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Alpha V1: Open-Source Remote Controller

An open-source Arduino compatible remote controller (transmitter) with many customization options for robots and drones.

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Alpha V1 is the result of years of struggle with making custom made remote controllers for various robots. Finally, we decided that enough is enough. Alpha V1 is one remote controller that can be easily customized and modified to be used with all sort of robots and drones.The front and back plates are laser cut out of 4mm acrylic plates, so not only can you laser cut new ones, but also you can drill and cut the plates to add new switches, joysticks and etc.On the firmware side, we have developed many libraries to make sure hardware customization would not require you to write a single line of code, instead you just need to activate them through the menus. If you needed a feature that we have not implemented, Alpha V1 is open-source and you will have full access to development resources to go further.We are planning to crowdfund Alpha V1, so signup in our website to get notified at launch or follow our social media pages for more pictures and updates.

Alpha V1 open-source Arduino compatible remote controller

We used to build robots for most parts of our undergraduate degree and it was always a struggle to get a remote controller that satisfies all of our needs. It was in our second year (2013), when we first started to think about making our own remote controller. Back then, our knowledge was very limited so we made a tailored remote controller for one of our projects. We liked the end results but there were many short comings. The trend of designing a tailored remote controller for each project went on and on till 2015. Eventually, we graduated and after few years we decided to work on something interesting in 2017. While going through all of our previous experiences we noticed market still does not offer a solution for our remote controller problem, so we started to work on a new open-source remote controller.

We named it "Alpha V1" and the project was initiated with few core values:

  1. Open-Source Everything
  2. Ease of Customization and Modification

After 2 years of brain storming, prototype and firmware development, Alpha V1 is very close to becoming a product in market. We are planning to sell Alpha V1 through crowdfunding. If you want to be notified at launch, subscribe at https://www.craetech.com/alpha-v1

If you want to see the latest pictures and content about Alpha V1, follow us on social media:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/craetech/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/craetech/

In the following section Alpha V1's unique features are highlighted:

  1. Designed for Robotics Applications
    1. Ease of Modification 
    2. Code-Free Customization
    3. Simple User Interface
  2. Superior Communication System Compare to RC Transmitters
    1. 2 Ways Digital Communication
    2. Channels' Flexibility (18 channels at 100Hz, 36 channels at 50Hz or 72 channels at 25Hz)
    3. Advanced and Flexible Telemetry System
  3. Open-Source All the Way
    1. Open-Source Software
    2. Open-Source Hardware
    3. Arduino Compatible

  • 1 × Alpha V1 Controller Board
  • 1 × Xbee or Murata DNT24
  • 1 × Acrylic Plate Set
  • 1 × Outer Body
  • 2 × Hall Sensor Joysticks

View all 12 components

  • Alpha V1

    alireza safdari03/23/2019 at 20:56 0 comments

    Alpha V1 open-source arduino compatible remote controller

    We have completed most parts of Alpha V1, but we are still open to suggestions. Let us know what you.

    Currently 80% of the firmware for the controller is completed. 

    90% of mechanical design and fabrication has been sorted out. 

    85% of the electronics hardware design is completed and we are adding hardware for far future features. 

  • Alpha V1's First Prototype

    alireza safdari03/23/2019 at 20:39 0 comments

    Alpha V1's first prototype

    Years later after making the last remote controller and graduating from university in 2017, we decided to do something interesting. We looked through our previous experiences to find something meaningful. We noticed the need for an open-source remote controller is still solid and market does not offer any appropriate solution.

    So, we went to work again like the old days. But this time around, we decided to make one remote controller that can adapt to different robots and projects. Of course that would be possible if we would just make the product open-source but we wanted something more. We wanted easy adaption. So even folks without programming background still get the chance to tailor their remote controller to their project. There was only one way to achieve that goal and as you may guessed it, we had to write a lot of code.

    We wanted to make sure everyone can customize their remote controller by adding the switches, joystick and many other inputs devices. That means we had to allow code-free customization through the menus which was a huge challenge.

    Our previous hardware and firmware would not allow any sort of adoption/customization unless you start writing a lot of code, so we had to think about everything. The user interface, the software architecture and the hardware design.

    On the bright side we had a lot of experience and as a result we had clues on what to do and what not to do. But even then we spend a lot of time to develop and test the system all together to make sure users can easily use it. In fact we fabricated the first prototype only for firmware development.

    We wrote more than 500,000 lines of code. We made many libraries and many testing automation to make sure our libraries are working correctly. Sometimes we even decide to rewrite the library to make sure it scale better with the project. It was a challenging time but eventually we managed to complete a very large portion of the firmware (80%) in 2018. The firmware gave us the confident to prepare for the next stage, face lifting of the controller.

  • Alpha V1's Grandparent

    alireza safdari03/23/2019 at 19:04 0 comments

    Alpha V1's Grandparent

    It was 2014 and we stepped up the engineering game with this remote controller :) We were experienced and familiar with fabrication processes and CAD design (both for mechanical parts and PCB), so we had a very systematic approach this time around.

    We wanted to make sure the remote controller can be fabricated at low cost, therefore we decided to laser cut all parts. Laser cutting acrylic seemed to be the best option because acrylic is widely available and it is very laser cutting friendly. 

    We first designed the remote controller in SolidWorks and then build a paper model. Once we were satisfied with the paper model we fabricated the first actual remote controller. The picture below show all the 3 stages next to each other.

    Alpha V1 Grandparent in 3 different design stage: CAD, paper model, actual model

    As mentioned in the previous log, we made the remote controller as modular as possible so that we can swap parts easily. The first step was using an Arduino board as the main processor. We picked an Arduino Nano for the job. We designed a PCB to act as a motherboard for Arduino Nano as well. The picture below show the 3D design.

    Alpha V1's Grandparent's PCB

    This controller was mainly used with our combat robot (Mark II). We also took part in few competitions with this remote controller. The picture below is from Combat Robot Malaysia. God knows how many Red Bull cans we drank. :)

    We were at combat robot Malaysia with our remote controller

    This remote controller served us well till the end of our studies. We have a website page dedicated to this remote. If you want to see more pictures check it out (https://www.craetech.com/project/customized-remote-controller/).

    Alpha V1 is heavily influenced by this remote controller and if it was not because of all the love this remote controller received at various events we would never think about coming this far with it.

  • Our Second Remote Controller (Alpha V1's ancestor)

    alireza safdari03/23/2019 at 17:15 0 comments

    Alpha V1's ancestor based on PS2 controller

    We built our second remote controller of the PS2 controller hoping that the end result will be more ergonomic than the last one. Well, let's say we were very wrong. :)

    We used this remote controller with our combat robot Mark II. Each joystick was controlling one side of the robot, so it was controlled like a tank.

    Mark II combat robot

    Mark II had an internal compressor and 2 cylinder to move its front shield. So we added buttons to the PS2 controller to make sure we can control everything. We also added a 3 position radio switch to control the speed of the robot. The sensitivity of the joystick were affected by the position of the radio switch.

    We also designed and fabricated a PCB for this remote controller. The PCB was fabricated at university and they it was milling based. The PCB was not beautiful and the via holes had to be soldered from both side, but overall it was better than nothing.

    Alpha V1's ancestor's PCB

    We learned a lot in the process but we were never happy with the end result and soon enough we started working on a new remote controller. The remote was not ergonomic and building a second unit would be very difficult because we first needed to modify a PS2 controller and then we could build on top of it. Even though we did not want to commercialize the controller at the time, we could understand how important it is to have a modular and easily replaceable parts specially for competitions and when everything goes wrong :). In fact this was our main motive to use Arduino board on all our projects rather than any processor suitable for the job.

    We took part in 1 competition with this remote controller.

    Mark II and Alpha V1's ancestor at combat robot competition

  • Our First Remote Controller (Alpha V1's First Ancestor)

    alireza safdari03/23/2019 at 11:53 0 comments

    Alpha V1's first ancestor

    In 2013, we were in our second year of university and we were building a robot for Robotcon 2013, Malaysia (not to be confused with the US Robocon). The robot had many moving parts and no RC remote controller could have handled all those movements. So, we had to build our own remote controller.

    Back then our engineering knowledge was very limited, so we thought the easiest solution was to purchase an aluminum box and attach all the switches, joystick and LCD to the front face. Our fabrication knowledge and skills were very limited as well, so we ended up drilling holes and filing for many hours to get everything in place. 

    Then we did the wiring for the remote, which took ages too. We did not have enough budget for PCB printing, so we made a PCB out of doughnut boards. It was a lot of wiring but eventually it was all done.

    Our robot had 3 omnidirectional wheels so we could control its position and its orientation independently, The joystick was used to control the position and the knob on the top right was used to control the orientation of the robot. The knob was attached to a +4 rounds (+1440 degree) potentiometer that we managed to find in one of the local shops and it was their display unit. Took us a lot of negotiation to get the display unit but it was all worth it. 

    The switches on the remote were controlling various pneumatic valves to move the cylinders used on the robot and also to switch the vacuum cups on and off. The vacuum cups were made by handheld vacuum cleaners and only activated when the vacuum cleaners were powered.

    One of the main problems with this remote was its design, it was very hard to hold the remote and access the joystick, knob or the switches at the same time. Moreover it was pretty heavy. We learned our lessons for the next remote controller.

    Robocon 2013 robot with Alpha V1's ancestor as remote controller

View all 5 project logs

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Discussions

Andy Rutter wrote 06/26/2019 at 20:57 point

Hi, your design looks ideal for a R/C battleship project I am working on. I need to create a front panel with lots of analogue controls for individual turret traverse and gun elevation. Are the hardware design files available? 

Is this project still alive? I posted on 6 June and as of today (15 July) there has been no answer. 

  Are you sure? yes | no

alireza safdari wrote 08/05/2019 at 12:26 point

Hi @Andy Rutter 
I am truly sorry for the long delay!
We have gone through a major relocation and unfortunately things are not very smooth yet. However, we are doing our best to go forward with Alpha V1. The hardware design files are not available online yet, but please do let me know if you have any question or need help with any of the parts when building yours.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Andy Rutter wrote 08/05/2019 at 12:37 point

Do you have a time-scale for sharing the design files? if soon, I will wait. If longer than 1-2 months, I will make a start on a case design as I need to have a working transmitter before the end of this year.

  Are you sure? yes | no

alireza safdari wrote 08/05/2019 at 12:42 point

Well, I am not too sure about the time frame as of now because we are dependent on some external factors. Perhaps the best option would be to carry this out in a private channel. I have already replied your email, perhaps we can continue there?

  Are you sure? yes | no

corylrhodes wrote 05/14/2019 at 15:06 point

Hi, I have been scouring the internet for an all in one ground control station for my fixed wing UAS. I was trying to find who bought os-rc (open source remote control) when I saw this. Any chance of integrating an 8 in. touch screen for mission planning and FPV streaming?  Right now my only other option is building a "portable" version in a pelican case a bit larger than a suitcase. 

  Are you sure? yes | no

alireza safdari wrote 05/18/2019 at 07:37 point

Hi, sorry for the late reply. I am afraid what you need is not what we are doing at this point. Unless you want to write a lot of code. Also, I do not think you can find a general remote controller that let you do all that unless it is specifically made for your fixed wing UAV controller. FPV streaming is not an issue but mission planning would require a lost of work beyond what we have done so far.

  Are you sure? yes | no

aklaiber wrote 04/04/2019 at 00:31 point

is there a link to the source code somewhere?

  Are you sure? yes | no

alireza safdari wrote 04/04/2019 at 00:39 point

At this point the source code is held private, but at the right time everything will become public and open source.

  Are you sure? yes | no

alireza safdari wrote 04/04/2019 at 00:41 point

Do let me know if you have a particular question or if you are interested in a specific part of the project, we may be able to help.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jarrett wrote 03/23/2019 at 21:51 point

Hilarious timing. Last week I bought a PS3 controller in preparation for putting an ESP32 into it.

Can you go into more why yours was bad? Would a completely new PCB designed by me solve the issues, or was it deeper than that?

Watching this project, it definitely looks neat.

  Are you sure? yes | no

alireza safdari wrote 03/23/2019 at 22:41 point

It boils down to what you want to do with it. First problem is that you do not having enough space in it. Second problem is that it is very hard to mount anything in it because it is designed in a very complex way and there is no mounting option. Third problem is that mounting anything outside of it, will make it very bulky and unbalanced. You may even end up covering some of the buttons if you mount anything outside.

I think it is safe to say putting a LCD on it, would destroy the remote fully.

Hacking the hardware is pretty straight forward.

You can also read this part of the log for more information:
https://hackaday.io/project/164523-alpha-v1-open-source-remote-controller/log/160846-our-second-remote-controller-alpha-v1s-ancestor

  Are you sure? yes | no

Martin Fasani wrote 03/27/2019 at 16:53 point

>I bought a PS3 controller in preparation for putting an ESP32 into it
That sounds extremely cool ;)

  Are you sure? yes | no

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