If you’ve followed this blog, you know I’ve played with toy quadcopters and built one from parts. I’ve also built an FPV racing drone that I’ve only successfully flown twice.
For a long time I’ve lusted after a GPS drone capable of autopilot, especially after a demo by a neighborhood friend of his DJI Phantom 3. I think the DJI drones are pretty cool, but I hate that they are not open, and being both an Open Hardware guy, and never satisfied with factory settings, I really wanted open source.
3D Robotics, founded by former Wired editor Chris Anderson has been making open source autopilot drones for quite a while now, but they’ve been quite pricey, and don’t include a camera. I just couldn’t justify it.
My friend Michael Castor at http://www.mcmelectronics.com/ clued me in to a sale at Bestbuy and I scooped up a Solo, extra battery, gimbal, extra propellers, and a backpack for $399 (plus tax). SCORE!
Note, last time I checked, the price just went up to $599, but you can still get the Solo for $399
Free 2 day shipping said it would be here Thursday, but the Solo came on Wednesday, and the rest on Thursday.
It was well packed, comes with battery, two extra propellers, transmitter, and chargers for the transmitter and the battery. It comes with an eggcrate material carrying case that would probably do for a while, but I hate to think what would happen when it rains.
The backpack, which came later (and I may cover in a future post) is terrific.
DJI, by the way also gives you “carrying case” packing, but in their case close cell foam, which would probably hold up longer.
Setting it up was pretty easy, download the app to my phone, power everything up. There’s a required firmware update before flying, and while it crashed my phone a couple times (I am suspicious because I have CyanogenMod) it took only about 2 minutes.
I don’t have a camera yet (I’m waiting for a new model of “fauxpro” from mcm electronics.) but It was amazing that I actually managed to work all week without flying. A quick stop at the FAA site to register, print a label for my Solo, then I did get out on Saturday, and I’m hooked!
Auto take off and landing are the bomb! The orbit mode was pretty easy to use, once I figured out how to set the center on my tiny phone screen. I ordered an acer tablet from ebay (about $70) and hope that will be better.
3DR recommends initial flights in a wide open area, and I concur. While it’s really easy to fly, it’s also hard to judge depth at distance when it’s flying near trees etc. The next day, I did manage to crash it, breaking 2 propellers, and chipping a third. The Solo was fine though, and shut itself down with the remote talking to me “Crash detected”.
I wouldn’t have even spent $400 (and will likely spend even more) if it wasn’t easy to add my own hardware and software mods. 3DR makes this really easy, with a well thought out Dev kit python API, and well documented hardware expansion. Check it all out at: https://dev.3dr.com/index.html
What makes this really exciting, is the Solo (in spite of the name) actually has Two processors, a pixhawk flight controller, and a linux based computer. You can actually ssh to the drone, and store scripts for execution during flight.
I’m excited that you can even use OpenCV on the video stream from the camera.