Hello! Today we have a very interesting topic on the agenda. First of all, drone is a very expensive gadget. In this step-by-step guide, I am going to tell you how you can assemble a drone with your own hands for a cheap price. The idea of building your own drone is really interesting. Choosing this, not the easiest way, you will not only get a good drone, but you will also be able to understand its structure, and you will gain a lot of useful knowledge. So let’s start building your own drone from a scratch in this 9 steps that are listed below.
Understanding the Physcis Behind How Drones Fly
Drones, on the other hand, are usually built as quadrocopters with four horizontal rotors or occasionally even as hexacopters with six rotors. The fact that this principle has not prevailed in real aviation is mainly due to the enormous mechanical effort that must be driven to drive multiple rotors by an internal combustion engine. The situation is quite different for drones that are operated by an electric motor: Each of the rotors receives its own electric motor, only the control is carried out centrally. Important for the construction of the quadrocopter is to put the four rotors in the corners of the fuselage. The distance of the rotors to each other should be identical, so that no lever arm occurs; the center of gravity of the flying object lie in its center. Now turn each two opposing rotors on the right and the other two left, so cancel the yawing moments generated by each rotor on each other – and the drone floats, at least in calm, completely calm in the air. In order to steer, some yaw moment is deliberately allowed, as two rotors rotating in the same direction run a little slower than the other two.
Components You Will Need For Your Drone
View the parts that are on the drone itself and are responsible for the operation of the drone:
|MAIN Components For Building DIY Drone|
|1. Drone Frame|
|2. Control Unit|
|3. Electronic Speed controller (ESC)|
|4. Electric Motors|
|5. Radio Receiver and Radio Station|
|8. Voltage Converter|
Required Additional Parts
These are the parts that are still needed to control and operate the drone:
- Radio station
- LiPoly battery charger
These are the parts that can be embedded with free choice:
- GPS module
- FPV and/or recording camera
- Video transmitter
- Camera Tilt Angle Controller
1. Drone (Quadcopter) Frame
It has already been mentioned that there are two main types of quadcopter frames. The difference between them is in the form of performance or purpose. They may still differ in the material they are made of, the size and number of arms. A list and a large selection of quadcopter frames that you want for your drone can be found on Amazon, HERE
1.1. Drone Frame for Aerial Capture
The main purpose of these frames is to capture video and aerial images. These frames are mostly larger than 400 mm because they use many components. There are high quality ones made of carbon fiber, medium quality aluminum and cheap plastic. The weight varies and depends on the material, and it is best to use lightweight frames. For the most part, these drones come with 6-spoke performance and even more, due to the higher camera stabilization, which contributes to better video quality. The larger number of arms also allows the attachment of more motors.
1.2. Frame for Racing Drones
While for aerial video and image frames, the frame size is larger than 400 mm, for a racing drone frame the size is less than 400 mm. The reason for this is that drones that use such frames do not have a lot of accessories and aim to be as fast and mobile as possible, and carbon fiber frames are used to make them as light and solid as possible. Mostly they come in 4-spoke design to allow drones to change direction as quickly as possible. The motors use a lot of power and thus consume the battery, which is why no more than 4 motors are required.
2. Control Units
The control unit is a printed circuit board that reads sensors, listens to user commands, and thus adjusts the speed of the electric motor to keep the drone balanced and in control in the air. All units today have a gyroscope and an accelerometer, which serves to keep the unit in balance and measure acceleration, while more advanced have a barometer, compass and GPS. For example, a gyroscope is used for orientation, while GPS is used for auto-autopilot. Most control units have similar sensors and hardware, but very different software and calculation algorithms, resulting in different flight characteristics and user interfaces. That’s why the same drone with different control units flies differently. There are many types of control units available on the market today. Some are more expensive but richer in equipment, while others are less expensive and lack equipment and some features. You can also find copies of these more expensive ones, but they are not of high quality. The following table shows the currently most popular control unit models and their basic characteristics.
|Name:||Price:||RX Mod||Barometer/Compass||GPS||Micro Controller|
|APM 2.6||$46||PWM, PPM||Additionally||Yes||8-bit, 16MHz|
|BrainFPV||$100||PWM, PPM||Additionally||Yes||32-bit, 168 MHz|
|CC3D||$14||PWM, PPM||No||Additionally||32-bit, 168 MHz|
|Flip32||$23||PWM, PPM||No||Additionally||32-bit, 168 MHz|
|KK2.1.5.||$20||PWM, PPM||No||No||8-bit, 16MHz|
|Naza M Lite||$154||PWM, PPM||Yes||Yes||Unknown|
2.1 The Drone Control Unit We Chose (CC3D)
The control unit used in our example is the CC3D Revolution. The CC3D is the most famous control unit for remote control aircraft. It has been used for a long time and is one of the first units to come out on the market. It was also the first to use a 32-bit miniprocessor, which is currently the base of many control units. The CC3D Revolution is its latest version that supports wireless control over a PC, or over 433MHz. It also uses GPS with an optional module and comes with two additional sensors: a voltage sensor and a barometer. Uses PWM and PPM modulation depending on which radio the receiver is operating on. It weighs only 9g and measures 35 x 35mm. It uses the LibrePilot programming interface and can still be programmed for a winged aircraft and a helicopter.
- Flexi-IO Port– Used to connect the control unit to the radio.
- USB Port– Used for connecting computers and control units and programming.
- Flexi Port and Main Port which can be used for several purposes depending on the settings when programming the control unit. GPS, telemetry and different satellite receivers are for the same purposes.
- RF Socket – antenna input through which the PC interface communicates wirelessly with the control unit. Your computer must have an optional module to enable this.
- Sonar / Volt / Current Sensor port that connects to a sensor that later displays the status of the battery or how charged it is.
- ESC / Servo pins are used to control ESCs, they come in a vertical and vertical position depending on the purpose of the drone.
3. Electronic Speed Controller (ESC)
Electronic speed controllers (ESCs) have multiple uses depending on the type. Their main features converting DC to AC and battery voltage conversion to 5V DC. They are distinguished by the current that can be obtained by the motor attached to their end. They are used with drones because of their high power, high response frequency and the ability to convert DC to AC power required for quadcopter motors.
3.1. Appearance and Fusion
One end connects directly to the battery and control unit and the other, where 3 wires are located, connects to the motor. The red and black wires that go on the battery, denoting + and -, power the ESCs and motors. Between them are 3 small wires, of which red and black indicate positive and negative DC voltages, while the third white serves as a signal (input) to the ESC coming from the control unit. This voltage is used by the control unit to send back voltage to the ESC. The microcontroller uses PWM. This means that it receives signal frequencies from the control unit and controls the engine speed based on the signal lengths.
3.2. Scheme and Operation
This picture shows the schematic of the controller and its components, which are explained below.
- The solder terminals that power the motor provide AC power.
- LiPo battery connector (negative).
- Lipo battery connector (positive).
- PWM input signal that the ESC receives from the control unit.
- PWM output, here is a 5 V voltage and this voltage is fed to the control unit.
- Solder connector for changing direction of rotation.
- Solder connector to change PWM input signal type.
- Led control indicator.
- Microcontroller that controls engine speed.
- PWM negative output voltage.
The ESC uses an N-channel bridge, which means it has low resistance and a very good response to keep the engine running better. Because of it, there is not much loss and engine performance is excellent.
3.3. Electronic Speed Controller We Chose (Afro ESC)
The ESCs used on our drone is Afro ESC 20A. They use SimonK firmware, which is currently the best software for ESCs. They support 2s – 4s LiPo batteries, with a maximum flow current of 20A. Completely weighs 22.8g (wires, controller and pins). The dimension of one is 45 x 25.7 x 10.5mm. Mostly used for drones between 400 and 600 mm. The price of all 4 controllers is around $30. You can order your ESC on Amazon, or the same AfroESC model that we used by clicking HERE.
4. Electric Motors
It has already been mentioned that the ESC converts DC to AC due to the motor. Electric motors used in drones are brushless motors, which means that they use alternating current. Engines in combination with propellers raise and lower the drone. The rule states that each engine must have a driving force (buoyancy power) twice the total weight of the entire drone divided by the number of engines. This would mean the following: if the mass of a drone having 4 engines is 1000g, the total mass that the engines must lift is 2000g, while each engine must have the capacity to lift a mass of 500g. The key value to pay attention to is Kv. This parameter does not indicate kiloVolt (kV), but rather indicates that a 1000Kv motor has a speed of 1000 rpm using a voltage of 1V, that is, a 1000 Kv idle motor will have 12000 rpm when applying a voltage of 12V.
The number of poles is also an important component in engines. More poles will have a lower kV value, can reproduce more power, but have a lower number of revolutions. Higher power = larger propellers, higher lift force, higher acceleration. Fewer engine poles will have higher Kv values, output less power, but will have more rpm. Less power = smaller propellers, less buoyancy and less acceleration, but higher speeds. The current used by the motor must not exceed the current flowing through the ESC, since in this case the controller would burn out. It is recommended to use the same engines on a single drone to avoid compromising flight quality and poor drone stabilization. Drone motors come in two forms: barrel and disc shape, which you can see in picture below. Barrel motors have lower torque and are heavier, while disc-shaped motors are lighter and have higher torque, due to the larger number of windings.
4.1. Electric Drone Motors We Chose (Turnigy Multistar)
The engines used on our drone are Turnigy MultiStar 2308- 1400. 1400 stands for KV, which means that when using a 11.1V (3S) battery, the maximum rpm that the engine achieves is 800 times 11.1V. That’s 8880 rpm. That’s enough to blow this box with extra parts into the air. (Of course, you can choose any other type of motors for your drone. List of other motors you have here on Amazon.) They use 14 magnets of different poles for a smoother spin. They must have an arrangement of two motors rotating clockwise and two rotating anticlockwise. They do not have a specific direction of rotation, but their direction of rotation is changed by replacing any two wires connected to the ESC. Only at the top they have different threads depending on their rotation, so that the nut holding the propeller does not unwind when rotating. They work perfectly with a 245mm long propeller on a 3s battery. Each weighs 66g and is 28 x 32mm large. The price of all 4 engines is around $25.
5. Radio Receiver and Radio Station
These two components are used to communicate between the pilot and the drone. The radio is on the drone and receives signals from the radio station at certain frequencies, which it then sends to the control unit.
5.1. Radio Receiver
The main parts of the receiver are the antennas and ports that connect to the control unit. Over a certain frequency, the receiver receives signals from the radio station and modulates them and sends them to the control unit. You can see it on the picture below.
5.1.1. PWM Modulation
PWM (Pulse Width Modulation). With this modulation, the analog signal takes the form of a pulse, and the pulse length indicates a certain value. Each channel has its own wire, so if there are 5 channels on the receiver, there will be 5 wires that go into the control unit and each will send a pulse length. The pulse value is between 1000 and 2000. With switches this means that when the switch is on the value will be 2000 and when off the value is 1000. This modulation is currently the most widespread and most drones use them today. The performance can be seen in above, and the application later in the final paper.
5.1.2. PPM Modulation
PPM (Pulse Position Modulation). This modulation also uses an analog signal. The difference between PWM and PPM modulation is that PPM uses only one wire for all channels. This saves space and is easier to manage. The advantage is easier connection, faster signal transmission and less space.
5.2. Radio Station
The radio station has the following main parts: an antenna, two control sticks, a pair of switches, some of which indicate additional channels, and some switches to tune in the station. The station may operate at different frequencies depending on its receiver. A drone station requires at least 4 channels. The channels used to control the drone are the following: rudder, elevator, aileron, and throttle. There are two basic modes (modes). The difference between the two is for the purpose of control sticks.
5.3. The Frequencies Through Which They Communicate
The most common frequencies they communicate with are: 27MHz, 72MHz, 433MHz, 900MHz, 1.2GHz, 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz. For FPV drones, it should be taken into account that the same frequencies can be used for video transmission. For this reason it is necessary to combine eg 2.4Ghz for drone control and 5.8Ghz for video transmission. Also 2.4Ghz is the frequency used by the wireless router and this may interfere with the signal between the station and the receiver. It is advisable to have a station and receiver at 2.4 GHz and a video signal at 5.8 GHz.
5.4. A Radio Station And a Drone Radio Receiver
The radio station and the radio come together in a package. The frequency used to communicate is 2.4GHz. The measured range was 600 meters, although the instructions read up to 1 kilometer. The assumption is that something was interfering with the signal so the full range could not be used. When using for the first time, the station and receiver must be connected. This is obtained by holding down the BIND key in the lower right corner of the station when putting the station into operation. Thereafter, be sure to start the station first and then the receiver. This station was selected because this drone requires no more than 5 channels and is easy to use and calibrate. The price of the radio station and the drone receiver is about $30. The full list of Drone radio receivers & radio stations you have here on Amazon.
5.4.1. Radio Station We Chose (Turnigy 5X)
The Turnigy 5X 5Ch station is the one we used for our drone (you can choose any radio station). These are 5 channel stations that are easy to use and calibrate. In addition to the basic features, it has the ability to change the mode between 1 and 2 and an additional 5. customizable channel. There are fine calibration keys next to the control sticks to help stabilize the drone. As shown in the picture next. Below are switches that can change the direction of the control sticks. It is powered by 4 AAA batteries or 6V.
5.4.2. Radio Receiver
It comes with the station and supports 5 channels. It only uses modes 1. It has a small antenna that must be properly shielded as any damage will immediately disable the receiver. The receiver connects to the control unit, which depends on its modulation. In this example, PWM is used as shown in the picture on the side. It is powered by a 5V converter. The wires connected to the pins are used to transmit the signal to the control unit, and red and black to power it.
Today, two types of batteries are used: LiHV and LiPo. Both are actually LiPo batteries, but they have some different characteristics. The labels on the battery indicate what the battery is really about. The letter “S” indicates the number of cells connected in series, while the letter “P” indicates how many are connected in parallel. Batteries are made up of identical cells, capacities and other parameters. The last is “C” and indicates capacity.
(Li-Poly, LiPo, LIP) belongs to the group of rechargeable lithium-based batteries. These batteries provide high discharge / recharge currents. They consist of squamous cells. Each cell has a voltage range of 3.3V to 4.20V. The voltage of the cell should never be below 3.1 or 3.3V, as it is very damaging to the battery. Li-Po chargers will not charge them and such batteries are no longer in use.
When they first came onto the market, they were blowing away the previous battery technology. High Voltage Lithium Polymer is similar to a LiPo battery in its construction, but they have higher voltage cells, so they give 4.35 V. The cells cannot be fully charged by the LiPo chargers. The performance of LiHV batteries are incredible.
6.2. Battery We Chose For Our Drone (Turnigy 5.0)
The 5000mAh Turnigy LiPo battery is a great choice as it achieves flight time of up to 15 minutes. It uses 3 series-connected cells that give a maximum of 4.2V each. This battery uses two types of connectors. One is to connect the battery to the soldering board and the other to connect between the battery and the first connector. This ensures that the battery is turned off when the drone falls. These batteries are susceptible to damage or short circuits. In such situations, the battery itself may ignite. It measures 143 x 51 x 23mm and weighs 346g. The price is around $23.
Drones must use as light and quality cameras as possible. Mostly drones use 3 types of cameras, namely: TVL, GoPro and Mobius cameras. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
TVL cameras use two types of sensors: CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) and CCD (Charge – Coupled Device). CMOS sensors are a better choice in most cases. CCDs are mostly made up of analog components, and the design requires a special process that is complicated. Although this makes the evolution of CCD slow, its quality is unquestionable. CCDs are more expensive nowadays than CMOS, although they produce images of the same resolution. CMOS chips do not need such a costly manufacturing process, which is why they are much more used today. However, CCD and CMOS versions of TVL cameras for drones are used today and it is more of a personal choice. Also, a video transmitter is required to get the camera image to the remote screen.
TVL cameras do not have a built-in battery, so they consume the battery needed by the drone. In appearance CMOS and CCD TVL cameras are no different. They use 5V or 12V power depending on the quality of video they can record. The bad thing about them is that they don’t have a built-in video transmitter or have the ability to record video to external memory. For this, they need additional devices to enable this.
7.2. GoPro Camera
These cameras are best known to all adventurers and are also used with drones. They use high resolution recording and have a built-in wireless transmitter and Bluetooth to send video signals. They use a special interface that is installed on a mobile device or computer. They are sorry that some series of these cameras have a short range, and the interface they use on the computer sometimes has to be connected to the internet. They support memory cards that need to be larger than 4GB in order to store snapshots. They have a battery and do not need extra power. They are lightweight and can be attached to the drone in many ways.
8. Quadcopter Use
This drone is designed for personal use, and can be used for hobby purposes. The main feature of the drone is its large range and a quality camera that will give a live image on the screen and at the same time record, for later recording. This mode allows the user to see an overview of the crop live using a drone and whether there were any glitches while flying. All components have been ordered from outside Croatia because they are not available in our area.
8.1. Voltage Converter
Due to the difference in voltage used by certain parts on the drone, each drone must have a voltage converter. It is a small converter that converts the input voltage to 12 or 5V, depending on the need. It’s lightweight and fits into every drone. The price is about $7.
245 mm x 114 mm plastic propellers were used on our drone. 245 mm indicates their length, while 114 mm indicates their width at the point where they attach to the engine. Plastic propellers have been used for this reason that propellers are actually a consumable material on a drone and are the easiest to replace. They are easy to tear off during landing, so it is better to tear down a plastic propeller that costs a few dollars than a carbon propeller that costs up to a hundred dollars a piece. The reason why propellers of this size are used is that they perfectly match this type of engine and battery. Also, 2 propellers rotating clockwise and 2 rotating counterclockwise are used. On the picture it shows how to identify which propeller serves which side of the rotation. This is the list of Plastic Propellers that are available on Amazon.
8.3. FPV Drone System
FPV (First-person view) is a way of controlling the operation of an aircraft through the camera, receiver, transmitter and screen (video glasses) and radio unit. In this way, the pilot feels as if he is in the aircraft itself. The signal is sent by a transmitter that transmits a video signal received from the camera over a certain frequency, while the receiver receives it and sends it to the screen where the image is obtained. Image quality depends on all the equipment, and especially the camera. The range is regulated by the volume of the antenna mounted on the receiver or transmitter. Mostly, stronger antennas are placed on the receiver because they are stronger. When placed on a transmitter, it would reduce the space on the drone and increase its mass.
8.3.1. Camera We Chose (Mobius Action Camera 1080P)
The camera that we used on our drone is a Mobius Action Camera 1080P. She is the right choice for this project because it is lightweight, relatively inexpensive and gives excellent video quality. The only downside is that it does not have a built-in video signal transmitter that must be purchased additionally. These cameras support recording video to a memory card. I can record 1080p video at maximum 60 frames per second. It weighs 39g and measures 61 x 35 x 18mm.
8.3.2. Video Transmitter We Chose (TS351 5.8GHz)
The TS351 Transmitter is a transmitter we chose for our drone and its clocked at 5.8GHz. It connects to 12V and should reach up to 500m. This can be changed by a stronger antenna. The current antenna has 2dB. Couplings and components are shown in the picture.
8.3.3. Video Receiver and Screen
The receiver also runs at 5.8GHz. It uses 12V power and receives video signal through the antenna. The signal is digitized and sent to its output which connects to the screen. The screen used is a 9-inch TFT screen and also uses 12V power. Total FPV equipment that includes a camera, transmitter, receiver and screen costs around $150.
8.4. Assembled Drone With All its Parts
The complete list of parts that we used to assemble our drone and links for ordering it. The picture below shows the assembled drone with all parts:
|Drone With All Parts:||Links to Order:|
|1. Frame||S500 Frame|
|2. Motors||Turnigy MultiStar 2216-800Kv|
|3. ESC||Afro ESC 20A|
|4. Control Unit||CC3D Revolution|
|5. Battery||Turnigy 5000 mAh 20-30 C|
|6. Radio Station||Futaba 6J|
|7. Radio Reciver||TGY-5x|
|8. Camera||Mobius 1080P|
|9. Video Transmitter||TS-351|
|10. Video Reciver||RC-305|
|11. Display||TFT 9 “|
|12. Propellers||plastic 245 mm x 114 mm|
|13. Connectors||XT-60, Bullet|
8.5. Setting up the Control Unit With LibrePilot
Step 1: Compile the drone and download LibrePilot and install it on your computer.
The download page is as follows: https://www.librepilot.org/site/index.html
Step 2: Connect the computer to the control unit via a USB micro USB cable and run LibrePilot
Step 3: Once the computer and control unit are connected, the Vehicle Setup Wizard must be pressed. In this step, the program warns that all propellers are removed from the aircraft.
Step 4: The program offers the option of upgrading the firmware and deleting existing settings. This is the easiest way to reset the control unit if the wrong drone settings occur.
Step 5: The control unit is reset. The settings for model type, modulation and drone type are entered. At LibrePilot it is possible to choose the type of model between helicopters, quadcopters, fixed wing aircraft and vehicles. The modulation type is selected according to the one supported by the control unit and the radio. In this case it is PWM. Finally, the type of drone is selected. There are two types of drones: type X and type +. The frame used for this drone is Type X.
Step 6: The sensors of the control unit and then the speed controllers are calibrated. During calibration of the sensor, the drone must not be moved, and during the ESC calibration the propellers should be removed and the control unit disconnected from the power supply, ie the battery disconnected. The program guides the user through the calibration process.
Step 7: The engines are calibrated and their direction of rotation checked, this action can be done on all the engines at one time or individually, as recommended. The calibration is performed in such a way as to determine the exact start of rotation to determine the moment when a particular engine starts to rotate.
Step 8: The last step to save all settings. After that, it is necessary to calibrate the radio station by which the drone will be operated. The program guides the user through all the steps, and most of them involve moving the joysticks to the endpoints and determining which stick serves its purpose.
Here we have provided a complete and detailed description of how a drone can be assembled from zero. Each procedure and the necessary parts are described in detail. If you have any questions or you don’t understand something, feel free to leave a comment below.