Traxxas Summit FPV: Getting Started

I have always been interested in remotely piloted vehicles and the radio-control (RC) hobby, though it was only recently that I started actually participating in it. Ever since my childhood, I had dreamed about placing a wireless video camera inside an RC airplane to experience flight from a first person perspective. As a child, the dream was just that: a dream; fun to think about but mostly unachievable due to the massive learning curve. The cost of the RC hobby was prohibitive at that time, as was the cost (and weight) of the electronics necessary to enable wireless video transmission. Even learning to fly an RC airplane was problematic because there was no room for error once your model left the ground.

Fast forward to the mid 2000s where my interest in unmanned, remotely piloted vehicles led me to engineering school. As a new EE grad I had a strong technical background and the RC hobby was mature and relatively affordable. Lost in a myriad of excuses, I still kept postponing my plans. A few years later, I had the opportunity to earn my private pilot certificate and I jumped on it. Even the experience of real flight didn’t deter my desire to experience first-person RC flight. It wasn’t until last Christmas that the RC bug finally bit. Unwilling to take the step of buying my first model, it was bought for me as a present from my in-laws. I received a Syma S107, IR-controlled, 3-channel helicopter. That was all it took. I was now an RC hobbyist.

The Syma S107 led to my purchase of another one, followed quickly by the purchase of a DX6i transmitter and three Blade Helicopters: a MCX2, MSRX, and 120SR. A month after that I picked up Eflite’s version of the Sbach 342. As of today, I have several kits I have yet to put together: an Align 500 EFL¬†and a Multiplex EZ Glider. While my other RC models are too small to hold serious video equipment, the latter two are prefect for it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t willing to jump into FPV (first-person-view) with two aircraft simply because a single mistake would lead to a crash and loss of some serious hardware. So, I bought a Traxxas Summit for ground FPV. This will let me experiment, build up my ground station and make mistakes that, at worse, would lead to me walking a few hundred feet to overturn a flipped truck.

I picked the Summit because of its utility. The truck has a remotely-operable, two-speed transmission for low and high gear. The low gear mode can be further augmented by locking front and rear differentials. The truck also features four-wheel independent suspension. I wanted something that allows me to really explore and get out of tricky spots if necessary. In the weeks/months to come, I will convert this very capable off-road RC truck into an FPV machine and report on my progress in future blog posts. This is a sample of what I hope to do in the near future:

My Masters Thesis is Finally Done

My MSEE thesis is now complete and I’ve satisfied all of my requirements for graduation from the electrical engineering department. My thesis is entitled “Design of a Reliable Embedded Radio Transceiver Module with Applications to Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Systems“. Well, I guess this concludes my edumahkayshun, and now I gots ta git me a reel job.

University of Washington Robofish on You Tube

My lab’s robotic fish are now on You Tube:


This video demonstrates robot fish schooling


Underwater camera view of our fish

The comments on YouTube about this video resmble the same questions and comments we received at our open house demo – especially the one about laser beams. LOL. Two comments were notable though:

ThunderStormV5000 writes:

Robot Fish for president! They have more brains than the current candidates!

Well, at least in the case of His Holiness the Liberal Savior (Barack Obama), I agree. A PowerPC processor clocked at 40 MHz would do a much better job of running our country.

zharbulfin writes:

thats really kewl. the people who made those r geniuses ^^

Yep, I agree with that one too! :D

Lots of Media Interest

I found out what happened. Our research was originally detailed in an article at UWeek (the University of Washington’s News Site). This article was started all of the media activity and was quoted at Ocean Lines, EurekAlert!, and Slashdot.

This was followed by a news cast at King 5 (Local News for Seattle).

Our work was also featured at ZDNet and Science Daily. Very cool. Today I learned that the Mumbai Mirror also wrote an article. In the Mumbai article, we’re referred to as “boffins” – apparently British slang for “scientists”.

All of this activity isn’t surprising – robots are cool. Robotic fish are even cooler. We’ll be doing some more demos for reporters wanting to show video of coordinated maneuvering of the robotic fish. When this is posted, I’ll let you know

ZDNet Article on the Fish

Located here: http://blogs.zdnet.com/emergingtech/?p=945

Robot Fish on King 5 News

My lab’s work was featured on our local Seattle News station. I designed the radio transceivers that the robotic fish use (you can see a green wire antenna sticking out of them while they swim). Ben designed the actual fish and its unique swimming mechanism (fin actuation). He’s got a sweet CAD model that I’m using in my thesis. Dan built the camera tracking system featured in the broadcast. We used that tracking system to enable autonomous swimming for our open house demonstration that I described a few posts ago.

Video here: King 5 Video on Demand

Internet Black Holes (the invisible /dev/null beast)

The University of Washington has some great ongoing research projects. This one made national news at MSNBC (article: here). The Internet’s backbone consists of many thousands of routers speaking the TCP/IP protocol. TCP/IP was designed at DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to allow network traffic to take multiple routes to a destination. This provides for communication if one or more of the routers fails – a likely scenario in the event of a nuclear war. Because destinations can be reached though multiple routes, each individual path may or may not link to its destination. If it doesn’t link, any traffic that uses that route gets lost, forever. Never before have these ‘bad routes’ been charted. The CS department developed a tool to search for and track these black holes and they affectionately called it UW Hubble.

Check it out: http://hubble.cs.washington.edu

Robotic Fish at the UW Engineering Open House

Close up swimming fishMy lab hosted another successful engineering open house exhibit today at the University of Washington. I’ve been working in the Nonlinear Dynamics and Control Lab at UW for two years now and I’m close to completing my masters degree. My thesis is based on a radio transceiver that I specifically designed to enable underwater communication between our three robotic fish. Today, my transceiver was used to demo our work to the UW community and visitors to the university. [Read more…]

My First Paper

Finally some published research. Yah!

Autonomous Underwater Multivehicle Control with Limited Communication

Lonely Weekend

My beautiful wife is scrap booking with her sister this weekend in Oregon. So I’m here all alone :( So what do I do?…. Order Quiznos and watch zombie flicks! I highly recommend 28 Weeks Later.

Well… that’s just today (Friday). Tomorrow I’ll be knee deep in firmware as I try to design a working RF protocol for our transceiver board.

LOL. Take care everyone.