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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  • To all potential people entering into this hobby: do your homework ahead of time and understand the sophistication of these machines. As much as is being said about these being autonomous drones you do need to fly them and understand exactly how they work. My recommendation is to Start with a simple board such as a cc3d and learn how to tune and fly. After that you can step up and replace that board with something more complex. I think marketing Pixhawk or APM controllers to new entrants into the hobby is unethical and is setting them up for failure.
  • @Quadzimodo I meant "Thats why people like those Pocket Drone creators shouldnt be here."

    I believe all ppl that learn how to use every kind of drones should head here for good. I am sorry for not  beeing  precise.

    Best regards


  • Quadzimodo. I agree it is easy to be insightful with hindsight.

    But I remember the day I read that post and as someone that has spent all too much time trying to make AP platforms at a hobbyist/semi pro level (eventually successfully) I thought it was highly improbable that this little tricopter as presented was going to be usable for aerial photography in the manner shown. If it had just flown as advertised, even for 10 minutes, all would have been ok. Chris Anderson is not responsible for any of this of course.

    And looking back at the posts on this I see you were all over this one as it unfolded.

  • Gary - If you have a heap of free time on your hands you might wish to peruse my contributions to the rcgroups thread.  I have mirrored much of what you suggest above.

    I had very much the same opinion of tricopters as you state above before getting the chance to play with one myself first hand.  To be honest - even though the Pocket Drone is a horrible design with undersized motors and ESCs, an oversized battery, loose arms and battery mount, useless legs and a host of other pathetic short-comings... I was astounded by just stable the Pocket Drone flew after remedying the mechanic deficiencies in the tail rotor.  The Pocket Drone is actually delivered with default PID settings and that is how I flew it (no autotune conducted - just standard Arducopter settings).  Bo's initial flight also showed relatively jello free footage (ignore the mode issues caused by using follow me with the wrong firmware version - and the associated misdiagnosis explaining the bizarre flight behavour), which was quite a surprise considering the huge proportion of rotating mass in those bulky billet alloy prop spinners.

    TCIII - Mate... I haven't even touched on the facinating history of the whole Pocket Drone saga.  There is so much to this story... For example - AirDroids' Co-founder and CEO Timothy Reuter is actually a co-founder of and is an advisor to AirDoirds' Co-founder and Chief Hardware Engineer TJ Johnson never really took his role seriously and didn't even quite his day job to seriously peruse this once in a lifetime opportunity.  Co-founder Chance Roth (or these days Chance Roth) left the team late last year and now works at Brain Corporation (what he has to offer them is anyone's guess).

    There are bigger stories here too - such as the devolution of Kickstarter's campaign guidelines.  Things like the former 'Hardware and Product Guidelines' that were current at the time of the Pocket Drone campaign have not been rewritten but instead completely erased... which is just outrageous in my view.

    Marc - I understand what you are saying but it is not as cut and dried as that.  Remember Chris is a highly prominent commentator on this emerging market he himself gave birth to while also being an active participant in that emerging market - so he must be quite considered about what he does and doesn't scrutinize (questioning a potential competitor's product would not be good form at all).

    I personally believe that the vast majority of claims made in the initial campaign, that were copy and pasted into Chris' initial post, were well achievable with a bit of engineering nous.  Therefore I cannot see why Chris, or his engineering department, should have flagged it as suspect.  This is simply my view and you may well see it differently.

    Here are some more of the most memorable quotes issued by these clowns over the past 12 months:

    "we didn't really have a good media plan up front, or to sustain it and really what's driven us to some degree is luck"

    "I mean people are looking for something like what we have articulated.  That's the one thing we got right and that's what's overcome, frankly, all of our other failings to follow basic Kickstarter best practices"

    "I think there's a limited number of lessons that we have to teach other people"

    'I guess teaching dumb luck to people isn't something you can actually do at home, you know we are very good at teaching do as we say don't do as we did"

    "over 100 prototypes and 42 design versions... we built something that has alot of power and we packed as many features as we could in to it... it's got a tonne of autonomous features and it's easy to use and easy to handle, we've built an app behind it"

  • Quazimodo - I applaud what Chris is doing in general. I really do. I just think that he is in a position to inject a little more scrutiny when he posts these things. If you look at the original post he put up on this all of their claims were in bold font and just not challenged unless you go down to the comments. It was close to an endorsement. To any kind of experienced eye it was all problematic for Airdroid to make these claims. It just looked underpowered and imbalanced, and obviously incapable producing stabilized video when clearly gimbaled gopro footage was used in the marketing. Just a few words of caution from someone as influential as him would be wise - just run it by the engineering dept! Do 3DR not have a lab and engineers to advise Chris? I am not sure the lesson has been learned. The ebullient posting and support of a flying mono-copter HD Cam (which I have to call "Dildocam" ) not so long ago only to have people in the comments say that it was err, technically impossible as presented, shows that it would be wise to scrutinize a bit more. That joke scooped something like 100k before it was called into question. The thing that puzzles me is that the Pocket Copter was seemingly pimping Arducopter firmware and basically passing it off as it own (to the uninitiated) unless you read the fine print. If I were Chris Anderson I would have been indignant and not supportive. But I guess he is a big hearted guy and really loves innovation. Just run this stuff by some engineers before posting.....

  • Admin


    Nice response and history. Much appreciated.


    TCIII Admin

  • Hi Quadzi,

    Great to hear that you were able to help DeltaBlast out and I completely agree, this is the place to come for help.

    A lot of people get off on the wrong foot, and this should really be the place to come to figure out how you can do it successfully.

    I consider tricopters inherently inferior to quadcopters both more complicated and more fragile and generally lower performance so I see hardly any reason for their existence at all.

    I think the CoaxCopter has way more going for it, but the quadcopter is the all round most useful platform.

    Kickstarter has some great ideas on it, but almost invariably delivery dates are unrealistic and often the people involved get way over their heads when subscribers noticeably exceed their minimum limit.

    These people have generally never manufactured anything before in their lives and have now way to even understand what a realistic schedule is.

    Basically, your first multicopter should never be a Kickstarter project.

    And as for chastising Chris - Nonesense, Chris is always supportive of anything interesting and new and enthusiastic, me too.

    I really appreciate it when he brings these things to our attention, his willingness to buy in doesn't mean I am obligated to and he can far better afford it and be tolerant of the inevitable "shortcomings" than I can.

    Any, even most of them can turn out to be a dud, but some of them are going to turn out to be really cool, the SEEK IR thermal camera for instance:

    or the Lidar Lite:



  • DeltaBlast - It is a shame to hear that no real progress has been made in the facebook group... but I am not surprised.  I did everything I could to help but was swiftly removed after correcting misinformation provided by the group's founder (Matt Kim - not Bo).  This misinformation included advising people not to use ArduCopter 3.2 because it was "broken" and to change RTL_ALT_FINAL from "0" to "2000" so to prevent the craft from falling out of the sky.

    I did notice in the past few days that there is now at least one other Pocket Drone user who has successfully followed your fantastic beginners manual and achieved a fault free flight - which gives me great pleasure!  With a little luck many shall follow shortly.  It certainly didn't take you long to transition from student to teacher. Well done mate!

    Marc & Michal - As you guys are likely aware, I have followed and scrutinized this campaign and product as closely as anyone... and I must say, in Chris' defence, that there was little to suggest it would go pear-shaped back when he set it on fire with his very first post.

    Nor did Chris issue any special endorsement or provide the AirDroids team with any special favour. He was actually posting about any and all drone related crowdfunded campaigns he could find at that time.  The many red flags didn't start to appear until after Chris had brought the campaign to this community's attention - by which time the digital media snowball he had inadvertently kicked down the hill had already gained enormous momentum.

    AirDroids CEO and Co-founder Timothy Reuter (25th Feb 2014) - "We were lucky enough that Chris Anderson posted about us on DIYDrones within hours of us launching. I don't even know how he found us and that just started a snowball that happily shocked us. We're also lucky we participated in the hardware battlefield at the consumer electronics show and it was a great experience but it was also important because it got us the alpha story. And another thing we have learnt about internet journalism is that there are a lot of lazy journalists out there... I would email all these journalists and they wouldn't even get back to me and then somehow that same publication would see another story about us and copy off of that"

    While it is unlikely that it would have gone so big without Chris' assistance he cannot be held responsible for it in any way. While he did state in his initial post that the Pocket Drone looks "good" and "well-engineered" - it did look really good and it did look quite well-engineered (certainly to my eye at that time - as is evidenced by my first post on the subject)...  however the item that was finally put into production and delivered to campaign backers (a group that included Chris himself) some 12 months later bore little resemblance to the originally exhibited prototype.

    Michal - Your suggestion that Pocket Drone users shouldn't be here is extremely nearsighted... as is your reasoning given.  In truth - we want all Pocket Drone users to migrate here immediately so we can assist them in developing good solutions and proper habits as quickly as possible.

  • Unfortunately, ease of access has made many people think that operating these things is a no-brainer.

    It isn't, in fact quite the opposite, you need to have realistic expectancies and take realistic steps to "learn how to fly".

    In many ways this experience is a pretty thorough description of what not to do.

    Not that I think DeltaBlast is in any way to blame, the presentation made by the Kickstarter campaign and the general perception that (anybody can do it) is really to blame.

    First - (GO out and buy a cheap toy quadcopter, Hubsan, Nano, whatever And learn to fly it well).

    Next I'd really suggest a Blade 200QX, these are very high performance quadcopters and when you can fly it well, you are ready for the big leagues. (Although they are so much fun to fly you will never really put it away.)

    Next, go get a commonly available, not too expensive but well proven quadcopter with capability to support a GoPro Camera (or similar) and with a brushless gimbal.

    The Phantom, Blade 350 or possibly the Iris are solid choices.

    Now learn to fly it and to fully exploit its automatic capabilities and to use the camera the way you want.

    Now you are ready to take it on a trip with you.

    The entire time that DeltaBlast spent waiting for the Pocket Drone to show up could have been spent actually preparing to be ready for the trip and from the professionalism and capability he has shown in this presentation, he could have presented a great set of videos from his trip rather than a post mortem of a dubious Kickstarter project.

    DeltaBlast, I know I am not telling you anything you haven't already figured out for yourself, I'm just putting it down here so that those who follow can take a better path (in fact almost any other path).

    Best Regards,


  • @DeltaBlast - you are very brave and persistent. I doubt a lot of people would withstand such battle from the beginning.

    Another thing was the infamous Kickstarter campaign - you can read here about the Pocket Drone creators dishonesty.

    I believe we all in the know need to promote good projects and warn against poor ones or false advertized. This could be our main and most important role in the beginning of drone era.

    DIY Drones is a good place to fight for good solutions and proper habits. Thats why people like those from Pocket Drone shouldnt be here.

    Best regards


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