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    Testing SAFE Plus Stabilization for RC Aircraft

    If you've ever flown a fixed-wing RC model with artificial stabilization such as SAFE or WISE, then you know that these systems are not some magic wand that prevents all crashes and makes new pilots expert flyers overnight. Artificial stabilization is merely a useful training tool. When used correctly, it can significantly shorten a rookie pilot's learning curve—and perhaps help avoid some carnage along the way.

    Artificial stability systems continue to become more sophisticated and capable. The SAFE Plus (SAFE+) system installed in the Hobbyzone Sportsman S+ model is a prime example. This system is unique in that it utilizes GPS and a compass in order to realize heretofore unseen capabilities in fixed-wing models. In some cases, those new capabilities address shortcomings that I found in other stability systems.

    My original plan for this article was to exercise the various features of SAFE+ and report how well it performs. I'm still going to do that. Yet, as I spent more time flying the Sportsman S+, I slowly began to realize that artificial stability has turned a very significant corner. I think that these systems which are meant to assist new flyers could actually make learning more difficult and confusing for some pilots. I'll explain my reasoning for that opinion as well.

    Why GPS and Compass?

    The core functionality of a fixed-wing stability system is to know what straight and level flight is and then command the model to get there when asked. If a pilot gets disoriented or puts the airplane in a bad attitude, the system will execute recovery maneuvers and save the day. The pilot can then resume control with no harm done. One problem that I've found with these systems is that they still require the pilot to execute turns to keep the model in sight. Even a few seconds of unsure hesitation on the controls could be sufficient to send the perfectly stabilized model flying off into the horizon. That's one reason why it is still a good idea to have an experienced pilot on hand to coach you through those first awkward steps.

    This GPS module permits the SAFE+ system to overcome the shortcomings of other fixed-wing stabilization units.

    By integrating GPS and compass into SAFE+, the dreaded "fly away" scenario is mitigated. We've become accustomed to (and perhaps dependent on) the GPS and compass-enabled features in multi-rotors. By knowing where the model is and which way it is pointing, multi-rotors can automatically hold their position in the sky when the wind blows or return to their takeoff location with the push of a button. SAFE+ brings similar capabilities to fixed-wing aircraft.

    Meet the Yuneec Typhoon H 4K Camera Drone

    We check out the new Yuneec Typhoon H drone, an RC hexacopter with camera features to rival DJI's Inspire 1. The Typhoon H has a 4K camera mounted on a gimbal that can spin 360 degrees, landing struts that move out of the way, and several automated flight features. Plus, its price isn't that bad either!

    Watch: New Underwater Drone Flies and Swims

    From Rutgers University's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: "Part submarine, part aircraft, Rutgers University researchers have developed a drone that is just as at home underwater as it is flying through the air. " The Office of Naval Research is funding Rutgers in the development of this drone--dubbed a SubUAS--which could be used for search and rescue missions as well as monitor oil spills and detect underwater mines.

    Making a Working BB-8 Droid Replica!

    Ever since BB-8 first made its appearance in the first Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser, droid builders have been trying to figure out how to make their own working replica. We visit the shop of Mike Senna, veteran robot builder, to follow his progress creating his own BB-8.

    Meet Pleurobot, an Amphibious Salamander Robot

    We meet Pleurobot, a Salamander-like robot that can both walk on land and swim in the water (with a wetsuit!) Kishore, our new science correspondent, chats with professor Auke Ijspeert of the EPFL about how Pluerobot's movements were programmed and how biorobotics engineers studied the physiology of salamanders in making this robot.

    Awesome BioRobots Inspired by Animal Movements!

    Roboticists from Switzerland's EPFL institute bring us four awesome robots that are designed to mimic the movements and gait of animals. We chat with these biorobotics researchers about the lessons learned from studying snakes and quadrupeds, and how their robots can be used in practical situations. Plus, these robots are actually pretty cute, and their lifelike movements make great animated GIFs!

    MIT's Hermes Remote-Controlled Robot

    From MIT: "Researchers from MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering have designed an interface that takes advantage of a human's split-second reflexes, allowing a humanoid to maintain its balance and complete tasks." The platform translates human-controlled movements from an exoskeleton to the robot, while providing physical feedback to the controller to adjust positioning and weight for maintaining balance.

    Show and Tell: Remote Controlled Bionic Bird

    Remember the Tim Bird toy from way back? Its successor is the Bionic Bird, a remote-controlled ornithopter that flaps its wings to flight. This crowdfunded toy was created by the son of the original Tim Bird inventor, and works great indoors. It's kind of like a toy bat!

    Roboticist Mark Setrakian's Mesmerizing Axis Robot

    For those of you who watched BattleBots, we hoped you noticed one of the coolest robots on the show that never entered the combat arena. Roboticist (and previous BattleBots competitor) Mark Setrakian lent his beautiful Axis robot to the production to use as the trophy podium. We chat with Mark about this mesmerizing robot and his animatronics work!

    Behind the Scenes of the BattleBots Production

    The BattleBots season finale is tonight, and we were on location during the filming of the final match-ups. Here's what you didn't see on TV. We chat with some of the competitors after their matches, learn how they prepare and repair their bots, and stick around for the unaired grudge matches!

    10 Incredibly Charming Home Robots

    One of the promises that science fiction made to us was that we would have a little more help around the house in the future - in the form of robots. The mechanical man was intended to lift our burdens and take away our need to dirty our hands with menial labor. Obviously, we're still washing dishes and walking the dog, but home robots are starting to hit the market, starting with the wildly successful Roomba vacuum in 2002. Today, we'll share ten cute and clever robots that are just waiting for you to take them home.

    The Anatomy of a Modern BattleBot

    What does it take to build a BattleBot, and what technology makes a good combat robot? We chat with BattleBots competitor Will Bales about his matches and examine the parts of his HyperShock robot. From chassis to circuitry to weapons systems, we run through each component to give you an idea of how these 250-pound machines work!

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Preflight Tips and Tools

    The first flight of a new RC model is always an exciting event. Whether you've spent ten minutes or ten months getting your aircraft ready for this moment, you're bound to feel anxious – and probably a little nervous. The best cure for a case of the pre-flight jitters is having confidence in the mechanical, electronic, and aerodynamic soundness of your model. In this article, I will explain the baseline inspection steps that I execute before flying any new model.

    The steps shown here are primarily intended for multi-rotors and airplanes. Helicopters are a special case. The concerns are the same, but the techniques for addressing them are quite different. Even excluding helicopters, there are far too many variables among the different types of multi-rotors and airplanes to strive for a one-size-fits-all strategy. Rather, consider these steps as cornerstones of an individualized inspection routine that you can create for your specific model. It is often helpful to create a checklist to guide you through the process.

    Don't Harsh My Vibe, Man

    Vibration is bad news on RC models. It causes premature fatigue of mechanical and electronic components, distorts camera images and wastes onboard energy. For models with piston engines, some degree of vibration is unavoidable. You just have to isolate the fragile components the best that you can and live with it. On electric-powered models, however, there is no excuse to not find and eradicate all sources of vibration.

    The most common cause of vibration is an unbalanced propeller. Always assume that any new propeller is off-kilter. Most of the propellers I have ever used required some degree of tweaking to make them balanced. The good news is that balancing a propeller is usually a simple process.

    The key to eliminating vibration in electric powered multi-rotors and airplanes is to balance the propeller(s)…even brand new ones. This magnetic balancer works well with most RC propellers.

    The balancing device that I use in my shop is the Top Flite Power Point magnetic balancer. It suspends the prop magnetically, with the axis of rotation perfectly horizontal. This set-up allows you to detect very small balance deviations. This is especially helpful when working with small propellers.

    The Mortality of Sony's Aibo Robot Dog

    The most recent episode of Robotica, a New York Times video series exploring the ways robots have affected society: "When Sony stopped manufacturing replacement parts for its Aibo pet robot, owners scrambled to save the robot-dogs that had become part of their families."

    Flyability's Gimball, a Collision-Tolerant Drone

    We get a demo of Gimball, an RC multi-rotor that is designed to withstand collisions. The quad itself is housed in a protective sphere, moving freely inside of it using a gimbal system. The idea is that it can fly and bump around in environments too difficult to reach by humans for remote inspection operations.

    Designing an Ultra-Efficient Walking Robot

    Bipedal robots expend a lot of energy standing up and walking, but new humanoid architectures hope to be 20 to 30 times as efficient. We chat with robotics professor Aaron Ames about how his team at SRI International has designed a walking system that maximizes battery efficiency, allowing a robot to walk on a treadmill for hours while using less than 400 watts of power.