Sunday, April 22, 2012

Upcoming Projects

So, first off, I have to say, I definitely do not like the look of the new Blogger format. In fact, I hate it. Maybe I'll get used to it but this is just not fun at all. Okay, now that I've ranted, moving on.
I have a few projects in mind that I thought I would write a little about to document for my own sake. It's stuff I've been planning on doing but haven't gotten to yet, although I have a lot of the hardware for it that I have had around when I used to have more funds to get the stuff. I'm still missing a few key components but hope to be able to get them over the coming months.
The first is a home wireless sensing network. This will involve using multiple XBee radios in a mesh network so I can pass around temperature data for various rooms. It'll start just as temperature to begin with but will eventually evolve to other sensors like PIR motion sensors, humidity, light, and whatever else I think would be nice to record and push out somewhere. This will take a little work but shouldn't be too bad, at least for temperature as I have the sensors. The other sensors will take a while to get as it's just too expensive to buy them at one time. Maybe next year.
Then I have some other interesting plans. The first will be something that's more mechanical than anything else. I have been working on converting the body of an old Tonka truck and adapting it to my Traxxas Summit to drive through a video camera. You can see a picture of something similar I'm modeling it after here.
The biggest issue is that my camera will be on top of a servo so I'll likely use the ServoBlocks from Servo City. They have a great setup on their website that will be really useful for strengthening what weight the servo can handle. That would be perfect for this setup. Eventually, it'll transform into something like what you see in this thread. I'm excited about that.
Then my next project is to build an antenna tracker so when I fly my r/c plane with video gear installed on it, I can track the plane for a better video signal. Again, for the pan servo, I plan on using a ServoBlock as that should fit the bill nicely and if I can somehow afford two ServoBlocks, then I'll use them for both pan and tilt to make building a lot easier. That's more of a programming challenge for myself and although it shouldn't be too difficult, the hardest part will just be to get started. Getting the GPS data down to the ground wirelessly won't be an issue at all as I have already done that before.
My final big programming / radio control project of the two will be fairly big. I have a cheap auto-pilot to turn my r/c plane into an autonomously flying airplane. My wife and friends like to run a half-marathon in the fall that I thought would be a nice venue for tracking some runners. The plan is to use the airplane as a relay station in the air. It'll fly in a circle pattern on its own and with it in the air, should have good line-of-sight to the runners to get a clear signal from them. The runners will carry a GPS, battery, and XBee module to transmit their position to the airplane. That airplane will then relay the signal back to a ground station where I will be plotting their positions on the computer. The difficult part will be making sure the data gets from point A to B to C reliably and making sure the plane stays in the air without issue. The antenna tracker I build will be useful for this part to make sure I get the best reception at the ground but I don't think I would need the tracker for a basic telemetry relay. It would be for the next part.
If I can get this project working reliably fairly quickly, then I'll move to a different airplane platform with a really basic camera system underneath that will let me look at the actual runners. I would need to use a directional antenna to make sure to keep a good video link and the pan/tilt will let me keep the receive antenna focused on the airplane so it could pick up even a marginal signal. I would then be able to tell the plane to track a specific runner and it would fly circles over the runner and keep the camera focused on the runner. This last part is a much trickier project and would require modification of the open source code but would be a great project to do. That way, if I want to focus on runner 1 for a little, I tell it to track their GPS location and then if I want to move to runner 2 a quarter mile ahead, then it moves to the next runner and circles them. I may have to make this a multi-year project but it'll definitely be something to work towards and could be very useful if I get it running.
So, that's what I have in mind. I have all the hardware (except spare XBee, GPS modules, and batteries for the runners) for most of the projects, oh yeah, I need ServoBlocks too. We'll see how it goes.