Tag Archives: Hardware

I crashed a helicopter over 100 times. This is why…

I thought I’d take a moment to share how I began my journey into hardware control. As crazy as it seems, I dove into the pool of hardware electronics as a result of a dream. Not a Martin Luther King Jr. dream, but a real dream. I’ll spare the details, but after combing the internet for ways to make that dream reality, I stumbled onto the Arduino, and had my first foray into hacking hardware—namely, an infrared controlled helicopter.

The first time I read about the Arduino, my imagination went wild. I mean, I knew how to make some cool things with software, but based on what I was reading about the Arduino, it seemed I could make all sorts of gadgets—a clapper to control the lights, or a mind-controlled deadbolt, or a tweeting plant, or an intruder alert system—the possibilities seemed endless. What was this?! And how could I, too, use it to make amazing things? Without hesitation, I ordered an Arduino starter kit, and proceeded to play around with sample LED control projects to get myself familiarized. For what felt like the first time in my life, I beheld an electronics gadget that wasn’t completely consumer prepackaged; I created and controlled it myself. It was awesome.

The starter kit came with a few crash course projects, but when I ran out of those, images of bits and bytes danced through my head like Christmas sugarplums to fill the void. I had to do more. I had to tackle the helicopter next. How did it work? How did moving the joystick controls actually change the flight path of the helicopter? I felt so naïve, but eager to learn. Armed with that mentality, I tore into the helicopter controller in seconds, demanding that it yield its secrets. And it yielded. Among other things, I discovered that the infrared signal sent from the controller was a surprisingly fast but long string of on-off combinations.

It was all so incredibly fastrating (fascinating + frustrating). I don’t think I’ve banged my head on a wall so many times than I did trying to understand how to control the signal (think 100+ helicopter crashes, some into the ceiling fan). Night after night I received a cursory education on the helicopter’s electrical and infrared behavior, captured the actual on-off signals being sent, interpreted those signals, and ultimately replicated those signals.

And the helicopter flew, no longer controlled by the helicopter joystick, but by my laptop keyboard. It was rough, but effective, and victoriously satisfying. First independent lesson in hardware + software complete.

Not that I’m wholly satisfied with this small victory; since the completion of the helicopter hardware/software project, a mix of curiosity and challenge has kept me near obsessed with making real what once could only be dreamed. I’m discovering that there’s a wonderfully blurry line between imagination and reality, and I’m in awe to be able to say that my journey in it has only just begun.

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