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2015/12/29 Paris Xmas 2015-2016
π 2015-12-29 00:00 in Paris, Trips
I wasn't out in Paris much this year mostly because I was by myself, and had a little less time this year, but still, a few pictures. Actually I started at my Mom's place in Bagnolet, which happened to have a very small urban farm on top of a vacant lot, os that was kind of cool go see:






Paris, despite the current crap that's been going on, is still nice to walk around, especially in the unseasonably warm weather:






Paris City Hall
Paris City Hall




Walking around the old Paris in the middle of La Seine, always yields easy pictures ;)













Notre Dame, pretty as always:







Tour Saint Jacques:



The last day, I went to and around the Google Office near St Lazare:







unusal Xmas ornaments :)
unusal Xmas ornaments :)



Les Halles, still being built, alledgedly it should be finished next year
Les Halles, still being built, alledgedly it should be finished next year


Paroisse St Eustache
Paroisse St Eustache



And I had a quick look at centre pompidou which you used to just be able to enter back in the days. Now it has a 2-3H queue no matter when I've gone in the last years :-


And that was it for Paris this year.

See more images for Paris Xmas 2015-2016
2015/12/28 Yearly Dutch Family Gathering
π 2015-12-28 00:00 in Family
Sadly, we missed the our yearly Dutch gathering the last 2 years. 2 years ago, I had to leave early for my yearly conference in Australia which had been moved to an unfortunate early date, and last year, we didn't make it there for a combination of other unfortunate reasons.

So it was great to finally make it there and see my Dutch family again, even if it was after a 3 year delay:




Dutch and French Furbies, love at first sight :)
Dutch and French Furbies, love at first sight :)



The next day, we had a quick look at the local town and went to see Harold and Rési before driving home:





that is a hefty and happy chat :)
that is a hefty and happy chat :)


I didn't know they had mésanges all the way up in holland. They are beautiful birds, I wish we had them in California
I didn't know they had mésanges all the way up in holland. They are beautiful birds, I wish we had them in California

It's kind of a habbit which I did learn in Holland as a kid, when I see chicken, the chicken get it. They don't like being picked up, but once you have them, they're usually pretty docile:



And it was time to drive back, so long Holland:

I didn't get to take the cat though :)
I didn't get to take the cat though :)


2015/12/25 Dashcam Testing: AUSDOM HD A261 vs Wheel Witness HD Pro vs Spy Tec K1S vs Vico Marcus 5
π 2015-12-25 00:00 in Cars
While I originally tested the 4 best dashcams I could find on amazon, I have since then tested more cameras. Here is the list:

  • Wheel Witness HD Pro ($125) and Vico-MF2 ($130)
  • AUSDOM HD A261 ($130)
  • Vico Opia2 ($280)
  • Vico MF3 ($240)
  • Vico Marcus 5 ($360)
  • Spy Tec K1S ($240)
  • See also the Toguard HD 5" Full HD 1080p Android GPS navigation Touch Screen Car Dash Cam Dual lens WiFi
  • And the better Toguard HD 7" Full HD 1080p Android GPS navigation Touch Screen Car Dash Cam Dual lens WiFi
  • trying 3 cameras inside the car (Wheel Witness, Marcus 5, Spy Tec K1s)
    trying 3 cameras inside the car (Wheel Witness, Marcus 5, Spy Tec K1s)

    K1S screen right to the dashboard, K1s cam is very small by the mirror, Marcus 5 is big on the windshield
    K1S screen right to the dashboard, K1s cam is very small by the mirror, Marcus 5 is big on the windshield

    Introduction

    I had been meaning to get dashcams for my cars, and finally got around to it. I had however no idea that there were _so_ many dashcams on the market, so I spent way too long going through all the dashcams I could find on amazon, and wrote this list.

    Here's how I made my selection:

  • At least 1080p with WDR (wide range, like HDR for pictures)
  • Looked into the smaller list of dual cam dashcams
  • I ignored anything under $100 because I assumed it would be poor
  • Dual Cam Wifi HD Dashcams

    I also looked at dual camera Wifi dashcams, but didn't find anything too satisfying.
  • I tried 3 Lukas Lk-7950 WD FHD & FHD Wi-Fi: first one never arrived, 2nd one had non working Wifi and 3rd one never turned on. The 4th one had an android app that didn't work with my phone, so ultimately I was not able to use it anyway.
  • The Blackvue DR750LW-2CH looks good, but it's not cheap and I'm not sure I'd use a Wifi camera if I can see the screen where I put it (I was thinking about locating it behind me).
  • The BlackVue Wi-Fi 2 Channel DR650GW-2CH is also an option, but it costs more than the Lukas and is said to have a lesser video quality (the rear camera is 720p only)
  • The BlackVue DR750 includes a screen, costs more than $400, and the reviews don't make it a total winner either
  • Better than 1080p single camera dashcams

    Wheel Witness HD Pro ($125) and Vico-MF2 ($130)

    Wheel Witness Amazon and Vico-MF2 Amazon
  • 2560*1080P & 2304*1296P 170 degree (much wider than most cams out there)
  • WDR at 1080p (higher res don't have WDR)
  • Parking Monitor with motion sensor (doesn't really work well)
  • The review below was originally written for the Wheel Witness HD Pro, but after having gotten a Vico-MF2 for review and testing, I found it to be nearly identical, which means that both dashcams are the best 1296P cameras I've tested. The Vico-MF2 costs just a $5 more as of 2016/09/06, but from what I've seen comes with slightly updated firmware and an experimental anti collision system and Vicovation has been providing good US based support when I contacted them, so it's worth the few dollars extra.

    I like this camera because it's super wide angle, very high resolution, nice real screen, but it's a bit big if you want a concealed install. I had to mount it upside down on my passenger seat in my install and like most dashcams it cannot flip the recording, so that's why the text is upside down on the screenshots. Of all the cams I tried, it was best at getting license plates, even from inside my car, and its WDR did a great work with dual lighting (inside the car and outside). _Update_: the more expensive Vico Opia2 ($280) and Vico MF3 ($240) actually beat the Wheel Witness and Vico MF2 now.
    It was the only camera I originally that would get some license plates at night, despite being inside the car (the newer ones like Opia2 with WDR should do good on those conditions too):






    I'm certain that plate would have been good if it had been in the windshield
    I'm certain that plate would have been good if it had been in the windshield

    Unsurprisingly, on the windshield, it did even better:





    AUSDOM HD A261 ($130)

    Amazon
  • 1080p or 2560*1080 if you turn off WDR
  • GPS built in
  • Compact/Small screen
  • Lots of features for a small size and price
  • Parking Monitor with motion sensor (doesn't really work well)
  • It's a nice little camera, but it only gets the plates sometimes compared to Wheel Witness, Vico-MF2, Vico Marcus 5, and of course Vico-Opia2 and Vico-MF3 which all do better in the same conditions:



    Night shot
    Night shot


    this is questionable
    this is questionable

    usable
    usable

    barely usable
    barely usable

    1440p or better single camera dashcams

    Vico Opia2 ($280)

    Amazon and my amazon review. I got one to review from Vicodirect who answered all my questions and was a lot more clued about the product than the average reseller, assuming the reseller even answers at all.

    Here are the features:

  • 2560 x 1440 WDR (best in class, no other cam I have does WDR at more than 1920x1080)
  • GPS costs extra
  • Very wide view where even the sides of the shot are usable
  • Compact/Small screen
  • Parking Monitor with motion sensor that actually works
  • Best video I've gotten from quite a small camera
  • no built in battery, it uses a super capacitor, which means no parking mode is possible without special power wiring
  • Metadata is not saved as subtitles in the video like other cams, but a separate metadata file requiring a special player (doesn't really matter if you're not going to buy a GPS)
  • Filenames don't contain the date or time the video clip was taken
  • This camera looks like the Ausdom from the outside, but it has a much more capable processor and it's the first camrea I have where you don't have to chose between high resolution, or WDR. WDR really helps with exposure by taking multiple shots and merging them into a multi exposure frame, like HDR on your camera or phone. With often challenging lighting conditions when you drive and pictures where half the screen could be in the shade while the other half could be in the sun, WDR is a lifesaver.

    I also need to mention that this is the first dashcam I've tried where the parking mode is actually reliable. It probably records video only when there is movement when the car is parked, and yet that feature does not trigger to make lots of 10 second videos when you're driving (like many oher dashcams). Great job there!

    In the license plate test, this camera beats all the other ones hands down. I've even been able to get license plates that are on the absolute side of the picture where the view is often distorded. Impressive...






    For night, quality goes down, but with a little luck, you can still get some plates:



    Youtube video during the day and night:

    Vico MF3 ($240)

    Amazon and my amazon review. I got one to review from Vicodirect who answered all my questions and was a lot more clued about the product than the average reseller, assuming the reseller even answers at all.

    Here are the features:

  • 2560 x 1440 WDR (best in class, no other cam I have does WDR at more than 1920x1080)
  • GPS costs extra
  • CPL/ND filter was included and easy to snap on
  • Very wide view where even the sides of the shot are usable
  • Bigger than Opia2, but nicer resulting interface in my opinion
  • It's $40 cheaper than Opia2, but sadly the parking function needs to be manually turned on and off. If you don't turn it off while driving, it keeps cutting your video into 10 second clips).
  • no built in battery, it uses a super capacitor, which means no parking mode is possible without special power wiring
  • Metadata not saved as subtitles in the video, which is convenient (better than Opia2)
  • Filenames contain the date and time the video clip was taken, which is good (and better than Opia2)
  • This is the wider body of the Vico Opia2, $40 cheaper, but without a useful parking function (Opia2 has a great parking function). If you don't care about parking monitoring (or don't have a power when the car is turned off solution), then this is the best dashcam I've tried so far. It has the same spectacular ultra HD resolution as the Opia2 with WDR and comes with an ND (neutral density) filter.
    The screen is easy to read even if it takes more space than the Opia2 (by design) and the control buttons are similarly simple to use. As a bonus this dashcam is actually smart enough to stop recording and go into settings when I push the settings button while others stupidly tell me to stop recording first.
    Apart from the parking function, while this is not the cheapest dashcam you'll find, it's one of the top ones in picture resolution and quality you'll be able to find.
    Sadly night screenshots don't look so good, so don't be too hopeful on getting license plates at night unless you're lucky:





    So if you compare it with the Opia2, it's a bigger nicer screen and interface, it does almost as good (but not as good) during the day, and worse during the night to a point that getting any license plate is going to be very unlikely due to the high amount of noise in low light conditions.

    Youtube video during the day and night:

    1080p dual camera dashcams

    Vico Marcus 5 ($360)

    Amazon Review
  • 1080p front and rear, 140 degrees
  • WDR works well
  • Good video quality (better than Spytec K1S, but almost as good, or as good as Wheel Witness HD Pro)
  • Sadly, despite the price, GPS costs extra (not included)
  • Inexplicably, no built in battery, it uses a super capacitor, which means no parking mode is possible without special power wiring
  • Rear camera video cannot be flipped upside down (it can for SpyTec K1S)
  • Metadata is not saved as subtitles in the video like other cams, but a separate metadata file requiring a special player
  • Filenames don't contain the date or even which of the 2 cameras the video was taken on (SpyTec K1S does this right)




  • sometimes, it doesn't do as well
    sometimes, it doesn't do as well

    I was close to this car, but this plate is barely usable
    I was close to this car, but this plate is barely usable

    The inside shots went well and did a good job of getting dual lighting inside and outside the car. Text is upside down since I had to flip the video in software due the camera's inability to do it itself:


    Let's look at night shots now, those are poor like many cameras and you'll be lucky if you get a single license plate out of it:


    ugh
    ugh


    While the picture quality is pretty good, the layout and features are quite poor compared to the Spy Tec K1S, and it costs 50% more while not even offering included GPS or even a built in battery...

    Spy Tec K1S ($240)

    Amazon Review
  • Dual 1080p cam 140 degrees like the Vico Marcus 5
  • Both cameras are detached from the screen, allowing for more concealed installs
  • Both cameras can be flipped upside down (very handy for matching how you attached the camera)
  • GPS included and can be positioned away from the main screen for better reception
  • WDR
  • Backup battery and parking mode (which Vico Marcus 5 can't do)
  • Files are nicely saved as CAM1_date_time and CAM2_date_time with metadata included as subtitles. Nicely done.
  • Unfortunately it may not do well with higher temperatures as some reviewers have said. No problems for me so far, but it's winter right now.
  • So I'd like to say that you're done, this is the dual cam to get. I mean it packs a _lot_ of features, it's modular, and very reasonably priced. Sadly the pciture quality is a bit short of the Vico. This makes it a difficult choice because the features really are awesome. If you must get as many license plates as possible, sadly this is not the camera for you. The Vico Marcus 5 will do a better job.




    sigh...
    sigh...


    this one is almost readable
    this one is almost readable

    WDR from inside the car showing light contrasts, are ok but not great, while night pictures are poor (but not worse than Vico Marcus 5 that was also quite poor):



    don't expect any plates out of this
    don't expect any plates out of this

    Now, there is a problem, the K1S overheats and crashes. That's bad. I ended up making a custom dual fan setup attached to the air vents, and powered off the USB input:



    Conclusion

    2015/12:
    If you only care about a single camera, both the Vico MF2/Wheel Witness HD Pro and AUSDOM HD A261 are good choices (the former are a bit bigger and has slightly better video quality).
    For dual cams, it gets more complicated. There are not that many options that worth anything and neither the Vico Marcus 5 nor the Spy Tec K1s are the full package. The former lacks in features and is 50% more expensive while the latter has hardware that can be unreliable for some, and the video quality is poor for 1080 as you won't get many plates out of it.

    2016/09:
    If you are ok with a single dashcam and you care about ultimate video resolution, the Vico MF3 and even better Vico Opia2 are the best dashcams I've tested so far. Yes, they cost more, but they offer the best resolution by far, and the Opia2 finally has an easy to use workable parking mode, what I've been looking for for a while now.

    If you want ultimate dual camera setup, here is what I recommend: - Spy Tec K1S to have one cam in the front bumper (it's not really weather proof but worked well enough in California climates for me), to act as front parking camera, and the other cam you can install on your rear bumper. The other option is to have the front camera attached on your passenger seat and look at the dashboard/steering wheel, and get some outside view. - If money is no object, then get a Vico Opia2 as high resolution windshield camera with parking mode

    This page show my install of Spy Tek K1S with a front camera in the bumper on my Tesla Model S.

    If you want to go the cheap and lower resolution mode, then consider the Toguard HD 7" Full HD 1080p Android GPS navigation Touch Screen Car Dash Cam Dual lens WiFi where resolution is definitely not as good, but you get a dual dasham with GPS for cheaper than all other options, and it's also integrated in your rear view mirror for the same price.

    As a reminder, here is a big list of dashcams available on amazon: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lectIQT_67Fa7Q0lvepFhrUmW1_oWHYGiU-JulG_Dys/edit?usp=sharing

    2015/12/25 Xmas with My Mom
    π 2015-12-25 00:00 in Family
    Last year, my mom was in pain before her hip surgery, so I only got to see her a short time. This year I went over to Xmas day, and stayed with her a few days, as went to Holland and back with her, before moving back to my dad's. Here are a few pictures from our Xmas lunch, thanks to much help from Diane and Patrick:




    My mom now has a hard time getting around, so she depends on her walker and needs help from the motorized chair to get up and down. For now, she able to enjoy watching TV:


    2015/12/23 Another Xmas with My Dad
    π 2015-12-23 00:00 in Dining, Family
    This year, I arrived on Dec 23rd, without Jennifer who was resting at home after her ankle surgery (better recovery if she's not battling sleep deprivation due hard to beat jet lag, which would often give her a cold, and then even bacterial infection, making the trip not that fun and bad for surgery recovery). Thanks for a good enough night in the business united seat (a bit tight, but lay flat), I was not in too bad a shape when I arrived.
    We went to have some couscous when I arrived:


    Soon thereafter was Xmas Eve, and my brother and his family were invited, which gave my dad a chance to do a round of cooking for us:







    On the 29th, we went out in Paris and had a good dinner at La Fermette Marboeuf and its very nice decors:








    Soon later, for New Year's Eve, James and Lilian joined us, as well as Tata. Tata did her famous sweetbread

    admiring wall art most of which were drawn by James
    admiring wall art most of which were drawn by James



    one of the many entrées
    one of the many entrées




    one of my dad's many nice plates :)
    one of my dad's many nice plates :)


    We had a british Xmas pudding in James' honor
    We had a british Xmas pudding in James' honor


    On Jan 2nd, we went to see a musical "Irma La Douce", which was quite well acted with a few hints of today's changes into a story that's more than 50 years old:





    On the way out, we had a nice dinner close to the theatre:


    And just because we were a bit hungry still, on Jan 3rd, we went to Les Bouquinistes, they had a good tasting menu that was quite reasonably priced:






    And after a day at Google on Jan 4th, which I also used to walk around Paris a bit while weather was good, it wsa time to go home and pack for reasonably early flight on the 5th. Great to see everyone again.

    2015/12/23 Fatshark Goggles That Don't Fit You Cannot be Returned. This sucks for a $520 Fatshark Dominator HD v2
    π 2015-12-23 00:00 in Rc
    This is a warning to others. I was tricked by the review youtube videos from Team Legit saying that the new dominators (HD v2 and Dominator v3) leading me to believe that they were best thing since sliced bread, and got a pair of each to see which one would fit me best, as a backup/alternate for my current collection:
  • Skyzone v1 (head tracking, diversity receiver)
  • Skyzone v2 (head tracking, diversity receiver, 3D, recording on internal SD)
  • Headplay (huge screen, built in receiver)
  • First, let's remind everyone that fatshark goggles:

  • Are noticeably more expensive than other goggles and whether they'e better is debatable
  • Fatshark does not include a head tracker module, or even a basic 5.8Ghz receiver. Those cost extra, making the goggles even more expensive
  • There is no option for a diversity receiver like the skyzones (and it's awesome to have circular + helical on skyzone)
  • The fatshark dominator v3 are no better than the skyzones unless you can use HDMI in at 720p. Otherwise, I don't really see a good reason to buy them. The Dominator HDv2 have a huge screen/field of view, they do, but it's impossible for me to see it all due to insufficient IPD adjustment, and the sides of the screen are still blurry for me (unacceptable for a $520 goggle that doesn't even include a receiver or head tracker).

    For me, they are overhyped expensive goggles that sell without a receiver but for more than their competition that includes 5Ghz receivers, but more importantly if they don't fit you, FS doesn't give a hoot. After buying a $520 fatshark HD v2, having to glue on some foam insert, or you can't even try them/wear them, and realizing their IPD is all wrong and I can't see the sides of the screen (and when I can, they are blurry), getfpv told me they could not refund me for them because fatshark would not take them back.
    Needless to say that I'm not impressed with a company that refuses the returns of products used once and that they couldn't even design to work properly on wider western faces. The black foam insert on this picture actually needs to be glued on the goggles to really be able to try them on, and the moment you do that, they are not returnable.

    Details: My face is a bit wide, so I have to use max IPD on all goggles, and even then the distance between my pupils always seems to be a bit more than the goggles, so Im not seeing the sides easily, or at all.
    The skyzone goggles are a great buy with their diversity receiver built in, but using them is not super comfortable for me due to the IPD problem.
    The skyzone 3D V2 goggles have one extra mm in the max IPD, so they're almost ok for me.

    Yet, I figured I'd try the newer fatsharks since they are supposed to have a great IPD. After seeing reviews that the HD Dominator v2 had the biggest visible screen in the market (not counting headplay), and that they were worth the money, I thought I'd give them a shot along with their cheaper cousin, the Dominator v3. Well, sure enough they didn't fit me: I couldn't see the whole screen on the HD v2, and the sides were blurry on top of that. Needless to say that I find it unacceptable that fatshark will not authorize returns of goggles that do not fit. I, for sure, will never buy anything from fatshark again. While I wish getfpv could have processed a return without charging me 20% restocking fee, they assured me that it was really only because that's the cost they incur from fatshark themselves who does not allow returns of used products, even if they didn't fit.

    For my remaining options, while the fit isn't perfect, I'm pretty happy with my skyzones v2 3D, incredible bang for the buck (and the receivers work quite well, I got more than 7km out of them). The fatshark dominator v3 also fit me ok enough, but don't even come with an RX receiver which costs extra and isn't a diversity receiver like the skyzones, nor do they support real 3D with 2 streams, again like the skyzones do (but skyzone v1 does not have built in recording, only skyzone v2 does).

    Hope this helps and I hope fatshark changes their policies, because their current one sucks.
    To be fair, maybe other goggles are hard to return too, but at least you can use them while keeping them 100% pristine, and being abel to return them at minimal cost if somehow they don't fit you.

    2015/12/20 Hacking MinimOSD-Extras to do what I needed thanks to OSS: Mode Rotation with Channel Toggle
    π 2015-12-20 00:00 in Rc
    MinimOSD-Extra is the open source arduino software that takes mavlink data from ardupilot and creates an on screen display on top of your real time video to give you a clue where you are, which direction you should go to fly back to home, how much battery you have left, altitude, airspeed, and artificial horizon if you're flying IFR, at night, or your camera being displayed (I have 3, one rear facing) does not give you a proper horizon you can refer to for hand flying.

    Sadly, the device it runs on only has a measly 32KB of flash space, and with all the code it needs to interface with mavlink/ardupilot, talk to a video chip, and do calculations before displaying the result, you can't add much of anything to the current codebase. For reasons that I do not understand, I have not found anyone making an OSD board that would be compatible with the current code while providing more storage for new code.

    While I'm not a big fan of the closed source commercial Vector flight controller, it has a really good OSD compared to ardupilot and minimosd. In the meantime, though, I needed minimOSD to be able to rotate my OSD screens without burning an extra switch on my transmitter. I need to rotate screens because I'm doing 3D FPV flying and it's distracting to have OSD data in one eye when you're trying to get a 3D effect from 2 images :)

    The way you can do this without burning an extra RC channel is to use rotation swiching on an existing channel (you can also use rotation switching on the APM mode switch, but that never worked reliably for me), but the released code rotates forever as long as your switch is not in the down position, making the switch not usable for anything else.

    Thankfully it's open source, so I was able to take the arduino code and improve it to do what I needed. Now, with my custom branch I can rotate the OSD screen by simply flipping any selected switch to any position and then back. This works with the mode switch too if you'd like (sadly the channel number is hardcoded to only be 5 to 8).
    You can get my version from https://github.com/marcmerlin/MinimOSD-Extra (only compiled for plane, but you could port the code to copter if you wish). I've also cleaned up all the compilation warnings in the code, and removed a bit of dead code I found.

    Pre-built binaries for plane: https://github.com/marcmerlin/MinimOSD-Extra/tree/master/Released/FW%20%26%20Char

    Here are some screenshots from my OSD configuration:

    60 degree pitch up, 82% power, 41A, 533W used
    60 degree pitch up, 82% power, 41A, 533W used

    stall speed 27kph under near full throttle
    stall speed 27kph under near full throttle

    The OSD horizon comes in handy when switching from the FPV camera to the bottom and rear facing cameras:

    FPV cam
    FPV cam

    bottom cam
    bottom cam

    rear cam
    rear cam

    OSD flipping:

    OSD screen #2
    OSD screen #2

    OSD screen off to allow for a proper 3D view
    OSD screen off to allow for a proper 3D view

    This is also useful for debugging and filing bugs. Guided mode was supposed to take over at 70m (it did), and fly back up (it did not, it pitched down, went up to 80pkh while pitching down and losing altitude down to 26m before I took over for manual flight):


    2015/12/18 Compilation of FPV flights around the Google Mountain View Campus
    π 2015-12-18 00:00 in Rc
    More than 5 years ago, I took a video of the Google Campus from my Multiplex Cularis with a Gopro hanging from it, flown visually from the ground. While the footage was great for the time (click for my old video from then), I only did it once because it was very challenging to fly that far from my takeoff point with unaided view, no auto pilot to recover in case I lost track, and no telemetry on my battery status. I landed with very battery left at the time, even if my plane was capable of gliding a fair distance without motor power.

    In 5 years, many things changed in the campus, it got so much bigger, and I wanted to be able to get other buildings that I wasn't able to reach safely. I was however not comfortable enough doing this while piloting with just a ground view and without safety info like real time battery status, winds, and so forth. This is why I waited that long until I had a new plane setup for FPV (first person view) with an OSD (heads up display equivalent) that could give me real time flight information, including winds, motor power, altitude, glide ratio and battery remaining.

    lots of electronics involved
    lots of electronics involved


    FPV ends up being safer due to how much information you have when flying, better than many full size private planes
    FPV ends up being safer due to how much information you have when flying, better than many full size private planes

    If you are curious about the plane itself, a BFG 2600 with pixhawk, 800W motor, 4000-5000mAh 4S lipo, 2 mobius cameras, 2 top FPV cameras for optional 3D flying, , 433Mhz dual path frequency hopping openlrs receiver with back channel for telemetry (good for 20-30 km range), 600 to 2000mW 5.8Ghz video (good for at least 7km range), and 900Mhz control and telemetry backup channel. This is absolutely overkill for those kinds of short range flights, but when safety is involved, overkill is good :) You can read more about it here.

    The next problem were the 2 airports within range, Moffett and Palo Alto. Moffett was not much of a problem since it has very little traffic and was not in the way, Palo Alto however is located so that landing planes can fly over Google. This was solved by checking with the airport and having an airnav radio to listen on tower frequency for landing airplanes to help a spotter look for traffic. The other thing was to keep the altitude as low as possible so as to be below altitudes airplanes could reasonably be expected to be. However in theory, landing airplanes could fly below 400ft, so using a spotter was helpful.
    Also, for safety of flight of the RC plane, it was also desireable in places to have a bit of altitude in the bank so as to be able to fly to a safe landing spot as opposed to crashing on a road or over people in case of a motor failure (flying times and locations were chosen so as to minimize people and cars). The plane itself if a 2.6 meter foam glider, so it is able to glide quite a distance without motor power.

    The RC plane itself is flying with ardupilot, a very capable auto pilot that computes winds real time, gliding distance if the motor isn't running, real time battery used and remaining, and most importantly was programmed with a minimum altitude deck to take over from the pilot, recover from a bad flight condition and fly back to the landing spot on its own if the pilot were to lose video or control ability, or just to get confused and make a mistake (if you wonder, for landing the pilot turns this off, or the airplane would not come down low enough to land). The last safety aspect was the fact that the plane was more than 95% compressible foam with a plastic propeller that folds back when not in use. This means that in case of failure and impact, it does not fall nearly as fast as a quadcopter, and it absorbs most of the Gs on impact by destroying itself while causing very minimal to no damage to something that could be hit, should it not be the ground. A quadcopter would be absolutely unsafe to fly over people and cars at any time due to the amount of damage and injury or worse, it can cause in case of impact.

    While this may look easy, I want to stress that it wasn't. The pilots had more than 10 years flying RC and/or full size planes and were extremely mindful of safety. While I'm happy to share this with you, I want be clear that this is not an invitation to emulate those flights with an RC aircraft you just bought, and definitely not with a multi rotor/quadcopter aka drone, as the non toy sized ones are just not safe to fly over people. Foam RC planes are extremely unlikely to cause real injury to people in case of impact, while multi rotors of a certain size can unfortunately kill someone if they fall straight down on their head from a certain altitude. I refer you to this page for a longer discussion about the safety aspects
    However, in a nutshell: flying, airspace, and safety can be quite complex, so I don't entirely blame the FAA for not trusting the average RC pilot without proper training on all 3 (even if said RC pilot is very capable at flying an RC aircraft, which is not true of all), and trying to put over restrictive rules as a result. Still, I hope they can work with the AMA to come up with more reasonable restrictions even if the current ones still aren't legally binding yet (outside of registration of pilots or aircraft), and ideally come up with a class of RC pilots who has acquired additional airspace and safety knowledge, and would be bound to less restrictive rules.

    The pictures and videos below were made from clips taken from a few flights over a 6 month period of time in 2015. Flights were flown by different people, at times I was the spotter on the ground and safety backup pilot. The pictures are not in chronological order, and the 4 video mashups (one per area), are made out of clips pasted out of order.

    The 4 videos are here, these have music. The 4 copies below in each category, are with original RC sounds (click on the link to get the 1920x1080p version on youtube):

  • Google Main Campus: https://youtu.be/XW_LKMyLzwo (it has (too) many angles, it's ok to fast forward)
  • Other Google buildings nearby, and Google West Campus: https://youtu.be/-4hQU4EDVms
  • Crittenden Campus: https://youtu.be/ZeAGuZMTw-I
  • Nearby Shoreline Amphitheatre, Golf Links and Bay Marshlands, Intuit Buildings: https://youtu.be/XMuczi-URso

  • Here are now pictures and videos for the 4 areas flown:

    Google Main Campus

    The soccer field across and other sports fields. Video summary (with RC sounds, choose the video in the list of 4 above to get the version with music):

    Screenshots:








    It's right across from 1950 Alsa:













    Nextdoor is the so called main campus, B40-43:
















    Google West Campus and Other Surrounding Buildings

    Across the street, B44, and ACI which I didn't know had their name on their roof. Maybe if someone comes to bomb Google, they want to be spared :)
    Video summary (with RC sounds, choose the video in the list of 4 above to get the version with music):

    Screenshots:




    B45, B46, B47:






    1098 and 900 Alta:



    Moving to Landings and Google West Campus (formerly 0, 1, E, and Pi):








    Google Crittenden Campus

    Across shoreline, is the Crittenden Campus and other tenants on Stierlin Ct.
    Video summary (with RC sounds, choose the video in the list of 4 above to get the version with music):

    Screenshots:







    pretty full parking lot
    pretty full parking lot






    Moffett Airport is just next door, so while it was possible to get one shot of it without entering their land, it had to be done carefully (while the runway wasn't active, even if the RC plane never got close to its extended centerline, a very bad idea no matter what)
    Moffett Airport is just next door, so while it was possible to get one shot of it without entering their land, it had to be done carefully (while the runway wasn't active, even if the RC plane never got close to its extended centerline, a very bad idea no matter what)

    Nearby Shoreline Amphitheatre, Golf Links and Bay Marshlands, Intuit Buildings

    Last, but not least, here are some shots the the bay surroundings, again some had to be taken carefully so as not to conflict with airplane traffic going in and out of Palo Alto airport (using a spotter and being on tower frequency)
    Video summary (with RC sounds, choose the video in the list of 4 above to get the version with music):

    Screenshots:





    Pictures of Shoreline Amphitheater:








    Intuit Campus:






    Michael's at Shoreline by Golf Links. Where my friend Grant had his birthday :)



    2015/12/13 Eagle Tree Vector vs Pixhawk/Ardupilot
    π 2015-12-13 00:00 in Rc
    This was written in december 2015 with the latest firmware available at the time.

    I worked with a Vectone on an hexacopter, and honestly I was very not impressed with it.

    On one side, it looks polished, it's nice to have the OSD built in the flight controller.
    There is a nice professional manual (vs ardupilot where the docs are ok, but just not as polished).
    However, as far as doing its main job of being a flight controller for the hexacopter, it sucked.

    Once, only once did I get to run the level function and did it fly the copter level.
    All other times, I had to put various amounts of trim (sometimes so much trim that it would not arm without all that rim), and once you give it all that trim, if you do a 360 rotation, it tends to wobble or tumble depending on how much trim you have.

    I can't say how many times Eric and I levelled it (and it was really level), but either way an imperfect level is not an excuse. The copter can see in flight that it's pitched and moving in one direction without corresponding RC input, and cancel that out. It sure does not.

    It randomly (50% of the time) failed to work in altitude hold mode. Loiter (GPS hold) never worked despite GPS signal. Compass had been configured (and that was a pain), and during the flights, the OSD said it has to be configured again (and this was the latest firmware)

    In the meantime: Arducopter has autotune. I can't say how awesome autotune is to auto-set pids for a given airframe.
    Vector does not.

    Arducopter has EKF to double calculate everything using all available sensors.
    Vector does not, and sucks as an hexacopter flight controller in my experience (and Eric had the same problems as I did, even after fully reconfiguring the flight controller).

    Arducopter/pixhawk uses 2 compasses (one in the FC, one external).
    Vector does not.

    Pixhawk supports 14 inputs and outputs.
    Vector supports 6 channels (so you need to have other channels available as PWM on your receiver, which may not be possible if you want 14 or 16 total).

    Vector cannot be configured via computer while in flight, or while armed and requires wireless video for remote configuration (not great if you don't have an FPV screen).
    Ardupilot uses a wireless radio/serial connection and can be fully configured/monitored while armed or in flight.

    While I liked the polish and wiring of the vector, the fact that it is clearly inferior as a flight controller for hexacopters at least, makes it a poor choice in my opinion.

    Too bad. I kind of wanted to like it, especially because its OSD is far superior from minimOSD on ardupilot.

    2015/12/12 Hexacopter flying at Moffett
    π 2015-12-12 00:00 in Rc
    I went to Moffett to help with data collection of hangars from the inside. Got a few nice shots while there, we even got a couple of F18s that took off for us:









    We then went to the next hangar, with big doors we got to open :)








    See more images for Hexacopter flying at Moffett
    2015/12/11 2ft+ powder day at Kirkwood
    π 2015-12-11 00:00 in Snow
    This is already a good season :)
    I heard that sadly kirkwood got a bit of rain and tough conditions earlier in the week, but by the time we arrived, we had 2ft of freshies waiting of us, and it was good snow. We left at 05:00 from MTV and barely arrived by 08:45. Surprisingly, chair 6 started loading at 09:00 sharp, good job being on time Kirkwood :)

    I ran 6 the whole day, one far skiiers' right, to deep palisades. Thankfully by noon, TC Express was running, so it was easier to get back.


    chamoix is getting closer to being rideable
    chamoix is getting closer to being rideable

    nice new sign
    nice new sign

    sweet :)
    sweet :)






    A big thanks to Lucas for driving us there and back.

    See more images for 2ft+ powder day at Kirkwood
    2015/12/01 Flying 3D FPV with Skyzone 3D FPV Goggles
    π 2015-12-01 00:00 in Rc
    This is my review of the Skyzone SKY02 V3 AIO 3D FPV Goggles, which I got to supplement my Skyzone Dual Antenna FPV Goggle V2:

    I had the old Skyzone 2D goggles with dual receivers and diversity controller, and I quite like them. However, they are sadly made for smaller faces than mine, and even by putting the lenses as far away as possible, it's barely wide enough and I have to strain a bit to see the whole screen. Bummer.

    Summary of Skyzone 2D vs 3D:

  • 3D has 3D (obviously), but with each receiver getting a separate full resolution image (vs fatshark and others that do SBS, i.e. half resolution)
  • Both have the same diversity controller (two receivers, two antennas), and in 3D mode you change diversity for 2 separate receivers. Range of the receivers seemed equivalent in my side by side real world flying test (some reviews said the early versions of the 3D had a bad receiver, mine did not)
  • Nice OSD menus in the 3D (not present in the 2D)
  • Support for recording to microsd card (sadly 2D recording only, I'd have loved 3D recording)
  • As a minus, in PAL, the 3D goggles crop a little bit of the bottom of the picture, I had to move my OSD text up one line (not an issue in NTSC)
  • The IPD is slightly better (see below) for my eyes
  • The 3D comes with a dual VTX and a dual camera (the 2D comes is goggles only). To be honest, I'd have loved to buy the 3D goggles only.
  • The skyzone 3D goggles sadly don't offer much more IPD (interpupillary distance), but the extra 1mm helps a bit and wearing them is a bit better for me than wearing the 2D goggles.
    I have just now tried some fatshark Dominator HDv2 and dominator v3s, and both also make it impossible to see the whole screens from left to right with both eyes on max IPD setting. That's disappointing, but basically means that the IPD on the skyzone 3Ds isn't really much worse for my face. In real life each of my 2 eyes misses a small part of the side of the screen, and the other eye makes up for it, so it's not too bad.

    I was however worried when I saw reviews that were saying that the receivers on the new skyzones, were of poor quality and range. Without knowing for sure, I ordered them and went to test them. To my relief, they gave me the same 5km flying distance I was getting with the original 2D skyzones. In other words, the skyzones 3D are just a positive upgrade from the 2D ones.

    Next, was trying 3D. Most people seem to have tried them on quadcopters to fly between trees at close range. That's all nice and good but my application was a plane, and not flying that close to objects. I was also not very impressed by how heavy and bulky the default camera was, as well as the dual VTX. At the same time, I didn't have high hopes of the dual VTX being any good for long range, having 2 transmitters that close to one another cannot be good. So, I ended up using 2 regular VTXes, with more room between them, and reverse polarized circular polarized antennas.

    This is what the default setup looks like:

    So, this is what I did: I made my own 3D camera, one with the proper IPD (the skyzone cameras are too close), and one with a very elongated point of view, almost like a hammerhead shark. It helps seeing 3D effects at longer distances (more than you would see with normal vision).

    I used the stock camera (but not VTX) for my first test. It was very disappointing because the camera could see the plane, and that ruined the 3D effect. Also, as expected the 3D perception wasn't going to work well with the cameras so close to one another:


    So I made my own 3D camera:



    narrow
    narrow

    wide
    wide

    install before flying
    install before flying

    2 video transmitters, 600mW with LHCP antenna, and 2W with RHCP in the back
    2 video transmitters, 600mW with LHCP antenna, and 2W with RHCP in the back

    I've only done one test flight with that setup, but having the cameras be far apart works great for seeing 3D at a longer distance, and also I'm not seeing the plane, which is good. The only issue is that my servo doesn't have enough torque to deal with that much weight, so when I have the wide camera setup installed, I just unplug the rotation servo.
    Using the 2 VTX with some distance between them, and RHCP + LHCP gave good results, I was able to fly 5km away without problems.

    All in all, it's a pretty cool system, even if I don't like their cameras or the bundled dual transmitter (they should sell the goggles alone for people like me), it's a very cool setup. Now please just make one for faces that are wider and allow more IPD like fatshark does.

    The most unfortunate thing is that the goggles cannot record 3D, they only record one eye in 2D. To get 3D, I'd have to use 2 sets of goggles, each to record one channel, and then synchronize the recordings and make some SBS video out of it. Sounds like a lot work...

    Update:
    Actually, since I realized that I cannot turn my dual camera setup anymore, I went ahead and put the cameras even farther apart: in the wings. They are a bit hard to line up, but they do give a better 3D effect at even greater distances now:

    I have about 1m between the cameras, and should try to move them even farther apart
    I have about 1m between the cameras, and should try to move them even farther apart


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