You can build this frame in a day using a 3D printer and a few carbon fiber tubes,  The frame is lightweight and was designed to carry a variety of companion computers and other sensors.  Fully assembled the frame itself weighs less than 400 grams empty and can carry a lot of gear. 

The various assemblies slide onto the carbon fiber tubes using 3D printed parts for each assembly. Relocating or adding new sensors is simple using the sliding rail systems.  All of the rail parts are locked in place, except the battery tray which can slide back and forth and then lock to adjust CG.

In this build the drone is configured for Pixhawk and an Odroid XU4 computer, as well as a Raspberry Pi. 

On board it has two thermal cameras facing forward and down, IR Lock Landing Sensor, Lightware SF10 Laser Altimeter, OpenMV sensor, and 3 RGB cameras. Below is the downward facing sensor package, including IR Lock generously donated by Thomas Stone.

The mission for this drone is to locate a human in the water using the thermal camera, then fly toward the person and deliver an automatically inflating life preserver.   On a thermal camera the image of a person in the water is very distinct and clear.   With both forward and down facing 320x240 thermal cameras, the companion computer can also assist in navigation. 

This version has a Pixhawk Flight Controller mounted on it, connected to an Odroid XU4 Computer, and there is also a second Raspberry Pi 3 on board to drive the down facing 1080P RGB and Thermal Cameras.   

The forward facing 4K RGB and Seek Compact Pro 320x240 cameras are connect to the Odroid SBC running Ubunu 16.06 and FlytOS to run the ROS Application for the camera.  

Some of the parts are laminated with Carbon Fiber Cloth and Epoxy Resin for reinforcement.  The carbon lamination does not add as much weight as you would think and adds enormous strength.  The next version will have vaccuum bagged parts.

I have also fitted this frame with Qualcomm's Snapdragon Flight development board.  Since Snapdragon Flight has on board WiFi, the other single board computers can send data and image streams via WiFi.

The parts can print on most any 3D printer with a bed at least 6" wide.  I have found that different printers require that you scale the parts slightly for a perfect fit.  On my Makerbot Replicator 2 I scale each part 104% for a perfect fit.  

If you want to laminate the parts, I found this kit very helpful, Gorilla Works Carbon Laminating Kit, but you can also find high quality carbon fiber cloth, laminating materials and other supplies at Dragonplate and RC Foam

For simplicity's sake I am uploading all of the parts to bothThingiverse and Tinkercad.  I re-designed most of the parts so that they can be edited in Tinkercad, which makes it simple to customize. I will post a link later to the uploaded collections of parts.

This drone uses T-Motor 3510 700kv motors with APC 12x5.5 inch props and a 10,000ma Multistar Battery.  The T-Motors & matching 40A ESC's are efficient enough to use these low C rating batteries.  


These images show only the frame, but there is a lightweight cover that is 1mm thick that fits over the whole rail assembly.  The camera dome in the nose was salvaged from an RC Jet airplane, but I'm working on a new dome.   

There is also a light weight cover for the entire drone that slides on in 4 sections.   I'm in the process of reinforcing this cover with fiberglass and carbon fiber, and though it won't be waterproof it will be water resistant (more like a boat than a submarine).

The landing gear is interchangeable and I will be using 34" Foam Floats in this version.

This drone is going to be used in a demonstration for ABC News in the near future.  I'll have plenty of video to post shortly.  

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Hey Bill. No links to the frame are posted!

Sorry Mark, was in the middle of editing and it locked up on me.  Coming shortly!

Great design Bill. I have enough bits to make a few of these! Never laminated PVC printed parts before. I expect in this application the cosmetic steps are not needed. 

Thanks Marc -

Laminating the carbon plates for the motor mounts made them extremely strong.  Clean them with alcohol first and then laminate with 30 minute or greater epoxy.  I use the same epoxy they use on boats and the parts are STRONG.  

These pictures are from an earlier attempt, but the lamination makes the 3D printed part very difficult to break.  I think it's more of an infusion than a lamination.   

I went on a little too thick with the epoxy.  Now I have a vacuum bagger and the parts look like they came from a factory.  

What is a vacuum bagger in this context?

Great idea to use a drone for water search and rescue.  I bet the drone has to be lightweight so a life preserver can be part of payload.  Did you design and build the frame because there weren't any components on the market that would work?

I'm looking build or buy a decent drone to learn how and add new autonomous flight capabilities.  So I need a decent quality drone for that but haven't found one that works for a reasonable price.  I would like to eventually add new components too.

What's the lowest reasonable price range for a basic uav drone or the drone you're building?  



I designed the frame because most frames are open and not suited to flying around open water.   What you're not seeing is the cover, which is not 100% water tight, but waterproof enough to keep delicate electronics from being splashed.  It will take off and land on floats, but it has IR Lock's precision landing sensor, so the plan it to land small platform behind a boat.

If you're interested in having a drone built for you, I'm a very experienced builder.  I buit and designed most of the drones on the TV Show DRONED, and have built and sold about 20 commercial grade multi rotors and fixed wing aircraft.    (Some of which were used by the Science Channel and Discovery Networks before I was on the Droned TV Show on the Science Channel).

Perhaps. I'd like to learn how to build one too.  I want to get started with understanding the whole hardware and software stack and how to modify it for new uses.  I'm looking for the most cost effective way to get started. Ultimately I want to create a drone that can follow and track in a game setting.  

I'd appreciate any advice on the getting started with a customizable uav drone.  What's a reasonable price range?

I've looked at the getting started guides but it feels lacking in recommending a drone to get started that isn't too simple.  I will look deeper at the hardware requirements.  I was hoping to buy a basic one for less than $1k that I could use to install the software and get started.

Nice work Bill.  I was going to do a BoxBotix BBCopter Redux this Summer to make something a bit simpler than what we have, but I see you have a great design going already.  Are you going to release your files?  Understand if not.  I just don't want to reinvent the wheel if I don't need to.  Looking to do something more appropriate for beginner and firmware test flight use and abuse.

And feel free to poke around our project on Wevolver.  We spent a bunch of time on thermal management when you start to enclose everything.  It's all Open Hardware so take what you need...

It's in the 'advanced prototype' phase - but I can share the STL files with you if you're interested.    You will also need two 16mm carbon fiber tubes and two 14mm carbon tubes.  We're going to update the design to all 16mm.   You can reach me direct via email at

Thanks!  Email sent.

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