We hear that you are looking to build your own drone! Seriously, that’s a fabulous idea! The below mentioned tutorial is geared towards providing you detailed insight about each and every step involved in building a drone. Here’s a little warning though: the tutorial is quite in-depth and exhaustive. So, you better bookmark this page lest you get bored at your first attempt and miss all the valuable information that I’ll be sharing with you. You must be wondering what really prompted to create such a lengthy tutorial.
Actually, building a drone is not a simple task. Rather, it involves a number of complex steps that need to be elaborated in detail. Hence, I do not want to leave even the smallest of things out. I’ll be teaching you how to build a drone; encompassing basic stuff about drone or UAV terminology and putting together different components of a drone. I’ll cover every small detail involved! Against all this backdrop, here’s a quick tip: sit back with a pen and paper in your hands and start taking notes. Without much ado, let’s get rolling folks!
Point of no return! Do you really want to build a custom RC drone?
If you are rookie drone pilot, keep one thing in mind that building your own drone is not any easy task by any stretch of imagination and needs plenty of practice. If you want to immediately get your drone flying in the air, you should get your hands on the Ready to Takeoff model and forget this hectic Do It Yourself adventure for the time being. Save this complex project for some other time! When I first developed a remote controlled drone way back in 2015, I had to go through plenty of turmoil and hard work.
But once I got it right and finished up with the creation of my first drone and set it whizzing through the air, trust me, all that hassle and toil was worth it. Having said that, if you are still reading this, then I believe that you are up for the challenge! Let’s then get down to business! Here’s how to build drone!
How to Build a Drone – Part 1: Understanding Basic Drone Terminology
Before even imagining to build your own drone tailored to suit your needs, you need to get yourself acquainted with lots of fundamental drone and UAV related terminology. It might appear to be an unnecessary pursuit at this point in time, but believe me, once complex jargon will start springing up in this comprehensive tutorial, you will thank me and your own stars for getting across this handy introduction. Just to make things a lot easier for you, I have divided all the required information into different categories.
- Drone: Can be used in place of “quadcopter” or “UAV”. The term “drone” is generally used for UAVs that are designed for military purposes
- DIY: Acronym for Do-it-Yourself. In case of our tutorial, this term refers to the construction of a quadcopter using a number of components that may or may not have been developed to be used with each other.
- UAV: Acronym for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle of any kind
- Size: This is the largest point to point distance between two motors integrated on to a drone. It is generally measured in millimeters (e.g. 350 mm). A drone’s class such as nano, micro, mini etc. can also be figured out with the help of the size.
- CG: Acronym for Centre of Gravity. It is that point on the body of a drone where the entire weight of the machine is equally distributed on all sides. This is an important concept to understand when learning how to build your own drone.
- Dampener: These are small sized specially shaped pieces of rubber that absorb all the undesired vibrations throughout a remote controlled drone.
- Frame: It is the outer covering or skeleton of a drone. It shelters all the drone components under one roof; thereby providing them safety from harm.
- Landing Gear: A remote controlled drone must be equipped with intricate landing paraphernalia if it is to land safely without causing any physical harm to vulnerable components. As opposed to airplanes that make use of wheels as part of their landing gear, drones utilize plastic, metal or rubber materials to provide the requisite support during landing.
- LED: Light Emitting Diodes enable a pilot to recognize the drone during night time excursions.
- Prop Guards: This component ensures that the propellers of a drone do not come in contact with the outer environment and are kept safe from any harm. They also provide necessary protection to the pilot.
- Shell: It is the external covering of a drone. It is developed using a variety of materials. It adds beauty and vigor to a drone in addition to providing it security from physical damage. The shape of the shell plays a pivotal role in determining the aerodynamic behavior of a drone.
- Accelerometer: This sensor is dedicated to measuring translational acceleration in the drone.
- Barometer: It tells the drone its altitude. This is accomplished by measuring the atmospheric pressure. We all know that the atmospheric pressure varies with altitude. Based on this principle, the drone determines its height above the ground.
- Gyroscope: It helps determine rotational acceleration along x, y or z axis. This sensor ensures that the flight of the drone is as steady as possible.
- GPS: It is the acronym for Global Positioning System. It enables satellites to lock onto the drone. This feature allows a pilot to set up specific coordinates for the drone to fly to or even make it return to base (from where it was launched) when it has gone out of your line of sight
- RTF: It is an acronym for Ready to Fly. This is a drone variation that comes fully assembled and loaded with all the requisite gear. You just need to send your drone whizzing through the air after unboxing the original packaging.
- BNF: It is an acronym for Bind and Fly. It is a quadcopter that comes completely assembled without a radio controller. The pilot needs to purchase a radio controller that is supported by the drone’s receiver.
- ATF: It is an acronym for Almost Ready to Fly. These quadcopters do not come completely assembled in their original packaging. The pilots have to attach a number of accessories and add-ons in order to make them fly in the air.
- Hexacopter: A drone that contains six motors or propellers.
- Multirotor: Any aircraft that has multiple rotors.
- Octocopter: A drone with eight motors or propellers.
- Quadcopter: A drone with four motors or propellers.
- Tricopter: A drone with three motors or propellers.
- ESC: It stands for Electronic Speed Controller. It gets connected to the flight controller, motor and battery and regulates the speed at which the motors are rotating. (we’ll discuss this in detail)
- LiPo: It is an acronym for Lithium Polymer. This is a kind of battery that is used to power almost all types of drones. These are very light in weight, do not weigh the drone down and produce plenty of current.
- Motor: This is a component that makes the propellers rotate. Large sized drones make use of brushless motors while the smaller ones utilize brushed motors. We’ll discuss the differences between the two later on.
- PCB: It stands for Printed Circuit Board. This is a clear flat board made of fiberglass. A number of electronic components are mounted on this platform.
- Power Distribution: All the components integrated onto a drone require battery power to perform their respective functions. Hence, the power generated by the battery must be divided among different components in accordance with their requirement. The power distribution board performs this task. It takes a single negative and positive terminal from the drone’s battery and furnished myriad connection points throughout the machine to ensure that each component gets the desired power.
- Prop Adaptor: It is a component that connects the drone’s motor to the propellers.
- FPV: It is the acronym for First Person View. It is a feature that allows a pilot to view real time video feed transmitted directly by the drone’s camera.
- LCD: It stands for Liquid Crystal Display. It is a display screen that portrays the video footage coming from the drone’s camera.
- Gimbal: It is a framework that holds the camera during flight and ensures that the video footage captured by the camera is steady.
- GoPro: This is a popular sports or action camera that can be attached to a drone with the help of compatible mounts.
How to Build a Drone – Part 2: Choosing a Frame for Your Drone
As you learn how to build your own drone, it is mandatory that you get yourself acquainted with the above mentioned terminologies. At least you should write them down somewhere or even make a note of them in your handheld mobile device for future reference whenever required. In this section of the tutorial, we’ll be discussing the various types of frames that can be used by pilots to build a drone. I’ll be endeavoring to encompass almost all of the most commonly used and fundamental frame designs and styles. I’ll also attempt to portray the disparate kinds of materials that can be utilized to create frames. I would again suggest you to keep noting the important points down since this is precious information and you won’t be finding it all collated at one place anywhere else on the internet.
Types of RC Drones/Frame Setups
Now, let me share with you the most common types of frame setups that are prevalent in the world of drones presently. I’ll also be discussing at length the advantages, disadvantages and characteristics of each of the frame configurations. Let’s get the ball rolling, folks!
Frame Type #1: Quadcopter
This is the most popular and commonly used frame configuration in the world of drones. It has four arms which are connected to a motor individually. You can very clearly see in the illustration that the quadcopter has been designed in an “x setup”. Please note that “+ setup” quadcopter configurations also exist. When you are trying for the first time to build drone, we recommend you to start off with the quadcopter frame setup. This is the most popular frame style that you will come across and you can fashion it in a number of ways depending upon your preference. This is exactly the reason why the leading drones such as the mighty DJI Phantom 3 and the fabulous Parrot Bebop have been engineered using this very same frame design.
One of the most important reasons that you get from using a quadcopter frame setup is that almost all of the radio controllers (we’ll discuss them in detail later) are compatible with it. It is a very simple and minimalistic design and is a great option for you if you are on a quest to build your own drone for the very first time.
Remember one thing in mind that no frame design including the quadcopter is perfect. The one major drawback that this frame configuration brings with itself is that in case of the failure of one of the motors, the remaining motors/propellers won’t be able to continue working and hence will result in a crash. Hence, if you choose a certain frame configuration, we suggest you to use it the right way.
Frame Type #2: Tricopter
This frame configuration is not that common among dronies but for those who are aspiring to learn how to build a drone can certainly try this one out as well. This type of RC drone frame setup has three arms which are individually connected to a motor. In this configuration, each of the arms is separated at angle of 120 degrees. As can be seen in the illustration, this frame setup is asymmetric in nature. The lone motor at the rear end should be able to rotate by virtue of a normal remote controlled servo motor (we’ll discuss it in detail later) in order to balance the fact that there are an odd number of rotors in the assembly. As was the case with the quadcopter, the tricopter frame setup also has a few advantages as well as disadvantages.
If you are interested in trying out something different that can give you an edge over your fellow dronies in terms of uniqueness of design and catchiness, tricopter is the way to go. When in the air, this frame setup flies more like an airplane than a remote controlled drone. Moreover, it requires lesser number of brushless motors. This implies that if you are looking to save some money up your sleeves while you learn how to build your own drone, this appears to be the safest possible way to go.
As discussed above, this assembly is asymmetric in nature and hence requires a remote controlled servo motor to rotate the lone motor at the rear. Hence, at the very least in theory, this is a more complex procedure. We won’t go into more in-depth details but let us share with you the fact that the rear arm needs plenty of complex building process to be carried out in order to ensure that it functions properly.
Frame Type #3: Hexacopter
As is evident from the name, hexacopter is a frame setup that includes six arms each of which is connected to a motor separately. In general, this frame configuration is more popular among the drone enthusiasts who are interested in aerial cinematography and photography. This configuration is further subdivided into two types of layouts: In the first layout, the front of the body is positioned between two motors while in the second one, the front of the body is situated exactly behind a single motor. I’ve never built a hexacopter, however, I deemed it appropriate to include it in our list just to give you an idea of the options that are at your disposal when you set out to build drone. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of this frame setup:
The greatest advantage that you get from a hexacopter frame setup is that you are able to deliver more thrust and hence can make your drone carry bulkier payloads. Besides, even if one motor succumbs to a failure, there is a high probability that the device will be able to land safely without any ominous crashes. Moreover, all radio controllers are compatible with this frame configuration.
The process of building a hexacopter puts more strain on your financial reserves as opposed to building a tricopter or a quadcopter. The main reason for being expensive is that this frame setup requires greater number of components. With more components obviously, the weight of your device will also increase and hence a larger battery will be needed to provide the requisite amount of thrust.
Frame Type #4: Octocopter
Our fourth type of frame configuration is the octocopter which consists of eight arms which are connected to a motor each separately. You can well imagine the amount of thrust that can be delivered with the help of eight arms and motors. Such huge power has its own requirements and needs. Firstly, I would not recommend you to try this frame setup out if you are novice. However, if you do decide to go down this road then be ready to face lots of difficulties. This frame configuration is certainly meant to be built by the more veteran drone enthusiasts. I would suggest you to try out the more simple frame configurations such a quadcopter or a tricopter when you are building your very first drone.
Since, we have more motors in this configuration that implies that we will be able to generate more power and hence the device should be able to carry heavier payloads. Another great advantage that one gets with greater number of motors is the redundancy which means that even if one motor fails, the device would still be able to land safely.
With more motors, the device will become a lot heavier and hence will require a larger battery pack. Octocopters are preferred by people who take a fancy to professional grade aerial photography and videography. This, however, does not mean that a novice cannot handle this machine but it certainly is a tricky device to manoeuvre for a rookie.
Common Types of Materials Used for Drone Frames
We hope that you must have got yourself acquainted with the different types of drone frame configurations after our in-depth analysis. Now, it’s time to share with you the common types of materials that are used for building drone frames. Please note that our list does not contain every possible material that can be used for the said purpose. However, we have endeavored to include all the materials that are the most popular and cheaper ones. Let’s have a look at these materials.
If you are marred by budgetary constraints and still want to build a drone, then a wooden frame setup is the best choice. Obviously, when it comes to aesthetics, wood is not the most visually appealing material but is definitely a cheaper one. What makes a wooden frame more preferable is that even if your drone suffers a crash and you end up damaging your device, you can get it replaced quickly without any effort. If you decide to choose a wooden frame setup for your drone, take care that it is not twisted or misshapen from any aspect.
If you have the financial muscle, then I would highly recommend you to build your own drone with a carbon fibre frame configuration. Carbon fibre is a resilient material and is quite durable. Being light in weight, carbon fibre presents the perfect foil for a drone that not only flies impeccably but also consumes the least energy. However, there is a consideration that you need to take care of. Carbon fibre obstructs radio frequency signals (we’ll discuss this in detail later) so you need to keep this in mind when connecting electronic components such as antenna and other devices.
Acronym for Printed Circuit Board, it is a material that has similar characteristics to that of carbon fibre. In contrast to carbon fibre, PCB is always flat in structure and is used in drone frames that are less than 600 mm in size as bottom and top plates. As a matter of fact, the frames of small sized quadcopters can be built entirely using a single PCB.
Most of the commercial remote controlled drones that are available in the market are made of plastic frame configurations. Do-it-Yourself drone aficionados have really taken a fancy to three dimensional molded plastic frames these days. In general, a frame conjured out of a 3D printer is quite well shaped and works well with small sized drones. When using sheets of plastic instead of 3D printed objects, pilots can use these sheets on their landing paraphernalia or to cover their drones up.
G10 is a variation of fibre glass that is used a compatible alternative to carbon fibre. As far as the outlook is concerned, G10 and carbon fibre are quite similar to each other but they have different characteristics. G10 can be purchased as sheets and is available at far lesser price than carbon fibre. However, it is still more expensive than wood, aluminium and plastic.
You can also build your drone frame using aluminium. It’s lighter in weight (a bit heavier than fibreglass), flexible and can be worked around with easily. Aluminium can be used to construct the entire frame of the drone or you can use to build certain smaller parts of your device such as arms, landing gear etc. Aluminium is readily available in the market and also comes at a very low price, hence it is a pretty good proposition if you want to build a drone frame with aluminium.
How Big Do You Want Your Drone to Be?
As you move forward in your quest to build drone, you need to be familiar with the standard drone sizes that are around. There are drones that can be placed easily on the palm of your hand and are called as nano drones. The larger sized drones called as mega drones need to be placed in the back of trucks to be transported from one place to another. Nevertheless, you must decide the size of the device that you want to build. As novices, I would suggest you build a drone of the order of 400mm to 500mm. You will be able to get plenty of value in terms of performance, efficiency and aesthetics from a drone in this size range.
Are Smaller Drones Less Expensive to Build than Larger Ones?
The answer to this question is not that tough. It is not necessary that smaller drones are less expensive to build always. You will experience it yourself during this tutorial on how to build a drone that the actual cost depends on the innovation that you put in your radio controller, whether you want to integrate a camera into your device and other such advanced features. In general, drone frame is the cheapest part of your drone. However, it does not mean that the frame configuration is the least important as well.
How to Build a Drone – Part 3: Motors, Propellers and Propulsion
Until now you have got yourself acquainted with the fundamental drone terminologies and also got to know about the various drone frame configurations and the materials that are used to build them. This part of the tutorial is dedicated towards discussion on propulsion. To elaborate it further, we’ll be discussing all the components and processes that are responsible for making your drone fly. Hence, we’ll be spending some time to motors, propellers, batteries and other such drone parts. This is an extremely important section and you need to master it if you want to build your own drone successfully.
Motors are the basic components of a drone around which all other things are built. The motors are responsible for launching your drone’s frame up in the air, hovering over a particular location and flying the direction that you want. Principally, each motor should be able to generate the same magnitude of thrust. If this is not the case, the drone will not be stable and its flight will be turbulent. In the sections below, we will discuss in detail the makeup of a remote controlled motor, its working and the different types of motors that can be employed when building a drone.
How a RC Motor Works
An electric motor consists of a couple of main components namely magnets and coil windings. Hold on! We won’t be forcing you to get your textbook on Physics out of your home library and get to know how a RC motor works. Let’s make it simple. Here’s what happens. As the coils of wire move within a magnetic field, electric current is produced which makes the rotor spin. You can get to know it a lot better by watching the video below.
Brushed Motors vs Brushless Motors – What’s the Difference?
One of the most common terms that I came across when I started to learn how to build a drone, included brushed and brushless motors. At that point in time, I did not know whatsoever what these terminologies meant and how the hell did they differ from each other. Keeping my personal experience in mind, I decided to create this dedicated section to help the rookies get rid of this road block.
Similar to all remote controlled motors, brushed motors contain coil windings and magnets. In brushed motors, the magnets remain stationary while the coils spin around them. In general, brushed motors are popularly used in small sized low cost devices such as Syma X5C or Cheerson CX-10.
This type of motor, though, has a drawback. The brushes wear out rather too quickly and hence such motors do not tend to last as much longer as the brushless motors. This does not mean that this is the case with all brushed motors. There can be a few exceptions but generally we observe shorter lifespan for brushed motors in contrast to brushless motors. Personally, I have always used these motors in smaller drones that I built and did not have a pleasant experience with them. They were not able to deliver me the required life span.
When you set out to learn how to build your own drone, you must learn how brushless motors work. Brushless motors work in a manner contrasting to the brushed motors. In these types of motors, coil windings remain static while the magnets spin around them. As can be understood by the nomenclature, these kind of motors do not contain any brushes and hence one can expect longer life span when it comes to brushless motors.
When instructing people how to build drone, I overwhelmingly recommend them to use brushless motors because of their longer lifespan, durability, reliability and ability to deliver large amount of thrust. Keep in mind that brushless motors are more expensive than brushed motors. Let’s have a look at some of the types of brushless motors that you may come across while building your drone:
- Inrunner: In these types of brushless motors, the coil windings are fixed on the external casing while the magnets spin around them in the internal casing.
- Outrunner: After definition of the above type of brushless motor, it would take a mere guess for you to know what happens in case of outrunner brushless motors. In these motors, the magnets are positioned on the outer casing of the motor while the coil windings are located on the inner side with the magnets revolving around them.
You can expect to observe quite a few variations in these types of motors but keep this important fact in mind: outrunner brushless DC motors are more commonly used in helicopters, airplanes and remote controlled cars because of their higher value of KV. Moreover, they tend to produce lesser amount of torque than the inrunner brushless DC motors.
The KV rating of a motor corresponds to its ability to spin faster at a certain voltage. To put it exactly, it is equivalent to 1,000 per volt). When it comes to a common remote controlled drone, it generally lies in the lower range of 500 to 1,000. It is actually responsible to ensure that the machine remains steady during flight. If you are interested in pursuing some aerial manoeuvres, then a higher KV value is recommended in the range between 1,000 and 1,500. You can sift through this handy forum post if you are interested in understanding the logic behind KV value more thoroughly.
Do the Math
If the KV rating for a specific motor is 650 RPM per Volt, then at 11.1 volts, the motor is expected to rotate almost at 7,215 RPM (650 x 11.1 = 7,215). Now, let’s consider that the same motor is rotating at a much lower value of voltage, say 7.4 volts, then the new RPM will be 4,810 (650 x 7.4 = 4,810). Note that the KV rating of a motor can be found out it in its specifications sheet.
You can very well see that comprehending KV rating is nothing but a piece of cake. If you are looking forward to learn how to build your own drone, then you better start thinking about stuff like KV rating and motor types. This will help you out in the future and you won’t be requiring external help or assistance whenever you set out to build your custom drone in the time to come. Hold on! Not so quick fellows! We aren’t there yet! We still have to discuss about another crucial part of the drone’s propulsion system. Hell yeah, propellers!
All of the remote controlled aircrafts with multiple rotors make use of propellers in order to get the required lift into the air. Do not confuse them with the helicopter blades for God’s sake! Propellers are connected to the motors. The motors, on being rotated, in turn spin the propellers. Similar to drone frame configurations, propellers can consist of materials of a number of types and come in a variety of sizes.
Majority of the drones come with propellers consisting of either two blades or three blades. The two blade variation is the most common though! Smaller blades with smaller diameter are way more easier to slow down and speed up. This trait is a useful one if you are someone who takes a fancy to aerial manoeuvres. Blades which are larger in size and hence have larger diameters, are more suited to flights where poise, calm and stability is the order of the day. They are harder to slow down and speed up.
All kinds of propellers that are an integral part of the drone building process rotate in the following two manners:
- Clockwise (CW)
- Counterclockwise (CCW)
It is essential that you are familiar about the part of the propeller that is to face upwards and the portion that is to face downwards. We’ll be shedding more light on it in the upcoming sections.
Material Used to Make Propellers
Do you remember when we talked about the materials that could be used to build drone frame setups in one of the earlier sections of the tutorial? Well, same thing is true for propellers. Let’s go through some of the key materials that can be used to develop propellers.\
Plastic is the most popular material in the drone world that is used to make propellers. It is preferred among the dronies because of its durability, reliability and low cost. Plastic propellers do have their fair share of disadvantages. In case of crashes, if you do not have the prop guards installed, there is a high likelihood that you’ll end up damaging your plastic propellers. Even with the prop guards in place, you might as well damage your propellers in case of an unfortunate accident. However, there is a silver lining for you. Since, they are low cost, hence even if you get them damaged every now and then, you won’t have to spend a fortune to get them replaced. Plastic propellers is certainly the way to go when you set out to build your own drone.
Do you think I’m kidding? Hell, No! Yes you can use wood to build drone. Hey, but they aren’t the most commonly used in the world of drones. As should be your simple guess, wooden propellers would need to be intricately designed in terms of machining and would certainly cost way more than the plastic propellers. With all the bad news, here comes the news of hope and good feeling. Propellers made of wood are long lasting, cannot be twisted and are able to survive minor crashes. They may not be common among the dronies but there are those among us who take a fancy to using wooden propellers in the machines.
If you are interesting in using a material that is very reliable, durable and long lasting and won’t break in case of crashes, then carbon fiber is the way to go, folks! Keep in mind that these propellers are costly as compared to their counterparts made of other materials. I used propellers made of carbon fiber quite some time back and my experience with them was great to say the least. What really kept me into them was that they were very hard to break and offered plenty of flexibility as opposed to plastic propellers. If you are dronie who is new to step into the amazing world of drones, then you better stick to using propellers made of plastic and resort to using carbon fiber propellers only when you get experienced enough.
Attaching Propellers to Motors
Majority of the propellers, but for a few exceptions, come with adapter rings that are used to connect them to the motors. While you are mounting the propeller to the motor, you figure out that the central portion of the propeller is too large for the motor’s shaft, you will need to resort to adapter rings or spacers to get them adjusted appropriately.
Do not ever think that your propellers will come with adapter rings at the time of purchase. More often than not, they won’t accompany your propellers. And if you come across propellers that do not mount properly over your motor shaft, then your Do it Yourself project will have to be stalled until the time the mail delivery dude comes to your doorstep with adapter rings or spacers. Nobody would want such an inordinate delay. The following illustration shows how the propellers are properly mounted onto the motor shaft.
Prop savers are components that can be used to substitute propeller adapters on a motor shaft. These contain even smaller parts that enable the propellers to stay fit on the motor shaft. In case of a crash, they protect your propeller and motor from succumbing to harmful damage. They have a few disadvantage, however:
- The O-rings can become fragile over time and break down
- Improperly placed prop savers lead to undesired vibration
- The propellers tend to be mounted a bit higher on the motor shaft than normal
A prop guard is a component that encompasses a propeller and prevents its contact with the external atmosphere. When you learn how to build your own drone, do not forget to keep prop guards on your checklist. For rookies, the probability of suffering crashes is really high. I mean, it’s really really high! Prop guards can be your life saviour. They can come to your rescue from any harmful damage. Remote controlled drones such as UDI U818A or FQ-777-124 Pocket Drone include detachable propeller guards made of plastic.
They obviously do come with a few disadvantages and are not perfect in any sense of the word:
- They make your drone bulky and hence decrease your flight duration
- They can come to your aid only when the crash is minor
- They may add unwanted vibration to your remote controlled machine
The Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)
The Electronic Speed Controller (ESC) is the component that is primarily responsible for granting the radio controller (we’ll discuss it in detail later on in the tutorial) the capability to manage the direction and speed of the drone’s motor. The bottomline is that ESC is an extremely crucial component and its knowledge is vital when you learn how to build your own drone. The ESC should be able to provide the requisite amount of voltage and should also manage the current consumed by the motors appropriately.
Most of the ESCs that are available in the world of drones allow the propellers to rotate in one direction only. However, by utilizing the appropriate firmware, one can configure them to fly in two directions. The video below should help you out in understanding the different components of the Electronic Speed Controller and what goes around in them to produce the required results.
As you move forward in your quest to learn how to build drone and after watching the working and principle of the Electronic Speed Controller, you must have observed a number of wires and cables on both the sides. Let’s study them deeply:
- 3 Pin RC Servo Connector: This wire accepts the radio signal
- 3 Bullet Connectors: These components are connected to the three pins found on the brushless motor
- Power Input: The red and black wires are responsible for getting the required power from the power distribution board.
The Battery Elimination Circuit (BEC) is responsible to convert battery DC voltage to the required DC voltage of the flight controller that is being used.
The one great advantage that you get from using an Electronic Speed Controller equipped with a firmware is that it is far more responsive to the input commands. This implies that the pilot can experience a more agile and acrobatic flight that can be managed at the whim and control of the flyer.
Power Distribution Board
You will observe in the upcoming section on the assembly of drone components that the Electronic Speed Controller is powered directly by the main battery of the device. However, while you build a drone, the single connector of the battery should be able to split among four disparate ESCs. This is attained by means of a circuitry known as the Power Distribution Board. This component divides the battery’s negative and positive ends into four terminals for connections with the ESCs. This couldn’t get easier than this, eh?
Majority of the drones, but for a few exceptions may be, are powered by Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries. There are other models of these batteries but they are very rare. In this tutorial, you will be learning how to build your own drone using a LiPo battery (however you can still read LiPo battery section in detail by clicking here). These batteries are preferred over the counterparts because they are considerably light in weight and also generate lots of power. They do have a few drawbacks. They are expensive than other batteries and if mishandled can prove to be a security hazard somewhat. You can turn to the video given below to know LiPo batteries more in detail.
When you build a drone, give ample consideration to a battery’s voltage. The battery should provide enough voltage as is required by the motors. Otherwise, there could be issues. So, when you learn how to build drone, do keep in mind the voltage of the battery.
Battery Capacity and Discharge Rate
The capacity of a battery is measured in amp-hours or Ah. The battery packs of smaller sizes have capacities of about 100 mAh or 0.1 Ah. The battery packs that are larger in size have the capacities of around 2 – 3 Ah or 2,000 to 3,000 mAh. Generally, larger the size of your battery pack, the more flight duration you are going to enjoy. Having said that, a larger battery pack also means a heavier drone. When you learn how to build your own drone, you will almost invariably get a flight duration of about 10 minutes. At the lowest, you should get 5 minutes of flight time and at the highest the flight duration would be around 20 minutes.
The discharge rate of a battery is measured in the unit “C”. The average discharge rate of most of the LiPo batteries is about 5C which is about five times the battery’s capacity. The next section in this tutorial on how to build a drone encompasses the brains behind the working of your machine. It is called the Flight Controller.
How to Build a Drone – Part 4: Flight Controller
As we reach another junction in our voyage of discovery on how to build drone, we have:
- Got to know the fundamental terminology
- Built the drone’s frame setup
- Purchased all the required batteries, propellers, motors and Electronic Speed Controllers
Hold on! This is all crap if you do not have a flight controller. To put it mildly, a flight controller is the brain of your device. This gizmo contains all the microprocessors, sensors and input or output pins that allow you to fly your drone in the air and carry out your mid-air excursions. Don’t forget to read our detailed article on How to choose best Flight Controller for your quadcopter.
A number of sensors can be integrated into flight controllers. They collate all the necessary information about the drone’s pace, its altitude, direction and other such variables. At the very least, a flight controller has a three axis gyroscope. A gyroscope is responsible to ensure that the device remains stable during flight. Let’s study some of the sensors that may or may not be part of the flight controller that you choose:
- Accelerometer: It determines the translational acceleration along the X, Y and Z axes. It is also responsible in keeping the drone steady
- Gyroscope: It gauges angular variations along three axes (alpha, beta and gamma)
- Inertia Measurement Unit (IMU): It is the circuitry that includes the accelerometer and the gyroscope
- Compass: It tells the pilot which way the drone is heading
- Barometer: It determines the air pressure based on which the altitude of the drone is figured out. The air pressure increases as the drone goes higher into the sky. Hence, a barometer tracks record of the air pressure and hence gives the height of the device
- Global Positioning System (GPS): The accurate geographic coordinates of the drone are determined by this sensor
As you build your own drone, you will come to know that the more sensors your flight controller has, the more expensive it will turn out to be. A drone like the mighty DJI Phantom 3 will have more sensors integrated into its flight controller than the Syma X12. View the following video to learn how different components of the drone work in tandem with the flight controller.
How to Build a Drone – Part 5: Putting it all Together
Up till now, we have discussed all the theory and practice that makes a drone work the way it should. View the videos given below to learn how all the drone parts work together and make things happen. The assembly part is also explained elaborately in the videos.