DRONES ARE COOL.
Now, after I said it, it's time to deal with the real thing. For a while I've wanted to build my own quadcopter. I've seen people posting very easy tutorials for building one, but it always felt like it's "too simple". I have found many websites with reading material about so many subjects regarding the different parts and ways you can build a good quadcopter. Especially since you have so many parts in this system that should work together.
Most important part is that after you build a simple quadcopter, you want to scale it up, and add some more "brains" to it.
I tried to collect all the best and most professional information I've found online, together with some tips for building it, and hope that you will find it useful.
My main goal is to be able and make it easier for amateurs to build their own quadcopter, and publish it, so we can all benefit from the crowd's knowledge.
Hope you will like it, I really enjoyed building it :)
Step 1: Supplies
Personally, I think this is the most important part, when starting a project like a quadcopter. There is so much information on the web about every part, from picking the right battery to using the right cable so it won't burn up.
Since most of the parts better be ordered online, and since sometimes it takes too long for it to arrive, I had to come with the perfect list, and get them in one package so I can start my work as fast as possible.
Eventually it took couple of tries, had to test few things before the project actually worked, but - learning from my mistakes, you can order the supplies I've written below (or similar), and it should work fine!
I ordered everything from GearBest, which I found the best for ordering this stuff (and free shipping). You can also find pictures of everything that was ordered. Enjoy ;)
- 20cm 8 Colors Polyolefin Shrink Tubing Tube Set (8 x 8 PCS)
- FA410034 Universal 12 - Way 100A Multi - rotor Power Distribution Hub Board
- IMax B6 Lipo NiMh Battery Balance Charger
- YKS 11.1V 25C 3000mAh Li - polymer Battery
- RC Model QQ SUPER Multirotor Flight Control Board
- Special Design 10 Pairs 3.5mm Banana Bullet Connector
- 4 x 30A Controller ESC + 4 x 2212 1000KV Brushless Motor + 4 x 1045 Prop
- 450X - Mode Alien Multicopter Quadcopter Frame (with Landing Gears)
- 2.4GHz 6CH FS-i6 Transmitter with Receiver
- 10 paris of XT60 Connectors
- Red and black wire (AWG12)
- Nylon Spacers
Step 2: Assembling the Frame
When looking at the main board we can see three parts:
- On the left - The camera mount.
- In the center - The power distribution board mount.
- On the right - the battery mount.
Make sure you choose the wings to be on the same color on the front/back, you can see that at the pictures.
Wings to Bottom (plus landing gears)
First we screw the wings to the bottom part. The board should have holes exactly for the wings, so make sure you place them in the right place. Don't screw it too hard, since we need to take that out later on.
If you want to avoid taking it out later on, use the landing gears and the longer screws to make sure the bottom part stands on these landing gears, which will make sure our camera doesn't get hit by the ground when landing.
Wings to Top
Using the same screws as before to connect the top part to the wings, make sure that you use 4 screws for each wing in this part as well. As I suggested to you before, don't screw them too hard since it might be useful to take it off later on when placing the distribution board.
The mount comes under the bottom board using the silicone connectors.
Try to be gentle with them, as they might get cut very easily.
Screw the metal spacers between the upper and the bottom boards, so you can fit the battery perfectly inside.
If you haven't connected them yet, unscrew the bottom board and replace the screws with the longer ones, so you can fit the landing gears just below the board.
Step 3: Preparing the ESC and the Motors
The ESC (electronic speed controller) and the brushless motors come without any connectors. In order to prepare them so eventually we can connect them together to the power board, we need to make sure it is easy to connect and disconnect them if needed.
For this step we use the 3.5mm bullet connectors. By soldering the female connectors to the motors and the male connectors to the ESC we are able later on to connect them, and if needed, to change the way we wired them.
Soldering the 3.5mm bullet connectors is very easy. If you look closely you can find a hole in the side of each connector (as shown on the picture above). Here's an easy way to solder them:
- Hold (not with your hand, since it gets super hot) the connector.
- Hold the wire you want to solder the connector to. Make sure it is placed correctly inside the connector.
- Touch with the soldering iron in the connector, wait for few seconds so the connector get hot.
- Place the tin inside this hole and let it melt until you fill the connector.
- Let it cool for couple of seconds.
Step 4: Making a Battery Connector
The battery I have decided to use connects through an XT60 connector. Since we want the battery to be removable, and in general every piece in this quadcopter should be removable in case we decide to upgrade one of the parts in the future or if something broke down.
It is probably possible to find such a connector online, but I think it's pretty easy to make, so no need to spend extra money here :)
In order to make the connector we need an XT60 connector and couple of AWG12 wires. I think it is also possible to use thinner wires, it's really up to the battery you're going to use in your quad.
As you can see, soldering isn't that complicated here, just make sure you follow and connect the red wire to the positive side.
Step 5: Preparing the Power Distribution Board (PDB)
This is the last part of where we need to solder. Now we want to prepare the Power Distribution Board.
Why do we use such a board?
Well, it's not mandatory to use such a board, but I highly recommend on getting one.
First, it makes much more order on your quad: soldering is very easy, wires aren't going lost and tangled.
Second, it protects your ESC. In case you do something wrong, the board protects the ESCs and distributes the power as equal as possible (or by demand).
Third, the PDB I have used holds some cool features such as 5V ports (if we want to connect a raspberry pi or an arduino for premium features), and has LEDs all around it.
If you're still not convinced and prefer saving these couple of bucks...
Just solder all the '+' together, and all the '-' together. Power should be distributed fine, and you'll be ok to go :)
OK, I wanna use the board, now, what should I do ?
- Battery Connector Installation - Identify the Vin+ (Voltage in) port, and the GND next to it. We need to solder the red wire to the Vin+, and the black wire to the GND. Since we use very thick wires (AWG12), you should try to flat the wires a bit. As you can see on the board, there are small holes on the surface you need to solder the wires on. Before you go and solder the wires, solder some tin on top of that, and look behind the board if you see the tin catches the board from both sides, this way our soldered wires will catch the board better. After doing that, you are ready to solder the wires.
- ESC Connectors Installation - I was lack of AWG16 wires (and was too lazy to find some on the local electronics store) so I have used some old speakers wires, which are the same, and did the work. Make sure you use some female bullet connectors, so we can connect the ESCs later on.
In case you want to check everything is ok, I'd recommend on connecting the battery and first see that the blue LEDs on the board turns on. Use a multimeter and verify you get ~12V at the Vout and GND ports as well. If so - let's check the ESC connectors and verify we get a solid ~12V there as well. If everything is well, means you're a kickass solderer, and ready for the next part :)
Step 6: Mounting the Power Distribution Board
We are getting closer for our first test run, and in this step we mount the power distribution board to the quadcopter. It is extremely important to mount the board use plastic spacers. There are many cases I have found online where people mounted the board to the carbon and shortened the board.
Find some cheap spacers (or make ones) and mount them to the round mounting holes you can find on the quadcopter itself.
In case you haven't noticed, the power distribution board has some blue LEDs that are turned on when connected to a power source. I have chosen to place the power distribution board with the face down, so one can see the LEDs from below.
Step 7: Mounting the Motors
Our frame has mounting holes for the motors which already fit the motors (without using the metal X frame). I have decided to use longer screws and have the metal X frame between the motor and the frame so the wires that come out of the motor won't make it be unbalanced.
Make sure that you mount all the motors in a way the wires direct to the inside, and that all the motors are well connected.
Step 8: Mounting the Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs)
The Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs) are the way we can monitor the speed of the motors. You should connect the wires as below:
- ESC Input - Black and red wires should be connected to the GND and Vout+ of the Power Distribution Board. It is extremely important that you connect them correct and with the right polarity, since reverse polarity might lead to a burned ESC. I recommend on using shrink tubes in order to isolate the connectors and prevent them from touching one another. I chose not to warm the shrinks until later step where I can see that everything works.
- ESC output - Three blue wires that connect to our motor. It doesn't really matter which wire you connect to which. Just make sure you don't heat the shrink tubes, since we still need to figure out the correct direction of the motor to spin, and in case they spin in the wrong direction, we need to switch two of the wires.
Make sure the ESC is mounted, and that none of the wires can interrupt the spin of the props.
You can now try and connect the battery and see that the LEDs turn on! :)
Step 9: Mounting and Configuring the Flight Controller
Basically, the flight controller is the brain of our quadcopter. In this instructable I have chosen to use a pre-made flight controller which is pretty simple, robust and has good reviews online. I think it's a good controller to start with, and later on, when we are ready, we can program our own flight controller using an arduino for example.
Configuring the Flight Controller
As you can see on the manual we need first to configure the flight controller. Right to the QQ logo we can see 4 switches that have only 2 modes. We need to configure them by the manual.
This instructable describes an X-4 quadcopter with a standard receiver and therefore the configuration is as below:
When you connect the controller to power you should see the arrow lights in white for 1 second and then lights in blue for another second. At the end you should see it lights in green which means that everything is ok.
Mounting the Flight Controller
The flight controller has a mechanism for auto-balancing the quadcopter using a system of gyroscopes. In order for them to work properly, we need to place it in the middle of the X, in the center, and make sure that the arrow turns to the flight direction we want. I recommend on flying in the direction of the camera (in case we turn it into FPV).
Connecting the ESCs
Now it's time to connect all the ESCs' control cable to the flight controller. Follow the instructions attached and make sure that you connect the right ESC to its specific port. Our quadcopter is an X-4 means that we use M1 to M4 ports in the flight controller.
Step 10: Binding the Receiver With the Remote Control
In the remote control box you will find both transmitter and receiver. In order to bind them together we need to do couple of things:
- Use the binding cable in order to shorten the B/VCC port (as shown in the picture above).
- Connect one of the receiver ports to power by connecting to it one of the ESCs. Make sure that battery is connected to the power distribution board. If everything is OK you should see a blinking red led on the transmitter, which indicates that it is not bound yet.
- Turn on the transmitter while holding the BIND RANGE TEST button.
- You should see the transmitter prints that it is bound to the receiver.
- Remove the battery of the quadcopter and remove the binding cable.
Step 11: Configuring the Direction of the Motors
The flight controller controls the speed of each ESC using the control cable, it cannot control the direction. The direction is critical here for the quadcopter to be able and lift itself correctly and move around.
As you can see in the picture (taken from the flight controller instructions) each motor has a specific direction it should spin in. Once you are able to start the engines, and everything looks ok, try to follow the direction of each motor, and determine which motor spins in the wrong direction.
In order to flip the direction of the motor, just switch between the red and the black wires which connect the ESC and the motor.
MAKE SURE you switch the cables between the ESC and the motor and *not* the cables between the power distribution board and the ESC.
Step 12: Mounting the Props
After we're sure the motors are connected correctly, it's time to mount the props.
Place the base on top of the motor. The base should not fit until the end and you should feel that it's a bit loose. Don't worry about that, later we tight it.
Place the plastic ring on top of the base part, such that it goes perfectly around the screw, and can fit into the prop.
Place the prop on top the ring. Make sure that you use the right prop such that the thick upper side of the prop is in the direction of the movement. You can google 'aerodynamic wing' to understand exactly why we do that and how does the prop lifts the quad when it is placed correctly.
Screw the top 'hat', make sure that you tighten really good. Use a thin screw-driver through the small hole on top in order to tighten it more.
Step 13: Test Flight!
We are ready.
Make sure everything is connected together, make sure that you shrunk all the shrink tubes, and now it's time to be cautious. Careful with the quad. I highly recommend to use a short rope first and try to achieve the first milestone and get it 1ft in the air.
Once it is turned on we expect the motors to move slow, such that the quad stays on the ground. Lift it slowly (using the remote control), and listen to the sound of the motors as they spin faster and faster. Once there is enough lift power the quad lifts itself and we expect the self-balancing mechanism to take place and balance it.
As you achieve the first milestone of '1ft in the air', try to play with it and move it around a little bit. Try to make it land slowly.
I hope everything works and that you found this instructable helpful :)
Comment if you have any question or even if you just want to share your experience!
Aviv Mussali (@avivmuss).