What is an amateur UAV?

An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft that has the capability of autonomous flight, without a pilot in control. Amateur UAVs are non-military and non-commercial. They typically fly under “recreational” exceptions to FAA regulations on UAVs, so long as the pilots/programmers keep them within tight limits on altitude and distance. Usually the UAV is controlled manually by Radio Control (RC) at take-off and landing, and switched into GPS-guided autonomous mode only at a safe altitude. (Confused by all the acronyms and unfamiliar terms in UAVs? A glossary is here.)

What do I need to make one?

---1) An RC plane, muticopter (quadcopter/hexacopter/tricopter, etc) or helicopter. You can buy them ready to fly, including autopilot, here.
---2) An autopilot, such as Pixhawk or APM (see below)
---3) Optional: a useful “payload”, such as a digital camera or video transmission equipment

What does DIY Drones have to offer?

The DIY Drones community has created the world's first "universal autopilots", ArduPilot Mega (APM) and its next-generation big brother, Pixhawk. They combines sophisticated IMU-based autopilot electronics with free autopilot software that can turn any RC vehicle into a fully-autonomous UAV.

A full setup consists of:

  • Pixhawk autopilot: The electronics, including twin processors, gyros, accelerometers, pressure sensors, GPS and more (shown at right). Available from 3D Robotics.
  • Mission Planner software Desktop software that lets you manage APM and plan missions, along with being a powerful ground station during flights and helping you analyze mission logs afterwards.
  • Autopilot software (automatically loaded by the Planners):

You can buy Ready-to-Fly UAVs (both planes and multicopters) from 3D Robotics:

 

 

Last but not least is flight safety. The RCAPA guidelines are an excellent set of checklists and do's and don'ts, so please refer to them.

Also, here's the FAA's official word on what's legal and what's not.

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Comment by tycinis on March 29, 2009 at 3:55am
Great guide , can you do a FAQ for the ardupilot ?

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on March 29, 2009 at 7:48am
We have a proper manual coming for ArduPilot.
Comment by tycinis on March 29, 2009 at 8:21am
Thanks chris , it very helpful for people like me who start building an easy-star Uav.
Comment by vova reznik on March 31, 2009 at 9:07am
Thermopile-based autopilot, 335 USD + FMA sensors


3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on March 31, 2009 at 12:14pm
Note: the RVOSD (the thermopile-based "autopilot" mentioned above) is just return-to-launch. It's not programmable, and not really in the class of what we consider full autopilots.
Comment by jonny on March 31, 2009 at 12:47pm
What, no Picopilot?

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on March 31, 2009 at 12:51pm
We don't recommend Picopilot. We've had several and they're poor performers with even worse customer support.
Comment by jonny on March 31, 2009 at 12:54pm
Vova, very impressive OSD, is that 2.4gig?
Comment by vova reznik on March 31, 2009 at 1:29pm
Thanks, its 1.3GHz/300mW and KX191 camera.
To Chris,
It has waypoint navigation, but not automatic flight to waypoints. The waypoint navigation is like the home arrow, just a smaller arrow in the center of screen. The distance to waypoint is also shown.

But we can also add heading hold to this. Then you simply use the waypoint navigation to point the plane in the right direction and there is your full featured autopilot !

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on March 31, 2009 at 1:39pm
Hi Vova. Is that a single waypoint, or multiple waypoints? We usually define a full-featured autopilot as one that can allow you to program a "mission" of multiple waypoints.

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