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May 20, 2012: Week 31 -- Show Time!

We did it! We took a fully functional Viper for exhibition at Maker Faire. There were a few networking issues on Saturday morning, but by about noon they were worked out (thanks in large part to Ryan's debugging), and she ran smoothly for most of the rest of the weekend. Thanks again to our Kickstarter backers and to our corporate sponsors. Thanks too to the Maker Faire crew for all of their support. (Check out the Meet the Makers video that the Maker Faire team produced.) We are extremely grateful to the help everyone has given us. We couldn't have done it without all of you. As Sunday came to a close, we received three Editor's Choice ribbons. We thought that was amazing since in previous years we've received at most two. By the time we left the fairgrounds, we had been graced with seven ribbons!

May 13, 2012: Week 30 -- The Last Build Session

This was our last build session before Maker Faire. Basic functionality was in place, so we spent the weekend refining and beautifying the cockpit exterior and the show control on the interior. Joseph put together an emotional final episode of the weekly update video included below. See you at Maker Faire!

April 29, 2012: Week 28 Build Session

We had a blast this past weekend. On Saturday night we had an evening build in preparation of the Discovery Channel Canada's film crew arrival on Sunday (middle row). Alex and Sam worked on getting Fire Jam up and running (left), and Sam D. and Tony did some last minute checks on the pitch motor and shaft encoder (right). The film crew was here all day (top and bottom rows) shooting hours of footage including one-on-one interview of the boys. They shot a "Right Stuff" moment (upper right) with the team in their flight suits. The film crew's goal was to capture the drama of the first full systems test. They got what they came for -- the first series of tests failed miserably (NOTHING happened). After a few hours of debugging, we eventually tracked the problem down to several pull-up resistors being improperly sized. Once we figured out what the problem was, we replaced the resistors and, voila! The thing basically worked. The servo loop needs work because of the huge moment of inertia of the frame (the current version of the software way overshoots its goal), so we'll be plenty busy in the run up to the Faire. Stay tuned for links to the final Discovery Channel piece.

April 7, 2012: Week 25 Build Session

Things are really coming together now. This weekend we figured out how to control the motors (the variable frequency drives were a bear to figure out), we tested the roll motor (middle row of pictures above), did a rough cut at balancing the center of gravity, finished the manual portion of the operator console (top and bottom rows of the above pictures), and topped it off with the first test of both motors using the operator console. We now have a motion platform!

It looks like we're on target to hit "Coach class service", that is, game graphics playing the cockpit with manual control of the platform, in time for our appearance at the Exploratorium on April 21. Still LOTs to do, but it looks like the thing will actually work in time for Maker Faire on May 19 and 20.

March 31, 2012: Week 24 Build Session

No time to write something interesting ... we're in the bombing run of finishing the project. Pictures will have to do for the time being. Thanks for your interest in the project.

March 24, 2012: Week 23 Build Session

We are really excited about the attention the project is getting. We're working extremely hard to complete the project in time for the Faire. We made good progress this past weekend, as demonstrated by the video below. Wish us luck -- we still have a tremendous amount to do. Accomplishments this weekend include: 
Sam D and Tony got the monitors installed (top row of images above), 
John and Mark laser cut the acrylic panels for the operator console and labels (middle row) at TechShop, Alex and Sam F. solved the problem we were having with communication between Python and the Arduinos (this is a BIG deal), and we got both slip rings installed. Slip rings are needed because we need to get power and data into the cabin, but since the cabin can spin arbitrarily far on two axes, we can't simply run a cable from the ground into the cabin. We found a company (SenRing) online that makes a variety of slip rings (bottom row) to solve just this problem. They've been great to work with.

If we keep up this pace well be ok.

March 18, 2012: Week 22 Build Session

Progress today: a big milestone: we tested motor motion for the first time. See the above video. Also the Kickstarter page was completed (it is up now and getting great response). So far Gizmodo has picked it up as has the Battlestar Galactica Facbook page. 
The project is looking like it might go viral. Yay!

March 11, 2012: Week 21 Build Session

Rather than a group build, this week we worked independently or in pairs. John worked on the design of the operator console and LaserMax labels in preparation for a laser cutting session at the TechShop. Alex and Sam F. figured out that Ventrilo will work for our bi-directional communication between the pilot and operator. Sam D. and Tony built the pitch motor mount shown above.

March 3, 2012: Week 20 Build Session

Progress today: the Kickstarter page was completed (it should be up soon), the three monitors frames were built, the frame was painted, the pitch motor mount was designed, flight suits were sized, and most software components were written.

February 25, 2012: Week 19 Build Session

Alex and Sam F got the first end to end communication of the instrument panel talking to Flightgear, and then controlling the Lego motion platform. We also finished wiring and programming the 20 buttons on the instrument panel, and Joseph shot footage for the new promo video on the home page. 

February 18, 2012: Week 18 Build Session

This week we brought back the motion platform from Jesse Hawker at Hawker Engineering. Check out the video above.
We tested the motion platform, seat, and harness. They passed with flying colors! A challenge now will be to distribute the weight so that the center of gravity passes as close as possible through the spot where the two rotation axes intersect.

February 11, 2012: Week 17 Build Session

Our goals this week were to get everything ready to have the motion platform delivered back to the garage from Jesse's. That meant we needed to build the casters (top row) to attach to the A-frame in order to wheel the assembly back into the garage. We also completed the Lego model, including the slip rings and roll motor (lower left). Finally, John, Sam F and Mark collaborated to get the instrument panel laser cut in black matte acrylic (lower right). See also the Week 17 video update below.

February 9, 2012: Fabrication Continues

We visited Jesse's shop today and were extremely impressed. The roll frame is attached securely to the fuselage, the seat is attached, the pitch frame is in tact, and the base is in progress. It looks like it will all come together very nicely. Jesse is a true artist! The design just gets better! 

February 6, 2012: Motion Platform Fabrication Begins

Today was a big day. We delivered drawings to Jesse in the morning, and by the evening he had the roll frame constructed. Sam examines the shafts and bearings (upper left), Paul, Jesse, Sam, and David stand behind the roll frame in Jesse's shop (upper right), the fuselage resting on the roll frame (lower left), and Jesse and Paul discussing how the roll shaft will attach to the rear of the fuselage (lower right). It's finally all coming together!!

February 4, 2012: Week 16 Build Session

Paul, Jessica, Sam, John, and David spent hours today finalizing the CAD drawings (top row) to send the Jesse the fabricator. Earlier in the week we ordered the materials necessary to assemble the motion platform. Jesse is planning to have the platform completed this Wednesday! We can't believe it. We had to cut down the fuselage to the proper length prior to delivering to Jesse on Feb 6. Sam F completed the software for the engine panel (lower left), and John and Mark laser cut a test of the instrument panel out of cardboard at the TechShop (lower right). They are both now qualified on the laser cutter. 

January 28, 2012: Week 15 Build Session



A lot of progress was made this week. We sent out a final draft of the design sketches to our fabricator, and we will be ordering the stock steel soon. That means only several more weeks until we have a full armature! Sam and Tony also finished the "Environmental Status Panel" this week (upper left), and it is now installed and wired into +5v. This also gave us a chance to install one of several power supply units in the cabin, as many of the LEDs and switches will run off of 5 volt DC. Pixar also donated 3 23" cinema displays (upper right) which we will be using to debug the flight software and eventually use around the exhibit at the faire. They weigh in at around 15 lbs each, so for weight-conserving purposes we might buy 3 lighter monitors to actually mount to the fuselage. Speaking of weight, with the help of Jessica, John, and Paul we finally figured out our moment of inertia and horsepower calculations, and it turns out we can get away with 2 1.5 horse motors and still have good accelerations! This was a huge milestone for us, because some calculations said we needed .1 hp motors, and others said we'd need 20. Sam F finished a draft of the instrument panel layout in Adobe Illustrator, which will get laser cut out of acrylic soon by John and Mark. Once that is done we can start mounting switches, iPad, and iPhones. The frame for the instrument panel is nearly complete too (bottom row).

January 21, 2012: Week 14 - First Young Makers meeting of 2012

Today we brought the Viper to the Exploratorium for the first Young Makers meeting of 2012

January 15, 2012: Week 13 Build Session

Progress today:

- Reviewed the Inventor model that Paul, Jessica, and John have been working on (top row of images above, and video below). It's amazing!

- John got the queries out to the motor suppliers and started researching the in-cabin camera and com link.

- Com link: We eventually figured out that that we need a a "full-duplex" pair of radios so that the pilot and operator can talk to each other at the same time without either having to hold down the talk button. Unfortunately these radios cost on the order of $300 a pair.

 An inexpensive version is to use two pairs of cheap walkie talkies. One pair is for communicating from the pilot to the operator. The other pair is for communicating the other way. The sending and receiving sets for the pilot will be modified to fit in the helmet. Alex bought a pair two try out (for $20) and we managed to break both units before the end of the day (second row, left). Good thing they're cheap.

- Reviewed the instrument panel designs that SF and Alex worked on this past week. We decided to go with a vertically mounted main display with the two iPhone displays further up on the panel.

- Alex worked on a design for the slip rings on the Lego model. It didn't work as expected, but he has a new design to work on this coming week.

- David and SD started working on the instrument panel frame.

- SF and Tony worked on the control software for the engine panel (second row, right).

- SD and Tony finished and tested the controller for the Environment Status Panel (bottom row), with Joseph filming. It worked first time! Unheard of! Bottom row right is a picture of the completed package -- it is essentially an Arduino Mega, but with many more components and wires. Rather than using a Mega we thought it would be fun and educational to use TTL latches. See also the Week 12 video update.

January 7, 2012: Week 12 Build Session

We started this week's meeting with a group planning session (upper left). We managed to fill two large whiteboards with tasks we need to complete within the 130 days we have left until the Faire. Clearly lots to do, but it stills seems possible. Paul, John, and Jessica have been working hard on the Inventor model (upper right). Paul's friend Jim, a structural engineer, has given us specs for the materials to use. The plan is to get the plans to the fabricator by January 23. With any luck the frame will be built and back in the garage by February 4. We had been thinking that we'd need to find a larger space once the fuselage is mounted in the frame, but David and Paul figured out that there is just enough clearance to fit in the garage if the frame sits on the garage floor. That would be great because we could continue to work on it in place. Alex and Sam F. figured out how to set up an iPad as an external monitor (lower left). That will allow us to easily drive the larger screen of the iPad (instead of the 7" VGA monitor we were planning to use) from the PC. Alex and Sam F. are working on the layout of the instrument panel -- they'll bring two alternate design to the build session next week for group review. Finally, we decided to use the window on the door as an emergency escape hatch. We unscrewed the window from the frame and will mount it on the exterior using velcro. Sam F. tested the escape route (lower right).