Quadcopter Built From Recycled Motherboards

A quadcopter built from a motherboard

[Eric] has figured out a great way to build quadcopters out of recycled computer motherboards. Multicopters come in all shapes and sizes these days. As we mentioned in the last issue of Droning On, they can be bought or built-in a multitude of materials as well. Drones have been built using materials as varied as wood, PVC pipe, carbon fiber, and aluminum.

One of the more common commercial materials is G10 fiberglass sheet. It’s stiff, strong, and relatively light. Printed circuit boards are generally made of FR-4 fiberglass, G10’s flame resistant cousin. It’s no wonder [Eric] had quadcopters in his eyes when he saw a pile of motherboards being thrown out at his university.

[Eric] used a heat gun and a lot of patience to get all the components off the motherboard. With a bit of care, most of the components can be saved for future hardware hacks. This is one step that’s best performed outside. Hot melting plastics, metals, and resin fumes aren’t the greatest things to inhale.

Computer motherboards being cut on a shopbotClean PCBs in hand, [Eric] headed to his local TechShop. He drew his dead cat style frame in SolidWorks and cut it out on a ShopBot. While a high-end CNC cutter is nice, it’s not absolutely necessary. The fiberglass sheets could be cut with a rotary tool or a jigsaw. No matter how you cut it, be sure to wear a mask rated for fiberglass resins and some protective clothing. Fiberglass plate is nasty stuff to cut.

Once the upper and lower frame plates were cut, [Eric] completed his quad frame with some square wooden stock for arms. The final quad is a great flier, and spare parts are easy to source. Nice work on the recycling, [Eric]!

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Droning On: The Anatomy Of A Drone

 

drone3

These last few weeks I’ve been ordering parts for the Hackaday Testbed, a basic quadcopter to be used here at Hackaday. The top question I see when surfing multicopter forums is “What should I buy”. Which frame, motors,  props, speed controller, and batteries are best?  There aren’t easy answers to these questions with respect to larger quads (300mm or more) . There are a myriad of options, and dozens of vendors to choose from.

Advice was simple in the pre-internet days of R/C planes and helicopters: just head down to your local hobby shop, and see what lines they carry. Hook up with a local club and you’ll have some buddies to teach you to fly. This advice still holds true to a certain extent. Some hobby shops carry the DJI and Blade lines of multicopters. However, their flight control systems are closed source. If you really want to dig in and adjust parameters, you have to either buy a combo package with an open source flight control system, or buy every part separately. Unfortunately, very few local hobby shops can afford to stock individual parts at that level.

In the online world there are several “big” vendors. The classic names in the USA have always been Tower Hobbies and Horizon Hobby. Some new US-based companies are All e RC and ReadyMadeRC. Several Chinese companies, including HobbyKing and RcTimer, maintain warehouses in several parts of the world. I’m only listing a few of the big names here. If I’ve left out your favorite site, drop some info in the comments section.

The killer with many of these companies is supply. A popular component will often go out of stock with no hint as to when it will be available again. When it comes to single parts like batteries, it’s easy to just order a different size. But what about motors or speed controls? These components need to be matched on a multicopter. Changing one for a different model means changing all of them, so it pays to buy a spare or two when ordering! Click past the break for a breakdown of some multicopter parts.

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Free Falling Quadcopter Experiments End With Splat

Don’t get too attached to the great picture up above, as the quad shooting it was in a death plunge when the frame was snapped. There’s just something tempting about free fall. Nearly every tri/quad/hex/multicopter pilot has the impulse to chop the throttle while flying around. Most quadcopters are fixed pitch, which means that as power drops, so does control authority. When power is cut, they fall like stones. A quick throttle chop usually results in a few feet of lost altitude and a quickened pulse for the pilot. Cut power for much longer than that, and things can get really interesting.  [RcTestFlight] decided to study free fall in depth, and modified a test bed quadcopter just for this purpose.

First, a bit of a primer on free-falling quadcopters and their power systems.  Quadcopters always have two motors spinning clockwise, and two spinning counterclockwise. This configuration counters torque and allows for yaw control. Most large quads these days use sensorless brushless motors, which can be finicky about startup conditions. Brushless controllers are generally programmed to kick a motor into spinning in the proper direction. If a motor is spinning in reverse at several hundred RPM, things can get interesting. There will often be several seconds of stuttering before the motor starts up, if it starts at all. The controller MOSFETS can even be destroyed in cases like this.

When a quadcopter loses power, the motors slow down and thrust drops off. The quad begins to drop. As the falling quadcopter picks up speed, the propellers begin to spin (windmill) due to the air rushing up from below. If the quadcopter started its fall in a normal attitude, all four of  the propellers will rotate reverse of its normal direction.  The now spinning props will actually act as something of an air brake, slowing the fall of the quad. This is similar to a falling maple seed, or autorotation in a helicopter.  The spinning blades will also act as gyroscopes, which will add some level of stabilization to the falling quadcopter. Don’t get us wrong – the quadcopter can still be unstable as it falls, generally bobbing and weaving through the air. None of this is a guarantee that the quad won’t tip over onto its back – which will reverse the entire process.  Through all of this bobbing, weaving, and falling the flight controller has been along for the ride. Most flight controllers we’ve worked with have not been programmed with free fall in mind, so there is no guarantee that they will come back on-line when the throttle is rolled on. Thankfully many controllers are open source, so testing and changes are only a matter of risking your quadcopter.

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A Collective Pitch Quadcopter

Quadcopters aren’t a new thing, but for all the advances in multi-rotor craft, they all still fall into the paradigm of, ‘stick a prop on a motor and repeat three more times. [Curtis Youngblood], one of the top RC heli pilots in the world, came up with a very cool drive system for a quad, requiring only one motor and granting each blade collective pitch that allows for absolutely insane acrobatic ability.

There’s only one motor inside the Stingray 500, as [Curtis] calls his new toy. It’s at the rear of this quad’s H-frame, attached to a shaft running down the spine with a pair of pulleys. All four rotors are driven by this spinning shaft.

Because [Curtis] is an acrobatic pilot, he needed a way to control his ‘copter in more than one direction. To do this, he added four servos on each arm of the quad, giving each rotor collective pitch, just like the tail rotor of a real helicopter. The result is a quadcopter that can fly upside-down with the greatest of ease, perform barrel rolls, and all the other maneuver a true 3D RC ‘copter can do.

The awesome guys at Flite Test had [Curtis] visit their hangar and had him do an awesome demo flight. You can check out that video below.

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