Update 5/28/2014 – I built this quadcopter back in 2012. Since then a lot has changed. Quadcopter kits with more capabilities are now available for a similar cost. For example, the Quanum Nova FPV GPS Waypoint QuadCopter is $269 with free shipping. It has full GPS waypoint capability and has a GoPro mount. I haven’t tried the Quanum Nova quad, but it is based on the proven APM controller.
Solid, Easy, Inexpensive DIY Quadcopter Build
I get a lot of nice comments from folks saying my site helped them when they were building their first quadcopter. However, I have never done a post where I walked through the steps of building a quadcopter from start to finish. So, I wanted to step through a quality build that is easy on the budget, easy to build, and easy to fly. I built this quad with the beginner in mind, yet this is a very solid quadcopter.
In Part 1 of this post I will cover my requirements and the parts list. In Part 2, I will go through the detailed steps I went through to build this quad, and in Part 3, I will set up the transmitter, ESCs and KK2.0 board so I can make a maiden flight. In part 4, I will show how I tuned the quad’s PI settings to optimize its flying capabilities. Finally, in Part 5 I will cover how I attached a GoPro camera to the quad to get some video from the air.
Continue reading to see the requirements and parts list I used for this build…
I wanted the budget to be near $200 for everything needed to fly. Frame, Escs, Flight Controller, Motors, Props, Battery and Radio. The only thing I didn’t included was a charger, because many folks have one already and the prices vary greatly depending on features.
I wanted something rigid, stable and strong, yet not too heavy. Even though I like them, I wanted to stay away from the inexpensive F450 type frames; they are durable, but they are bit too flexible making them harder to tune. Also, I thought it would be a plus if the frame had some room underneath to attach a lightweight GoPro or small keycam out of view of the props.
No Soldering Option
Some folks don’t want to solder, so I provided a no-solder option to make this as close to plug-and-play as possible. Unfortunately, ESCs with bullet connectors already soldered on can be hard to come by, so I included another ESC option that requires soldering on bullet connectors.
Easy to Configure and Tune
I wanted the quad to be fairly easy to build, but mainly I wanted to avoid the technical pitfalls of complicated configuration of flight controllers and ESCs. I chose a flight controller and ESCs that are easy to setup. This meant no ground control systems and no complex code to change and flash.
Radios can also be complex and I wanted to choose a very easy to use transmitter/receiver combo.
I wanted to equip it with a powerful battery that can handle the load, have good flight times, yet not break the bank.
To reduce shipping charges and make ordering easy, I chose to source all parts from HobbyKing.
With those criteria in mind, these are the parts that I chose with the quantities I used and the rounded approximate prices as of the post date:
The Parts List
H.A.L. Quadcopter Frame
KK2.0 Flight Controller
Turnigy D2830-11 Motor
MultiStar 30amp ESC
Zippy 400mAh Lipo
HobbyKing 4ch Tx Rx
Even though this is a “Heavy Lift” frame and can handle big payloads, I didn’t choose it for that purpose. I chose it as an easy to fly, beginner frame because of its low cost and rigid construction. Also, it has a nice landing gear and protective cover for the electronics. It is very stable and fun to fly around, but it is not a super lightweight frame designed to do acrobatic flying.
There is plenty of room under the frame where a camera’s view isn’t obscured by the props. Though I haven’t tried it yet, the configuration I have listed here should support a small GoPro directly attached for very basic amatuer aerial photography.
To do more serious heavy lifting would involve spending more money on bigger low kv motors, bigger stronger props, more sophisticated flight controllers and radios. Of course, it could be upgraded. HobbyKing even sells an optional servo driven camera gimbal for this frame. When the servos are attached to a flight controller it can help smooth out and level the video. Even with these upgrades, I would still recommend using this quad only with low cost crash resistant camera equipment used by hobbyists.
Professional aerial photographers use very expensive hexacopters or octocopters equipped with the very best parts to protect their investment in expensive camera equipment and get the very best quality video. This is not that kind of equipment. Here is an example of what the pros use.
Hobbyking KK2.0 Multi-rotor LCD Flight Control Board 1x = $30
Updated – 11/28/13 Hobbyking has now released a new KK2.1 version of the flight controller.
Hobbyking KK2.1 Multi-rotor LCD Flight Control Board 1x = $30
Motors & Props
No Soldering – but usually out of stock
Note: The OPTO ESCs don’t have a BEC (battery eliminator circuit) to provide power to the KK2.0 flight controller. At least one standard Multistar with a BEC is required to power the KK2.0 board. Ordering the 3 OPTOs withtout BECs lowers the cost a little.
Turnigy Multistar 30 Amp Multi-rotor Brushless ESC 2-4S 1x = $12
Turnigy Multistar 30 Amp Multi-rotor Brushless ESC 2-4S (OPTO) 3x = $30
Turnigy Multistar ESC Programming Card Optional 1x = $4
Battery & Power System
Upgrading the KK2.0 Firmware
Though it is a little more advanced and not required, a USBasp AVR can be used to easily load newer versions of the KK2.0 firmware using the LazyZero KKMulticopter Flashtool. The later versions of the firmware have much better self-leveling capability, so I always upgrade my firmware. Here are the pins to connect the USBasp to the KK2.0.
Those are the parts that I have now received and assembled. The total cost is just over $200. Of course, there is shipping on top of that of around $50 from China. The quadcopter is solid and flies well. In Part 2, I will go through the detailed steps I went through to build this quad, and in Part 3, I will set up the transmitter, ESCs and KK2.0 board so I can make a maiden flight. In part 4, I will show how I tuned the quad’s PI settings to optimize its flying capabilities. Finally, in Part 5 I will cover how I attached a GoPro camera to the quad to get some video from the air.