How to Build a Drone with Raspberry Pi

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Updated July 26, 2022

If you’re shopping for the best drone, you may consider how to build a drone with Raspberry Pi. While building a drone sounds daunting, it’s a project that most tech-minded hobbyists can handle. And a Raspberry Pi board can operate as the companion computer of your drone project and serve as a connection point for the core electrical components. So, if you want to take your Pi project to the skies, keep reading.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Raspberry Pi drones utilize the Pi computer for scripted drone moves and enhanced user control.
  • Users can install programs and custom code on their drones for advanced operation and automatic flight.
  • Troubleshooting software issues can be the most time-consuming part of building a DIY drone with a Raspberry Pi.

How to Make a Drone with Raspberry Pie

The process is similar to building an FPV drone from scratch, but you connect a Raspberry Pi as a companion computer to the flight controller. Then, a Pi user can program complex controls or drone moves into the computer. In addition, users can calibrate the drone and attain remote control over motor speed, battery life, and device-to-device communication.

Insider Tip

It is unsafe and potentially unlawful to perform drone actions around people, animals, or private property.

Before beginning this project, you can 3d print the drone body if you’d prefer not to purchase one, but you will need access to the battery connector. If your drone uses a LiPo battery, it should be removable if you ever need to get on a plane with the drone.

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Time required: 12+ hours
  • Total Steps: 12
  • Tools Needed: Drone kit, Raspberry Pi Zero, Android device, Soldering gun, Glue gun, Tape, Computer.

STEP 1

Build the Body

  1. Your drone kit should provide an adequate frame, but you can 3D print your drone body or cut it out of a carbon sheet. There should be enough surface area to support the controller and the Raspberry Pi.

STEP 2

Attach the Raspberry Pi to the Dampening Plate

  1. Place the rubber dampeners into the dampening plate.
  2. Connect the Raspberry Pi plate to the other side of the rubber dampeners.
  3. Align your Raspberry Pi with the base plate and install a screw through one of the corner holes.
  4. Install the first standoff onto the screw poking through the base plate. The spacers will provide stability for the flight controller.
  5. Install all four spacers before moving on to the next step.

STEP 3

Adhere the Raspberry Pi to the Drone Body

  1. Place a patch of double-sided duct tape on the underside of the dampening plate.
  2. Try to center the Raspberry Pi on the drone’s top plate.
  3. Press the dampening plate and the drone’s top plate together until they feel securely connected.

STEP 4

Attach the Flight Controller to the Raspberry Pi

  1. Experts recommend using a Pixhawk flight controller, but some users choose the Navio2. That said, the Navio2 doesn’t offer the most reliable software for beginners
  2. Install the flight controller base to the four standoffs that you screwed into the Raspberry Pi’s base.
  3. There should be an arrow on your flight controller. You want this arrow to point towards the USB port of the Raspberry Pi.
  4. Apply double-sided duct tape to the bottom of the flight controller, and adhere it to the center of the base plate. Do not cover up the Raspberry Pi’s pin headers because you need to connect hardware.
  5. Press with your hands until the unit feels secure.

STEP 5

Install the Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs) and Arms

  1. Solder the ESCs to the drone’s power distribution board (bottom plate).
  2. Run the wires of each electronic speed controller on the underside of the arms and screw the arms into place.

STEP 6

Connect the Motors to the Arms and ESCs

  1. Ensure that your motor directions are correct before screwing them in place.
  2. Attach the three ESC wires to the motor.

STEP 7

Install the Drone Battery

  1. You can fix the LiPo battery to the drone with double-sided tape or a zip tie.

STEP 8

Mount the Camera and Video System

  1. Place the camera on the drone at a 15-degree angle.
  2. The video transmission system should use a WiFi USB dongle to ensure the largest possible service range.

Warning

If you do not invest the required time to master the complex controls of your flight stick, you will likely crash your drone.

STEP 9

Connect the FPV System to the PDB

  1. Connect your FPV system and ensure no additional wires get wound into the video connections.

STEP 10

Finish the Drone Body

  1. Ensure your drone feels sturdy and secure any additional wires poking from the frame or Raspberry Pi.

STEP 11

Program the Raspberry Pi

  1. You need some light programming to use the Raspberry Pi as the companion computer.
  2. Connect the USB dongle to your PC.
  3. You can install any Raspberry Pi OS you want, but experts recommend Raspbian with NOOBS.
  4. Obtain the drone IP if you want to form an FTP for file transfer.
  5. Install basic connectivity like a DHCP server and Hostapd.
  6. Install USBmount so you can save drone video to a storage device.
  7. Last, install the Python quadcopter program that will assist your flight controller.

STEP 12

Test Your Drone

  1. Connect your flight controller to the drone, and perform a pre-flight checklist.
  2. If you use an advanced controller, perform a basic spinning movement to ensure your motors and propellers are working correctly before flying at maximum power.

STAT: According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 45% of Americans think drones should not fly at events like concerts, parades, or rallies. (source)

F.A.Q.S

Is it cheaper to build a drone or buy one?

Buying a commercial drone is much cheaper than building a sturdy DIY model. A custom build requires you to purchase parts like the power distribution board or a basic WiFi dongle separately, which raises the cost of your drone.


Do drones have autopilot?

Many modern models utilize AI-access over drone functions and flight objectives. For example, commercial drones in the shipping industry can lift and deliver cargo without analog control. In addition, users can program DIY raspberry pi drones to perform special maneuvers or auto-tracking tasks.


Which motors are used in drones?

Most commercial drones feature brushless motors due to the equation of power to weight. The electronics and boards for quadcopters can weigh enough that you need brushless motors to get the proper speed and movement. In addition, the motors for quadcopters and drones need enough motor power to keep the drone stable during abrupt movements like flips and barrel rolls.


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