By Chris Richter | Customer Support Manager/Application Engineer
Drones and 3D printing are two separate buzzwords we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. Both are rapidly changing technologies and both are viewed to have many positive uses. Drones are also receiving some understandable backlash because they can be outfitted with cameras which can lead to an invasion of privacy for the general public. To me, the word “drone” seems to conjure up a vision of an autonomous flying robot on a spy mission. The reality is, most “drones” are actually guided or at least controlled in some way by an operator but they’re still perceived as a threat by some people.
I received a mini “drone” quad-copter for Christmas and started browsing the web looking for tips and tricks on how to operate it. This led me to stumble across YouTube videos showing “racing” quad-copters. A relatively new hobby is emerging where hobbyists are more or less scratch building quad-copters from various components designed for use in radio controlled aircraft. These machines are small in size (roughly 250mm from rotor to rotor diagonally) and they are designed to be extremely nimble. They fly much like fighter planes rather than the slow lumbering nature of a typical “drone.” What’s interesting is these quad-copters are outfitted with a small wireless camera and the video feed is sent back to the pilot who is wearing first-person-point of view (FPV) goggles. The experience is about as close to an out-of-body flying experience as one could have without drugs I suppose. Rather than flying high above the tree line, hobbyists are setting up racing courses along wooded BMX and mountain bike trails. With a GoPro mounted to the quad, the resulting video playback looks like the speeder bike chase scene in Star Wars.
Building a quad-copter seems like a fun project to occupy my time while I wait for warmer weather to arrive, so I started gathering components from various model RC websites. Unfortunately, the carbon fiber frame I want is out of stock, so I decided to design and 3D print my own. This will allow me to practice flying and not worry about damaging a costly carbon fiber frame, plus it’s much more fun to design and print the frame. I can simply reprint frame components when I inevitably crash and I can always upgrade to the carbon fiber frame later. A company called Hovership (www.hovership.com) sells a 3D printed quad-copter and also makes their files available to download and print on www.thingiverse.com. Since I plan on using a specific carbon fiber frame in the future, the Hovership design will not be compatible, so I’ll be designing my frame with overall dimensions to match the frame I will eventually purchase. I still have a long way to go and many things I need to learn before I’ll be making a test flight. Below is a photo of the basic components that will be going into my racing quad-copter. Stay tuned for an update on the completed project!