Scouts - Be Prepared
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7 December 2019

We were on airfield duties today. The day started reasonably well and all 3 explorers got some decent flights. However, the weather closed in after lunch so we put everything back in hangars / under cover and headed back to spend a few hours on our code.

Our 2 new laptops has arrived (we managed to find a good deal on the 2nd one – we’re rather pleased with ourselves). We’ve also ordered an Oculus Quest VR headset that should arrive in a few days. We also received the power supplies we had ordered.

We continued to work on our code, looking for ways to optimise it to fit in the 2.5 KB of SRAM and 32KB of flash memory. With the libraries and sensors added to the code, we’re getting close to running out of flash memory.

We replaced the HD44780 library with LiquidCrystal_PCD8574 and added both libraries and code to work with the OneWire and DS18B20.

Swapping libraries for smaller, less functional but good enough ones coupled with our code optimisation work paid off. It allowed us to save several KB of flash memory and 200 bytes or so of SRAM.

Yet another Github commit followed at the end of the day.

23 November 2019

We’re back together today.

Our first task was to look again at the air frame, take measurements and decide where we would place sensors and other equipment as well as how to run cables. We also looked at how we would transfer the movements of the mechanical controls to the back of the glider where we want to place the Arduino MCU.

We created a sketch of the rear shelf.

We spent a couple of hours creating a first draft bill of materials, selecting power supplies, FR-4 PTH board sizes. We investigated the advantages and disadvantages of several types of potential connectors to link all the different parts together. What seemed like an easy task turned out to be more challenging than we had expected.

We also ordered our first laptop for the simulator. A refurbished Dell G7 15 gaming laptop with the specifications we needed. We purchase it from the Dell outlet store taking advantage of an additional discount code. Unfortunately there was only 1 device in stock so we decided to keep an eye on stock levels and order a 2nd laptop when more outlet stock became available. Hopefully the laptop won’t be long to arrive.

It’s all starting to take shape and come together…

16 November 2019

We were on airfield duties today but the weather was so poor, the duty instructor cancelled flying in advance. So instead we got together to work on the simulator again.

We discussed our further thoughts on hardware specifications before focussing on the firmware. We wrote a lot of code today. We had to add some funny maths to ensure we return values that Condor can use. We’ll also have to test which axis we need to tie to Condor: X, Y or Z?

We added the code for our LCD display and for the real time clock.

Out of curiosity, we compiled our code at the end of the day. To our great surprise, it compiled first time. This is somewhat worrying!

We committed our code to the Github repository at the end of the day.

6 November 2019

Our simulator will be using Condor Soaring’s Condor v2 simulation software. This is one of the most important pieces of the jigsaw. We would also like to have both the Ka8 and ASK21 plane packs as these are aircraft types that we either fly regularly today or would like to convert to.

We asked Condor if they could sponsor us and we received a reply today. Condor gave us a 50% discount code, effectively giving us 1 simulator licence and 1 licence of each of the plan packs we wanted for free.

Thank you Condor Soaring!

2 November 2019

We sold poppies for the Chippenham branch of the Royal British Legion in a local supermarket this morning. Once we had finished the small group working on the electronics got together: we’re back working on the simulator again!

We spent time revisiting the budget and the parts we were thinking of purchasing:

  • Should we purchase laptops or desktops? We agreed that desktops would be more upgradable but much harder to transport, would need more power and would also need screens. Laptops on the other hand tend to be more expensive but are self-contained. We decided that laptops would be better for us.
  • We looked at the specifications of the Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest virtual reality headsets. It’s not an easy choice to make. The Quest is portable but can be connected to a PC using soon-to-be-released software (Oculus Link). The Rift S has to be connected to a PC. Our simulation software only works on a PC so either could work but the resolution of the Quest and the manual IPD (Inter Pupillary Distance) adjustment won the day.
  • We looked at the graphics card requirements of the Oculus Link software. We also looked at RAM and CPU specifications requirements. An RTX 2060 or 2070 would be ideal. The TLDR version is that we need some serious PC hardware.
  • In order to future proof our simulator, we need at least 9th generation Core i7 CPU with 16GB RAM and a good sized SSD.
  • We looked at bespoke PC builds. One of our leaders has been assembling PCs for 20+ years so we knew this would have been a viable option but the cost of individual components was too high compared to a ready-made laptop.
  • We compared HP, Acer, Lenovo, Dell and specialist gaming PC manufacturers. The cheapest devices we could find that resembled our desired specifications were more expensive than our budget but we could try asking for student discounts from the Dell UK outlet store. In any case, with Black Friday / Cyber Monday coming up, we decided to wait to see if we could get better discounts.

We created a list of things we had to work on and worked on our code. Our first commit to our Github repository since April! And since the unit was granted charitable status by Github we now have access to additional features such as making our repositories private. Thank you Github.

1 November 2019

Unexpectedly, we received an email today informing us that the grant committee had approved our grant request? Really?

It took a little while to sink in. We now have grants from:

  • Wiltshire Council (£1,750)
  • W T Taylor Fund for Air Scouting (£1,750)

And Ausculta Ltd, a small local IT services company has agreed to provide funding for the electronics components we need (£250-300). Together with the money we have saved from our subs, we have all the funding to make our simulator a reality.

Let’s go!

15 October 2019

Although we have made a big breakthrough in our quest for funding, we still need to find another £1,750 to get our project fully “off the ground”. We sent yet more requests for sponsorship. More refusals came back.

We looked again at the criteria for awarding grants from a fund dedicated to air scouting and decided to submit a grant to the UK Scout Association’s grant committee with the support of our district chairman. It will be a few weeks before we find out if the W T Taylor fund for air scouting can help us.

7 October 2019

Chippenham Area Board met tonight to consider youth-focussed grant requests. We had a small stand to talk about the unit and many explorers, both land and air, turned up to talk to Councillors and visitors about the unit and what we do. We even had a few questions about our grant request!

Then came the meeting proper. Organisations requesting a grant had a few minutes to speak in support of their requests before the requests were put to a vote by Councillors. Our grant was among the last to be discussed. 2 of our older explorers spoke to describe our project and our hopes of being able to continue if we were awarded the grant. Councillors were impressed by our presentation and came to tell us afterwards. More importantly, the grant was voted through unopposed. Big sigh of relief! Thank you Wiltshire Council, we will put the £1,750 you awarded us to very good use and make the most of the grant.

Our project is now 50% funded. After months of depressing refusals, we finally have some positive news and can make a start. Brilliant!

For more information on our local Area Boards: http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/council-democracy-area-boards.

September 2019

We continued seeking sponsorships when we returned to school in September.

We also submitted a grant request to our local Area Board. Wiltshire Council’s Chippenham Area Board meets on October 7th for a youth-focussed meeting and we have been asked to support our request. Fingers crossed (anxiously).

Summer 2019

We put our project on hold during the summer months and focussed on finding commercial sponsors as well as our DofE gold expeditions in Exmoor and the Brecon Beacons.

Unfortunately all our requests for sponsorship from commercial organisations were declined despite approaching nearly 50 organisations.

27 April 2019

Today we continued our work on the firmware. Who knew that writing software isn’t as simple as it looks?

This will be our last working session for some time as we now need to focus on findidng sponsors for our project. Our forthcoming DofE gold expeditions also need our full attention in the coming weeks.

We committed our code to Github at the end of the day.

16 April 2019

Our small electronics working group met again to continue its work.

We setup our development environments (Arduino IDE, Visual Studio Code, Github desktop applications) and created accounts on Github.com.

We created a pseudo-code outline of the sketch for the simulator controllers. This generated a lot of conversation about the optimal way of writing the code and on how to save MCU cycles. Unlike the computers we are used to using, the Arduino micro-controllers (MCU) have limited resources and every CPU cycle or byte of RAM are precious. We also started learning about the C programming language – somewhat of a difficult concept for us and very different from Python!

We modified our sketch sufficiently to demonstrat the Joystick library working with Condor. This proved our basic solution choices: an Arduino Leonardo can be seen as a games controller by our chosen glider simulation software (Condor Soaring). Condor could see the values provided by the Arduino: we had proven that our design would work as intended.

We committed our code to Github at the end of the day.

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