over my house and didn’t know about
the landing pad!).
One important note that is easy
to skim over: I’ve emphasized outdoor
flight. The FAA does not regulate
indoor airspace. You can fly indoors
with no regulation other than what
the building’s owner and conventional
law says. This is especially important
for hobbyists in the Washington, D.C.
area, which has been declared a no fly
zone (technically an SFRA or Special
Flight Rule Area) for a 15 mile radius
around Reagan National.
A final thing to check into before
getting in the air is insurance. There
are different options out there, but
joining the Academy of Model
Aeronautics (AMA) is one of the most
popular. For about $75/year, you can
get all of their membership benefits
which include insurance coverage for
Now that I’ve convinced you to
get into the drone hobby, what are
the next steps? Well, you need a
drone! You can buy a toy like I did for
less than $100 and get some
experience using the controller and
having some fun. If you’ve flown
model aircraft before, you’ll find
drones a joy to fly and much easier
than fixed wing models.
Playing with a toy version also
lets you learn important lessons like
left and right are reversed when the
aircraft is approaching you. Crashing
a toy will generally result in little
damage, and if it does, you are not
out much money or elbow grease.
Most of us who read Nuts &
Volts are what the general public
would now call hackers or makers. I
definitely fall into the camp of “why
buy it when you can build it and
learn exactly how everything works?”
Sure, it might cost some more
because of burnt up parts (we won’t
talk about the wire shaped singe in
my carpet), but the learning
experiences are invaluable.
So, over the next few months,
we’re going to build a drone from
scratch! I’ve decided to build a quad
first since there is ample guidance
online and they are mechanically the
most basic construction for a
reasonable lifting capacity.
Like any project, we need some
specifications and goals to guide us.
For this drone, I want to be able to lift
small to medium sized sensor
packages and have a large aerial
platform to experiment with. The
drone body should be easy to fix and
modify; the more hackable, the better.
Also, I want to use as much open
source hardware and software as
possible. If you can’t fix it, open it, or
modify it, you just don’t own it.
Again, you also learn more by
tinkering and modifying. I’m a PhD
student, which means if I can build
the drone for around $350, I can also
buy some ramen! Lastly, I don’t want
to require a lot of special tools to
build the drone. While I have access to
a 3D printer and a good amount of
fabrication tools, I know that many
people don’t have that luxury.
Some future projects will use a
few of these tools (3D printers are
becoming a fixture in many homes
now), but I want this drone to be a
project that anyone can build. We’ll
stick to hand tools and basic power
tools. I’m building this in an
apartment and so can you! Get ready
to break out the hacksaws, files, and
soldering irons. Next month, we start
with building the airframe. SV
Figure 11. The "B4UFLY" app informed
me that I'm in a restricted zone due to a
nearby hospital helicopter pad. This app
is very simple, but does a nice job of
letting you know if you can or cannot fly
at your current location.
SERVO 05.2016 37
Personal CNC Mills
PCNC 1100 Series 3
Shown here with
Shown below is an articulated humanoid
robot leg, built by researchers at the
Drexel Autonomous System Lab (DASL)
with a Tormach PCNC 1100 milling
machine. DASL researcher Roy Gross
estimates that somewhere between 300
and 400 components for “HUBO+” has
been machined on their PCNC 1100.