For Scott Williamson, there’s nothing like a little technical challenge.
In this case, TDC tester Pawel Dwulit asked him if he might be able to build a robust but Tiny Whoop-style micro-quad, capable of delivering a bee’s eye view in ultra high-definition.
Dwulit was curious because he had a client who wanted a shoot inside a greenhouse. The criteria was that the video will be 4K, and needed to look as if it were from the perspective of an insect. There were plenty of tiny quads on the market, but Dwulit couldn’t find something with the precise capabilities he was after. So he gave Scott a call.
For Williamson, who builds mobile internet solutions and speaks geek, it sounded like a pretty cool task. Especially given that he’s had his eye on things that fly for quite some time.
“I’ve been interested for about a decade,” he told TDC by phone from Peterborough, Ontario.
THE EARLY DAYS
“When people were building tricopters with wood, I watched. I always wanted to get involved and do something myself. But it wasn’t up until say, the Arduino and Chris Anderson’s APM came out – when some of the more automated systems came out – that this became tractable for me to do. Something where, given a moderate time investment, some sort of result would come out of it.”
So Williamson started tinkering. His first build used an early APM flight controller and a clone of the DJI Flamewheel 450 frame. It took a lot of tuning and wasn’t a snap to fly, so “it only got used very sporadically.”
And that, for those except for hardcore makers, was the reality around that time. Multi-rotors weren’t easy to build, at least not if you wanted them to be able to fly with any sort of stability and predictability. (If you weren’t patient enough to really spend time tweaking and tuning – it could be an exercise in sheer frustration.)
For Williamson, the prospect of building something very small and light also held appeal. At the moment, anything weighing less than 250 grams is regarded as posing very limited risk and is treated more or less as a toy (though DJI believes the low-risk weight should be much higher and is challenging the 250-gram weight with some hard science).
WELL UNDER 250g
Safe to say that flying anything weighing less than 250 grams is not likely to draw anyone’s attention. (You could perhaps argue that flying via FPV goggles is breaking the rule that a drone must be kept within direct Line of Sight, but flying something weighing 159 grams in your backyard wouldn’t seem likely way to cause many problems.)
Williamson has been out with Dwulit many times – and has experience flying the Inspire 1, Inspire 2, and the Mavic Pro. They’re all fantastic machines, he says, that do what they do exceptionally well.
But, at least for Williamson, there was a real “fun” factor about the smaller devices. It’s the same kind of whimsical appeal that has made the Jesse Perkins-designed Tiny Whoop the phenomenon it has become for a sub-section of the drone crowd.
“Even like a 250 race quad, I tried to build one of those but it’s a lot of work to get all of the components, then deal with the weight,” says Williamson. “My conclusion at the end of the day was that the smaller and lighter the drone or quad was, the more fun it is. Less stress.”
So Williamson got down to work, combing online for tiny brushless motors and super-light 4K cameras, transmitters, etc. Finally, everything arrived. And, about 25 hours of soldering and tinkering later, he was flying. Just like this:
But it wasn’t all fun and games.
“There’s always a lot of quality control issues – some of the parts are not the best,” he says. “So there’s a fair amount of troubleshooting and that sort of thing that you need to do to get everything to work.”
In the end, of course, he got it all to work. And he says if he can do it, the odds are that you can, too. (But he’s being a bit generous. He’s got a lot of software chops, this guy.)
“The cost I worked it out it was $296.92 for materials. That’s Canadian dollars as of last week. And the skill level I would say is intermediate. I’m not a pro quad builder. Probably intermediate soldering skills and advanced software, software engineering skills. That’s like my day job. So that helps a lot.”
If you’ve got the time and the patience, here’s Scott’s build list.
Or, you could just go buy something and fly it out of the box.
“I would totally recommend a RTF Horizon Hobby Blade Inductrix over trying to assemble something. This was born of a challenge made to me by a camera operator, creative director (Pawel) who wanted a perspective he couldn’t find. That’s the primary reason I did it, it was a challenge – to get a bee’s perspective using a quadcopter in 4K given the weight and given the availability of off-the-shelf components.”
At TDC, we’ve known the thrills (and spills) of building our own. There’s a lot of satisfaction involved, and there can be a lot of frustration as well. In the end, it’s a personal choice. You can buy an RTF and be good to go, or build something yourself you may be even more proud of.
One thing, however, is certain: There are more choices now than ever before, with more on the way.
Was that kinda cool? We hope you liked it.
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