DIY Drones (Chris Anderson) – ETech08

Fun with robots! Making aerial drones. Eye in the Sky.

UAV’s are very expensive. How to democratize the tech?
How cheap and simple can a UAV be?

Two requirements: stabilization & navigation.

$80 copilot: where is “down”? Use IR to seek horizon – consistent gradient between land & sky. Yields absolute frame of reference.
Could LEGO solve the probelm? Yes (under $1000), mindstorms controller in light model plane. Basic prototype, requires manual takeoff & landing.
Onboard camera takes pics with geotagging. Genereates low-cost aerial photos with very high res using low altitude with a 5Mpix camera.

OK, but can you use a cellphone? GPS, camera, broadband, onboard processing & mem.
Yes! Airplane now has a phone # – send it GPS waypoints (not yet realized in prototype).
In theory, small UAV’s can hop across cell networks for nav & comm.
IR horizon sensor can also be used to stabilize the camera so it always looks down.
Be careful, especially when flying over secured federal facilities!

Can we make it cheaper (under$500)? Yes, using homemade embedded processers. Any open source or cheap chip can support an autopilot routine.
Program & test with flight sim apps. Watch your robotic UAV run the flight sim!

How to make an aerial robotic contest for kids? Use small blimps.
Blimps are intrinsically autonomous; when they fail, they fail very gracefully; nice to have around.
Prototype maintains altitude by pinging off the ground (IR); vertical prop holds elevations; IR beacon acts as waypoint; blimp will seek the waypoint; relative frame of reference it can use compass and IR to make it’s way across waypoints;

Live demo: blimp is following the presenter around the room. ~$100. Entirely autonomous, if not very smart.
Evolution Robotics is a company that produces a bot nav solution. Paired with autopilot, the UAV can use more advanced navigation and movement. Aerial robotics is the cutting edge of robotics: “Soon the sky will be darkened with aerial drones!”

Regulations govern UAV deploy. Amateurs must fly under 400ft, maintain line-of-sight, and pilot can assume full control.
Very limiting. Power source is also a limit.

Ed Notes: could use RFID or other beacons to deploy UAV over your home or for tracking your location; pair with live hi-res camera feed.

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