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    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 2

    In the first installment of this series, I assembled most of the frame components of the Strider Mini Quad. I also installed and soldered the motors and ESCs. Although the flight controller was installed in the frame, it still required attachment of the various wires and configuration of the firmware within. Let’s focus on those tasks and keep moving.

    Plugging in the CC3D

    The flight controller is the nerve center of any multi-rotor. It takes your control inputs and the data from its onboard sensors and translates it all into commands for each of the ESCs. There are several different brands of flight controllers. Considering all that they do, most of these units are incredibly small. The flight controller I chose is the OpenPilot CC3D (CopterControl 3D), which fits perfectly on the Strider’s stock flight controller mount.

    THE OPENPILOT CC3D IS A POPULAR FLIGHT CONTROLLER. IT FITS THE STRIDER PERFECTLY.

    From a wiring standpoint, the flight controller is situated between the radio receiver and the quad’s ESCs. First I attached the ESCs to the CC3D. The CC3D has a bank of pins that accept the standard receiver plugs found on most consumer RC equipment. The quad’s motors are numbered sequentially as you go clockwise, with the #1 motor being the front left. I attached the plug from this motor’s ESC to the #1 pins on the CC3D and then followed suit with the other ESCs.

    To connect the CC3D to my Futaba R617FS receiver, I used the 8-wire harness included with the flight controller. The colors of my wires didn’t match those on the OpenPilot diagram, so I just referenced the pin order. The first two pins are negative and positive power. The remaining pins are signals for channels 1-6 respectively.

    THIS VIEW ILLUSTRATES THE BUNDLE OF WIRES FROM THE SPEED CONTROLLERS (ORANGE/RED/BROWN) THAT ARE CONNECTED TO THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE CC3D. THE MULTI-COLORED BUNDLE OF WIRES EMERGING FROM THE LEFT SIDE OF THE BOARD ARE CONNECTED TO THE RADIO RECEIVER.

    PPM (Pulse Position Modulation) receivers like the FrSky model shown in the Strider manual, and Sbus receivers like some Futaba models require only one signal wire for all of the channels. The R617FS is a standard PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) receiver. As such, it has three pins for each channel: positive, negative and signal. The positive and negative connections from the CC3D can be connected to any channel on the receiver. The signal wires must be connected to their assigned channels.

    In addition to the connections to the CC3D, I made a signal wire connection from the receiver to a pin on the Strider’s frame. This wire allows a 3-position switch on the transmitter to operate the Strider’s built-in LED lights, lost model alarm, and also toggle crosshairs in the OSD function. I used channel 7 for this, since it was already mapped to a 3-position switch on my Futaba 7C transmitter. By going this route, I did not need the channel 6 signal wire from the CC3D.

    Testing: Autopilot App for DJI Phantom 2 Vision+

    While it was somewhat overshadowed by the announcement of Inspire 1 quadcopter last year, DJI also released an SDK for its Phantom line of consumer quads. This was a big deal--the SDK allows developers to tap into the data feed and capabilities of the Phantoms, including video streams, camera controls, flight telemetry, and most interestingly, flight control. It meant that devs could make apps to serve as alternatives to DJI's own Vision flight app, or apps with specialized capabilities to serve specific user needs. Notable apps that have come out of this program include autonomous mapping and photogrammetry from Pix4D, as well as multiple UAV fleet control from PixiePath. Today, a startup called Autoflight Logic has released its own app using the DJI SDK--one that gives the Phantom the ability to autonomously follow and film a moving subject.

    We've discussed this idea on the podcast before--the Phantom technically should have enough information in its telemetry to know where it is relative to any fixed target. It's just geometry: you can use altitude (height) and lateral flight distance (length) information to calculate not only the Phantom's absolute distance (hypotenuse) from you, but the angle at which it would need to aim its camera to center you in its sights. That kind of autonomous tracking gets more complicated for moving subjects, but an autopilot app could tap into the relatively precise GPS information provided by a phone or cellular-enabled tablet. The quad knows where it is, it can know where you are, the rest is math.

    Of course, implementing such a system isn't really as simple as that. There are so many factors to consider: the accuracy of the GPS, how often data is sent between Phantom and app, limitations of the SDK, failsafes, etc. There's also the consideration of quadcopter as a cinematography tool--something we've had a little experience with. Automated camera control needs to simulate the steady and graceful pans of manual control, or at least produce footage in predictable way that can be edited later. The video in this promo for Autoflight Logic's Autopilot app ($20) looks promising:

    Autoflight Logic claims to have solved for many of these problems, and it's the first third-party autonomous flight app approved by Apple's App Store review team. We were given access to the final build of the app ahead of its release this morning, and spent an afternoon testing it in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park with the help of our friend (and experienced Phantom pilot) Jeremy Williams. Some of our flight footage from the test is embedded below.

    Vincent Laforet's AIR Photography Project

    We've previously talked about Vincent Laforet's AIR project on Still Untitled, in which the photographer captures cityscapes from thousands of feet in the air. His photos of New York and Las Vegas are breathtaking. And most recently, he visited San Francisco for two helicopter rides for the project, snapping shots of our fair peninsula as we've never seen it. The photos are beautiful, of course, but Laforet's commentary about the logistics and creative opportunities afforded from shooting from high altitudes is the juicy stuff. Every photographic opportunity is framed by its constraints, and there are plenty of considerations he has to juggle up in the air--flight plans, weather, and even which side of the helicopter to shoot out of. I'm definitely picking up his AIR project book when it comes out.

    Marketing VR and AR Will be a Challenge

    Among virtual reality enthusiasts, there seems to be a conviction that this current wave of VR is destined to succeed. The technology is finally ready; virtual reality as a mainstream platform for computing, entertainment, and digital interactions is inevitable. That's far from the case--regardless of how "ready" the hardware and software experiences are, VR still has to make its case to the public at large. As writer/futurist Warren Ellis points out in this recent Gizmodo Q&A, we should be prepared for the possibility that Oculus and SteamVR will "just turn out be some clunky shit that most people don't want." " Social embarrassment will murder almost anything." It's a reason that John Carmack wants to make sure that the consumer version of Gear VR gets demo stations in phone stores--a little reminiscent of the Virtual Boy rollout twenty years ago.

    But as much as good VR demands to be experienced by potential consumers, demo stations and word of mouth aren't going to be enough for public awareness. And neither are YouTube Let's-Plays capturing warped game video and showing users bobbing their heads around. I don't know what a television commercial for SteamVR looks like, but it's something that VR makers will eventually have to figure out. Even if the viewer is familiar with the VR experience, developers will have to find a way to show how their specific games makes use of that interface. The closest I've seen it being done well is this recently-released Eve: Valkyrie trailer, which captures head-tracking footage. Two things help it: undistorting the field of view, and playback at 60fps. But even then, it could be misinterpreted as just a freelook demo using a mouse or joystick.

    With augmented reality, the challenge of portraying the technology over video is even more daunting. No one has done it well. Remember Google's original Project Glass concept video? It got a lot of eyeballs (22 million and counting), but failed as a product demo; it didn't adequately convey why someone should use Glass, and the disconnect between what the video promised and the actual Glass experience (social awkwardness included) soured an initially interested public to the device. Microsoft's HoloLens and the mysterious Magic Leap--both which have their own concept videos--aren't faring much better. Early press reports from the HoloLens demo have focused on the differences between what Microsoft showed in the concept video and what's actually experienced in the prototype. The Magic Leap video below looks even more farfetched (hand-recoil, really?). Both companies are making tradeoffs between raising public interest with these concept videos and impressing users. Marketing working against its own product. I'm really curious to see how Facebook, Valve, Microsoft, and Magic Leap overcome that hurdle.

    In Brief: Apple's New Transparency

    Hey, did you hear? Apple is releasing a watch next month. And unlike past product category launches like the iPad and iPhone, Apple seems to be a bit more open in allowing the press and public to glimpse into its product development process. There was that massive Jony Ive profile in the New Yorker, where writer Ian Parker spent days in Apple's design lab chatting with Ive's collaborators. There are the three craftsmanship videos about Apple watch manufacturing, which Greg Koenig has delightfully dissected. And even Good Morning America recently visited Apple's health testing lab, where dozens of employees are strapped to complex health monitoring systems for study. Just a little bit like the gym in Gattaca. This new approach to transparency as marketing is smart--it doesn't feel like Apple's giving away state secrets, at least, not that any it thinks competitors can reproduce. It's more posturing than anything, more of a "look what we can do with over $150 billion in cash reserves." And like Koenig's analysis of Apple's materials process, I'd love to see context from health companies like Fitbit and Withings to see what kind of rigor they're putting their health tracking technologies through. Or is all of this extra research unnecessary, given academia and the medical industry's current understanding of fitness?

    Norman 2
    Building an FPV Racing Quadcopter, Part 1

    Racing quadrotors have captured the interest of a lot of people. They’re fast, nimble, and tough. Best of all, having a First Person View (FPV) system installed lets you get a sense of what it’s like to be onboard your speed machine. In the past, we’ve presented a video of Norm building a racing quad with the help of Carlos Puertolas (Charpu). We’ve also given you a buyer’s guide that outlined all the equipment you need for your own racing quad. This week, I’ve prepared a four-part series that will cover each aspect of getting a racing quad built and flight-tested:

    • Part 1: Frame Assembly
    • Part 2: Flight Controller Setup
    • Part 3: Configuring the FPV System
    • Part 4: Flight Testing and Tuning

    A friendly reminder: if you are new to multi-rotors, racing quads are a horrible place to start. Get yourself something a little more sedate to help you learn the basics. Once you’ve honed your flying skills, racing quads are much more practical and enjoyable.

    Frame Assembly

    The quad that I’ll be building for this series is a Strider Mini Quad provided by Red Rotor RC. The Strider is a 250mm-class ship with a carbon fiber frame. There are a few features on the Strider that negate purchasing some of the common components found on racing quads. The Power Distribution Board (PDB), lost-model alarm, and On-Screen Display (OSD) are all integrated into the frame itself. This saves you the cost of buying those components separately, as well as the hassle of installing them.

    THE STRIDER FROM RED ROTOR RC IS A 250MM RACING QUAD WITH A CARBON FIBER FRAME. AS YOU CAN SEE, THERE AREN’T MANY PARTS. THE INCLUDED HARDWARE HAS BEEN SORTED IN AN ICE TRAY FOR EASY IDENTIFICATION.

    Red Rotor provides an online assembly manual, so make sure you are using the latest version. In addition to what’s provided in the kit, you will need a few basic tools and supplies: metric Allen wrenches, zip ties, heatshrink tubing, soldering iron, etc…pretty basic stuff. To prepare for the build, I sorted all of the included hardware in a plastic ice tray. There are four different length screws in the kit and this helped me keep them all distinct.

    The first few steps of assembly are very straightforward. They involve fastening the bottom plate of the frame to the center plate. They’re simple assembly tasks with nuts, bolts and spacers. All of the parts lined up perfectly, so things progressed quickly.

    Google Play App Roundup: Tinkerplay, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Boss Monster

    Android devices do a lot of neat stuff out of the box, but you can always load it up with new apps to make if do more stuff. And maybe some games for good measure. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new on Android. Just hit the links to head to the Play Store.

    This week we finally put that 3D printer to use, visit the past, and become a boss monster.

    Tinkerplay

    In my day we didn't have any choice in the design of our action figures. We took what we were given and we liked it. Also snow, uphill both ways, and so on. With the advent of 3D printing, it has become possible to make real world objects dreamed up on a computer from the comfort of your own home. Autodesk's new Tinkerplay app lets you create characters from a plethora of interchangeable parts, then export a file to have it 3D printed. The future is now.

    All the parts are available in the arc-shaped menu in the top right corner. From here you can choose any of a number of torsos to use at the starting point of a design. There are also categories for arms, legs, hands, weapons, and other miscellaneous parts. To attach something new, simply drag it from the list and to the general vicinity of the connection point. The app will display an arc of electricity to show where it will snap on if released at that moment.

    You can start from scratch and build whatever you like, but the app also comes with some complete advanced models that can be tweaked to your liking. However you decide to use the app, you can move the parts around to pose your creation by tapping and dragging. If you need to precisely position a single component without affecting everything it's attached to, you can double tap to get a 3D rotation interface. You might want to zoom in to do this more effectively.

    Tinkerplay also has full support for adding colors and textures to your models. This is all reflected in the final file export as well. Speaking of the file export, you can select the type of printer you're using to get the proper format, but all you really need to worry about is getting a .stl or .thing file. You can change the scale of the parts, separate by color, and more. The app also gives you an approximate printing time.

    Testing the New Apple Force Touch Trackpad

    Apple recently updated its MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops with a new trackpad system it's calling Force Touch. We've always maintained that Apple makes the best trackpads, but we were concerned about losing the ability to "click". So here's our test of the new Force Touch system, comparing it to the previous trackpad.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Starter FPV Quadcopters

    I’ve written countless times that I think beginning multi-rotor pilots should learn the ropes with a small, inexpensive quad. More and more of those small quads are now being offered with built-in First Person View (FPV) systems. Although they’re not quite as inexpensive as their non-FPV cousins, they can do a little more. If flying via FPV is one of your goals in the hobby, these machines can serve two useful purposes:

    1. Provide a stress-free way to learn the basics of multi-rotor flight

    2. Provide a stress-free transition to the challenges introduced by going FPV

    Today, I will look at four FPV starter quads that take different paths to the FPV destination. My goal is not to rank these models, but rather to illustrate the choices that are available, so that you can decide what suits you. All of the models are available as complete ready-to-fly packages. Also, none of the included FPV systems require an amateur radio license for operation.

    WITH ALL FOUR QUADS POSITIONED TOGETHER, YOU CAN SEE THE RELATIVE SIZE DIFFERENCES. THEY ALL DO FPV WELL…JUST DIFFERENTLY.

    For a few months, it looked as if FPV would soon become an illegal activity. The FAA made known that they intended to outlaw any form of FPV used by the pilot. More recent communications from the FAA have taken a much more relaxed stance, except in regard to over-the-horizon FPV activities. FPV is still legal as pending regulations are still being ironed out, yet the outlook for the future of FPV flying is once again promising. The uncertainty is moot with these indoor-oriented models, however, as indoor airspace is not regulated by the FAA. As long as you’re under a roof, you can fly FPV all you wish.

    The FPV “Problem”

    The first challenge posed by FPV is the limited situational awareness that it affords.

    Before introducing the models, I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the hurdles that I’ve faced while learning the nuances of FPV flight. I consider myself a fairly competent pilot, but there have been times that I was completely flummoxed by FPV. I wouldn’t say it’s like learning to fly all over again, but the transition has been tougher than I expected.

    The first challenge posed by FPV is the limited situational awareness that it affords. Your only perspective comes from a single camera. Having your camera on a gimbal with the ability to pan and/or tilt, helps somewhat, but those actions take time are a distraction from actually flying the vehicle. It’s like driving a car with no rearview mirrors…while wearing a neck brace.

    Testing: 4K Gaming on GeForce GTX Titan X GPU

    We're at a place in PC gaming where buying a top of the line video card is starting to look interesting again. A few things made that happen. First, 4K monitors finally became a reasonable purchase for desktop users, with the release of 60Hz IPS panels like the Dell 2715Q I've been using. 1080p 60Hz gaming doesn't require a $500 GPU, but the horsepower is welcome when gaming at 4K or 1440p at 144Hz. Second, we know that impending virtual reality gaming on the PC is going to require fast graphics--90Hz is the baseline for both Oculus and SteamVR, and we're expecting displays of at least 1080p from both. For high-end gamers, performance is a practical need once again; extra frames aren't just for show.

    Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980 card seemed to address that need. It's both powerful and power-efficient, thanks to its second-generation Maxwell GM204 core, and its launch was well received by reviewers and gamers alike (aside from the GTX 970's recent memory revelations). And while I still think that the GTX 980 is a great buy for anyone building a new high-end PC, it's no longer the best option available. That title now belongs to Nvidia's new Titan X, which goes on sale this week. I've been testing one for the past week for 4K gaming.

    The GeForce Titan X

    I'm not going to dive into the deep technical attributes of the Titan X; what you should know that it's on paper a 50% bump up from the GTX 980. There are 50% more CUDA cores (3072 vx 2048), 50% more texture units, and 50% more transistors. Essentially, it's a fully loaded Maxwell GPU (GM200), and Nvidia even packed 12GB of GDDR5 memory in thing for future-proofing. That's more than enough for future ports of next-gen console games (surpassing the PS4's 8GB of GDDR5).

    As with previous Titan class GPUs, the packing of so much CUDA cores into a single die offsets the need for a high core clock--Titan X starts at 1000MHz and boosts to 1075MHz, compared to the GTX 980's 1216MHz at load. That's necessary to keep the thermal load at a "reasonable" 250 watts, which is in line with past Titan cards and the power hungry Kepler-class GTX 780. That means that you don't get as much overclocking headroom with the Titan X as you would the GTX 980, which sits at a comfortable 165W TDP. And with the same cooling design as the GTX 980, the Titan X is just as quiet at idle as its sibling, and only very slightly louder at load. Maxwell's efficiencies don't go to waste here. The upshot is that Titan X relies on more cores instead of higher clock speed for performance. It's a scaled up version of the GTX 980's GPU--the largest Nvidia's made so far--to squeeze out frames needed for smooth 4K gaming. It also costs almost twice as much as a GTX 980 at $1000.

    So let's take a look at some benchmarks and see what a thousand dollars of video card gets you today.

    In Brief: Windows 10 Launching This Summer

    Microsoft today announced that Windows 10 would be launching in 190 countries "this summer." And though summer technically ends in late September, this approximate timeframe is still ahead of the fall release of Microsoft's last two major OS releases, Windows 7 and 8. Both hit retail in the month of October, after public preview releases. The announcement was made at Windows summit in China, where hardware partners like Lenovo and Tencent committed to offering upgrade services for Windows 7 and 8 users (even non-genuine copies). We've liked what we've seen so far in Windows 10, but there is still a lot for Microsoft to reveal, such as the new consumer-facing web browser that will take the place of Internet Explorer in Windows 10. The upcoming Build conference should be pretty exciting.

    Norman 4
    Tested In-Depth: Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition

    Consumer-ready virtual reality is still at least half a year away, but Samsung's Gear VR Innovator Edition gives us a first glimpse at what the first apps and games for mobile VR could look like. We discuss the headset's hardware, Oculus-made interface software, and demo some of the first games being sold on this platform. Plus, weird Gear VR eyes! (Thank to B&H for providing the Note 4 for this review. Find out more about the phone here.)

    The Best Wi-Fi Router (for Most People)

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    After spending a total of 200 hours researching and testing over 20 Wi-Fi routers, plus analyzing reader comments and feedback, the $100 TP-Link Archer C7 (v2) is the router we recommend for most people right now. This dual-band, three-stream wireless-ac router usually costs between $80 and $100—the same price as many older, slower routers. But unlike those slower routers, the C7 supports the fastest connections of every major device you can buy today.

    We compared the Archer C7 against 21 different routers over a 10-month testing period. On most of our tests, the Archer C7 was the fastest—outperforming routers that cost twice as much. You won't find a better-performing router than the Archer C7 for less, and you'll have to spend a lot more money to get a better one.

    How we picked

    Wireless-ac, or IEEE 802.11ac, is the latest mainstream Wi-Fi version, and your new router should have wireless-ac. It's the new standard in many laptops, smartphones, and tablets from 2013 and later, including many of our recommendations at the Wirecutter. New MacBooks and high-end Windows laptops have wireless-ac, and so do almost all flagship smartphones from the past year: the iPhone 6, HTC One, Moto X, Samsung Galaxy S5, and more. Unless you go very cheap, your next gadget with Wi-Fi will probably have wireless-ac.

    Our Wi-Fi router pick is dual-band, which means it supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz signals—giving you a way to escape 2.4GHz wireless interference from your neighbors' Wi-Fi networks and giving you access to the much faster speeds of 5GHz wireless-ac. The vast majority of laptops, phones and tablets support one or two streams, but high-end laptops like the MacBook Pro support three. A three-stream wireless-ac router ensures that you're going to get the fastest connection on any device you own—or plan to buy in the near future.

    Any router you buy should be dual-band: a 2.4GHz band for wireless-n and earlier, and a 5GHz band for wireless-n and -ac (5GHz faster, but it can have worse range than 2.4GHz and not every device supports it).

    Biomimetics: Studying Bird Flight for Flying Robots

    There’s an entire field of science that believes nature and evolution have already solved some of humanity’s most complicated problems. Called biomimetics, the field focuses on studying these natural solutions and attempting to copy them, rebuild them, and use them in ways that can benefit mankind. This past month, we’ve been profiling US laboratories that specialize in biomimicry and highlighting how the animal kingdom is helping humans innovate.

    When you’re trying to perfect robotic flight the obvious biological animal to mimic is, of course, the bird. But what’s less obvious is just how exactly you go about quantifying the physical capabilities of motion and engineering while in flight. At David Lentink’s lab at Stanford he is combining specially trained animals with high-tech motion capture to puzzle out just what it is about bird wings that make them such fantastic flyers.

    Photo credit: Stanford

    Lentink has trained hummingbirds and parrotlets to perform special maneuvers -- flying from point A to point B -- so that he can capture images of them in motion. With high-speed cameras he can capture 50 images for each wing beat. In addition, using two high-speed lasers that flash from 1,000 to 10,000 times per second, Lentink is able to create an image of how the air flows behind the birds as they fly.

    “Our goal is to understand the flow and the forces they generate when they fly and we developed special instruments to do that. You can’t work with a bird like an airplane. We train our birds based on food rewards. So now we point to perch where they need to fly to and they will fly there,” says Lentink. “We’re trying to discover how birds manipulate air to fly more effectively and move better.”

    In addition to studying wing movement and the manipulation of air, Lentink and his team have started to research the bird’s vision and how it combines with their wing movements to determine direction. “What do they see and how do they use what they are seeing to control their flight? The main thing we’re looking at is optical flow, something that robots also use. How images move over the retina, the intensity of images over the retina, and how birds use that to decide to go left, right, or stabilize,” he says.

    It may sound like very fundamental research, he says, but it’s essential if there’s any hope of building a future robot that can fly like a bird. Especially when you consider the limitation of current flying robots. Quadcopters, according to Lentink, aren’t good at maneuvering through turbulence, around buildings, or through trees and narrow spaces. Yet at the moment they’re our most popular flying bot. Birds, on the other hand, don’t have any trouble performing any of those difficult tasks.

    Carbon3D Announces CLIP 3D Printing Technology

    So this came out of nowhere. Carbon3D, a 3D printing startup based out of Redwood City, today unveiled a new 3D printing technology they're calling CLIP, or "continuous liquid interface production." Timed with a TED talk and the release of a Science paper, Carbon3D's CLIP technology is claimed to be 25 to 100 times faster than FDM printing. It's a resin-curing process, akin go the SLA process used by Form 1, but CLIP introduces both light and oxygen (an inhibiting agent) into the curing system to remove the need to print layer by layer. The continuous curing allows for much faster print times, as shown in the above time-lapse. There's no announcement about when or how this will be made into a consumer product, but we're definitely excited to learn more about it. Further reading at 3Dprint.com and the Washington Post's science blog.

    Milling Time: Testing the Othermill Desktop CNC Machine

    If you're familiar with 3D printing (you're reading Tested, chances are you're probably pretty familiar with the topic), it isn't too difficult to understand the basics of CNC milling. Instead of building up a form layer by layer, milling carves away from a block of stock material. Replace the plastic extruder of an FDM 3D printer with a high speed spindle turning a sharp cutting bit. CNC milling also requires CAD models of the desired form. And just like 3D printing, CNC mills have been moving from the workshop to the desktop. These machines have become affordable, small, and relatively easy to use.

    Milling--subtractive fabrication--is often louder, messier, and let's be honest, not nearly as “magical” as additive 3D printing. The results don’t have the same wow factor as a Yoda bust you can make with a basic 3D printer. But this process creates more accurate and durable parts from a much wider selection of materials.

    I’ve been testing several CNC mills for my work at NYU’s ITP program, and wanted to share some of my results. Some of these machines work right out of the box, some are kits (like the first home 3D printers). I’ll also discuss the difference between home mills and higher-end models designed for workshops, as well as my thoughts on the future of desktop milling. But this week, we’ll start off with a machine you may have seen on Tested before: the Othermill.