This semester, I was working on the drone team. I flew drones to take pictures and videos of the school, took pictures inside the Elab with the DJI Mavic for 3D models, and began building a heavy duty drone.
Introduction and Goals:
My project focuses on the many uses of quadcopters. Most drones available on the public market are strictly for joy of flight or photography, but there are many more uses. I beleive that while people and companies are working towards big goals and innovative things with drones, they aren’t creating an easy, ready to fly platform for the public. I started learning about drones my sophomore year with Juan, and now I have advanced my knowledge, learning about flying, filming, building, and programming drones.
When I started my project this year, I wanted to create something that wasn’t too difficult to build, and was able to accommodate many different payloads, allowing one drone to serve many different purposes. These could be cameras, radio antennas, sensors, or any number of tools to conduct research or complete a task. I wanted to focus on the aspect of Search and Rescue, mainly utilizing thermal cameras, Radio Direction Finding, and other cameras.
How can drones be used to their full potential, and how can that technology be readily available to the public. I want to find out what it takes to make a heavy duty industrial drone, and find ways to make it easier for the public to acquire.
Planning and Implementation:
I started planning this project last year, after I had finished the small racing drone that I had started with Juan. I decided I wanted to make something more substantial and versatile. When I first started, I really wanted to make a VTOL aircraft, but my vision of that changed as I realized what materials were available. When I changed my vision, I decided to plan something that could lift heavy payloads, perform multiple tasks, and have some form of autonomy. I then designed a basic quadcopter, but got the lightest and strongest materials I could.
Research and Resources
I’ve done most of my research on YouTube. I find a lot of tutorials on how to program transmitters, set up flight controllers, how to solder connections, connect components, and everything inbetween. I’ve also read a lot of forums and manuals, figuring out how specific components work.
At the start of the semester, I did a lot of planning. I had a checklist of parts, and went through it, making sure that I had everything that I needed. I then began assembling the frame. It was a little expensive and I had to put the frame together, but it was worth it. Because it is carbon fiber, it is extremely light, and helps my project goals extremely. I then began attaching components such as the power distribution board, flight controller, PMU, and ESC’s. I think the most exciting part was putting the motors and ESC’s on, because those were the first things I plugged in and they looked really clean and professional. After that, I began soldering and heat shrinking power lines. This took a really long time, because I could only get a couple done each class, but it was extremely satisfying to finish. Keep in mind, throughout this whole project, I also flew and filmed with the DJI Mavic Pro and the DJI Inspire 1, so the building process took a lot longer than if that was my only duty. My favorite part about flying the DJI drones is taking pictures inside the E-Lab for 3D models with the Mavic. Once I finished soldering and heat shrinking, I began trying to get the motors to spin up and the transmitter to connect to the receiver, which is where I am now.
Challenges and Next Steps:
The biggest challenges so far have been with soldering. I’ve had a ton of wires break, and bunch of burnt connections, and some sloppy looking soldering, so I’ve constantly redone it. I’ve made a lot of improvements in this area, and am really proud of where I am now though. Currently, I am having trouble with the transmitter and receiver, especially with getting the inputs from the stick to respond with the motors. That is something I want to fix next semester.
I’m really excited that I was able to finish putting the entire drone together, and I think my biggest accomplishment was that I was able to finish it even with all the other things I’ve been doing with the drones. I was the most excited when I put the ESC’s on and plugged them into the flight controller because that I when it started looking like a drone.
Next semester, I’m going to start by getting the motors to run, and getting the entire drone to be a reliable, stable platform to base other projects off of. Once I get it all up and running, my immediate trial will be putting the vog sensor on it, and trying to create a 3D map with regular imaging and vog data about vog levels through the atmosphere.
Like I said, I’ve come a long way with my soldering, and that is a skill I am very proud of now. I have also learned a lot about quadcopters and flight in general. Something I want to learn more about next semester is coding, so that I can upload my own programs to the drone. That will allow it to complete commands such as autonomous flight, making missions easier and the drone overall more versatile.