Saturday, January 01, 2005

Too many ideas, too little time...

So, I've started a little corner of the internet for posting my ideas. I'm not going to rant and rave about life, the world, or otherwise, but interesting projects I've run across online, useful websites, and ideas bouncing around my head. So, why Technical Alchemy?

(no, this is not LEGO related)

I went to college to be a mechanical engineer. I don't do that right now at work (still want to). However, I have an interest in learning, so I'm dabbling in ideas ranging through electronics and computer science. It's an easier pasttime than trying to get a machine shop into my apartment. However, I have only basic electricl/electronic knowledge, and a little programming skill, so it might as well be alchemy at this point. Situations like that tend to change very fast for me, though.

That machine shop will come when I get a house, then I'll start tackling plastics and composites.

So, for the moment, here's the current list of hopeful projects and some notes on them.

  • 2.4GHz R/C basic control system (BCS) - Currently on my breadboard as I'm slowly working on the PIC code to implement this. The 2.4GHz transcievers are currently prepackaged, so no RF design headaches.
  • Intertial Measurement Unit (IMU) - Haven't bought a GPS yet, it'll be part of an upgrade to the R/C BCS. Also haven't started on the codework.
  • CANoPIC - CAN over PIC. Bascially a series of modules (which the R/C BCS will be one) that allow me to implement CAN based networking of a given common R/C function, such as a dedicated brushless motor controller. This is for my own ease of work and an experiment to reduce the interference common with R/C designs. More on the modules later.
  • UGV - The UGV will be built as a custom vehicle body with a modular arm for poking cameras into crevases. It'll be the testbed for the R/C BCS. I could buy an R/C car for this, but where's the fun in that? Although that might happen later when the system needs to be more rugged.
  • UAV - There's a whole bunch of ideas floating around here. Although all of them depend on the IMU for guidance and to tell the airplane where to circle, the plane itself is up for grabs. Standard fixed wing powered-glider, rocket boosted glider, and scissor wing rocket booster (I like this design on principle) are all possibilities, in increasing order of difficulty.
  • VTOL - Electric or gas powered VTOL. Maybe similar in design to an Osprey, but I know to get ANY performance out of it, I'd need to keep the weight down, so no UAV stuff. I'd still need the IMU onboard as I'd like to make it computer controlled and docile (the IMU could react faster than I could). However, I'd definitely need access to a machine shop for this one. No one makes the variable pitch blade hubs I'd need and the chopper ones don't have enough pitch.
  • Pan-Tilt-Zoom Camera - There's probably going to be 2 phases to this. First one will use a micro NTSC camera I have laying about. Second version would use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 (3Mpixel, 12x optical, optically stabilized, about a pound for weight) that would be hacked apart and the controls attached to a microcontroller. In either case, the NTSC video out would be hooked into a frame grabber and hopefully something similar to the CMUCam (automated tracking of a target especially) could be worked out. The FZ3 would give the design a zoom lens, image stabilization, and a 3Mpixel photo capacity. I'd also like to hotwire the photo capacity to allow me to transmit the pictures back across the datalink without needing to land, but first things first.
  • The Silly Scope - a modular oscilloscope. It'd have a power and computer access board plugged into a backplane. The remaining backplane slots could be logic analyzers, high speed ADCs, and the like. Power and databus back to the master (USB probably) controller would be provided along the backplane, as would be a sync/trigger line for simultaneous capture operations. I'd like to make it Bitscope compatible and open hardware.
  • Phased Array Radar - I'd love to make a small radar for the UAV. Now, this is far beyond my ken right now (RF is still black magic to me). However, the Silly scope modules would be a good first start. One of the possibilities is a module running a PIC for control, having an Xilinx Spartan3 for onboard DSP and datacapture, and dual 200MS/s AD converters. Oh, and some very fast memory. My primary use is for ranging, although I'd love to be able to do synthetic apeture tricks with it. I'll probably start with a sonar system as it requires far less speed and cost, but doesn't have the effective range for use as a radar altimeter, for instance.
  • Walking Robot - Very similar to the Robo-ONE designs, and therefore very expensive (30 R/C servos x $80 for high power digital ones? I think not). Maybe later, though.
  • Exoskeleton - Definitely on hold till I have a garage. I'm not aiming for much strength. I was actually thinking of building a costume around it (therefore light weight) and just worrying about that weight. The control "suit" and the frame itself are to be separate, both for ease of application (may not be comfy, though) and so that the frame can be tested without risking life and limb of the tester. Seven feet of tubular bars, heavy batteries, pneumatics, and car window motors (cost!) is just too much for an apartment. The motion capture suit, however, can be built. Could be fed into a computer for animation purposes (for my brother).
  • Digital Dustbunnies - Similar to Smart Dust, just my own needs, right now, not in the future. Small PICs with a few sensors and a 2.4GHz transciever get scattered about randomly from a UAV air drop of an air cannon "shot load". Heat/sound/motion/sesmic sensors allow for rapid scanning for anything alive in the area. Although good for Search and Rescue purposes, I'm far too cheap to allow them to just be thrown away right now, even for a good purpose. I'd have to go and pick them up.
  • Aircannon - One of my original ideas from a long time ago. It'd be more like an air mortar. Short, wide barrel, high angle. It would have used smart ammo that would have communicated with the launcher via a 125KHz carrier (RFID tech) to specify what type of round it is. The ammo would be loaded either in a belt fed system or a revolver type magazine and would have been breech loaded. Very much fully automated. Primary loads would have been the Digital Dustbunnies, paintball cluster rounds, Brilliant Paintball Rounds (think parachute deployed self targetting single shot paintball round), the original UAV idea (Fast to high altitude, parafoil wing deployment), and a few more I can't remember right now. This one requires a farm away from the city to actually not be arrested, and who knows if even that is safe these days. Oh, hi Mr. Homeland Security Officer...
Ok, that's it for now, off I go. Wonder if I missed any?

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