Turning Point

The current form of the Ugly Duckling

The current form of the Ugly Duckling

Now that I've realized what I've built (some kind of crazy acrobatic Frankenstein) I've started to ponder exactly what I want a drone for.  I realize that this seems kind of crazy, but there are actually a lot of applications for drones and quite a few of them are very interesting.

  • Aerial Photography and Cinema Photography
  • Aerial Acrobatics
  • Action Camera Follow Buddy
  • Pre-planned Flight Pathing Including Delivery of Goods (requires exemptions from the FAA)
  • Agriculture (probably requires exemptions from the FAA)

These are just a few uses and each one is a specialization.

What I have right now is more fit for Aerial Acrobatics, which is pretty fun.  There's something satisfying about flipping and rolling in the air, doing maneuvers that wow and delight by-standers and potentially induce nausea in anyone watching the video.

Typically, acrobatic flight requires a first-person view from the front of the craft.  As you can see above, I have the camera (a recent upgrade to a Xiaomi Yi) hard-mounted (with an ingenious system of zip ties!) to the nose.  The result is that every move of the craft is translated to the video.

If you roll left, the horizon rolls left with you.  If you pitch forward, the camera is looking at the ground.  If you pitch back, you're looking at the sky.  Here's an example:

Now, this is great!  It's fun!  It's also really, really hard on your drone as you basically are relying on your ability to recover the maneuver before you turn your drone into a plummeting and flailing bring with rotors.  Even in this video if you look at the end, you see me take a hard landing (in which I broke an arm).

As well, conditions have to be near perfect for successful flight.  You have a strong 12 mph cross-wind?  Sorry, it's going to be hard to fly.

Then, sometimes, you just want to take pretty pictures and video.  Turns out that an acrobatic, nose-mounted camera doesn't provide you really great video.

Take this shot here, of Carolina Beach, NC at sunset on March 10, 2016:

Gotta say, that's a great shot.  But it was almost literally the only useable frame from this video here:

Now, that's not really a great video.  There was a strong cross-wind, forcing me to roll left to compensate.  You can see the drone getting tossed around by the wind.

Now, the way to fix that is to add a gimbal.  The gimbal counter-acts the roll, pitch and sometimes yaw of the craft so that you get stabilized video.  In this case that would have made for a much better video.

However, that adds weight, and it also changes the balance of the craft.  This may make it unsuitable for acrobatic flight.

At any rate, I'm now pondering what to do, which way to progress.  Pretty pictures or flips and rolls.  Both are fun and provide great entertainment, but each is different.