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Rise of the Drones



Just a few years ago, drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were virtually unknown. Since then, these unmanned aerial vehicles have seen massive growth in manufacture, sales, uses and potential applications. How UAVs will affect our lives in the future remains to be seen but one thing is for sure they will have a profound impact on many industries.

Everywhere you look UAVs are flying across headlines and the technology is changing the way we interact with the world around us, from live broadcast of sporting events, real estate imagery, rescue services as a second set of eyes in the sky, military offense or surveillance, ambulances delivering lifesaving medical supply, goods delivery services, film making, recreational uses and hobbyists.

Whilst all this is great there are serious safety and invasion of privacy concerns that aviation authorities around the world are trying to address, some countries already have guidelines for hobbyists and strict regulations for commercial activities however not all countries are in harmony on good all round practices.

The applications for UAV are growing at an extremely fast rate which fall into hobbyist, commercial and military.

Market Sectors and interesting applications include;


Music video of  ‘OK Go – I Won’t Let You Down’ was filmed in one continuous shot using a UAV; this type of filming would not of been possible a few years ago.

UAVs come in various formats but can be broken into two topologies 1) fixed wing or 2) multirotor.

Fixed wing resemble a traditional airplane design, we have seen these on the news typically military use with terrifying names like watch keeper or predator.

Multirotor is where the whole UAV thing opens up and for me at least is where the excitement begins it encompasses the traditional style helicopter with a large rotor with cyclic adjustment and a small rotor to control the direction its facing.

Non traditional multirotors mainly have a number of arms with fixed pitch propellers which are set equidistance apart, to control the movement of the multirotor is achieved by speeding or slowing down the propellers to achieve the desired movement.

Here we can see the standard terminology for an aircraft movement,


The yaw relates to horizontal rotation that relates to the direction the aircraft is facing. Pitch is rotation for moving the front and tail end up and down with the front down the UAV will move forward or vice versa and Roll is the rotation from side to side this makes it move to the right or left.

Here we see a 4 rotor UAV typically known as a Quad or Quadcopter. (Image courtesy from OpenPilot open source UAV autopilot )


For this to fly we have 4 equally sized prop / motor configuration, two of the props generate down thrust in a clock wise rotation and the other two in a counter clockwise rotation, the reason for this is to prevent the quad from spinning having equal rotational forces in a clockwise and counter clockwise directions negates the twisting forces that you might expect if all props were spinning in the same direction.

By speeding up or slowing down certain pairs of props we can achieve all the directional movements of Roll, Pitch and Yaw.

For example if we speed up props 3 and 4 the back of the quad will tilt up causing it to fly forward, if we speed up props 2 and 3 the right hand side of the quad will tilt up causing it to fly to the left, by proportionally doing both we can get the quad to fly forward and to the left. This principle can be applied to any combination of props to achieve flight in any direction.

Now if we speed up props 2 and 4 the quad will rotate about the horizontal axis in a clockwise direction and similarly if we speed up props 1 and 3 the quad will rotate in a counter clockwise direction.


Whilst in this example we see a quad there are other configurations of multirotor that use this similar principle, a hexcopter use 6 props 3 in cw and 3 in ccw whilst an octocopter uses 8 props 4 in cw and 4 in ccw. One other UAV that we see is a tri copter this uses 3 props 2ccw and 1cw and also employs a servo to tilt the angle of the 2nd ccw prop to control yaw movement.

A very small foldable tricopter from the company Pocket Drone.

titleThe most recognizable quadcopter from company DJI


A kit built Hexacopter

A heavy lift Octocopter carrying an SLR camera from Droidworx

Now to see this is in action with one of the most exhilarating uses for UAV is racing, have you every wanted to fly a pod racer from the sci-fi film stars wars or ride a 74-Z speeder bike in the woods on planet Endor, well this possibility is here, with FPV racing.  Each machine is equipped with a small camera mounting on the UAV that is then transmitted back to a screen or video goggles to give you the experience of actually sitting in the craft whilst tearing around.   This has proved to be very addictive and 2015 will see the start of officially run races as part of the Aerial Grand Prix.

Over this series of Blogs I will be touching on the major aspects of UAVs, if you are considering getting your first UAV then I will be running through a build of a multirotor UAV, covering different payloads and uses, safety aspects and all things related to UAV. Next time will be looking at build a UAV verses buy a UAV the benefits and what is currently available.

Greg Spencer
Lorian – Aerial Technology Systems



GregSpencer has not written a bio yet…

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February 24, 2015 18:54

While I'm enthusiastic about drones, at the same time I worry about their abuse. This concerns me not only from a safety prospective, but also privacy. We already have enough cameras pointing at us practically everywhere we go in public. Drones offer an unprecedented ability to invade our private lives. If I see a drone that appears to be monitoring me, on my own property, even from a distance, I will become suspicious and call the cops. Only responsible use of these devices will prevent this hobby from more and more regulations, which none of us want, but my be necessary. As I read the many articles about this business/hobby, I do not see much mention about responsible use. Everyone writing an article or marketing these devices should remind readers and buyers about responsible use of these devices.

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February 23, 2015 18:16

Jim that looks awesome, I really like the anti-vibration tray and mounts for the KK, does it fly well?

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February 23, 2015 18:06

Although we have a few electrical engineers at The MakerHive (thanks for the FB like, BTW) I used off the shelf electronics for this project. That's a KK 2.1.5 control board and a QBrain motor controller. The radio is modular, but I have a Turnigy 9R on it at the moment.

Great idea! I'll definitely write a post about it.

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February 23, 2015 17:48

Very nice blog, Greg !

Hi Jim, awesome work you've done there! This is a great example of the cool stuff you can do with DesignSpark Mechanical :)
Please share your design journey with pictures/videos in a DesignSpark Blog.
Will be a great read for all the innovators and makers out there.

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February 23, 2015 16:27

jimustanguitar, that's very cool! Have you designed the Electronics too?

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February 23, 2015 14:52

The proliferation of drones and their use by unlicensed and unskilled users has raised serious concern amongst airline and General Aviation pilots.

There have been potential accidents reported.

Unless there is a severe limitation enforced by legal penalties forthcoming there will eventualy be a tragic loss of life.

For one of these drones operating within the same airspace and there have been reports already, see this month's edition of Pilot magazine, disaster is only a matter of time.

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February 23, 2015 14:40

I would have been nice if you had credited the sites you copied your article's images from. For instance I recognize two of the images as being from Even images licensed CC-BY-SA require credit (the BY part) as a condition of reusing their material.

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February 23, 2015 14:15

I'd love to discuss my recent quadcopter project with you as a part of this series. I used DesignSpark Mechanical to design everything from scratch and 3D printed it. Everything that's green (except the props) was drawn in DSM2 and 3D printed. I even 3D printed my own molds to make the silicone vibration isolators.

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