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How to Build Your Own Drone: A Beginner's Guide

Posted by Drone Parts Blog on

Have you been thinking that you want to build your own drone? Then don't miss out on this beginner's guide that features essential drone building info.

Keyword(s): build your own drone

 

In the past few years, the popularity of drones has exploded among professionals and hobbyists alike. Just last year, over 670,000 drones were registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. 

While flying a drone is a rewarding hobby, buying a drone can also be an expensive investment. Given the different types of drones and customizations available, it's important to do your research before getting started. 

But if you have experience flying drones and would like a unique experience, it's also possible to build your own drone. Constructing your own drone allows you to make an aircraft that meets your exact needs and specifications.

If you would like to learn to build your own drone, keep reading to find out how. 

Deciding Whether You Should Build Your Own Drone

If buying a drone is a huge investment, then it's an even bigger undertaking to build your own drone. Before you start this project, it's important to evaluate whether this is the right choice. 

Here are some things to think about before diving in. 

Think About How You Plan to Use Your Drone

The first thing to consider when deciding whether to build your own drone is how you plan to use it. This will help you determine whether you should buy a drone off the shelf or build one. 

For instance, some folks use drones for commercial purposes for a company or small business. If this is your plan, you'll want to consider how confident you are in your technical skills before you build your own drone. If you're handy, making your own drone could provide the customization you need; if you're not, you may want to rely on a drone made by a professional.

By contrast, if you primarily fly drones as a hobby, building your own drone can be a fun way to elevate your hobby to the next level. There's no better way to understand how a drone works than by putting one together yourself. Building this knowledge may also help you become more effective in flying your drone. 

Consider the Time and Money You Are Willing to Invest

In addition to being a complex technical undertaking, deciding to build your own drone is also a big time commitment. In fact, you should expect to invest at least 10 hours of labor into this project. This does not include the time spent researching and gathering necessary parts and equipment.  

Luckily, even though there is a time investment, it is typically cheaper to build your own drone that to buy one off the shelf. Additionally, if you choose the best drone parts for your project, your equipment will last longer and need less maintenance. 

Understanding Drone Terminology

Once you decide to build your own drone, the next thing you need to do is develop a basic understanding of drone terminology. This will make it easier to understand any guides you need and to identify the parts and supplies you need. 

What is a Drone?

First, let's define "drone". The terms "drone," "quadcopter," and "unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)" all refer to an aerial vehicle that is manned by a remote or a computer. Hobbyists sometimes avoid the word "drone," because of its association with military use

Types of Drones

Not all drones, or UAVs, are created equal. There are different types available for purchase or for construction. Understanding the different types will help you decide what kind to build.

For out-of-the-box drones, you can choose from RTF, BNF, and ATF. RTF drones are "Ready-to-Fly," and come with all parts and accessories. BNF stands for "Bind-and-Fly," which describes drones that must be matched with a compatible transponder. 

If you would like to build your own drone but aren't fully ready to commit to a complete DIY project, you might consider an ATF, or "Almost-Ready-to-Fly," model. These drones don't come fully assembled, and may require different parts and accessories. Assembling one of these UAVs can help you understand how to put a drone together.

Finally, drones are also identified by how many motors/propellers it has. A tricopter has 3, a quadcopter has 4, a hexacopter has six, and an octocopter has eight. 

Mechanical Parts and Terms

Knowing the different parts of a drone will help you purchase the parts you need. It will also help you understand how the drone works and fits together.

  • The Frame: This is one of the most important parts of the drone. It provides a similar function as the human skeleton, by holding the vehicle together and protecting the other parts. 
  • Center of Gravity: The drone's center of gravity, or CG, is the part of the drone where the weight is equally distributed on every side. While building your drone, it's important to know how to properly place the center of gravity. 
  • Landing Gear and Dampeners: These are protective pieces designed to minimize damage to the drone. Landing gear consists of plastic, rubber, or metal materials that cushion the drone during landing. Dampeners are typically made of rubber, and help to reduce vibrations throughout the drone. 
  • Shell: As the name implies, the shell is an outer coating that protects the other mechanical elements, and makes the vehicle more aerodynamic. The shell can also serve an aesthetic or decorative function.  

Sensors

In order for your drone to fly effectively, it must be fitted with certain sensors. This will help you determine the atmospheric conditions of the area where you're flying it. 

  • Acceleromter: This device will measure the acceleration of your vehicle, which will help you control it while it is in flight. 
  • Barometer: Measuring atmospheric pressure allows the drone to calculate how high above the ground it is. 
  • GPS: Installing a GPS in your drone will allow you to direct it to specific coordinates. Also, if the drone leaves your line of sight, you can direct it to return to its starting location. 

Propulsion

At its core, a drone is a flying vehicle. This means it must be outfitted with propulsion technology to be able to fly.

  • Motor: Just like your car, a drone needs a motor. In a drone, the motor is responsible for rotating the propellers. 
  • Lithium Polymer: Lithium polymer batteries are lightweight, and can release a lot of current. For these reasons, they are a popular choice in drones. 
  • Electronic Speed Controller (ESC): This device is connected to the flight controller, motor, and battery. The ESC helps the driver regulate the speed at which the motor rotates.

Choosing a Frame

As we mentioned before, the frame of a drone is analogous to the skeleton of the human. It only makes sense, then, that the first step to build your own drone is choosing a frame. 

Types of Frames

The type of frame you choose will depend on how many propellers we have. As mentioned earlier, you can make your drone a tricopter, quadcopter, hexacopter, or octocopter.

A quadcopter is by far the most common type of drone. For this reason, it can be a good choice if you are deciding to build your own drone for the first time. This is because most of the flight controllers on the market will be compatible with a quadcopter. 

The most common problem with quadcopters is resiliency. In other words, if one propeller fails, the other three will not be able to compensate, which can result in a crash. A hexacopter or octocopter can provide more of a backup system in this situation. 

That said, hexacopters and octocopters tend to be more expensive to build, because they require more parts. Also, because these vehicles require a larger battery pack, they tend to be heavier than quadcopters. 

Frame Materials

After you choose what kind of frame you want to use to build your own drone, you'll have to decide what kinds of materials you want to use to construct the frame. 

Most commercial drones are built with plastic frames. Additionally, pre-made plastic frames are easy to purchase. If this is your first drone build, plastic can be a good option. 

That said, if you are interested in building your own frame, you do have more options. For instance, if you're looking for a cost-effective option, you can actually make a frame out of wood. Wooden frames are also easy to repair and replace.

By contrast, if you want to build a higher-quality drone, carbon fiber is an excellent material choice. It is a tough material, but also extremely lightweight. This makes it a good option for building a sturdy and energy-efficient drone.

While carbon fiber is certainly the most expensive option for frame material, that might not always be the case. Currently, innovators are working on ways to make carbon fiber more affordable using recycled plant materials

For less expensive alternatives to carbon fiber, you can consider G10 or aluminum. G10 is a type of fiberglass and has a similar look to carbon fiber. Aluminum is readily accessible and is flexible and easy to work with.

Assembling Your Materials

Now that you have your frame, it's time to assemble the rest of your building materials. Whenever starting a new building project, it's important to gather everything you need before getting started. This will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Also, when you purchase your drone parts, make sure to choose a vendor that accepts returns. This will come in handy if you discover during the course of the project that one of the pieces isn't working as you had planned. 

The Motor

When you build your own drone, it's important to understand the difference between "brushed" and "brushless" motors. These terms describe how the coils and magnets in the motor work. 

In a brushed motor, the magnets are fixed and the coils spin. The main drawback of these motors is that the brushes tend to wear out. This makes them a better choice for smaller drones, rather than large ones. 

By contrast, a brushless motor is one where the magnets spin and the coils are fixed. Also, because these motors don't contain brushes, they tend to last longer. While these motors are typically more expensive, their durability and versatility make them a better choice for drone builders.

Propellers

Propellers are an essential component of to build your own drone because they help the vehicle achieve lift. There are a couple of factors to consider when choosing propellers for your drone.

First, consider what size propellers you want. Blades with a smaller diameter are often easier to slow down and speed up. By contrast, blades with a larger diameter are a good choice if you want to maintain a more consistent speed. 

When it comes to propeller materials, plastic, wood, and carbon fiber are popular choices. Plastic is a popular choice, because of its low its low cost. Even though plastic propellers are prone to damage, they are very inexpensive to replace.

If you want a top-quality drone, the best choice is carbon fiber propellers. But if you are building a drone for the first time, plastic propellers will be just fine.

Before you start your building project, make sure that your propellers are compatible with your motors. In some cases, you'll need to purchase an adapter ring to connect the propeller to the motor. 

Flight Controller

The flight controller is the part of the drone that contains all of the sensors, and that communicates with the remote control. In other words, it is the "brain" of the vehicle.

The flight controller will contain the sensors we discussed earlier, including the accelerometer, barometer, and GPS. Ultimately, it is up to you as the builder to decide what sensors to include in your drone. Keep in mind that, the more sensors you choose, the more expensive the project will be. 

Taking Flight

While it can be a daunting task to build your own drone, it is ultimately also a rewarding one. Once you have finished your drone, you can get started with the fun of using it. And, before you know it, you will be building your next one!

Have you taken on the challenge of building your own drone? What was the process like? Let us know in the comments!


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