2013 Project Preview

Posted: February 1, 2013 in News, Projects

My new blog has been quiet, but it won’t be for long. I’ve begun a couple design projects, and planned a few more, all of which I intend to complete in 2013. Here’s a quick list, feel free to suggest others!

  • I’m starting a design consultancy
  • I’m doing designer versions of two of my favorite board games. I expect to complete the designs by the end of February and fabricate them in March
  • I’m going to build a cablecam
  • I’m going to build a much larger, more powerful OctoCopter

More to come.


Completed QuadCopter BuildI spent all week prepping for my build. I read and re-read the terrible assembly instructions (more on that later), did a good deal of research to fill in the gaps, and spent time prepping my workspace. I bought a beat up stainless steel table that came out of a restaurant kitchen to use as my main work table. It was pretty ugly, I don’t think anyone washed it before throwing into storage, but after a good scrubbing and an hour or so of rust removal work, it looks like new. My multimeter and some other bits a pieces arrived at the beginning of the week, and I ordered 4 Turnigy LiPo batteries (3x 3300mAh and 1x 5000mAh) and a Venom Pro Plus Charger charger.

I meant to post about the copter build weekly, but quite a number of things got in the way, including not having any free time to build. I did finally find the time, and once I did I didn’t want to stop to blog about it! The result is this one big blog post that brings us through the (somewhat successful) first flight and up to today. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible without missing anything important. Let’s get started!

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I love stunt work. Specifically, I love wire work. I got into it many years ago after seeing the matrix. The combination of technical challenges and physicality that wire stunt work requires keeps me coming back time after time. So when the Corridor Digital boys asked me to help them with their Assassin’s Creed 3 Fan Film I took the day off work and headed to Stillwater to rig wire stunts in a big tree. Here is the result!

Soldering Station PhotoIn the week since my last QuadCopter post I’ve made a ton of progress. As I mentioned, the learning curve is steep, so I spent most of my spare time doing research to make sure I’m getting everything (and the right everything) I need for a successful build. I’ve also ordered a whole bunch of bits and pieces from all over the web, so next week should be a constant stream of packages, which is always fun!

I’ve had to pick up a lot of tools and tool add-ons. My current collection of tools is more appropriate for building stunt equipment, so I’ve had to supplement my workspace with equipment more appropriate to micro-electronics. My shop has added:

  • A Weller WES51 Soldering Station and both large and small tips for soldering the ArduCopter boards, motors and wiring. I also added a small bench vise and some supplementary tools and supplies. I learned to solder when I was 7, then didn’t do it ever again, so a good friend (and electronics guru) gave me a couple lessons. I’ve been practicing on old boards I’ve found lying around, so I feel prepared.
  • A digital multimeter to test connections and current flow.
  • An anti-static mat and grounding strap to keep from ruining the boards while I’m building them. My “workshop” is the second bedroom of our apartment, and the floors are carpeted. The grounding strap and anti-static mat minimize the possibility of static electricity damaging the delicate ArduCopter boards.
  • Heat shrink and a heat gun to protect wiring from shorts.

Additionally, after much research (and not a small amount of confusion) I’ve chosen a Futaba 8FGH Super Radio Transmitter. The 8FGH is a 14 channel 2.4GHz radio control with a lot of neat and useful features. There are a range of radios on the market from super cheap to obscenely expensive, and everything in between. The 8FG provides a great balance of cost to features, while also providing a long-term investment, because it is powerful and feature-rich enough to allow me to expand into more complex multi-copters in the future.

The last major purchase I have to make (I hope!) is a battery charger and batteries. I’m still a bit lost on chargers, but battery requirements are becoming clearer to me, so I should make a decision soon. The short of it is that you have to balance the power draw of the motors and electronics against the capacity and output capability of the battery, while factoring in the weight of the battery against the thrust of the motors at any given power draw, balanced against the desired flight time, taking into account the… Ok, there is no short of it. I’m planning to do a thorough explanation of batteries and power systems as related to quadcopters in the near future, which is to say, when I completely understand it myself!

The final big take away from this week is that I have to install Windows 7 on my Mac, in Boot Camp of all things, which is intensely stupid. The ArduCopter configuration software only runs in windows, which is annoying but ok, but the kicker is that, for some unknown reason (which I will try to solve and fix) a lot of people have errors when trying to install firmware to the ArduCopter board from an OS emulator (like VMware Fusion), so the only option is to boot into a windows install to do the configuration and load it into the copter. I can’t see for myself until my boards arrive, so this weekend I’m going to install both a boot camp partition and a VMware partition of Windows so I’m ready to test when the time comes.

That’s it so far. In the near future I plan to post a nice run-down of everything you should have to complete a QuadCopter project, from tools to batteries to kits to expendables, a clear explanation of how RC battery systems work and how to choose the right power source for your project goals, and of course the best part, the unboxing and build progress!

Stay tuned, lots more coming! For now, check out some cool Quad acrobatics:

After a mind numbing last few weeks at work, I realized a thing I already knew: I need to be building things. I haven’t built a thing in months, and I’m going slowly mad from it. I’ve got tons of partly-imagined and half-realized projects. After some brainstorming, thumbing through my catalog of hobby bookmarks, paging through notebooks and computer files full of have completed projects, and considering what I really wanted and need from a new project, (namely, something I could have a lot of fun with once it’s done!) I decided I need to build something that could fly. Hence, multi-copter!

What is a multi-copter? THIS:


My eventual goal is to build something similar, an Octocopter that can support a Red Epic camera, but I’m going to start small. my first stage is to learn to build and fly a Quad Copter. I’ve chosen an ArduCopter based kit called the 3DR Quad-Copter. ArduCopter is an Arduino-based open-source flight controller and autopilot for fixed wing and rotary aircraft. The kit comes complete with the board, GPS, motors, frame and wiring, and has enough power to support a GoPro or similar small sport camera. I’ll also be purchasing an RC radio and batteries.

Multi-copters present a lot of complexity. The information, while freely available, is hard to find and distributed across a lot of different web sites and forums. My second goal for this project is to document my learning process and hopefully provide newbies like myself a simpler getting started resource so that the learning process isn’t so daunting in the future.

I’ve ordered my kit, radio, and batteries, and I’m looking forward to taking delivery next week! Stay tuned!