On January 2nd this year I took a flight over my neighbors house using a store bought drone (Phantom FC40) and a GoPro camera that arrived as a Christmas present. I was very happy with the quadcopter and the footage I took. Then, about a week later, I sunk the whole kit into a lake never to be seen again.
At the time I was pretty upset with myself – I made a rookie mistake and paid for it badly. But I also reasoned that since I had enjoyed modifying the FC40 I should try my hand at building drones instead of buying them.
One year later and I’ve come a long way learning everything from soldering to PID tuning (don’t ask).
I eventually built two different copters, a quadcopter and then a hexacopter, although it feels much more than that because each of those has been built, rebuilt and upgraded numerous times. Here’s a quick comparison:
||DJI Phantom FC40
| Flight Modes
- GPS Hold
- Altitude Hold
- GPS Hold (slow and fast)
- Altitude hold
- Automatic (programmed)
- Guided (click on moving map)
- Follow me
|Real Time Telemetry
||Manual or Fully Automated Point Of Interest Lock
But probably the best way to show the difference is to compare two videos taken one year apart. The video on the bottom was from a year ago with the Phantom. It took two separate 9 minutes flights and was then edited to keep only the best parts. The video on the top was taken in one shot, no editing and took less than 3 minutes to complete from take off to the fully automatic landing.
In fact this year’s video even made it into the local news, and you can find the full version here.
I’ve learned a huge amount that past year, gained some great friends and had a blast doing this, particularly as my #1 son and daughter were very involved in the build of both machines.
Where do we go from here?
The drone market is in a phase now where digital cameras were 10 years ago. Their capabilities are increasing exponentially while prices are plummeting. Even with how far I have come even the cheapest DJI Phantom 3 would outperform my hex in almost every way and these can now be had starting at under $700. Just a year ago something with that capability would have cost nearly three times that amount!
For me to build the equivalent of a Phantom 3 Standard would cost around $450 in parts alone, and that is if I use cheap parts sourced from China that would need a lot of time to set up properly.
Will I still build? I think the days of building from scratch are over, it just doesn’t make economic sense anymore. But I will continue to improve the ones I have as a way to learn and experiment. There’s also talk of teaching kids how to build them as part of a maker space project and that is something I would really enjoy doing.
In the meantime, if you are thinking of getting someone a drone for Christmas, or have one and need questions answered…fire away!