraft. Some of those ingredients weren't even available until the team set to designing them.

"Weight constraints necessitated the design and construction of both a custom battery stack and a custom high-voltage power converter," the researchers write, "which stepped up the battery voltage to 40 kilovolts." To handle the aircraft's body, they fed a computer algorithm with a list of their constraints and had it optimize these to allow for stable flight with a limit on the potential wingspan.

The resulting hardware included a five-meter wing with a thin body containing the battery and electronics suspended below it before trailing off to a tail. On either side of the body, hanging off the wing, was a series of the wire/airfoil ionizers (two rows from front to back, both in a column of four for a total of eight). The whole thing weighed just under 2.5kg.

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Hackhawk: Hacking the Altair Aerial Blackhawk with your own flight controller

Looking around for an inexpensive, almost-ready-to-fly brushless-motor quadcopter to use a basis for indoor flight-control research, I was delighted to come across the  Altair Aerial Blackhawk.  With its extra-long extension legs and GoPro mount (which I plan use for additional sensors), the Blackhawk really fit the bill.  

As soon my Blackhawk arrived, I removed the cowl covering the fuselage, revealing the custom flight controller / receiver board shown below. I unplugged the LED leads for the headlight and four arm lights, carefully snipped the soldered-on wires with a diagonal cutter, and unscrewed the board from its mount, leaving me with the ESCs and battery leads shown in the second picture below.

The Blackhawk with its original flight controller

Original flight controller removed

As you can see, the inside bottom of the Blackhawk didn't provide a flat surface on which to mount a new controller. So I used Tinkercad to design a 3D-printable mount that I attached with E6000 adhesive.  The mount has the standard hole spacing for a 36x36mm flight controller and power distribution board (PDB).

3D-printed mount for PDB and flight controller

Once I'd printed out the board on my Lulzbot Mini, I added some M3 nylon machine screws and spacers:

Then I glued the mount to the Blackhawk with a bit of E6000:

Next I secured the PDB to the mount with another set of spacers, soldered a new pair of heavy-gauge wires from the power supply to the PDB, soldered some female jumper leads onto the control wires going into the ESCs, soldered a pair of female jumper wires to the auxiliary power supply, and soldered the ESC power wires to the PDB.  Double-sided VHB tape helped re-secure the ESCs firmly in place:

For the flight controller, I chose the inexpensive Flip32 Ominbus F3.  Its onboard battery-elimination circuit (BEC) allowed me to connect the power wires directly from the PDB, and its DSM connector made it easy to plug in my favorite receiver

For the flight-control firmware, I decided to with my own C++ Hackflight  system (which also works on Arduino-based flight controllers, as well as a flight simulator I built with UnrealEngine4.)  After testing the IMU, receiver, and motors, I attached the propellers and was ready for the maiden flight:

As you can see, the LemonRX receiver fits nicely into the front of the fuselage, leaving plenty of space to attach a "companion board" like the Raspberry Pi Zero W,  NanoPi, etc. – as I hope to show in a future post!

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3-axis 30X drone zoom camera with object tracking

Sky Eye-30HZ-S is a 3-axis high stabilized gimbal with 1080P 30X zoom camera for drone inspection, surveillance, search and rescue applications. The camera block is SONY FCB-EV7520, which provides 1080P 60FPS full HD video streaming and up to 360X zoom capability, which will enable you to see every detail you need in the air even you are far away from the object. High-performance 3-axis gimbal is using advanced FOC(field-oriented control) motor control technology which will enable you to get a 0.01-degree incredible precise control, so the gimbal will give you crystal clear and stable video footage.

Compact and lightweight
Sky Eye-30HZ-S weighs as little as 848g to help you meet your payload weight allowance.

Easy for integration
Sky Eye-30HZ-S comes with an amazing advantage that the gimbal can not only be controlled via PWM signal, but also the serial command. Also, gimbal data(like Yaw/Pitch/Roll angle, zoom status etc) can be obtained by sending the serial command to the gimbal via its serial port, which is really useful for precise gimbal control and system integration.

Object tracking and geotagging function
2 useful features are available on Sky Eye-30HZ-S. The first one is tracking, which will enable the pilot to track an object freely during daytime or night time. The second one is geotagging, that means the gimbal will geotag the gimbal position on video streaming or photo that you currently choose on screen, and GPS coordinate will be displayed on the screen too.

Clean and simple wiring
Sky Eye-30HZ-S provides an outstanding wiring hub design for RC receiver and video output port(AV and HDMI), which makes wiring pretty easily. Also, the gimbal offers 2 smart speed modes: FAST speed and LOW speed. Fast speed mode is used for small zooming range, which makes the gimbal control sensitive and quick. LOW-speed mode is used for large zoom range, will enable you to target the object more accurately.

1) 848grams,lightweight
2) 1/2.8 inch 2.13MP CMOS SENSOR
3) 30X optical zoom,1080P/60 HDMI output for video downlink
4) 1080P/30 H.264 video recorded for on-board TF card
5) Auto object tracking
6) Geotagging
7) PWM control and serial command control
8) Convenient wiring hub for RC receiver and video output
9) 3-axis high stabilized gimbal system
10) Adjustable control speed d: SLOW speed for large zoom range, accurate. FAST speed for small zoom range, sensitive and quick

Camera photos

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The Commercial UAV Show in London 2018

This week the 5th Commercial UAV Show took place at ExCel in London, United Kingdom. While exhibiting there I also took a camera and walked around - if you missed the event you still have a chance to watch how it went. Enjoy!

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