Drone – FPV

I haven’t written about the drone recently, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been flying. I’ve been learning how to fly “line of sight” all summer, and it’s fun but it’s very difficult. You have to get it in your head that if your front lights are facing you, that your controls are entirely reversed. That could be possible, but what hasn’t been possible is all of the combinations in between!

Russ picked up some FPV goggles and I gave them a whirl and was instantly sold that this was the thing to do.

First, a cat in a box.


As with all drone things, we had to pull it all apart again. Added to the list of gubbins that had been in there before was a PWM->PPM converter (I don’t truly understand why), a camera and a video transmitter. The last two allow the drone to transmit video signals, to be picked up by my goggles.


A photo of the whole mess put together. We didn’t get to fly that day because it took too long to assemble. Thankfully, assembly is fun too!


The goggles.


A photo of the goggle screen displaying something from the camera.


A couple days later we went to a nearby Burnaby park and flew around a bit. Here’s a side photo of my drone. The yellow thing on the left (at the bottom) is a camera mount that Russ 3D printed for me. It allows me to change the angle of my camera (and also holds the camera in the frame).

The yellow thing at the top is my GoPro mount, which is likely not going to see too much use. My new FPV camera can take SD cards to record to, so I’ll likely do that. Not to mention I busted the GoPro and the GoPro mount. >.>

On the far left in blue is my video transmitter antenna. I now know more about antennas than I ever thought I would. 5.8ghz, circularly polarized cloverleaf antenna with a simple plastic cover to prevent it from getting mangled from the (repeated) falls.


This is a photo of Russ’ drone in a tree. 😀


This hobby just got so much more amazing. It has all of the fun of playing a cool little video game/flight simulator, but with the immediacy of real life. To nerd out a little, it’s like the difference between Diablo and Diablo on Hardcore mode. The latter makes you really sit up and pay attention, and flying this thing is very much the same!

I’ll try to get some video recording, but unfortunately I left all my SD cards at home for the flying this time. But there will be more!

Drone – Breaking Stuff

Russ and I have been having a small contest about who can break the most stuff while flying. The other day I broke one of my wings, in addition to 4 legs and 4 props. My frame is not a common one, so I had to get 4 new arms custom made. to keep it balanced right. The up side is that when I break the next leg, the guys who made these arms can make me 4 new ones and I’ll only need to replace one leg!

imag1731.jpgIt’s getting to be nicer out, and I look forward to learning how to fly this thing without flying it into the ground repeatedly! Right now our problem is that we fly in tennis courts because the grass is so wet and our electronics are so exposed.

Drone – First Day Flying

Things moved quickly once our parts came in. I think that’s the story of this project — “hurry up and wait for parts”.

We both got functioning machines assembled and had to quit for the night. I then spent many hours researching software tuning, configuration, etc, because while I can’t wrap my head around volts and circuit diagrams as well as when I was in Physics 12, I can understand computer software and command line stuff.

We had a minor blip where one of the calibration processes killed Russ’ ESCs, but we had 2 spares so he replaced them, re-calibrated and was all good. Then outside.

It was a cold, but clear day at Strathcona park.


We brought a camp table to put our laptops. Yeah, this hobby has laptops at the park. 😛


This is my little copter!


Our collection of broken propellers. We dramatically dropped our prop-killing frequency when we turned off the failsafe feature. This feature keeps your motors spinning when the copter loses radio. The idea being that if it loses radio while in the air, it can slowly float to the ground. However, in our case mostly we were shutting off our receivers after it had crashed into the tennis court fence, or the tennis court tennis net, or just the ground, and having the motors still spinning meant they were snapping off.

I had one super embarrassing moment when I lost control, and it started to come down, but then …I think it lost radio, and just fell out of the sky from 20 feet…about 8 feet from a local jogger. That could have been so much worse. >.<

That fall broke one of my copter arms, which we epoxied back together (but it isn’t perfect). I also chopped off an antenna because it was floating around, so now my receiver has only 1 antenna. (which doesn’t seem to be working great) And lastly, my receiver isn’t always turning on anymore. And we don’t quite know why.

It continues to be both an interesting, and a frustrating hobby. But at least it’s a hobby that gives a good amount of research. <3 researching things. 🙂

Drone – Motors, with some control

My spare PDB didn’t come in, so I’m left with a drone that looks like this:


That white thing in the middle is my “good enough” PDB, but it doesn’t fit in my frame. So I can’t assemble it all.

We got to the point where we were confirming incoming signals, and confirming outgoing signals, but couldn’t get incoming signals to create outgoing signals. Which meant that something was going wrong in the flight controller. It turns out, that for Russ’ board at least, the wiring diagram was completely wrong. We re-wired it and got immediate success!

Russ started then to assemble his stuff for real, with lock-tight and everything, while I got my own parts configured enough that once that damn PDB comes in, I’ll be in the same place he is. Shipping from Asia…

Here’s a photo of Russ’s drone, before the top plate got put on. It was wicked fun to hand-fly this thing around the room, as it’s so close to being a flyable device!




Drone – Letting the Magic Blue Smoke out

With the wedding done (and the ring done), Russ and I can put more attention on building our drones. The weather may stop us from flying for a bit, but building is a lot of fun! (and occasionally frustrating)

My PDB came in, which was conveniently timed for when I had more time. And it fit, unlike the last one. Here’s a photo of the correct PDB, and coincidentally the incorrect one is that white board below it.


This is also a photo of the Magic Blue Smoke not being inside anymore. If you look carefully at the board, there are 2 black chips in the middle of it. The left chip has a hole in it. Why does it have a hole in it Craig? If you look at the right of the board, at the top is a section labelled “5V” and below that still on the edge is a section labelled “12V”. That “12V” is not for 12V of input. It is for 12V of output. Output. It turns out that if you put 12V into the output, that chip on the left sparks, and the Magic Blue Smoke escapes through a hole that’s just been created. No bueno.

There’s still lots to do, so while it’s silly that I have to order yet another board, it’s fine. The board will arrive in a couple weeks, and in the meantime I’ve soldering all of my parts to the wrong board (the white one), because it still works as a PDB, it’s just the wrong size. Russ, who has a working and correctly sized PDB, has screwed all of his parts onto his copter frame and has something that resembles a copter.

However, functionality wise they’re in the same place. We plugged the receiver in, plugged the battery in, bound the transmitter to the receiver and…nothing. We thought the little motors would spin up.

We assumed that something needed configuring in the flight controller (FC), so we plugged that in and started poking around. No luck. And in the meantime, Russ snapped the USB port off his FC, so now we needed to figure out how to use the bluetooth module with it. We have bluetooth modules, but I’d been waiting to figure them out. No longer…

We had some pizza and mucked about until it was time to put it all done.

I’m surprised that I’m not frustrated by my PDB exploding. I guess I’m just taking it in stride that electronics take time and patience, but it’s very unlike me. 😛 I remember building a computer with my Dad in the early 1990s for the first time, and the weeks of trying new things and playing until it finally turned on without beeping endlessly at us. This is no different, except that now we have the internet (we had internet then, but it wasn’t nearly as populated!).

Drone – The sound of little motors

I’m stuck right now because the PCB I bought doesn’t fit on my frame (round peg, square hole problem) so I ordered another one and am waiting for it to arrive (and my local postman is a fucking idiot who can’t figure out “16th floor” means “put it in the mail slot for 1600”). We decided to assemble the motor system so we could figure out what direction the props were spinning in — you need 2 to spin clockwise and the other 2 to spin counter-clockwise.

We soldered the ESC to the motor, plugged the receiver into the ESC, and used some alligator clips to connect the battery to the ESC. Then we turned on a transmitter for the first time! It was super exciting when, minutes later, we had a motor spinning!



The problem was that the motors were (mostly) all spinning the same direction, which was bad because we thought we’d crossed enough wires to have half spin the other direction. We starred at them for a long while. Russ had 1 motor that was spinning counter-clockwise, and we couldn’t figure out how it was different from another one that was wired identically, but was spinning clockwise. Until I noticed that one of the two ESCs was upside down (it’s just a bundle of wires and micro-controller wrapped in black electrical tape…). Russ unsoldered it, and re-did it right side up and it spun counter-clockwise! He’d accidentally done one of his correctly!

Unfortunately, I’d accidentally done none of mine correctly, so I spent some time right it all.

Hoping my PCB comes in soon so I can assemble the brains of the copter!


(Using terms possibly wrong: every writer/blogger I read says “PCB” and I didn’t know what that stood for. It’s “printed circuit board”. Which is correct…but not nearly specific enough. In this context, the PCB is a “power distribution board” and should be initialismed “PDB”. But no one does, that I can see.)

Drone – Another Hobby

I like typing, and I hope you like reading, so I’m going to write a bit about a new hobby for the winter – First Person View drone racing.

The hobby, for me, starts a lot earlier than actually racing with actual FPV. About a month ago Russ asked if I wanted to get into this. The price seemed right (like all hobbies, the price was a lie), so why not. We started from this article, which outlines all of the things you need to build a really inexpensive drone from parts. Which is why I’m writing about it here, because it involves building things!

The price started at $250ish USD, as the article says. We got the parts shipped from Banggood, no problem. I told Russ that I needed to focus on the ring first, as without the ring my wedding was going to end up a disaster and that took priority! We got started on this while waiting for the ring investment to bake. 🙂

The article pretty much outlines the parts you start with, so go read it rather than me writing it all down in summary again.


A pile of parts. My first task was to figure out what bits I needed first, and what I needed last, because I need to get this pile organized before I can start.

Russ and I set out the bits in a draft circuit, like this.


The battery connects to the power distribution board (aka a PCB). The ESC (electronic speed control) connects to the PCB for power, and the flight controller for instructions. The ESC connects on the other side to the motor. The flight controller connects on the other side to the receiver, which gets instructions from the transmitter (not shown).

You need 1 battery, 1 PCB, 4 ESCs, 4 motors, 1 flight controller and 1 receiver. Oh, and a frame. And tools to put it all together.

We assembled and re-assembled the frame a few times. Because the base is made of 2 layers, sometimes I needed to get a screwdriver into that thin area between them, so I had to take it all apart again. It’s a lot of screws to take the base plate off!


When we had our little panic moment with the ring, the drone was left like this. I’d screwed the flight controller into a little bed so it wasn’t directly touching the frame (something about vibration control) and had screwed one of the motors onto one of the legs.

I still need to figure out exactly where my PCB is going, because the more I look at it, the more it doesn’t fit at all in this frame. Some minor futzing around is necessary.



Russ and I are each building our own planes, so by the time we’re done we’ll have one each to go fly around. 🙂

The last thing to mention, and the part about the price being a lie, is that I needed to buy a transmitter. So I could control the thing. Turns out the transmitter of best use was $170, and the receiver component was $70! Almost doubling the cost of the rest of the parts!

Building things is wicked fun! I’m stoked to sit and solder things together to build a little plane! 😀