Tag Archives: Drones

The aerial video blog…

It’s been a little quiet around here lately.  Instead of writing, I’ve been spending time honing my drone and video editing skills.   Those efforts usually show up in other forums, but I thought I would share a few samples here today.

First Hyperlapse Test

Zabriskie Pond Seasons (timelapse)

360 Panoramic View of Zabriskie Pond

If you liked those you can subscribe to my new blog over at www.aviosaerialmedia.com/blog-page where I will be posting future work.

I have a LOT of aerial video and 360 panoramic work booked over the summer so there should be some interesting things showing up in the future!  Stay tuned!

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Filed under Building Multirotors, Drones, Education

Building an F450 quadcopter – Removing the Wobble

With plenty of flight modes now available it was time to address the wobble I noticed on the first flight. 

Some Googling pointed to the most likely candidate for wobble and the copter sounding “angry” was that the P-gain was too high.  I don’t know what that means but I figured that this would be easy to take care of.  Take off in Altitude Hold, run Auto Tune and, voilà!  Problem solved.  

Unfortunately it turned out to be more difficult than that.

With my new-found knowledge of how to set up the controller I was able to configure one of the options to be Altitude Hold, and set up a switch to start Auto Tune and I set off to get it done.

It was a somewhat windy day so I chose a local school (it was Saturday) that had a nice square protected on three side by buildings thinking this would give me some protection.

I took off in stabilize, stopped at about 15′ and switched to altitude hold.  Immediately the quad shot up about another 20′.  It was now high enough that it was no longer protected by the low buildings and it started to drift fast!  I immediately pressed down on the throttle and it came down, but much slower than I hoped.  I switched back to stabilize as it got near the ground and it dropped very fast, bounced once and landed up side down.  Bummer!

A quick check and things seemed OK, or so I thought.

I sent her back up again and exactly the same thing happened.  This time I had left myself more room and tried to leave it in alt. hold, but now it was really acting oddly.  Pressing the lever to make it go forwards caused it to climb more each time and, with the wind, it was now high up and drifting over the top of the school buildings.  I was convinced it was going to end up on the roof and, in a last desperate act, pushed forwards all the way.  Finally it responded and shot away from the school.  Bringing it down again was, once again, very slow and with the lever all the way down I switched back to stabilize.  Unfortunately the throttle all the way down in stabilize basically means turn the props off and the quad drop out from the sky like a brick.

Time for some self-analysis and to find the culprit of the problems with altitude hold.

vibrationMore Googling revealed that altitude hold issues are often caused by vibration.  Fortunately the APM captures logs every time you fly and I was able to download those into Mission Planner and (after some experimentation) view the vibration logs. This proved to me that this wasn’t the problem. 

flight_mapIt also showed me that this little APM flight controller is super cool. If you have time it is well worth looking into the logs and what they can tell you.  You can even upload these into Goole Earth and get a 3D picture of your flights complete with color coding to show you which flight mode you were in.  Nice!!

Since Auto Tune was off the cards until I could figure out what was wrong with the altitude hold it was time to start asking for help.  Someone on the Quadcopters group provided me with the settings they had that worked and, in comparing those, I noticed that a TRIM_THROTTLE value of 33% seemed much too low compared with his settings.  This is APM’s estimate of the throttle required to maintain a level hover calculated automatically from the pilot’s throttle input while in stabilize mode.  Mine was way too low and actually outside of the 40-60% that is the mid point for altitude hold.

On a hunch that I hadn’t flown in stabilize mode enough for it to get a good reading I went into the back yard and ran through two fully charged batteries doing nothing but trying to keep it in place in stabilize.  Then it was off to a large open area and, voilà!  Alt hold was now working without any crazy behavior!  I was losing altitude on long runs, but for the most part it was well-behaved.  Checking later I found the  TRIM_THROTTLE value of was now a much more sensible 43%.

While working on identifying the Alt hold issue I had also found out that I could assign a knob on the controller to Ch 6, and set that up such that I could adjust the P-Gains while in flight.  I did that, used the knob to back off the Rate Roll and Rate Pitch P gains until it calmed down.  When I got home I found out I had dropped from .15 to .13 so I locked those values in and saved the configuration file to my hard drive as a baseline.

Oh, and for the record, let me just say that testing altitude hold while tying the quad down to a table gives the barometer false readings and doesn’t work, so don’t try this 🙂

But what about Auto Tune?  Now that I had a copter that could stay in the air I went out the next day with a fully charged battery and ran it.  It is very odd watching your quad do it’s dance with no input from you, but it finished without incident.  The results?  Terrible!  It was back to being funky again and very difficult to control.  The good news – remember above when I said I saved my working results as a baseline?  Well, I just restored those.  My old developer habits still keep me honest.

I still have a problem with the craft losing altitude when flying forwards.  I think I might have improved that by stuffing the APM with cotton wool, since I had lost the little piece of foam.  Sadly that was three weeks ago and I have not had a chance to fly since then when it wasn’t raining, snowing or blowing 35mph winds.  I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

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Filed under Building Multirotors, Education

Building an F450 Quadcopter – Day 3 – Soldering!

One of my first jobs involved soldering RS232 connectors by hand.  I was forever burning my fingers and putting on far too much solder so that I then had to spend time trying to remove it from things that it was not supposed to be on.  That was when I was 16, and I still hate soldering to this day.

helpinghandsSo imagine my joy when I discovered that assembling the quad involved soldering about 30 connections (including some to make connectors for another quad).

Since those early days I have learned that the right tools can make all the difference so I bought a decent soldering iron and one of those little helping hands with a magnifying glass.  I also watched a ton of videos on how to solder.

Honestly I dreaded what lay ahead.  So much so that I procrastinated and found all sorts of excuses not to get on with it.  In fact my wife even asked “Are you nervous about this?”  I was.  But eventually, armed with a fresh cup of joe and an audiobook, I got down to work.

An hour later I had surprised myself with how well things had gone.  I had made a charger cable for the Aerosky quad, a battery converter so that I could reuse my Phantom batteries, soldered 12 bullet connectors on the Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs), and soldered all the ESCs on to the power distribution board (PDB).  Work finally stopped when I realized I needed another XT60 connector and some wire to make the battery connector, which meant another trip back to Cruzin RC where I am now on first name terms with the proprietor.

With progress halted until the next day because the CrusinRC was now closed I turned to the Aerosky quad.  With the battery fully charged (thanks to my new lead) I performed the controller calibration and installed the propellers ready for its maiden voyage. Unfortunately the weather was terrible (freezing rain) so that was the end of day 3.

The next day provided just enough time to finish the last connector and I am now patiently waiting for my daughter so that we can start assembling all the components. She can definitely be a big part of this once she finally deigns to fit me into her busy schedule.   With a bit of luck I can get on her calendar next weekend…:)


Filed under Building Multirotors, Drones, Life - or something like it, Technology

Drone Down!

You know that moment when you realize you have F%$#@d up badly?  Yeah…it’s like that.drownedphantom

Anyone following this blog will be aware that I received an awesome quadcopter for my 50th birthday.

I’ve had great fun with this little baby ever since it arrived.  In addition to flying and taking video I found myself enjoying modifying it almost as much as flying it.  In three months I added a camera gimbal (these are magic), remote-controlled tilt control for the camera, and upgraded the main camera twice.


Looking for interesting things to photograph from the air I remembered an interesting looking dam out in Ringwood that I thought was perfect.  It has a nice car park next to the water, a tall flag pole complete with the stars and stripes and, of course, the dam and water.

My first visit was a bust due to high winds so I decided to come back another day.  Saturday’s forecast was rain and snow, but the morning turned out bright and sunny.

Since everyone was still asleep I had no chance of recruiting a spotter, but I decided to go for it anyway armed with three fully charged batteries.

I got one flight in and took some nice shots, but I wasn’t happy.  I wanted a better shot flying around the flagpole, and I wanted a high downward looking view directly over the dam.  I put a second battery and managed two very nice circles around the flagpole, which can be tricky.

Feeling cocky then I flew over to the center of the dam (about 100 yards away) and sent it straight up about 200′ to get my shot.  I decided that a circular panoramic video of the area would be good, and that’s where things started to go horribly wrong.

I looked down at the remote as I started a slow rotation so that I could tell when I was fully around.  Unfortunately I had been lazy in my setup of the First Person View (FPV) camera and it was pointing slightly upwards – all I could see was sky.  Since I had already started rotating I now had no idea which direction the quad was facing.

I knew the battery would be getting low and decided to check the battery status LEDs on the copter.  I looked up and…WHERE’S MY QUAD!?

I knew it was there.  I could hear it.  But I had totally lost sight of it.

Normally when things start going wrong the best thing to do is climb and get above things that can hurt you, so I automatically did that.  Unfortunately that just made matters worse.  Now I was looking for a little dot in a very bright sky.

A little panic started to set in and I decided to use a feature called Home Lock.  Home lock should allow the quad to come back to me regardless of the direction it is facing.  I set the mode, pulled back  on the stick and waited…and waited…and waited.  I couldn’t see it and the sound seemed to be getting further away instead of closer.

The upwards looking FPV was useless.  Nothing but sky to orientate myself with.  In desperation I switched on the “failsafe” return to home feature.

This should have caused the quad to fly home and automatically landing where it started from.  It didn’t.

I could still hear it but I was really starting to panic now because I knew the battery must be seriously depleted.

I waited for it to come, desperately scanning the sky.  I could still hear it and see the image on the FPV and then…a sickening silence and a few seconds later the FPV screen said “Connection Lost”.  

What happened?

I’ve had time to reflect on this.  Too much time in fact because I have actually woken up dreaming about this on several occasions.  So, with 20-20 hindsight, here are the things I did wrong.

  1. When I added the GoPro to the gimbal I knew it’s wifi range was short, so I stuck the original FC40 camera on the battery door.  The door is angled slightly upwards and I should have taken the time to adjust things so that the camera always pointed slightly downwards.  Had it been looking down I could have orientated myself better and probably flown the quad home manually when the fancy Home Lock and RTH features failed.
  2. I should have allowed for the fact that dams contain large amounts of rebar.  I believe this may have confused the compass and interfered with the ability to use Home Lock / RTH.  I could have flown it home manually (see above) but autonomous flying should not have been relied upon.
  3. I should have taken a spotter – preferably someone with younger eyes than me.  OK, that’s tough because if I waited for that I’d almost never fly.  But it might have saved the day.
  4. When things went wrong I should not have increased altitude.  While this has saved me other times, in this scenario it just made matters worse.  Instead I should have dropped down as it would have brought landmarks into view of the FPV camera and I could have orientated myself and flown home manually.
  5. I should not have been so lazy / cocky and walked to where I was flying instead of just standing 100 yards away in the car park.  It would have given me a better chance of keeping it in sight.
  6. It was a very bright morning and the ability to see what little information their was on the tablet I was using for FPV was limited.  A cheap cowl would have made a huge difference.

An expensive lesson learned.

Where do we go from here?

As I mentioned at the start I found that I enjoyed working on it almost as much as flying it.  I had already been talking about building one and my daughter was really into building it with me.  The loss of my FC40 has accelerated that project and I am now in the process of putting one of these together:


F450 Quadcopter

The parts for this are winging their way to my home from various locations around the world right now.

I had also been helping a friend who has a dead Phantom 1 that he doesn’t have the time to fix.  When he heard about my loss he contacted me and said “If you can get it working, it’s yours”.  Wow!  That really made my day.  No idea if it will ever really come back to life, but I’m betting there’s a good chance.

So, learn from my mistakes.  Don’t be cocky.  Take time to set things up properly.  And bring a spotter when you can.  It could be the difference between a healthy drone and a drowned drone.


Filed under Building Multirotors, Drones

Drones changing the world

xl2000In 1996 (with some prompting I’ll admit) my wife bought a GPS for my birthday.  It did nothing!  

It told you where you were and, if you put in coördinates (long/lat) it would tell you how far away that was, and in which direction.  That was it.

I told people this was going to be huge!  They thought I was nuts!

Look around – how far away is your nearest GPS now?  I’ll lay good money it is in your pocket.

fc40For my 50th birthday (with some prompting I’ll admit) my wife gave me a quadcopter and I’m telling you again, these things are going to change everything.  

Every time I take mine out for a flight people come over, ask questions and take photos.

The technology in these is already incredible and is changing at such a fast rate it will make you dizzy.  The one I have will hover in exactly the same place with no input from the operator until the battery dies (regardless of wind), climbs to crazy heights, flies fast, takes incredible rock solid pictures and movies, can carry a payload up to 2kg, and will fly home and land itself when the battery gets low.  The next level up from mine will do all that without human input – just from a pre-programmed route.

The potential for these is almost limitless.  

Here are just a few of the amazing projects people are already working on:

A flying defibrillator that can deliver life saving tools and help in any environment in a matter of minutes.  Ambulance Drone
 3-D mapping of environments  Aerial Mapping
 Search and rescue  Search and Rescue

And this is just the start.

Soon these will carry larger loads for longer periods, will have automatic obstacle avoidance, and will even be able to work together to handle things that a single drone could not.

Right now drones either cools toys, or scary flying cameras.  But, like GPS, they will soon be so common that you’ll not even notice they are there.

That is unless a few idiot users cause this fledgling industry to be regulated into oblivion.

As prices drop, and capabilities increase, there are the usual in-duh-viduals that seem to think that rules don’t apply to them and feel it is perfectly acceptable to fly at 6,000′, near airports, or over the heads of large groups of people in stadiums.

Based on concerns caused by these fools some regulators are pushing for laws that will require a full pilots licence – yes, the ones that let you fly real planes with people in them – for any commercial application.  That is crazy!  As one great quote said, asking people to have a pilots license to fly a 3lb drone is like asking for a medical degree before allowing you to apply a band-aid.

Assuming the regulators see sense, my prediction is that 10 years from now these will be so common you won’t even look up when one flies by.  You heard it first here folks!

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Filed under Life - or something like it, Technology

Drones – Cool or Creepy?

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will have realized that I have a strong geeky side.

My first PDA was a Psion organizer which I bought in 1986.  And I owned a Magellan GPS in 1996 – that was when you put in your destination as coordinates and all it would tell you is “Its 2.3 miles in that direction”

So it was with great delight that on my birthday I unwrapped a DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter.

This awesome little machine has a lot going for it.  GPS positioning allows it to stop and hover if you take your fingers off of the controls, and if you lose connectivity it will fly back to where it started from and land itself.

It also has a small 720P camera that can record videos and even let the operator to see what the camera sees in real time on their phone or tablet via a wi-fi connection.

It’s huge fun seeing video of yourself peering up and views of nearby landmarks from an aerial viewpoint, but this camera seems to be the thing that causes most people trouble.

I have to admit I was a little surprised the first time I was waxing lyrical about my newest hobby only to have someone tell me they thought it was a creepy.  But several people have made similar comments and I think people are really concerned that people are going to start using these things as a new means of spying on them or peeping into their homes.

I think this surprised partly me because nothing was further from my mind.  I had visions of flying this over the local pond, capturing some high altitude shots of my house etc.

I have already heard many people asking for additional regulation to stop that sort of behavior, and other people talking about shooting drones out of the sky if they see them.

As a person with a strong belief in people’s right to privacy I’m left in a bit of a quandary.

One of the things that often happens in these types of situations is that new laws and regulations appear that don’t actually add to protection, but do make life difficult for people trying to have some honest fun or innovate in a new direction.

Let’s be clear here.  It is already illegal to peek into people’s bedrooms and it doesn’t matter whether it is done with a drone, a high powered telescope or a ladder.  

But I also see trouble looming.  What happens when someone loses control of a drone and it damages a person or property?  What about if a drone distracts a driver and causes a crash?

And what about the benefits of having drones?  They have already been used to find missing children and stranded hikers and to survey damage in dangerous areas.

All of the above have already happened.

Clearly this is a space that is going to evolve rapidly in the next few years and, for the moment, the technology is far outpacing the regulation.  And perhaps that is a good thing.  Let’s remember that many people’s impression of the early internet was that it was a place to watch porn.  Knee-jerk regulations at that time could have easily stifled the greatest engine of innovation ever created.

It seems to me that a little patience is needed to see where this goes and allow people to work the kinks out on their own before we start adding new laws to the books.

In the mean time…here’s a short video…no bedroom shots included.


Filed under Technology