How To Build Your Own Drone

A DIY drone is within your grasp.

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You may remember Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer as the guy who cut his finger on a drone, delaying his start in an American League Championship series game two years ago. A mechanical engineering student in college, Bauer taught himself how to build drones in 2014. He explains the basic components you need for each.

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Frame

Carbon fiber offers the best blend of strength, weight, and durability. That’s great for when you’re starting out and crashing a ton. Buy one that uses 5-inch propellers from companies like SpaceOne or ImpulseRC.

Battery

Industry standard is four-cell.

Motors and Propellers

Motors are rated in kilovolts, or rpm generated per volt. Higher kilovolt options are more responsive, but they burn through the battery faster. Starting out, you want a less aggressive freestyle motor and propeller set. Stick to a thrust-to-weight ratio of 4:1. So if your frame, battery, motors, and any other major components weigh 500 g, you need motors that will give you 2 kg of thrust, or 500 g per motor. The more experienced you get—and the faster you want to fly—increase that ratio.

Brain

Flight boards do the calculations that keep drones in the air. An electronic speed controller (ESC) delivers those calculations to the motors. Keep it simple by getting an ESC that can take direct input from the battery, so you don’t have to get a power-­distribution board.

Vision

To see what the drone sees, you’ll need a small security camera, video transmitter, and viewing goggles. Fat Shark goggles are the most popular, but any 5.8-gigahertz camera and transmitter will work. Use a circular polarized antenna to connect your goggles to the transmitter. There are two polarizations, right-hand and left-hand. Make sure the antenna has the same polarization as your goggles.

Control

Choose a handset that transmits in 2.4 GHz and can connect to your computer with USB so you can practice on simulators. Drone Racing League has a good free option. You’ll have a chance to crash without destroying your drone.

Programming

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You have two main firmware options: KISS and Beta Flight. Beta Flight is open source; KISS is closed. Flash your board with the firmware and then calibrate the settings to make sure everything talks correctly. It can be daunting. How do I get my propellers to spin? Why is this one spinning the wrong way? Luckily there are a lot of guides out there—YouTube, forums, Facebook groups—that you can use to help.

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