Ever since seeing the “Build Your Own Predator Drone at 99.95% Discount” talk at Shmoocon 2010 I’ve been tempted to build an aerial drone. Busy with other projects I never got to it, but this past Fall at World Maker Faire Amy saw the AeroQuad guys and was intrigued enough to get me a quadcopter for my birthday.
While an R/C quad isn’t quite the same as an un-piloted one, it’s a good first step in my mine since learning the flight dynamics and electronic basics will be super useful. In addition, some of the autonomous drones are ‘put up’ using R/C before they take over and run through their programmed flight path. I fully intend to go down that route at some point, and will probably get some gear from DIYDrones.
While I would normally stick to something open source – the lack of spare parts availability spooked me from pursuing the AeroQuad platform. One of the most common quads going is the DJI Flame Wheel 450 – or “F450″ as you’ll see it in a lot of places. There are a few good things for novices in the DJI realm:
- Spare arms (or booms) are widely available, and cheap ($5-$7 each usually) – even dyed interesting colors.
- The DJI flight controller – NAZA-M is well documented and very common. There are tons of videos on YouTube detailing every setting with possible implications
- It only takes a minute or two to switch from 3s (3 cell) to 4s (4 cell) LiPo batteries so you can run either
- It comes with both 8″ and 10″ props for running with various loads and different battery voltages.
- It has a built-in and configurable low voltage alarm on board.
There are a ton of how-to build documents online so I won’t go through the steps here, but a few pictures of the very quick assembly process are included for those curious:
Never having flown any R/C helicopters or really any serious planes – I was fully prepared to crash (and had spare arms and a bundle of spare propellers) but my first flights went well. I had a chance to fly it indoors first, and we took video of some of it:
The following day I mounted a camera to the quad (Swann Freestyle HD) and flew outside in the wind:
After a few days of flying, some small tweaks, and learning a lot more – I’m getting smoother. Here is the progress after a week:
Clearly my video editing skills need even more practice than my flying skills. To be continued…