Drones aka UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles/Systems) have come a long way from being exclusive to military and other organizations. Now they are available in all shapes and sizes and have become immensely popular around the world. The main reason behind such popularity can be attributed to affordability and easier access to parts. Not everyone has tons of money to spend on expensive drones, but this does not mean that enthusiasts are totally out of options.
Building your own drone kit might seem like a scary thing for newbies, but it’s not that difficult provided you are willing to invest some time and effort. Although there is no shortage of ready-to-use drones anyone can have fun with, they cost a lot and might not be within financial reach of everyone. Enthusiasts who want to build their own drones either want to cut costs or don’t prefer ready-to-use stuff for various reasons.
Building your own drone kit also gives you the freedom to choose individual parts and make small modifications according to your own unique requirements. The best thing about building your own drone kit is that it’s usually cheaper and more powerful than ready-to-use drones. Customizable kits are a favorite of enthusiasts who want to own something unique and customized according to their own requirements while keeping a check on costs. We have already covered some of the best DIY drone kits here and here (with camera) so you might want to have a look at these for more information.
Advantages of Drone Kits
The two main reasons why people usually opt for drone kits instead of regular drones is because a) they are cheaper on a spec-to-spec basis and b) they provide a ‘I made it’ feeling that’s more personal than flying a drone that’s ready-to-fly out-of-the-box. Some major benefits of drone kits include:
- It’s fun to assemble your own drone, which is a fairly simple task for the most part
- Users can upgrade individual parts if required instead of replacing the whole bird
- Help save money in the long run e.g. replacements and upgrades
- Provides a sense of accomplishment when you build something unique
- Enthusiasts who like building or assembling drones also tend to be better pilots because of a better understanding of how the product works
- Pre-assembled drones provide very little room for modification and customization
- You have more freedom of choosing different components according to your requirements
- If compared on a spec-to-spec basis, drone kits cost less and in some cases a lot less
- Drone kits are considered more suitable for aerial photography because users can install better cameras and add other components such as more powerful electric motors
- Compared to pre-assembled drones, drone kits provide more control and allow you to adjust and customize the flying experience
- Although it takes some time and a certain level of familiarity with electronics, assembling drone kits is fun and a great way of spending some quality time with kids. Children are curious and like to build things, so assembling a drone with them is a fun activity that enables them to watch and learn.
Disadvantages of Drone Kits
People who belong to the ready-made drone camp consider pre-assembled drones a better option. That’s mainly because it saves them from the hassle of assembling everything and allows them to immediately start flying. It takes some time to assemble a drone kit, especially for beginners who are just getting started with drones.
Another disadvantage of drone kits can be that they are assembled using small parts, which should be kept out of the reach of children. Some parts can be swallowed, so make sure children only get near kit parts under supervision.
Sometimes, drone kits either don’t come with complete assembly instructions or the instructions are not easy-to-read or understand, which can complicate the assembly and turn people away. YouTube videos and online tutorials can help overcome most of these issues usually a result of bad translation (Chinese to English). Some manufacturers don’t provide instructions intentionally, so that the users can decide how they should build their own unique model.
Things to Consider When Buying a Drone Kit
Enthusiasts can choose between hundreds of drone kits and even more individual components, which is also what makes the buying decision difficult. Drone kits come in all sizes, shapes, functionalities and flying capabilities, which are influenced by the parts they come with. Here are some mandatory features and important things to consider as well as mistakes to avoid when making a buying decision.
Components of the Drone Kit
Not all drone kits come as a complete package, which is an important thing to consider when buying one. Some kits come with only a frame and you have to find other compatible components yourself. If you are not into finding compatible parts and customizing the experience, it’s better to stick with drone kits that come with as many parts as possible.
Drone kits are available in many price ranges with varying features, capabilities, sizes and shapes. Although the core components are common, the specifics of these components can be different and help define the capabilities of a drone. Core components of a drone include:
- Frame with a landing gear (quadcopters usually have a H or X shaped frame)
- Drone motors (4 for a quadcopter)
- ESCs (Electronic Speed Controller)
- Propellers and nuts (4 propellers in a quadcopter)
- Battery compartment and battery
- Direction lights
- FC (Flight Controller)
- Radio Control (RC) receiver
- Camera and a video transmitter
- Receiver antenna
In addition to the frame and core components, accessories for a drone kit include:
- Landing pad
- FPV googles
- Backpack, bag or case
- Backup controller
- Extra batteries and battery bag
- GPS tracker
- Double sided tape
- MicroSD cards
- Safety signs and vest
- Extra parts including propellers
- Drone apps
If you are not a professional, you might want to read online reviews to understand how a drone flies. Some are easy to control while others demand a certain degree of skill and experience. Beginners should consider buying a drone kit that’s easy to control, and read as many user reviews as possible to get a fair idea before the purchase.
Although camera might not be the most important feature for beginners, but it’s still an important component to consider. You might not be into taking quality photos in the beginning, but this can change pretty soon, so it’s better to start with a quality camera at the firsts place. Drones with a camera open up a whole new world of possibilities and are much more fun to use. 4K cameras provide detailed photos, but this should not stop you from considering 1080p cameras that offer a good balance between price and quality.
Design is usually subjective and a personal preference, but it can also affect performance. An aerodynamic design improves performance while also making control easier. Aesthetics and look and feel is subjective so make sure to check out pictures and videos of fully assembled drone kits before making the final decision.
Some drones are made entirely of cheap plastic, while others use high-end materials such as carbon fiber that provide strength and durability as well as keep the weight down. Price is a good indicator of the type of materials being used. The most inexpensive drone kits are usually made of cheap plastic. The choice of materials dictates the durability and longevity of a drone. It also affects maneuverability and flight time. The construction should be light, yet strong and able to take some abuse and withstand minor crashes.
Frame provides the structural strength and rigidity and firmly holds all the other components together. It also happens to be the most expensive part of the kit, which means demanding users can also buy it separately. The frame has to be strong and lightweight, which translates into an expensive component made of exotic materials such as carbon fiber.
Drone kits with more components take more time to assemble, which can be an issue for people who are not really into assembling things themselves. Drone kits involving complex assembly can take time and some skills and demand attention to detail. This can be an interesting task for some, but hard for people with no prior experience with manual assembly of different parts and electronics in general.
Not all drone kits are created equal. Some are fast while others can carry more load and reach higher or farther. Experts consider drone kits that fly at least 700 ft. above the sea level to be a good choice and the higher it can fly the better, which provides a better view of the surroundings when taking photos.
Purpose and Price
If you are just looking for a cheap toy to play with, it’s better to consider inexpensive preassembled drones because drone kits are usually not the cheapest option. Drone kits are available in different configurations, which depend on your purpose and objectives. You need a quality camera, powerful motors, lightweight frame, long-lasting battery and stabilization if you want to capture photos and videos, which essentially makes these kits high-end.
You also need to reconsider your options if you are only buying a drone kit to save some money. You need some passion and love for technology to appreciate the learning and customization that comes with drone kits. Buying the cheapest drone kit is not a good option because you’ll get what you pay for, including low-quality materials, poor battery life and a drone that’ll turn into pieces after a minor crash.
Types of Drones
Drones can be broadly categorized into freestyle and aerial photography drones.
As the name suggests, racing drones are all about speed and maneuverability. These drones have a durable and lightweight frame and powerful motors (2300KV or more recommended for this category). You don’t necessarily need all the sensors usually found in high-end drones that assist in controlling the flight such as GPS and barometer. Enthusiasts prefer to fly racing drones in no-assistance mode for complete control. An FPV (First Person View) camera provides the real feeling of a racing drone and is common in racing drones.
Aerial Photography Drones
These drones are more sophisticated and come with larger frames to accommodate the required equipment, including more motors (e.g. hexa or octocopter frame). These drones also have a lower KV value motor for better stability (usually 900KV or less with 10-inch props). The main focus of photography drones is on stability instead of speed. These drones have a lot of flight assistance features to make flying easier and keep the drone stable.
In addition to these two main categories, drones can also be categorized as follows:
- Single rotor drones
- Multi rotor drones
- Fixed wing drones
- Hybrid drones
- Small drones
- Tactical drones
- Micro drones
- Reconnaissance drones
- Non-combat and combat drones
- GPS drones
- Target/decoy drones
Tips for Drone Kit Assembly
Assembling a drone kit is fairly straight forward if you follow the instructions from the manufacturer. Recommendations for assembling a drone kit include:
- Use heat shrink tubing and bullet connectors for proper isolation when connecting ECSs (Electronic Speed Controller) and motors
- A flight controller in the center of the frame minimizes chances of glitches, while the RC/FPV receiver should be placed as farther away from the GPS module as possible to eliminate interference
- Make sure to read and understand local laws and regulations regarding flying drones aka UAVs
Drone kits can be fun and a great way of spending some quality time with the family and children. Compared to pre-assembled products, drone kits provide more possibilities and customization options. Enthusiasts can choose from a huge variety of drone kits from frame-only to kits that come with all the required parts, so you just have to assemble them.
However, buyers need to consider the pros and cons of kits before making the final decision to make sure they are making the right choice. Drone kits offer a good balance between price, features and performance and provide a chance to learn more about the technology.