Title to be decided, pt2
Tic-tocks story: chapter 2
(Interviewer ) when you first met G, what was your impression of him?
“Humm First impression was a smart assed jarhead smacked flat on his back by life. I felt a touch sorry for him but also saw vast potential. He is vastly smarter than he lets on.
Well, he doesn’t have much education to back him up, but intuitively, he is smart as a whip. Take Damocles for instance. When we started building the air frame, he rolled around the layout on the floor several times, then picked up some chalk and started making the wings wider. I freaked, asking him’what the hell’ as it had taken three days for me to lay out that plan. He just turned and said “the proportions are off, air density doesn’t change just because we reduced the size of the wing.” I asked a friend at MIT to run the calculatuons for me and damned if he wasnt right. By eyeball alone, he nailed the new chordline down to within millimeters of what the calculations said they should be.”
“So he’s a polymath?”
“Possibly, but I think that is giving him more credit than needed. He is talented in spatial relations even if he doesnt know the maths involved. And when it comes to putting two unrelated things together, he amazes me. Things like using the Little Bird as a repeater platform.”
“He mentioned Little Bird in my interview with him, but didn’t name it. What is Lttle Bird?”
“Little Bird isnt actually little though parked side by side with Damocles, you won’t see LB. LB is a powered glider, utilizing solar panels to extend fight times. The entire topside of LB is covered in flexible solarpanels putting out about 35 watts under full sunlight. She is also 90%autonomous, capable of launch, travel to waypoints, loiter, and return home and land unaided. Granted there are times where one of us has to step in ’cause she starts squawking, but as we find those issues, I can further write code to help her out.”
“Wait a sec! Are you saying this plane is smart?
Laughing “no smarter than the phone in your pocket. Like your phone, LB can only do what she has in her programs, and if something comes up that doesn’t fit, she starts squawking for help.”
“So, you made a ‘smart plane’ and all it does is act like a repeater?”
“Mostly, yes. She is also camouflaged to blend in, sorta. And she can be an extra eye in the sky, but that kills our loiter times.”
“Camouflaged How? “
“With an 8 foot wingspan, v-tail and some creative color matching, at 100′ altitude, she looks just like a buzzard or condor. In fact, that similarity got us into trouble the first time up. There was a buzzard trying to match her pattern, and she kept picking him up and went into avoidance mode. I dont know if he was looking for love or what, but she got into all kinds of fits about it and I had to take over. I ended up using the motor to power up and he didnt like that sound and skeedaddled.”
“And this ‘smart plane’ can see as well?”
“Not with light, but sound. I built her with two Arduino boards, one for navigation and flight using on board GPS, an external PRM module and a flight stabilzatuin module and the second with a sensor array for collision avoidance, among other things. That sensor array uses ultrasound, IR, and a motion detector for everything else. The first one is the brain, the other the ‘eyes and ears’.”
“And she’s solar powered? “
Only for loitered flight. She carries two battery systems, one for her, and its actually pretty small, the other for the repeater in her belly. The solar only powers her system while circling and the battery is for take offs,travel modes, and landing. The other battery system is independent for the radio system, which is also independent even though she slaves it to her transmitter when she sqauwks.
“Wow. Thats one heck of a setup. How does she know where to land?
“Two ways. One is by GPS, that gets her in the ball park. Usually within 500 meters with a 500 meter deck. Thats where she can hear her landing nodes and home in on them. Once she has those, she just lines up so both ears are in sync and brings it in. She has a pickup in the ends of each wing and the processor can differentiate nanosecond thresholds. Those little Arduino boards are pretty awesome.”
“I have to say, some of what you just said almost lost me. Simply put, for the less technically inclined, you are saying she flys and looks like a buzzard but navigates like a bat, correct?
“You just earned a beer my friend, kudos!”
“You said she can launch herself, travel to the waypoint, loiter and return home, without outside help. How did you manage that? “
“Many hours of coding. Really it was simple, just tedious. I had G run through the motions several times in a simulator, recording all of his inputs as digital signal and then wrote the code around those inputs. Its been manipulation of that code since then. There several variations of course depending on wind, etc, and then the difference between ground speed and airspeed, but after several runs we had enough that now, I just have to load her up with waypoints and loiter times and let her go. She ‘remembers’ where home is via the GPS. The landing nodes are a string of ultrasound emmitters and a battery box. The pulse in relay for 10ms each in sequential order. LB hears them and the path is determined by which she hears first and last. Its not 100% but it is close enough that she usually hits the same patch within a foot or two.”
“You really should market this, planes that land themselves, who’da thunk?”
“Actually, its tried and true and is in use everyday by major airlines. When they first started using Otto to land planes, they had to introduce some ‘fuzzyness’ to the program as they were damaging runways by hitting the exact same spot everytime. I am not reinventing the wheel here, I am just writing code for something that others wrote code for years back. I’m just cheap and don’t want to pay the fees they would ask for that code.”
“Oh. Next question: G’s ‘cockpit’. How did that come about?
“G and I took the neighbor girls to Dave n Busters one holiday season. There they had a multiplayer full immersion version of Mechwarrior, though it went under a different name. The graphics and game engine were absolutely identical to the PC version. Once G found that, it took the girls and I, five hours to get him out of there, and that was the seed that birthed G’s cockpit. I don’t think he slept for two days after that, sitting up sketching out ideas until he had the idea down to something he felt was doable. Then he approached me on it and gave me the bug. I think I spent more time cracking the game code than I did actually building anything.. thank God he never went online with that version or we would have had Microsoft climbing up our backsides to find out how we did what we did.”
“So all of this started over a video game. Is that when you started calling him G?
“Pretty much. I had been ribbing him as ‘gamerboy’ for awhile at that point, and that kind of morphed into his current moniker.”
“What about Tic-tock? How did that happen?
“That goes back to my college days. When we were all running DOS and using keyrings, and BBS’s. I was always overclocking my processors and somehow ‘Tic-tock’ got stuck to me.”
“So you have a lot of background in the IT field. Why the sudden switch to programming engineer/fabricator or whatever it is that you guys are calling what it is you do?”
“Its pretty straight forward actually, and it was not sudden. This thing has been evolving at a rate over the last 7 years that seems like a whirlwind picked us up. One thing leads to the next and that opens up the door to the next one. And its fun as hell to take my knowledge and stress its limits. Its growth and in the process, I gave my best friend, a double amputee, wings. That was reward enough.”
“And you are using monikers for what purpose?”
“That should be obvious, we are both outlaws at this point. I can’t tell you how many regulations we are breaking. The FAA, FCC,and ATF want our hides and the only thing keeping us at large are the militias we have been helping.”
“Thank you Tic-tock. And thank you for the service you are providing the militias. “