DIY Drones: What You Need to Know

What You Need to Know About DIY Drones

diy dronesDIY Drones are becoming a popular project for dedicated hobbyists. For those of you looking to build a diy drones or UAV, there are a lot of great video and blog resources out there. But, finding the most reliable information can be challenging and time-consuming. That's why we've put together this list of videos, websites, and how-to tips to help you get started!

Are DIY Drones right for me?

If you were one of those curious kids who always asked “why” and loved taking apart things and putting them back together, DIY Drones might be the next project for you.

So if you're ready to take the plunge into the world of DIY Drones and UAVs, remember to start at the beginning.

DIY Drones: Getting Started

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First, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the types of drones that you can build. Luckily for you, Coleman Benson has already created a comprehensive “How to Make a Drone/UAV” tutorial on RobotShop's blog. Benson gives an excellent background on drones and UAVs while covering the different types of DIY drones components and options available to first-time and experienced builders.

DIY Drones: Terminology and Types

Benson's first lesson covers DIY drones' terminology. He provides easy-to-understand definitions and guides you through the process of building your own drone.

Next, he lists the different types of drones that you can build. Some options come fully assembled while others only need a transmitter or receiver while the most challenging DIY drones need to be built pretty much from scratch.

Benson defines DIY drones as “custom” aircrafts that involve using parts from a variety of suppliers. These types of drones may also involve creating or modifying your own parts for construction.

What Type of DIY Drone Should I Build?

Building DIY drones requires a lot of patience. If you're new to this type of project, the process can be difficult and even dangerous. You may want to start out with Toy or a RTF (“Ready To Fly”) kit that includes everything and doesn't need to be assembled.

ARF- “Almost Ready to Fly”

If you have some experience building things, an ARF or “almost ready to fly” kit may be a good DIY drone to start with. This type of kit usually includes the frame, motors, and most of the core parts. An ARF comes partially assembled; usually it requires a transmitter and/or a receiver; at most, this type of drone may need a battery or a charger.

Drone or UAV Kit

The next step up from an “Almost Ready to Fly” kit is a DIY drone/UAV kit. This type of kit usually includes most of the core pieces needed to build a UAV. Generally, this type of kit needs a transmitter, receiver, battery, charger, and/or flight controller. But UAV kits vary, so it's important to see what's included in your particular kit. Also, remember to do your research to make sure the parts you source are compatible with your UAV kit.

The Custom DIY Drone

For the experienced and ambitious UAV kit builder, a custom drone is the next level up. These types of drones combine several products from different manufacturers to create a working whole. For this type of drone or UAV, you'll need  to have a thorough understanding of the different components needed to build your own aircraft.

Typically, the parts you will need for a custom DIY drone will include (but not limited to):

  • Transmitter (and receiver) – Link
  • Quadcopter Frame – Link
  • Flight controller – Link
  • Power distribution boards – Link
  • Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs) – 4 – Link
  • Propeller Drive Motors – 4 – Link
  • Propeller adapters – Link
  • Lithium Polymer (LiPo) BatteryLink
  • LiPo Balancer/Charger – Link
  • Battery Adapter – Link
  • DC 12V Power supply – Link
  • Propellers – Link
  • Nylon spacers – tall – Link
  • Nylon spacers – short – Link
  • Bullet connectors – 3.5mm – Link

Building Your First DIY Drone

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My First Drone is a great resource of people who are interested in building their own drones, but aren’t quite sure how. In a post called “How To Build A Quadcopter”, you’ll find all the tutorials you need to build a DIY drone. The article also contains a specific materials’ list as well as links to sites where you can purchase your first quadcopter’s parts.

The cost of building your first quadcopter to My First Drone’s specifications will run you about $350 to $400. It’s well worth the investment and can be a fun and challenging weekend project for people who like making things.

Meet 3D Robotics: A Place for People Passionate about DIY Drones

Former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and New York Times best-selling author, Chris Anderson built his first drone at home with his kids using Lego Mind Machine parts. A short while later, he founded, which has since grown into the world’s largest open robotics community.

Through this community, Chris met Jordi Muñoz, a 19-year-old college dropout and electronics wiz from Ensenada, Mexico. Fast forward 5 years to 2012, where Chris and Jordi officially founded 3D Robotics.

Today, 3D Robotics is widely considered a UAV pioneer and a source for drone news, accessories, and education. What’s more is that 3DR store has a wide selection of DIY drones frames, solo parts, accessories, and virtually anything you need to build partially pre-assembled, modified, or custom drones.

The 5 Main Areas of DIY Drone Construction

Once you’ve decided on the type of DIY drone you want to build (e.g. quadcopter, hexacopter, etc.), you’ll have to learn about the 5 areas of DIY drone construction, which are:

  • Mechanics
  • Propulsion
  • Controls
  • Sensors
  • Video

DIY Drones: Mechanics

The Robotshop blog does a great job of clearly explaining everything you need to know about each one of these five DIY drone construction areas. For mechanics, the most critical parts of your construction are the UAV frame and landing gear. You’ll also want to consider incorporating dampeners, molded rubber parts that are used to minimize UAV vibrations.

The blog recommends G10, a strong and lightweight alternative to expensive carbon fiber frames. This material may be a more cost-effective option for your first drone especially in the event that you don’t quite master construction the first time around and/or accidentally crash it.

While there are even more detailed components described in Mechanics, the UAV frame, landing gear, and dampeners are the most essentials parts of this phase of the construction.

DIY Drones: Propulsion

Propulsion is what drives your drone or UAV. One of the most important features to consider for this area, are the propeller blades. The blades you choose will provide lift; generally, 2 to 4 blades will be attached to a drone. Drone builders  have the option of selecting fixed or folding blades; folding blades can make storage easier, especially if you’re short on space.

Another important component is the ESC or “Electronic Speed Controller.” This device controls the speed at which your UAV motor rotates and connects the battery, motor, and flight controller.

Next, you'll want to consider a power source. A Lithium Polymer battery is the most common battery used for DIY drones, but there are a lot of other options. You'll also need a Power Distribution board or cable to split the power to the devices connected to your UAV. Lastly, there's the actuator that’s called a servo. A servo is in charge of moving a mechanism or system and converts energy into angular motion when given the right signal.

DIY Drone Controls
There are many components that can be integrated into DIY drone controls. The most important are: a base station, a transmitter, and a flight controller. A control station can be used instead of or with a handheld transmitter. A transmitter is a device that sends a signal or multiple signals to your receiver. Generally, a base station will include a transmitter, antennae, a video receiver, a monitor, battery, and other devices.

The flight controller is the “main brain” of your UAV. Like a computer, it processes all the incoming/outgoing data and signals. Depending on how sophisticated your flight controller is, it may have GPS, a barometer, compass, and more.

DIY Drone Sensors

Depending on your budget and your experience constructing DIY drones, there are a wide variety of sensors you can incorporate into your custom aircraft such as a(an):

Accelerometer: a device that lets you know about your DIY drone's orientation with respect to the ground.

Barometer: a device that measures pressure and provides important information about the altitude you're flying in.

Compass: a device that provides you with North, South, East, West information.

GPS: a positioning system that uses satellites to pick up your drone's location.

Altimeter: a device that gives you information about your drone's altitude. Since federal regulations prohibit drones flying above 400′, an altimeter may be a useful tool to help you avoid legal penalties.

Naturally, there are a host of other sophisticated sensors and orientation devices that you could integrate into your DIY drone. But if this is your first DIY drone project, you may want to avoid loading it with the latest high-tech features until you’ve mastered the craft of custom drone building and flying.

DIY Drones: Video

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If you’re not interested in aerial photography or cinematography, you don’t have to add a video component to your DIY drone. Some people are more interested in flying; for these people, not including video will help reduce the cost of building their first DIY drones.

However, for the people who want to take photos and capture aerial scenes, they have several video options available.

FPV or “First Person View” is a video option where a camera is mounted to a drone and a pilot can see a live video feed displayed on a monitor, smartphone, or virtual reality glasses.

Another option is incorporating a GoPro action camera, which many people use to take stills and video of themselves in motion. However, GoPro announced that it would be developing and releasing its own drone in the not too distant future.

So if you have a GoPro camera, you may want to wait and see what GoPro releases before you start building a custom drone.

Depending on your experience and skill set, you may be able to experiment and successfully implement different photography and video devices. Using a little craft and ingenuity, you can integrate a wide variety of digital video cameras, LCDs, or OCDs to your do-it-yourself drone.

DIY Drones YouTube Videos

If you’re looking for DIY Drone inspiration or useful tutorials check out the following videos:

Drone Stories: DIY Drone Build Your Own UAV

3DR Robotics co-founder, Chris Anderson talks about his experience building his first DIY drone with his kids. Anderson provides real-world examples of drone applications and the explains the value of big data for visual mapping.

How To: Make A Drone (Quadcopter)

YouTube user, Andrés Pineda provides a detailed and easy-to-follow video tutorial that will show you how to build a basic quadcopter. He also provides a specific materials’ lists as well as the sites where users can purchase the pieces need to build the DIY drone featured in the video.

How to Build a FPV Racing Quadcopter!

This video is more intermediate and advanced DIY drone builders who are interested in making a FPV (First-Person-View) racing quadcopter. In this video, Norman Chan and quadcopter flyer, Charpu, will teach you all about the components needed to build a strong, mini racing quadcopter for under $850. The video’s description also includes a detailed materials' list. This video tutorial has step-by-step instructions and tips to help builders put everything together.

DIY Drones: Dream Big, Start Small

Before you begin building your drone, remember to do your research.  Consider your budget, time, experience, and needs. Then, familiarize yourself with drone types that you can build.

Next, learn some of the terminology and compare prices of pre-assembled and/or partially assembled drones. Make sure the parts you choose are compatible with the type of drone you're trying to build. If you’re a first-timer, browse YouTube videos for DIY quadcopters and other types of UAVs you’re interested in building. Choose a video that includes a materials’ list and detailed how-to instructions.

Also, use the DIY Drones community when you're stuck. This amazing open source community of amateur to professional robotics enthusiasts can help you solve problems before, during, and after you finish building. Don’t be afraid to reach out to more knowledgeable people when you’re not sure about how to move forward or how to fix a problem.

Keep in mind that you can also use this great resource to find other passionate first-time and professional drone builders in your area. For added fun, connect with people in near you who may be interested in a “DIT” (“do- it-together”) drone collaboration.



Carter is a lead product reviewer and content producer at LemonDrone. Send him products to test or content to publish via the Facebook page!

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