Team BlackSheep Discovery Pro: Building A $3000 Quadcopter

Weighing In On TBS’ Discovery Pro

Perhaps more relevant is a commentary on TBS’ package and presentation. The Discovery Pro really cannot get any more base—after all, it shows up as a couple of black fiberglass boards, screws, frames and the modular components you can buy separately on the company’s website. It’s a lot like a PC in that way. And yet, a lot of steps are taken to simplify the build, yielding a cleaner finished product. Much of the quad’s wiring is built into the frame, so power distribution and certain control signals only jump from bottom to top through one connector cable. TBS’s CORE on-screen display and current sensor come integrated, so there’s no need to solder and shield those components yourself. And although TBS took quite a bit of heat at one time for leaving out odds and ends like screws and straps, the latest iteration is quite complete.

TBS's CORE module comes soldered onto the Discovery Pro's bottom plate

The CORE module is the one piece of circuitry TBS secures in place prior to shipping. It conveys vital statistics about your quadcopter over the pilot camera video feed. You’ll find a great many options for third-party OSDs, but there appears to be a consensus that CORE covers the basics, including flight pack voltage, mAh consumption, a flight timer, and R/C signal strength. Fancier alternatives might enable distance meters, home indicators and flight tracking, but of course those aren’t necessities. In fact, some enthusiasts consider them distractions. By exploiting the EzUHF OSD Link built into the Discovery’s top frame, it’s easy enough to extract additional uplink information without any special configuration. That data is piped straight to the CORE through on-board traces.

I can imagine a past when you had to pay close attention to the voltage output of your battery and the quad’s cumulative current draw. But not once was this an issue for me. TBS preconfigured my frame for 5V, and I attached all of the kit’s components using bundled cables. This is part of why I went with TBS’ package to begin with—knowing that the hardware is vetted for compatibility takes guesswork (and math) out of the pre-purchase research. Moreover, if you do decide to deviate from the path most traveled, a trio of buttons facilitate easy navigation of the CORE’s menu system through your FPV goggles or groundstation, which you can use to change TBS’ default settings.

One feature not enabled from the factory is PPM support for the gimbal. Adding a solder bridge between two pads on the top plate fixes that. And, when everything was said and done, I had eight channels streaming sequentially through a single header as a result.

Map of the electronics on TBS' Discovery Pro

Based on the degree of integration, this is clearly the product of much learning and experience. As a frame, the Discovery Pro is excellent—a complementary challenge for anyone who considers themselves a PC enthusiast. One of my only complaints concerns the grub screws holding the tilt motor in place—they don’t grip the motor shaft tight enough, so any time the gyroscope fights an opposing force, enough play is introduced to require retightening. Overall I seemed to have more trouble than most getting the gimbal communicating and calibrated. Fortunately, TBS hosts a helpful FAQ section that addressed the toughest issues. And a number of forum posts solved the rest.

The Software Side Of TBS’ Discovery Pro

What caught me most off-guard was the abruptness with which TBS’ Discovery Pro manual ended. I sat at my kitchen table with an assembled quad-copter and no real idea what to do next. I should have known better, but I assumed that the kit I purchased would come with guidance that’d flow together cohesively from start to finish. Instead, I found myself hitting forums, flipping through other manuals and copying the work of those who went before me.

Again, this is something greatly improved today by instructional videos, which better-connect the construction process and software-based configuration. At the time, though, I struggled to set up the highly-programmable FrSky Taranis, which worked through the EzUHF receiver and interfaced with DJI’s Naza—each component complemented by its own software utility. Getting video output from the 69 FPV camera was far easier, though I ran into another roadblock trying to stabilize the gimbal’s chattering motors. Overwhelmed by the handful of knots left to untie, I set the project aside for a couple of weeks and regrouped.

It helped to mentally break the pieces down into subsystems and tackle each on its own. Most of the hardware is installed in a logical order as part of the frame construction process. However, the build is more about working around tight spaces rather than dialing in specific functions from start to finish. So the final bit of finessing requires a different approach.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • blackmagnum
    Sunbathers beware! On another note: 3k dollars would build an awesome gaming machine, but getting some fresh air is all good.
  • firefyte
    The page title is a bit off "Buikding And Flying..."
  • Shankovich
    A company in Toronto called DreamQii made one that's around $1000 for the kit and is modular. A much better deal IMO, and it comes with a sturdier gimbal. Can you guys review that one? Kinda want one but not so sure about the whole thing.
  • Bondfc11
    The radio in the photos is a dead match for the JR radio I use for flying my helicopter.
  • g-unit1111
    Pretty sweet but if I had $3,000 to spend money on something, this would be like last on my list. :lol:
  • qlum
    I have looked at quad copters quite often but every time I look I come to the same conclusion: To expensive for something I will get bored of pretty soon anyway.

    Anyway the last time I was nervous about something I did was when I had to solder a serial connection on a bricked router. It was a first for me but all went far far smoother then I ever expected.
  • geof2001
    please follow up with some video and first flight commentary
  • d_kuhn
    Soo... while this looks like a very cool drone, if you're looking at your first buy you might want to look a bit more modest... like the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+... $1300 buys you a nice quadcopter with a stabilized camera. That's a lot less $$$ to lose when you auger in on your maiden flight.
  • desert_beagle
    great article.. just expecting the delivery of my TBS Disco + Taranis today.. yes, it's expensive, but it's a lot of fun.. )
  • quadcopterhq
    Really great overview of what it is like to build your own custom quadcopter, one of the most coherent and in-depth ones I've seen so far. To be honest, all the work makes me want to just recommend buying an off-the-shelf ready-to-fly option like the DJI Phantom! Of course, this model is much more capable and for any pro the customization is necessary (and enjoyable potentially too) to be able to get the video results required.

    What kind of flying time does the rig have? And could you attach a larger, heavier camera if you swap in a different gimbal or are you limited to the GoPro line?