How to build your own quadcopter, step by step

DIY-er [Russell] wanted a quadcopter, and like many people out there, he knew the satisfaction that would come from building it himself. Rather than purchase a kit or follow a set of online instructions, he spent a lot of time researching quadcopters, and eventually put together a thorough tutorial himself.

His Arduino-based quadcopter is named Scout and runs about $1,000 to $1,200 depending on which parts you choose to buy. [Russell] has a complete parts list available on his site, including plenty of alternate component choices for builders on a budget.

He covers the construction process in great detail, discussing frame fabrication and component placement as well as how to program the Arduino for the copter’s first flight. He also takes the time to break down his component list item by item to explain how each piece is part of the greater puzzle, which is great for first time builders.

We love seeing this level of detail when discussing a build process, and as you can see by the video embedded below, his quadcopter looks great!

[Thanks, Willow]

51 thoughts on “How to build your own quadcopter, step by step

  1. error : for the estimated cost, it’s written $1000-$1200 on the blog.

    Still, i didn’t think it would be that expensive.

  2. Yeah, seems really high for me. I Mean his is definitely quality, but I was going to try and build a micro one for about $300.

  3. Well… ARE there any kits out there for a small quad copter? I’ve looked and couldn’t find anything. I would rather buy a kit that doesn’t end up in a mess of wires and then do the programming myself. Too many projects to spend the time researching components and such.

  4. It’s definitely a bit steep. The reason its so expensive is because he’s making his frame out of carbon fiber. If you go with balsa or other simpler materials you should be able to make one of these for under $200.

  5. I’m not discounting the build, or the information. The information is super helpful, and I’m sure I’ll use it when I build mine. I’m just not gonna build a $1200 one. I too wish there was more information about micro-quadracopters.

  6. While I haven’t done any flying robots yet, I have years of experience doing motor control for ground based and the first thing in the video that leaps out at me is the high pitched “angry bees” sound. A lot of that noise is common with off the shelf ESCs that switch in the audible range (usually 4-10KHz) instead of inaudible (>20KHz, though they’ll still piss off any nearby dogs). If you get/modify an ESC to run at a higher switching frequency, you’ll lose a little efficiency but you won’t have that ringing feeling in your ears and a headache after a 48 second flight… Granted the propellers will still be noisy, but a lot less so.
    -Will

    1. Just came across this page trying to build my own. Will, you’re absolutely correct regarding the low frequency noise. I first came across this with an automobile internal fan speed control that I contructed with a quick kit. It used a 2kHz switcher and pissed me right off, so changed it to 35kHz. This meant a bit more heat dissipated in the rotor core, but no further problems.

  7. Lol at Franklyn! Are you suggesting he used 1000$ worth of carbon fiber? When I used some carbon fiber for the R/C foamie plane I built, I bought the CF at the hobby shop and it still wasn’t that expensive. Btw some of the cheap kites have carbon fiber rods in them (yes I know the difference between fiberglass and CF).

  8. openpilot has no GPS capability, and devs are strictly working on openpilot pro, which is a different, unreleased product. Nice product, but if you want UAV functions (gps, sonar, etc) wait for their pro board.

  9. You can build a very good Autonomous quad for under 600. The problem I have with the build is that he used Phoenix ESCs and Rimfire motors. These are expensive and the cheaper Chinese alternatives are around 10-14 bucks each. And I think the Cheaper ESCs work better and are easier to calibrate. Motors get trashed too easily from a crash to be spending $50 or more on them.

  10. The actual build log uses cheaper chinese versions of ESC’s and Motors. Photos were taken back when I was using Phoenix ESC’s and Rimfire motors for testing purposes.

  11. @Mojoe well I was going by the “Would you buy Scout’s Carbon Fiber airframe for around $300?” , that’s a bit ridiculous.

  12. whats scary is nobody here can do this for less than 50 yet most are engineers..yikes

    arduino+expensive motors+expensive remote+carbon fiber+LiPo battery and ‘experts’ are associating it with efficiency..

    The only thing that makes sense here is the power cell..and even it’s probably some unnecessary brand preference..

    none of this differentiates in durability either, this is where the potent fail is..

  13. It seems he did as part of his university thesis which explains looking into the components, level of detail etc.

    See http://vimeo.com/23710274

    Great that this was his way of offering back to the opensource community. Thanks Russell

    Straight to the bookmarks for the day I can spent time on something similar (albeit toned down!)

  14. The intro strikes me as rather strange: It’s ok with me if you do not want to follow the instructions of another (== you’re gonna make more mistakes) and want to built ‘your own’ machine. But then that makes you an instant expert on it so you should write down some instructions for others to follow?
    That sounds like: do as I say, don’t do as I do.
    That ridiculous pricetag also points at a novice expert: Why should I trust some expert which has not yet found the hobbyking?

    As for a more sane price list:
    simple quadcopter: 1 kk multicopter board: 30-50$
    4 ESC’s hk plush : ~40$
    4 motors: ~40$
    lasercut frame 15$
    receiver: 20$
    battery pack: 12$

    If you want to go micro, it gets cheaper as dc pagermotors can be controlled from only one uC (and some FET’s). You will probably need to make your own pcb though, but it functions as a frame too.
    The authors ardupilot setup (nothing micro about that) makes it ~300$ more expensive, but nowhere close to 1000$.

  15. When I was a kid, there was an ad in the back of popular science: “Send us $12 and we’ll send you the plans for a working helicopter” I sent away for it, they sent me a sheet of paper that says “we’re going to build a helicopter. yep, that’s the plan.” If anyone knows where those people are located, please let me know. I’d like to talk to them…

  16. OK, I’ve built the arducopter, a tri copter and now onto making a mamoth heavy lift quadcopter. The ardu copter is around $800.00 or so now. Have a look at DIYDRONES.COM
    Hobbyking sell a quadcopter stabilisation module for under $40.00, giving that a try for the big one. No autonomy though. Give it a go, they are great fun! If you cant build then by a AR PARROT thats controlled by the iphone or android phone for around $350.00

  17. As of right now, the website says $600-$1000, and “This price is for everything, if you have your own radio, batteries, charger, tools, etc. then the price to build Scout will be considerably less.” So it wouldn’t be too terribly difficult for a well-stocked hacker to shave off a few hundred from that; a motor here, some pieces of frame there, replacing the tricky carbon fibre with aluminum, and it starts to add up quickly. The most expensive part, however, as has been said in previous comments, is the whole “Intelligence” setup. The Xbees alone cost just over $80, plus $220 from the ArduPilot/IMU, so there’s $300 right there that you can take off if you have/can build something to take its place. Honestly, I always thought that while the ArduPilot itself isn’t too bad (mostly because it’s quite thin), the IMU is, while a brilliant little piece in and of itself, not worth the money if you don’t mind putting a little more work into your toy. And let’s be honest, if you’re building a quadcopter more or less from scratch, you probably wouldn’t mind.

    All that being said, it’s a wonderful write-up, even if a bit sparse on the details. Now, if I could just get bothered to design and build one of my own…

  18. Cool a link of mine made it =)

    Regarding the price, I’ve looked through Russel’s blog a few times over as I’ve been planning a quad of my own for months. The overall estimate of $1000-$1200 is if you literally have nothing and are starting from scratch.

    IE, you need to buy a Tx/Rx, batteries, bolts, etc. If you have some of this stuff or will be going bare-bones, cost is much less.

    For example on my first quad I will be using carbon fiber like he did (it’s actually not that expensive for the basic framework). In addition I won’t be following his components exactly. I’ll buy CF for the framework and that will be similar but my parts will be different, as will my setup.

    First I’ll get the materials for just the frame, the motors and whatever is necessary to hold it together. Then I’ll build that and only once I do that will I get the ESC’s and other electronics and do custom wiring from there. I liked his simple build but didn’t like the exess weight of the wiring he used; he did it to keep it simple and plug/play, what I’ll do is all of my own wiring and ducting and have no slack leftover. Less slack = less weight.

    I already priced what I wanted.. materials for the frame, the cost of motors and props total are like $145. That’s honestly not bad. At the least I could add a simple radio and battery and be done.

    One large portion of cost is the Ardupilot setup he uses (which I will also use), which adds almost $300.. but it’s a very refined opensource setup complete with full autonomous programmability and integration capabilities with FPS kits.

    It looks like others have already posted links to other solid resources for similar projects, I encourage others to check them out. I found Russel’s to be a well-executed project build blog.

    Russel: Love the work buddy. Great job on the blog, and thank you for even thinking of including the “bulk order copy/paste” for McMasterCarr.. very awesome.

    For anyone interested in a quick simple kit, check out the Gaiu 330X-S Quad kit (http://www.amazon.com/Gaui-330X-S-Flyer-Scorpion-Motors/dp/B003YQMC9Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1311857668&sr=8-1). They can be had for $400 or less. Just add a radio.

  19. SILLY!!! Carbon Fiber frames are NOT expensive, just go buy a cheap carbon fiber fishing rod and use a high-speed saw to cut into the lengths you need. Sand off the ends, seal with silicone caulking and done deal for about $10…

  20. i built my hexa for about 500$ excluding batteries.. and 200$ of it was for controller

    1100-1200 is already quite expensive i’d say..

  21. Is it possible to build a quadcopter for $100 or less? It doesn’t have to be big or super powerful. I just want to build something that can fly without spending too much money. Does anybody have any links to cheap build guides?

  22. Can anyone suggest a kit to build something similar with a 12 year old. Though everything I read here is cool its pretty complex.
    I’m more of a model train builder.
    Thanks all you guys doing this diy project. I have enjoyed reading everything and watching the videos.

  23. This Scott quad is crap. the price this guy is charging is stupid. Go to rc groups.org and you can build a lot better unit for a lot less. The guys over there are great and they sell a lot cheaper than this guy.

  24. Actually you can get pretty close to $100 …
    complete 6ch Tx Rx for about $25, 4x brushless 900Kv motors 50gr at $7 each, 4x 18A ESCs for $11 each, 4x props 9×5 at $1 each, 1x quad flight controller for $24 and one 3S 2200mAh Lipo for $12 all from hobbyking.com and some 15mm square aluminum tube or 15mm square wood rod (30cm arms) for about $3 from any hardware store

  25. What spec motors and props would I need to be able to attach a go-pro camera to a quadcopter? anyone have some suggestions?

    Cheers.

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