Drones, bones and mobile phones: a sneak peak at some student MakerEd projects

spytank selfie2

It’s been fun in the Uni Makerspace lately. The students have all been busy tinkering away for weeks now, prototyping and sorting their experiments ahead of next week’s ‘MEGA-BUILD DAY’ when the final builds need to be completed ready for data collection. One of the greatest joys has been the range of ideas they have come up with… so here’s a sneak peak at what some of them have been getting up to.

Blimping your ride…

Drones with fully gimballed cameras capable of sophisticated and controlled video and stills photography for aerial survey work are expensive. So one team of lads have set about trying to make an ultra-cheap alternative. Their plan is to strap a PowerUp 3.0 unit…


…controlled via bluetooth on a phone app…


…to a helium-filled balloon and then attach a mini video camera hacked from an @Extreme_Fliers Microdrone 2.0 to get their survey footage.


Well, the first thing they discovered was that it took seven balloons to lift the power unit… not exactly practical.


What was more, rubber balloons are, it turns out, rather ‘leaky’ when it comes to helium and so most of the helium was gone by the next day. Their Plan B was to use a foil balloon. This held the helium OK, but being a party balloon (it was very ‘colourful’) the shape was all wrong and steering it at all was difficult. The next attempt saw them using two big balloons, one at each end of the power unit. Success! Although the stability of it was less than ideal… it DID fly… and they could steer it, just about…


The problem was the tiny size of the rudder on the PowerUp 3.0. So they set about increasing the the size of the rudder. This was met with no success at all. Either it was too flimsy and so provided no additional ‘steerage’, or it was too stiff and so their was insufficient torque in the PowerUp 3.0 to move it. So they are currently living with the rudder and adding the camera in the hope that the extra ballast will give the blimp more stability. Watch this space…


Badgering sleeping animals?

Meanwhile some of the girls have been working with a Logitech Spy-tank. This is also controlled from a mobile phone app and has a tilt up-down IR camera on it that takes video and stills.

spy tank

So once they’d all finished taking ‘spy-tank selfies’ their thoughts turned to what it could be used for. Now being bioscience students, their thought naturally enough, was to send it down an animals’s burrow. They reasoned that they could build a sensor pack, strap it to the back of the tank and explore the micro-climate inside, for example, ‘a slumbering badger’s burrow’. So they tinkered with an Arduino Uno and played with various sensors and triggers but didn’t seem entirely pleased with the micro-climate logging idea once they’d explored the possibilities. What they really wanted to do was to map the inside of the burrow and so they decided to use an HC-SR04 range-finder sensor to do the job.


Their original idea was to stick just one HC on a servo and code the Arduino Uno to do a sweep left and right, taking distance measurements as it went, but they have now settled instead on going for a bank of HCs pointing in different directions to collect their data. Slight snag was that each HC needed four pins and well, there just weren’t enough really on the Uno. Solution? Stick them on a Mega 🙂


Their next step is to hook it all up to an @adafruit data-logging shield and dump the burrow data to an SD card. It’s then just a simple (?) case of reconstructing the internal dimensions and topography of the burrow from the HC-SR04 readings…



Dem bones…

Not all the students in the Makerspace are tinkering with physical computing, drones and rovers. One Forensic Anthropology student wants to 3D print bones so that students can have their own sets of reference materials.


To make this viable though this process needs to be cheap AND produce 3D prints that retain the subtle surface features of the original. He’s therefore working @LJMUFabLab to compare 3D prints on different quality 3D printers (filament – Ultimaker 3D, 3D UPS printer; powder – Z650 3D printer), from different quality 3D scans (free 123D catch phone app, mid-range Matter & Form portable scanner,  iSense iPad scanner add on; top-range Next Engine 3D scanner – beow) in the hope of finding a means of producing cheap, high quality facsimiles.

10953218_1093107820715040_9161757923577352630_n    10984050_1093111960714626_8243079893965916089_n

Ultimaker 2 (filament)                                                       Z650 (powder)


10998888_1093107857381703_8094377714492793984_n  3d scanner iSense

NextEngine                                              Matter & Form                                 iSense


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s