Drone For Dummies: How to Build a Drone

So you want to build a drone, cool beans but how do you get started? Let's get started by going over the terms used in the Drone or UAV world.

 

Building a drone/UAV can be summarized into 6 steps, with a bonus step of the first flight.

 

  1. Choosing the Frame

  2. Mounting the Motors

  3. Soldering

  4. Setting up the Power

  5. Setting up the Flight controller

  6. Putting it all together

Basic's

Drone:Unmanned aerial vehicle designed for military use

DIY:Do it yourself, buy the parts and put it together

UAV: Unmanned aerial vehicle of any kind

Types

RTF: Ready to Fly composed of Quadcopters that come fully assembled and everything needed to fly.

BNF: Bind to Fly contains everything needed to fly minus the transmitter.

ATF: Almost ready to Fly only the frame normally is available and all components must be purchased and put together.

Sensors and Controllers

Accelerometer: The sensor that messures acceleration

Barometer: the sensor that lets the drone/UAV meassure high above the ground

Gyroscope: This allows the drop to fly in a stable manner

GPS: Global Positioning System allow the UAV to move from location to location without user intervention

ESC: Electronic speed controller, the middle man between the motor and the flight controller.

Flight Controller: The brains of the UAV which will be configured using the Mission Planner software.

Mission planner: A free software bundle used to configure and setup DIY drones.

Video

FPV: First Person View, allows you to watch a live stream from the drone.

Gimbal: A gimbal is what holds the camera on a drone during flight

With the basic terminology out of the way we can get started.

  1. Choosing a frame

Before we get into the types of frame, anyone starting on this journey needs to realize this can be a costly venture. On average all fo the parts can cost around 300 - 400 dollars and a mistake in construction will require additional component to be purchased. However the satisfaction of completing this project and the fun in flight the device you made is worth it to some.

There are 4 primary frame types used in commercial UAVs. 

Quadcopter Frame

The most common and recommended starting point for DIY. This UAV comes with 4 arms which motors will be installed.

Tricopter Frame

Not as common as quadcopters but another good starting part. Three arms with motors attached.

Hexacopter Frame

Six arms and six motors means more power than normal but it comes with a huge cost and investment.

Octocopter

With 8 arms the octocoper is often used for aerial surveillance.

2. Mounting the Motors

Now onto the motors, the most important part as far as i am concerned. The motors allow the drone to take off and if installed incorrectly will keep your drone grounded. In general there are two types of motors Brushed and Brushless. Watch this short video to get a better understanding on RC motors.

3. Soldering the ESC

Each motor will require an ESC to control speed and power to the motors. The below video outlines the functionality of an ESC and how to connect them to your UAVs flight computer.

4. Setting up the Power Distribution board

Now comes setting up the power distribution system. This step comes with the most pitfalls as soldering the components will require practice and can lead to purchasing of multiple Power distribution boards. Follow the directions which comes with the board and remember i little bit of solder goes a long way. 

5. Setting up the Flight controller

Now that we have power and motors and all the other components all we need is the brains of the operation the flight controller. Watch this short video for information on how to sent up the flight controller. The key thing to remember is be very careful when soldering the build and do not put the iron directly until the board as that could cause issues.

6. Now to put it all together

The last piece of the puzzle is to put it all together and take it for a test flight. Have fun and remember check out the FAA rules on where and when you can fly your device.

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