Introduction: Drones (Article)

About: howitgoes is an account that was created by Instructables staff for a series of articles about technologies relating to DIY.
In the news about the wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan mentions of the Predator drones are fairly common. With no pilots on board there are many more options. Of course it’s all high-tech and expensive military technology and nothing any civilian would ever use, right? As it turns out, civilians are flying their own drones and if you wanted to you could join them.

This article is one in a series of Instructables articles about DIY technology. The full list can be seen here.

All photos here taken by Tim Trueman. Used with permission. More can be seen here.

Step 1: Getting Started

So why would anyone be interested in drones? Well, you can add a payload of a still or video camera to the drone to get aerial photos and footage of an area, which is pretty awesome. But really it's just an awesome challenge to get a drone to fly around on its own. It’s a new and growing area with people making additions and improvements all the time and a lot of this action is happening at DIY Drones, a site filled with info, forums, and a store to get started. 

The drones are also known as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) and are essentially remote control planes with an extra computer brain, the autopilot, to control the flight. There are a few choices for the autopilot and prices for a full kit range from $200 to $800. Different kits have different abilities. Some are better in worse weather, or more accurate, or are open-source. It all depends on your intended use.

Chris Anderson, from DIY Drones, gives an intro to a drone here:

The UAVs a ren’t completely automatic, though. They still need a RC pilot to take over the controls for takeoffs and landings. So before there’s any consideration of what to do with the UAV in the air, the first goal is to get some good RC skills or partner up with someone else who’s already good at it. If you’re completely new to this, it’s a good idea to find a local RC club and get some advice from the members. You’ll probably find them soon enough anyway if you do decide to continue with UAVs as any hobby is more fun with fellow enthusiasts.

Step 2: Take to the Skies

Once everything is in place with an autopilot on an RC plane that you’re comfortable flying, the key is to find a good safe place to fly it. UAVs should be flown away from populated areas and definitely not near any airports. There’s also a height restriction of 400 feet. While it’s unlikely that these restrictions can be observed by anybody, it only takes one bad collision by a UAV for all of this to be taken a lot more seriously. So for the sake of yourself and the hobby as a whole, be very considerate in your flying locations.

With a safe place to fly, it’s time to get the UAV in the air and have some fun with it. Set up a circuit or a series of waypoints and you’re good to go. If the plane or helicopter can lift a decent payload, pop a camera in there as well for some cool footage from the skies. Just be sure to be safe with it, have fun learning, and share what you find out with others. Have fun!

Useful links:
DIY Drones - The place to start
ArduPilot - A full-featured autopilot