They say that one thing leads to another, and right about now I have to agree. After all, I started out playing with a Robosapien and that led me to other robots which, in turn, led me to making robots. Making robots led me to Arduinos and other microprocessors and that led me to sensors of all kinds. Distance and obstacle detection, heat and motion detection, color and sound, and on and on. That led to GPS, and somehow that led me to DIY Drones which got me messing with aerial robots …er, drones. I picked up an Ardupilot and bought a Hawk Sky power glider and put the two together, along with a few sensors, and that put me squarely into drones.
I bought a Parrot AR.Drone and controlled it with an iPod, and later bought an AR.Drove VC2 which I controlled with both the iPod –but better yet, my Android smartphone. When DJI Innovations came out with their Phantom quadcopter, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion I’d own one. Sure enough, I bought one of those and I liked it so much, I bought another one.
I’ve never been the kind of guy to leave well enough alone, and so it wasn’t long before I wanted more capability and power, and so I bought a DJI Spreading Wings F550 hexacopter. It was a step into the big time, a concept proved by my depleted wallet. I spent as much on my base F550 with Naza-M V1, GPS and 2 axis camera gimbal as I did on my pair of Phantoms, complete with their own GoPro cameras. The F550 is considerably more powerful, and it carries my Nikon DSLR.
I have discovered a world of aerial photography and I’m loving it. My friends are nagging me to take aerial shots of their homes, having seen the high definition photos and videos I have taken of mine. It’s interesting to get a bird’s eye perspective of your neighborhood, and better yet, your city. As a commercial pilot I’m already aware of how looking down on the world helps one to understand the layout of their home town, it puts a lot of things into perspective. The same is true with the drones. Although I can’t ride my drones, in a way I can. Using First Person Video (FPV), I have exactly the same perspective I would if I was riding on my aircraft.
It’s also nice not having to deal with the petty and poorly supported world of cheapo quadcopters. The market is flooded with them and in my book, they’re all crap. That includes a lot of the resellers proffering the Chinese built junk, many of them rip-offs. (See the previous article for a common example of dealing with Asian marketing.) Yes, the professional series of multirotors are more expensive than the pieces of crap you can buy for under $100, but you get orders of magnitude greater utility and capability that makes the higher price more than worthwhile. Even the Parrot AR.Drone is pretty second rate when compared to the offerings of Gaui, DJI and others. If you’re considering the purchase of a first multirotor, go for the DJI Phanton. You can get them on sale for around $600 and they come with absolutely everything you need to get flying. All you need to add is a camera like a GoPro Hero or a Contour. (Don’t waste time on a low resolution cheapie. Get a full blown 1080p wide angle unit.) A Contour will set you back around $120 and a GoPro Hero 3 White will cost $200. Believe me, the cameras are worth it, not just for aerial imaging, but all sorts of photos and videos in the air, on the ground and under water.