UAV Project Overview

This blog details the progress of UAV research at Coastal Carolina. Currently we are in the process of building a quad-motor drone helicopter using the Arducopter Platform and with support from the DIY Drones Community.

Our goal is to involve undergraduate students in developing novel techniques for onboard computation and analysis autonomous vehicle platforms. In particular, we are focusing on embedded systems support for in-flight computer vision problems.

Construction on our quadcopter is nearing completion and we are ready to start calibration, software configuration, and testing. Tomorrow we should have the final wiring completed and begin the calibration testing of the ESCs. Once that's complete, we need to configure the control firmware to interoperate with our controller, then it's off to the field for some basic testing.

Stay tuned...

Principal assembly complete Electronics mounting Communication components Ready to wire DC current meter Telemetry ground station

Initial frame assembly Work has begun in earnest on the airframe assembly. Ben has been focused on the frame, mounts, and assembly, while I've been working on soldering up the electronics packages.

The motor arms have been painted with CCU teal and a bright orange (for visibility). We are planning on an "X" configuration vehicle, which orients the helicopter with the forward direction of travel to be between the two orange arms.
ESC Wiring
On the electronics side of things, the electro-mechanical and power systems are all ready to go. The helicopter is powered by Lithium-Polymer (LiPo) batteries, which feed into a power-distribution board (PDB). The PDB is basically a high-current bus which feeds power to four Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC), one for each motor. The ESCs regulate power to each motor to control the speed and thrust.

More pictures and details after the break.

Read more: Getting Started with Airframe

The parts are finally here! It's only taken about a month to get the orders through purchasing, shipped, and delivered to my office. Thanks to our systems support and procurement specialist, Andrew Whalley for making the paperwork go through all of the hoops.

Here are a few pictures of all the components unpacked:

Airframe parts and batteries Electronics assembly station and parts
Airframe components, batteries, and the charging system. Electronic components: motors, electronic speed
controllers, sensors, and the UAV guidance
control unit (lower right).

R/C control and video tx/rx system
Spektrum DX8 Transmitter Unit, HD Go Pro camera, video transmitter and reciever equipment.

Robotics Lab I am starting a research project that is investigating the use of small helicopters as a mobile computing platform. So far, the equipment has been ordered and is anxiously awaited here at Coastal. The initial system consists of the following components:

  • Arducopter quad-copter airframe
  • Arduino-based auto-pilot control unit w/GPS and SONAR sensors
  • Hero HD Go Pro on-board HD video capture
  • 2.4GHz manual control radio transmitter/receiver system
  • 700MHz vehicle-to-computer real-time telemetry system
  • 1.3GHz video signal radio transmitter/receiver system

Ben working on the copter The construction and testing of the helicopter will happen in several stages: First, we will assemble it as a conventional quad-motor helicopter with the Arduino UAV autopilot control system. Once we are familiar with basic flight operation, we will add the video camera mount and servo system to the airframe as well as the video transmission equipment. After this is complete, the aircraft can be operated either by direct manual control, using instruments and a real-time video stream, or by pre-programmed flight programs.

The lab space formerly used by the digitally controlled train set has been repurposed with desks and chairs to work on assembly and testing of the helicopter system. I am working with Ben Whetstone, a CS major here at Coastal Carolina, on building the system and getting it ready for flight.