Saturday, September 23, 2017

DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: QuickShot Modes and Dynamic Home Point

If you keep up with the Mavic Pro firmware changelog, you may have noticed that v1.04.0000 adds a pair of new features - QuickShot and Dynamic Home Point.  These are new to the Mavic Pro, so I decided to give them my usual treatment!

QuickShot adds a few more automatic flight modes for taking videos - Dronie, Rocket, and Helix.  And Dynamic Home Point resolves a somewhat annoying issue for longer distance Active Track work related to "Where the drone thinks home is" versus "Where it's reasonable for the drone to think home is."

So, if you have a Mavic Pro (or are just interested in the new capabilities), read on!

Mavic Pro Missing Handbook

What is this series of posts?  This is my attempt to provide a comprehensive look at all the various features of the Mavic Pro - in text form.  I find video tutorials to be generally lacking in actual content, as well as truly frustrating to skim (you have to suffer through 10 minutes to find out that, no, it doesn't actually talk about what you were wanting to learn).  So, I've written my own guide.  This has involved over a dozen flight hours, and if you find things that are missing or incorrect, I'd appreciate a comment letting me know!

DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Basic Operations  Preflight checks, gimbal locks, takeoff, landing, basic flight operations.
DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Intelligent Flight Modes Tripod, Cinematic, and Sport Modes.  Terrain Follow.  Home Lock.  Course Lock.   Pretty much everything that requires you to still move the sticks to move it.
DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Waypoints  In depth coverage of the various waypoints modes supported in the DJI Go app, as well as how to use DJI's Ground Station Pro for more advanced waypoints features.
DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Active Track, Follow Me Mode, and Gesture Mode  Active Track has quite a few modes of operation, and I delve into all of them.  This post also covers the GPS-based "Follow Me Mode" and how to look less silly using Gesture Mode for dronies.
DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Wifi/Remote Only, Tap to Fly, Fixed Wing, Point of Interest, Attitude Indicator  Finishing out the series on flying modes with the remaining modes, as well as discussion about the attitude/orientation/power indicator, flying with only the remote or only a phone, and some of the degraded flight modes.

Requirements for QuickShot and Dynamic Home Point

In order to use these two new features, you need at least firmware v1.04.0000 - which is the brand new shiny firmware released Sep 19, 2017.  This is the first feature release in a while - some other features added in firmware updates included the DJI Goggles, and Cinematic Mode.

Checking the firmware and app version is pretty straightforward in the app.  Tap the right half of the titlebar to get to the menu, tap the "..." at the bottom, and scroll to "About."  This option should show the firmware of the Mavic Pro and remote (both should match, and be 01.04.0000 or greater), and the app needs to be 4.1.0 or later.  Note that most Mavic Pros are on the 01.03.x000 versions - this version is newer than the 01.03 series.

If you don't have both of these, you won't see the new features.  Yes, this firmware is past the revised NFZ system, so if you want this, you'll get that as well.

When you're first playing with this, if you enter the DJI Go app before you have the aircraft and remote connected, you might not see the QuickShot icon.  Kill the app and restart it once connected to the aircraft, and you should see the proper icon in Intelligent flight Modes.


QuickShot is, by far, the most exciting new feature here.  The Mavic Pro gets three QuickShot modes: Dronie, Rocket, and Helix.  These are some automatic flight paths that focus on the target of interest and automatically record video for you.  When it's done, it will fly right back to where it started from!  Prepare for a huge wave of videos on social media that were taken with this mode...

Be aware of what's around you!  All three of these modes involve the Mavic Pro flying sideways, backwards, or straight up.  There is no obstacle detection available in any of these modes (due to the direction of flight), so be sure the area is clear!

Since QuickShot is an Intelligent Flight Mode, you enter it the same way you enter others - tap the robot icon on the left, then find the new QuickShot icon in the center of the first pane.  Annoyingly, if you're used to where things were, they've now moved.  I guess showing off new features is more important than keeping existing users happy...

Once you tap the QuickShot icon, you'll see the following two tips on screen - if it looks like ActiveTrack, that's because it is!  All three of these modes are using ActiveTrack, so if you try to lock onto something that ActiveTrack struggles with (say, a pile of rocks), you'll get weird results.  It's far better suited to working with a human or vehicle target than random contrasts against the background that change with angle.

The slider on the right selects the maximum speed, but it's safe to ignore for the QuickShot modes - they're flown far slower than the maximum ActiveTrack speed, and sliding it all the way down seems to make no difference either.  This seems like just an Active Track display legacy item.

Once you select a target and click "GO," you'll see a popup video for the first mode - Dronie.  So, let's look into that mode first.

Well, unless you're too low.  Then you'll get a warning and QuickShot will refuse to activate.  You should be able to figure out an appropriate resolution to this warning.  Once you take that action, it will turn green and give you a "GO" prompt.


Now an even more overloaded term!  And still a term I despise.  However, DJI does use this term, so I'm stuck with it.

The Dronie mode is pretty simple: It backs away and up while filming, automatically, then flies back to where it started.  All of the QuickShot modes will return to the start point, which is a pretty neat feature.  In DJI's words, "The aircraft will fly backward and upward, with the camera constantly tracking the subject.  Tap Dronie icon to check flying distance before tapping Go."

Once you click through this (or disable it permanently), you'll see the list of icon types across the bottom.  You can select one of the various modes, or tap on the selected mode to bring up a distance slider.

How far out would you like it to go?  Select it here!  For the Dronie mode, the maximum distance is 200m (default is 60m).  Annoyingly, even if your drone is set to Imperial units (feet), the sliders are still in metric.  I really wish DJI would fix this throughout their app - I don't think in metric!

When you're ready to take your Dronie video, tap "Go."  You'll get a countdown timer on the screen and through the audio, a bunch of overlapping text, then the drone will fly off to take the video.  You can tap the screen during the countdown to cancel the shot, if you change your mind.

Once the sequence starts, the Mavic Pro begins recording video with your previously selected video settings (check this if you've recently upgraded the firmware, or you're probably shooting in 4k).  You'll see the record icon switch to indicate recording, and you'll see a percent gauge under the record icon.  This shows how far through the shot the drone is - when it hits 100%, it stops recording and returns home.

After the shot finishes, you'll see the popup indicating that the drone is returning to the start point - and, if all goes well, the drone will return in forward flight (with obstacle avoidance working) to the start point.

A quick look at the map after a successful Dronie capture shows what happened.  It backed straight up (gaining elevation in the process), stopped, and returned forward to where it started.  Perfect!

If you're paying attention, you might notice a mark on the screen that indicates more or less where the drone is going while returning to the start point.  In my testing, the drone is pretty good at getting back to where it started.  If not exactly, quite close.


The second option you can pick is "Helix."  Per the description, "The aircraft will fly backward while spiraling up around the subject.  Tap Helix icon to check flying distance before tapping Go."

It's a pretty cool effect, really.  This is the neatest of the options, because it's hard to do smoothly with just the remote.  You can make it happen with Point of Interest or some of the other Active Track modes manually, but this is flying sideways, backwards, and rising all at once, and doing it very competently!

If you tap the Helix icon again, you can select distance (out to 150m, default is again 60m) and pick which way the drone spirals around - clockwise or counterclockwise.

Verify your settings, tap "Go," and after the countdown, the drone will fly a very nice spiral out, then head back to the starting point.  Or, perhaps, it won't, because it can't actually track the rock pile you selected, and flies a weird shaped thing as it tries to track something it can't actually understand.

If you don't have a solid ActiveTrack target (person, vehicle, etc), it's unlikely that this mode will do what you want - the nose will wander all over trying to reacquire the target, or tracking random things.  You really, really need the solid target understanding for this mode to work.  I couldn't get anything useful against a rock pile, but it worked fine tracking me standing in the same field.

The Mavic Pro will indicate "I know what this target is!" with a little icon - a person, a bicycle, a car, a boat.  If you don't see this and you're trying to select one of those classes of targets, try again - or, often, you can simply tap on the person or car and have ActiveTrack automatically identify the target.


The final QuickShot mode implemented on the Mavic Pro is Rocket.  Or, "Go straight up, take video."  In DJI's words, "The aircraft will ascend with the camera pointing downward at the subject.  Tap the Rocket icon to check flying distance before tapping Go."

It does what the box says.  Fly up, take video.

Tap the Rocket icon again to select the maximum height - the max here is 120m, or 393 feet.  Good for DJI - they didn't set it above the US maximum.  This is not determined by the maximum flight altitude (mine is normally set to 150m since I fly in hilly terrain somewhat often, and the 400' limit is above the current ground level, not above the launch point).

The interesting thing here is that, even with the drone off to the side, it will fly directly over the target as it ascends.  The first 20' or so of rise involve the drone moving forward as it rises to be directly over whatever you're filming, and then it ascends vertically over the target.  So, be aware that you might have issues if you try to use this mode while tracking the base of cell tower.

Once it finishes, it makes a beeline back towards the starting point.  

QuickShot and Stick Input

In QuickShot mode, the control sticks are mostly ignored.  However, if you move a stick in the opposite direction of motion, QuickShot will cancel and the drone will hover.  So, during a Dronie shot, forward and down will cancel QuickShot, and the rest of the inputs are ignored.  In Helix mode, the stick opposite the rotation will cancel things.  You can also cancel QuickShot mode with the pause button.  That said...

Warning: Look Around!

I said it at the top, but this really needs its own section for emphasis.  All three of these modes involve the Mavic Pro flying without obstacle avoidance.  There is no obstacle avoidance for flying backwards, for flying sideways, or for flying straight up, since there are no sensors pointing that way.  The Mavic Pro cannot identify obstacles in these flight modes, so it will just run into anything in the way.

Helix is the most dangerous mode in terms of "running into things," as it's flying a widening circle out away from the point of interest.  Be sure the entire area around you is clear when you use any of these modes.  I expect a wave of "My drone crashed using QuickShot!" posts on the various Social Medias soon - don't be that person.

Dynamic Home Point

The other feature that DJI added in this update is "Dynamic Home Point."  This is a mode that's only useful in the various ActiveTrack modes, and it solves one of the annoying issue with long range/one way ActiveTrack use.

This setting is up at the top of the Position menu - so tap on the "Phantom from above" icon in the menu bar, and you should see it.  If not, scroll - it's in there, somewhere.  Or check your firmware version.

Why would you need this?  Consider tracking yourself jogging down a beach.  Without this mode, the drone's home point is where you took off from (unless you're updating it in flight).  When you get some distance down the beach, the drone is going to look at the distance home and decide that it needs to RTH now in order to make it back to the home point with the remaining battery - but you, the person flying it, has been moving down the beach, and the drone proceeds to scoot in a hurry away from you to get to where it thinks home is.  Annoying!

This mode solves that (while adding a few other wrinkles).  If the drone is actively following a person or object, it will periodically (every 10 seconds or so) update the home point to be the current position of the drone.  Not you!  The drone.  This is important!

To demonstrate what this looks like, I started off at one side of my property and set the home point to the aircraft location, then tracked myself walking more or less along a fence line.

After I'd walked a bit, the drone has followed me, and the home point updates to the drone location while it continues to follow me along.

And, after wandering further, here's the map.  If I didn't have Dynamic Home Point enabled, the home point would still be over on the right side, and the drone might be considering returning to home due to low battery.  But, since home is right near the drone, it's happy to fly along at 22-23% battery (my low battery warning is set to 20% for flying around my property), and it doesn't complain.

How could you get yourself into trouble with this?  If you're doing something like walking along a beach, using Profile Mode, and the drone is flying out over the water, the home points will be recorded over the water!  If your controller suddenly dies, the drone will go to the recorded home point and try to land - which, of course, is in the ocean.  So be careful.

On the other hand, if you're on a boat, and the drone is tracking the boat, it's much less likely to suddenly decide it needs to go back across the lake right now to where it launched from.  I can't say I entirely trust my Mavic Pro over deep water, but this is a perfect case in which Dynamic HomePoint is likely to save an awful lot of hassle, and more than a few drones.

I think this is a great addition to the firmware.  It's more useful than not, and makes "One Way Active Track" much less annoying.  My suggestion would be to turn it on, and only turn it off in particular situations where that makes sense.  Say, you're tracking a kid running around a field while you stand in one place.  Having it return to you is probably the right thing to do in that situation.

All that said, this really only matters if you happen to trigger RTH during ActiveTrack, and if you're paying attention to the battery, that shouldn't happen.

Final Thoughts

Are these features a good reason to upgrade to v1.04.0000 if you've been holding off?  No, probably not.  They're nifty, but they're nothing radical.  If they sound like fun, upgrade away, but if you've been avoiding upgrading for whatever reason, you're not really missing out on that much.

And they're pretty much only useful for "lifestyle drone shots."  If you're a Social Media Character, yeah.  You'll probably make a ton of use of these.  If you're a Part 107 remote pilot filming rooftops or fields, doing property mapping, and generally using your drone to take pictures for other people, you'll almost never need these modes.

With that, hopefully this finishes out the Mavic Pro Missing Handbook series for now.  I thought that a month ago, but, hey.  Firmware marches on.  I should be getting back into the swing of weekly posting now, at least for a while.  This has been a rough summer on me, physically, and I'm not particularly optimistic that winter is going to be any better than last winter (where I spent just about every free hour moving snow).  But, I also intend to start working in more posts about what I'm doing on our property.  So look for some homesteading type posts coming up in the mix!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Comprehensive List of Menu Options

This sixth and final post in my "Mavic Pro Missing Handbook" series explores all the menu options in the app and explains what they are, what they do, and how to use them!

The main set of menus is accessed by tapping the top bar - tap the "Position" icon for the position menu, "Obstacle Detection" icon for the obstacle detection menu, etc.

If you want to change a menu item, you have to have the drone on and be connected.  Some of them will show up in the app without the drone, but they won't stick, and you won't see all the options.

All of this should be current as of the DJI Go 4 App 4.1.5 (2952) on the .0900 firmware.  If it drifts badly, please let me know.

And, with that, let's dive in!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Wifi/Remote Only, Tap to Fly, Fixed Wing, Point of Interest, Attitude Indicator

The 5th week of my "Mavic Pro Missing Handbook" series focuses on the remaining flight modes ("Tap to Fly", "Fixed Wing", "Point of Interest"), discusses the attitude/orientation/power indicator, and covers flying without a phone or without a remote.  I finish with a few random observations that don't fit well in other places.

Other than a bit of sunburn on the Mavic Pro, everything is flying smoothly and you should find plenty useful in this week's post!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Active Track, Follow Me Mode, and Gesture Mode

Another week, another deep dive into some Mavic Pro operations!  This week is particularly exciting - I'm talking about Active Track, which is one of the big standout features of the DJI products.  It tracks things, and can automagically follow them around!  This set of modes allows for some really interesting action shots as the drone can fly like it's tethered to a moving object.  Since they're related, I also cover Follow Me (GPS-based Active Track), and Gesture Mode (waving at the drone in a manner that convinces it to take a photo).

And, as is usual, these modes are very poorly documented beyond "Hey!  They exist!"  The video "tutorials" aren't much better (I've yet to find one that exercises the full range of capabilities in Active Track), and watching first person video doesn't do a great job of explaining how the various modes work.

So, me being me, I've spent far too long (I have over 11 hours of flight time logged on my Mavic Pro at this point) experimenting with the various modes, understanding them, and, of course, documenting them!  Interested?  Keep reading!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Waypoints

Continuing my series on Mavic Pro operations, this week involves a deep dive into the Waypoints feature of the DJI Go 4 app.  It's quite powerful, but it also has some significant things it can't do.  Once you understand the capabilities and limitations, though, the built in Waypoints feature is a wonderful tool for capturing some very interesting shots in the sky, because it allows you to focus on capturing the scene and not flying the drone.

So, join me for a pre-plotted trip through Waypoints!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Intelligent Flight Modes

Continuing my Missing Handbook series for the DJI Mavic Pro, this week I dig into a number of the "Intelligent Flight Modes" - Tripod, Cinematic, Sport, Terrain Follow, Home Lock, and Course Lock.

If you missed last week's post, I covered preflight checks and basic operation.  It would be a good idea to read that if you haven't, because I build on that this week.

All the modes I'm covering this week are still "manual flying" modes - the drone won't move unless you command it to, though some of the modes radically change how control stick motions translate into movement through the sky!

So, join me as I dive into some of the various Mavic Pro operating modes!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

DJI Mavic Pro: The Missing Handbook: Basic Operations

So, you bought a Mavic Pro?  What a coincidence!  So did I!

And if you've done much reading on it, you've probably determined two things: The manual covers the bare minimum, and there's a serious lack of non-video information on how to use these - or, even with the videos, details of operating modes and limitations.  This series of posts (probably 4, possibly a few more) is my attempt to resolve this problem - to write a useful operating manual for the Mavic Pro (and other DJI products with similar operating modes, though this is purely focused on the Mavic Pro).

If you have one, or even if you're just curious about drone operation, read on!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Transient Tester Software: Button Based Menus

Last week, I posted about a little transient tester I built for analyzing USB power supplies and battery packs.  I wrote what I consider to be a reasonably interesting little button based menu for setting values and running tests.  It supports setting current and time for two stages of operation (high and low current) with a set of 4 buttons, running tests and reporting data, and does this with quite a small memory footprint.  It also supports setting the current by the 0.05A steps that the hardware supports.

It also shows off some techniques that I feel are quite appropriate for any sort of embedded programming - bit packed structs, hard coding some of the screen attributes (only two rows), etc.

So, come on along for the journey!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Building a 5V Transient Tester for USB Power Analysis

One part I find myself using somewhat regularly in projects is a lithium battery bank charger/USB power supply - it's the guts of a battery bank phone charger, except always turned on.  This provides a reliable 5V output for projects, charges from micro-USB if needed by the project, and offers some basic battery protection behaviors (on paper, they should turn off below a certain input voltage and stop charging over another voltage).

However, while fighting with the SparkFun ESP8266 WiFi Shield, I discovered that these units do not handle transients very well - if the load changes quickly, the voltage wanders around for a while before recovering.  Different units behave differently, and I wanted to find out how different testers behave under this type of load - so I built myself a USB 5V Transient Tester!

Why?  Because!  I wanted something that did this, couldn't find one easily available, and set out to build one.  This is the sort of one-off bit of lab equipment that Arduinos are perfect for.

Interested?  Read on!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Building Ural-compatible PVC Target Stands for about $25/ea

You know what you need?  Cheap target stands for range days!  You can build a pair of these stands for just over $50 in parts from your local Home Depot or Lowes.

I built this pair in just over an hour.  Most importantly, they fit on my Ural!

If you find yourself needing some cheap target stands on short notice, read on!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Solar Shed Part 16: Interior & Exterior Improvements

My solar powered office has been up and online for a while, but one of the joys of a space like mine is that it's always a project - and I can do whatever I want with it, constrained only by what is possible affordable and what I can figure out how to do!  For instance, I'm almost, but not entirely, out of space for more monitors.

This space is totally awesome for what I do with my time - it's working absolutely as well as hoped, and I have no significant complaints.  But, I have been making improvements as I go to make the space better for my needs.  Read on for some of the changes I've made since the original post last July!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Solar Shed Part 15: Surviving the Winter (Heating)

Winter is a cold time of the year - and in my solar powered office, the lack of sun in the winter can pose some serious problems for keeping the place warm.  Even with good insulation, I need some heat!

My original plan for heat involved using my air conditioner/heat pump/resistive heater paired with an awful lot of optimism about solar production in the winter.  You may be able to guess that if I'm writing a whole post on heating, this plan did not work quite as well as I'd hoped...

And you'd be right.  My wall unit is great - but I didn't get enough sun to keep me warm all the time.  In other ways, it was too powerful for winter use.  But, I've found solutions!  And as you can see, they work rather nicely!

Read on to find out what I figured out to stay warm in the winter!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

DeWalt NiCd Tool Battery Teardowns

It's the last week in May - so the last week of tool pack teardowns for a while.

This week, I've got a huge pile of older DeWalt 18V NiCd batteries (and a lone 14.4V battery) that need to come apart so I can remove them from my office and get some space back.

I've got a 14.4V XR pack, a stock 18V pack, an 18V XR pack, an 18V XR2 pack, and an 18V XR+ NiCd pack.  They look pretty similar on the outside, but the similar form factors conceal some (very) minor interior differences!

Are you interested?  Well, if you've seen one NiCd pack, you've seen most of them - this is not one of my more exciting posts.  But, read on if you're curious.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ryobi One+ Lithium & NiCd Tool Battery Teardown

It's still May, and I'm still doing tool pack teardowns to get through the seemingly endless boxes of tool batteries in my office.  I'm a bit fuzzy on where they all came from, though I do faintly recall picking up a box of dead ones at some point in the past.

This week, I have a pair of Ryobi One+ batteries - one lithium, one NiCd.  This represents the "old generation" and "new generation" of a generation of batteries - they both run in the 18V tools, but one is the old style NiCd, and one is a new style lithium (though, as you'll see, early lithium).

Join me as I rip into another two packs!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

DeWalt 20V Max 1.3Ah and 18V Nano Phosphate Teardown

Another week in May, another pair of tool packs in my series of tool pack teardowns!

This week, I'm back to DeWalt with a 20V Max 1.3Ah, and an older 18V "Nano Phosphate" pack - which has the weirdest cell layout I've ever seen.  The date code says 2007 - so this is another example of an early tool pack in the "Working out the details" phase of lithium tool packs.

Join me as I rip into another two DeWalt lithium battery packs!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rigid 18V Lithium Ion Tool Battery Teardowns

This week, I'm continuing my tool pack teardowns with a pair of Rigid 18V Lithium Ion packs out of Canada - and, in one of them, 18650s produced in Canada!

These are older lithium packs (one is very definitely the oldest I've seen), the capacity numbers aren't that great, but they're interesting samples, good fun to pull apart, and have some surprises inside!

Read on to see what I've found!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Can you fry an egg with a DeWalt 20V Max 6.0Ah Battery?

Last week, I reviewed a brand new DeWalt 20V Max 6.0Ah battery - but I did leave one important question unanswered - a question that is obviously on everyone's mind.

Can you fry an egg with this battery?

This is a question that, as far as I can tell, simply hasn't been answered.  I've found plenty of urban legends about cooking eggs with cell phones (not remotely plausible), and there's a YouTube video that seems to imply an egg being cooked with a battery of some sort or another - but a tool battery?  A DeWalt tool battery?  I can't find a thing!

Which, of course, means that I need to try!  Read on to see what happens.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

DeWalt 20V Max 6.0Ah Pack Teardown & Analysis

It's been a little while since I've had a shiny new tool battery to tear down!  This one showed up in the mail for some analysis and evaluation - so analyze and evaluate it I shall!

As of the time of posting, you can get 2 for $150 (shipped) on eBay - which almost certainly beats your local hardware store by a lot.  But, only if they're good.

This is a notable pack in that it's (supposedly) using 20700 format cells - the first non-18650 based tool pack I've had the opportunity to rip into.

What's inside?  Is it any good?  Read on to find out!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Doing the Math: 2016 California Autonomous Vehicle Disengagement Reports

Self driving cars.  The imminent future of on-demand and super cheap transportation - or still a long development slog ahead, depending on who you listen to.  Earlier this year, California released the 2016 Autonomous Vehicle Disengagement Reports - which are reports of times that the human driver had to take over from the computers (either because the computers handed off control, or because the human wasn't comfortable with what the computer was doing).

When the reports came out, quite a few sites covered them - at the year granularity.  They just did some quick aggregation of the numbers for a whole year, perhaps made a graph, and (as is common in the media today) published a quick article about it.

I haven't seen anyone delving deeply into the data by using the month-by-month numbers - which are provided.  So, I did.  And some very interesting trends showed up for a few companies!

Interested in how everyone did in the month-by-month data?  Read on!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Ural Gear Up: Oils Change

I've been talking about Urals for the past three weeks, and this week finishes my (current) Ural series with a post on a task that every Ural owner should be familiar with - oil changes.

The recommended oil change interval for the engine and gearbox (at least on the older model I own - 2005 and similar) is 2,500 km (1550 miles), with an oil filter change every 5000 km, and a final drive oil change every 10,000 km.

What an awful lot of people do instead is to just change everything (oils and filters) every 2500 km.  The bike doesn't make much power, but it runs an older and looser air cooled engine design hard - 40hp if you squint at the dyno sheet and a bike with the aerodynamics of a sheet of plywood make for a hard working engine!  The engine doesn't hold much oil either - only a hair over 2 quarts.

In any case, oil is cheap, metal pieces and labor are expensive.  It's cheap(ish) insurance, and regular oil changes are a good way to catch problems before they get bad - both from the oil and from the time spent around and under the bike, paying close attention to things.  Fine metallic powder/flakes in the oil?  Annoyingly, normal.  Metallic chunks?  Time to dig in deeper...

Plus, it's insanely easy to change the oil on this bike!  It could be a KTM...

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Assembling and Installing a Ural Sidecar Windshield

A Ural without a sidecar windshield is like... a Ural without a sidecar windshield!  Great for dogs, less-than-ideal for kids, and an awesome cargo hauler.  But, if you want something that's still great for dogs, becomes great for kids (or wives, siblings, etc), and is only slightly less awesome as a cargo hauler, you really, really want a windshield.

Unfortunately, if you order a Ural Sidecar Windshield (I got mine from Ural NE), what you get is a box of parts.  There are no instructions or anything useful like that, and internet advice on assembly is sparse, so you get two items in one - a windshield, and a puzzle!

If you find yourself in this situation, fear not!  I've done some puzzling for you, and have a guide for turning your box of parts into a shiny installed Ural windshield on your sidecar!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ural Gear Up: Cracked seat post repair and doubling up rubber supports

I've got a 2005 Ural Gear Up - and I noticed towards the end of last fall that my seat was getting really, really soft and bouncy on rough gravel roads.  On top of that, I was having to hold myself forward or I'd go sliding off the back.  Clearly, this isn't how things are designed to work - so I investigated!

What was the problem?  My seat support cracked, and was allowing far more movement than intended.  On top of that, the rear rubber support ("spring"?) was old, and simply didn't offer as much resistance to movement as it once did.

How bad were things?  Well... here's how far the support had cracked.  It wasn't completely through, but it was getting there in a hurry.

Time to fix this!  Fortunately, I know someone who is quite good with a welder.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Uraling Through the Winter

In October 2016, I bought a Ural.  Specifically, a 2005 Ural Gear-Up.  This is one of the 2WD models, and it comes with pretty much all the various gizmos - shovel, spotlight, fluid container, machine gun mount, spare tire, rear rack... just about everything you could need!

I rode it all the way through the winter this year (which was a particularly rough winter for the area), put a few thousand kilometers on the clock, have done some work on it and added a sidecar windshield, and at this point I think I have a decent feel for this particularly obscure and unique form of transportation that is the source of endless questions from, well, everyone.

Why do I own a Ural?  Partly, I've wanted one for years.  However, it's mostly because a Ural is a motorcycle that can carry my daughter in the sidecar while my wife & I ride (we both ride).  So far, my daughter loves it, and we're planning on quite a bit of riding this year.

But... Ural?  If you're curious, read on!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

I2C LCDs: Reverse Engineering the I2C Converter

If you need a basic LCD display for an Arduino or Raspberry Pi, it's hard to beat these I2C LCD kits you can find for about $5 on eBay.

Some of them come soldered, some require you to solder things together - but they're cheap, they're I2C, they work... and they are incredibly frustrating when you didn't write down the magic incantation to initialize the LiquidCrystal_I2C class, and cannot manage to get the silly things working again!

Fear not!  With a bit of time, a bit of knowledge, and a cheap multimeter, you can figure out exactly how to set one of these up, starting with nothing but the adapter module!

Read on, if this particularly arcane corner of tech interests you.  But you're probably here from a search engine...

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Fixing Fake FTDI FT232RL Adapters (SSOP-28 rework with an iron)

The FTDI FT232R chips are an incredibly well supported and common way of building USB to serial adapters (usually 3.3V or 5V TTL levels).  The chips have built in drivers on all major OSes, they're easy to find - and almost all the cheap ones adapters there are using fake chips.

But, with a bit of time and patience, you can replace the fake FTDI chips with legitimate ones!  If you like the form factor of your preferred cheap adapter, but need the performance of a real FTDI chip, it's quick and easy to swap them out!

My first attempt (on the left) failed, but I then knocked out 4 functional replacements (on the right).

I'm talking about these adapters - you can find them for about $2, shipped, on eBay.

The chips aren't fake in the "Oh, the factory ran an extra few shifts off the books" sense.  They're fake in the "The fake chips are actually a microcontroller programmed to behave (almost) exactly like the FT232R" sense - and, they do a pretty good job at low speeds!

Zeptobars did some analysis and demonstrated that the fake chips are completely different under the hood, and then of course FTDI messed with their drivers to either brick the fake chips or insert garbage data if you're using one on Windows.

I have a bunch of these adapters laying around (purchased before I realized just how common the fake chips were), and while they work just fine at 115200 baud, they don't work reliably at 3M baud.  I spent a while troubleshooting some connections - things just weren't working right and an awful lot of garbage was coming across my link.  I eventually discovered the problem with fakes, and set out to both fix my problem and learn some surface mount rework skills.

So read on!