How To Build A Drone from Scratch – A Do It Yourself Method

If you want to learn how to create your own drone, this is the right article for you. Creating a drone may sound too vague but when you have the right information and a willing heart, you are good to go.

how to build a drone from scratch
Photo Credits: George Espinosa, flickr.com

This article presents a Do It Yourself (DIY) method of how to build a drone from scratch.

Video: How To Build A Drone from Scratch

If you prefer learning by video, this article is also explained here

Drones are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles. They have been in existence for a long time but were majorly used for military purposes. Today, they are used by people in various fields.

Commercially flown drones are fast becoming popular. This technology has offered us a new flight experience.  More so, the addition of Global Positioning System (GPS) to control flight has made drones more advanced.

Most people especially nerds, are passionate about flying drones. In fact, they assume this to be a hobby. Drones have a variety of application. They can be used in capturing images from certain heights that would be impossible for humans to reach.

Unmanned aerial vehicles grant us access to areas where our eyes can not reach. Therefore, it is being used by the military, to detect terrorist camps. Drones can be used for the following purposes:

  1. Monitoring of crops
  2. Delivery of goods
  3. Forecasting of weather
  4. Footage collection in cinematography
  5. Live broadcast in disaster regions
  6. Geographic mapping
  7. Surveillance
  8. Monitoring of wildlife

As a result of the variety in drone application, the demand for commercial drone is increasing.

The first and most important step is to get the necessary materials required to build your own drone. If you are in a hurry and need to get a drone as soon as possible, get a drone kit.

The drone kit contains all the materials that you need just like in a jigsaw puzzle. All you are required to do is fix each piece and you will have a drone to fly. While this sounds like fun, especially for beginners, it still feels like a regular drone.

Drones fixed from kits have little or no chance for customizing to meet the needs of the creator. However, if you need something unique, you can get the parts required to create your desired drone.

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Furthermore, when a fault develops in a drone built from a kit, it may be difficult to trace. Getting a replacement for the parts may also be challenging.

Conversely, if you build your drone from scratch, you are more likely to understand where the problem lies. 

Tools You Can Use to Build Your Own Drone

Solder and a soldering iron

This is needed for assembling parts of the drone.

Multimeter

This multimeter is optional, but you may already have this in your collection of tools. Well, in case you encounter electrical issues, this tool will help to diagnose the problem.

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Helping Hands

This is also an optional tool, but you will need this when trying to solder the drone parts.

Velcro

You will find this to be very useful when you want to fix your battery in the drone.

Sticky Tape

You could get a double side sticky tape as it will be used to fix the drone parts to the frame.

Electrical tape Or Heat Shrink

This will serve as an insulator for the metallic bullet connectors. When flying the drone, Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs) and motors will be connected to the bullet connectors.

However, if the points touch, your drone will be short circuited. When this happens, your drone will come down, crashing.

Zip Ties

For areas where your sticky tape may not suffice, zip ties come in handy. For instance, when fixing the electronic speed controller.

Basic Drone Parts Needed for Creating A Drone from Scratch

The kind of drone to be made is dependent on the parts that you will purchase. Well, almost every kind of drone requires just about the same type of parts. It all depends on the choice of the builder.

In this section, we will discuss the parts that are needed to build a drone and their functions.

Frame

This is the skeletal system of the drone. It is the part that carries all the other parts that make up the drone. You can construct your own frame, but this will require a good level of engineering knowledge. The kind of frame to choose depends on how many arms your drone will have.

A drone with one arm, will basically have one motor but if it has multiple arms, it will have multiple motors. In this vein, here are the kinds of drones, according to their number of arms:

A drone with three (3) arms is known as a Tricopter

A drone with four (4) arms is known as a Quadcopter

A drone with six (6) arms is known as a Hexacopter

A drone with eight (8) arms is known as an Octocopter

Among these kinds of drones, the quadcopter seems to be prominent. Hence, we will streamline our discussion to this type of drone.

Furthermore, the size of the frame is very important. You can know the frame size by measuring how far apart two arms are from each other.

Since we are narrowing our discuss to quadcopter, measure the diagonal distance between two arms. This will give you the frame size of your drone.

Frame sizes vary and they could be

Nano drone which is between eighty (80) to hundred (100) millimeters

Micro drone which is between a hundred (100) to a hundred and fifty (150) millimeters

Small drone which is between a hundred and fifty (150) to two hundred and fifty (250) millimeters

Medium drone which is between two hundred and fifty (250) to four hundred (400) millimeters

Large drone which is between four hundred (400) millimeters and above

Motors

The motor you choose for your drone will determine the speed at which it will fly. There are two types of motors. These are brushless and brushed motors. If you need a cheap motor, buy the brushed type. On the other hand, if you need one that will weather the storm, go for a brushless motor.

Brushless motors offer more benefits than the brushed types. They do not consume much power from the drone’s batteries, are quiet, durable and do not need to be maintained.

Your quadcopter will require four (4) motors since it has same number of arms.

When trying to decide on the type of motor to buy for your quadcopter, consider the manufacturer’s spec. On the motor, you should get information about the power, size, thrust, weight, KV, etc.

Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs)

These are the components that power the drone. They make the alternating current (AC) which the motor requires to function. For a quadcopter, you need four (4) electronic speed controllers. But you can also get a central type that will stay within the frame.

Propellers

How to Build A Drone from Scratch
Photo Credits: Creative Commons, pikrepo.com

Your choice of propellers should suit the type of frame in use. They usually bear four figures. For instance, 6030 or 8045.

A 6030 propeller means it has a diameter of 6 inches and a pitch of 3.0 inches. This implies that the first figure signifies the diameter while the last two figures signifies the pitch.

Likewise, an 8045 propeller has a diameter of 8 inches and a pitch of 4.5 inches.

The pitch determines how fast your propeller will spin. So, you may need to get a high pitch propeller.

Flight Controller

This is the part of the drone that gives direction to electronic speed controllers (ESCs). It tells them the speed at which they should move.

Flight controllers are usually made for some software like Raceflight, KISS or Betaflight. Your choice of software will probably affect your flight.

The Board for Power Distribution

The board for power distribution, also known as PBS, is what connects batteries to the drone’s ESCs. It also offers connecting points for other parts of your drone such as the camera and flight controller. Ensure that you check the voltage that the power distribution board can accommodate.

Connectors

For quadcopter, a 3.5mm connector is recommended to connect the electronic speed controls (ESCs) and the motors.

Batteries

The Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries are commonly used to power drones. The batteries should be connected correctly to avoid explosion. Some motors are specific about the type of battery to use.

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Battery Monitor

It is an essential drone accessory as it can help you to monitor the battery level. If your drone does not have enough juice, the monitor will send you a signal.

Camera

This is optional. But if you have to display your photos and records of the aerial view to people, you should consider getting a good camera. Ensure that the camera is light weight, to avoid crashing your drone.

USB Key

This part is needed to enable you save your videos and photos.

Mounting Pad

If you plan to take quality pictures and videos, you need a mounting pad. This will help to absorb the vibrations from the flight.

Radio Controller and Receiver

This is a handheld device that gives instructions to the motors based on the input of the drone user. Mounting a sensitive receiver will help your drone pick signals from a far distance.

That is all for the drone parts. You now have an idea of what you require to build your own drone.

It is important to know that there is no particular order for building your drone. Some people love to start from the power distribution board and work outwards.

Let’s get on with building the drone.

Steps to Building Your Drone from Scratch

Get the Frame

Whether you are constructing or buying the frame, note that a quadcopter requires an “X” shaped frame. This is as a result of how the propellers are positioned.

Also consider the size of your frame as that will determine the size of other parts of the drone.

For building a wooden frame, cut a smooth wood that is around 60 cm or more. The thickness should be between 25 mm and 30 mm.

Cut the wood in order to make two (2) laths. They should have a length of 60cm and width of 30mm. When you cross both laths, you will get an X shape.

Furthermore, make a rectangular shape from another wooden board. You will add it to the center of the frame. The size will be 6 cm by 15 cm. Also, the thickness will be around 2 mm or more, depending on your preference.

Since this is a do it yourself (DIY) method, you can decide you to use your own dimensions. The parts will be connected using glue and screws.

Mount the Motors

To mount your motors, you will drill holes on the frame. When that is done, screw the motors to the frame, using a screwdriver.

You ought to consider the size of the motors’ screw holes and that of the holes you will be making on the frame. Also ensure that the shaft and the clip of the motors are free to move.

If you are building your drone from a kit, the motors usually come with a mount. Here, you will have no need to drill holes.

Mount the Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs)

This will be mounted at the base of your frame to make space for the parts to be added above the frame. Ensure that the ESCs are secured with zip ties.

Fix the Gear for Landing

If you buy an already made frame, you will not have to make a landing gear. It will be attached to the already made frame.

The landing gear serves as a shock absorber when your drone is landing and touches the ground, especially if the surface is hard. You can make your own landing gear with carbon, PVC, rubber or metal.

If you decide to use a metal, get one with a diameter of 6 inches or more. Cut out four (4) rings. These rings should have a thickness of around 1 to 2 cm and should be according to the size of drone you intend building. Fix them to the drone using a tape.

Fix the Flight Controller

This is the part of your drone that will determine how stable your drone will be. The flight controller interprets the signals gotten from a receiver and this decides how your drone will fly.

The receiver can be fixed to the flight controller. Ensure that the connections are properly fitted. Your flight controller should come with plugs to connect to electronic speed controls (ESCs).

Mount the flight controller on the drone but add a little sponge under it. This will reduce vibrations when the drone starts flying.

Fix the Radio Controller

Your radio controller should have at least four (4) channels to determine roll, throttle, yaw, and pitch. If you want to attach a camera, your radio controller will require more than these channels.

Connect the Batteries

The batteries can be attached to the receiver and hooked up with the flight controller. Some quadcopters have in built batteries, but detachable batteries are better. In case your batteries run out, you can replace them.

Use a Velcro to keep your batteries in position and a strap to keep them secure.

Flight Test

How to Build A Drone from Scratch
Photo Credits: Spyros Gialelis, flickr.com

When every part has been fixed, your drone needs to be tested. Here are the things you required to check before flying:

The weather condition should be suitable for a first flight

Ensure that every part of the drone is well fitted including the propellers

Ensure that the controllers are well placed with the proper receiver

Also check if the radio controller can pick clear signals

There are other checks to be made but that depends on the features you added to your drone.

Before going out to fly, remove the propellers. Test if the drone will respond to the radio controller. Allow the drone to move within a certain distance. When you are sure that everything is in place, then you can take your first flight outside.

After your first flight has been successful, join a community of drone builders and boost your morale. This will inspire you to try your hands at building other types of drones.

We hope that this do it yourself (DIY) method will be useful as you create your own drone.

We wish you luck and welcome you to an exciting world of creativity.