Quantcast
Latest Stories
How To Get Into Hobby RC: Upgrading Your Car and Batteries

In my previous article, I talked about my experience with the ECX Ruckus monster truck and how it brought me back up to speed on current RC technology. One of the challenges that I faced with the Ruckus was that I thought it was too fast for my son to handle. He spent some time driving a slower car and soon had the skills necessary for the Ruckus. That gateway car was a Duratrax Evader BX buggy (which is no longer produced). It was a perfect starter car for him. It was slow enough to keep him out of too much trouble while he honed his driving reflexes. Yet, it was fast enough to get him excited about the hobby, challenge him on occasion, and satisfy the dirt-slinging ambitions of a pre-teen. Once he became comfortable with the Ruckus, however, it was clear that we needed another fast vehicle to keep both of us entertained.

The modified Evader is slightly smaller than the Ruckus, but its performance is on par. Both are powerful and fast.

The simplest route would have been to install a more powerful brushed motor and a new set of high-traction tires on the Evader. After briefly considering that option, I decided to modernize the buggy completely. I added ball bearings, a 2.4GHz radio, a brushless motor system and a quasi-monster truck makeover. Let's walk through that upgrade.

Many RC cars include bronze bushings on their moving parts rather than ball bearings. They work okay for beginners, but they eventually wear down and the tolerances between moving parts get loose. Then things get sloppy, noisy, and draggy. Upgrading to ball bearings reduces quite a bit of friction, but also maintains the same tolerances throughout the life of the car. I purchased a set of ball bearings for the Evader and guided my son through the steps to install them.

Ball bearings reduce friction between rotating parts, but they also maintain consistent tolerances over time. The bushings included with many starter cars eventually become sloppy and wear out.

To install the bearings, we had to disassemble the whole transmission. This was a good opportunity for my son to get a look inside the gearbox and get a feel for what it does and how it works. There are also bearings for the rear axles and front wheels. It probably took less about an hour to do the whole thing.

The radio that came with the Evader worked just fine. However, I wanted not only a 2.4 GHz radio, but something with more adjustability to help control the power I expected out of the souped-up Evader. I ended up with a Futaba 4PLS 4-channel radio system. What a radio! I’ll cover its range of features in the upcoming computer radio overview. But I can say that this is by far the nicest surface radio I’ve ever owned and probably the last one I’ll ever need.

In Brief: A Tantalising Glimpse Into Google X

Fast Company got to take a rare peek inside Google's secretive moonshot division, Google X. The Google X team is tasked with finding technologies that will literally change the world, but have a very low probability of success. Previous X projects include Google's self-driving cars, Project Loon balloons to provide Internet access in the developing world, and even Google Glass. The article is worth a read, but the key is that the group eschews the incremental improvement that is characteristic of the rest of the technology industry.

Will
11 Essential Tweaks for Your New Samsung Galaxy S5

The Galaxy S5 is finally here, debuting new hardware and software from Samsung. Even those who have owned a Galaxy phone before are sure to find a few unexpected treats in this device. Samsung has traditionally engineered one of the more extreme Android skins, but TouchWiz has come a long way since its early days of iPhone cloning.

There are some excellent features you'll want to take advantage of, and some you will want to hide as best you can. Let's get your Galaxy S5 in shape!

Kill Bundled Apps

Unless you've picked up the unlocked international Galaxy S5, there are going to be some carrier apps cluttering things up. Even the unlocked version will have a couple Samsung services you probably won't want or need. Luckily, Android supports disabling included apps that can't be uninstalled. They still take up a little space, but they won't run in the background or accumulate data.

Just take a peek in the app drawer and decide what needs to go. Open the main system settings and find Application Manager. Slide over to the All Apps tab and scroll down until you find the app or apps you want to disable. It'll probably be things like bundled navigation apps, caller ID services, security suites, and other unnecessary junk. Open the desired entry and tap "Turn Off." Other Android devices label the button Disable, but it's the same thing.

You can find all the disabled apps in a tab to the far right in the Application Manager called (predictably) Turned Off. You can go there to turn things back on if you need them.

Tested In-Depth: Amazon Fire TV Streaming Media Player

We sit down to review and discuss of Amazon's new streaming media player, the Fire TV. We test its voice control and gaming capabilities and demo some unique video playback features.Here's how this set-top box compares with Apple TV, the Roku 3, and other dedicated living room devices when it comes to streaming video from the most popular video services.

Tested Explains: How Google's Project Ara Smartphone Works

Project Ara is real, and Google has its fingers on the pulse of the technologies required to make modular smartphones a reality. Given the overwhelming public response to the Phonebloks concept, it's something that users seem to want, too. But whether or not Project Ara modular phones have a future in the smartphone marketplace will largely depend on whether or not there's a strong hardware ecosystem to support it. The custom PC market wouldn't have flourished a decade ago if component manufacturers weren't making user-friendly video cards, storage drives, motherboards, and power supplies--the building blocks of a PC. That's the point of this week's Ara Developers Conference: getting partners excited and educated about how they can build hardware to support that vision for a modular phone.

The two-day conference, which was also streamed online, coincided with the release of the Project Ara MDK, or Module Developers Kit. This MDK provides the guidelines for designing Ara-compatible hardware, and along with the technical talks presented at the conference, offer the first clear look in the technologies that make Ara possible, if not completely practical. I attended the conference and read through the MDK to get a high-level understanding Google's plans for Ara, which goes far to address the concerns we and experts have had about the modular phone concept. I'm not yet a believer, but at least this clearly isn't a pipe dream. The following are what I consider the important takeaways from what Google has revealed so far.

A brief note: the conference was also the first public showing of a Project Ara working prototype (past photos have been of non-functioning mockups), though the unit was unable to boot up and had a cracked screen. A little appropriate, given that both the main processing unit and screen are replaceable modules.

Project Ara is two core components: the Endoskeleton and the Module

On the hardware side, Google has laid out specific guidelines for how Project Ara phones can be built. The most important piece of hardware is the chassis, or what Project Ara leads are calling the "Endoskeleton." Think of this as an analogue to a PC case--it's where all the modular components will attach. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the design of Razer's Project Christine, in that a central "spine" traverses the length of Project Ara phones, with "ribs" branching out to split the phone into rectangular subsections. In terms of spatial units, the Endoskeleton (or Endo) is measured in terms of blocks, with a standard phone being a 3x6 grid of blocks. A mini Ara phone spec would be a 2x5 grid, while a potential large phone size would be a 4x7 grid.

Fitting into the spaces allotted by the Endos structure would be the Project Ara Modules, the building blocks that give the smartphone its functionality. These modules, which can be 1x1, 2x1, or 2x2 blocks, are what Google hopes its hardware partners will develop to sell to Project Ara users. Modules can include not only basic smartphone components like the display, speakers, microphone, and battery, but also accessories like IR cameras, biometric readers, and other interface hardware. The brains of a Project Ara phone--the CPU and memory--live in a primary Application Processor module, which takes up a 2x2 module. (In the prototype, the AP was running a TI OMAP 4460 SoC.) While additional storage can be attached in separate modules, you won't be able to split up the the AP--processor, memory, SD card slot, and other core operational hardware go hand-in-hand.

How to Ship a T. Rex Across the Country

From National Geographic: "The Nation's T. rex, one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever found, is taking a 2,000-mile road trip from Montana to its new home in Washington, D.C. To prepare the dinosaur fossils for the journey, a team of experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of the Rockies packed and cataloged the hundreds of bones to ensure their safe arrival." Now that's one FedEx tracking number I'd like to have.

In Brief: Amazon's Smartphone May Have 3D Interface

First tablets, then a settop box, and now a smartphone. Amazon is increasingly becoming not only a services company, but a devices one as well. There have been many rumors in the past few weeks indicating that Amazon is almost ready to reveal its first smartphone, with the Wall Street Journal claiming a June announcement for a product release before the end of the year. BGR today posted not only many more details about this potential upcoming phone, but also what they claim are photos of the device. The high-end phone will run a heavily-forked version of Android, run on hardware similar to that found in other new Android phones, and have a 4.7-inch 720p screen. That relatively low resolution is likely to its big differentiating feature: four IR cameras on the front of the phone used for face and eye tracking. Ostensibly, these cameras will track the user to facilitate a glasses-free 3D interface. BGR's sources claim that this 3D effect will not be like the parallax filters used in the Nintendo DS. Instead, it'd be more like the faux 3D parallax effect (and nauseating side effects) of iOS 7's wallpaper, but one that responds based on where you head is instead of how you tilt your phone. The increased battery drain from processing and rendering this effect is likely why the phone would have a 720p display (also likely heavily subsidized), and my guess is that this novel interface effect is a trojan horse to let Amazon track user behavior when using their phones. Amazon wants to know not only how you're browsing the web and using your phone, but where your attention is, as well. More scary than exciting stuff.

Norman
Awesome Jobs: Meet Linda Gormezano, Polar Bear Poop Tracker

Understanding the changing dietary habits of polar bears is the key to seeing how climate change and shrinking polar ice is affecting their lifestyles. And the best way to know what’s happening with their diet? Look at their poop, of course! Linda Gormezano, an ecologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, has trained her dog Quinoa to help her find the best samples left by bears as they cross the frozen Canadian tundra. Gormezano chatted with us about why poop is such a useful scientific specimen and what it’s like to spend months living in a camp in the heart of polar bear country.

A grouping of adult male polar bears along the coast of western Hudson Bay in summer (photo credit: Robert F. Rockwell)

What’s ecology and how does it apply to polar bear research?

Ecology is the interaction between animals and the environment. What we’re studying is how polar bears behave on land with respect to available food -- what they eat and where they eat it. What I’m particularly interested in is how they hunt other animals and how the calories they gain from consuming them are going to affect their annual energy budget as their access to ice becomes more limited.

We collect scat and hair samples non-invasively. After consuming food on the ice or on land some bears leave scat. Also some bears rest right along the coast, bedding down in sand and grass where they leave hairs behind, while others head further inland and leave hair in dens.

Linda Gormezano and her dog, Quinoa. (photo credit: AMNH)

What, exactly, is an energy budget?

Nobody really knows how often polar bears in western Hudson Bay capture seals, but they get a certain amount of energy from consuming seals they hunt out on the ice and that energy allows them to survive on land for 4-5 months each year. If the ice melting earlier each year causes polar bears to have less time to hunt seal pups in spring, they may be taking in fewer calories over the course of the year.

What we want to know is, now that they’re eating more of certain types of foods on land, what kind of energetic benefits might polar bears be experiencing? Up until now many have thought what they were eating on land wasn’t really helping them at all. To evaluate this, we are examining the energetic costs and benefits of capturing and consuming those foods as well as how often the behavior occurs. Only then can we determine whether these foods could help alleviate nutritional deficits that polar bears may come ashore with.