Autonomous Drone (Quad)

Submitted by Matt on Thu, 06/11/2015 - 17:05

I have built a semi autonomous drone out of parts ordered off the Internet.

When I was in school we wanted to make something like this for our senior design project. But we ran into difficulties in the early planning stages when we discovered there were very little off the shelf parts for doing stuff like this. You pretty much had to repurpose RC car/airplane parts, which in many ways was not ideal. Even if you could get a good build you had to design a flight control system which with a quad is notoriously difficult.

That was with a group of people. Now you can do it in a weekend or so singlehandedly with soldering skills and basic electrical sense.

Final (for now) version
Most recent configuration

Now flight controllers are basically commodities. You can get them for as cheap as around $10 (CC3D controller) or as expensive as a few hundred. The component parts have fallen in price so much as well.

In addition to all of this there are various vendors that will sell you a completely finished design (no assembly required, like buying a toy) for less than $300 or so at the time of writing this. But that is no fun! Basically the same logic as building your own computer applies. If you want full customization or performance and ability to tweak things without having to rely on official accessories you are still better off building your own. Also if you crash it, it is much more difficult to total your aircraft.

You can see the specs for the pixhawk here: 

This controller is capable of fully autonomous flight with a GPS module. The 915 MHz telemetry module allows for remote control functions beyond what your RC controller allows.  Assembly is a little more tricky since you have quite a few things to fit on a given frame.  I have mounted a camera below the drone (not pictured). So far I have been able to take some pretty cool photos.

If you are interested in purchasing a Pixhawk you can buy it off of 3DRobotics site, or get a much cheaper (but not necessarily inferior) implementation much cheaper on eBay. It is an PX4 open hardware design that anyone can make. The control software is also completely open source. I got mine off of eBay and was able to figure out how to set it up ok, but support there would definitely be lacking if you have problems because most of the sellers are just wholesalers.

You can have lots of fun after mounting a camera.

Destin Family Photos taken with the drone:

Arial View 1

Arial View 2

And here is the automatic control interface. You can run it with any Android phone that has USB OTG (On the go) capability.


My next goal is to add First Person View (FPV) capability to this drone. That will warrant a whole new article itself.

This project also encouraged me to design the 1.2kW Battery Charger for super fast reloading of flying time.


Original Build Article (older):


Just finished building my drone and adding basic video capability.

Parts list
Be sure and check amazon for the ebay and hobbyking stuff. Usually its cheaper there, if they have it. Keep in mind lots of them are interchangeable too, so if you find one with similar specs it will usually work. The flight controller is CC3D, and it is very forgiving

Heat Shrink wrap:
Battery Bags :
FlySky Controller:
Tenergy charger:
Velcro Straps:
Bullet connectors
(Need male and female still)

Battery voltage sensor:
Motor Drivers:
Battery Adapters:
4x Motors:
10x Props (i think of 2 packs) :
There are uber cheap ones on ebay, but these are primo
XT Connectors

Original Pics, with old camera and controller:

Original Drone

Older action video