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Robo-birds to scare away real ones

From Wired:

Birds are nice enough, unless you work at places like airports, farms, and landfills, in which case they’re the sworn enemy. Today, there are a variety of tools and technologies for spooking unwanted birds—we’ve graduated from scarecrows to flash-bang grenades and other sophisticated armaments—but Nico Nijenhuis is undoubtedly working on the coolest. He’s building robot hawks that trick lingering critters into thinking they’re about to get snacked on.

Nijenhuis, a 27-year-old based in the Netherlands, is the mind behind Robirds, a line of robotic birds of prey. He’s hoping to sell them to the aviation and waste management industries under the name Clear Flight Solutions. (Company tagline: “We create birds.” Fair enough!) Nijenhuis is currently testing remote controlled Peregrine Falcons and eagles with promising results. By the end of the year, he’s hoping to have fully autonomous robot birds on offer.

The endeavor got its start a few years back when Nijenhuis was a student of applied physics and fluid dynamics at the Technical University of Twente in the Netherlands. He was trying to figure out what to do for his Masters thesis and asked his adviser if there was an experimental project he might work on. The adviser grabbed a crude prototype of a mechanical bird off a shelf, handed it to Nijenhuis, and said, “Figure out how this works, and how to make it better.”

The Difficult Problem of Flapping-Wing Flight

Creating machines that mimic birds might seem like a straightforward proposition, but it’s not, in large part because we still aren’t totally sure how birds work. “From a scientific point of view, we don’t truly understand flapping-wing flight,” Nijenhuis says. When wings are fixed, we’re fine. We can run tests and calculate forces and as a result have been able to develop planes that take us all over the globe. “But the minute wings start moving, we really have a problem,” Nijenhuis says. “It’s all about very complex, three-dimensional flow. What a bird actually does is so complex that it’s incredibly difficult to mimic.”

With his Robirds, Nijenhuis had to figure out which parts of flapping-wing flight he could actually simulate. The big concept ended up being flexibility. Instead of just flapping from one joint like a rigid two-by-four, bird wings deform across their entire length as they move through the air.

For the Robirds, Nijenhuis complemented the basic hinging motion with a pitching motion on the wing tips–the further outward you go, the more the heavy-duty foam wings deform upwards and downwards. The result, when paired with some on-board sensors and sophisticated stabilization software, is a fairly convincing approximation of bird flight.

Getting close to the mark is important for the Robirds to do their job. Nijenhuis says two things are needed to trigger birds’ flight instinct: a silhouette and wing movement. “If it doesn’t look like a predator, they don’t care. And if it doesn’t move like a predator, they don’t care either.”


As far as the look goes, the Robirds rely on a 3D printed body, which comes right out of the machine with full falcon colors, modeled after photographs taken by the Clear Flight team themselves. The body is made of a glass-fiber nylon composite, which is both lightweight and rugged. “You can crash these things into the ground at 50 km/h and almost nothing will break,” Nijenhuis says.

That’s important too. In the early going, crashes were very much part of the process. The current version of the Robirds are remote controlled, and you have to be a fairly experienced RC aircraft pilot to fly them. The falcon model can fly up to 50 mph. But Nijenhuis and his team—currently a group of three Masters students and two researchers in robotics and mechatronics—are currently working on an autopilot system which they hope to finish by the end of the year. Robird handlers would be able to define a preset area in which the birds could fly, or draw out a pre-programmed flight path on a tablet app, hurl the thing into the air, and the birds would do the rest.

The Robirds are currently being trialed in the Netherlands. At one landfill, they’ve seen a 75 percent decrease in bird visits. The ones that do return have their heads on a swivel. They know there are predators about–which gets to the big selling point of Robirds. While flash bangs might scare birds, they’re only short term measures. The birds often end up coming back. With Robirds, Nijenhuis says, “there’s a natural reason for the birds to stay away.”

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"Superman" flight mode – intuitive interface design – (Thalmic Update – Ali’s Video)

So the hunt continues, seems that the Universe heard my need for a demonstration video. It does the trick. 

As I get deeper into how to accomplish all the parts needed for this new flight mode idea I have focused on the controls, rather feeling the need to see what may be available when it rounds completion rather than what is available now. Quickly realized some flaws in the idea as when I began to use my own head to try and just steer something, it seems intuitive or that it would be, but its not, well at least not for me. Especially when trying to hold my head in strange angles... Wow, if I want to climb holding your head still is kinda hard, there is going to need to be allot of tuning here, mostly figuring out range that is comfortable.

Starting to think using the muscles themselves over the position is the ticket. Sensing the intended change rather than final position is the answer (maybe). The head tracker that I am using in the tests so far is very prone to misorientation and maybe a collar device will be better. Looks like the MyoWave setup will have a use there also... Now to start mocking that up...

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APM Planner 2.0.15-rc1 (Beta Release)

APM Planner 2.0.15-rc1 release is available.

When we released 2.0.14, we added a feature to subscribe to beta releases (we've called them 'release candidates' i.e. rc releases)

If you would like to help us test these new releases before we declare them stable (which would be awesome!) You can select Beta Release option checkbox in the APM Planner 2.0 Config setting view (See above graphic)

Please discuss issues or feature requests in the ardupilot forum for APM Planner 2.0 

Download of pre-built binaries are available here

Have good weekend!

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SteadiDrone MAVRIK – new medium lift all round workhorse

Hey again all, been a while since I last posted here, been busy with development of our all new medium lift copter, MAVRIK, just wanted to post some details for those who are interested, and as always, any feedback welcome.

We've spent a huge amount of time and testing in developing the MAVRIK and very excited to get it out there, it does not replace the popular SteadiDrone QU4D but is it's new bigger, more grown up brother.

It's mainly aimed at professional aerial companies/pilots who need a reliable, all round medium lift workhorse they can fold up, through in the car, on the plane etc and use everyday for jobs and shoots, it's very compact, light and has some pretty cool features (check out the website) It will carry a wide range of small to medium sized cameras, like the NEX7 which we've been flying mostly, as well as smaller dSLRs and more. It features an all new very unique rail supported front mounted gimbal design which is fully adjustable and runs along the underside of the drone where the battery bay add's stability to the gimbal (full adjustable vibration damping system as well), which has the ability to point straight up past 90 degrees without anything part of the drone or props getting in the shot, it obviously also points straight down, making it ideal for inspecting under things like tall bridges etc. 

You can check other specs, images and info here - http://www.steadidrone.com/drones/steadidrone-mavrik

Pre-ordered for the MAVRIK open on Monday and shipping will start mid/end September, full RTF with absolutely everything required and will come standard with the 3DR Pixhawk (Top dome cover has integrated USB and LED)

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Lidar landing with APM:Plane

Over the last couple of days I have been testing the Lidar based auto-landing code that will be in the upcoming 3.1.1 release of APM:Plane. I'm delighted to say that it has gone very well!

Testing has been done on two planes - one is a Meridian sports plane with a OS46 Nitro motor. That is a tricycle undercarriage, so has very easy ground steering. The tests today were with the larger VQ Porter 2.7m tail-dragger with a DLE-35 petrol motor. That has a lot of equipment on board for the CanberraUAV OBC entry, so it weighs 14kg at takeoff making it a much more difficult plane to land well.

The Lidar is a SF/02 from LightWare, a really nice laser rangefinder that works nicely with Pixhawk. It has a 40m range, which is great for landing, allowing the plane plenty of time to lock onto the glide slope in the landing approach.

APM:Plane has supported these Lidars and other rangefinders for a while, but until now has not been able to use them for landing. Instead they were just being logged to the microSD card, but not actively used. After some very useful discussions with Paul Riseborough we now have the Lidar properly integrated into the landing code.

The test flights today were an auto-takeoff (with automatic ground steering), a quick auto-circuit then an automatic landing. The first landing went long as I'd forgotten to drop THR_MIN down to zero (I normally have it at 20% to ensure the engine stays at a reasonable level during auto flight). After fixing that we got a series of good auto flights.

The flight was flown with a 4 second flare time, which is probably a bit long as it allowed the plane to lose too much speed on the final part of the flare. That is why it bounces a bit as it starts losing height. I'll try with a bit shorter flare time tomorrow.

Here is the video of one of the Meridian flights yesterday. Sorry for missing part of the flight, the video was shot with a cell phone by a friend at the field.

Here is another video of the Porter flying today, but taken from the north of the runway

I'd like to thank Charles Wannop from Flying Finish Productions for the video of the Porter today with help from Darrell Burkey.

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