Getting Started with Quadcopters

Recently, I got the idea in my head to see if I could build an autonomous drone with a spare Raspberry Pi I had laying around.

While doing some research on the internet, I came across First Person View (FPV) Quadcopter Racing.

Woah. Coolest. Thing. Ever.

As a long time video gamer – I was instantly hooked. Needless to say – my original project was thrown out the window and I spent the rest of the day watching videos and beginning to make plans to build my own. I quickly warned my wife about the upcoming drain on our budget (one must always be fiscally responsible, right?)

Ok, so what is FPV Quadcopter flying? Basically, you fly a radio controlled quadcopter using a first person view versus the usual “stand on the side of a field and fly into a tree from 200 feet away third person view.” You achieve a first person view by transmitting video from a camera mounted to the quadcopter to goggles that you wear. It’s like Star Wars speeder bikes and First Person Shooter video games wrapped up into a real life experience with actual hardware on the line.

What follows in my next series of posts is my experience building my own quadcopter: my research, the process of building, learning to fly, tinkering, and my general path to what I have no doubt will be quadcopter awesomeness.

Build Your Own Quadcopter or Buy Ready to Fly

The first question you need to answer is if you want to build your own or buy a ready to fly quadcopter. If you read some of the forums, quadcopter blogs, and talk to more experienced folks out there the consensus is that it is best to buy a cheap ready to fly (RTF) quadcopter first and learn to fly it before building your own. The reasoning is pretty good:

  • You can get one cheap – and not be out of a lot of money when you inevitably crash it.
  • You can focus on learning to fly (the hardest part) and not debugging hardware.

You can get a pretty cheap ready to fly quadcopter that comes highly regarded for less than $60. The following two options got high marks as good beginner quadcopters:

You won’t be building your own for this cheap. I estimated I’d spend around $250 getting setup and buying some extra parts (excluding the First Person View equipment).

It’s hard to argue this logic. Let’s be honest though, does logic really apply when you’re talking about flying a small radio controlled object with four motors that looks like a UAV? No.

With that said, I chose to build my own quadcopter. For me figuring out the components, the electronics, tinkering with new stuff, and putting it all together is about 60% of the fun. If you’re a DIY/Maker type person, you’re probably shaking your head in agreement right now.

Of course, I’m also cheap, and in the end this is about entertainment (it’s a hobby). So, let’s do a cost analysis of the price of entertainment for each option.

Ready to Fly Quadcopter Analysis:

  • Time spent researching RTF: 1 hour
  • Cost of Quadcopter: $60
  • Cost of Entertainment: $60/hour

DIY Quadcopter Analysis:

  • Time spent researching: 6 hours
  • Estimate time to build: ~12 hours *
  • Tinkering: ~6 hours *
  • Cost of Entertainment: $10.42/hour ($250/24 hours)

* These are complete guesstimates – I’m probably underestimating which works more in my favor.
** This assumes you view the process of getting into any hobby as entertainment, and you probably should if you don’t.

If I told you could see a movie for $10 or the same movie for $60, which would you choose?

By building my own I will most likely lose more money and be more frustrated. But, I will also be more satisfied and have more fun even if the damn thing never flies. DIY quadcopter all the way!

Note: I did make one concession – I will not be doing FPV out of the gate. I’ll build it, learn to fly a bit and then strap $100’s of dollars of FPV quadcopter gear to my machine.
What do you think? Why are you going to build your own quadcopter?

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