Intro: The Ultimate DIY Guide to Quadcopters
Over the past few years, radio controlled Quadcopters have been becoming ever more popular. Unlike Helicopters, They are much more stable, and can lift a bigger load. You can add DSLR's for aerial photos, or make it totally autonomous, with pre-planned flight missions.
In this Instructable, I'm going to be explaining the different parts required for a Quadcopter, and how to build one. It's aimed at everybody - from those who have never set their sights on remote controlled builds to those who have made loads before.
Step 1: The Basics
Before you attempt to make and fly your own multi-rotor, you need to know the different types of multi-rotor. There are 4 main types:
Tricopter: As the name suggests, this build has Tri (3) propellers and motors. These are often more agile than normal quadcopters. The main benefit of building a Tri-copter is that it is cheaper: you only require 3 motors and ESC (Electronic Speed Control). The motors have to work harder, so generally you get less flight time.
Quadcopter: This is the standard multi-Rotor. The average.Consisting of 4 propellers and motors, these are used for a wide variety of things. They have a much bigger load, for carrying things like DSLR's and extra batteries. Generally, compared to tricopters, quadcopters are more stable and can be smaller in size, whilst maintaining the same stability.
HexCopter: Comprising of 6 different motors and propellers, these are similar to quadcopters. Although much more expensive to build due to the fact that you have to buy 2 extra ESC's, Motors and cables, these are a little safer than quadcopters - if one motor fails in Mid-Aid, then you loose the yaw (turning left and right), but you can still land it - Just about!
OctoCopter: Like an octopus - 8 Motors and propellers here! Octocopters are the most expensive to build - by far! The main reason why these are used is that if a motor fails, it can keep going on, unaffected. However at the price of 2 quadcopters these are normally only used by professionals. Due to the fact that there are so many motors, an octocopter goes like stink - super fast - but, you do use up a LOT of batteries (about 5x as much, with a heavy pay-load). Somebody once said "An octocopter is what you strap a $1300 Canon 7D under". I totally agree with this - if your camera costs that much, its much better to be on the safe side with an octocopter rather than have it plummet from 5000 feet up.
So after thinking about what to build, I decided to settle on a Quadcopter. Not too expensive, not too cheap, but good enough to have lots of fun, carry a small camera for FPV (First Person View) and - of course - show off to all of my friends and family.
Step 2: Picking the Quadcopter That You Want to Build
Before I built the quadcopter, I wanted to make sure that i picked the right parts. Parts can be expensive and they don't all fit together. Your wires might melt if you pick the wrong Battery splitter. Your motors might not be able to lift the weight. Your ESC's might burn out. So its definitely worth making sure they will all work together, before buying the parts. You don't have to make one that somebody has already made, but it does help quite a bit, to make sure your making a good powered quadcopter, that will be able to fly
Once you've decided whether you want to make a quad/hex/octocopter, you want to start looking around to see what people have already built. There are a LOT of videos on quadcopters on YouTube, and many RC themed channels, however not all of them are well made quadcopters, and not all of them specify the parts needed to make one. Here's a few channels that seem to popup a lot, but there are loads more that you can watch & subscribe to.
A lot of people see alishanmao's channel. While he is very good at making them, and you can buy things off his site, the things he makes (and sells) are top end, and most likely over your budget (most things cost at least £1000 ~ 1500$). Point is, when looking to build your quadcopter, most of his videos may not be appropriate, as the parts will cost a lot more than what you probably intend to spend.
If you've ever looked for tutorials on any RC planes, helicopters, boats or similar, you may have come across FliteTest. Their videos are pretty useful, and contain a lot of information, whether your a beginner or a pro. One video which will come in useful, is How to fly a multirotor . Its rather simple, even with no experience, but that video really does help you with some exercises to practice skills. Although FliteTest have some multirotor videos, they mainly deal with planes and helicopters a lot more.
The place where I got my idea! This channel mainly does quadcopters, but also sometimes planes. Unlike FliteTest, there is a little less information on how it handles and how he made the quadcopter, but he does normally give an overview of the different parts he used to make it, what he would do differently next time and the overall impression of it.
So, after a lot of viewing videos, and looking around on the web, I settled with this video from rctestflight. I figured that it was good enough to hold a camera, and later we see it Pulling him on a skateboard. All the parts are mentioned in the video, and I had the task to attempt to make one!
Step 3: Locating the Parts & Checking They Will All Fit Together
What Parts do you always need to build a Multirotor?
You will need 3 For Tricopter, 4 For Quadcopter, 6 For Hexcopter, 8 For Octocopter. When getting motors, you dont want any type. Firstly, they all must be the same type (or be almost exactly the same weight and power), and they should be outrunner motors. These often have a long prodruding shaft
ESC - 'Electronic Speed Controls'
Electronic Speed controls is what turns the signals from the control board and transmitter, into actual speeds of the motor. These are very important, and you should make sure you buy the right type for your battery/motors, because they can burn out quite easily. After a bit of research, you may see some with the name 'SimonK Firmware'. Basically, SimonK is a person who has written new code for these ESC's, so that they are more responsive and more stable. They send 'signals' to the motor more times a second, which makes it much more responsive, and less wobbly when decending. They are not neccessary, but I believe that it makes the handling quite a bit better. You can flash the firmware at home (if your not familiar with RC and Quadcopters, don't!!), or you can buy one pre flashed. If your wondering whether to spend a little more on SimonK pre-flashed ESC's, go for it. I did and I don't regret it.
Transmitter & Reciever
Unlike other parts, these parts can be changed very easily, and can range from a fairly cheap Transmitter & Reciever, to a fairly expensive one. As a minimum, you need at least 5 channels for the reciever, but I would suggest go with 6 or 7, as you may wish to add a camera gimble, or other accessories. I already had a Spektrum DX5e
(Link in parts step), which I used for the project. Oh yeah - make sure you buy the transmitter and reciever together - this often saves a lot of hassle trying to bind together (connect) the two devices.
Unlike Helicopters and Planes, Multirotors always require a control board. These boards control the motors, and make sure that the quadcopter is always balanced. This is really the brains of the quadcopter. Depending on how far you want to take your quadcopter (Doing remote autonomous missions for you, or just flying it for fun), you have a wide range of control boards. The one I'm most familiar with is the Hobbyking KK Board. I used this board (v2.1) to power the quadcopter in this video, and it really is amazing - very easy to use and setup, and works with almost any combination of motoros/esc. Also, its not too expensive either (See parts list) There are others, like ArduPilot that can be bought, but these require a little more setting up, and sometimes even programming.
Battery (& Charger)
Generally, the bigger the battery capacity, the more flight time it produces. However, carrying 20 gigantic batteries will make your 'copter heavier, therefore reducing the time, and possibly making it hard to handle and sluggish. Personally, I'm not an expert on batteries, but you want to make sure that you buy one with at least >3500mah. This will ensure you have a decent flight length, of around 15 mins, depending on the load and how fast you fly it. Don't forget to buy a charger with it. You will also need a power distrubution board. However I couldnt find any that were the right 'power' for my quad (they would all burn out), so I soldered up some cables myself .
There are LOADS of different props you can buy. No matter what ability you are, I suggest that you always buy a spare pair of props. This really does help when you crash, and just want to keep going. You want to be looking for 2x anticlockwise rotation props, and 2x clockwise rotating props ( or 3x for Hexacopters, 4x for octocopters). When selecting the size of props, you should look first at the recommended size for the motor you are buying. An " either side is alright. Also, pick plastic or props that are cheap. You can buy carbon fibre props, but if your a beginner, you will crash quite a bit, and go through a lot of props quickly. Also, make sure when you buy propellers that they come with washers to fit onto the motor's axle.
The different connectors and adapters that you will need varies on what equipment you are using (motors, esc's battery etc). To connect the receiver to the control board, you will need some servo connectors. You will also need an adaptor plug to connect your battery to your power distrubution cable. Aswell you need one to connect your ESC's to your motors, but i just soldered them directly.
So where to get help to find your parts & make sure they fit together?
You can spend ages online trying to see if parts will work together, but I found that the easist option was to go to a Product Specialist on Hobby king. I told them the video that I saw and wanted to base my build on. Then after a little wait the person came back with all the parts. The guys there are actually quite good at recomending parts and telling you if they fit together. There is sometimes a long wait though, and they can take a while to respond sometimes, but overall, its free advice and they are helping you, so I guess you have to put up with the wait!
Step 4: My Parts for My Build
So, after a lot of research and effort, here is what I finally went with:
- Motors: 4x NTM Prop Drive Series 910KV
- Motor Accessory Pack 4x NTM Prop Drive Accessory Pack
- ESC: 4x SimonK 30A ProFlightUK ESC
- Battery: 1x Turningy nano-tech 3300mah 3S 35-70C Lipo
- Hobbyking KK Board 1x Hobbyking KK2.1 Multi-Rotor Flight Control Board
- Battery Charger 1x IMAX B6-AC Charger/Discharger
- Frame 1x Hobbyking X580 Glass Fibre Quadcopter Frame
- Servo Connectors 1x 10cm Male to Male Servo Lead
Above is my final shopping list! However remember that I did have the transmitter and Reciever already, as with the Battery charger.I also found some bullet connectors for my battery lying around, but if you dont have any you will need to purchase some - the type depends on the battery. If you are making a HexaCopter or a OctoCopter, make sure to buy 6x or 8x the motors and ESC, and there is also a Frame similar to the one above, for Hexacopters and Octocopters.
You also need the following things, which you will probably have around the house, if your a maker:
- Cable Ties
- Electrical tape
- Soldering Iron & Solder
- Glue Gun
- Wire Strippers
- Some big electrical wire, that can stand 40A
I have supplied most the parts above from the Hobbyking International warehouse. Read Below:
WARNING: Buying from Hobbyking
MAKE SURE YOU BUY FROM THE CORRECT 'warehouse'. There are different links to different items from different warehouses. When you press add to basket, make sure the item is in the UK warehouse, or your local warehouse, otherwise source elsewhere. Buying from hobbykings international warehouse isn't at all a good idea - You have to wait quite a while for it to be dispatched, then pay huge (£30 for all items above) shipping fees, then UK import tax, and finally courier delivery to your house. Much easier to order from the UK or local warehouse. I made this mistake when I was a first time buyer from Hobbyking - save yourself the time and effort, and order it from your closest warehosue
Step 5: BUILDING! Assembling the Frame
Time to start building the Frame!
This step is pretty simple - just follow the given instructions.... wait however... Make sure that the Instructions match the image of the frame on the Hobbyking Website. I noticed that in the Instructions, the Curved side of the plates are facing forward, however, in the Picture the Flat sides are facing forward?! You need to rotate both centre plates 90 degrees - the instructions are wrong.
Depending on what frame you pick, there will be different levels of complexity and take different amounts of time. It's much easier to double check everything now - mine has lasted over 3 years now as I assembled it right.
Step 6: Attaching Motors & ESC
Now that your frame should be fully assembled, Its time to start attaching your motors and ESC's.
Before Assembling, Carefully examine your motors and ESC's. Some may be faulty and have damaged/eaten away threads. If so - bad luck - return them as soon as you can.
Anyways, back to assembling - With the accessory pack, take out the four screws that are similar. Place your motor with the shaft extruding downwards, onto the Quadcopter. Start to slowly tighten the screws, and make sure that the motor is evenly centered - You can often tell this by looking at the circlip - if it can rotate freely with the shaft, it is perfectly centered. Tighten these up as much as you can, and consider applying super-glue or Locktite to stop them from vibrating loose.
Once you have done all 4 motors, its time to mount the ESC's About halfway down the arms was where I chose mine. You want to make sure that the small cables for the motor can easily reach the motor, and that at the same time the Servo lead (the one with the plastic on the end) can reach the centre of the board. Once your comfortable with the position of the ESC's, take a couple of zip ties and tightly fasten on the zip ties to the arm. They should be fully secure - not going to come off in mid air.
Next, time to to fire up the Soldering Iron.
You have to solder the 3 different leads coming from one side of the ESC, to the motors three leads. There are 3 Colours of wire coming from the motor; Yellow Black and Red. There are also 3 wires coming from the ESC - A, B and C. The wiring needs to be as followed.
For the first two sets of motors that are Diagonally Opposite each other, A=Yellow, B= Red and C= Black
For the second two sets of motors that are Diagonally Opposite each other, A=Yellow, B=Black and C= Red
What this does is make two of the motors go in opposite directions. This is needed when making a quadcopter, to keep it stable and not spin round hopelessly.
Once your done, cover up with electrical tape to make sure no shorts happen. You can cable tie the wires to the arms of the frame, to keep them out of the way.
Step 7: Making the Power Distrubution Cable
Originally I was going to buy 40A ESC, and no power distribution cable was capable of handling that much current. You can buy one, but they are only avaliable from the hobbyking International Warehouse, and are designed for 30A only.
So I had to make my own.
Using some thick red and black wire, I cut 4x 7 cm pieces of black wire, and 4x 7cm pieces of red wire. I then cut a 10cm piece of black and red wire. I stripped both ends of all the wires.
Then take some heat shrink tubing and slide it on each 7cm piece of wire (Black and Red). Now solder the 7cm Red wire to each + of the ESC, and the 7cm black wire to each - of the ESC. Finally slide on the heat shrink tubing and heat up the connection, making the tubing nice and tight.
Next you want to group up all of the 7cm red wire, and the 10cm red wire. Solder them all together. You should use a lot of solder. Once you've finished, you should get a red wire that splits into 4 and connects to each + of the ESC.
Do the same with the black wire, soldering them all together. Once your done, make sure you cover the connections with heat shrink, or electrical tape.
On the end of the Red and Black wires, attach a bullet connector, or whatever connector that fits onto your battery. again make sure that it is well insulated, and use lots of heat shrink. If these cables touch when the battery is on, then there will be a big spark, possibly an explosion and very nasty burns from the battery.
Step 8: The Brain:Adding the KK Board and Reciever
Your kk board has probably been sitting in its static-free package looking rather dead. Time to unleash its magic!
I decided that for protection of the KK board, i should mount it in the quadcopter, in its static free box. it would offer a slight protection if I crash, and save it from static.
To make sure the box fit on the frame, i had to file off the bottom corners, so the arms could move in and out. Heat up your hot glue gun and add tiny dabs of glue to each four corners of the KK board to stick it to the box. This should help it stay in when you turn, and keep the sensitive gyroscopes in it stable.
Glue down the kk board, directly in the centre of the quadcopter. Make sure it also points directly forward. Forward on the KK board is when the LCD screen is horizontal, and the four buttons are at the bottom. This makes sure that when you steer it it goes forwards, not slightly left or right. The hot glue that you use should be strong enough to hold it permanantly down, but make sure you use LOTS. you dont want it falling off in mid air.
Next mount the small reciever next to it, and secure with hot glue. The reciever can be placed anywhere on the frame, but needs to be close enough to the board to hook it up with the 10cm leads.
Take out the leads and connect the channels in the reciever to the KK board via the servo leads that we purchased. The Imputs are on the left side of the servo board. The channel names from top to bottom on the KK board are:
- AIL Aileron
- ELE Elevators
- THR Throttle
- RUD Rudder
- AUX Auxiliary
Next, connect up the four servo leads (or however many motors you have) from the ESC to the right side of the KK board. The front left motor should be the top slot on the KK board, with the front right being the second, back left being third and back right being fourth.
For more info on setting up your KK board there is a manual which should help at
Step 9: Adding the Battery and Connecting It Up for a Test
Now your almost done.
When you take the battery out of the box, you should first charge it before using it. It may have been in storage for a long time, and may be in 'storage mode' - it is not fully charged. Once charged, continue:
You want to find a nice place to mount the battery. The best place is directly in the centre, in the undercarriage. This ensures the weight is carried evenly between the four motors. However if you plan on immediately attaching a camera to the front of the quad, to counteract this moment, you should place the battery on the back.
I find that using a couple of Velcro's are suitable to hold the battery securely in place. I wouldn't suggest using a cable tie, as you may decide to change the location of the battery, and if you wish to charge the battery elsewhere then it would be quite a waste of cable ties to constantly attach and detach.
At this stage, you will notice that there are no propellers on. This is so that if you test the motors, you don't accidentally cut yourself.
Now, time to see if it all works....
Plug it in.....?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Step 10: Configuring the KK Board
(If not, go back and try and work out what you did wrong). If it sparks, and doesnt start, you connected the battery the wrong way round (switch + and -)
Time to configure the KK Board.
Depending on your setup, there is a load of things to do to configure it. A guide can be found here for the manual. Its pretty simple to follow, and shouldn't take longer than half an hour max (it took me about 5 mins first time, with no previous experience). Find the manual here.
Once you have finished configuring, you should test it out. Turn on your transmitter, and hold the left stick in the far right corner. This should 'arm' the board. Arming prevents you from accidentally starting up the quadcopter and cutting your hand off, or something like so. The board should beep then you can return the throttle to the bottom centre. now slowly move the throttle up and try moving all of the sticks and you should hopefully see the motors move. Two of the motors should be moving clockwise, and two anticlockwise. If so, then congratulations, your quadcopter wiring works!
Step 11: Finishing Off: Adding the Propellors
Time for the last component to go on. The propellers.
Make sure the quadcopters switched off. Dis-arm it by putting the throttle in the bottom left, and it should beep.
In the remainder of the motor accessory bag that you purchased, you should have received a spinner, a long threaded bolt like object and 3 more screws. These are what we will use to fasten on the propellors to the motor.
Align it up (a threaded bolt with a thick base with 3 screw holes) to the top of the motor and match up the screw holes. Attach it to the motor with the 3 screws and screw them in as tight as they go. Its reccomended to use some superglue or locktite to stop them from coming loose again. Do this for all 4 motors (or however many motors you have).
Now open your pack of propellors. They should come in a set of 1 anticlockwise, and 1 clockwise. Depending on the way that you selected in your KK configuration, apply the anti-clockwise properllors to the motors that spin anticlockwise, and the clockwise to those that spin clockwise. There will be a pack of spaces that should come with your propellors.Try and select the biggest one that will fit onto the shaft of the motor. You should feel it 'biting' onto the threads of the bolt. This is what is meant to happen - so it gets a better grip and doesnt come loose. Spin the propellor all the way down to the bottom of the shaft, then screw on the spinner - a curvy 'nut'. This needs to go as tight as it can onto the propellor, so that it keeps the propellor down. Although you shouldn't, I used a pair of pliers to make sure it was truely stuck down and wouldnt come off mid-air. again, if you need to add superglue or locktite.
Your Quadcopter is COMPLETE!
Step 12: Have Fun!
Now your quadcopter if officially complete. Connect up the battery, turn on the transmitter, arm it (move left stick to bottom corner) and your ready to go!
Have fun flying, and please post pics if you made it or something similar with this tutorial! It'd be great to know that this has actually helped! This quadcopter is easily powerful enough to lift a DSLR and a GoPro.
Have fun & Happy Flying
NOTE: At the time of this writing, there were not many laws on flying quadcopters or similar UAV's in the UK around public spaces. With the increase in the number of incidents over the past few years, there has been quite a lot of new legislation and laws put into place - please fly safely, and avoid congested areas like airports and city centre's. We don't want them banned, right?