Build your own drone – drone kits & DIY drones
If you want to build a drone yourself, you can either use a drone kit or buy all the components separately and build the drone yourself. Assembling a quadcopter kit is usually not a big problem, even for novices. Building a drone completely on your own, on the other hand, requires careful planning and some prior knowledge.
What you need for the construction of a DIY drone (Do-It-Yourself drone) and who should better decide to buy a drone kit, we clarify in our detailed guide on the subject of building a drone yourself.
Drone kit or build a drone yourself?
When choosing between drone kits and completely building a drone yourself, there are some advantages and disadvantages to consider of the two different types of drone building.
The advantage of a drone kit is that it contains all the necessary components, comes with instructions and all the individual components are perfectly matched. The assembly is therefore usually relatively quick and uncomplicated and even beginners can quickly get a DIY drone without having to deal extensively with the assembly and function of all individual components.
A drone kit is therefore the perfect choice for anyone who doesn’t want to buy a fully assembled drone, but doesn’t yet have the confidence to completely build one themselves. Besides classic quadcopters, there are also kits for RC airplanes and even electric paper airplanes.
Build your own drone – a guide to DIY drones.
If you have decided to build your drone completely by yourself, the next thing you should ask yourself is what kind of drone you want to build.
Do you want it to be a classic drone with a camera to take photos and videos, or are you more interested in the ultra-fast FPV racing drones?
There is also the question of whether it should be a quadcopter, hexacopter or octocopter. Depending on the application and the required payload, one or the other drone type can be advantageous here.
Basically, hexa- and octocopters are not only significantly more expensive, but also more demanding to assemble. So unless you want to attach a DSLR camera to your drone, we strongly advise you to build a quadcopter.
Furthermore, you should note that multicopters with a take-off weight of more than 250 grams require both a drone liability insurance (in the UK) and a drone registration number.
Building a simple drone without a camera is also possible, of course, and may be the best way to get started. Always keep in mind that the more the drone is supposed to be able to do, the more components have to be installed and the more complicated the drone construction becomes.
Especially the compatibility of the individual components is immensely important and without prior knowledge or thorough research, the selection of suitable components can quickly become frustrating.
In the following, we want to give you an overview of the most important drone components and show you which individual components you need to build a drone yourself.
Build your own drone – These components are required:
power distribution board (PDB)
brushless motors (brushless motors)
electronic speed controller (ESC)
LiPo (rechargeable battery)
charger (balance charger)
radio controller & radio reciever (remote control & radio receiver)
optional: FPV equipment (video transmitter, camera, goggles)
Multicopters consist of many individual components, each of which has a specific function. Some components are essential, others are optional. For example, every multicopter needs a frame, motors and propellers, while additional FPV equipment is not essential.
The following description of the individual components of a drone is intended to serve as a guide to building a drone yourself and help you select the appropriate components. By the way, you can find more tips and background information in numerous books on the subject of building a multicopter yourself.
The frame or frame of a drone is often the first component you choose. The multicopter frame determines the type (quad-, hexa- or octocopter) and the size of the drone.
The most common frames for drones are made of carbon fiber or GFRP (glass fiber reinforced plastic) and come in X-design. This shape is intended for building quadcopters. The differences in each X-frame are both in size and design.
For FPV racing drones, 3-inch frames to 7-inch frames are common sizes. Frames smaller than 150 mm in diameter (measured from motor center to motor center) are commonly referred to as micro-frames, and larger frames are referred to as mini-frames. If, on the other hand, you want to build your own quadcopter to carry large payloads, much larger frames are available, ranging from 45 cm to 65 cm.
Since the size of the frame largely determines the final weight of the drone, you should already know your intended maximum weight when choosing. For example, if you absolutely want to build a lightweight drone under 250 grams, you should go for a 3″ frame. However, at this size it can be difficult to accommodate an action camera in addition to an FPV camera, for example.
X-frames can be further subdivided, depending on the tilt angle of the booms. While the so-called “True X” design is a cross with 90° angles, there is also the “Wide X” as well as the “Stretch X” design.
The “True X” achieves the greatest balance in terms of stability in all axes. “Wide X” frames, on the other hand, are often used for freestyle flying, as the larger center area offers more space for attaching action cams à la GoPro Hero and co.
“Stretch X” frames are similar to “Wide X” frames in terms of angles, except that the entire setup is rotated 90°. These frames are mainly used for racing drones, as they offer better stability in the pitch axis.
Other common frame designs include “Dead Cat”, “H”, “HX”, “Z” and “Plus.” They all have their specific advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the drone’s application, you should choose the design that best suits your needs.
The flight controller is something like the brain of the copter. It is a circuit board with various sensors and a microprocessor for data processing.
The pilot’s control commands are combined in the flight controller with the data from the installed sensors (gyroscope, etc.). The flight controller then sends corresponding commands to the motors or the ESCs (electronic speed controllers).
When selecting a suitable flight controller, you will encounter the designations F1, F3, F4 and F7. These are the generation names of the microprocessors, which very often come from the STMicroelectronics company.
Basically, the higher the number behind the F, the faster the installed processor. You shouldn’t go for an F1 chip nowadays, it should be an F3. With an F4 or even F7 you are definitely prepared for future innovations.
Further differences in flight controllers can be found in the additional equipment. Meanwhile, so-called AIO FC (All-in-One Flight Controller) are offered more and more often. This type of flight controller often has a PDB (Power Distribution Board), an OSD (On Screen Display), a BSD (voltage regulator) or even the ESCs (Electronic Speed Controller).
Power Distribution Board
Power Distribution Boards (PDB) help to significantly simplify the wiring of the individual components. The PDB is something like a power distributor to which all other components are connected.
Some PDBs offer additional features such as voltage filtering or provide an OSD (On Screen Display). Since there are now also flight controllers with integrated PDB and OSD, a separate purchase is not always mandatory.
Brushless motors (brushless motors)
Almost all drones nowadays use so-called brushless motors, which use electromagnets to ensure the rotation of the propellers. The motors are controlled by an ESC (Electronic Speed Controller), which converts the signals from the flight controller into suitable control pulses for the motor.
When choosing the right motors for your DIY drone, always make sure that they are of a suitable size and have sufficient power. For example, a 2206 – 2450kV motor has a strator diameter of 22 mm and a housing height of 6 mm.
The kV value provides information about the possible motor revolutions per volt, whereby the voltage of the installed LiPo (lithium polymer battery) of your drone comes into play here. For example, a 4S LiPo with 14.8 V results in a value of 36,260 revolutions per minute (2450 kV x 14.8 V = 36,260 rpm).
In addition to the number of revolutions, the thrust specified in grams is especially important for choosing the appropriate motor. Depending on the weight of your drone, you need to find a suitable setup here. By the way, many online stores also offer advice for putting together a homebuilt drone.
Electronic Speed Contoller (ESC)
An Electronic Speed Controller is the link between the flight controller and the motor. Each motor requires its own ESC, which uses the signals from the flight controller and the current from the battery to make the motors turn.
Current ESCs have a 32-bit processor. Just like the flight controller, an ESC uses its own firmware to control the calculations. Common firmwares today are BLHeli_32 or KISS. Unlike earlier ESCs with 8-bit processors, newer models can also handle fast digital protocols like D-SHOT 1200.
When choosing the right Electronic Speed Controller, pay attention to the compatibility with the motors, propellers and the installed battery (3S, 4S, 6S). Many dealers also offer individual advice on this before purchase.
The propellers, also called rotors or just props, are responsible for converting the power of the motors into thrust and providing the necessary propulsion for the drone.
There are different materials (mainly plastics as well as carbon fiber), different sizes and different pitches of the propellers. There are also rotors with more or less than three blades.
The nomenclature of drone propellers follows a fixed pattern. For example, a 4.5 x 4 x 3 propeller has a diameter of 4.5 inches, a pitch of 4 inches, and three individual rotor blades.
The pitch of the propellers defines how far a rotor moves forward in one complete revolution, which in our example is 4.5 inches or 11.43 cm.
The larger a propeller is, the more thrust it can develop. On the other hand, larger rotors are also more sluggish or have a poorer response time than smaller propellers. In addition, propellers should always be matched to the motors used. Accurate research of matching components is also essential when choosing the right rotors.
A drone’s LiPo battery supplies power to all other components and should be selected to strike an optimal balance between performance and weight.
Usually, lithium polymer batteries (LiPos) are used in multicopter construction. Advantages of this battery type are on the one hand the high energy density and on the other hand the high discharge capacity of the individual cells. In addition, the discharge process is relatively uniform, so that sufficient voltage is still available even when the battery level is low.
A single LiPo cell has a normal voltage of 3.7 V. Therefore, to achieve more power, several cells are combined (connected in series). The designations 1S, 2S, 3S, 4S, 5S and 6S indicate how many individual cells the battery consists of.
The more cells a LiPo has, the more voltage is available to run motors and other electronics. More cells allow higher motor speeds and therefore potentially more power. On the other hand, the weight of a battery also plays an important role. For this reason, 4S batteries are currently very popular, as they offer a very good power-to-weight ratio.
In addition to the voltage, the milliampere hours (mAh) of the battery are also of great importance for the overall performance of the copter. Basically, the higher the mAh value, the more flight time is possible.
For example, a 2000 mAh LiPo is capable of delivering 2A (2000 mA) for one hour. On the other hand, it can also deliver 4A (4000 mA) for 30 minutes, and so on.
Charger (Balance Charger)
To charge a LiPo, you need a special charger – a so-called balance charger, which monitors and automatically adjusts both voltage and current during the charging process. Balance chargers thus optimize the charging process while protecting the battery by always equalizing the voltage in the individual cells.
A particularly practical feature is that most LiPo chargers are adjustable in terms of voltage and current. This allows you to charge different types of batteries with the same charger (e.g. the drone battery as well as that of the remote control or FPV goggles). Many balance chargers can also charge other batteries such as a car battery or NiCd batteries. This makes them extremely useful beyond their use for drones.
Radio Transmitter & Radio Reciever (Remote Control & Radio Receiver).
To control your DIY drone, you need both a transmitter (the remote control) and a receiver on the drone. Control commands are transmitted via so-called channels from the controller to the multicopter.
For each axis (throttle, yaw, pitch, roll), a separate channel is required. Each additional knob, button or lever requires additional channels. A remote control should therefore have at least 6 channels. The more functions you want your drone to have, the more channels you need.
Most remote controls nowadays transmit on the 2.4 GHz frequency band. The advantage of this frequency band is the so-called frequency hopping, which allows you to manage multiple signals from different users at the same time. Other common frequencies are 27 MHz, 72 MHz, 433 MHz, 900 MHz and 1.3 GHz.
433 MHz, 900 MHz and 1.3 GHz are commonly used for long-distance FPV flying. However, in hobby drone flying, 2.4 GHz is the most commonly used frequency.
The radio receiver is mounted on the drone and receives the signals from the remote control and then relays them to the flight controller.
GPS modules are often already included in the flight controller, but can also be purchased separately. With the help of a GPS module, you receive information about the position and speed of the drone.
FPV Equipment (Video Transmitter, Camera, Goggles)
If you want to add an FPV video system to your DIY drone to display the live image of the drone either on a monitor or with the help of FPV goggles, you will need a few more components besides the ones listed above.
First, there’s the FPV camera. Most FPV cameras have their origins in surveillance technology, although more and more dedicated FPV cameras are now being developed. There are small 600tvl cameras, special low-light cameras as well as also 720p and also 1080p cameras to choose from.
In addition to the price required, it should also be noted that higher resolutions can also come with increased latency in transmission. In FPV racing, for example, cameras with low resolutions are often still used today in order to optimize the transmission quality in favor of the resolution.
There is also a difference between analog and digital image transmission. With analog image transmission, image noise occurs as the signal quality decreases, but the connection remains intact. With digital image transmission, on the other hand, artifact formation and spontaneous freezing of the image can occur.
In order to transmit the video signal to the monitor or glasses, a video transmitter and a corresponding FPV antenna are required. Differences can be seen here in size, signal strength and additional equipment. The more milliwatts a video transmitter has, the better the signal strength and maximum distance of the image transmission.
There is also a wide selection of FPV goggles available. Basically, every FPV goggle has a video receiver and an antenna to receive the video signal from the drone. Expensive models often have an additional DVR (Digital Video Recording) system to record the video footage.
Some FPV goggles also have audio support, HDMI inputs or other additional features.
6 popular drone books: basics, building instructions and more.
What tools do I need to build a drone myself?
You’ll need a variety of tools to assemble your multicopter, although most of these are not specialty tools.
Screwdriver, Allen key, pliers, tweezers, side cutters and especially a soldering iron are the most important utensils when building your own drone. Even though soldering is mainly a matter of soldering a few cables and contacts, we still advise beginners to do a few dry runs before attempting to build the actual components.
Where can I get help to build a drone myself?
The DIY community for drones has grown steadily in recent years, and the selection of quadcopter kits and parts has never been larger. Members on drone forums provide ideas for new projects, give inspiration and help with building plans. The community of a drone forum is helpful and competent in providing advice and expertise should unexpected difficulties arise when building a drone yourself.
In addition, the exchange with other hobbyists always brings new ideas for future building projects. Apart from the relevant Internet forums, there are also a large number of books on the subject of building a drone yourself, which can be a great help in mastering the first building project.
Whether you decide to buy a drone kit or build your drone yourself – we at dronenoize wish you lots of fun and success!