Drone flight controllers for people who build their own platforms

ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#1
Does anyone here have experience with both the APM2.6 and Pixhawk flight controllers? Since my APM does not support I have decided to upgrade its FC to a Pixhawk. https://store.3drobotics.com/products/3dr-pixhawk

Since 3.3+ of arducopter will not support APM2.x and its 16bit system, I am moving over to the Pixhawk 32bit system

After this upgrade I should have 3 platforms I can compare. All my quads are built into DJI F450 Flamewheel frames, except one will have an apm fc, one will have a naza-lite fc and my upgraded one will have a PixHawk. The APM runs a M6N GPS, but both the Pixhawk and Naza will be running with a ublox M8N gps system https://www.u-blox.com/en/product/neo-m8-series

Anyone else totally bitten by this bug? The amount of stuff you need to learn and the possibilities are both endless :D

Anyone had experience with the Pixhawk (and hopefully with an APM as well)?
 

ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#2
Build complete. Pixhawk into a Little Hero Spyder 450 frame

 
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ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#3
My latest project just arrived in the mail.



Its a Flamewheel F450 quad is a great DIY quad made buy the same guys who make the popular Phantom and Spreading Wings series. They pretty fast quads.



[video=youtube;Q4B611-Er1I]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4B611-Er1I[/video]

This is the "before picture". Hopefully Ill finish building it in a couple of days :) Will show you the "after pictures"

1. 1 X Flamewheel F450 DJI Frame
2. 4 X 2312E 960KV Motor (from DJI E305 power system)
3. 4 X 420E OPTO ESC (from DJI E305 power system)
4. 3 X 9450 CCW Self-Tightening Propeller (from DJI E305 power system)
5. 3 X 9450 CW Self-Tightening Propeller (from DJI E305 power system)
6. 1 X DJI NAZA-M Lite Flight Controller w/ GPS Module
7. 1 X DJI F450 / F550 Plastic Landing Skids

I cant wait to try the Naza flight controller :D
 
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ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#4
In a forum full of geeks I kinda imagined there would be more people into this :D
 

eg2505

Honorary Master
Joined
Mar 12, 2008
Messages
13,637
#6
Just a question here,

How expensive are these drones?, and what happens when you crash it?

Also don't you need a licence to fly them?

Very cool though.
 

genetic

Honorary Master
Joined
Apr 26, 2008
Messages
26,491
#7
How expensive are these drones?, and what happens when you crash it?
We use drones in advertising. They cost in excess of R150,000 for ones that can carry a custom camera, and about R50,000 for a DJI Inspire that has a 4K fixed lens remote controlled camera.

Also don't you need a licence to fly them?
You need a permit.
 

ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#8
Just a question here,

How expensive are these drones?, and what happens when you crash it?

Also don't you need a licence to fly them?

Very cool though.
They range in price from around R1000 (depending on if you have your remote) to stupid amounts. The sets I am learning I got in cheap because they are way cheaper (and you learn a lot more) if you build themselves.

(450 and 250 are common frame sizes. A phantom has a frame size of around 450)

My APM 2.6 with a N6 GPS set and DJI F450 frame cost me about ... R5000
My Pixhawk with M8N GPS and Spyder frame cost me around R6500
My F450 with Naza mini and Naza GPS cost me about R3500 (still building it, waiting on a receiver for my remote for it)
My Eachine 250 with CCD3 cost about R2000

A decent 9 channel remote control will cost you around R1800

Batteries range from R200- R1500 depending on size, weight, etc

Ive crashed a lot, as you basically learn aerophysics when you learn to build this stuff. Some of the stuff is still way over my head.

The items you will be replacing the most are blades (your props). A full set of 1045 props for the 450s costs me around R300 a time to replace. At first I used to go through a set a flight (as I learnt to autotune and tame my platforms)... but now they last many flights as I no longer crash them as often. A set of 4 5030 blades on my 250 is around R50, cheap to replace, but this crashes often as you race or acro them.

Another thing I have had to replace several times are the landing skids. Go cheap to start off with until you have your landings perfected. A set of skids that come with a gimbal platform is about R300

Its legal to fly these as a hobby as long as you abide by the law. There is a website called http://www.safedrone.co.za/ that has the details. You do need a license if you fly these buggers commercially. I fly for fun though.

If you ganna pick a quad and build one, be sure to research it first. Build one that suites your needs. A quick break down on the flight controllers to guide you:

APM/Pixhawk - A flight controller made by 3DRobotics. The APM is basically an 8bit closer of the 32bit pixhawk. Its generally half the price but much slower and with more limited functionality. This is my favorite flight controller. Its open source and highly configurable. If you are going to be doing really advanced stuff, autopiloting, way point navigation, mapping, etc. I recommend this flight controller.

The DJI Naza (and other DJI FCs) are the macs of the UAV world. They are dialed in, simple and very limited. You pay large amounts of money to functionality that comes by default with a FC like a Pixhawk like On Screen Display HUD info. They "glide" when they fly and are very good for video and picture photography (in line of site) or if you have too much money and want to use their waypoint system to fly rather.

CC3D/Naze32 - Great flight controllers for racers and FPV setups. These are normally line of site systems that do not do automation or use GPS systems. They are designed for high speed FPV, quick changes in acceleration and stuff like acrobatic rolls.

Do not buy those cheap drones you see on bidorbuy. They do not have brushless motors and are basically short term disposable knock offs of the bigger models. To get a decent quad, you want brushless motors. If you want to race get a 250 frame, if you want to do camera and gimbal setup get a 450 -550 frame. Anything bigger than that is more for carrying DSLRs.


My advice. Start off with a F450 frame. I know the super awesome light carbon fiber frames look better, but unless you have deep pockets, choose something sturdy.

If anyone needs advice on what they want, and what budget they have, give me a shout, I dont mind helping out. Ive almost completely stopped online gaming since I got these quads. When you have your quad dialed in, and have a good set of FPV goggles on, the immersion is amazing. You feel like you are flying.

[video=youtube;RcGqP928DTU]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGqP928DTU[/video]
 
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ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#9
This is what happens when you have an idiot like me programming autopilot.

I set a geofence height of 75 meters. A geofence is there to stop your quad going awol on you and missioning off into the sunset. In my case, my system is set to automatically return to launch and do an emergency landing if it hits this height. I also did not autotune my quad (very important!). So I had a set of waypoints programmed in and I set one of them to 100m to test the climb rate (forgetting about the geofence).

So yeah, when an untuned 450 hits its geofence and does an emergency landing it can start "toilet bowling" and hit the ground hard. I broke 1 prop in this crash.

[video=youtube;PQW84WPBEEQ]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQW84WPBEEQ[/video]

Sorry about the blocky video, I think that happened in encoding.
 

ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#10
We use drones in advertising. They cost in excess of R150,000 for ones that can carry a custom camera, and about R50,000 for a DJI Inspire that has a 4K fixed lens remote controlled camera.



You need a permit.
If you are flying them commercially you need a remote pilot licence.
 

ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#11
New CAA Regulations for Drones Simplified

The SACAA has adopted new regulations for operating RPAS (drones) in South Africa, which came into effect on 1 July 2015. This article is a basic overview of the new regulations, and links to further info on each topic.

This article should not be considered legal advice! Refer to the official CATS and CAR documents linked to below for the actual regulations.

Also see the article: Legal Requirements for operating drones in South Africa.



New Drone Regulations for South Africa:

New rules for drones in South Africa include (basic overview):

Do not fly more than 400 feet above the ground (about a 40 story building).
Do not fly more than 500 meters away from the pilot (line of sight).
Do not fly closer than 10km from an airport (any registered aerodrome, airstrip, helipad, etc).
Do not fly closer than 50m from people.
Do not fly closer than 50m from buildings.
Do not fly closer than 50m from roads.
Do not fly any drone more than 7kg for hobby use (up to 20kg for commercial use).


Commercial Drone Pilots:

Commercial RPAS operations require all of the following:

RPL -Remote Pilots Licence (incl.: Aviation Medical Certificate , English Language Proficiency Certificate , RPL pilot training).
Restricted Radio Licence.
RPL - RPAS Letter of Approval (incl.: Flight Manual , Technical Specifications , Maintenance Program , Safety Case).
ROC - Remote Operator Certificate (Operations Manual , Security Manual , Safety Management System , Quality Management System).
Air Service Licence (from the Air Services Council - Department of Transport).
The drone must be registered (with SACAA).
For night flying the RPA (drone) must be approved for night flights, including strobe lights and navigation lights.
Must have a transponder and special approval from SACAA to fly in controlled airspace.
Must have handheld Fire Extinguisher and a First Aid Kit.
Listed approvals in the Ops Spec (Operational Specifications): The commercial operator may have special approval to operate drones closer than 50m from people, buildings and roads, or within 10km from airports, within controlled airspace, etc.



Hobby Drone Pilots:

Private operations means the use of and RPA for the individuals personal and private purposes where there is no commercial interested, outcome or gain.

Private drone operation does not require any of the licenses, but the regulations do still apply.

Do not need an RPL (Remote Pilots Licence).
Do not need to register their RPAS aircraft.
Do not need Ops Manual, ROC, RLA, etc.
No not need Air Service Licence.
Can fly RPAS up to 7kg weight.
Can fly at night in R-VLOS only (previous not allowed for any RC aircraft).
Can fly up to the height of the highest object in 300m of the drone (or up to a max of 400 feet, whichever is the lower of the 2).
Can fly up to 500m away from the pilot, while maintaining direct line of sight (RVLOS).
Need to keep more than 50m from people.
Need to keep more than 50m from roads.
Need to keep more than 50m from buildings.
Need to keep more than 10km from a registered aerodrome (registered ones have letters such as FAOR ).
May not fly in controlled airspace at all (not even with permission from ATC).
May not fly in No Fly Zones.
Do not need handheld Fire Extinguisher.
Do not need a First Aid Kit.


Corporate / Non-Profit Drone Pilots:

Same as Commercial drone operator above, except that the Air Service Licence (from the Air Services Council) is not required for corporate or non-profit operations.
http://www.safedrone.co.za/new-regulations-simplified
 

ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#12
R50,000 for a DJI Inspire that has a 4K fixed lens remote controlled camera.
Thats an expensive 10 min flight :D Have a look at the Yuneec range. You can get similar capabilities for about 1/3rd of the price.

I know the DJIs are easy to fly, thats why they are popular, but for R50k you could have gotten a better DJI fc, osd and gps on a bigger frame :p

Are you guys aware of some of the complexities with flying these drones commercially? Since your pilots need a license, .... so do the pit crews and the work they do on the drones. Just like a plane needs a detailed logbook of maintenance, so do commercial uavs. They need qualified engineers and ground crews.

The requirements are pretty insane. Right now, 99.999% of people are ignoring the regulations (like I assume your guys are doing :D)

Whats pretty cool about the autopilot software I run, is that it doesnt allow me to arm my quad in a restricted zone (ie, too close to the east london airport). Also, the whole area is geofenced off. So if I arm my quad outsize the safezone and send it towards the airport it will hit an "invisible wall" and it almost looks like it "bounces" off something tangible :D
 

ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#13
The eachine EC 250 I got can be purchased on banggood for $189

This is a full starter kit, including a 9CH remote, battery, charger. Basically everything you need to get into racing

[video=youtube;unh-N1Pn9mI]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unh-N1Pn9mI[/video]
 

Rocket-Boy

Executive Member
Joined
Jul 31, 2007
Messages
7,417
#14
This is what happens when you have an idiot like me programming autopilot.

I set a geofence height of 75 meters. A geofence is there to stop your quad going awol on you and missioning off into the sunset. In my case, my system is set to automatically return to launch and do an emergency landing if it hits this height. I also did not autotune my quad (very important!). So I had a set of waypoints programmed in and I set one of them to 100m to test the climb rate (forgetting about the geofence).

So yeah, when an untuned 450 hits its geofence and does an emergency landing it can start "toilet bowling" and hit the ground hard. I broke 1 prop in this crash.

[video=youtube;PQW84WPBEEQ]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQW84WPBEEQ[/video]

Sorry about the blocky video, I think that happened in encoding.
That is right across the road from my inlaws house. Looks quite nasty when it started descending like that.
 

genetic

Honorary Master
Joined
Apr 26, 2008
Messages
26,491
#16
Thats an expensive 10 min flight :D Have a look at the Yuneec range. You can get similar capabilities for about 1/3rd of the price.

I know the DJIs are easy to fly, thats why they are popular, but for R50k you could have gotten a better DJI fc, osd and gps on a bigger frame :p
It's an 18min flight! :p

Nothing beats the DJI's (non-cylindrical) perspective camera.

Benefit being that we have a separate pilot and camera operator on the same drone.

When we need the good old zoom lens we revert to the classic helicopter. Albeit at a much higher price.
 

ghoti

Karmic Sangoma
Joined
Jan 17, 2005
Messages
45,369
#17
It's an 18min flight! :p
Without gimbal and camera on? Cause we did tests on one we had in our office and we got max 12 min with gimbal and camera on (and non-hover time, meaning we moved around regularly).

Nothing beats the DJI's (non-cylindrical) perspective camera.
Probally, I dont know much about cameras to be honest.

Benefit being that we have a separate pilot and camera operator on the same drone.
Thats usual for any big rig. But most of the pros run DJI Spreading Wings Series, the Inspire .... is beautiful..... but more for real estate agents and intermediary photo work.

When we need the good old zoom lens we revert to the classic helicopter. Albeit at a much higher price.
Get DJI Spreading Wings so you can carry a proper camera :D You will save yourself a fortune. I so wanna have a client purchase a big rig from me so I can put it together and play with the new A2 Flight controller from DJI. Meant to be the best ever from them. Way better their than Naza`s or Wookings.
 

genetic

Honorary Master
Joined
Apr 26, 2008
Messages
26,491
#20
Aah nice. If you ever get something with an A2 flight controller. Ill work for free just to get access to play with it :D
Put your name up in the film industry as a drone operator.

I swear you could retire just after a few years the demand is so high.
 
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