Introducing 'B' The Flying RC Car
'B' Go Beyond the RC Car/Quadcopter Hybrid
Our first experience of 'B' the flying RC car was over a year ago when we featured it in the pages of RRCi and helped out with a segment demonstrating it on The Gadget Show. Then it was merely a prototype and Witold Mielniczek was a graduate from Middlesex University and working on his PHD at Southampton. He was seeking crowd funding for its manufacture via Kickstarter and had just days to go to reach his required funding goal. Witold is a real character; you can’t help but like him because his enthusiasm and passion to create vehicles like ‘B’ is truly infectious. During filming with ‘B’ it was evident that it was crunch time for this particular project, if he didn’t hit his Kickstarter goal it wouldn’t become a commercial product…then the program aired, and the rest was history…
From Kickstarter Prototype to Commercial Product
Jump forward to July 2014 and a lot has changed. ‘B’ is actually seen being used in the new “Expendables 3 Movie” and not only did Witold get, and smash his funding goal, but he then spend many, many months developing his design even further. One of the biggest dilemmas was sourcing the right manufacturing base in China, and then overseeing the products transformation from cool and exciting prototype, into what recently arrived on my desk at RRCi, one of the first commercial RTF versions of 'B' straight from its new factory.
"So What Is It?"
This seems to be the standard response 'B' gets wherever I take it. I then have to explain its genesis, and then 'why' 'B' actually exists. Then I see a sparkle appear in people's eyes, what usually seals the deal is when I drive it onto the area I'm about to fly around, stop and then just lift off vertically like the Prowler police car in Blade Runner. You see, it's those two words; 'Fly' & 'Drive' are key to this product’s unique and niche status in terms of a RC hobby grade product. Add into the mix an almost hidden on-board HD camera recording onto a Micro SD card and you have a platform that should excite a very large proportion of the Hobby community in one hit. I've seen hard-core flyers, who wouldn't normally touch a RC car with a barge pole itching to get the transmitter out of my hands and pilot 'B' around a flying field. But, before I get ahead of myself, let's get back to basics. What actually makes 'B' tick? How is it constructed? And what are the mechanics and electronics behind this revolutionary design?
The first thing that you notice when you encounter 'B' are the huge wheels. At 200mm in diameter they literally dwarf every other component, but there are good reasons for this...well at least four of them anyway; the props! The wheels have to be this big to offer the internal clearance the 180mm props need to spin unhindered. Each wheel is shod with an expanded foam tread that at first I thought wouldn't really grip on many surfaces. How wrong was I! On the majority of surfaces I've now trundled 'B' over ('trundle' is by far the best descriptive for the way it drives) grip has never been an issue. In fact as 'B' runs off a 3S pack, it can accelerate pretty rapidly if you punch the throttle, and you can purposely break traction and perform a tight 'skid turn'...but more of that later. Looking at the inner part of each wheel rim you find a row of teeth. As there are no wheel centres, instead sits the horizontal props and their out runner brushless motors and Carbon Fibre mounts, these teeth turn the whole wheel itself into a part of the transmission. Power is taken from the transversely mounted rear out runner brushless motor and solid rear axle, through a pinion gear and then directly meshed onto the wheels themselves. In use the drive is smooth and consistent, Witold has experimented with making these uprights totally solid, and a future revision of 'B' may get just that, but until a material is found that has all the properties he requires, slightly flexible they will stay!
Carbon Fibre Chassis & A 2-Part Outer Shell
The main chassis structure is constructed from a Carbon Fibre main chassis plate, Carbon Fibre upper and lower wishbones cut as one piece, no pivot points or left and right handling here, a plastic upper deck, and a series of braces and spacers that tie the whole constriction together. Encasing this structure is a vacuum formed upper and lower outer body shell. Now this ties the whole look of 'B' together with a recognisable car silhouette, it's very reminiscent of a futuristic Audi (or is that just me?). Being predominantly white but with a monochrome livery and subtle black almost running shoe-esq looking stripes and cool detailing (like the official logo in black). This is all set off by the Carbon Fibre of the main chassis perfectly. Ultimately the three elements of the vacuum formed upper and lower body and the carbon chassis, work together to make for quite a sturdy backbone that all the electronic components are then fixed to in various locations. This is done in such a way that the weight distribution is as even as possible, so just like an aircraft build ‘B’ has a balance point half way up its length.. The main 3S LiPo pack sits along the centreline, and in this press sample we were supplied with a 3800mAh cell offering about 8 minutes of solid flying...or driving...or both! And by spacing the top deck, you can easily fit a 5000mAh pack or possibly bigger, offering a much longer run.
Talking of electronics, 'B' 1.0 is supplied with a Arduino based flight controller. For those not familiar with Arduino it's basically an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware. In this case a CRIUS MultiWii SE v2.5 unit embedded with the programmable logic based chip and various other sensors feeding back information real-time to keep the quad aspect of 'B' totally controllable and stable in flight. Arduino uses a software interface for programming its various parameters and additional functionality. While everything was pre-programmed in this instance, and will be on all retail products an additional lead and plug in board can be purchased allowing you to tweak the settings, or if needed completely re-flash the software to its latest revision from Witold. It’s was originally intended for designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments to be able to program in the parameters they desire. In this application it’s a Quadcopter's flight controller, but it’s also been used for everything from robotics projects to pieces of interactive artwork.
What 'B' offers in its stock form is just a starting point in a future of additional technical possibilities. You also have the ability to add extra tech like First Person View into the mix via an complete package like one of the easy to get 5.8GHz Fat Shark system using goggles to fly 'B' by FPV...but that's another story altogether (but watch this space, as it's been ordered, and I will feed back what we get up to with it!) While all of this may seem about as far away for many RC cars fans as they will ever get from a programming say an ESC, setting end-points or using a bespoke programming card to set parameters. Just like anything in life, once you get the hang of navigating through, and adjusting the parameters of the software, it pretty easy to do (and even very interesting and a little addictive!)
Piloting A Car, Now That's Different!
Literally 2 minutes’ walk behind my house is a large country park that stretches on acre after acre. I use it regularly for flying helicopters, small aircraft and my ever expanding fleet of quads. Now the park wasn't empty as it was a dry but slightly overcast day, the sun occasionally poking through the clouds to brighten things up. I had previously charged 4 LiPo packs and fitted in 'B' was a punchy 60C 5000mAh 3S. Now the coolest thing was that I actually drove 'B' there. My driveway is gravel so I helped it across that, but the rest of the way is slabs and concrete pathways before entering the park itself through a narrow walkway. Driving 'B' is actually lots of fun, and apart from the funny looks I got from passing cars (my immediate neighbours didn't blink an eyelid anymore...) it was very straightforward. The top speed will never win an A Final, but then again why rush when you have something this cool looking to drive around! Again I got a few strange looks from the dog walkers I met coming out of the park...but that just added to the fun! Upon reaching the main field I then drove straight across the mown grass, found a suitable spot and flicked 'B' into flight mode. The 5000mAh LiPo lasted for around 8 minutes of flying all in and that's with the drive there too! That would equate to around 10 minutes of pure flying if you started 'B' off mid field, but where's the fun in that? Why have a flying RC car if you don't drive it too?
After about 8 minutes of flying fast circuits and big figure eights around the field I landed 'B', put in my final pack and set about walking back towards my family. I flew 'B' about 20 feet above me and slowly tracked my own route with it across the field until it was hovering about 100m away from them. I then just casually landed it, flicked back into 'drive mode' and off it trundled, eventually reaching the entrance to the play park, where my daughter opened the gate and it duly drove in, then parked itself by my wife sitting on a nearby bench. The look on many of the parent’s faces was truly priceless...and that's what 'B' is all about.
Why would you buy 'B'? Because it's the perfect alternative to just driving, racing and bashing an RC vehicle on or off road, this thing fly’s too! It will broaden your horizons in the hobby and give you a new transferrable flight skillset on top of your existing driving one. Yes cars will always be at the centre of my personal interests where RC is concerned, but that first experience of actually flying 'B' and breaking free from the pull of gravity, taking it from a land based vehicle seamlessly into something that can hover, spin, disappear upwards at speed and then zoom off to fly circuits of a field definitely changed my perception of what an ‘RC Car’ was forever. Its applications are only limited by your imagination and ingenuity in finding cool places to drive and fly around. Seeing more than one of these in the same airspace playing cat and mouse around an imaginary circuit in the air would be simply stunning to watch…’B’ pylon racing anyone?
For more on ‘B’ the Flying RC Car click here and to read the full article in our October 2014 issue you can buy the back copy here.