Using the new GoPro firmware for FPV flying on an Arducopter


Recently, GoPro released new firmware for the GoPro HD camera ( There are improvements and features in various areas, but the one that interested me was the "Live Feed Out" feature, which is the ability to feed VGA video out through the "VGA Out" port while recording HD video onto the SD card at the same time. The "Upside Down Mode" (in case you need to mount the unit upside down on your aircraft) and "One Button Mode" (starts recording as soon as it comes on) also seem like they would be useful for some folks in our community.


I mounted the GoPro on the front/bottom of my custom-framed Arducopter. I tried various methods (more on that later), but in the end, I wedged it into the frame into a velcro sandwich. It's extremely snug, but it will give if it needs to.


I bought a little cable that connects from the GoPro's AV Out port to a 5.8Ghz 100mW ImmersionRC audio/video transmitter. This in turn transmits VGA-quality video in realtime back to my Fatshark 5.8 Ghz Aviator Video Goggles. I'm using the 5.8Ghz so that it wouldn't interfere with my 2.4ghz RC Rx/Tx.


My backyard tests indicate that I am able to transmit FPV video while simultaneously recording High-Definition video onto the SD card. The FPV in the video goggles has a bit static at times (which I understand to be pretty typical for transmitted video), and not particularly bright (when I was flying on a cloudy day), but appears quite useable. The quality of the recorded HD video on the GoPro is excellent as usual. I haven't used it in full, long-distance flight yet, and I'm new to FPV, but it seems very promising.


During this project, I also tried three different micro and sub-micro pan-tilt servo kits from various vendors. My initial goal was to setup a head tracker so that the camera would tilt and pan based on where I looked. I got the electronics and RC aspects of that to work relatively well, but I didn't like the way the pan/tilt unit, even the smallest and most robust one, tended to hang the GoPro out in the open below the Arducopter. I'm not a good pilot, so I was scared that my "landings," which are sometimes more like controlled crashes, would destroy the pan/tilt/camera, so I opted for the more robust protected mounting approach that you see in the pictures. Once I get confident with my flight skills in general, and FPV flying in particular, then maybe I'll mount the tilt/pan and head tracker again.


I've included pictures of the GoPro mounted in the Arducopter, plus the electronics on top including the ImmersionRC transmitter (which is the red and green thing under the battery alarm at the top of the screen). 


I've also included a picture of the new mounting for my sonar, so now it's mounted inside the frame (in the center of the bottom), rather than on the outside like it was before. Also new with this version of my Arudcopter is that I've mounted the ESCs between the two main center plates. I also added a lower plate for the battery, camera, and sonar to attach to (and to reduce shear stress on the vertical posts during crashes). I like the new design because it gives me plenty of cargo room below, but it required me to make the center plates a larger square (5.3" now) and it was a real bear trying to squeeze those ESCs into the little triangle between the arms. In my continuing quest for crash-resistance, I also upgraded the center plates from 0.032" 3003-H14 aluminum to 0.050" 6061-t6 aircraft aluminum. Thus far, it's proven much more robust than the previous versions (in which the aluminum wrinkled a bit during really bad crashes). But now my arducopter is getting pretty heavy. Fully loaded, with the camera, battery, video transmitter, etc., the flying weight clocks in at 1181 grams. It no longer resembles the admirably light and agile DIY-Drones Arudcopter kit as much as it did before. It's more of a flying tank.  :)




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Comment by Ron Jacobs on March 19, 2011 at 2:05pm

Nice blog post. The
Go Pro camera is definitely a very nice camera for alot of purposes.


Something I am increasingly aware of and thinking about is how we can protect our electronics. With alot of aircraft we can put electronics inside, soomewhat protected, but quite often the ESC, XYZ sensors, video transmitters are stuck outside where they are susceptible to moisture and debris. Its a toss up between controlling overheating, convenience of mounting for stable performance. Guess its good most items are relatively inexpensive.


Just a reminder that if flying FPV or POV or whatever you call it, you should have a buddy who has unaided line of sight control over the aircraft at all times. If your video feed goes down and you have to dismount your POV setup, you have lost your awareness of your aircraft in relation to other objects/aircraft in the area is significantly impaired.


Now if you are flying over your back forty  or something, you might be ok, but flying over public areas or near populated areas, the old concerns and issues come up. Make sure you have significant third party liability insurance, I guess.

Comment by Robert Beatty on March 19, 2011 at 2:39pm

Thank you.


Regarding protecting electronics: One thing I find amazing is the robustness of the DIY Drones electronics. I have been flying (and crashing) a lot. I've gone through some horrific crashes that have broken props, ripped off motor mounts, bent my aluminum frame (previous to this new version), and done all sorts of crazy stuff. But not once, in all that abuse, have I broken or damaged an APM, Oilpan, or magnetometer. I think that's pretty impressive. I use four 8-32 aluminum rods to form a primitive roll cage, but other than that, the electronics have no protection, and yet they've survived every crash. (I avoid flying when it's wet, so I don't have to worry about that particular issue). 


Regarding FPV safety: Yes, good safety tips. I'll keep that in mind. I fly on my own property, so there aren't other aircraft around, but horses, goats, and dogs are terrible dodgers! :)


Comment by Jason Short on March 19, 2011 at 4:06pm

I fly FPV with my GoPro and even though it's a little heavier than my tiny NTSC camera, the recording aspect is worth it. And yes a spotter is key. I rarely get to fly with one, and though I've never lost a plane or copter, I've come more than close on multiple occasions. 

I use the same aluminum, but I drilled holes in it for weight. The cage arms are flat aluminum I cut and put a slight bend to. I screwed them into ID modeling foam which is pretty light and durable. The only thing left from my original Beta AC kit are the plastic plates used to hold the APM board and connect the arms. Those things are indestructible. 

I'm not saying the AC is fragile, but I've crashed from > 50 feet to concrete twice and dozens of other hard landings. Nothing could withstand those wrecks.

Here is a photo of the new frame before I mounted the skids:


Comment by Robert Beatty on March 19, 2011 at 4:47pm

Jason: That's cool. I like the dome. Looks sturdy. How did you cut your aluminum pieces for that? What are their thickness? The bend is up at the top of the dome, right? Also, what are the details on your arms? What stock? How did you make them? In the various crashes you've described, how have your motor mounts held up? Mine tend to bend badly. What are you using?


Comment by Hyon Lim on March 19, 2011 at 5:50pm

Thanks for the posting.

Can you upload the video? and where can I get the 5.8Ghz transmitter and receiver?


Just a question come in to my mind (not related to FPV)

 Q. Is the GPS position holding working properly? these days, I've tested many times, but

     the quadrotor tends to control their input in reverse way.

Comment by Robert Beatty on March 19, 2011 at 6:30pm

Here are the video glasses. These have the receiver built into it. You select the transmitter (that goes on the aircraft) at the same time you purchase the goggles (select-list at the bottom of the page):

Here is the cable that connects the GoPro to the transmitter.

The store owner's name is Tim. He's very helpful.

Please note that there are probably many different ways to do this. This is just the way I did it.


Comment by UFO-MAN on March 20, 2011 at 3:21am

Hi. Have you tested / noticed if there is any latency (delay) when feeding the video from the GoPro? On a normal surveillance type video camera with composite video out, there is no noticeable latency. This makes those cameras very nice to FPV fly as there is instant feedback to your videoglasses. In case there were latency issues with the GoPro, that would limit the useability of the GoPro camera for these kind of applications. I am very close to purchasing a GoPro in case you can confirm that there is no latency issues. Noticing that the GoPro uses an embedded processor and a digital sensor that sends digital pixel data to a compressing engine via a fast serial or paralell databus , I would suspect some latency since the digital video engine has to generate composite video.



Comment by Jason Short on March 20, 2011 at 7:35pm


Here are the plans I used to build my latest copter. The aluminum was cut with a band saw and sanded with a disk sander. The bars were drilled with a standard drill press and a countersink bit, done by hand.

The arms are 1/2" square with .06" wall and the flat sheets for the care are .06 or .04. They are very sturdy. 


I made my own motor mounts out of some aluminum bar, but I made them too strong. Now when I crash I loose a motor shaft or bearing instead of the X mount. I really need a break away or compliant member between the motor and the arm to prevent too much damage in crashes. I'm considering zip ties over a longer version of the bars. I'll just keep a big pack of them with me when I fly.


Comment by Crescent UAV on March 20, 2011 at 11:57pm
We have seen no evidence of latency when using the GoPro for FPV applications
Comment by UFO-MAN on March 21, 2011 at 1:48pm
Excellent! Thanks for verifying.


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