Project M.A.R.V - Part 1
Remote-controlled helicopters, airplanes, cars, and trucks have always been something that I have been highly interested in, and while I have not been active in the RC hobby for several years now, recent events have piqued my interest once again. With the introduction of multi-rotor helicopters over the last couple years, I have been growing quite anxious, and now the technology has grown to be both cheap enough and good enough for me to easily reenter the hobby.
With very little knowledge on the subject of multi-rotor aircraft, I have spent the last few months researching the different types of DIY multi-motors. A close friend of mine just happened to mention a YouTube channel that features a wealth of videos on this very topic, and low and behold, the company that produces the video has an entire series on DIY multi-rotors. Below is a video that shows off some of the AnyCopter Quad Copter I am going to sort of build.
I decided to go with the AnyCopter (http://flitetest.com/articles/anycopter-hub-build) design for several reasons. The first being that the FlightTest guys release all of their design files and bill of materials list freely on the Internet, and the second being that it seemed to be powerful enough to allow me to do both First Person View (POV) flight, as well as being able to support the weight of a GoPro camera and GPS tracking module. Finally, I wanted something that was easily repairable as I know I will crash the quad-copter many times before I master its flight.
As I said, AnyCopter design is very appealing to me as it is quite configurable and easily upgradeable when you want to add more rotors to the setup. The hosts of FlightTest have actually laid out everything you need to build an AnyCopter, including a bill of materials, build instructions, and even the laser cut parts if you want to take the easy route. They even offer an entire chassis kit that includes the motor mounts, landing gear, arms, and chassis, but that is just too easy for me. While I could take this easy route out, I prefer the route less taken and want to DIY the chassis myself.
While I do not have access to a laser cutter, I do have a few 3D printers just laying around that I wanted to utilize when building my quad-copter, and after a quick search on Thingiverse, I found someone who had taken the AnyCopter design and recreated it roughly in 3D form and exported the STL files for quick and easy printing. This left me with just a need to source the mounting hardware and 1/2-inch square wooden dowels to use as the arms. For this project, I am keeping a complete build list on GitHub, and there you can find a complete Bill of Materials, with links and prices to all the hardware, code, and files needed to build your own 3D printed AnyCopter.
Other than simply building a multi-rotor from scratch, I have several other projects that will tie into this as a way to give me a few more projects to play around with over the next few weeks. Obviously, the main goal is to build the quad-copter and get it up in the air. Secondly, I would like for it to be able to capture video while in flight. Additionally, I would like to be able to track the flight path of the quad-copter using a DIY GPS data logger that I will build. Finally, I really would like to be able to fly the quad in FPV mode and use it to capture some amazing aerial footage of some local buildings and natural features.
To reach this goal, I have partnered up with Hobby King and PAPAGO to help fund the project. Hobby King is hooking me up with all of the electronics needed for this build, including motors, radios, speed controllers, batteries, and the flight control board. I am also going to be covering a few of their DIY multi-rotor kits over the next few months. PAPAGO has sent me one of their new GoLife Extreme action cameras to handle the in-flight video recording. This is an excellent camera to use because of its rugged and robust design that allows it to withstand a beating as well as survive a crash in the event I put the copter into the ground.
For the GPS data logger, I will be utilizing the TinyDuino series from TinyCircuits. The company's founder has already built something similar to track his cat's position during his time spent outside. When you combine the TinyDuino's size with the readily available code for this project, it makes for the perfect solution for my GPS data logging needs. I will utilize my 3D printing capabilities to design and print a case for this project that is capable of mounting directly to the quad-copter's frame.
BoM and Design Plans
I will not list out the exact parts I will be using as this may change throughout the build, but I will list basic descriptions and quantities of everything needed to build this project. For a more detailed, up-to-date list, head over to my GitHub Repository for this project. Additionally, I would advise checking the FlightTest website before beginning your build to make sure that the frame design that you are using is the most current design. I will be hosting the 3D Printing files on my personal Thingiverse page as well to ensure they do not get deleted.
3D Printed Parts Needed
- 1x AnyCopter Hub Top
- 1x AnyCopter Hub Bottom
- 1x AnyCopter Drill Guide
- 4x AnyCopter Motor Mounts
- 4x AnyCopter Landing Feet
- 1x Case for GPS Data Logger
- 4x 1380kv Brushless Outrunner Motors
- 4x 15-20-amp Brushless ESCs
- 4x 8045 Pized Propellers (2x right-hand rotation and 2x left-hand rotation
- 4x Nose Cone Propeller Mounts
- 1x Multi-Rotor Controller Board
- 1x 4-6 Channel Radio Receiver
- 1x 2200mAh 3-Cell Lithium-Polymer Battery
- 1x Wiring Harness (Used to wire battery to ESCs, can be custom built or bought pre-assembled)
Radio Transmitter, Video, GPS Tracking
- 1x 6 or 9 Channel Radio Transmitter (Should match the receiver used)
- 1x Transmitter Battery Pack (I prefer Li-Po based)
- 1x Action Camera (Such as GoPro, GoLife Extreme, or Mobius)
- 1x TinyCircuits TinyDuino
- 1x TinyCircuits TinyShield GPS
- 1x TinyCircuits TInyShield microSD
- 1x TinyCircuits TinyShield USB & ISP
- 1x CR2023 or 18650-based USB phone charger with micro-USB cable
Optional Accessories, and Items Needed By Those New to the Hobby
- 1x Lithium-Polymer-Capable Balance Battery Charger
- 1x ESC Programming Card or Hardware
- 1x Controller Board Programming Module
- Lithium Battery Safe Charging Bag or Box (Never charge without one of these.)
- Low Battery Power Alarm (Not needed if your controller board features this already)
- Hand Saw Miter Box (If you need to cut the square dowels yourself)
- Screw Drivers
- Soldering Iron and Solder
- Heat Shrink Tubing that fits your ESC Wires
- 4-inch Zip Ties
- Hot Glue Gun and Glue Sticks
- PC (For Flashing and Programming your Controller Board, and GPS Data Logger)
- Hot Air Gun or Cigarette Lighter (For Heat Shrink Tubing)
The list above is quite large, but when you consider that you will be building a machine from scratch that it capable of flying hundreds of feet in the air, and will capture video while doing so, it's not that big at all. You will notice that I have left off all mention of FPV gear, and there is a very good reason for that. FPV hardware is a very vast subject, and there are dozens of setups, hardware combos, and different ways to do things. I am still researching this part of the project, and will dedicate an entire segment of this project series just to FPV setup and flight.
I won't try to cover up the fact that building your first multi-rotor is a major undertaking both skill wise as well as finically. This is something that should only be attempted by the seasoned maker, or someone who is not afraid to risk sinking several hundred dollars in a project they know they can finish. When priced out at retail prices, just building the quad-copter and getting everything needed to make it fly runs the cost up to about $400. When you add in the $120 for the GPS Data Logger, $250-400 for a decent action camera, and an additional $150 or so for extra batteries, charger, and safety gear, this project can end up closer to the $1000 mark quite fast.
So what have I accomplished so far on the project? I have spent the last few weeks organizing all of the information, planning the project out, and getting all of the files and code needed to get the project started. I have printed some preliminary test pieces of the AnyCopter frame, and I have acquired some 1/2-inch square dowels and cut them down to size. I am going to attempt to build my AnyCopter with 12-inch arms, giving me an overall width of roughly 27 inches total. I am hoping that this will widen the propellers out enough that they are not visible in the GoLife Extreme's field of view.
I have also almost completely built the GPS data logger that will mount directly to the quad-copter's frame. In fact, the guide on how to do this will be the next installment of this project, along with some information and video of me printing the final printed parts for this project. Furthermore, I have decided to give this project a code name similar to what I did with Andy, the Autonomous Arduino Powered Robot. I am officially designating this quad-copter project as Project: M.A.R.V, the Multi-rotor Arial Reconnaissance Vehicle.
Project M.A.R.V. is one of the biggest projects I have attempted to build in the past 3 years, and is going to be a fun challenge for myself as well as a means of educating me in multi-rotor flight. At the end of the project, I hope everyone reading this will have enough information on how multi-rotors function, and understand that not all of them are used for spying, flying over crowded areas, or for other controversial uses. I hope to be finished with the project by the end of May and have all of the segments of this series live on TweakTown by the middle of June. I do want to extend my thanks to HobbyKing and PAPAGO for their generous donations that enabled this project to come together.
Until next time, remember to #HacktheWorld and #MakeAwesome!
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