From DIY quad to a real *@#!ing hot rod!
Earlier in the year I built a quadcopter from the ground up. I figured since I used wireless transceivers, Arduinos, was familiar with I2C, and had built R/C Planes in my youth, it’d be fun do do it all myself. I used an Aduino Nano connected to an mpu6050 6 DOF gyro over the I2C protocol, and flashed MulitiWii onto it to make a flight controller. I used an NRF24 transceiver module for sending and receiving data to a second Arduino Nano which made up the receiver. The NRF24 module did require a capacitor and a 3.3v regulator to operate properly, but when powered properly, it somewhat reliably worked as a receiver and generated the necessary PPM signals expected by the flight controller.
The motors were Turnigy 2212 1000kv, and the electronic speed controllers were the cheapest money can buy RioRand or HobbyPower 30a ESCs off Amazon. I powered everything with a 3s 3000mah Lipo.
The first air frames were made from combinations of scrap plexiglass, wood, aluminum, fiberglass tubes, etc.
All the early versions flew okay, but the frame materials needed improvement, and without a barometer, and magnetometer, the quad was only good for acrobatic type flying, not a mission type planning and sensoring platform I was eventually trying to achieve. I had some spectacular crashes, mostly caused by ESCs failures. A few went up in smoke immediately causing catasrophic failures. Mostly the BECs on the crappy ESCs would fail, causing the flight controller and receiver to fail without the possibility of going into a fail-safe mode.
I scrapped the super budget RioRand and HobbyPower ESCs for Racerstar 30a ESCs, and I replaced the BEC on the ESCs with a Matek power distribution board that provided a more reliable 5 volts to the flight controller as well as the receiver. I regulated the 12v supply on the power distribution board with a 3.3v regulator for the NRF24 module to function properly.
The evolution of my quadcopter continued with replacing the DIY flight controller with a MultiWii Pro that included a barometer, magnetometer, and built in MPU6050. I also attached a GPS unit, and butcher a ton of cables to make that work. Then I fabricated the new air frame from carbon fiber and aluminum, and really achieved what I had expected from my initial number crunching and design 3 months earlier.
I had achieved a functioning quadcopter with GPS, position and elevation holding, and great performance. The only issue now was reliability. I designed the quadcopter with enough of a power to weight ratio to carry expensive sensors over agricultural fields. Having a $9 dollar esc burn out, or a $7 motor fail, and cause damage to some pretty expensive sensors meant I needed to change something.
And this is where my first chapter of DIY quadcopter building ends, and the more reliable Hexacopter build begins. I’m certainly not quitting on quads. In fact, the Loyal Order of Goose team is going to start racing our own mini designs. More on that later. Check out the Hexacopter Build, which includes a full parts list, and documentation of the build process.