Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Give It A Go; You'll Love The View

Multi-Rotors, First-Person View, And The Hardware You Need
By

As you might already know from watching video clips online, piloting a quadcopter through first-person view is uniquely challenging and tons of fun. You can start small and improve, honing your skill and upgrading your hardware. It's a lot like overclocking in that way.

But before making an investment in your first multi-rotor, bear in mind that crashes are inevitable, especially as you're learning. Even experienced pilots wreck as they push boundaries and occasionally cross them. That's just a big part of the hobby, and you have to accept it. It's possible to fly carefully in a stabilized mode to minimize the damage you do over time. However, that caps a lot of the fun you'd have, in most pilots' opinions.

Getting out and flying can obviously be weather-dependent. Wind makes the hobby more stressful, increasing the chance you'll lose control of your quad. Rain should also be avoided; without significant protection, the electronics are subject to mid-air shorts.

Long-range TBS Discovery setupLong-range TBS Discovery setup

As I mentioned, vibration is one of the multi-rotor's biggest adversaries. Minimizing this is going to involve a degree of trial and error. Vibrations originate almost exclusively at the motors and props. Fortunately, propellers can be balanced by sanding their blades to equalize their weight. You can make adjustments to the motors by adding tape to one side of the housing. Alternatively, you can isolate the cameras from vibration using dampening materials. Earplugs have proven successful in combating jello, though more specialized solutions are available as well.

There are understandable legal concerns surrounding UAVs, privacy, commercial use, and safety. All of those need to be taken into consideration as well, especially safety. Spinning blades can take a finger off on the ground, never mind a multi-rotor hurtling through the air at 30 MPH. Pilots need to do everything in their power to prevent injury or damage as an unwritten law of the hobby.

In the eyes of authorities, even more rules need to be defined. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S. and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the U.K. both require that UAVs are not flown at a distance greater than 500 meters from the operator, within 50 m of any uncontrolled person or building, or at altitudes greater than 400 feet above ground level. It is worth noting that no conviction has ever been made in the U.S. for exceeding these limits. Similar rules are in place in most countries. So long as a pilot is sensible, and they are not operating as a commercial enterprise, the likelihood of hobbyists being harried by officials is fairly insignificant.

Regulations also govern radio transmissions. Check the guidance given by your local regulator to determine the frequencies officially available to hobbyists.

The FAA recently attempted to charge one of the most infamous and respected mavericks of the hobby, Raphael Pirker (Trappy) of Team BlackSheep for commercial use of a drone and “dangerous” operation. It lost the case in a ruling that determined the FAA's laws are outdated and cannot be applied to hobby craft.

Team BlackSheep in London

Now It's Your Turn

With the information in this article, we hope you're in a better position to consider building your own multi-rotor and piloting it with an FPV setup. Although there is a learning curve involved, that first dive is arguably the most difficult aspect to overcome. Once you're in the air, you'll see your skill improve rapidly.

As far as recommending a starting kit, there are plenty of options to choose from. For the sake of simplicity, though, investigate an ARTF or do-it-yourself mini-quad. They're typically more durable and able to withstand your early crashes. A smaller footprint translates to fun, responsive flight characteristics able to build you up to proximity forest flying. Options include the QAV 250 or the newly-released Blackout Mini H Quad, both of which are designed for racing-style flight. For a more gentle beginning, consider a slightly less compact frame, such as DJI's Flame Wheel F450.

YouTube is an excellent tool for researching the market. You'll find quality flight videos from every kind of multi-rotor. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. You're the one making the investment; go with what you want to fly. This is a market that's growing quickly, and innovations happen regularly. Beyond simply having fun with multi-rotors, there are many other useful applications. Regardless of your motivation for getting into the hobby, FPV is a truly delightful pastime yet to be discovered by the masses.

The north Cornwall coast, near Newquay

Editor's note: Flying R/C aircraft and building rockets were two of my hobbies as a boy, so I've followed multi-rotors for some time. In fact, I have a Discovery Pro on order from TBS right now, which you'll see built up in an upcoming story.

One day, while I was browsing reddit, I ran across one of Clym's videos and started talking to him about the hobby, which led to this introductory piece. His scenic footage is embedded above.

If you'd like to learn more about multi-rotors, and the hardware and technology involved, please let us know in the comments.

Special thanks to GetFPV for providing most of the artwork in this article.

Display all 16 comments.
  • 2 Hide
    gio2vanni86 , June 3, 2014 4:55 AM
    Great article, and quite an amazing beautiful video shot at the end. Been seeing these around, and have really loved the idea of filming at a elevated level. I actually do hope you guys do more of these. I am bookmarking this for future reference. Thank you.
  • 4 Hide
    Joshua M Below , June 3, 2014 6:13 AM
    I'd really like to see build costs.
  • 2 Hide
    freiss , June 3, 2014 7:46 AM
    Darn it, now you've piqued my interest. :-)
    As stated below, a rundown on build costs would be nice. Hey, you could even do a series of FPV articles akin to the PC builds...budget, mid-range, and enthusiast!
  • 2 Hide
    Steveymoo , June 3, 2014 9:07 AM
    So, how much would the components cost to lift a heavy DSLR with some decent glass? I is pretty curious.
  • 2 Hide
    es0 , June 3, 2014 9:23 AM
    It would be awesome if you did build guides for different aircraft. I have begun building different ground based vehicles using arduinos and Pi's and would love to take to the skys next!
  • 5 Hide
    thechief73 , June 3, 2014 9:43 AM
    Excellent article, nicely explained. Also glad to see someone in the media make a clarification from drones and multi-copters.

    FYI, DO NOT CALL THESE DRONES: Drones are for military use to kill people. These are, as the authors title states: multi-copters, multi-rotors, or RC model aircraft. By using the word "Drone" you give all the uneducated fear mongers and the law writers canon fodder to regulate this hobby into oblivion before it really gets a chance to take off. Some states and other countries have already passed laws that almost or outright make this hobby a CRIME!

    I have been in the hobby about a year now and I have to say it is so far one of the most fun and rewarding things I have done. I will be doing this until I no longer have the means to do so. I highly recommend anyone that is interested in joining the hobby to buy a Hubsan X4 or one of the many similar RTF mini-quad models. This is widley regarded as the best way to learn how to fly a multi-rotor.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/juz70/videos - not my channel, just really neat.

    Quote:
    So, how much would the components cost to lift a heavy DSLR with some decent glass? I is pretty curious.
    Just a few options: DJI S1000, SkyJib-8 Ti-QR, and CINESTAR-8.
    Quote:
    It would be awesome if you did build guides for different aircraft. I have begun building different ground based vehicles using arduinos and Pi's and would love to take to the skys next!
    Check out youtube, there are thousands of guide videos on the subject.
  • 1 Hide
    HKILLER , June 3, 2014 1:14 PM
    i would highly recommend these 2 for those who that don't want to go through the trouble of the build and already have an smart device such as iphone or android ones...
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16886113011&cm_re=parrot-_-86-113-011-_-Product
    and this cheaper model of it....
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814998083&cm_re=parrot-_-14-998-083-_-Product
  • 2 Hide
    rmirwin2 , June 3, 2014 1:50 PM
    There is one other regulating authority which is important to keep in mind for those seriously interested. In the US that would be the FCC, since transmission of quality RC and video signals over the available frequencies requires a Technician's class Amateur radio license. Many will find that a relatively easy thing to get that will also maximize the enjoyment of the hobby. Check in with ARRL.org, where you can get everything you need.
  • 1 Hide
    bluescrn , June 3, 2014 4:02 PM
    Great intro to multicopters. But for beginners, it's best not to start out with a serious $500+ quadcopter, as there's a pretty good chance that you'll wreck it on it's first flight...

    Do yourself a favour and get a 'toy grade' mini quadcopter first, such as the Hubsan X4/Q4 Nano or similar. These are cheap, loads of fun, can be flown indoors, are much safer than the big ones, and are a great way to learn to fly a multicopter. Spend a couple of hours playing with one of these, and you'll significantly reduce the time/money spent on crash repairs when you start flying a more serious multicopter.
  • 0 Hide
    bluescrn , June 3, 2014 4:20 PM
    Oh, and if you go down the ready-to-fly route (or even if you self-build), try not to be the next idiot losing control of a DJI Phantom in a location where they shouldn't have been flying at all ( e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_U8iHn_2l0U )

    Stick to quiet and safe flying locations, be aware of wind, line-of-sight, and possible sources of RF interference. And don't rely too much on GPS/return-to-home - you might not have a GPS lock when you need it (or it might not have had a lock at take-off, to determine the home position!)
  • 3 Hide
    none12345 , June 3, 2014 6:01 PM
    From someone who sells quads and has flown a lot of different ones.

    For most people(99%) id recommend something around $100. Nothing anywhere near as fancy/complex as this article goes into. You want something you can smash into things and have it usually survive.

    Stay away from anything infrared controlled, that stuff is just utter garbage.

    You want something around 4-5 inches on a side. Anything smaller that that ive had bad feedback on. Its just too small to keep orientation. The quads that are about 10-12 inches or so on a side are also pretty durable; but they arent as good indoors when they get to that size. Anything much larger and you will be breaking lots of stuff when you crash it.

    You can get a Blade nano qx for $90(70 without remote, if you already have a dsm2 or dsmx remote), and its quite durable out of the box. Shoe Goo the spaces in each of the 4 motor spars/guards on the frame and its nearly indestructible. It doesnt have gps features(you need a higher price range for that), but it does have a 3 axis gyro/accelerometers for self leveling, and it does a good job at it. Ive had a demo that customers have been smashing on for 6 months that we shoegooed out of the box and its only needed some blades from time to time, when dumb customers leave it crashed under full power letting the blades grind. And a couple motors after many dozens of crashes from about 80 feet up straight into the ground, when it was being flowing in manual/computer off mode.

  • 0 Hide
    DrBackwater , June 3, 2014 7:13 PM
    The concepts fascinating but with what Hollywood, and amazon have planned and all the different enforced policy's may result in who can use the sky's will almost need permits for most people in America, ironic given guns are reasonable to some extent when they should be abolished and smelted entirely.

    But the rc copters cool, and fun sadly the reality is, bureaucrats will rather see this burn then allow the public have access.

    Guy builds rc copter
    Guy adds unknown substance to rc copter
    Guy mounts go pro
    Guy goes perving
    Guy becomes a flying paparazi
    Guy flies it professionally into building and kaboom.

    How ever having a rc copter would be best suited that is if the bureaucrats get their chance at it.

    1 Seeing nature
    2 Movie making
    3 Visual effects
    4 The best selfies ever
    Well that's all I have for now.
  • 2 Hide
    JohnA , June 3, 2014 9:18 PM
    What an irresponsible article.

    You never mentioned liability. You hand waved any responsibility at all when you pointed out there haven't been any convictions.

    Read up. These things can and have caused serious injury. Do yourself a favor and join the AMA at modelaircraftdotorg. For 50 bucks you get a two million dollar liability policy and the legal guidelines you must follow to be covered. These things aren't fully automatic, and flying VR is NOT for beginners. I've been doing helis since the 90's, started RC in 78. The more noobs that go out and hurt people and annoy neighbors the more likely the entire hobby will be regulated out of any fun.
  • 0 Hide
    quadcopterhq , June 4, 2014 4:40 AM
    Great write up! I've been waiting for someone to do a detailed explanation of the technical side of quadcopters and other small scale UAS.

    For those who want to try out quadcopters without building your own, there are now a ton of ready-to-fly consumer models out there. For the low end budget, I highly recommend the Hubsan X4 line. For the mid range (or if you want to do any video), check out the DJI Phantom line.

    You can find more info and reviews on both of those here: http://quadcopterhq.com/best-quadcopters/
  • 0 Hide
    marraco , June 4, 2014 5:47 PM
    I expect a "best build for the money", for categories like high quality film, sport flight, distance covered (that needs GPS and fast phone), load carrying, automated repetitive tasks.

    Go toms! This is a new world to expand into in, and it can open the road to robotic applications.

    reading about a newer processor 10% faster than the older generation turned boring long time ago.

    Let's do other things with the hardware.
  • 1 Hide
    w8gaming , June 4, 2014 7:14 PM
    Surely permit should be required to fly these things. Otherwise why don't we just allow everyone to drive a car without licence? Or remove all car plate number from all vehicles? At least it should be proven that one is qualified to fly such thing, be responsible for it, follow certain rules, and can be identified and tracked.
React To This Article