Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: Veho VCC-005-MUVI-NPNG Action Camera

For those of us who are cheap, the GoPro action camera is a bit rich at $200 to $400 US.  I decided to try an alternative, the Veho VCC-005-MUVI-NPNG action camera package which costs about $90 to $150, depending on where you buy it.

This package called "No Proof No Glory" (NPNG) includes a lot of mounting and other accessories as shown in the photo.  A waterproof case and remote contral are noteworthy.  The camera itself is compact and light, and records in HD format at 30 fps with a fixed lens.  Controls are pretty basic, but the touch screen LCD covers most of the rear of the camera, leading to inadvertent commands if you mishandle the camera.  A standard screw tripod mounting is on the bottom of the camera.  Documentation is quite good as the company is based in the UK.

Video quality is very good and sound quality is good in my opinion.  Battery life is good and recharging is done through a USB cable.  MicroSD card is used for storage.

I have tried the camera in fixed mode on a tripod and mounted on a drone.  It worked well in both cases and successfully survived hard landings (crashes) of the drone.  Although downloading the video is a little slow, it is bearable and I was able to edit the video using Imovie on a MAC.  I would recommend this camera for those who don't want to fork out for a GoPro.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Autonomous Airdog Drone is Personal Aerial Cameraman

The Airdog is a quadcopter drone that follows people, videorecording what they are doing - action sports seems to be a particular interest.  It is not commercial yet, but they are raising money and perfecting the product.  It is kind of like having your own personal aerial cameraman, without having to hire a helicopter or a drone pilot to do the filming.

The Airdog is programmed to follow the Airleash, a device you wear on your wrist.  You press a button to take off, then the Airdog follows you recording your stunts, then you press a button to make it land.  The video below gives you some idea of what it can do.

Seems like a great idea but I am sure there are some concerns about safety that need to be addressed.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review: LotusRC T380 Quadcopter

This medium size hobby quality quadcopter is getting long in the tooth as it was introduced back in 2011, but is still workable as a camera platform or fun flyer for an experienced pilot.

The LotusRC T380 is sold under a variety of names and is available from various China-based sources and on Ebay for about $200-$400 US.  The specs are as shown in the table below.
Aircraft size
Maximum expandable size
Motor to motor
Diagonal distance between two motor centers
frontal and versa professional props 8045
LiPo 3S 2200mAh 20C
Aircraft weight(kit only)
Without battery, receiver, applicable payload
Take-off weight
3S 2200mAh 1P battery, receiver
Recommended payload
Camera mount
Maximum payload
Use standard 1P battery
Maximum takeoff weight
Use standard 1P battery
Flight distance
Visual area
Flight time
3S 2200mAh 1Pbattery, receiver
Wind resistance


The unit combines aluminum and composite construction with the electronics prominently displayed under a clear canopy.  The motor housings and propellers are easily removable for transportation.  The landing gear is narrow and somewhat fragile and you may want to consider buying a replacement.  The radio system, if supplied, is 2.4 GHz and fairly basic.

Documentation is poor but better than some. A short set of 6 pages in readable english with some setup instructions.


Relatively tricky to fly, sensitive to the controls, and should be flown by an experienced pilot.  Spend time on the setup and trim to get best results.  Flight time is about 15 mins on one battery and it takes about 1 to 2 hours to recharge.  There are no prop guards or other crash resistant features so watch out.

This can be flown outdoors quite easily due to its power and wind resistance.


There are some accessories such as camera mounts, GPS add-ons, and others, but you will likely need to buy them online from China.  Extra props are available on Ebay and other sources.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: Hero RC Sky Matrix H1306

This small low cost toy-grade quadcopter is an ideal trainer due to its design, low cost, and resilience.

The Hero RC Sky Matrix H1306 is a small indoor unit available from Amazon and others for about $35 to $45 US.  This includes the copter, transmitter (mode 2), extra battery, USB charger, and extra props.  All you need to add are AA batteries for the transmitter.


The unit incorporates an all around plastic and metal cage, ostensibly for rolling up and down walls.  You can certainly do that but the main advantage is that you can hit the floor, ceiling, or almost any other obstruction without damaging the quadcopter.  See my previous post for video of Matrix bashing into all manner of things with no damage.  Other than that, it is a pretty standard 4 channel quadcopter with 6 axis gyro stabilization.

Documentation is terrible - a google translation from Chinese with some made-up words thrown in.  Read it to get some basic ideas and a good laugh.


Relatively easy to fly, but very sensitive to throttle input, you will spend a lot of energy jockeying the throttle stick to maintain altitude.  The LEDs are bright inside and will help you with the orientation of the copter.  Flight time is about 5 mins on one battery and it takes about 1 to 2 hours to recharge.  The inevitable crashes do not seem to mar walls or ceilings, in case your wife or mother is wondering.

This can be flown outdoors if it is really calm, but be careful as it will be harder to control than in controlled indoor environment.


There are no accessories and you cannot add any due to the small size of the unit.  There is no easy way to attach a camera and it would have to be really small and light, and you would see the plastic cage when using the camera anyway.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Learning to Fly A Quadcopter

The old adage was that you had to get an instructor to learn how to fly a radio controlled airplane - don't do it yourself, you will crash, it is hard, you need an official flying field, etc etc.  This was clearly true when I tried to fly RC planes in the early 1970's.  The planes took a long time to build, were powered by glow engines, flew very quickly, were expensive, and hard to repair.  You could easily crash and it was very costly.  My first attempt at flying wrecked my Goldberg Falcon 56, damaged my OS Max .30, and damaged my RC servos.  The cost in 1970 was about $200, in today's money that is about $750.

The good news is that you don't need a lot of money, an instructor, and a flying field to learn to fly a quadcopter drone.  You can do it at home for about $35.

Buy a good toy quadcopter with rotor guards like the Hero RC Sky Matrix H1306 for about $35 US.  You will get a decent indoor quadcopter that will withstand multiple collisions and crashes, along with extra props, battery, charger, transmitter.  You just add some AA batteries for the transmitter.  You can bash this into the wall, ceiling, floor, and it will likely be undamaged.  My unit is fine after probably 20 or 30 crashes, I have not even used the extra props.

To teach yourself to fly:

  1. Follow the instructions to set up the unit on its stand that is part of the display box.
  2. Make sure the LEDs are solid red.
  3. Point the nose of the unit with the red LEDs away from you.  Pick a room that is pretty open and not cluttered with chairs, tables, etc. so you have some room.
  4. Slowly advance the throttle until it lifts off.
  5. Try to get it to hover at about 3 to 6 feet in front of you.  Manipulate the throttle to get it to hover.  Don't touch the other controls or just give small inputs.
  6. Don't worry if it crashes, pick it up, put it back on the stand, go back to step 3.  Try again.
  7. Once you can get it to hover for about 10 or 20 seconds, try to use the controls on the right stick to keep it hovering in one place.  Left and right stick makes it move left and right, forward stick moves it forward, and back stick moves it back.
  8. Try this for a while until you can get it to hover in one place for about 30 seconds.
  9. Next try making the unit turn around using the left stick.  Make the nose point towards you and try to hover in one place for 30 seconds.  This "nose in" position is tricky because all the controls are reversed except the throttle.  Right stick right makes the copter go left, stick left makes it go right, etc.  This is one of the trickier things to learn.
  10. Once you have mastered all this, which will take a little while, try flying around the room in a circle and then landing.
A few things you will discover:
  • It is a little harder than you think if you are uncoordinated like me
  • The battery will last about 5 mins
  • As the battery is expended, you will need more throttle to stay aloft
  • There is only a small range of throttle where you can keep it hovering - a little less and you hit the floor, a little more and you hit the ceiling.  It is good training for your thumbs!
Check out me learning to fly in this Youtube video.

FREE Quadcopter Manual Editing

To all Chinese Quadcopter Manufacturers,

Your English manuals are awful.  It looks like they are a bad mix of Google Translate and Spellchecker, with some made-up words thrown in (see below).

I will happily edit your manual in English to make it understandable in return for a free sample of your product.  I will take the product sample and a draft of your manual and return a readable manual within 1 week in Word format for your use.  I am serious about this - I get free quadcopters, you get readable manuals which can help sell your products.

Think about it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Drones, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This essay is written to alert people about what will change in the future due to readily available “Drone Technology”.   What do I mean by Drone Technology?

Drone Technology consists of:
  • Traditional radio control (RC) model components: transmitters, receivers, servos, and batteries.  This has existing for over 45 years.
  • Traditional model making components: RC airplane, car, boat, helicopter kits, spare parts, glow engines, raw materials (wood, aluminum..).  These have existed for over 75 years.
  • New power technology: rare earth motors, high capacity Lipo batteries, large displacement gas engines, electronic speed controls.  These became available in the last 15 years.
  • New electronics and software: programmable control boards, telemetry transceivers.  This is a modern invention of the last 5 years.
  • New sensors: compact digital video cameras, gyroscopes, compasses, GPS receivers, altimeters, temperature sensors, magnetometers, barometric pressure transducers.  Modern inventions driven by smart phones, video games, and car electronics. 
What this means is that we have progressed from expensive difficult to fly radio controlled aircraft controlled line of sight from the ground (15 years ago) to affordable self guided multi-rotor programmable drones that can fly up to 20 miles carrying a payload of up to 10 pounds and perform a number of tasks like taking videos, dropping something, landing, etc. If a fixed wing drone is used, it could likely fly up to 50 miles autonomously on a precision pre-programmed path performing tasks. These are self-sufficient drones requiring no control from the ground.

The Good

  • New productive capabilities for businesses: inspecting roofs, cell towers, electrical equipment, photographing, trimming trees, finding fish in a lake, you name it
  • New capabilities for public service: search and rescue, surveying crime scenes, mapping, etc.
  • Forget package delivery by Amazon, this will not happen for many years as flying an unreliable drone over a populated area in weather is a recipe for disaster
  • It is a fun hobby

The Bad

  • Walls will no longer allow you to have privacy, like in your backyard
  • Some fool will likely fly one of these in a populated area, crash it and kill somebody
  • Some fool will fly near an airport and nearly cause a crash
  • Noise and disturbance

The Ugly

  • This technology opens up the following criminal possibilities:
    • Cross border drug and gun smuggling
    • Delivery of contraband to prisoners when they are outside exercising
    • Anonymous delivery of drugs within an area
    • Entering houses through open upstairs windows and stealing valuables
    • And so on
  • Terrorist possibilities
    • Dropping bombs or chemicals on innocent people (easy)
    • Ramming commercial airliners (hard)

How can we deal with this phenomenon? Unfortunately, the genie will not go back in the bottle, this technology is available worldwide. Laws are needed and will regulate the law-abiding person, but will not stop criminals or terrorists. However, the laws will allow us to put criminals in jail. Jamming technology will have little effect as the drones do not require a communication link as they are autonomous. Guns will have little effect, although a shotgun will be the best weapon to bring down a drone.

I believe we have to re-think security and safety. Assume these drones exist and design protection that does not rely only on terrestrial measures, like walls, barbwire, gates, and the like. Re-design to account for the hazards of these devices