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Best Way To Build A DIY UAV? 259

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the please-include-armament-instructions dept.
Shojun writes "I am very interested in building my own UAV. Not just one that can fly around happily, but one that I can program to say, take photos every second as it does a barrel roll under a bus (ok, that part may be a pipe dream). I have enough embedded programming experience — it's the hardware which I'm uncertain about. I can go the kit way, and then build the remaining stuff, or get some Dollar Tree Foam boards and build it all. I'm in favor of ease, however. Once the plane is built, buying a dev board seems like a possibility, but I wonder whether it's overkill. Alternatively, if there was a How-to-build example on the net for such an activity that I could adapt, to the degree that I could then program in even completely hardcoded flight instructions, I can certainly take it from there. Thoughts? Has anyone here tried something like this before?"
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Best Way To Build A DIY UAV?

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  • I'd make sure the Feds have no problem with you running something like this around. Best to make sure you won't get shot down/at.

    • by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:51PM (#28088037)

      Best to make sure you won't get shot down/at.

      The Feds? No. Even the Feds don't have the power to stop a populace from flying their UAVs. Shooting down a model plane is more dangerous than the plane itself, so I don't see it becoming practice. What you are going to see is laws prohibiting *ownership* of UAVs and parts to build them. Most likely, these will come under the blanket of anti-terrorism laws.

      • by Kell Bengal (711123) on Monday May 25, 2009 @08:32PM (#28089461)
        Also expect FAA regulation, enforced by the police. Model RC planes have enough trouble getting room to fly free of interfering bureaucrats.

        As you rightfully point out, though, once people appreciate that the difference between RC planes and a cruise missile is a smattering of electronics and a hand grenade, I think they'll tighten the screws. It might start with parts, but the stuff you need to make a UAV/missile is very similar to what goes into many many other things (eg. gyroscopes, accelerometers)

        • by w0mprat (1317953) on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:04PM (#28090681)
          Someone has already tried a DIY payload carrying cruise missle powered by pulsejets and GPS + RC components, to try and prove exactly that point.

          http://www.interestingprojects.com/cruisemissile/ [interestingprojects.com]

          It was remarkable not only that it was exceedingly cool, and perhaps the ultimate DIY hack ever, but that it flew right in a legal sh1tstorm before it even took off. This, in a country (NZ) with relatively deregulated airspace.

          The result is the government really did not like this, and moved to stop him actually testing this, including some pretty underhand ways of shutting him down (threatening to call in all his Tax debt all at once). As a result he got some very high profile prime time publicity in this country at least. Basically his point was, anyone could do this, and he set out to prove just that. Rather successfully. But this fellow is not exactly your average terrorist but a rather a patent-holding backyard engineer. I still don't think even highly resourced terrorists would go down this route, so perhaps he wasn't right after all, and was just asking for trouble.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by AB3A (192265)

          A UAV is a collision hazard.

          The difference between RC aircraft and a UAV is that with an RC aircraft someone is flying it in a wide open area where they can see it from the ground and steer it away from hitting anyone or anything. You can't say that for a UAV unless you have a bunch of high resolution cameras sending video back to you in real time. That would make it pretty heavy. Above certain surprisingly low weight limits, you'll need to coordinate your activities with air traffic control. Chances are th

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by emddudley (1328951)
        The FAA has a page for the Unmanned Aircraft Program Office [faa.gov]. I also found an article [flightglobal.com] from December 2, 2007 about regulations on UAVs. It mentions Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations & Policies [faa.gov] which would probably be useful to review.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Yeah, the FAA has a system in place to introduce new UAVs in a legal fashion. Unfortunately, the current system requires that every new UAV go through this process. My company has been on the waiting list for ~2 years to have our UAV made legal. They specifically told us that they will only certify 4 UAVs per year, and they will give priority to "established" companies. Basically, Boeing or Northrup Grumman can get their UAVs certified, but a startup company has no chance.

          New regulations are just around t

      • We need a new moderation tag for posts like these. I've seen +5, Funny, and in this case, I'm proposing +5, Sad.

        It's just a sad statement. I don't find it terribly insightful, but I'd give it +1.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by syousef (465911)

      I'd make sure the Feds have no problem with you running something like this around. Best to make sure you won't get shot down/at.

      People fly R/C all the time. There are clubs world wide and there are governing bodies which regulate a wide variety of things - where you can fly, how large your model can be without needing to be certified, what radio frequencies are permitted. What he's describing is more complex than R/C but there won't be much additional regulation to comply with and the "Feds" won't be inter

      • by scoot80 (1017822)
        Yes, however with most RC toys, the person using it is usually in "total" control (unless it runs out of batteries/goes out of range) and it either plummets to the ground, or keeps flying into a really tall tree... It sounds like the OP is trying to build a set and forget plane, and there may be a few issues with that.. Don't know, just my 2c worth..
        • by i.r.id10t (595143)

          I wouldn't think that if ballons are OK that a pre-programmed autopiloted powered plane would be out... but that is probably too common sense for the .gov

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        What he's describing is more complex than R/C but there won't be much additional regulation to comply with and the "Feds" won't be interested unless he does something that violates the existing laws.

        There are no existing laws or regulations that allow UAVs to fly in US airspace. There are, however, specific exemptions for hobby aircraft -- the essential difference under the current regulations is hobby vs commercial. A hobby UAV is allowed, but a commercial UAV is not allowed.

        My company designs small UAV helicopters and flight control computers -- technically, we break the law every time we have a flight test. Luckily, the FAA are under a mandate to develop draft regulations in the next 6-9 months th

    • by AHuxley (892839) on Monday May 25, 2009 @09:30PM (#28089981) Homepage Journal
      It all depends. If the device is glider based, long ranged and does not transmit, they cannot really go after the hardware for RF violations.
      The problem is if the plans become too useful. The idea with gps 'anyone' could make a cruise like device with 'okish' optical payload.
      Get it up high with a motor, drop the motor and let it cool off. Could it almost be stealthy? Let if drift over an area of interest.
      The camera would click away. You could build a cage around it to mess with radar. A hole for the 'off' cell phone to transmit from.
      Most intrusion detection systems would be radar based, optical or looking for heat.
      You have no heat, mostly wood. Would a big wooden eagle fool a optical over flight AI?
      Fire it off over a suspected 'Area 51', ie a new/old US base that seems to have much more activity.
      Become the Gary McKinnon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_McKinnon) of the UAV world.
      Have a cell phone inside to 'call' its gps location after x hours to come pick it up. Recover and publish via TOR :) Just make sure you did not call your gf/bf, mom or work on the cell before the flight ;)
      Then the feds would have to do something about the wetware.
      Some subtle pranks to get you depressed.
      Then you would be "DC Madam ed" or join Costas Tsalikidis, the Greek telco whistleblower who was found hanged.
      Adamo Bove head of security at Telecom Italia who exposed the CIA renditions via cell phones 'fell' to his death.
    • by mjwx (966435)

      I'd make sure the Feds have no problem with you running something like this around. Best to make sure you won't get shot down/at.

      I'd be more worried about the local rednecks shooting it down.

      The local or state authorities will have no problem so long as you stay within the existing guide lines for model planes and wireless transmissions (assuming you want to send video). Also don't break local laws with it (or piss off the neighbours, a model plane with a camera could easily be misconstrued as stalking

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by IWannaBeAnAC (653701)

      Correct, all air traffic globally is regulated by international law, and in the USA the airspace is administered by the FAA. Unless you go to a huge hassle to get an airworthiness certificate and licenses (a big hassle, and probably impractical unless you are a professional or seriously hardcore enthusiast), you MUST comply with the existing exceptions for radio controlled craft. This means:

      Line of sight. You must stay within line of sight of the aircraft, and you also must be able to take control of t

  • I shouldn't have to look up acronyms because an editor fails at adding one to the summary. Since I had to look it up anyway -- for those as clueless as me, UAV means Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

    • by Swizec (978239) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:38PM (#28087921) Homepage
      UAV has been a buzzword for the past 10 years. You could've learned it by now even without leaving your mother's basement.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:08PM (#28088213)
        It's not a basement, it's a command centre
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I bet you're one of those coders who doesn't use comments because the "the functions names are explicit enough and if someone REALLY wants to use my API they'll read the code."
        • by Swizec (978239)
          Documentation should be separate from code. If they're reading the comments, they're already in the code, might as well make the code readable enough to serve as its own comment.

          Ideally though the documentation should be so good an API user doesn't need to even open the source files.
    • We real geeks already knew that. UAV has been in common usage on tech news sites (including slashdot) for quite some time now.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by camperdave (969942)
        UAV has been in common usage on tech news sites (including slashdot) for quite some time now.

        It is fairly easy to confuse UAV with AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle), which is basically the same bot, but different fluid.
    • Please enjoy your stay.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Since I had to look it up anyway -- for those as clueless as me, UAV means Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

      Please hand over your geek card. Your privileges have just been revoked.

    • by legirons (809082)

      otherwise known as D.I.Y. DRONES...

    • I second that. While I knew what a UAV was, there are plenty of "summaries" that do a crappy job of summarizing. Assumption of knowledge leads to some of the worst bugs or unwieldy APIs, yet we continue to see nondescript summaries that waste the time of readers. You'd expect better from a geek website.
    • by sznupi (719324)

      Well, if you don't know what UAV is, this discussion is no place for you; sounds fait to me.

    • while you're at it could you clarify, DIY? Come on wikipedia is there for a reason, /. editors are not here to hold your hand, if you don't understand an acronym the article is probably not for you, should kernel articles explain what VM,CFQ,kexec are?

  • Paparazzi Project (Score:5, Informative)

    by sznupi (719324) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:25PM (#28087823) Homepage

    http://paparazzi.enac.fr/wiki/Main_Page [paparazzi.enac.fr]

    Open source autopilot/software/hardware design for small UAVs. Check succes stories and links on their webpage for a quick overview of what (quite a lot!) can be reasonably easily achieved.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Vu1turEMaN (1270774)

      Very interesting, but only plumbers like Mario can have pipe dreams.

    • by dimeglio (456244)

      Cool stuff. Looks like a degree in aeronautics and electrical engineering wound not be a bad thing either. But then, you'd be doing it for others as well...

  • Hell, UAV? How about building a cruise missile in your garage. Take pictures while barrel rolling under a bus, orrrr, take pictures while breaking the sound barrier. Check it out: http://www.interestingprojects.com/cruisemissile/missilemanbook.shtml [interestingprojects.com]

  • If I were to attempt this, I'd probably just get a regular RC aircraft to start with and then rig something like this [mr-lee-catcam.de] into the airframe. I'm sure there are cheaper solutions, but it would probably be one of the easiest.
  • Try AUVSI ideas? (Score:4, Informative)

    by TigerNut (718742) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:29PM (#28087859) Homepage Journal
    The building of an autonomous flying craft has been the subject of student competition for quite a while, but the focus has generally been on helicopters, simply because you can get them to stand still... doing a good inertial autopilot on an airplane is significantly more challenging.

    Link to old contest stuff [angel-strike.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Everything I've read from people knowledgeable in this matter say helicopters are more difficult because they are naturally unstable where as most airplanes are naturally stable. This means the feedback control systems for helicopters is more difficult.

      The forums on the diydrones website (same website that this slashdot questions linked) has all the answers to the questions asked. It might take a few hours to search through those forums and understand enough about what you're reading to find the answ
      • by TigerNut (718742)
        True enough. My background is as an RC airplane hobbyist 'way back when, and more recently (10 years ago) involved with GPS and inertial navigation using a ring-laser gyro based IMU. When I posted I hadn't read the link that the poster gave... didn't realize it was an autopilot dev board, which is cool. The AUVSI contests (the company I worked for back then sponsored contestants by way of deals on GPS equipment) mostly featured helicopters, because the precision nav challenges in the contests required hover
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kell Bengal (711123)
        Absolutely. I know several groups who have had great difficulty getting helicopter UAVs working (including my own!), and these were major government-funded research organisations. If building a UAV is on the cards do yourself a favour and start with a fixed-wing vehicle. You can use cheap sensors without worrying excessively about more advanced topics like state estimation and gyro bias calibration and drift. WYIAAARSIH (Why Yes, I Am An Aero-Roboticist Specialising In Helicopters).
    • the focus has generally been on helicopters, simply because you can get them to stand still... doing a good inertial autopilot on an airplane is significantly more challenging.

      No, the focus has been on helicopters because airplane autopilots are a done problem. Most commercial airline flights can go from takeoff to touchdown without human intervention -- human pilots are pretty much the backup system these days. Not true for helicopters. The Bell 429 has an autopilot -- it smooths out inputs and cancels wind gusts and such, but it can't take full control. And I think Sikorsky might have something similar, but in general helicopters don't have autopilots. B/c it's a freaking hard

  • forums. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by guantamanera (751262) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:30PM (#28087873)
    go to the http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/index.php [rcgroups.com] RC forums there is alot of info in what you want to do. and here is the forums you want http://www.rcgroups.com/uav-unmanned-aerial-vehicles-238/ [rcgroups.com] Note that if you live in USA it is illegal to make UAV. Even first person view flying is illegal. But first you need to learn how to make stuff fly before you even attempt to do the UAV stuff.
    • Re:forums. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Speare (84249) on Monday May 25, 2009 @08:22PM (#28089375) Homepage Journal

      Note that if you live in USA it is illegal to make UAV. Even first person view flying is illegal.

      Bullshit.

      People build and fly unmanned aerial aircraft all the time. There are weight and altitude limits, but there's no limit against small (say, under 55 lbs) aircraft at low altitudes (say, under 400 ft above ground), flown by radio control viewed from the ground, or from downlink FPV video, or even partial or full autonomy if you can achieve it. Might want to browse the AMA for sanctioned fields, but you don't have to fly at a group-sanctioned nor government-sanctioned location.

      I always wonder why they'd still call it a V-for-Vehicle since there's no passengers, but that's another story.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by TeTalon (142851)

      That is not completely true.
      There may be local or state laws to prohibit personal UAV's in the USA.
      Just as there are zoning laws for RC planes and choppers.
      And lets face it, you very well fly a real plane or chopper out of your garage normally.

      But there is no National laws or FAA regulations prohibiting small R/C class planes and choppers being setup as UAV's.
      But I do believe at some point the FAA would get involved in an ultra light size or better UAV.
      Because now your talking about real safety issues.

  • You want to visit DIYDrones.com

    It's a very active community that has a lot of resources for people entering the UAV scene.

    • by tylerni7 (944579)
      I second this recommendation. Obviously the poster has been there if they linked to it, but they also clearly have not taken advantage of it at all.
      Sure, Slashdot is great, but you can sign up on DIY Drones and get much better responses from people with more experience working directly with, well, do it yourself drones.

      On another note, I've been sort of working on my own UAV for a little while now. You can get lots of parts from Sparkfun, ranging from the Ardupilot to GPS's to microcontrollers that you
  • by AnthonyA7 (1015763) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:38PM (#28087923)
    I'm a just-graduated aerospace engineer from Notre Dame. For our senior design project, we build uav's... well, really RC planes. Everything had to be constructed from scratch, except for the electronics (motor/battery/GPS/receiver/etc). This year's goal was to have a mothership-daughtership configuration where the daughtership would detach mid-flight and maneuver on its own. Believe me, it's loads of fun to build everything from scratch, but it is a lot of work. And I definitely think it is doable by anyone, not just aerospace engineering majors.

    Here was my team's plane: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW68B3DnNWA [youtube.com]

    If you're interested in actually constructing the structure by yourself, I'd definitely suggest picked up a book on model airplane construction. Hobby shop dudes are also a big help, just go in and throw some ideas out and most hobby store owners will be very enthusiastic. And, if you're _really_ interested, I'd suggest Aircraft Design: A Conceptual Approach by Daniel Raymer. Link: http://www.aiaa.org/content.cfm?pageid=360&id=1396 [aiaa.org]

    Oh, also, flying a model aircraft requires a hell of a lot of skill- we get the awesome dudes down at the South Bend RC Plane Club to fly ours.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by immel (699491)
      Mod parent up. The designers in my club swear by that book. Definitely seek the advice of the local hobby shops (after all, you need the right off the shelf components from them).

      For more info on programming flight control systems and simulations, see Flight Stability and Automatic Control, by Robert Nelson. http://www.amazon.com/Flight-Stability-Automatic-Control-Robert/dp/0070462739 [amazon.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Falconhell (1289630)

      Model Aircraft Aerodynamics by Martin Simons is am excellent reference for antone wanting to design and build model aircraft/UAV.

      20 Years ago Martin got an invitation to speak in Washington, where when he arrived he was surprised to find himself speaking to the top airforce brass. At the time he could not work out why-
      as UAV became more common he found out!

    • Here was my team's plane: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW68B3DnNWA [youtube.com]

      lol, did the camera man have some of that Red Bull cola? ;-)

    • Not to get into an AE pissing contest but NCSU did that project for their 2003-2004 senior design course. That was a few years before I graduated but I remember seeing them fly and it was really impressive. One of the many videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RX47ofUrTHQ [youtube.com]

      It's good to see other schools requiring building and flight testing though. Too many times I've run across engineering students and/or recent graduates who have a lot of theoretical background but don't actually have any idea of how much

  • by Alanceil (891771) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:43PM (#28087977)

    Have a look at this project: http://www.mikrokopter.de/ucwiki/en/Mikrokopter-Get-started [mikrokopter.de]
    They offer assembly instructions and software.

    Some pictures: http://gallery.mikrokopter.de/main.php [mikrokopter.de]
    and videos: http://www.mikrokopter.de/ucwiki/VideoListe [mikrokopter.de]

  • I second the diydrones.com recommendation.

    Almost everything you need ready-made.

    http://diydrones.com/profiles/blog/show?id=705844%3ABlogPost%3A44814 [diydrones.com]

  • by syousef (465911) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:49PM (#28088017) Journal

    I hope you have a few spare thousand dollars.

    From your post you clearly know nothing about r/c aircraft. Learn to fly an r/c aircraft well without crashing. Go find a club and an instructor who'll teach you. Also get hold of a good simulator unless you want to spend thousands. That'll take you at least 6 months, probably closer to a year. (Longer if you don't have any aptitude for it). Flying r/c planes takes more practice and skill than you might think. It'll also cost more than you think. Once you have an appreciation for the difficulties of flying R/C you might stand half a chance programming one with a robotic interface. You'll also want to be able to take over manually from time to time when you're programming the thing so if you get something slightly wrong you've got some chance of saving it.

    You could also learn about the robotics more simply with an r/c car. R/c cars can move slowly without any risk of falling out of the sky. Some of what you learn will translate to air, other parts won't.

    If you want something off the shelf, I did read about robotised r/c helicopters for commercial applications like security but I think they cost in the 10's of thousands. I think you STILL need to know how to take over manually.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Goaway (82658)

      Or he could buy something like the Easy Star and learn to fly it in an evening or two.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Falconhell (1289630)

      Huh? took me 2 days to learn to fly RC, and that included a few repairs to the ol Soar Birdy.

      There are now many cheap virtually indestructable models made from EPP foam available, no need to spend thousands.

      • by syousef (465911)

        Huh? took me 2 days to learn to fly RC, and that included a few repairs to the ol Soar Birdy.

        Can your electric foamy carry a GPS, camera and other electronics you'd need to make it autonomous. I'm sorry but you're flying the absolute bottom end of the scale and you have decided that means you have "learnt to fly RC". There are many very cool planes out there that you wouldn't have a hope of flying without a lot more practice. That includes some of the most basic non-foam and glo fuel planes.

        There are now ma

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Falconhell (1289630)

          Your ignorance of models is revealed by the fact you dont even know what a soar birdy is. It was an all built balsa and ply 2 ch floater common some years ago.

          Actually, I designed and built kevlar, glass and carbon moulded F3B models 25 years ago, winning a round of the OZ nationals so I might just have more of a clue than you about model aircraft.

          Any of my F3B models could carry all the stuff you mention, it would be lighter than the designed ballast it carries.

          I have flown glo powered pylon, pattern and m

          • by syousef (465911)

            Your ignorance of models is revealed by the fact you dont even know what a soar birdy is. It was an all built balsa and ply 2 ch floater common some years ago.

            Oh yes, of course. My entire knowledge of R/C aircraft should be judged by my lack of knowledge of a single model that was common where YOU live "some years ago". I need to go back to r/c school right now. I suggest you google the phrase "people skills".

            Actually, I designed and built kevlar, glass and carbon moulded F3B models 25 years ago, winning a

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Falconhell (1289630)

              If you bothered to read and comprehend my post and the one I was replying, you would find you claimed one needed to spend thousands of dollars to learn to fly RC, which is evidently wrong.

              The soar birdy was an american (Joe Bridi kit) basic 2 ch design sold in the thousands, and would be known by anyone with a long term involvement in RC.

              I still have the models I made 25 years ago in perfect condition, and fly them about once a year,
              dut to a heavy instructing commtiment and time spent flying real sailplanes

    • That hard? I mean i know it being remote control will make it more difficult, but flying gliders is a piece of piss, surely there are motorized glider R/Cs and learning to use them cant be too hard?

      • by syousef (465911)

        That hard? I mean i know it being remote control will make it more difficult, but flying gliders is a piece of piss, surely there are motorized glider R/Cs and learning to use them cant be too hard?

        You'd be very surprised. You have a number of things you need to train yourself to do correctly before you can fly an RC plane. Someone else pointed out that there are easier electric foamies out there. That's true but I'd dispute that they are "virtually indestructible" or that once you learn them you'd have the

    • by Dare nMc (468959)

      it will likely be close to $1000.
      I am personally heading down the same path you direct (but cheaper), bought a $200 electric plane, with the FMA co-Pilot [fmadirect.com] to learn to fly the RC plane (after a couple 15 minute sessions playing the RC sim at the local hobby shop.) These sensors then work with the arduPilot [ning.com] once you are a competent pilot. Total cost for the training aids, plane, gps+board... sub $1000

      cant yet comment how well it works, just got the plane in the air (2 feet), now getting the FMA co-pilo

  • UAV tried to kill me (Score:5, Informative)

    by immel (699491) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:49PM (#28088019)
    The last time some of my friends tried doing an automatic control system, the plane turned straight toward the flight line and tried to kill us all!

    Unless you have extensive experience designing them, I would recommend going with a kit plane for hardware rather than trying to build one from scratch out of foam boards. The reason for this is that you will start out with a design you know is flyable and has the stability properties you want. One of the classic errors in model-scale UAV design I've seen people make is trying to design the craft from scratch only to discover that their control surfaces are poorly sized, the thing is dynamically unstable, and it requires hand-made spare parts after every flight.

    I think an ideal platform for a UAV like you describe would be a foam flying wing with maybe a 3-4 foot wingspan. The flying wing design would at least in theory allow you to decouple some equations which would be difficult to do in traditional fused aircraft and impossible to do in helicopters. Also, unibody construction makes it easier to land without landing gear. Landing without some pretty complex rangefinding hardware is tough, even for a computer system. Doing a skid landing on that huge wing surface with a rear-facing prop will add some margin of error to your landing sequence. If possible, get an ARF (Almost Ready to Fly) model. They come with airframe, power system, and sometimes all the servos. All you need to add is the radio equipment (I assume you are going to have a manual override backup. No, really. You're going to want a manual override.). Expanded polypropylene foam is actually more durable than a lot of people give it credit for, and replacement parts for these aircraft are easy to find.
  • Stumbling blocks (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hammer79 (1163799)
    I have thought about doing a similar project for a long time, one where you can just enter GPS coordinates at get the plane to fly to those coordinates and take a picture, maybe take some weather readings as well, and send it back to a base station. A big problem that I see would be that it's hard to know how much a finished board would weigh, and how much power consumption would the instruments impose on the battery pack? Would I get an advantage from a more powerful engine from more lift, or would it just
  • Go to (Score:3, Funny)

    by b4upoo (166390) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:54PM (#28088067)

    You might try instructables.com.. They have a section with this kind of project.

  • Get an RC plane (Score:2, Insightful)

    by coaxial (28297)

    It seem like the obvious approach would be a fairly large RC plane and mount a second the camera (perhaps on a servo) and a tv transmitter on it. You downlink the video to a laptop that then uses some sort of usb connection to a gutted rc controller, either with servos moving the sticks directly, or better yet, bypassing the potentiometers and variably outputting voltage directly to the control board.

    It seems like the hardest thing is avoiding (auto)pilot error. I don't have any experience with RC planes

    • by immel (699491)
      Although your average laptop has quite enough computing horsepower to run a basic flight control system, I recall a similar project I saw demoed at college found that the downlink of telemetry and transmission through the radio introduced a little too much lag time for performance to be acceptable. Then again, that project was demoed on a helicopter. A fixed wing aircraft might be a bit more lag tolerant.

      Although there is a case to be made for doing the math on the ground, for right now it's probably bett
  • I have always been interested in the same thing. The problem I have always encountered is that you would want this thing to fly on its own, to other states, territories, etc, maybe with a camera. Ideally you would be able to go to your PC, bring up an app, and see (out of the cameras on your UAV) where it is (flying over a beautiful mountain peak, etc). You would also want to be able to send to it new coordinates.

    But how do you keep in communication with it? Military UAV's most definitely use satellites.
    • by sznupi (719324)

      We already have cheap and ubiquitous way for transferring data while on-the-go: cellphone network. I'm thinking about implementing it at some point in UAV that I'm toying with.

      Granted, there are countries with spotty coverage...but there are also those where, even if 3G range is limited to aglomerations, 2G/GPRS is practically everywhere (or at least - I've never seen "out of range" on my cellphone; also, beeing somewhat above ground will help reception on an UAV)

    • by bcmm (768152)
      Iridium modem?
      • by bcmm (768152)
        Never mind, those seem to be fairly high-latency.

        Dial-up modem connected to a gutted iridium phone? Is that technically workable?
  • ...an R/C plane. There are any number of magazines and books describing the construction of such, covering many different types for many different needs. Any electronic project you might wish to mount on the plane would be its own project and more an electronics problem then a problem in constructing the plane (the weight would have to be strictly controlled, of course); cameras are a popular one and you could probably find many plans, notes, and tips in the above mentioned R/C resources.

  • Autonomous glider (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcmm (768152) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:14PM (#28088257)
    There were some people who built an autonomous glider which could perform many of the things you mention (with the notable exception of powered flight), including flying pre-programmed routes while taking photos (as well as navigating to specified coordinates autonomously). The process of building and testing it is documented in a fair amount of detail [members.shaw.ca], including information on choices made for the on board electronics.

    I have no particular interest in building aircraft, and still thought that page was a good read.
  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:16PM (#28088281) Homepage

    Not sure if you already have radio-controlled airplane experience. If you do not, I have a very solid recommendation for you:

    A world-class starter platform for both learning to fly and lifting is the Slow Stick. It is one of the most popular planes with RC hackers, is cheap as dirt, has solid lifting potential (and upgrades can make it a real monster), and has lots of commercially available upgrade parts.

    I'd go with a slow stick glider, and add a cheap brushless motor for starters (in fact, that's precisely what I have about six feet behind me for my first aerial photography platform). That will give you a good mix of cheap and solid lifting potential.

    As for the forum, Slashdot is a good place to start for all things geeky, but the specialist forums you're looking for are at RCGroups:

    http://www.rcgroups.com/ [rcgroups.com]

    Here's the main starter thread for Slow Sticks:

    http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=122951 [rcgroups.com]

    Admit your noob-ness, ask for advice, be respectful, weather the occasional ornery response with good humor, and you can learn everything you want to know at RC Groups.

  • Here's yer UAV: it's a long piece of string and a big kite with digital camera and an Eye-Fi card taped to it. Have fun and make sure you're home in time for supper, young man.

  • if your in the US your getting into a legal shit storm, look here:

    http://www.faa.gov/aircraft/air_cert/design_approvals/uas/reg/media/frnotice_uas.pdf [faa.gov]

    and here

    http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgAdvisoryCircular.nsf/0/1ACFC3F689769A56862569E70077C9CC?OpenDocument&Highlight=91 [faa.gov]

    other than that, it is an interesting controls project, most interesting part will be getting accurate sensor information without spending a ton on a decent gyro...

    build a simulator or you will wreck a lot of airplan

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fishbowl (7759)

      Under 400 feet, 3+miles from any airport, not over any built-up area, and not annoying anyone (such as your local sheriff deputy who doesn't know or care about the limits of FAA regulations), those regs you cited do not apply.

      On the other hand, it might be more fun to start this hobby within an organization that can get FAA 8130s, has a real budget, a CNC machine shop, chip fab plant, money, a big place to fly with Air Force approval, money, etc.

      I work at a place that could get the COA/special 8130/7177 and

  • I'm not doing your homework for you!

    I'm not sure if the original poster is with Al Queda ("wikislamofacism.com tl;dr lol") or a Bond Villain (too lazy to Google for "world domination").
  • first step, get a park flyer

    learn how to fly a park flyer first. they are the easiest to fly and the most rugged.

    once you learn how that particular plane flies, next step is to start automating some of the control surfaces.

    I suggest you start simple, program simple a simple take-off and then relinquish to manual. (make sure you program a throttle cut-off if you don't receive manual input in x time.)

    once you get that down, work next on a simple park circuit.

    As for hardware, the simplest design is a board t

  • The arduino is a wonderful microcontroller for this sort of thing. It's cheap, it's available in small form factors, and it has pwm outputs that can be used to control servos.

    I've also heard that some people have had success interfacing a wii controller with the arduino. If it's not to heavy, that might serve as a good, inexpensive accelerometer.

  • I used to work on autonomous UAVs as an engineering competition project in college. This was a couple of years back, so the technology's probably changed a bit. But here's some advice to get you started.

    First of all, I would not bother trying to program the entire system myself. There's an awful lot to do, simulation is challenging, and failed tests are expensive and will set you back a lot of time. So you should focus on integrating existing stuff as much as possible. There'll still be crashes/failures/etc

  • DIY UAV (Score:3, Informative)

    by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe&jwsmythe,com> on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @04:04AM (#28092263) Homepage Journal

    I had intended to build one, but my working budget went from a little something to less than nothing due to job changes. I still keep my eyes open to what can be done though. Right now, it's a mental exercise.

    The most important thing to remember is, as a hobby toy, unless you want to get in serious trouble with the FAA, you must follow a few rules. This is probably not all inclusive. It's just what I can think of off the top of my head from my own research. Find a local R/C group, and reference the FAA pages for more information.

    The FAA has a notice on UAV's here [faa.gov].

    1) It can not go over 400 feet.

    2) You must stay out of any airspace that an aircraft may be flying in. That is, stay out of the approach and departure areas of any airport. Someone just got in trouble for this, where they had an R/C airplane with a camera that filmed a commercial airliner flying by. It was several seconds between the time the aircraft passed, and the wake turbulence knocked his R/C plane out of the air, which would imply a decent separation, but still, stay away from aircraft.

    If you haven't gone through private pilot flight school, you may not be aware of the airspace restrictions. Stop by a local small airport and ask. There will always be someone with time on their hands that will love to talk to a newbie.

    3) It can never leave your sight,

    4) You must have control of it at all times. That is, your remote control must be able to override anything it wants to do.

    6) Watch the frequencies that you're using. If you're on R/C frequencies and TX power, you're safe, but play nice with other people who may be flying. Don't hog a bunch of frequencies because you need them for additional controls. If you're working with other frequencies, check the licensing on those. You don't want to piss off the FCC too.

    Now I'll go into the territory of ignoring FAA and FCC rules. Don't do it. Don't get caught doing it. Don't tell random strangers that you're doing it. Sure as hell don't post youtube videos of it, because you'll have feds in your livingroom with a no-knock warrant and a one way ticket for you to Southeastern Cuba.

    For mine, I looked at a variety of options. If you search around enough, you'll find people mid-sized R/C airplanes (say about a 3' wingspan) with embedded PC's to do their dirty work. I didn't find this totally practical both from the OS standpoint and the interfaces. I want lots and lots of standard interfaces, and I want flexability to use anything I can. I intended to use a small x86 platform machine, running from a flash card (SD/MMC/CF). Delicate parts will get broken quick. Embedded or x86, you'll probably want several onboard to handle different functions. They'd need to be networked together so you can exchange data. For example, one reading your sensors, one to control the servos, one for comms, etc, etc.

    I wanted to have the ability to carry at least a couple camcorders, and USB webcams. Every ounce of weight you add means you need the aircraft to support it. That means it needs a good amount of lift and thrust.

    I'm assuming you've flown before. If you haven't, go to a local small airport and go for your private pilots license. That will include both ground school (the book work on how things work), and flight (actually working an aircraft). To program an aircraft for perfect conditions is one thing. Making it takeoff, fly, and land in less than ideal conditions is another. What happens if the wind picks up, and you have to slip during your landing? If you haven't programmed for it, either you'll end up way off course if tracking to a GPS coordinate, or you'll get blown way off of the field, probably into something less tha

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