• Category Archives Smart Car
  • Driverless kangaroos

    Yeah, I can see how this would need some special software.


    Driverless car makers are discovering a unique problem as they begin to test the vehicles in Australia.

    It turns out the unusual way that kangaroos move completely throws off the car’s animal detection system.

    “We’ve noticed with the kangaroo being in mid-flight … when it’s in the air it actually looks like it’s further away, then it lands and it looks closer,” Volvo Australia’s technical manager David Pickett said.

    Because the cars use the ground as a reference point, they become confused by a hopping kangaroo, unable to determine how far away it is.

    But Mr Pickett said it was even more complicated than that.

    “First we have to start identifying the roo,” he said.

    “We identify what a human looks like by how a human walks, because it’s not only the one type of human — you’ve got short people, tall people, people wearing coats. The same applies to a roo.

    “If you look at a roo sitting at the side of a road, standing at the side of a road, in motion, all these shapes are actually different.”
    The company nailed down their large animal detection software, first tested on moose in Sweden. But the research team, who were sent to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in Canberra 18 months ago to study roos, are still solving the Australian problem.

    “It’s quite interesting for them,” Mr Pickett said.

    Sorry for the long block quote, but it was too well written (goodonya ABC) to ignore.
    Just fascinating how much this software has to take into account.
    I guess what we are going to end up with is country (region?) specific software versions. I mean there is no point in having kangaroo code running in a Swedish car, right? And same in Australia, why would you need moose code floating around in your cars firmware….? When was the last time any of you Aussie readers had to swerve to miss a moose?

    It boggles (my) the mind to think about all this code running in real time driving a car down the road. I just hope that I get to experience it at some stage in my life, but sadly, I think it is going to be out of my reach…. Just like an electric car (that said, saw a pretty sweet little electric Smart Car that was in my price range, but only if I sold Martty). But hey, that does not stop me blogging about it.

  • Smart Sunrise 3

    Is it obvious to you that this shot has not been taken with the drone?
    Why? (Either way).
    I could be standing just out of the frame with the remote. (I’m not. Mostly because I am not confident enough to be walking around while the drone is in the air – I tend to be froze on the spot focused on the job of flying).

    No, for me, the dead giveaway that this is not a drone shot is the quality. The drone just can not give such a sharp saturated image.

    Anyway, the real reason for this shot from my camera is because of the beautiful golden tones of the desert and the hint of the road.
    I pretty much built Martty for this road (and Palomar).

  • Dronie

    Got to go for a drive a few weeks back.
    Got to fly at sunrise.
    Drove all over the place, but this was taken at Borrego Springs.

    It’s the rule that you can’t fly and not take a dronie.

    Flying the Phantom 3 Pro (the one I bought off Benson).
    It is my only photo drone at the moment, I am still working on getting the others to fly and then get a camera mounted, so they are a little ways off yet.

  • Drones, multirotor, quadcopters

    Events have conspired to push us back into flying radio control aircraft. Specifically, drones, multirotor or quadcopters… They all the same thing, but people call them different names. Here is a quick recap of how this all came about.

    We shoot video case studies at work to highlight how companies use our gear to automate a process. It’s good for them and it’s good for us, it helps their future customers understand how that company can help them, and it helps our future customers hear and see how others have used our gear.
    So, a few weeks back, we had a case study video shoot to do in Northern California, cold storage of fruit.

    At first, the boss said that he would be flying the drone… It is after all, HIS drone. He has flown it a few times and he also doubles as the director for the film crew, so it makes sense for him to be there.
    Events built to the point where he was not going to be able to make it, so that left me to pick up the drone (I also do camera B and audio duties).
    Long story short, I had around 3 days to learn how to set it up and fly it.

    Phantom 3 Pro Drones

    dji phantom 3 pro drone
    dji phantom 3 pro drone

    The DJI Phantom 3 Professional is no longer their top of the line drone, but it is still a lot of drone. Costing something north of 1500 bucks, it is also out of my price range.
    The really interesting thing for me is that flying the thing is as much about the software as it is about flying.

    The system uses a tablet, in this case an iPad something (Sorry, I don’t know anything about Apple products – it just works with the drone is all I know), it gets the feed from the remote. Both video and data show up. Both are required to fly the drone.

    Quick practice

    I was not going to learn how to fly on the job, so we did a few quick flights the Sunday before we left.

    Rusty, but the drone has GPS, altitude lock and active stabilization electronics to help. The thing that really weirds me out is that you pretty much fly it from the video feed 99% of the time. Only during takeoff and landing do I look it (and even then I’m sure there are guys that do the whole thing from the video feed).
    This is very different to how I have flown fix wing stuff in the past!

    drone prop ballance

    We also had to brush up on old skills like propeller balancing.

    On location

    To say I was nervous is a MASSIVE understatement.
    If we get some time, I plan to rough edit some of the video shots we got and share them here.
    orchard shoot

    Here is a photo that our video guy got of me, I had no idea that he took this photo.

    calca cool room

    Here is one that I took of me from the drone.
    At this point, I am flying inside the massive cool room that they store grapes in.

    Nano practice drone

    The good news is two fold. Firstly, I did not crash. Secondly, I get to do more flying latter this week at another video case study.
    In the middle of the two weeks Freddy and Terry asked me what I wanted for a Father’s day present (apparently I am hard to buy presents for… and my name is not even Gary…).
    The answer was pretty simple…. I needed a small practice drone.

    practice nano drone

    So. There we are.
    I am flying for work and pleasure.
    Right now the FAA are between rules, so we are looking at whats required to keep this up moving forward.
    At the moment it is still the bosses drone. Not sure whats going to happen there as he has been using it less and less (that was happening long before this shoot – just to be clear). It’s the sort of thing that if you don’t keep it up, you get rusty…. As I can attest to.

    You might read or hear more about drones moving forward. Radio control aircraft seem to be making a comeback into my life. Amazing how stuff like this works out.

  • Add lightness

    It really is tough to add lightness. I know this from first hand experience.
    The Smart Car is mostly underpowered. It is fine for what it is designed for, putt putting around the suburbs, but that is not what I was looking for… I wanted a car that could be driven at 8/10s at legal speeds.

    I had two options. More power from the motor, or help the motor work less.
    Most people go the first route and add a turbo to the motor. The motor is very strong, it can take the extra boost from the turbo, but drivability then becomes an issue.
    The Smart car motor is 3 cylinder, 0.9 liter. It is the heart of a humming bird. In other words, it revs like crazy and loves doing that. Adding a turbo that only kicks in a higher revs is like feeding Red Bull to a humming bird. It works, but at the end of the day, it makes no difference. The thing is still spinning like nuts. Getting it spinning is still takes the exact same amount of time and power.
    The other problem with adding a turbo is that doing that makes zero difference to helping the car go around corners.
    It also makes zero difference to stopping the car…..
    Both those factors, corners and stopping can be helped hugely by adding lightness.

    So that’s what we did.


    We have removed the roof, the doors and changed the stock bucket seats for lightweight moulded seats.
    Sounds like a lot right?
    Sadly, it is only around 160 pounds or 72 kg’s lighter than where I started.
    I know because I have weighed the car on the local feed store grain scales.
    (BTW, FWIW, the total weight is now 1780 pounds or 897 kg’s).
    There is very little left to remove. We joked about pulling the carpet.
    The windshield is an obvious one, but doing that in California means I have to change its registration to a motorbike and wear a full face helmet every time I drive it.
    When I have to do the clutch, we have to remove the motor, at that time, we will remove the air conditioner compressor, evap radiator and hoses…. After that, I just don’t see anything left to remove….

    But, even so, the good news is that even after just dropping those ‘few’ pounds it has made a MASSIVE difference to the all round performance of the car.
    It accelerates much stronger, it can turn on a dime (I might even know that it can turn 180 degrees while staying inside a small country lane…. or I might not – Sush Matt W) and it stops beautifully (most of the time – sush Terry).

    So, all of that was a very long lead in to this article.


    One might operate under the belief that making a vehicle lighter is easy — just take some stuff out, or use a new metal engineered for lightness. But there are a whole host of factors standing in the way.

    While the base body weight of a vehicle has dropped markedly over decades, desire for creature comforts and additional safety equipment has resulted in an increase in curb weight over the last 30 years, even though we’re using fewer heavy materials (like iron) than ever before.

    This isn’t even an easy topic to crack, as there are no convenient averages across the entire industry. With every car radically different than the next, despite sharing some or many similar parts, the study concludes “there is no single cost estimate (cost per pound) for lightweighting.” Thus, every company attempting to do so is taking a risk that it can’t necessarily grasp fully.

    So, it’s not as easy as Colin Chapman’s “simplify, then add lightness” quote would have us believe. In fact, adding lightness is anything but simple.

    That last sentence is the prod for this blog…. As I found out, it was a LOT of work to lighten the Smart Car. It is anything but easy to simply add lightness.