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Droning is gaining popularity fast, and some people have developed amazing skills zipping around with those tiny machines. Yet, few ever pay thought to the complexity of the underlying technology and the huge effort that goes into keeping those gadgets in the sky. Building your own drone from scratch is entirely possible these days, even with a relatively poor grasp on the physics involved. Although, it can certainly help to dig deeper in that area as well.
How Deep Do You Want to Go?
The main thing you should understand about lifting a drone in the air is that it’s incredibly complex. It’s not just about powering up two pairs of propellers and calling it a day. If you want to be able to control that thing beyond basic up/down motions, you’ll need to sit down and study aviation theory. You can build a drone with pre-made components like flight control chips, but even then, you should still understand the logic behind them if you don’t want to find yourself stuck in the middle of your project.
An Incremental Approach
Take it easy. Even without all the physics, a drone is a very complex project. You’ll have to battle weight issues (especially for your batteries), navigation and control, connectivity, and safety fallback systems (e.g. what the drone should do if it goes out of range). That won’t happen all at once though. Have an incremental plan, and be prepared to follow it over the course of many months. Cover all your bases, including your suppliers – have an alternate part number search engine ready if your favorite one fails to come through. Even getting the drone to hover in the air is going to be a challenge, so put off the smaller touches for later. Whenever possible, utilize pre-made systems instead of implementing something from scratch on your own. Of course, this depends on how much work you want to put into the project in the first place.
Last but not least, remember that, as fun as droning can be, it’s also a legally regulated hobby in many parts of the world. Don’t get carried away with your project and ignore the legal implications of what you’re doing. In some places, you’ll have to register your drone (and yourself as its pilot) before you can even bring it up in the air. Until you’ve cleared up those issues, keep the drone indoors and never fly it outside. Things get even messier if you want to attach a camera to it, so make sure you read up all you can find on your local droning legislation if you don’t want to accidentally find yourself violating personal privacy laws.
In the end, this will probably be a long-term, even ongoing, project for you. For many hobbyists, building their first drone never really ends. The more you learn, the more you’ll want to do with it. But it’s a good idea to start from scratch and implement everything you’ve learned on a clean slate at some point. Much like with software, a hardware project of this scale can get very messy if you’re only learning as you go.