Attack Of The Flying 18650s

When somebody builds a quadcopter with the express purpose of flying it as fast and aggressively as possible, it’s not exactly a surprise when they eventually run it into an immovable object hard enough to break something. In fact, it’s more like a rite of passage. Which is why many serious fliers will have a 3D printer at home to rapidly run off replacement parts.

Avid first person view (FPV) flier [David Cledon] has taken this concept to its ultimate extreme by designing a 3D printable quadcopter that’s little more than an 18650 cell with some motors attached. Since the two-piece frame can be produced on a standard desktop 3D printer in a little over two hours with less than $1 USD of filament, crashes promise to be far less stressful. Spend a few hours during the week printing out frames, and you’ll have plenty to destroy for the weekend.

While [David] says the overall performance of this diminutive quadcopter isn’t exactly stellar, we think the 10 minutes of flight time he’s reporting on a single 18650 battery is more than respectable. While there’s still considerable expense in the radio and video gear, this design looks like it could be an exceptionally affordable way to get into FPV flying.

Of course, the argument could be made that such a wispy quadcopter is more likely to be obliterated on impact than something larger and commercially produced. There’s also a decent amount of close-quarters soldering involved given the cramped nature of the frame. So while the total cost of building one of these birds might be appealing to the newbie, it’s probably a project best left to those who’ve clocked a few hours in on the sticks.

We’ve seen quite a few 3D printed quadcopter frames over the years, but certainly none as elegant as what [David] has created here. It’s an experiment in minimalism that really embraces the possibilities afforded by low-cost desktop 3D printing, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see it become the standard by which future designs are measured.

31 thoughts on “Attack Of The Flying 18650s

    1. The DIY FPV hobby exists for years now and not a lot of people are interested in further integration of hardware. Further unyfication would reduce modularity and reparability, and both are really important due to common crashes. While for someone outside of FPV hobby this may look like a prototype, it is actualy the most common way of building FPV drones.
      DJI is trying to change it now with their crazy expensive FPV drone which is not able to keep up with any half-serious fpv build, it will probably stay a very niche product in FPV community.

      1. I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t mind putting the RX on the FC at the very least. Wiring and mounting the RX in a build is always my least favorite thing to do, and it always seems like an afterthought by the designers. It is one of the reasons I love my DJI Digital FPV system, no more separate RX floating around! Also, you hardly see individual ESCs on even 5″ builds these days, and I’ve seen more and more people pushing 4-in-1s into 7″ builds. All-in-ones are creeping up into the 3″ and 4″ territory too. On the front page or RotorBuilds I only see a single one with individual ESCs right now and it is an 8″ chonker…

  1. Great to see the FPV community get some attention on HaD! Yay!

    These 18650 builds are newly in vogue for long-range since they have more energy density than the LiPo cell packs we usually fly. The disadvantage was always the low C rating, thus inability to sustain the current draw needed for usual FPV-type flight. But we’ve hit this magic spot where prop/motor/frame combinations are now available that are so efficient that 18650s are feasible for ultra-light builds, and now increasingly popular within the FPV community. I do think the article sort of misses the point on this part of the backstory. No one is doing FPV tricks with this type of build.. The goal was weight and efficient design. The build is for distance not freestyle or racing. And the builder reports that the performance is shabby because probably it is – 10 minutes is amazing flight time but I’m sure punch-outs are quite disappointing.

    1. I mean, are you going to be doing crazy bando rips and face melting punchouts on Li-Ion? No. Can you do smooth flow tricks and still outgun any photography quad out there? Heck yeah. If you build a #microlongrange and expect a 5″ 6S punchout, of course you are going to be disappointed. If you go into it understanding the limitations, and pick up a couple lipos for lower flight time higher excitement rips, I don’t think anyone would be sad. IMO Dave_C’s #microlongrange and partnership with Flywoo to make the Explorer LR has been the best thing to happen to the hobby in the last year or two!!

  2. > 10 minutes of flight time

    And in this design, the battery would be extremely easy to replace. Just carry a handful of batteries for hours of flying.
    Make a slightly larger drone that takes two cells in series, and then you can make them hot-swappable! You wouldn’t even need to land! (Though it might be best…)

    1. From 2021? Can’t be because of the FAA then – they still haven’t figured out how stop shooting STEM and GA in the foot – but their ‘dream regulations’ are probably close behind your nation. The FAA seems to be really good at taking “guidance” from the Chinese Three Letter Toy Company. Pretty sure that once 250g quads become more capable, the anti-flight people (the FAA) will happily “harmonize with other nation’s regulations” to 100g or less.

        1. General Aviation. Small airport private pilots who fly mostly piston (single or dual) aircraft. The FAA’s over-regulation (medical certificate rule rewrites, ‘nanny-state’ certification requirements; unfunded mandates; no-appeal snap noise abatement or “flying too loud in glide-path” fines because Karen MovedToLiveByAirport is having a snit; closing ‘under utilized’ fields; onerous background check requirements; no-knock hangar inspections; ‘random’ flight-line inspections with ‘optional’ fines; fee increases, etc) has gotten so severe that there are folks going either the EAA route (homebuilt aircraft), Ultralights (<254 lb, Category 107) or flying simulators. There are no $100 hamburger flights anymore – now they are closer to $1000. There has not been a truly "new" Category 23 aircraft in decades because the FAA is so slow to approve new engines. And of course, the new drive to get the only things in the air to be either the 'meat in a can' airliners or Amazon delivery drones is not helping one bit.

    2. Which country are you from? You aren’t talking about some EU country, are you?

      Because EU countries got an unifying EU ‘regulation’ (law valid in all EU countries, not a recommendation waiting to be implemented into national laws) which is valid from 1.1.2021.
      But this new law lessens the restriction of many EU nations. You can now do FPV under some conditions and DIY things are allowed and explicitly mentioned in two sub-categories of the ‘open’ category.

      1. Probably Canada,
        now has laws against most fun hobbies. We try not to take it personally, as lamers gotta lame up parliament too. ;-)

        Yet micro-quads are currently still flyable without the two-stage drone licenses.

        Someone should stick a $2.70 ESP32 and 3axis accelerometer on that platform, Has anyone tried four crude bit-banged 3phase motor drivers yet?

      2. Its Hungary. And and those “unifying EU regulation” are not laws, not regulations, just suggestions. Each country has to implement it in its own way.

        Hungary decided to implement it in the following way:
        If its under 120g, does not contain a “data recording device” its allowed.
        If its over 120g OR contains a data recording device (camera) its legal if:
        – you are a licensed operator (not possible to obtain it now)
        – the unmanned aircraft is registered (DIY is not possible, it has to have a manufacturer and a serial number)
        – you have insurance (no insurance company has any that fits)
        – you obtain a airspace usage permit from the Military Aviation Authority at least 30 days prior to flight (not possible, the protocols, forms, etc does not exists)
        – you have to fly it in line of sight (no FPV)

        So basically it illegal.

  3. Hmm, add a mount for a sharp nail pointing backwards towards the battery, ram the drone into something at full speed and you have yourself an incendiary device of some potency. You didn’t hear this from me.

  4. Pretty dang cool! Anyone want to scale it for 16340? Or a pair of them in series? I might finally make a drone.

    Next, an airborne battery swap? Or charging stations on a zeppelin? The mind boggles. And yes. My Zep will use hydrogen or methane. Maybe the charging stations should be fuel cells. OMG!

  5. There is a strange cannister glued into front of this drone that I’m replacing the battery on.
    Perhaps it is a voltage dropping resistor to board underneath?

  6. I would suggest go with 21700 NCM or NCA cell. Better power density in both volume and weight. Heat buildup is higher but since you are running the cell without a cover that shouldn’t be an issue. Samsung has 4ah ones that can do bursts of 35A

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