05
Feb
17

the flying computer

Working with open source programming on the hobby level presents it’s own set of problems for the first time user. Setup of hardware and software on some projects assumes not only that the user has basic skills in hardware setup but also programming.

The Sunfounder quadrocopter kit , consist of a microcomputer and hardware not unlike other microcomputer projects with sensors and software. The supplied documentation in book form with the kit  also assumes that the user has the skills and the proper hardware to connect the processor to a computer.  Even before starting programming or modifying the parameters, the correct drivers must be installed for the USB to serial  connections to the microprocessor. The reason for connecting this device to a computer is for calibration and verification that the proper firmware is running on the controller.

Software and documentation for open sourced programming can be fragmented, that is, different developments or versions for the software components can be found on different sources, posted on web pages, FTPs or forums. Since open source programming can be dynamic in the fact it could be either revised to a newer version from what was originally  issued on one website, or loaded on the hardware, it could also be a stalled project, that receives no additional support. Therefore more than one version may be available and as with all revisions, it’s hoped that the latest revision may still be compatible with the current hardware project but remember that it’s  an collaborative project and while some sites ask for a donation, it’s a passion of programmers to share, comment and revise their efforts available for a global audience usually for free.

Having some experience with programming over the years being mostly with the higher level languages, usually it was with one platform and hardware, now utilizing either a windows or mac environment is not foolproof as each may  have it’s own version of software, hardware  and procedures . Even command line processing and writing assumes that files are placed to follow in the correct directory paths in both execution and installation. Error messages may be cryptic at times. But such is the state of collaborative programming today as one might be inclined to write an app for sale , and BASIC still exists in many forms, open source is the current program exchange and with the online internet connections the process is much faster than the shareware years ago where programming was distributed physically on floppy disks. . One of the most popular types of programming microprocessors is the Arduino   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arduino, but don’t stop there, many, many,  other microprocessors and systems are available.   There is also  a ton of programming courses and kits online  so education can be done anywhere, for free.

The main reason for the flying computer (quadrocopter) was for education and to familiarize myself with one the current micro processing platforms  to gain experience with hardware interface and programming. A drone would be a good example of  programming with tangible results, in this case flight of a miniature aircraft. The popularity of drones both by hobbyist and commercial uses abounds. It’s  a quest to understand how they actually fly. The prices run the gamut of range and the Sunfounder is the lower entry range of projects for an open source environment that includes all items needed to program, assemble, and fly. Some of the components could also be used if the person would be interested in building other flying devices.

Having an   Arduino editor installed on your computer and  having the knowledge to open, edit and compile and save  the code, it gets  uploaded  to the flight controller. ( a fancy name for a microprocessor decked out with the supporting chips to run several motors).  Basically your are changing the supplied code by commenting out code you don’t need for your flight controller. The code file is written for many different types of flight controllers and hardware configurations. The Arduino editor is a simple version of a text editor, and I’m going to have to learn the language sooner or later  and more reading to familiarize myself with the syntax. For the first time user it’s build able without programming experience, but that’s not the end result I was looking for, as you know once the system is up and running the user can modify the code and actively see the results. There certainly is a wide variety of subjects to learn. Microcomputers, sensors, GPS, flight dynamics, radio controls, motor controls, electronics speed controllers, propeller pitch Etc. Years ago anyone wanting to break into the field of radio control planes was hampered by cost.

the flight controller

the flight controller

flight controller

flight controller

Notes:

At first my computer didn’t connect and recognize  the USB serial cable to the flight controller board, it didn’t load the USB drivers correctly right away. Finally after restart it showed in the device manager that the driver was installed. This may utilize port settings as necessary. Sometimes Windows will try to look up and install a driver when first connected. Use the USB driver supplied in the download. Again the proper USB to serial driver must be on your base computer connected to flight controller. (DUH)

USB to microcomputer (flight controller) serial interface board

USB to microcomputer (flight controller) serial interface board

The GUI multiwiiconf.exe didn’t work correctly first try, it seems that JAVA had some files misplaced. It was necessary to copy files to correct directory. Researched on the web for correct procedure. involved both the program/java/ and java/program/ directories. (this is common with open sourced projects, so gain experience with forum setups, Q and A’s  and searches to find answers to your particular problems.) Also the GUI Multiwii, different from the text editor version , isn’t well documented as I tied to change some of the values, by typing , it was a matter of using the cursor and sliding small boxes under the values to modify them if necessary.

also some compatibility issues with the type of platform, 64 vs 32 bit for the miltiwiiconfig.exe. Didn’t run consistently on all occasions.

The GUI runs but at this time didn’t properly show the flight controller parameters yet most likely I have a port setting incorrect.

The 32 bit windows version now works fairly well , some times after starting  the GUI several times the program may hang, and going to the Task manager and stopping multiple occurrences of Java running.

This is a learning experience for a first time user trial and error processor with frequent searches on the web for solutions.

There also may be updates and revisions to the programs to download

Finally the Multiwii GUI runs and read the data from the flight controller , the calibration of the accelerometer can be accomplished.

Next. the receiver is connected to the flight controller and the transmitter is activated, and the receiver is synced to the transmitter, now the data from the movement of the remote controller can be read by the GUI.

assembly of the frame and motors.

assembly of the frame and motors.

After the completion of the assembly, the battery can be connected and the drone is ready for flight. After several attempts, the battery life is very limited, the drone was unable to fly. More diagnostics are needed, the power to each of the 4 motors is not balanced and will not propel the multi copter to level flight.

closeup of the flying computer !

closeup of the flying computer !

After loading a different version of the Multiwii and some tweaking, the drone was able to liftoff and I found out more aggressive thrust is needed to launch the drone , several flights upwards could be accomplished by holding the drone and launching it midair but flight control is a problem as it’s more difficult at first to control the direction and height of flight. ( also the drone is operated indoors, and is fast, a very large room would be better.) OUTSIDE? No,  there are restrictions on drones and it would be advisable to read and understand the safety rules and regulations for flying one. (airports are  one restriction)

a bare bones build, less the supplied LED board (lights) for flight testing

a bare bones build, less the supplied LED board (lights), for flight testing, charging the battery.

More study and tweaking  of the software is needed for more stable flights.

All in all the Sunfounder is a complete entry level kit, all parts you need are contained in the kit including  a 4 channel transmitter (remote control). It provides a challenge for the first time microcomputer programmer and an introduction into radio control flying.

https://www.sunfounder.com/drone/multirotors/6d-box/sunfounder-6d-box-mwc-multiwii-drone-quadcopter-diy-starter-kit-for-arduino-with-2-4ghz-rc-6-axis-gyro.html


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