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Best Way To Build A DIY UAV? 259

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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  • by DJNephilim ( 832695 ) <DJNephilim&nashvillegothic,com> on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:28PM (#28087857)
    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:03PM (#28088141)

    use the iPhone. It has a good hard drive for programming and picture storage. Also its accelerometer, built in geotagging and GPS capability, along with its built in camera. To use the iPhone as an onboard controller you can interface the audio output with a piezoelectric buzzer and have specific frequencies trigger different controls. (NerdKits piezoelectric buzzer & equalizer project that was on /. not too long ago.)

    The only problem I see is if you can make an APP that does all this stuff so its just a plug and play with the controller board the US govn't will probably ban the use of iPhones.

  • by hofmny ( 1517499 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:03PM (#28088143)
    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. Without the use of satellites, I find it hard for a UAV you build to go beyond your own visual range (= ~10 miles) from the launch site.

    Does anyone have any solutions for this, or does one have to rent time/frequency sharing with a satellite provider (read:expensive)?
  • by immel ( 699491 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:06PM (#28088189)
    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]
  • 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 GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:15PM (#28088261)
    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 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.

  • by xianthax ( 963773 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:33PM (#28088437)

    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 airplanes before you get it working 100%

    use the cell phone network for comms if your going outside ~5 miles, 900mhz radios should reach that far line of sight with a decent antenna.

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:44PM (#28088521) Journal
    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.
  • an experience... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:51PM (#28088565)

    I have built many DIY UAVs (no kits) but have had problems with the police, even though I never flew them out in the open (because I knew they aren't welcomed here): a neighbour saw them in my balcony and alerted the police as they obviously thought I were a terrist, a commie, an alien, or something like that. They couldn't charge me with any crime but they kept an eye on me for a few months by having a police car parked near my house and sometimes escorting me to work. I had no problem with them and was always nice to them whenever they had a question to ask, but since then I destroyed my UAVs and didn't continue with my hobby because I was afraid that eventually they could find something to charge me with just to enhance their prosecution statistics. They continued keeping an eye on me for some time and then they left me alone. So, my advice is: make sure your local police dept is OK with your UAV hobby before you embark on building your own UAV.

  • Re:UAV? Or...? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nethead ( 1563 ) <joe@nethead.com> on Monday May 25, 2009 @07:01PM (#28088645) Homepage Journal

    Q) What countries have more relaxed UAV regulations?

    A) Australia and New Zealand are famously progressive in their UAV policies. Other countries, such as Mexico, have been know to be relatively friendly, too.

    http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?s=31fcf01ee166e7be6375a4830cd4fd5e&t=831627 [rcgroups.com]

  • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @07:16PM (#28088789)

    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 whatever other certs would be needed to manufacture and sell an autonomous plane commercially, but everybody that would have an interest in such things is putting their time and effort into their *real* planes.

  • 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 Falconhell ( 1289630 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @09:49PM (#28090139) Journal

    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 many other contest model types.

    The EPP foam models I have seen have been extremely robust, I have seen them arrive vertically at high speed with no damage. I never mentioned electric power in respect to foamies, many years ago I found flying power models to be boring and pointless compared to gliders

    Glo fuel, ha, the 70's called and want their engines back.

    Despite your claims, a cheap foam model is quite adequate to learn how to fly models of any type.

    Next time dont assume you have a clue about a subject your post shows you know little to nothing about.

  • by IWannaBeAnAC ( 653701 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:15PM (#28090363)

    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 the aircraft in an emergency.

    Altitude restriction, no higher than 400ft. You also need to keep clear of (and give way to) full-scale aircraft (presumably you would never be flying anywhere near a regular airport, but you still may encounter paragliders, sail planes etc).

    Keep clear of built up areas. So definitely no barrel roll under a bus!

    Finally, it sounds like the submitter is completely new to the field, in which case the place to start is to buy yourself a cheap R/C kit and learn how to fly it. You need to be able to fly R/C anyway so this is surely the best entry into the field. Building your own airframe is possible, but seriously hard: you certainly don't want to do it for your first airframe anyway, because you are almost certainly going to crash it, lots, while learning how to fly R/C, and you want something that will fly well immediately, without extensive tuning. And then, once you start debugging the autopilot, you will probably crash it lots more. Start from a cheap kit, and take it from there.

  • 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.
  • by emddudley ( 1328951 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:24PM (#28090815) Journal
    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.
  • by Falconhell ( 1289630 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:55PM (#28091017) Journal

    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, which I find much more interesting.

    As for glo engines, all my recent visists to RC clubs have revealed more electric than glo motors in all cases. Are you in the backwoods somewhere?

    Why do you have a problem with my personal opinion of glo motors and powered flying, if you comprehend the writen word you would see that I said "I found power boring" not power flying is boring-idiot.

    "Advice like yours keeps people from getting into the hobby"

    Yeh right that has been my experience in the 30 years + I have been instructing model pilots.

    I frequently am asked to test fly new models, some of us can move from a foamie to a pylon racer to a glider and back no trouble, were not all as one dimensional pilots as you seem to be.

    Some presumptous slashdot dickweed lecturing me does not impress, especially when you were the one that made the revealingly ignorant and arrogant first post.

    Try a reading comprehension course, then you might be able to reply to things I actually did say in my post rather than your laughably poor interpretation.

In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our programming languages.