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Nodecopter

What do you get when you cross Node.js with a Parrot AR.Drone 2.0? Hours and hours of geeky, geeky fun! I love Node, and I’m a guy so obviously I love gadgets, so this was a match made in heaven. NodeCopter is a day where small teams program flying robots to do their evil bidding. Mwuhahahaha!

It was an early start at TechHub Manchester, and I was definitely more than a little excited about getting my hands on one of those drones! Intro and safety briefing though first, from the oh so talented Andrew Nesbitt. Keeping your hands away from the rotors is harder than it sounds when you’re trying to catch a falling or otherwise wayward drone, and they really do hurt when the two meet!

I started with accessing the drone’s events, which fire out a raft of information from it’s gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, ultrasound and pressure sensors. This drone is kitted out! I used the altitude reading to set the drone to hover at a specific height.

At this early stage in the day there were drones flying crashing everywhere, mainly after hitting the beams in the loft space of the TechHub. Beams and pitched ceilings are great, except when you’re trying to fly a drone programmatically. I quickly realised that I needed a kill command to land the drone in case it started going AWOL. Another team setup a ‘clap to land’ feature, using the microphone on their laptop. Much easier than running node land.js from the terminal.

Given the architecture of the room it’s hardly surprising that people were looking at safety features. I decided to elaborate on my altitude control by adding impact detection. If the drone was attempting to reach the set altitude and hit an obstacle it would reduce it altitude to below the obstacle then attempt to reach the set altitude after five seconds. I also added a feature so that if you held the drone near the ground it would automatically land.

There were some pretty cool things that other people managed to do, including a banana-seeking drone and iPhone accelerometer control. Simon managed to get a Wiimote hooked up and controlling a drone too, which was pretty damned good!

It was without a doubt an awesome day, and I would recommend it to anyone. You don’t need to be a Node expert, you just need some knowledge of JavaScript to get you started. There were two kids there, so it really is for anyone! Massive thanks to Simon and Andrew for organising and putting on the event, TechHub for the venue, food and drink, and to 5apps who sponsored the drone I was using and abusing all day!

Check out the impressions for photos and videos from the day!

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