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DraganFly III Gyro-stabilized RC Helicopter 133

Pronoun54 writes "It hovers! It spins! It spies! The Draganflyer III weighs just 17 ounces with its high-tech stabilization system. "As an eye in the sky, the Draganflyer III can be used indoors or out, up to a mile away, to take aerial views of real estate, promote products at trade shows, or give the guy in the next cube a close encounter he won't soon forget." "One more advantage of the Draganflyer III: if you're grounded by bad weather, you can still open the throttle and hover indoors." Their site has videos of this thing in action both indoors and out. Seems like it can move pretty fast at top speed." The Times has a piece talking about the piezo gyroscopes (including purty pictures) that the chopper uses to self-stabilize.
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DraganFly III Gyro-stabilized RC Helicopter

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  • My birhtday is coming up - if you get me one, I'll be your best friend!

  • at the link in the article ...
  • Nice ad! (Score:4, Funny)

    by dougmc ( 70836 ) <> on Friday August 09, 2002 @08:03PM (#4043316) Homepage
    This thing has been advertised in my R/C magazines for months now. And now they're being advertised in the NYT and Slashdot?

    Their marketing people must be extremely happy!

    • Their marketing people must be extremely happy!

      Yeah, but I bet their server admins aren't. ;)

    • Ya. I have worked on their web site & order system. They have a nack for getting puplicity. Just a few months ago they were on the apple home page [].

      And who would be surprised if Pronoun54 was a Draganfly employee?
      • I submitted this article almost two month ago when I saw it on Apple's website. I thought it was cool, expensive, but cool.

        Did you see the $5000 one?

        >> And who would be surprised if Pronoun54 was a Draganfly employee?

        I am not (Word is Bond, Yo!)

    • You ain't seen nothing yet... Wait 'till these guys team up with the X10 people, there'll be more ads for flying cameras than you know what to do with!
    • I bought one in early 1999.
  • by Mr2cents ( 323101 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @08:06PM (#4043326)
    Here's a project on sourceforge (GPL'ed):

    autopilot []
    • i dont think can be used with one of these to fly. it seems to be limited to normal RC heli models not this weird 4 propeller gyro stabilised carbon fibre flying machine.
      The motion an handling characteristics of a 4 propeller machine v/s a single (large) bladed chopper are way different.
      • On the mailing list there are some people who want to use it for RC airplanes, so I wouldn't say it's impossible (what is?). They're developing a cheap IMU (inertial measurement unit) you can use in your own project.
  • Does it come with a video camera and wireless video receiver?

    That would be fun :) Aerial surveillance and photography and stuff would be a neat little hobby :) (Hella expensive, though, I bet)
    • Re:Camera? (Score:2, Funny)

      by rbgaynor ( 537968 )

      X10 is probably already hard at work on the pop-up/pop-under ads for this...

    • would take voyeurism to a whole,new level. Imagine a tiny lil spy camera hovering right outside your window ,all thanks to gyroscopes...
    • Re:Camera? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gripdamage ( 529664 )
      Aerial surveillance and photography and stuff would be a neat little hobby

      Not with this. It only flies for five minutes. What you need for longer flight times is an RC Airship []. They can fly for quite a bit longer as the gas does the lifting, and the battery just powers steering. The cost is in the thousands of US dollars however.
    • Does it come with a video camera and wireless video receiver?

      If it did I'd be the next to mention my birthday comming up. :-)
  • Oh Boy... (Score:3, Funny)

    by efatapo ( 567889 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @08:07PM (#4043334)
    "hard to reach locations to make money on the side!" This has Jailbait written all over it!!!o:-)
  • Only 3 posts, and the site is already /.ed. I can barely load the page, and I'm using a 100Mb/s connection at work (no, that's not the network speed, that's the pipe). Google cache anybody?
  • Couldn't the infantry use these things, or some suped-up version of it? Sounds like it'd be great for recon; let each unit have a couple of these babies, and they could see what was over a hill, or on the other side of a woods, without having to put themselves in danger, or calling in air support.
    • The Black Widow [] (.pdf only, sorry) by AeroVironment doesn't hover but it's designed for just such a purpose.

      I'd be happy to get either one for my birthday, thanks.
    • Military techs have been working with drones for a long time -- I suppose a fire-and-forget missile is also a drone. Long before that there were wire-guided missiles and ones with TV cameras in the nose. Everyone saw Desert Storm pictures of air-dropped versions, but it's also been used to fire an anti-tank missile "over a hill". The devices don't last long, of course.

      I don't know how many helicopter drones they've been working with. I am aware that a division of Moller [], makers of the Skycar, also offer a device with a vertically-mounted engine. Being sold for inspecting bridges, and it has obvious military use.

    • Doubtful that it's a good military reconaissance.... it just tells the enemy that you are within a limited range. If you're in the heat of battle you don't need them because your guys are already there, and if you're doing reconnaisance, you don't want them to know that you're there. Maybe if it held a bomb, but it would need to be pretty big just to hold a grenade, but then why not just use mor
    • Actually the military is doing research on this. I know that a professor at NYU doing Fluid Dynamics is involved because I attended one of his presentations. But they arent interested in something the size of a small R/C copter, but rather almost insect size. Which is why most of the work that is being done on this at such a small stage doesnt revolve around propellers but wings.

      It appears that the motion of the wings of insects creates almost instant and quite powerfull lift. The motion also isnt vertical, it is much more complex, where the wings are rotating and following elliptical orbits and such. So mathematicians are trying to model these wing motions and apply them to mechanics to create tiny wings capable of lift and sustained flight. Further it has to have tremendous hovering capabilities, as the interest is to send these "insects" into a building or room and have them sneak out vital information. Making stationary listening kinda important.
  • Why are they using 20 year old battery technology?
    You'd think they'd want a light weight, longer
    lasting power source like lithium ion or lithium
    polymer. It wouldn't add more that $50 to the price.
    The battery is probably the heviest item on the
    thing. It just don't make sense...
    • Re:Why NiCd? (Score:5, Informative)

      by dougmc ( 70836 ) <> on Friday August 09, 2002 @08:15PM (#4043380) Homepage
      You must not do much R/C :)

      NiCd's tolerate high discharge rates better than NiMH batteries, and FAR better than Li-ion batteries. They can also be charged faster.

      You can discharge a SCR NiCd battery in four minutes and not damage it. Do that to a NiMH battery, and it'll be too hot to touch, and will be damaged. Try to do that to a Li-ion battery, and you'll ruin it the very first time.

      Also, the NiMH and Li-ion batteries have a higher internal resistance. Voltage drop == discharge rate * internal resistance, so as you draw more and more amps, you get fewer and fewer volts. Eventually, you get less total power from the NiMH and Li-ion batteries, even though they have higher capacities.

      I doubt these things will fly for much longer than ten minutes (if even that.) You're discharging the batteries at a high rate, so you need batteries that can handle it. And those batteries are NiCd's.

      Some park fliers can use Li-ion batteries, and they can stay up for 30-60 minutes at a time. But they fly very slowly and have very little power. Helicopters and other similar vehicles are not so efficient.

      • Re:Why NiCd? (Score:3, Informative)

        by dougmc ( 70836 )
        I just checked the link -- they only fly for 5 minutes. Definately, they *need* NiCd's to handle that much current draw.

        If you were to use NiMH or Li-ion batteries, you'd need much larger ones -- they'd be so large that it couldn't fly with the additional weight.

        On the bright side, these NiCd's can probably be charged in 15 minutes. So, if you have four or five battery packs and a good charger, you should be able to keep flying with only short stops to swap out batteries -- the other battery packs will either be cooling or charging (charging hot batteries = bad idea -- great way to ruin them.)

      • especially the dragonfly

        four small rotors is less efficient than one big one... but cooler :-)
      • Re:Why NiCd? (Score:2, Informative)

        by bm_luethke ( 253362 )
        It depends on what type of rc maybe. At least in the car world NiMH rule the world. 3000 milli-amp sanyo 3000 HV are pretty much the top of line. Even where you can get NiMH and NiCD overlap (2400 milli-amp) to NiMH are the ones used. They have more "punch" and thier voltage discharge curve is better. When racing rc cars the NiCD tend the drop quickly at the beginning, then drop at a fairly even rate for the rest of the battery. Whereas NiMH drop off early but level off (same speed as the top end of the NiCD). They only dump right at the end of thier charge.

        And I would have to say I use some fairly hefty draw. the standard tamiya plugs (basically the tube type connectors - not sure their technical name) will melt and fuse the metal together. I either have to directly solder everything or use "zero resitence" plugs (the resistence is less than the equivilent length of wire - so they use some marketing crap) such as deans ultra plugs. For the 10'th scale rc cars some of the modified engines will drain a 3000 milliamp NiMH in around 5 minutes. If your taking more draw that a 9 turn single hand wound 540 engine in a small rc then you must be making it yourself.

        For lightweight motors look at something like a speed 280 bb - runs aprox 4000rpm/volt. I can run them in my HPI micro rs4 and get ~30000 rpm at the shaft (same as my larger stock engine for the 10'th scale touring car). I run it from a 6 sub aa 1100 pack and get ~15 mins runtime.

        I dunno, maybe in other types of rc this is not the case but for the extremely high draw engines only the NiMH are used - NiCD does not have the performance in a 10'th or 12'th scale vehicle.

        FYI I got my matched set of sanyo's out - the tag says 369 sec @ 1.143 volt - 30 amp - 3.2 mOhm internal. In rc car land matched batteries are batteries that someone (in this case team orion - or whoever they paid to do it) fully charges the batteries. They are next placed on a discharge tray and are given a draw of 30 amps. Things such as discharge time and internal resitence are checked and then the batteries are "matched" to all have fairly equal settings. They are sold in grades - the longest running/lowest resitence seel the highest with the sucky ones going into unmatched packs (eg radio shack specials). I do not have an older set of matched NiCD's to look at - but the NiMH perform much better here.
        • At least in the car world NiMH rule the world.
          That's not quite true yet, even in the R/C car world. NiMH are far more popular than they used to be, but they're hardly ruling the world quite yet.

          NiMH offers higher capacity for a given size/weight. But the internal resistance is higher, and they will not tolerate the high discharge rates that NiCd's will. Here's a reference [] for you. Cars and planes have similar requirements, but planes are far more vulnerable to increased weight, so you'll find that high performance planes often only have enough capacity to fly for a few minutes -- they use the bare minimum capacity to keep weight down. And since they need to dump their charge in 3 minutes, they need NiCd's.

          Matched packs have been around for a long time, and the procedures for making them have not changed since NiMH became popular. The idea is to have all your cells go dead at the same time -- otherwise 1) you've got extra, unused capacity at the end of your race, capacity that could have given you more speed and 2) if one cell goes dead first, the other reverse charge it, making it even weaker, and eventually ruining it.

          In your case, if a good NiMH cell can do 30 amps, a good NiCd cell of the same size may be able to do 60 amps delivering the same voltage. It all depends on what you're looking for. If you want to dump all your power *very* quickly, you want NiCd. If you want to do it slower, NiMH may be what you want. And if you've got an hour to do it, Li-ion works well.

          After all, there's a reason rechargable power tools and similar items usually use NiCd's -- the same sized battery can deliver more current at the same voltage.

          Btw, the reason that NiMh batteries are taking over isn't just the higher capacity -- the main reason is that NiCd batteries are unfriendly to the environment, so they're being `phased' out.

          I have planes that use NiCd cells, and planes that use NiMH cells. The NiCd planes are usually high performance, short flights, and the NiMH planes are usually lower performance but fly longer.

          I've also got a few R/C cars, and so far, all my batteries for those are NiCd. NiCd's may give me a shorter run, but they also give me more power. It's all a tradeoff ...

    • AFAIK NiCad still is able to push more current and live to tell about it. besides, well manufactured NiCad (that's well maintained, not overcharged, mind you) would actually suffer very little (if any) from memory effect -- which is why most people "switched" anyway. That's why most RC cars still use those "old" 7.2V NiCad batteries -- cuz the motor and its 5A (something around there, IIRC from the modelling days) would kill a LiIon).

      erm... well, again, AFAIK.
  • by lingqi ( 577227 )
    It hovers! It spins! It spies!

    more importantly -- it needs re-chargin' every 5 minutes or so.

  • by edrugtrader ( 442064 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @08:13PM (#4043374) Homepage
    if not, imagine all the places (other than the shower) you could put that X10 you bought while you were drunk! ... delay for reader to close popup ad....

    wouldn't that be fun!?
  • Wait, that's what the post is trying to say without mentioning the word 'camera'. Can you say 'camera'? I knew you could.
  • Video (Score:2, Informative)

    by wiZd0m ( 192990 )
    Don't forget the VIDEO 20 020808_HOWW_helicopter/cir_HOWW_heli_05.html
  • by Critical_ ( 25211 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @08:25PM (#4043427) Homepage
    I have been flying r/c gas-powered, gyro-stabilized helicopters for 8 years now. This is nothing new. Most people can buy a full fledged heli setup for $700 or so. Back about 5 years ago, solid state gyros (piezo gyros) came out and have made the old mechanical gyros seem slow and imprecise. For more info on "real" r/c helicopters here are some links:

    I fly an X-Cell Graphite 60 size helicopter with a futaba 9zhs (9 channel) computer radio controller, futaba gy601 piezo gyro, OS .61 SX-H engine. Any questions, feel free to ask.
    • Aren't the real deals hard to fly? I think a lot of novices buy these because you don't have to be an expert to keep it from crashing down in a flaming heap....
      • Crashing (Score:2, Informative)

        by Critical_ ( 25211 )
        Crashing is a part of the learning experience. What many of us did is we take two long dowel and make an "X" out of them and attach it to the bottom of the heli. THis gives in a big footprint so if one was to come down the wrong way, the heli won't tip.

        Given the FMA co-pilot and heading hold gyro, the heli can fly on its owwn almost.

        link to FMA co-pilot: ts&cat=20
      • Aren't the real deals hard to fly?

        I cannot speak for the RC ones, but nothing was as infuriating as just trying to hover a R22 []. While building time to get my instrument ticket, I had the chance to pick up some helicopter time. Seemed like an easy thing to do, right? After all, I knew the airspace - all I had to do was learn to use some new controls. Many weekends later, I came home to celebrate... I hovered! Nothing ever made me swear like trying to get something to just stay in one spot.

        I cannot imaging trying to control an RC version from a third person perspective....
        • on which we can learn.

          Its not that hard:
          • Not sure about RC stuff... I have played with a friend's kit - an RC sim that had a normal control via the serial port. Lets just say the microsoft simulator won't save you lots of time learning how to fly a real helicopter. Airplane, perhaps...
            • Lets just say the microsoft simulator won't save you lots of time learning how to fly a real helicopter.

              I know nothing about full-size helis, but the PC simulators available for RC heli practice are spectacularly useful. I pity people who learn without them. It's possible of course, but simulators make it so much easier it's almost like cheating. Even all the way into complex aerobatics... I still practice stuff on the simulator all the time before I do it out at the field.

              Most of the commercial RC heli simulators cost $200ish, but it's money well spent. That's the cost of a couple crashes with the model, and a sim will save you from way more than just two crashes. I highly recommend a sim to anyone getting into RC helis.

          • And there is one for Linux: the autopilot simulator []. It's GPLed and easier to extend for your hacking projects. I'm using to help tune our helicopter autopilot [], which is also available under the GPL. Unlike the DragonFlyer, our rev 2.2 IMU [] (also GPLed) is a full inertial guidance system with GPS interface.
      • FMA direct makes an awesome 'co-pilot' for helicopters. It basically does the same thing this one does except that the Draganfly is the first helicopter that comes with it in the package.

        The guy that runs the local hobby shop here is really into planes and used to fly helicopters. He had never heard about the FMA co-pilot. I ordered one and a helicopter from him and he was amazed with how easy it is to fly once we got it all together. He described it as cheating. heh.

        All that considered. The $1000 helicopter is fun and all but I have more fun with my friends with a couple or four Fighterbirds from Hobby Zone. They have an infrared or ir sensor/receiver system that lets you dogfight. LOTS of fun.
    • As you know, but most Slashdot readers probably don't, to fly a standard R/C heli, you first have to learn to hover, which is a surprisingly difficult operation to master - it's sometimes compared to balancing on the top of a ball, you have to continually make adjustments to avoid losing stability. How long does your X-Cell maintain a hover if you let go of the sticks? Tell you what, I'll give you a dollar for every second over 30 seconds that you can avoid controlling it without losing a stable hover. (By picking 30 seconds, I'm being incredibly conservative about not having to pay up - 5 seconds would probably be pretty safe.)

      What's being claimed for the Draganflyer is claiming is that hovering is essentially taken care of by the onboard processors, and all a novice flyer has to learn to do is move the joysticks in the direction they want to go. Compared to flying a regular R/C helicopter, this is trivial to learn. With a R/C heli, you have to understand quite a lot about how the collective, the "ailerons", the main rotor pitch, and the tail rotor pitch all interact in order to learn to fly, and you certainly can't just point it in the direction you want it to go and expect it to go there. With the Draganflyer, you apparently can.

      • I'll probably burn more money in fuel than you'll pay me. On a clear day, with no wind I can hover my machine without any input for the entire tank of gas. Furthermore, my piezo gyro is a heading hold gyro so it'll maintain its heading while in the air. Don't make bets on stuff that you'll lose money on.
        • On a clear day, with no wind

          Yeah, way to totally avoid the point. In real life, there's usually wind, which your X-Cell can't deal with without inputs. I'll rephrase. Would you hand your controls over to a random passer-by with no flight experience, to try out? No? Didn't think so. That's why the Draganflyer is something new, because you can actually do that.

          • I'll hand you my controls with wind and all. I'll run my heading hold gyro and an FMA Co-P. You can let the sticks go and it works great. Want a link?

   uc ts&cat=20

            Sorry buddy, the DragonFly is nothing new.
            • Sheesh, you didn't say anything about the FMA Copilot in your earlier messages. You implied that a standard X-Cell with heading hold gyro was as good as the Draganflyer, and that's what I was taking issue with. In fact, you said you'd been flying "for 8 years now. This is nothing new." That's incredibly misleading, because 8 years ago there was nothing like the FMA Copilot available to ordinary hobbyists - it came out within the past year or so, afaik. The Draganflyer did too.

              I wasn't trying to say that the Draganflyer guys invented the idea of stabilization, but the fact is that most R/C helis today have no such technology.

              In case you're just not understanding what the DraganFlyer does, you can think of it like your heading-hold gyro, but applied to more dimensions. It uses piezo gyros in multiple dimensions, in a similar way to what the FMA Copilot does using infrared differential.

              In addition to that, the DraganFlyer's four rotor design and computerized control mechanism means that flying is intuitive - you don't have to deal with collective, pitch, etc. to make it fly, the computer translates the direction you want to go into the appropriate instructions for the aircraft.

              In short, it seems you just haven't yet understood what the Draganflyer does. Hope I've cleared it up a bit for you.

              • I give you that it may be easier than a heli "8 years ago", but that isn't what I am saying or arguing. The FMA CoP was already out before this machine was. This isn't anything new to me. I've seen the builders at the local club do all sorts of weird projects. I guess my point was why spend $700+ for this piece of crap that is being marketed as an RC Heli when you can get yourself a .30 size machine for much cheaper. Sure Heli's might be complicated, but its no more complicated than any other airborne R/C sport (except maybe blimps).
              • Trust me, I have one of these things. They hover about the same as a regular heli, but once you get the thing moving, it's like flying a flybarless single-rotor RC heli: it sucks.

                Some friends and I put gyros on a flybarless heli once, just to see what would happen, and while they tame down the bad behaviors, they don't help nearly as much as a flybar. The Draganflyer (fak Roswell Flyer) feels about as bad as a flybarless heli, and probably for the same reasons (no flybar on the Roswell, just wacky rotor flapping due to disymmetry of list). I'd prefer a flybar-equipped rotor over flybarless any day, and the (flybarless) Roswell Flyer / Draganflyer is no exception.

                In short, it seems you just haven't yet understood what the Draganflyer does.

                Seems to me he knows exactly what the score is. I've flown one. Have you?

      • I have been flying fuel-powered helis for years, and bought one of these quad-rotor contraptions when they first came out in 1999 (it was called the "Roswell Flyer" back then). It's kinda fun, but it's no easier to control than a regular (single-rotor) RC heli. In fact, it's a lot harder if you want to fly it with any speed.

        Piezo gyros are almost standard now for yaw stability on regular helis, but the ones now available for regular helis to better than the ones on the Draganflyer. Regular helis use a "flybar" in the rotor head that does the same thing the as the other two piezo elements on the Draganflyer - but, again, they do it better. The Draganflyer hovers with about the same difficulty as a regular heli - the feel isn't even much different - but once you get moving faster than a crawl, it becomes a real handful. Regular helis are actually much easier to control when flying with any speed. Regular RC helis also have aerobatic potential that fixed-pitch machines like the Draganflyer can't even come close to.

        It's not a bad way to get the hand-eye coordination for hovering, but if (when) you want to get it flying around or get into aerobatics, you'll need something else entirely. And if you're looking for a way to get started with RC helis, a PC simulator is a much better investment.

    • Can any of these A) be controlled by your PC in some manner so that I could control their direction with computer, B) have videocamera attachments with input that thus could be read by computer, and C) stay up in the air for 15 minutes?
    • I have some questions:
      • What is the weight of your 'copter?
      • How long can it fly on a charge?
      • Do you think you could put a 'wee camera on it like the one in the story?
      My grandad built gas-powered model airplanes, he said helicopters were for... well, wussies (that w might have been a p, I can't quite recall ;) I, on the other hand like 'em just fine. Bet my cat would get it's act together if I got one for the apartment!
      • *Weight: 11 lbs
        *Flight time: 10-15 minutes on each tank of gas. No recharging, just fill it and your off again.

        *Cameras: Sure can put them on... sh ip.jpg el .jpg jp g

        there are tons more if you want to see.
      • 5 lbs

        5-10 minutes

        You mean a camera like this? []

        and some sample pictures it took []

        Electrics are nice for aerial photography since they are quiet, clean, and you can fly them places you can't safely put up a gas powered bird. The only drawback is that you can only stay up for 5-10 minutes.

        Some other people have already mentioned it, but the autopilot project [] would be great for this kind of stuff.

      • Weight: I have alchohol powered helis that weigh roughly 2, 6.5, 9.5, and 10.25 pounds. The light one (2 pounds or so) kinda sucks. The other three are fully aerobatic and tons of fun.

        Flight times: They all get about 10-15 minutes on a tank of fuel, as the other fellow said. The control system battery needs to be recharged every 4-6 flights. Eletrics typically fly 4-6 minutes on a charge, but flight times and performance are getting better all the time for those things (I'm hoping to switch to electric when they can make good power for 10 minute flights, but it will probably be a couple years at least). Gasoline powered helis (only available in the larger size, around 12 pounds) run for 25-45 minutes on a tank of fuel, but they don't have quite the same power-to-weight ratio as alcohol burners. Alcohol helis are more popular for aerobatics. Gassers are popular for aerial photography because they have almost no exhaust trail, and for everyday flyers who aren't as concerned with aerobatics and who enjoy cheap fuel (alcohol is $12-25/gallon depending on various factors including the nitro content).

        Cameras: I put a video camera and wireless video transmitter on a couple of mine, with the intention of recording aerobatics from the 'pilots' point of view. There are small cameras that work pretty well for this, the handling of the helicopter was unchanged. Unfortunately, the video range you get with FCC-license-free video transmitters is not very good. It works well for upright flight, but the signal drops out a lot during aerobatics.

        Click here [] for one of my videos. I made this one to demonstrate the video drop-out problem, so it's pretty bad. I had a couple others that (by pure luck) had better reception, but unfortunately I don't have copies online on a server that can take a slashdotting.

        I got a ham license a couple summers ago specifically so I could get some more powerful transmitters for wireless video, but I haven't upgraded the video transmitter yet. It's still something I want to do, though. I'll get around to it eventually.

  • by t0qer ( 230538 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @08:32PM (#4043459) Homepage Journal

    Combine this with a fun GUI [] and we can chase osama out Afghanistan. So he hides in the tunnels eh? Just load up another GUI [] and down some
    tunnels we go!

    • we can chase osama out Afghanistan. So he hides in the tunnels eh?

      Don't need to chase them out of tunnels. Just roll in nothing but cans of beans and seal the entrances. After a few months it will smell so bad in there that they will gladly surrender.

      My cubicle mate has already tested this principle, the jerk!
  • How long until this thing winds up on Thinkgeek?

    I give it a month.
  • ... attach a single-shot gun-barrel and a facial recognizion system and you have an over-used sci-fi plot-device. (Bruce Sterling probably used it first in 'Islands in the Net'.)

    I shudder to think what the DOD boys might do with such a thing. At night, it would be pretty hard to detect.

  • It's a marvelous device. The one thing I was really bummed about was that it only went 5 minutes on battery. That's a pretty big limitation if you think about it. Even 15 minutes would be a heck of a lot better.

    And the robotics professor who tried controlling it by computer really only got it to fly up 15 centimeters and land without help. That was a bit disappointing, as I'd love to work on programming one of these puppies.

    • by alienmole ( 15522 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @09:04PM (#4043580)
      And the robotics professor who tried controlling it by computer really only got it to fly up 15 centimeters and land without help. That was a bit disappointing, as I'd love to work on programming one of these puppies.

      Others have already pointed out the open source Autopilot project [].

      The Draganflyer is limited to 5 minutes because it's so small and light, and runs on batteries. If you go with one of the more established conventional helis, you can get longer flight times. The longest times are still achieved by combustion engines, using either model fuel or regular gasoline, and it's quite easy to achieve more than 15 minutes with one of those.

      However, I don't think it's any accident that the Draganflyer has an unconventional four-rotor design - this allows it to avoid many of the instabilities that a regular helicopter suffers from, and probably makes the job of programming an autopilot for it much easier.

      Still, computer-controlled regular helis, even fully autonomous ones, are possible and have been done. There's even an annual International Aerial Robotics Contest []. The site doesn't seem to be responding right now (secondary /. effect?), but here's one of the previous entries, the MIT/Draper Autonomous Helicopter Project [].

      In the past, these have been pretty expensive devices to put together. Nowadays, as the Draganflyer proves, it's not as expensive as it used to be. The piezo gyros are pretty cheap - in the $100 range for a decent one. Building your own computer-controlled helicopter is definitely doable. The Sourceforge project is probably a good place to start, especially since it'll be a lot easier if it's not a one-man project.

  • by Dr. Ion ( 169741 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @08:48PM (#4043519)
    I had a similar craft called the "UFO", which was maybe 50% larger than this one, but exactly the same design. Four props, two counter-rotating, with fancy stabilization electronics.

    I've flow planes, gliders, gas helicopters, electric helicopters, and mini helicopters, but this 4-bladed craft was harder than any of them.

    The problem is with yaw stability. Any time I tried to do a fast straight flyby, the craft would slightly rotate (yaw) in the wind. It's exceedingly hard to visually see which leg is the "nose" and keep it forward.

    That, and the flight times are abysmally low. The four motors weigh quite a bit, and use a huge amount of power to stay airborne.

    That, with the difficulty in forward flight makes one prefer hovering, where power is used even faster.

    All in all, a nice idea, but I threw mine out after crashing it repeatedly from disorientation. I even tried spraypainting the nose leg orange, no luck. It's that very slow sneaky rotation that gets the controls all goofed up.

    A helicopter has a tail fin that helps orient it nose-to-the-wind in flight. This craft needs something like that before it can fly figure eights with the same ease.
    • A helicopter has a tail fin that helps orient it nose-to-the-wind in flight. This craft needs something like that before it can fly figure eights with the same ease.

      I added a vertical stabilizer to my Roswell (Draganflyer = Roswell Flyer v2.0, same electronics on a more robust chassis). The fin did help keep it pointed forward, but then the problem is the pitch & roll response. It turns out that a platform with four flybarless rotors fly just as bad as a heli with a single flybarless rotor. It's really hard to describe, but if you've flown a flybarless heli, you know what I'm talking about.

      These are OK for indoor flying where you never build up much speed, but beyond that they're a real handful.

  • Google's mirror is here [].

    If you think I'm karma whoring, please go and mod down some of my other posts. I could care less. =)
  • I submitted this article almost two month ago when I saw it on Apple's website. Is this the normal turn around on articles? Soooooo Loooooooong.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I hope this gets noticed, AC because I'm a lazy bastard. I used to fly RC heli's a lot but moved to Melbourne Oz and didn't want to cart mine with me so I packed it in.

    Here is a video (sorry wmv file) of a dude who hooked up a wireless x-10 like camera to his rappy and flys it around the neighbourhood using his TV. mv

    Never had the balls to do this though.

    Anyone fly RC Helis in Melbourne??

  • Fuel cells? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Wonder if they could apply fuel cell tech to this to make it fly longer and "recharge" quicker.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 09, 2002 @09:55PM (#4043708)
    The Vectron Flying Saucer is insanely fun and less than $100.

    Check out this Tech TV article [].

    I bought one recently and my only regret is not letting the Vectron have it's recommended cool-down breaks. I was having too much fun and the constant use killed it in one weekend.

    If you don't have vaulted ceilings, get some. :-)
    • Nifty. Some quick Googling resulted in an MPEG [] and a suggested retail of $100, but the more common price being $85 (such as this site []).

      I may have to get one of those.
      • My local walmart has them for $79 in the "science toys" area near electronics. I've been having a hard time not buying one because it looks so cool. :^) just the thing to fly above your cubical!!

        Though judging by the noise in the video probably not a good thing to fly at work.


  • I know it's redundant, but just imagine the marketing potential if this thig gets bundled with X10 cameras.

    "See what you've been missing in your nieghbor's second story bedroom"
  • Well, 5-15 minutes flight time would be long enough for Mall Security to make a shoplifter's escape awkward. (drone following overhead: "Thief! Thief! Thief!")

    Or... "Spammer! Spammer! Spammer!"

  • IIRC, this has been around a long while under the name 'Roswell Flyer'. What you find is that while cheap, it's not terribly efficient. These types of configurations have severe limitations as far as their endurance as well as range. There are other VTOL configurations that are significantly better. For example, a 7 oz. VTOL tilt-wing machine that only uses two rotors, can hover for 3 minutes or fly forward up to 40mph for up to 15 minutes, and has a wireless camera on board. (It takes a lot more power to hover on the props than to get lift from the wings.) There's the 1.5lb. VTOL that is flown from a dual mode camera (video/IR) using LCD display goggles. There's also work underway to get a 1 hour battery powered VTOL UAV that can fly autonomously. BTW, the small piezo gyros are rate gyros and don't do diddly for slow drift - meaning that you can roll completely over uncommanded if it happens slow enough.
  • McCut (Score:4, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @11:42PM (#4043967) Journal
    This is gonna do to the haircutting business what McDonalds has done to dinner.

    Bulk discounts at stadiums are the wave of the future.
  • Similar concept, but more like a real r/c helicopter (and much less expansive too) is the Snelflight Hoverfly II:


    The one I'm considering now however (waaaay cool and relatively inexpensive) is the RandR Model Aircraft R/C Ornithopter (with in-flight movies):


    If only I could figure out how to r/c fold the wings so I could high-speed dive and scare the crap outa the folks in the park :)

    This designer is so cool he's also got prehistoric flying animal r/c, some at 1.8 meter spans that actually use the head turing for rudder control!
  • Imagine this..

    You bolt on a GPS unit, GPRS capabilities, and some clever microprocessor workings..

    And what do you get?

    Your own little robot slave.

    It's exceptionally possible. You could have a 'helipad' bolted to your window-ledge, you program it as home (by GPS), and it uses GPRS communication to find out other destinations, guided by GPS.

    It could go do your shopping for you, pick up your weed, whatever you want. Larger versions could be made for heavier loads.

    And all the time, you can watch the view from the built-in camera via GPRS. That would rule.

    Simple dopplar radar (inexpensive) can detect buildings and objects, to avoid them. It could use GPRS to transmit location (as GPS is mainly one-way), to a 'air traffic control' type scenario - to stop them hitting eachother. Set a flight-height, of say 200ft above ground and they wouldn't be a problem - it's about time we started using the air space between 100ft and 36,000 ft for something other than nothing.

    Getting these things to fly themselves isn't a huge feat, they already have the majority of the code in the gyroscope control computer - getting it to follow coordinates and avoid stuff isn't such a task.

    So who will build one? Obviousely the military have similar things, guided missiles and so forth, but this is consumer, and is possible..

    Bring it on!
    • You could have a 'helipad' bolted to your window-ledge, you program it as home (by GPS),
      I hope you help assist it in landing. My GPS us usualy acurate within 20 feet most of the time in the horizontal plane and 50 feet verticaly. It would need to be a big landing pad to avoid broken windows.
  • I noticed a little bit of the Tea Party's "Touch" at the end of the 5-minute "orientation" video. These guys are cool in my book...
  • 17 ounces are about 482g.
    That is, if they are avoirdupois ounces. Should the submitter have meant troy ounces, then it's 529g. Duh!
    (See MSDS [])
  • Coming soon to a theater of combat near you:
    Puma []
  • I don't own a draganflyer 3, but I have seen one fly, and I have owned a Vectron. I saw it fly at a R/C trade show (I fly R/C planes).
    The Vectron has an extremely limited range, is always tetherd, and doesn't respond very well to my inputs. I got bored of it quick, but my 7-yr-old son is enjoying it. The Vectron and Draganflyer are not even comparable.
    The people at the booth allowed many people try it out, and they crashed a few times, but didn't break anything. It is like flying a gas helicopter (without the added dimension pitch control can offer), but you can fly it inside, it always works, no maintenance, and you can crash into things and not break it. Seems like a good way to get into R/C helicopters.
    I don't have any video making equipment, but being able to see what the helicopter sees on a TV would be pretty cool.
    I don't think it would work with a X10 camera though...sorry guys.
  • Here is a competitor: tml []

    Says here that is only flies 1-3 minutes but can also be "plugged in" for a longer flight.

    A cooler version I think is the mini indoor helicopter for a little over half the price er.html []

    Now this would be a fun toy at work!!

FORTUNE'S FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL: A giant panda bear is really a member of the racoon family.