L L o o g g ii nn R R e e g g ii s s tt e e rr

Build A Quadcopter From
Scratch – Hardware
How To Build A Quadcopter – Choosing Hardware
In this article I will e tal!ing aout "uadcopter components and how to choose them# This is part o$ the tutorial series
on how to uild a "uadcopter# In the ne%t post I will e tal!ing aout so$tware& how to go aout the algorithm and
I$ 'ou are planning on uilding a "uadcopter ut not sure how& this is the right place $or 'ou# (oing research is prett'
oring& so I am tr'ing to put tutorial aout "uadcopter& hope it helps 'ou as much as it helped
Building a "uadcopter $rom scratch ta!es a lot o$ time and e$$ort# I$ 'ou are inpatient& a$raid o$ programming)maths
and has a good udget& 'ou can *ust u' a pre+uilt !it# ,ou could get it assemled within minutes e$ore it-s $l'ing
.For e%ample& li!e t h i s on e /# But I have to sa'& 'ou are missing the $un part o$ uilding a "uadcopter# From choosing
the parts& designing the circuits& to programming& 'ou will e involved in ever' aspect o$ uilding a "uadcopter& and
it-s F012
For more tutorials& chec! out this li s t# I$ 'ou have an' "uestions& $eel $ree to as! on this "u a d c op t e r m e ss a g e o a r d #
This log post is divided into a three parts
What is a Quadcopter and How It Wor!
Quadcopter Components Introduction
What Is A QuadCopter and How It Wor!s
A Q uad C op t e r is a helicopter with $our rotors& so it-s also !nown as "uadrotor# Because o$ its uni"ue design comparing
to traditional helicopters& it allows a more stale plat$orm& ma!ing "uadcopters ideal $or tas!s such as surveillance and
aerial photograph'# And it is also getting ver' popular in 0A3 research in recent 'ears#
The Quadcopters e%ist in man' di$$erent si4es# From as small as a C( up to something as ig as one meter in width#
On a regular helicopter has one ig rotor to provide all the li$ting power and a little tail rotor to o$$set the
aerod'namic tor"ue generated ' the ig rotor .without it& the helicopter would spin almost as $ast as the propeller/
0nli!e a helicopter& a "uadrotor has $our rotors all wor! together to produce upward thrust and each rotor li$ts onl' 5)6
o$ the weight& so we can use less power$ul and there$ore cheaper motors# The "uadcopter-s movement is controlled '
var'ing the relative thrusts o$ each rotor#
These rotors are aligned in a s"uare& two on opposite sides o$ the s"uare rotate in cloc!wise direction and the other two
rotate in the opposite direction# I$ all rotors turn in the same direction& the cra$t would spin would spin *ust li!e the
regular helicopter without tail rotor# .i$ 'ou are not sure what I mean& chec! out t h i s v i deo / ,aw is induced
' unalanced aerod'namic tor"ues# The aerod'namic tor"ue o$ the $irst rotors pair cancelled out with the tor"ue
created ' the second pair which rotates in the opposite direction& so i$ all $our rotors appl' e"ual thrust the "uadcopter
will sta' in the same direction#
To maintain alance the "uadcopter must e continuousl' ta!ing measurements $rom the sensors& and ma!ing
ad*ustments to the speed o$ each rotor to !eep the od' level# 0suall' these ad*ustments are done autonomousl' ' a
sophisticated control s'stem on the "uadcopter in order to sta' per$ectl' alanced# A "uadcopter has $our controllale
degrees o$ $reedom7,aw& 8oll& 9itch& and Altitude# :ach degree o$ $reedom can e controlled ' ad*usting the thrusts o$
each rotor#
,aw .turning le$t and right/ is controlled ' turning up the speed o$ the regular rotating motors and ta!ing
awa' power $rom the counter rotating; ' ta!ing awa' the same amount that 'ou put in on the regular rotors
produces no e%tra li$t .it won-t go higher/ ut since the counter tor"ue is now less& the "uadrotor rotates as
e%plained earlier#<#+ control ecomes a matter o$ which motor gets more power and which one gets less#
8oll .tilting le$t and right/ is controlled ' increasing speed on one motor and lowering on the opposite one#
9itch .moving up and down& similar to nodding/ is controlled the same wa' as roll& ut using the second set o$
motors# This ma' e !inda con$using& ut roll and pitch are determined $rom where the =$ront> o$ the thing is&
and in a "uadrotor the' are asicall' interchangeale; ut do ta!e note that 'ou have to decide which wa' is
$ront and e consistent or 'our control ma' go out o$ control#
For e%ample& to roll or pitch& one rotor-s thrust is decreased and the opposite rotor-s thrust is increased ' the same
amount# This causes the "uadcopter to tilt# When the "uadcopter tilts& the $orce vector is split into a hori4ontal
component and a vertical component# This causes two things to happen7 First& the "uadcopter will egin to travel
opposite the direction o$ the newl' created hori4ontal component# Second& ecause the $orce vector has een split& the
vertical component will e smaller& causing the "uadcopter to egin to $all# In order to !eep the "uadcopter $rom
$alling& the thrust o$ each rotor must then e increased to compensate#
This illustrates how the ad*ustments made $or each degree o$ $reedom must wor! together to achieve a desired motion#
1ow& uilding and $l'ing a "uadrotor $rom a remote control is simple and $un and stu$$& ut people noting the
inherentl' stale $light .in theor' with e"ual speed o$ the motors the thing !eeps itsel$ level/ and ease o$ control .onl'
three $unctions and the' are all asicall' ta!e speed $rom one and put in the other/& people love to ma!e them
autonomous .$lies itsel$/ and semi+autonomous .at least !eeps itsel$ level ' responding to disturances and error/#
Quadcopter Components Introduction
There are sensors connected to a microcontroller to ma!e the decision as to how to control the motors# (epending on
how autonomous 'ou want it to e& one or more o$ these sensors are used in comination#
In this section& I will tal! aout these essential "uadcopter components7
Frame – The structure that holds all the components together# The' need to e designed to e strong ut also
8otors – Brushless (C motors that can provide the necessar' thrust to propel the cra$t# :ach rotor needs to e
controlled separatel' ' a speed controller#
Batter' – 9ower Source
I?0 – Sensors
?icrocontroller – The Brain
8C Transmitter
Be$ore we go into e%plaining how to choose each components& we can ta!e a loo! some "uadcopters that people have
uilt& and the parts the' used to get a rough idea# I didn-t uild these planes& so I can-t guarantee their per$ormance#
? u l t i c op t e r : % a m p l e s 9 a g e
Frame is the structure that holds all the components together# The Frame should e rigid& and e ale to minimi4e the
virations coming $rom the motors#
A QuadCopter $rame consists o$ two to three parts which don-t necessaril' have to e o$ the same material7
The center plate where the electronics are mounted
Four arms mounted to the center plate
Four motor rac!ets connecting the motors to the end o$ the arms
?ost availale materials $or the $rame are7
Caron Fier
Wood& such as 9l'wood or ?(F .?edium+densit' $ireoard/
Caron $ier is most rigid and viration asorent out o$ the three materials ut also the most e%pensive#
Hollow aluminium s"uare rails is the most popular $or the QuadCopters- arms due to its relativel' light weight& rigidness
and a$$ordailit'# However aluminium could su$$er $rom motor virations& as the damping e$$ect is not as good as
caron $ier# In cases o$ severe viration prolem& it could mess up sensor readings#
Wood oard such as ?(F plates could e cut out $or the arms as the' are etter at asoring the virations
than aluminium# 0n$ortunatel' the wood is not a ver' rigid material and can rea! easil' in "uadcopter crashes#
Although it is not as important as $or the arms which o$ the three material to use $or the center plate& pl'wood is most
commonl' seen ecause o$ its the light weight& eas' to wor! with and good viration asoring $eatures#
As $or arm length& the term =motor+to+motor distance> is sometimes used& meaning the distance etween the center o$
one motor to that o$ another motor o$ the same arm in the QuadCopter terminolog'#
The motor to motor distance usuall' depends on the diameter o$ the propellers# To ma!e 'ou have enough space
etween the propellers and the' don-t get caught ' each other#
@Aive e%ampleB
Brushless ?otors
A little ac!ground o$ Brushless motor# The' are a it similar to normal (C motors in the wa' that coils and magnets
are used to drive the sha$t# Though the rushless motors do not have a rush on the sha$t which ta!es care o$ switching
the power direction in the coils& and this is wh' the' are called rushless# Instead the rushless motors have three coils
on the inner .center/ o$ the motor& which is $i%ed to the mounting#
On the outer side it contains a numer o$ magnets mounted to a c'linder that is attached to the rotating sha$t# So the
coils are $i%ed which means wires can go directl' to them and there$or there is no need $or a rush#
Aenerall' rushless motors spin in much higher speed and use less power at the same speed than (C motors# Also
rushless motors don-t lose power in the rush+transition li!e the (C motors do& so it-s more energ' e$$icient#
Brushless motors come in man' di$$erent varieties& where the si4e and the current consumption di$$er# When selecting
'our rushless motor 'ou should ta!e care o$ the weight& the si4e& which !ind o$ propeller 'ou are going to use& so
ever'thing matches up with the current consumption# When loo!ing $or the rushless motors 'ou should notice the
speci$ications& especiall' the =C v +r a t i ng =#
The Cv+rating indicates how man' 8 9 ? s .8evolutions per minute/ the motor will do i$ provided with %+numer o$
volts# The 89?s can e calculated in this wa'7 89?DCvE0 An eas' wa' to calculate rating o$ motor 'ou need& chec!
out the online calculator e C a l c # It-s an ama4ing tool that helps 'ou decide what components to purchase depending on
the pa'load that 'ou want to carr'#
?a!e sure 'ou u' the counter+rotating to counteract the tor"ue e$$ect o$ the
props# I have written a more c o m p l e t e gu i d e o n ho w t o c hoo s e ? o t o r an d p r ope ll e r#
On each o$ the rushless motors there are mounted a propeller#
,ou might not have noticed this on the pictures& ut the 6 propellers are actuall' not identical# ,ou will see that the
$ront and the ac! propellers are tilted to the right& while the le$t and right propellers are tilted to the le$t#
Fi!e I mentioned e$ore& G rotors rotates in the opposite directions to the other two to avoid od' spinning# B' ma!ing
the propeller pairs spin in each direction& ut also having opposite tilting& all o$ them will provide li$ting thrust without
spinning in the same direction# This ma!es it possile $or the QuadCopter to staili4e the 'aw rotation& which is the
rotation around itsel$#
The propellers come in di$$erent diameters and pitches .tilting/# ,ou would have to decide which one to use according to
'our $rame si4e& and when that decision is made 'ou should chose 'our motors according to that# Some o$ the standard
propeller si4es used $or QuadCopters are7
:995H6I 5H diameter and 6#I pitch this is the most popular one& good $or mid+si4ed "uads
A9C 5H6J 5H diameter and 6#J pitch much similar to the one aove
:99HK6I K diameter and 6#I pitch regularl' used in smaller "uads
:995G6I 5G diameter and 6#I pitch used $or larger "uads which re"uires lot o$ thrust
:99HL<K L diameter and <#K pitch used in smaller "uads
Aerod'namics is *ust wa' too comple% $or non+academic ho'ists# It-s even unli!el' we can e%plain all that theor' stu$$
in a $ew words# But in general when selecting propellers 'ou can alwa's $ollow these rules7
1. The larger diameter and pitch the more thrust the propeller can generate# It also re"uires more power to drive
it& ut it will e ale to li$t more weight#
2. When using high 89? .8evolutions per minute/ motors 'ou should go $or the smaller or mid+si4ed
propellers# When using low 89? motors 'ou should go $or the larger propellers as 'ou can run into troules
with the small ones not eing ale to li$t the "uad at low speed#
Anal'sis o$ 9ropeller 9itch& (iameter& and 89?
9itch 3S (iameter7 the diameter asicall' means area while pitch means e$$ective area# So with the same diameter&
larger pitch propeller would generate more thrust and li$t more weight ut also use more power#
A higher 89? o$ the propeller will give 'ou more speed and maneuverailit'& ut it is limited in the amount o$ weight it
will e ale to li$t $or an' given power# Also& the power drawn .and rotating power re"uired/ ' the motor increases as
e$$ective area o$ the propeller increases& so a igger diameter or higher pitch one will draw more power at the same
89?& ut will also produce much more thrust& and it will e ale to li$t more weight#
In choosing a alanced motor and propeller comination& 'ou have to $igure out what 'ou want 'our "uadcopter to do# I$
'ou want to $l' around stal' with heav' su*ect li!e a camera& 'ou would proal' use a motor that manages less
revolutions ut can provide more tor"ue and a longer or higher pitched propeller .which uses more tor"ue to move more
air in order to create li$t/#
:SC – :lectronic Speed Controller
The rushless motors are multi+phased& normall' < phases& so direct suppl' o$ (C power will not turn the motors on#
Thats where the :lectronic Speed Controllers .:SC/ comes into pla'# The :SC generating three high $re"uenc'
signals with di$$erent ut controllale phases continuall' to !eep the motor turning# The :SC is also ale to source a lot
o$ current as the motors can draw a lot o$ power#
The :SC is an ine%pensive motor controller oard that has a atter' input and a three phase output $or the motor#
:ach :SC is controlled independentl' ' a 99? signal .similar to 9W?/# The $re"uenc' o$ the signals also var' a lot&
ut $or
a Quadcopter it is recommended the controller should support high enough $re"uenc' signal& so the motor speeds can e
ad*usted "uic! enough $or optimal stailit' .i#e# at least GHH H4 or even etter <HH H4 99? signal/# :SC can also e
controlled through IGC ut these controllers are much more e%pensive#
When selecting a suitale :SC& the most important $actor is the source current# ,ou should alwa's choose an :SC with
at least 5H A or more in sourcing current as what 'our motor will re"uire# Second most important $actor is the
programming $acilities& which means in some :SC 'ou are allowed to use di$$erent signals $re"uenc' range other than
onl' etween 5 ms to G ms range& ut 'ou could change it to whatever 'ou need# This is especiall' use$ul $or custom
controller oard#
As $or the power source o$ the "uadcopter& I would recommend Fi9o Batter' ecause $irstl' it is light& and secondl' its
current ratings meet our re"uirement# 1i?H is also possile# The' are cheaper& ut it-s also a lot heavier than Fi9o
Batter' 3oltage
Fi9o atter' can e $ound in a single cell .<#J3/ to in a pac! o$ over 5H cells connected in series .<J3/# A popular
choice o$ atter' $or a QuadCopter is the <S95 atteries which means three cells connected in series as one parallel&
which should give us 55#53#
Batter' Capacit'
As $or the atter' capacit'& 'ou need to do some calculations on7
How much power 'our motors will drawM
(ecide how long $light time 'ou wantM
How much in$luence the atter' weight should have on the total weightM
A good rule o$ thum is that 'ou with $our :995H6I propellers and $our CvD5HHH rated motor will get the numer o$
minutes o$ $ull throttle $light time as the same numer o$ amp+hours in 'our atter' capacit'# This means that i$ 'ou
have a 6HHHmAh atter'& 'ou will get around 6 minutes o$ $ull throttle $light time though with a 5CA total weight 'ou will
get around 5N minutes o$ hover#
Batter' (ischarge 8ate
Another important $actor is the discharge rate which is speci$ied ' the C+value# The C+value together with the
atter' capacit' indicates how much current can e drawn $rom the atter'#
?a%imum current that can e sourced can e calculated as7
?a%Current D (ischarge8ate % Capacit'
For e%ample i$ there is a atter' that has a discharge rate o$ <HC and a capacit' o$ GHHH mAh# With this atter' 'ou
will e ale to source a ma%imum o$ <HC%GHHHmAh D NHA# So in this case 'ou should ma!e sure that the total amount
o$ current drawn ' 'our motors won-t e%ceed NHA#
This t u t o r i a l a ou t a tt e r ' I $ound ver' in$ormative#
I?0 – Inertial ?easurement 0nit
The Inertial ?easurement 0nit .I?0/ is an electronic sensor device that measures the velocit'& orientation and
gravitational $orces o$ the "uadcopter# These measurements allow the controlling electronics to calculate the changes in
the motor speeds#
The I?0 is a comination o$ the <+a%is accelerometer and <+a%is g'roscope& together the' represent a N(OF
I?0# Sometimes there is also an additional <+a%is magnetometer $or etter ,aw stailit' .in total L(OF/#
How does I?0 wor!
The accelerometer measures acceleration and also $orce& so the downwards gravit' will also e sensed# As the
accelerometer has three a%is sensors& we can wor! out the orientation o$ the device#
A g'roscope measure angular velocit'& in other words the rotational speed around the three a%is#
0sing Onl' AccelerometerM
With the accelerometer alone& we should e ale to measure the orientation with re$erence to the sur$ace o$ earth# But
the accelerometer tends to e ver' sensitive and unstale sometimes& when motor viration is ad& it could mess up the
orientation# There$ore we use a g'roscope to address this prolem# With oth the accelerometer and g'roscope
readings we are now ale to distinguish etween movement and viration#
0sing Onl' A'roscopeM
Since the g'roscope can tell us the rotational movement& wh' can-t we *ust use the g'roscope aloneM
The g'roscope tends to dri$t a lot& which means that i$ 'ou start rotating the sensor& the g'roscope will output the angular
velocit'& ut when 'ou stop it doesn-t necessaril' go ac! to H deg)s# I$ 'ou then *ust used the g'roscope readings 'ou will
get an orientation that continues to move slowl' .dri$ts/ even when 'ou stopped rotating the sensor# This is wh' oth
sensors has to e used together to calculate a good and use$ul orientation#
The accelerometer cannot sense 'aw rotation li!e it can with roll and pitch& and there$ore a magnetometer is sometimes
A magnetometer measures the directions and strength o$ the magnetic $ield# This magnetic sensor can e used to
determine which wa' is south and north# The pole locations are then used as a re$erence together with the ,aw
angular velocit' around $rom the g'roscope& to calculate a stale ,aw angle#
I am tr'ing to !eep the theor' and maths minimal here& and I will go into more detail in the ne%t couple o$ tutorials#
Bu'ing an I?0
These three sensors are availale individuall' on the mar!et# But it is easier $or development to get an I?0 sensor
oard with the $irst two sensors .N(OF/ or all three sensors .L(OF/#
The raw sensor oards can communicate with the microcontroller via IGC or analogue# (igital oards that support IGC
is easier and $aster $or development& ut Analogue ones are cheaper#
There are even complete I?0 units with processor availale# 0suall' the processor is a small K+it microprocessor which
runs computations some !ind o$ algorithms to wor! out the 9itch& 8oll and ,aw# The calculated data will then e put out
on a serial us or sometimes also availale ' IGC or S9I#
The choice o$ I?0 is going to narrow down what t'pe o$ controller oard 'ou can use# So e$ore purchasing an
I?0 oards 'ou should $ind out in$ormation aout the controller oards# Some controller oards even comes with
uilt+in sensors#
Some commerciall' availale I?0 sensors oards7
S p a r ! $ u n L ( O F s t i c !
S p a r ! $ u n N ( O F c o m o o a r d
F r ee I ? 0
I?0 with processor7
S p a r ! $ u n L ( O F 8 a 4 o r
? ongoo s e L ( O F .5H ( O F /
A r du I ? 0
Flight Controller – Controlling electronics
,ou can either u' a controller oard that is speciall' designed $or "uadcopter or u' all the parts and assemle one
'oursel$# Some o$ the controller oards alread' contain the re"uired sensors while other re"uires 'ou to u' these on a
separate oard#
Here is a comprehensive list o$ read' to go $light controller oards7
h tt p 7 )) r oo t +! i ngdo m # c o m ) e s t +$ li gh t +c on t r o ll e r +$ o r +"uad c op t e r +and +m u l t i c op t e r )
The AeroQuad ?:AA Shield The AeroQuad oard is a shield $or the Arduino& either the Arduino 01O or the
Arduino ?:AA# The AeroQuad oard re"uires the Spar!$un L(OF stic! which is soldered to the shield#
The Ardu9ilot oard contains an AT?:AA<GK& the same as on the Arduino 01O# Fi!e the AeroQuad shield this
oard doesn-t contain an' sensors either# ,ou would have to u' the ArduI?0 and connect it to the oard to use it#
The Open9ilot is a more advanced oard which contains a JG?H4 A8? Corte%+?< processor& the ST?<G# The
oard also includes a <+a%is accelerometer and <+a%is g'roscope# Together with the oard comes a great piece o$
so$tware $or the 9C to calirate& tune and especiall' set wa'points $or 'our QuadCopter i$ 'ou have installed a A9S
module which I will e tal!ing more aout in the ne%t section#
?a!e ,ou Own Quadcopter Controller Board
Alternativel' 'ou can also use general purpose microcontroller& such as
Arduino# @Coming soonB
8C Transmitter
QuadCopters can e programmed and controlled in man' di$$erent wa's ut the most common ones are '
8C transmitter in either 8ate .acroatic/ or Stale mode# The di$$erence is the wa' the controller oard
interprets the orientations $eedac! together with 'our 8C transmitter *o'stic!s#
In 8ate mode onl' the A'roscope values are used to control the "uadcopter# The *o'stic!s on 'our 8C transmitter are
then used to control and set the desired rotation speed o$ the < a%es& though i$ 'ou release the *o'stic!s it does not
automaticall' re+alance# This is use$ul when doing acroatics with 'our "uadcopter as 'ou can tilt it a it to the right&
release 'our *o'stic!s& and then 'our "uadcopter will !eep that set position#
For the eginners the 8ate mode might e too di$$icult& and 'ou should start with the Stale mode# All the sensors are
used to determine the "uadcopters orientation in the stale mode# The speed o$ the 6 motors will e ad*usted
automaticall' and constantl' to !eep the "uadcopter alanced# ,ou control and change the angle o$ the "uadcopter with
an' a%is using the *o'stic!# For e%ample to go $orward& 'ou can simpl' tilt one o$ the *o'stic!s to change the pitch angle
o$ the "uadcopter# When releasing the *o'stic!& the angle will e reset and the "uadcopter will e alanced again#
Chec! here $or a m o r e d e t a il e d 8 C t r a n s m i tt e r a r t i c l e#
Optional Components
A$ter u'ing all the necessar' parts& and 'ou are still not ro!e& 'ou might consider other popular optional components
such as A9S modules& ultrasonic sensors& arometers etc# The' can enhance the per$ormance o$ 'our "uadcopter& and
ring more $eatures#
A A9S module tal!s to the satellite and retrieve accurate location in$ormation# We can use this in$ormation to
calculate speed and path# It is especiall' use$ul $or autonomous "uadcopters which needs to !now its e%act position and
wa' to $l'#
An ultrasonic sensor measures the distance to the ground& i#e# altitude# This is use$ul i$ 'ou want to !eep 'our
"uadcopter a certain distance $rom the ground without having to ad*ust the height it-s $l'ing at constantl' 'oursel$#
?ost o$ these sensors has a range etween GHcm to Jm#
When 'ou gets higher& 'ou might want to use a arometer# This sensor measures humidit' and pressure to wor! out the
altitude& so when the "uadcopter is close to the ground .where these two $actors doesn-t change much/& it ecomes
ine$$ective# There$ore it is also common to use oth o$ them at the same time#
Hope$ull' this article has given 'ou a etter understanding what each part o$ the "uadcopter does& and how to go aout
selecting the right product $or 'our "uadcopter#
9lease do not hesitate writing a comment or giving us some $eedac! on this article# The ne%t post will e aout the
so$tware side o$ the "uadcopter#
I$ 'ou are into F93 and 3ideo ta!ing& 'ou might $ind this c o ll e c t i o n o $ F 9 3 v i deo s interesting#