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My journey into the world of DIY drones


Hi! I'm new to DIYDrones, but I want to tell you about my journey from total drone-n00b to... well, still a drone n00b, but at least a little bit more educated, with a proper respect for drones. It involves a tricopter you might have heard of: The Pocket Drone.

Back in the beginning of january of 2014, Airdroids launched a kickstarter compaign to fund "The Pocket Drone". On the kickstarter page you can still read their original promises.
For people like me, people who have never flown a drone before, this seemed like a great opportunity to get a compact, easy to fly drone, for a reasonable price. It was still a lot of money for a luxury product, so I actually hestitated a while... and the funding period ended. It was a great succes.
After seeing this, I found that they also took pre-orders for pretty much the same price, so I pre-ordered right after the Kickstarter project closed and the wait began.
My wife and I had planned a year-long trip to Australia starting that summer and this would be a great drone to take with us: compact, yet able to take great photos and videos through the use of a GoPro. The promised delivery date was in june and we were leaving in early september, so that all worked out great.
I was really excited when summer was nearing! I bought a GoPro and was ready to learn how to fly and all that. But then the delays came.
I'll save you the details, but in the end I had to leave for Australia without the drone. When it finally came, it was january 2015, and I was actually one of the very first to get it (some people still haven't received theirs). Why? Because I couldn't wait and I bought someone's "early bird" kickstarter spot and was in contact with Timothy Reuter, one of the three founders of Airdroids, to get both my pre-order and the early bird delivered at the same time.
So, halfway through january 2015, both my drones arrived. In Australia. We had already done most of our traveling, so we couldn't use the Pocket Drone to film it all anymore, but I was excited nonetheless. My first drone!
Boy, was I in for a let down...

The included manual was very meager. But, I didn't know any better. As I was one of the first, there were no reviews or videos of the Pocket Drone yet, so I set out to be the very first to film it flying!
By now, someone had posted a link to the RCGroups forum so I got a little bit of support there, and with that information, I went out to the park to get her up in the air.
This is the report that I wrote later that day:

My Pocket Drone experience so far.
Yesterday I received my Pocket Drones. I originally ordered my Pocket Drone after the Kickstarter had already finished, but later on I bought Me's drone. As he was an early backer, it shipped last weekend.
Edit: Clarification, as there are some questions about it: I bought the early backer spot of "Me" on Kickstarter. You might have seen his comments about him being willing to sell his drone: I bought it from him. He changed his address to mine. This is why I got my drone so early without being a backer.

Yesterday I unpacked both of them (as you can see here:, one was an RTF and the other was BNF, and started toying around with the ready to fly one.
I unfolded everything, put in the battery, and tried to get it to work.
The transmitter was properly bound but the drone seemed to respond very sluggishly to the transmitter. Half of the time arming and disarming didn't work. There was no manual for the transmitter (Flysky-T6) included, but I found it online:
As this is my first drone and I'm a total noob, I checked with the people on the RCgroups forum ( page 15 and on, I'm the user "DeltaBlast"). It turns out that this sluggishness is normal because you start in the mode "altitude hold" and it tries to work on compass and gps and you don't have free control over the drone.
On the APM site I read that the first mode should always be "Stabilize" (which means you have full control over the drone), but apparently the PD people thought that was unnecessary.
To use stabilize or any other mode, you first need to connect the Pocket Drone to mission planner. For this, a USB telemetry stick is included. It didn't work for me at all, even after installing the proper drivers, but in the end I got it to work by reinstalling the drivers through device manager. So if you can't get mission planner to connect, check device manager for errors.
So now that I was connected to Mission Planner, I could see the two flight modes by going to Initial Set up>mandatory hardware > flight modes.
Now if you want to use more modes, you need to bind them to a switch or knob. The problem is: all the flight modes are handled on one channel and you can only assign one channel to one switch or knob. But a switch only has two positions. You could cycle through all flight modes on a knob, but it would be very difficult to see on which flight mode you are, so that's not an option either.
Luckily another forum told me how to use another channel to modify the first. This is called Mix on your transmitter.
I wrote this little tutorial to tell you how to set this:
By default, Switch A (SWA) is assigned to altitude-hold (0) and loiter (1). You can see that this works in Mission Planner via Initial Set up>mandatory hardware > flight modes: if you're connected and you flick the switch, you see the mode changing.
You can set another switch to modify the behaviour of Switch A, by going to Functions setup (hold the scrollwheel on the transmitter), then to Aux channels. Set Channel 6 to the switch you want to use to modify (I used SWB). Then go back to functions and scroll to the second page to Mix.
Turn on Mix 1, set master to Ch6 and Slave to Ch5. This means that 6 now modifies the output of 5.
Set positive mix to 50% and negative to 0%
Now turn on Mix 2, same master/slave and set pos to 0% and negative to 75%.
I got these values from another forum, so dunno if these are the best, but they work for now :P
Right, that was yesterday (and part of this morning), today it was time to try to fly for real!
First, I stuck on the GoPro mount. Note: there is no GoPro mount included! While there was a GoPro mount visible on all promotional material (it was part of the 3Dprinted frame), apparently they decided to go with a mounting plate instead, so you have to stick on your own GoPro mount. Also, once this is placed, it doesn't fit neatly into it's protective box anymore :'(
Anyway, I went on my bike to the park and got started.
First I taped the struts to the Pocket Drone with ducttape. Later that turned out to be a very wise decision!
I did a lift-off on altitude-hold, and immediately the drone drifted away so I switched to loiter (for no effect). The drone still drifted off so I switched to Return To Launch (which is not bound by default, I did that manually). RTL mode lowered my drone near me and then smashed it into the ground twice before crashing. Nice.
The landing gear cannot be called landing gear. It can barely be called "launching gear" as it does remind one of the supports of the spaceshuttle, immediately falling off after launch :)
After take-off, the second part of the landing gear was just dangling immediately, even though I secured it properly. This means that landing with this gear will *always* have the tail rotor hitting the grass. On landing all struts shot loose and one even escaped the ducttape.
Anyway, I captured all of this on video, unfortunately I forgot to turn on the GoPro.
This first video can be viewed here:
Anyway, I'm persistent, so I tried again.
This time I tried to takeoff using droid planner from my phone, but that didn't work at all. No idea why.
So I tried another lift-off, this time with the GoPro turned on. The PD went up, drifted, then went down (I didn't even touch the throttle) and started chopping grass.
This is all on video too, it can be viewed here:

Third time, I tried to go with stabilize mode I think, but it just crashed sideways immediately.
Short video here:

I tried some more but it was pretty much all crap. I captured one try on the GoPro:

Then I summarized this in a video here:
As a last try I wanted to put in waypoints and fly from those. I put in the waypoints on my phone through droidplanner and pressed the button, but nothing happened. Whatever I did, nothing happened. It just stood there, idling (armed).
Turns out, the transmitter needs to be on as well (I guess that makes sense :P).
So, I gave the command and the Pocket Drone launched, flew up 10 meters, flipped out and just spun to the ground, killing it completely. Unfortunately that wasn't on camera :'(
Result: 4 clipped props, a severed antenna (or whatever that red thing was, hanging from the frame) and the frame has a big tear in it so one of the front arms can now bend further than it should. I think it still works, but I've had enough for now. The damage can be seen in this video:
and also on these images:
Just to make it clear: at no point during my flights did I even touch the right stick, only left to launch..
I hope someone with more experience can get this to work properly and tell us what to do. Also, if someone can look over my videos and tell me what I did wrong, it would be much appreciated. I'll be over at the RCgroups forum :)

To summarize:
* Do not fly with the current landing gear. Your props *will* hit the ground on landing.
* Do not fly in any sort of wind, ever. There wasn't much wind, but wind was probably the reason for everything.
* A GoPro mount is not included.
* If you don't know what you're doing, like me, wait till others try this first and see what they come up with.
* The transmitter seems unresponsive in arming and disarming, and everything else really. But I have nothing to compare it to, so maybe it's just me.
* The manual for the transmitter can be found here:
* Look for more info and updates in this thread: page 15 and on.
* My combined videos are found in this playlist:

As you can see, it went badly. Very badly.
After posting the above, I was contacted by someone that lived close to where I stayed in Australia: Quadzimodo

This guy turned out to be a godsend.
He asked me to come over so we could try and get the Pocket Drone to work. I went there and I learned a *lot* about drones. It turns out that everything wasn't as easy as I (and other people with me) had imagined, and that drones could be dangerous in the way I was handling things.
We tried to get the Pocket Drone flying, but in the end we didn't really succeed. We vowed to try again though!
In the mean time, from the RCGroups forum, Bo Lorentzen launched a Facebook group for easier communication after receiving his own Pocket Drone. That Facebook group quickly filled with people who all asked the same questions and the answers got buried under new questions. Everybody tried to reinvent the wheel, and because of that, no real progress was being made. To remedy this (and also for my own overview), I decided to combine all questions and answers into the Pocket Drone Community User Guide. While this allowed for some progress, we still didn't see much actual proper flights. People were having problems with the yaw and blaming it on the APM, so most flights were more like short hops.

Two weeks later I went to quadzimodo's place again. This time, while facing the same yaw-problems again, he realized that the problem was in the tail clutch: Airdroids had poorly designed the entire tail section and for pretty much everyone, the clutch was slipping in mid-air. He devised a fix and afterwards, flying was suddenly possible, with relative ease!
Another writeup was placed, with new videos:

Great news everyone!
We seem to have fixed all stabilisation issues!
Today, Quadzimodo and I had another go at trying to make the PD fly properly. After having constant trouble with the yaw, Quadzimodo recognized that the issue was that the midpoint of the yaw seems to move around. Why?
The problem seems to be the rubberized slipper-clutch which forms the mechanical link between the yaw-mechanism and the servo.
The clutch is designed to limit the torque that the tail rotor can impart on the yaw servo so to protect the yaw-servo from damage during a crash or hard landing. Unfortunately, this clutch is too loose and allows the tail-rotor-assembly to slip under normal use. This manisfests itself generally by poor yaw-control which degrades over time whilst in the air, generally leading only to very short flights (or worse) before having to reset the tail yaw position.
So, to remedy this, we opened the tail servo-housing and removed the plastic part of the clutch (actually, we first tried tightening it, but it was no good: the screw thread would just weaken and overscrew), cut off the edge with the screws so it can actually close around the rubber properly (shown in the photos below), put it back around the rubber and put zip-ties over it and tightened them up real good.
After this, no more spinning during flight! On stock firmware, no changes, we had perfect stable flights! This looks like the drone we we're promised! Personally, I had my first *real* drone flight today, and it was awesome. The guys that made the flight controller really did a great job.

Here you can see the clutch of the original tail servo (the top cover is removed from the tail):
vOMI7I1.jpgThese are the parts we clipped off:

And this is the result after putting on tie-wraps:

And here are the videos:


Sadly, right after this, I had to return home to the Netherlands. So this is where we are now. Quite the experience!
I've left out a lot of details, but in the course of this all I learned a lot about the world of DIY Drones: I now know how the software works, how all parts work together, and I could build myself a new drone now if I wanted.
I wrote all of the information related to the Pocket Drone down into the Pocket Drone Community User Guide and I continue to update it (I welcome feedback!).
So while nothing went as planned and the Pocket Drone project was (is) a disaster, I learned a lot more than I would have when I would just have bought a standard DJI drone. I respect drones now and I hope to learn even more in the future.

The next step is to transplant the usable Pocket Drone parts into a trifecta frame.

My journey into this new hobby is only just beginning!

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