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Drones have been around for some time now, but as of recent, they have become more and more popular. Getting your hands on a fairly capable drone is now easier than ever. While prices are coming down and you can head to your local store to pick up a drone with a video camera for a few hundred dollars, there' still something missing from this experience for many.
Why buy a fully functioning drone when you can put your engineering prowess to work by building your very own fully functional drone? Let's take a closer look at just what is required to build your own quadcopter drone as well as what's needed to then program the drone to make it fully functional.
What you'll need to build your drone
There are drone kits on the market that make the task of building your own drone fairly simple. That said, whether you work from a generalized quadcopter kit or build a drone completely from scratch, these are the parts you'll need to get and the steps that you're going to have to take.
The Frame is what will hold your drone together and otherwise make it durable. You can choose from a number of premade quadcopter frames from hobby shops across the internet, or you can build your own frame out of materials you order. In order to build your own frame, you're going to need some engineering knowledge behind aviation design and lightweight but strong materials you can use for the design. You can also use a wood board cutout that's roughly 2.5 centimeters in thickness.
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Motors are going to be crucial in defining how your drone will work and fly. Picking the right motors can make or break the success of your final drone design. With motors, you'll have to take into account how fast they can go, RPM, and how much power they're going to draw to do so. Picking motors affects how heavy your frame can be, how big your battery needs to be, and ultimately how long you can keep your drone in flight.
Electronic speed control units will also be needed to control each of your motors individually. You'll need an equivalent number of ESCs for your drone as you have arms, so a quadcopter would take 4.
Propellers are what will ultimately give your drone its ability to fly, and you'll need to match up your propellers with the motors they'll be mounted to.
3.5mm connectors will be needed to connect up your motors to your ESC and likely 4.5 mm connectors for your power board.
A battery and a power distribution board will make up the power source for your drone. The board connects the ESCs to the batteries and the batteries provide power. You'll also want to pick up a battery monitoring unit so that you can relay battery power back from the drone to your controller.
A mounting pad will help reduce the vibrations encountered by the drone, which will give you more stability in the air. If you're trying to mount a camera to your drone, you're definitely going to need a mounting pad.
Controllers and an RC receiver make up the remote control brains of your DIY drone. You'll need a customizable drone controller and an RC receiver to mount on your drone.
Optional items for your build will be a camera and a memory device. If you're planning on building a camera drone, then obviously you'll need these components to make that happen.
The basic DIY drone build process
The first step to making your own drone with be creating the frame of the drone. Whether you're working from a kit or not, you'll want to make sure that the drone frame is in its final stages of development before you start moving onto the next part, which is mounting motors and electronic control units.
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After your frame is finalized, you'll move onto mounting the motors on the ends of the frame arms as well as mounting the ESCs. Like we mentioned in the parts list part of this article, you'll want to pay attention to sourcing motors, propellers, and ESCs that all work together coherently, that way the build process goes smoothly.
Before mounting the motors, you'll want to drill holes in the frame perfectly sied for the motors' mounting screw holes. After this, go ahead and mount the motors in place.
Once the motors are mounted, you can mount the speed controllers. You'll want to mount these devices on the bottom of the frame to balance out the weight of the drone once everything is assembled. In DIY drones, you'll probably end up using small zip ties or a lightweight glue to mount the ESCs.
After the motors and ESCs are mounted, move on to designing landing gear that will protect the drone in any sort of future landing. Landing gear should be made of materials that are flexible but strong and resistant to shock loading.
At this point, you're ready to mount up and program the flight control system. This is what will control the motors of the drone and otherwise make it stable in the air. You have two options: buy a ready-to-use drone controller, or build one yourself.
Buying a ready to use controller obviously is the easier step here, no programming or troubleshooting after assembly of the physical drone. If you opt to create your own drone controller, you'll want to find some pretty in-depth tutorials that walk you through the process. A decent amount of coding will be involved, and if you don't already know what's needed to perfectly control drones, then there's going to be a steep learning curve.
Finally, mounting the flight controller to the drone is the final assembly step of creating your own drone. You'll want to mount it in the center of the drone quite sturdily. Before you boot everything up and calibrate your drone, make sure everything is perfectly locked into place. Calibrating a drone doesn't really work if after you're done everything just shifts around into new locations.
Finally, after assembling your drone, you'll need to test it and ensure that everything works just as you'd like. You'll want to do several experiments testing the controls and responsiveness of the drone while it's still on the ground, that way this process doesn't end up breaking your DIY drone.