Give It A Go; You'll Love The View
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stay on the Cutting Edge
Join the experts who read Tom's Hardware for the inside track on enthusiast PC tech news — and have for over 25 years. We'll send breaking news and in-depth reviews of CPUs, GPUs, AI, maker hardware and more straight to your inbox.
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.Reply
I'd really like to see build costs.Reply
Darn it, now you've piqued my interest. :-)Reply
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!
So, how much would the components cost to lift a heavy DSLR with some decent glass? I is pretty curious.Reply
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!Reply
Excellent article, nicely explained. Also glad to see someone in the media make a clarification from drones and multi-copters.Reply
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.
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.
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.
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...Reply
and this cheaper model of it....
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.Reply
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...Reply
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.
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 )Reply
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!)