Articles for September 2015

Startup focusing on swarming drones with APM/Pixhawk

Queen Bee Photo: Sarah GerberLeft to right: Queen B Robotics’ Akshay Jain, Chris Blower and Sahil Juneja at their WeWork office in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Sarah Gerber

From Berkeleyside:

At WeWork Berkeley, there’s an office decorated with empty beer steins, and another occupied by a massive beanbag chair. In yet another, mannequins sport colorful bridesmaid dresses. But Queen B Robotics still manages to make their workspace stand out.

“Most of the time it looks like a mad scientist’s lab,” says founder Chris Blower. There are wires and pliers covering the desks, and five spider-like drones wait, ready for flight, in a corner.

You wouldn’t know it, but merely a year ago Queen B was barely even a larva. Blower was in Washington, D.C., finishing up a PhD in unmanned aerial vehicles at The George Washington University. The lifelong aviation lover (“Put me in an airplane and fly me around in circles all day and I’m happy,”), he was particularly fascinated by the rapidly burgeoning drone industry. Eyeing the activity in Silicon Valley, Blower decided to move across the country and get into the game himself.

The three Queen B guys xxxxx. Photo: Sarah Gerber

The three Queen B engineers at work. Photo: Sarah Gerber

Queen B was born shortly after, and now has three full-time employees with a fourth coming on board soon. The company develops software that allows a fleet — or a “swarm” controlled by one human queen bee, hence the name — of drones to communicate with one another. The idea is that when companies like Amazon send hundreds of vehicles up into the air, they won’t collide, and they will be able to self-adjust their pathways by detecting the locations of other drones.

The team has a functioning prototype and has started some flight tests. Theirs is a “plug-and-play” model, meaning the hardware can be connected to any drone made by 3D Robotics, one of the biggest drone manufacturers, which is located not far from Queen B, in West Berkeley. The product will be in beta by the middle of September.

Queen B is moving quickly, as it needs to if predictions prove accurate. While the Federal Aviation Administration works out rules for commercial drone use, the commercial sector is plotting to take advantage of all that open airspace when they can. So when will the skies become crowded enough for collisions to truly be a risk? “We’ll see it becoming more of a reality in six to nine months,” Blower predicts. Business Insider recently predicted a 19% growth in drones by 2020.

The three Queen B founders work at their desks at WeWork in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Sarah Gerber

The three Queen B engineers work at their desks at WeWork in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Sarah Gerber

Blower and team know that many people view the rise of drones with trepidation, if not outright fear. Part of Queen B’s mission is to combat that perception.

“We can make drones have a better reputation and be a lot safer,” Blower promises.

After collision prevention, the next task is to get the drones to work collaboratively. Blower envisions a swarm of communicative drones completing a search-and-rescue mission in a fraction of the time and cost that one helicopter would take to do the same. Likewise with data acquisition. Here, the communication network developed by Queen B will come in handy, Blower said. The drones won’t have to be programmed individually because they will be able to divide up the land to cover.

Queen B drone. Photo: Sarah Gerber

The innards of a drone at the Queen B HQ. Photo: Sarah Gerber

Blower cryptically says he is “in talks” with potential clients who are excited about Queen B’s work. Some of them work alongside the team at the downtown Berkeley branch of WeWork, the international network of coworking spaces. [Berkeleyside has its office at WeWork.]

The coworking set-up has been ideal for the team, which grew one by one after Blower rented a four-person office. The engineers are self-admitted workaholics who clock 12- to 14-hour days. The glass walls allow them to see the light of day and they enjoy the social contact with their fellow WeWork occupants, who range from programmers to lawyers and a life coach.

The room-full of robots certainly attracts the most curious of the coworking folk. In addition to the heavy-duty drones (they run tests without the propellers so as not to annoy their neighbors), Queen B is in possession of a Styrofoam toy drone. It won’t perform a search and rescue, but collisions are luckily not much of a concern when the engineers fly it around the room for laughs.

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How to avoid pitfalls when using taper and twist

Hey guys,

Just put together a quick video to show the effects of taper ratio and twist and how they interact. Turns out using rules of thumb in this area can be detrimental. I have used similar rules of thumb in the past, but thought it was high time to walk through some rigorous calculations to see what’s best.

Hope it’s helpful.


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3DR launches teaser for short film series "Life After Gravity"

Hey DIY Drones community,

I just wanted to share this video with you. It’s a teaser for the new upcoming original sci-fi series “Life After Gravity” which was shot entirely with 3DR’s Solo and GoPro to showcase their filmmaking capabilities.

Life After Gravity will debut next week on our YouTube channel and the next 6 episodes will be release in intervals in the remaining months of 2015.

Let me know what you think 🙂


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Conservation drones reaching new height

A 6.0 Richter scale earthquake had changed the shape of Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak of South East Asia. It is still consider unsafe to climb to the top to evaluate the degree of damage or changes up there at this moment. Our team had given the task to use UAV to map the affected area, which is about 1450 Ha. The interest things is : It is the peak area where altitude stood at 4000 meter.

Few months earlier, just a few days after the earthquake, we actually successfully map a small area call Laban Rata at the altitude of 3300 meter. Using the Skywalker, however proof that it has just enough power to climb for the mission altitude and then fly about 10 KM. We start our mission from a very nice mountain golf club which is 1700 meter above sea level.

To map the peak area, our plane has to climb for 2600 meter to reach mission altitude. Total distance travel is 27 KM for the first mission. There are 4 missions for the whole area.

For this mission, I am using the new conservation drones base on My Twin Dream air frame. I would like to share the set up of the plane and some data for those who may want to fly at high altitude. Please visit conservationdrones for more of our work. 

Blessed with relatively low winds condition, the plane has been rock solid throughout the flight. Take off is effortless, just simple hand launch, no running was required. It has more than enough power to pull off from my hand and start climbing immediately after the launch. I am a little worry earlier if it has enough power for hand launch consider the take off point is 1700 meter above sea level. But it proof me wrong.

The take off point to mission area is only about 4 KM. If we go direct, the gradient will be about 64 degree and this is definitely not viable for our plane, so instead we fly a zigzag pattern  and set up the gradient or climbing angle at about 24 degree. It take about 10 KM for us to reach the mission altitude, which is 2600 meter above take off point or 4300 meter above sea level. It is beneficial to set up a moderate climbing angle so the auto pilot will not call for full throttle, in my case, about 40 amps. Using 24 degree gradient, I only need 18 to 20 amps for the climb. Although it may take a little longer, but I’m sure it is much more efficient then full throttle climb up.

One interesting  fact I found out from MTD during the flight is that it use similar power, about 8 amps for cruising, either 300 meter above sea level or in this case, 4300 meter above sea level. I was thinking with thinner air up there, it should use more power. 

I attach my flight log here for those who may interested to have a look at the flight or you may extract my parameter from it. Mission start at 28 %. I let the autopilot to fully stabilise with the ambient temperature. You may notice the landing is very fast. This is because there is only one direction for us to make the approach, and unfortunately, it is downwind at that moment. But no problem, we use a net to catch it and I have a good pilot.


Although  the flight is successful but the mapping mission is fail. A lot of cloud hover in our mission area but nevertheless we still have some very nice images. 

Air frame : My Twin Dream

Flight controller : HK Pilot 2.7

Firmware : APM 3.3


Telemetry : RFD 900 Ground / Air

Motor : SunnySky 2814 – 900 kv x 2

Battery : LPB 4S 10000 mah

Propeller : APC 9×6 E and APC 9×6 EP ( counter rotation )

ESC : Hobbywing Platinum 40 A x 2

BEC : CC 10 Amp 

Radio : Futaba T 8 J

Sensor : Canon S 100 GPS CHDK

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Copter-3.3 ready for wider use

After months of testing by the beta-testing team, Copter-3.3 is ready for wider use.  Similar to the Copter-3.2 release this is a “soft launch” meaning that for the next couple of weeks, we are asking users to load the new version using the Mission Planner’s “Beta firmwares” link on the Install page.  The MP will pop-up a “use at your own risk” message but rest assured, this firmware has been very thoroughly tested.

We also recommend that you use the Beta Mission planner until Copter-3.3 becomes the default (in about 2 weeks).  Open the Mission Planner and select Config/Tuning >> Planner and click the Beta Firmware checkbox.  Then Help >> “Check for Beta Updates”.  The download and install will take a few minutes.

Unfortunately this version and all future versions of Copter only work with fast CPU boards like the 3DR Pixhawk (and compatible) boards, VRBrain, NAVIO+, etc.  Slower CPU boards will continue to be able to load the Copter-3.2.1 release.

Issues should be reported in the APM Forum.
The wiki has been mostly updated but if you spot missing items please report them to the wiki issues list.

The full set of changes can be seen in the Release Notes but the highlights are below.

Known Issues/Warnings:

  • users will need to re-calibrate their accelerometers because of 5c (accelerometer range increase).
  • FrSky telemetry users must set SERIAL2_PROTOCOL to “3” and reboot the board to enable FrSky telemetry like in previous versions
  • this version corrects a long standing issue in the HDOP reporting so values will appear about 40% lower than previously but this does not actually mean the GPS position is better than before.

Changes vs Copter-3.2.1
1) EKF replaces DCM/InertialNav for attitude and position estimation which provides more feedback and robustness in case of sensors failures
2) Control improvements:
   a) battery voltage compensation should maintain control as voltage drops
   b) current limiting can be used to reduce the maximum current requested to reduce strain on battery and ESCs
   c) air pressure compensation should reduce need for re-tuning when flying at different altitudes
   d) improved throttle curve should reduce wobbles during descents
3) AutoTune for yaw
4) Cameras & Gimbal improvements:
  a) SToRM32 gimbal support
  b) do-mount-control mission command allows controlling absolute camera mount angle during missions
5) Vibration resistance:
  a) real-time reporting of vibration levels by clicking on Vibe field on HUD (also recorded to logs)
  b) noise weighted average of accelerometers used to weight IMU towards the one exposed to less vibration
  c) accelerometer range increased from 8G to 16G to allow use in higher vibration environments (i.e. reduced “clipping”)
6) Other:
  a) improved landing on slopes
  b) retractable landing gear support
  c) channels 9 ~ 12 can be used as auxiliary switches (like ch7, 8)
  d) PX4flow (optical flow) support in Loiter
  e) Brake flight mode (stops vehicle quickly but requires GPS)
  f) allow GPS, Telemetry, SToRM32 gimbal to be connected to any telemetry/serial port
  g) Lidar-Lite V2 support
  h) bug fix to RCMAP – remapped channel’s MIN, MAX were taken from incorrect parameters meaning all channel ranges had to be the same
7) Tricopter tail servo parameters (MOT_YAW_SV_MIN, MAX, TRIM, REV)
8) Safety items:
  a) crash check triggers with 30deg lean angle error (for 2 sec) even if pilot’s throttle is non-zero
  b) modified pre-arm checks to ensure good quality GPS and compas data
  c) lost copter alarm (hold both sticks down and right)
  d) motor interlock & emergency motor stop features on auxiliary switches (ch7 ~ ch12)
  e) RTL_CLIMB_MIN parameter allows forcing vehicle to always climb a few meters at beginning of RTL
  f) LED flashes green quickly if disarmed with 3D lock and SBAS

Special thanks to Marco and all the beta testers who put their vehicles at risk so we could iron out the problems during the testing phase and ensure a more reliable firmware for the wider community.  Here are some of their videos:

ChrisN #1, #2, Paul Atkin #1, #2, #3, Gervais #1, #2, #3, Gleb Falaleev #1, #2, Pomaroli, Michael, Robert Baumgartner, De Le, Robert Baumgartner, Robert Navoni, Maciej Karpinski

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Free Android App for UAV's

New app available for UAV pilots.

This app contains over 46,000 airports around the world which can be displayed quickly and easily when flying RC models. When flying RC/UAV’s commercially, these areas are considered “No Fly Zones” based on your geographic location.
For example when flying UAV’s in Canada, Transport Canada has set a 9km no fly zone around Airports without proper legal authorization.

By default this app sets a 9km radius around Airports and will display all airports within 30km of your marker.
These settings can be adjusted depending on geographic location and rules in your area.

Download NoFlyZone

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New Communications Specialist in 3DR Tijuana

Hello DIY Drones Community! I am Daniel Iglesias, 3DR’s the new Communications Specialist down at the Tijuana plant (where a lot of the magic happens). I am thrilled to join this awesome team of brilliant minds that work together to bring you the finest products.

Here in Tijuana we assemble a lot of pieces used in our products like the Pixhawk, PMs, etc. as well as UAVs like the Iris and Areo. We also run tests like the Pixhawk jig test to ensure the top quality of our products.

It’s incredible to think of all the limitless options and creations that can come up from these tiny pieces when put together by all of you.

We interested in seeing the projects you are working on so please share some pictures and tell us about your creations, we would love to hear from you 🙂

Thanks and have a good week,


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Micro Drone of the Future

I’ve been looking at micro drones lately and I’m now sure it is likely that the future of the drone is the tiny drone much like this mechanical dragonfly.

With the use of very tiny piezoelectric actuators that draw very little current I believe it is now possible to create these very tiny flying drones. 

This is a tiny fiber optic camera. One day soon I believe there will be chip sized drones! Likely based on the dragonfly using the tiny battery cells already available. The tiny drone will be based on carrying it’s battery payload.

I just thought it might be interesting to see how tiny drones might really get in the near future. I’m not talking about 50 years into the future, I’m talking 5 maybe 10 years ahead!

So before you swat that next bug you might want to check it out first! LOL soon it could be a tiny drone and not really a bug!

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Airfoil Analysis

  Which airfoil shape is the best?

My name is Patrick Hanley and I am new to DIY drone.  My background is in aerodynamics.  I received my SM & Ph.D. degrees from MIT.  I worked as a professor at U of Connecticut teaching aerodynamics and compressible fluids before starting Hanley Innovations about 20+ year ago.

This video is an introduction to the commercial software that I write and post on my website:

I look forward to interacting with the DIY Drones community.

Best wishes,


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