Monday, February 25, 2013

Making a home for a sensor node - with a laser.

Sensor nodes need a good home if they're to last any considerable amount of time. And if they're to be deployed outdoors, they need an especially robust home.

This can be complicated. Most sensors need to be exposed to the elements to obtain good readings. But expose these electronics to the elements too much, and you'll break them.

In a pursuit of finding the right balance between price and accuracy for a sensor node for professional and community journalists, I'm fabricating a prototype using open-source hardware and software, 3D printers, and now, lasers. Fortunately the "maker" revolution makes this process more accessible than ever.

Previously I wrote about working with Arduinos and temperature sensors. Continuing on the theme of sensor nodes for journalism, here are some details on the next step in the prototyping process.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Engineering periodical profiles emerging field of drone journalism

The Technograph, a student-run publication at the University of Illinois and one of the oldest engineering periodicals in the world, profiled drone journalism in its 128th volume (spring 2013). Includes an interview with Matt Waite, journalism professor and head of Nebraska's Drone Journalism Lab:

Thanks to modern news media conditioning, whenever one hears the word “drone,” one invariably associates the word with military-operated wraiths of the night, waging covert warfare against terrorist groups. However, not all drones are weapons of war. The emerging field of drone journalism aims to use remote-controlled and autonomous robots to aid journalists in collecting information and in reporting the news...
The main advantage of using drones, for Schroyer, is “a more evidence-based approach to journalism. Getting beyond interviews and hearsay and actually getting to some data and evidence that journalists can use.”
Read the story on Technograph's website.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

World's most popular consumer drone gains autonomous flight

Since it was introduced in 2010, the AR.Drone has been a success among hobbyists, hackers, engineering students, drone journalists, activists, and aspiring UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) operators. Produced by the French wireless products manufacturer Parrot, this camera-enabled quadrotor can be controlled over WiFi via iOS or Android-enabled phones and tablets.

This has been the go-to item for many news organizations trying to understand the new world of UAS without a tremendous investment. The Sydney Herald recently used one to help bring context to their story about privacy concerns amidst the proliferation of "drones."

A news crew in Florida also tried using an AR.Drone to get a better view of a live event, but they were chased out of the sky by angry bees.

Since launch, it has sold over 300,000 units. That's ten times the number of UAS that the FAA anticipated would by flying in American airspace... by 2020.

A selling point of the RC aircraft from the beginning has been augmented reality dogfights with other AR.Drones, facilitated by on-board image recognition. Parrot recently unveiled another addition to the drone's list of AR abilities -- a GPS receiver.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nemo Drone Challenge gains support from the drone community

It hasn't been a good month for domestic drones in the United States. Lawmakers in Texas, Oregon, Missouri, and elsewhere recently introduced anti-drone legislation that could cripple commercial and humanitarian drone use in the United States. Journalism, that stuff that provides the essential flow of information for a democracy, could be hampered.

Couple that with delays in the federally-mandated process to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace, and you've got a problem that not only threatens a potential economic boost of $90 billion, but also shuts out life-saving technology.

I wanted to do something about it. I was preparing for a business trip to Washington DC by way of Boston, which is how I came to know a historic blizzard could slam the region and derail my travel plans. I had learned that governors in four states were ordering citizens not to use the road.

Travel, even by emergency vehicles, would be hampered severely. Well, perhaps emergency vehicles that drove on roads. But maybe not ones that flew in the sky.

Friday, February 8, 2013

UPDATED X5 I'll give you $380 if you make your drone useful during winter storm Nemo.

Above is a picture of a quadrotor drone, an airframe from a fixed-wing drone, and $60 $120 $220 $280 $340 $360 $380 cash. The money is yours if you make your drone useful during the aftermath of winter storm Nemo.

I know it's not a lot of money. It's all I can afford right now. Several generous and forward-thinking folks in the drone community have made this prize possible. We'll mail the prize money to you if you complete a task that demonstrates how useful drones can be in the event of a natural disaster.

Why? Because I believe that drones can be used for good. That's why I started and co-founded Drones for Good.

The North East is having a weather crisis. Some call it "Nemo."

Governors in four states have ordered citizens not to use public roads. Airports are closing, and public transit is closing down in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Feet of snow are supposed to fall, making it difficult for emergency crews to respond to the disaster.

You know what could help during a time like this? A drone.

Building a Wifi Temperature Node for Journalism

Wireless sensor nodes can help monitor conditions the community, in the next state over, or across the globe. These sensors don't have to be complex or expensive to be useful -- even a simple wireless temperature node can be helpful in tracking heat waves, monitoring the heat-island effect in cities, and serving as a warning system for asthma sufferers.

Previously, I've chosen a prototyping platform and 3D printed useful parts to make a sensor node. This post covers planning, assembling, programming, and testing a wireless temperature sensor node for journalism.