Getting started with Drones

Preamble

After having immersed myself in the world of drones (quadcopters, hexacopter, octocopters) for the pass few months, I thought it worth sharing what I have gleaned in a succinct guide about getting into flying UAVs.

Observations

  • It is not a cheap hobby
  • There is a massive learning curve, but do not let that put you off.
  • There are many facets/areas to learn, or brush up on (electronic, coding, motor theory, radio theory, power, aero dynamics (propeller theory))
  • The whole experience is highly educational.
  • There are a lot of TLAs
  • The more arms that your drones have the more expensive things get, as the motors, ESCs and arms have to be duplicated, so best to start with a quadcopter
  • It can be cheaper to get a second hand kit that someone has abandoned than source the parts separately
  • It is more challenging, and you will learn more, if you design the UAV source the parts yourself
  • The transmitter is one of the major costs

Absolute Basics

To get a drone to fly, the bare minimum you need is:

  1. A frame
  2. Motors (one per arm)
  3. Propellers (one per arm)
  4. Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC)  (one per arm)
  5. Flight controller
  6. Power Distribution board
  7. Batteries
  8. Battery charger
  9. RC transmitter
  10. RC receiver (with a minimum of four channels)
  11. (optional) UBEC – required for 5V and 12V voltage regulation, depending on your battery choice and  RC receiver’s and flight controller board’s voltage handling

More advanced

You can enhance your UAVs capabilities in a number of ways, such as:

  1. GPS
  2. FPV
  3. OSD
  4. Video/Photography equipment

Each of these is generally another large area, which will require probably as much research, and careful consideration, as the basic drone. Considering each of these in turn.

GPS

In order to add GPS capability to your system, for waypoint navigation, return to home and stationary flight, only a GPS receiver is generally required, although you may be required to upgrade your flight controller as some of the more basic FCs can not handle GPS (lack of memory, underpowered CPU).

FPV

First Person Video (FPV) can be added for a more immersive experience and gives you a totally different point of view for flying – you are actually in the cockpit, so to speak.

A number of items are required for this, a minimal list looks like this:

  1. Camera
  2. Video transmitter
  3. Video Receiver
  4. Screen

A more complete list would be

  1. Recording device
  2. Patch anntenna
  3. Pan and Tilt gimbal
  4. Headtracker
  5. FPV Goggles
  6. Video Diversity controller
  7. Antenna tracking
  8. Long range system

OSD

On Screen Display (OSD) is, generally, added to FPV, to provide a Heads Up Display (HUD) for flight information and characteristics.

A single board is generally required, and these can be very inexpensive, around $5, for a MinimOSD, or more pricey, depending on the features, quality, etc.

Video/Photography

This is what most professional users require, to provide visual inspection, and recording capabilites.

For this, you obviously need a camera, of some description. You would probably want to use a good quality camera (DSLR or Video). In addition, to get the best shots you would want to have the capability to move the camera independently of the drone, as well as the ability to stabilise the image, reduce vibration, and counter drone movement. To achieve this, you would require a gimbal, which could have movement in two axes (2 DOF – pan and tilt) or three axes (3 DOF) – slope, pan and tilt which is equivalent to pitch, roll and yaw). Three axes are obviously better than two. The component parts of a gimbal are:

  1. Gimbal Frame
  2. Gimbal controller
  3. Gimbal motors (one per axis)

So to sum up, you need:

  1. Camera (GoPro is a popular choice)
  2. Gimbal
  3. A RC receiver that has additional channels for gimbal control

 

 

 

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