• A "Final" Video

    Dylan Radcliffe04/20/2021 at 23:31 0 comments

    Its been a long few months since the Hackaday Earth Day challenge was first announced, but I've finally got a working prototype of the Aspen V1. It deployed it's first seeds on a field 2 days ago and has had many successful flights since that time. Please enjoy this "launch" video of my drone and thank you Hackaday for hosting the 2021 earth day challenge!


    This is the Aspen V1, a dedicated environmental restoration drone platform for planting seed on a massive scale.

    On June 5th 2021, the United Nations will launch the decade on environmental restoration in the aim to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide. The simple fact of the matter is, simply conserving nature for future generations is no longer enough, we need to be actively repairing the damage brought on this world over centuries past. Species once considered abundant, even not long ago when I was a child are being pushed to the brink. Forests myself and many friends once explored are now housing subdivisions. We need stewardship solutions and tools that scale massively beyond our current capacity. Locally, regionally, nationally, and globally incredibly talented people have come up with tools and plans to restore our natural environment. We know what we need to do, we just need to turn our plans and resources into action.

    To celebrate the launch of the UN decade on environmental restoration and Earth Day 2021 I dusted off some of my old notebooks dating back to 2014 to design and build the Aspen V1. A dedicated environmental restoration drone for spreading seed on a massive scale. This platform can be used for rapidly spreading up to 3kg of different seeds including tree, tallgrass, or wildflower seed! The broadcasting wheels is interchangeable and adaptable for a variety of different seed types. The drone is smart and fully autonomous, built to be capable of completely covering a hectare of land in less than 5 minutes.

    It’s not the first seed planting drone ever conceived, since 2014 there have been several successful designs. My desire was to build one for less than $1000 using as many commonly available materials as possible and operated by a minimal crew. Many of the parts are 3D printed using innovative 100% recycled plastic and as much as possible was purchased from local hardware stores. Currently I’m in the process of pushing the limits of what this machine is capable of, but the plan is to put it to work this year if some collaborators are excited to test the machine in partnership.

    My passion is this beautiful earth we live on, and my desire is to dedicate my life to preserving and restoring it’s natural beauty. Working in the not for profit and environmental sector has blessed me with the opportunity to develop a somewhat comically wide skill set. This invention is my way of putting some of those skills to use while I look for work after graduation.

    In the coming years many of us share a dream where we have halted our production of CO2 and are on a path to a more sustainable future. Part of the path is mitigating the ongoing biodiversity crisis we are facing and restoring the natural environment. We know what we need to do, we just need to put the resources and time into making it all happen. The Aspen V1 will hopefully become a small part of the solution to the big problems we are facing.

  • Hoppers... Everything I didn't know I needed to know

    Dylan Radcliffe04/12/2021 at 21:56 0 comments

    Since I had a decent platform for the drone up and running, I figured I needed a seed broadcasting mechanism. Arducopter makes controlling an additional servo initially, all I need to do is pass the RC input to a pin on the servo rail and Bobs you're uncle! I found some decent continuous rotation servos to mail order and strapped them on to an initial hopper design. My initial design I dubbed "the snail" looked awesome and was designed to drop the seeds out of the bottom of the hopper by rotating downwards. It looked great and was destined for success.... until it wasn't.

    Unfortunately the cheap continuous rotation servos you can order online don't throw a lot of torque. In my initial tests the wheel would pinch the seeds between the housing and the wheel and instantly stall. Big sad indeed.

    Back to the drawing board! I was trying to avoid if at all possible using a gearbox to increase the torque of the motors. The servos don't turn that fast at top speed, and reducing that speed in exchange for torque didn't feel like a good option for a drone that needs decent control over the rate of broadcast. I ended up doing some research and found some cool videos of seed drills online. These designs eliminate any "pinch points" where the seed could be pinched between the wheel and the housing and instead lift the seeds out of the hopper and throw them out. Here's a video of one in action:

    So I set to work putting a design together. I went with a slightly different wheel design (Looks cooler too!) that collects several seeds at once for broadcast and dumps them out of the back of the hopper.

    The size and design of the hopper still needs a bit of work, but currently it can hold ~700g of bird seed for testing.

    That's the update for today! Stay tuned to see the design in action.

  • Some Early Photos of the Aspen V1

    Dylan Radcliffe03/29/2021 at 17:38 0 comments

    Just for posterity, I thought I'd include some of the earliest photos of the Aspen.

    Aspen, inital frame design.
    This is the initial frame design. Note the bulky "T" sections that have since been redesigned
    Right before the first test flight. (It crashed due to operator error)

    The Redesigned T sections hide the nut underneath the Motor. This took way more time to design than I care to admit.
    The motors now test fit onto the frame. Works great!

  • First Flights

    Dylan Radcliffe03/29/2021 at 17:23 0 comments

    So last week I took the Aspen out for a couple of test flights. PID needs a little work, but its in the air and doing what it was designed to do. You can see in the video and image below the payload attachment / hopper. This drone is intended as a seed dispersal drone for restoring tall grass prairie and potentially treated seeds for reforestation projects. (none of you guessed it!) I'll be submitting it to Hackaday's Earth Day Challenge this month.

    This weekend I added some landing gear to the drone. I found that it sat way to close to the ground for my liking, so I came up with a pretty smart looking solution that only required minor modifications to the existing frame. My partner says it looks a bit like some bridge in Philly? (I dunno, I've only been to the states once) I don't think I'll be adding any more to the frame at this point except maybe a minimalist protective cover for the PDB (Power distribution brick? :P) and ESCs. Right now it has a dry weight of slightly less than 2KG which is actually slightly less than it was 2 weeks ago. I have some ideas to hopefully shave off ~100g.

    Here you can see the drone fully assembled and up close.

    Thanks! That's this week's update. Let me know what you think! I've never designed anything this complex before so I'd love to hear your thoughts. Your feedback thus far has been invaluable. Cheers!