My work in a Super Bowl ad and newspapers!

I’ve been working on this 3D camera hardware for Nokia for the last year.  I wrote the frontend software, in React, for the OZO Live camera that controls this live streamer technology and was used to make the Super Bowl Ad:

ozolive

And here’s the Super Bowl Ad:

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Unity vs Unreal Engine 4

I implemented two medium-sized projects, one in Unreal Engine 4 and one in Unity 5.

Unfortunately these were both for clients, so I can’t talk about any specifics.  I do, however, want to give some general thoughts on the comparison between them.

Pros and Cons:

  • Unreal Engine 4 seems to have a lot more advanced features.  But I didn’t personally use any of these advanced features.  They didn’t seem easy to use.
  • Unity 5 was much more intuitive for me to use.
  • The Unity 5 asset store was so much nicer to use.  I could buy an asset and import it into my game with a couple of clicks.  With UE4 it seemed so much more difficult.
  • UE4’s VR support simply didn’t work on a Mac.  This sucked because my artists all use Macs.   More annoyingly, it didn’t say why it didn’t work, it just simply disabled the Preview In VR button, giving no reason.   And the reasons were written up in an Internal bug report (UE-11247 apparently) that the UE4 developers constantly refer to, but users aren’t actually allowed to view or see the status of!
  • I much preferred having a managed language (C# or javascript) in Unity than the C++ support in UE4.  Mistakes in C++ code meant crashing the whole app.  It also led to long compile times.   But a mistake in C# meant just having an exception and the app being able to easily recover from it.
  • I tried really hard to get on with UE4’s Blueprint, which is basically a visual “programming” language.  But implementing in a fairly simply mathematical formula would result in 20+ nodes.  Implementing a simple polynomial like  $latex  y = 3x^2 + 2x + 5 $  was incredibly painful in dragging out nodes for each operation.
untitled-46b8493

Blueprint quickly becomes a mess. This is a random example from the web.

  • UE4’s blueprints become particularly annoying when users are asking questions about them.  They’ll paste a screenshot of their blueprint saying that they have a problem.  Someone else then has to try to decipher what is going on from a screenshot, with really no easy way to reproduce.  Users who want to copy a blueprint have to do so manually, node by node..
    I would really love for UE4 to mix in a scripting language, like Javascript.
  • UE4 has lots of cool features, but they are really difficult to just use.  For example, it has a lot of support for adding grass.  You can just paint grass onto your terrain..  except that you can’t because you don’t have any actual grass assets by default.
    The official UE4 tutorials say that to add grass, you should import the whole 6.4 GB Open World Demo Collection to your project!
    But then, even that isn’t enough because it doesn’t have any actual grass materials!  You have to then create your own grass material which is quite a long process.  This was really typical of my experience with UE4.  Why not just have a single ‘grass’ asset that could be instantly used, and then let the user tweak it in more complicated ways if they want to later on?
    Compare this to Unity.  You go to: Assets > Import Package > Terrain Assets  click on the tree or grass that you want, and that’s it.  You can then start painting with that tree or grass immediately.  If you later want to make your own trees, it comes with a tree editor, built in!
  • Unity’s support for Android was much better than UE4’s.
  • UE4 taxed my system a lot more than Unity.  For my beefy desktop, that was no problem.  But the artists had Mac laptops that really struggled.
  • I really like Unity’s GameObject plus Component approach.  Basically, you make a fairly generic GameObject that is in your scene, and then you attach multiple components to it.  For example, if you want a button, your button GameObject would have a mesh, a material, a renderer (to draw the material on the mesh), a hit box (to know when the user presses it) and presumably some custom script component that runs when you hit it.
    And because your custom scripts are written in C# or javascript, you get lovely automatically introspection on the class variables, and any variables are automatically added to the GUI!

Overall, I guess I’ve become a unity fanboy.  Which is a shame, because I started with UE4 and I really wanted to like it.  I have been with UE4 for 2 years, and was a paying sponsor for a year.

I feel that the trouble is their different audiences.  UE4 is obviously targeted towards much larger studios, who want advanced features and don’t care about built in assets etc.  Unity on the other hand is targeted towards Indie developers who want to make quick prototypes and cheap products easily.

This has resulted into a sort of stigma against Unity projects, because there is a glut of rubbish games produced by novices in Unity.  Unity charges about $1,500 per developer to remove the start-up Unity splashscreen, resulting in most indie developers not paying that fee.  Only the good games which sell well can afford to remove that splashscreen.

The result being that if you start up a random indie game on steam greenlight, for example, and see the Unity splashscreen, you know that the game is unlikely to be that good.  Hence a stigma.

Flight aerodynamics simulator

I wanted to have a modern aerodynamics simulator, to test out my flight control hardware and software.

Apologies in advance for a very terse post.  I spent a lot of hours in a very short timespan to do this as a quick experiment.

So I used Unreal Engine 4 for the graphics engine, and built on top of that.

The main forces for a low speed aircraft that I want to model:

  1. The lift force due to the wing
  2. The drag force due to the wind
  3. Gravity
  4. Any horizontal forces from propellers in aircraft-style propulsion
  5. Any vertical forces from propellers in quadcopter-style propulsion

Lift force due to the wing

The equation for the lift force is:

L = C_l \cdot A \cdot .5 \cdot r \cdot V^2

I created a function for the lift coefficient, C_l, based on the angle, by calculating it theoretically.  To get proper results, I would need to actually measure this in a wind tunnel, but this is good enough for a first approximation:

micron lift coefficients

The horizontal axis is the angle of attack, in degrees.  When the aircraft is flying “straight”, the angle of attack is not usually 0, but around 5 to 10 degrees, thus still providing an upward force.

I repeat this for each force in turn.

3D Model

To visualize it nicely, I modelled the craft in blender, manually set the texture space, and painted the texture in gimp.  As you can tell from the texture space, there are several horrible problems with the geometry ‘loops’.  But it took a whole day to get the top and bottom looking decent, and it was close enough for my purposes.

 

I imported the model into Unreal Engine 4, and used a high-resolution render for the version in the top right, and used a low-resolution version for the game. screenshot2

textured_micron_screenshot

Next, here’s the underneath view.  You can see jagged edges in the model here, because at the time I didn’t understand how normal smoothing worked.  After a quick google, I selected those vertexes in blender and enabled normal smoothing on them and fixed that.

ue4_2(1)

and then finally, testing it out on the real thing:

Screenshot_20180626_232400

Screenshot_20180626_232350

Architecture

The architecture is a fairly standard Hardware-in-loop system.

The key modules are:

simulator

  • The Flight Controller which controls the craft.  This is not used if we are connected to external real hardware, such as the my controller.
  • The Communication Module to the real hardware, receiving information about the desired thrust of the engines and the Radio Control inputs from the user, and sending information about the current simulated position and speed.
  • The Physics Simulator which calculates the physical forces on the craft and applies them.
  • The User Interface which displays a lot of information about the craft as well as the internal controller.

The low level flight controller and network communication code is written in C++.  Much of the high level logic is written in a visual language called ‘Blueprint’.

User Interface

From the GUI User Interface, you can control:

  • The aerodynamic forces on the wings
  • The height above ground to air pressure curve
  • The wing span and aerofoil chord length
  • The moment of inertia
  • The thrust of the turbines
  • The placement of the turbines
  • The PID values for the internal controller

Result

It worked pretty well.

It uses Hardware-In-Loop to allow the real hardware to control this, including a RC-Transmitter.
In this video I am allowing the PID algorithms to control the roll, pitch, yaw and height, which I then add to in order to control it.

 

 

PID Tuning

I implemented an auto-tuner for the PID algorithm, which you can tune and trigger from the GUI.

 Hardware

I used two arduinos to control the system:

overview

And set up the Arduinos as so:  (Btw, I used the Fritzing software for this – it’s pretty cool).

neva arduino_bb(1)

 

And putting together the hardware for testing (sorry for the mess).  (I’m using QGroundControl to test it out).

And then mounting the hardware on a bit of wood as a base to keep it all together and make it more tidy:

20140822_202401.jpg

I will hopefully later make a post about the software controlling this.

ESC Motor Controller Delay

I was particularly worried about the delay that the controller introduces.

I modified the program and used a basic UFO style quadcopter, then added in a 50ms buffer, to test the reaction.

For reference, here’s a photo of the real thing that I work on:

The quadcopter is programmed to try to hover over the chair.

 

I also tested with different latencies:

 

50ms really is the bare minimum that you can get away with.

These are manually tuned PIDs.

I did also simulate this system in 1D in Matlab’s Simulink:

simulink_roll

A graph of the amplitude:

matlab estimated transfer function sin

And finally, various bode plots etc.  Just click on any for a larger image.  Again, apologies for the awful terseness.

Flash Furniture Website

I had an idea for website that would let you design what you want your kitchen to look like, while immediately getting a material quote for the work.  The idea is to act as a middle man between kitchen-fitters and customers, charging the kitchen-fitters a small fee per customer.

So I put together a flash website:

The actual furniture is based on the dimensions that the the company “Howdens” produces.  The 3D models and textures are entirely procedurally generated.  Getting the plinths and worktops to be calculated correctly took far more time than I’m willing to admit 🙂

The helper girl at the bottom is my 5 year old daughter.  I got her to point in different directions 🙂