Yes, drones are controversial. And drones of any size or type make many people nervous. As someone who built and flew seemingly thousands of model airplanes in my youth, I have decidedly mixed emotions about drones. They can be used for many good things, for many evil things, as well as for actions within virtually any gray area of human endeavour.
Drones now are with us for the present and the future, and many young people and adults fly them for fun, the same way I flew a few radio-controlled model airplanes. Good advances in technology someday may result from the enjoyment a kid currently is getting from flying a tiny plastic drone.
Therefore, as a book reviewer, I will now mostly put aside my personal reservations and offer a few comments on the contents of Make: Drones, a new how-to hobbyist book from MakerMedia.
The book offers several hands-on, do-it-yourself (DIY) projects for crafting your own drones, using some existing frames.
By the way, you don’t worry much about aerodynamics when flying multirotor ‘copter drones. Your concerns are the spinning rotors, the control system that receives your radio signals and adjusts the drone’s movements, and the drone’s battery. Multiple rotors provide the lift, propulsion and steering. If the rotors quit turning for some reason, your drone instantly becomes a stone. And, if the battery overheats, your drone may become a flaming stone.
Make: Drones presents projects covering three classes of multirotor drones.
In the small drone category, author David McGriffy notes: “First we take some measurements and try to improve the performance of an existing small drone, the Hubsan X4C. Then we build a new small drone using a Hubsan frame and an open source flight controller. It’s called the X4Wii since it uses an X4 frame and MultiWii flight control code.”
In the medium-sized drone category, he explains: “Once again we start with the frame from an existing drone, the Syma X5. We use an Arduino Teensy 3.2 as the core of our new flight control system, adding modules for power, sensors, and radios. A custom circuit board ties it all together. Finally, so people can see this new custom controller, we put a clear lid on it and call this project the Visible Drone.”
And the large-drone project “is based on the S500 frame kit,” McGriffy states. “For flight control, this one uses the powerful Pixhawk Lite control and ArduCopter flight control software. Combined with a high-performance GPS unit, this system can fly completely autonomous missions–and it has the power to carry a useful payload while doing it. This one will make a great aerial photography platform.”
McGriffy’s book offers good, clear writing, plus a sufficient number of photographs, drawings, diagrams and code examples. Many different issues are covered, from choosing propellers that give the most thrust, to dealing with vibration, and picking good failsafe settings so your drone automatically will return to the takeoff point if you somehow lose control of it.
You also get good advice for dealing with assembly quirks and wiring issues involving some of the frames.
As for safety, McGriffy predicts: “I believe we will learn to build a class of drone that can be safely flown in and around people. People fly their drones close to people all the time now, regardless, so this will be good for everyone, pilots and bystanders alike.”
Until the creepiness factor goes away, however, I predict I will instinctively swat at any drone that flies anywhere near me.
— Si Dunn
Teach an Arduino to Fly