The DIY approach to drones is a great (and usually cheaper) way to go. Step up your drone game with these tips on choosing the best drone parts.
Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are taking off all over the world.
Over 670,000 drones are currently registered with the FAA and it's predicted there will be more drones in the USA than there are people in the state of Nevada by 2020.
Do you want in on the action but are worried about the cost implications? Never fear, these interesting gadgets come in a range of prices, and you can always build your own.
But first, let’s have a look at why you should build your own UAV and where you can find the best drone parts.
Why build your own drone?
The only drawback you might experience when you build your own drone is time.
Provided you have a little technical know-how, you should experience no problems with the nuts and bolts of the procedures involved.
It is usually cheaper to build your own drone than to buy one out of the box, especially since you can tailor-make it to suit your needs. You can improve your drone easily over time and customize it to suit your needs.
If you do decide to build your own drone, it makes sense to ensure that you only buy the best drone parts to get the job done.
On the other hand, a store-bought drone is more suited to those who are not handy at all and who like the convenience of instant gratification. In the event something malfunctions or breaks, you also have the backup of a warranty with a pre-made drone – if you DIY you are on your own.
Either way, you are going to need drone parts at some stage of your drone ownership.
Where to get drone parts
Forget walking from store to store trying to find the best deals. It’s easy to find trusted suppliers online for all the drone parts you will need to make an awesome UAV for any purpose.
Whether you want it for photography, for outdoor flying fun, or to wow your friends with daring ‘dronies‘ of all your activities, your ideal DIY creation is within your reach.
You won’t have to wait long for all your bits and pieces to arrive either, so you can order them in stages as you need them or according to your budget.
What is involved in building your own drone?
Before you decide on what type of drone to build (or buy) you need to decide what your main use for it will be. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all drone.
The size frame you need depends on what you want to do with your drone. In turn, the size of your frame impacts the power of the motors needed to lift it. You may need to make provision for specialized parts too. For example, if you want to try out aerial photography, you need a camera attachment.
Although it is not difficult to build a drone, it may take you a few tries to get it exactly right. Don‘t give up! You will have lots of fun putting your perfect plaything together and the sense of achievement at the end is great.
Let’s have look at the different drone parts you will need throughout the process:
1. Thrust System
The thrust system is what keeps your UAV in the air i.e. the motors and props. It also allows the drone to hover and move both backward and forward.
Quadcopters are the most common form of drone and the easiest to build. Other types of drones include octocopters, tricopters, and hexacopters. These need eight, three, and six engines respectively.
You will need four identical motors for your quadcopter, two turning clockwise and two which turn counterclockwise. When you purchase your motors, they will all be set to turn in the same direction. To change this, you switch the two outside wires around.
The grams of thrust per engine will determine how heavy all your other drone parts can be, so bear this in mind when you purchase them. For example, if your motors deliver 800g of thrust per engine, your UAV needs to weigh under 800g when completed.
You need one prop per motor. Wooden props last longer but are more expensive to purchase initially. Make sure the props you choose are compatible with your motors. If the center hole (bore) of your propellers don’t fit the engines you have purchased, you will need adapter rings to make them fit. Most propellers come with adapter rings.
These small drone parts are designed to protect your propellers and motor in the event of a crash. They are fitted in place of the usual adapters.
2. Power System
The type of drone parts you choose to drive your motors will depend on the power required by the motors as well as the size of the drone.
The power system is made up of the following:
Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs)
You need one electronic speed controller per engine. Make sure the amount of power your motors use at their maximum is less than the maximum Amp amount on your ESC.
If you get an ESC that is equipped with firmware, you will be able to enjoy more acrobatic flight antics due to a superior speed in reading inputs.
Power Distribution System
One system distributes all the power you need. The power distribution system splits the power from the battery’s single connector to power each of the four electronic speed controllers.
There are two main types of PDS:
- A Power Distribution Board which connects to your ESC’s and battery with solder
- A wire harness that allows all 4 ESC’s to connect to the battery.
Battery Elimination Circuit
A BEC is designed to convert your battery voltage to match the DC voltage needed by the flight controller you are using. Most batteries push out more voltage than the average motor can bear. The BEC prevents the motors from malfunctioning by reducing this output.
You can purchase as many Lithium Polymer batteries as you want according to the flight time you need. Each battery can only deliver a limited amount of power before it needs recharging, so for extended sessions, one battery just won’t do, so it pays to have several spares.
Don’t forget to get a compatible charger when you buy the batteries.
When recharging batteries it is a good idea to place them in fire-proof storage for added safety.
3. Control System
These components allow you to steer and control the operations of your drone while it is in the air. The Control System is made up of two main parts:
This is one of the most important drone parts and basically makes sure that your UAV can stay level and airborne. It is responsible for reading how high your drone is and controlling its positioning by means of various sensors.
Some of these include:
Gyroscopes – One gyroscope per arm to detect angular changes and ensure mid-air stability
Accelerometer - Measures the acceleration on each arm to keep the craft stable.
Compass – To control direction
Barometer – Measures atmospheric pressure to control the height of the drone
GPS – Records the specific geographic coordinates of the UAV.
These sensors are contained in the Inertia measurement unit of the flight controller.
Each drone needs its own receiver and transmitter. You do get transmitters that can be set up for multiple drones, but these are an unnecessary expense unless you have more than one drone.
The amount of channels you need on your drone depends on how many extras things you want to add to your drone.
A 6-channel transmitter/receiver bundle is usually a good bet for starters.
4. Support System
This is the skeleton of your drone and holds everything together.
The frame is the main part of this and is one of the drone parts that can really be customized to suit your tastes. These can be purchased in a wide range of sizes from 250mm upwards. Each type of frame has a different number of ‘arms’ to carry the motors, for example, quadcopter frames have 4 arms.
You want to get one that is durable and attractive but still has plenty of room for all the electronics you need. If you can get a frame with a built-in Power Distribution Board, that’s one less thing you have to worry about, and the end-product will look neater.
Types of frames
Frames can be manufactured from several materials:
- Wood is the cheapest alternative and great for first-time builders as it is simple to use and if something breaks you can easily replace it.
- Plastic is used in most commercial drones and the 3D printed molded frames are the most popular of these.
- G10 is a type of fiberglass that looks very similar to carbon fiber but is less expensive.
- PCB or Printed Circuit Board is a good alternative to fiberglass for smaller craft.
- Aluminum can be used as it is lightweight, easy to work with, flexible and inexpensive.
- Carbon Fiber frames are some of the best out there and can be costly, but they are tough and lightweight.
The size and weight of your frame determine what kind of other drone parts you will be able to use, so choose wisely. Make sure that your motors fit on the frame and that you can buy adapters for them if necessary.
Other drone parts
You will need some way to mount the Flight Controller to your frame. These can be bought in kits and will also save you time and effort.
If you want to take aerial photographs from your drone you will need a camera and camera mount too.
Maintaining your drone
Whether you decide to build your own drone or purchase a ready-built one, chances are your drone is going to need some maintenance during its lifetime. Crashes are inevitable, especially when you first start out, and even the best drone parts wear out eventually.
When you build your own drone you can maintain it yourself without worrying about the warranty, but if you have a store-bought one be sure to check the terms and conditions before you start opening things up.
Keep your UAV flying fit by devising a maintenance checklist and sticking to it. This should include everything you need to do both pre-flight and routinely.
Before launching your drone:
- Examine propellers for cracks or dents and repair them if necessary
- Go over any moving parts, including the motor for damage and make sure you can move them by hand.
- Make sure there are no loose screws or bearings
- Power up your device and listen for any unusual noise
- Check for cracks and dents after flight and repair them immediately
- Tighten any loose screws
- Lubricate any moving parts
- Check batteries and recharge or replace if necessary
- Use alcohol wipes to clean the outer surfaces
- Remove the outer covering of your drone and check for loose wires
- Give the motor a once-over to see if anything looks out of place
If you have purchased a drone, you can’t do this last check without voiding the warranty.
Keep a supply of the following items to make sure you can get your favorite plaything back up in the air quickly when things do go wrong:
- Rotor Shafts
- Propeller Guards
- Extra Memory Cards
- Charging Cable
You will find that keeping a soldering iron, a pair of wire cutters, Velcro or double-sided foam tape, heat shrink tubing, epoxy, and fiberglass handy is essential for quick repairs.
Most types of drones need to be registered with the FAA or you could find yourself in hot water with the authorities. Check out the drone registry to see if yours qualifies.
Remember it is your responsibility to know the restrictions on where you may fly these aircraft like near airports or over sports events. Always be considerate of other people when you use your drone, and it goes without saying that espionage and other illegal activities are a no-no!
Don’t know where to start?
Feel free to browse our online store for everything you need to get and keep your DIY drone in the air. Naturally, you will also find a full range of drone parts needed for pre-made UAVs.
We are convinced that our website offers the best value, so visit us before you look anywhere else to get the best prices and value and join our referral program for even more savings.
We look forward to welcoming you to the exciting world of the drone flyers.