Homemade UAV


[Terence Bordelon] sent in his impressive UAV (Unmanned Arial Vehicle). The hack is a culmination of his other projects. It can be turned to fully automatic at the flip of a switch. It will fly itself to gps way points, land, and take off. The UAV has a range of 100km thanks to his home built RF Unit which runs on ham bands. The brains of the setup is his custom IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit). The unit is controlled by his ground station which either allows him to fly it normally or toggle through the various modes.  [Terrence] is also a game developer and has worked on many popular titles such as Zoo Tycoon 2 and Ratchet and Clank.

48 thoughts on “Homemade UAV

  1. “which runs on ham bands” = 5 Watts of RF power in the 430 mhz HAM/ISM band

    Right on, TJ! Looks great. Shop around that “auto-land” code. Your routines are probably more valuable than the design.

  2. @Ohear

    I was under the impression that civilian GPS isn’t accurate enough to do, say, a bombing of a small target, and any UAV with enough lift to carry serious weapons would be pretty hard to build.

  3. Forget flying bombs into things I want to build one of these to fly drugs into America I’ll be rich!~ Make it ultra light out of balsa wood and carbon fiber with none of the heavy surveillance equipment and pack it full of drugs. Really I wouldn’t be flying the drugs into America but you could sell these planes to RC hobbyist drug lords to use for their own entertainment.

  4. @no1uknow:

    UAVs would not be so good for running drugs because they have pretty low payload capacity, especially over the long ranges that they would actually be useful. Considering the relatively low cost of materials it is still much more effective to run large shipments with the expectation that some of them will be intercepted.

    HOWEVER, while they would not be good for transporting drugs, I imagine UAVs would be pretty darn useful for scouting out border patrol.

  5. Option #2: Set your South African ISP as a waypoint, give the plane a flash drive payload and have it transport information for you faster than the internet, elevating sneakernet to new heights (NPI).

    I just want to be able to say “Is my email in time for the 4 o’clock post?” :)

  6. 5 watts in the 440Mhz bad will get out pretty well line-of-sight too.

    Very cool setup!
    Years ago I built a wheeled ROV with the intention of doing similar stuff.
    While my platform is great, the rest is too obsolete and needs to be completely re-fitted to attain coolness levels of THIS magnitude.

    Great work and 73 DE N2NLQ!

  7. Yawn, many people have been doing this. You can get a Complete UAV board kit from sparkfun. Hell you can add in a cellular comms system so you dont have to communicated via short range RF but use the Cellphone network.

    This would have been news 4 years ago, but now anyone can make a UAV if they can solder and code.

  8. very cool! i too thaught about using a cellphone for controlling a uav over long range. until which altitude above ground would that work?

    anyone who can solder and code can hack so your post just is a dumbass post

  9. @schlomo Call me when you have “hacking kits” you can buy and have it running in a single afternoon.

    Because they freaking have complete UAV kits with code to get you started. I can build a UAV like his in 1 evening with the kits available.

    Big difference there.

  10. @farthead
    as i already said, dumbass post (#2 now)

    >You might cry “Oh no! YADA!” for “yet another >drone aircraft”. But this autopilot system is far >from a repackaging of 3rd party modules and kits >from mail order websites. I completely scratch >built this system from the chips on up[…]

    so wtf

  11. I tried to use the kits everyone is talking about. They all require lots of work. Plus I was generally unsatisfied with them. I know there are a few $1k autopilot units, but all the sparkfun / Adruino kits require loads of custom work anyway.

    I think the interesting thing about my project is simply that I did it from scratch, and it is possible for 1 person to build a UAV from the boards up without starting with someone else’s stuff.

    Maybe in a year or so, a cheap autopilot will be available for a few hundred. But a plug and play version at that price point doesn’t exist.

    But that’s not the point. The point is that I had a blast and made a UAV from chips. You can go buy many of the things on this site and have one in 15 seconds. But where’s the fun in that?

  12. OH- no none of this stuff is complicated. That’s my point.

    I’ve written an article for Circuit Cellar on the IMU algorithm. It’s 15 lines on non-PHD code. I think it’s the simplest IMU code I’ve come across. Very easy to visualize. The point is always (For me) to roll your own for maximum fun and learning.

    The auto land and autopilot stuff are a handful of feedback loops. Nothing too complicated.

    And to cmholm: I have signed no such contract, nor do I intend to give away government owned secrets. I have none anyway. All this stuff is public domain. I’ll never understand the reasons people think UAVs are some secret weapon. I think anyone who wants to build one can do it now. I hold no secret sauce aside from my IMU algorithm, and the only advantage there is the simplicity.

    It’s far cheaper and more effective to make a swarm of autonomous Honda civics! Their payload capacity is higher anyway, plus you can install bass tubes and neon under them.

  13. @Tj

    Very, very awesome work. Boards look professional grade, and from what you say, the performance is too.

    Took a look around your site, and all I can say is “holy crap.” You, sir, are a god among mortals.

  14. Tj Bordelon, you’ve put together some great stuff, some of which I hope I can play with on a patched up old (expendable!) glider in the garage. I wasn’t too sure about the IR-based attitude sensing, and you’ve worked around it.

    Re: ITAR, if all but a few subsequent code tweaks of your work is already out there, great. I had noticed the previous IMU stuff in your portfolio, which reminded me of the travails of others (working on more sophisticated stuff) who forgot that there’s no Constitutional right to “export” tech, contract or no.

  15. As Tj Bordelon points out, we in the US are rather limited in what we can legally do, rather than what’s technically possible. For instance, Art Vanden Berg’s autonomous glider would have landed him in hot water if he were south of B.C.

    We can fly an autonomous UAV, but for now it’s gotta stay below 400 ft AGL, within visual range, and with immediate operator override. Needless to say, that’s putting a crimp into my dream of lofting one to 90kft.


  16. Could one get away with busting the FAA regs? For most locales away from busy airports, probably. But, the skies have eyes, and who just wants to go fly once? Hence, the party line on the DIY UAV wikis is to just say no, until such time as the FAA loosens up. If regulators start seeing evidence of unauthorized autonomous long distance and/or high altitude flights, it’s just going to make life difficult for hobbyists.

  17. Back when me and my dad were into flying RC planes, we had one of these:

    Never put it together, but its a pretty big gas (well actually diesel nitro-methane) kit. Able to haul quite a bit at a decent speed..

    If speed is not a concern, the Lazy Bee kit
    (http://clancyaviation.globalhobby.com/lazybee.htm) is a high lift design that can take off in about 5 feet. It’s not that big but I kinda remember a larger version of the original being sold.

    The only issue would be running a gas powered UAV. So far I haven’t seen anybody do this, although I’ve been itching to give it a shot.

    Anyways, hope this helps anyone seeking payload capable kits for a UAV.

  18. Holy shit, apparently there’s the Super Flyin’ King now (http://www.btemodels.com/sfk.html).

    In the FAQ for the kit, the designer discusses payload capabilities:

    “Oooh, that’s tough to answer without actually testing. My guess is it that it wouldn’t even breathe hard with ten pounds of payload. Twenty pounds should be very manageable with careful piloting. More than that and I’d consider some beefing up in certain areas.”

    That’s a lot of cameras/cocaine/ANFO/etc…

  19. Disclaimer:

    I do not advocate carrying any illegal payloads, or operating a civilian UAV for any purpose other than those deemed legal by the appropriate governing authorities.

    Any of my comments that contradict the above statement were made for dramatic/humorous effect and should thereby not be taken seriously or otherwise construed as intent or advocacy for any action.

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