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FPV DRONE 101: COMPONENTS TO GET YOU STARTED BUILDING YOUR FIRST FPV DRONE





If you are decoding the magic behind the flying cardboard with rotating fans that you saw on Instagram/Reddit, or if you are a wizard who figured the magic out and want to build an FPV drone and violently adding items to your cart to build your new drone, take a pause and try to understand what you need to build and why do you need them in the first place.


What is an FPV Drone?

Welcome to part one of the FPV drone series. So first thing first, What is an FPV drone? How is it different from a traditional drone? Well, FPV stands for First-Person-View, so generally speaking, if your drone has a camera mounted that would transmit a real-time video from the drone’s point of view, it would make an FPV drone . And the drone pilot sees the real-time feed from the drone in his extra thick FPV goggles to maneuver it. 


How is it different from a normal drone? 

You might be thinking, “Ok Cool, so it’s basically like playing COD in first-person mode”. Hmmm., statement wise yes but behind the scenes, it is much more tricky than that. A normal drone (let's say DJI Mavic) that your drone manufacturer ships you completely or partially assembled is built to give you minimal headaches and reasonable durability so you can shoot your day at the beach on a sunny weekend and share the video on Instagram to make your non-drone-owing friends feel unworthy. 

Life is not the same for an FPV pilot, the week starts as we build our drone from scratch, make sure our house does not catch on fire when we plug the battery to the build, and train for 40+ hours in a simulator to not crash it in the first minute that we get it to the field, and repairing loose end while on the field or if it's worse get the drone back to workstation and fix the fault and wait for the next whole week to fly again. 


Even Though manufacturers now ship a complete FPV drone to make life easier, you will not be respected in the chamber of FPV pilots. Just kidding, even if you build your drone you will still not be respected for flying a Cinewhoop. The problem I see with factory built FPV drones is that I do not find them hard to be expandable for my experiments but otherwise I do not see many complaints. Disclaimer, I never flew a DJI FPV drone till this point so take your field trip to decide whether it will suit your needs.


If building and maintenance are hard, why don’t I just fly a normal drone without the fancy add-on goggles minus the pain?

This is where I quote “Without pain, without sacrifice we would have nothing. Like the first monkey shot into space”. The tradeoff is better agility and better control over the drone, we get to shape how the drone needs to be. By doing so, we can customize it to split through the sky like a Falcon or dance in the air like a Hummingbird, or even make a leap of faith into the ocean like a Torpedo Gannet. And thus we become a wizard by learning to build and tame FPV drones.


This is why FPV drones are used in racing, to catch breathtaking video sequences, and even for long-range flying or survey. 


What do you need to build an FPV drone?

Lots of patience if this is your first time. Before getting into it, here is a spoiler, you need to have basic knowledge of electric circuits, boards, and some physics concepts related to signal transmission & electricity. And if you think you lack, do not be worried FPV is a growing community and has good hearts who are teaching new things every day (“Hi, Joshua Bardwell”), with patience and persistence you can overcome the learning curve to build your first FPV.


Now coming to the physical components, a flying drone structure is an overlay of brushless motors rotating propellers on a frame, supported by a battery to power where Speed Controllers (ESC) are used to maintain the torque across all the motors. This is all we need to take a drone off ground, all the other additional components that you will see are used to connect the pilot to the drone to control it, namely, Flight Controller & Power Distribution Board used to control how the drone flies and keeps the drone stable in air, while the Receiver (RX) in a drone is used to fetch the signal from the radios and a Radio controller is used by a pilot vice-verse. Now we have a drone which we can control using a radio.

Now the final components that make a normal drone into an FPV drone are a Camera, Video Transmitter (VTX), and Antenna in the drone to transmit video signal and likewise a Video Receiver and Goggles for the pilot to use the video feed.


To summarize the components used in a FPV are:

  • Drone Frame

  • Battery

  • Brushless motors

  • Propellers

  • Speed Controller (ESC)

  • Flight Controller

  • Power Distribution Board (PDB)

  • Receiver (RX)

  • Video transmitter (VTX)

  • Antenna

And in the pilots base station:

  • Radio Controllers

  • Goggles

  • Video Receiver

   

Later in this series, we will see more details on types, availability, and what subcategory of components you should favor for your use-case.

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Image by Dmitriy Zub

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“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward…” – Leonardo da Vinci.

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