Monday, March 28, 2016

S.1608 Consumer Drone Safety Act

S.1608 Consumer Drone Safety Act.  US bill proposed bill by Sen Feinstein (CA-D)

Interestingly the bill does not seem to cover racing drones built from scratch by individual drone enthusiast.  Consider the following section of the bill...

(b) Applicability.—The final rule required by subsection (a) shall apply to consumer drones that—

We see from the bill applicability is in only relation to "consumer drones".  When we dig further to understand what consumer drones are at the end of the bill it says this...

(A) IN GENERAL.—The term “consumer drone” means a civil unmanned aircraft or a civil unmanned aircraft system that—
(i) is—
(I) equipped with an automatic stabilization system; or
(II) capable of providing a video signal allowing operation beyond the visual line of sight of the operator;
(ii) is manufactured and intended for commercial distribution; and
(iii) weighs 55 pounds or less or is certified as described in section 336(a)(3) of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112–9549 U.S.C. 40101 note).
(B) INCLUSION.—The term “consumer drone” includes a kit of component parts that would be a consumer drone if the kit were assembled prior to commercial distribution.
If we look at 4(B) we see the term "consumer drone" includes kits of components parts that can be assembled into a drone.  The bill includes commercial drones like DJI phantom also racing drones like the Vortex.  It also includes Ready To Fly(RTF) kits.  I'm not a lawyer but my interpretation is that the bill does not include, custom non-RTF DIY drones hobbiest build themselves from parts gathered from individual suppliers.  The reason is that the parts are sold individually from suppliers and individual parts do not comprise a kit.  An example, is a racing drone like my ZMR250 quad.

If your a lawyer or read this proposed bill different please comment and share your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

REVIEW: ImmersionRC Vortex 250 Pro

Updated on March 9, 2016

I recently purchased an ImmersionRC Vortex 250 Pro and thought I would provide some thoughts for anyone considering a purchase.  Five words, you will not be disappointed.

Love it!
- Best looking racing drone around!  Great finished look.  Less like someone's research project.
- Arms sit higher than most racing drones for a lower center of gravity.  Ancillary benefit, you'll be cutting less grass.
- OSD includes integrated current sensing.  Tough to add on your own for <250mm multi-rotors.  Sensors tend to be a little bulky for small platform aircraft.
- Includes S.BUS support, very cool.
- Extra arm space around the motors protects motors in crash.
- Support to run non-stock motors.  Even the pro-PIDs include configuration for motors other non-stock motors.  I have been wondering what a set of T-Motors new F-40's would be like on the Vortex.
- Set configuration via transmitter and OSD.  No need to bring laptop to airfield or add Bluetooth LE support.  The menu system is intelligently designed.  No complicated movements and easy to learn.
- Vortex supports/anticipates customization.  Flight controller is compatible with Cleanflight, support for non-stock motors, etc.
- Comes shipped with pro-pilot PIDS.  Like to see more PIDs for the stock motors.
- Pimp your Vortex.  After market kits are available to change the aircraft color to green, white, etc.

Needs improvement
- Cleanflight customized for hardware.  No way to set acc_lpf_factor and some of the other settings look different.  Advantage, easy to set pro-pilot PIDs, set PIDs and other features via transmitter, and more.  Disadvantage, not sure what I loose at the moment if I install Cleanflight from Cleanflight project.  Still investigating.
- CMOS flight camera could be better quality picture.  Virtually no adjustments available.  Upgrading mine to a CCD.
- Flight camera attached to HD camera jello platform.  Advantage, jello free flight video.  Easy to remove without disassembling model.  Disadvantage, camera can be ripped off in a crash.
- Several different size screws used throughout the aircraft.  Advantage, saves weight, less cost to produce.  Disadvantage, complicates crash repair or airfield maintenance since more tools required.
- Carbon fiber thicker than necessary for arms and likely thinner than required in center of body (e.g., next to crash plate).  I'm not an aeronautical engineer so I make my observation based upon experience working with other racing drones, crash survivability of my other models, etc.
- GoPro camera mount.  Desirable to be able to install without having to take the quad apart.

Ideas for future improvements
- Option to run batteries up to 6s.  New motors like T-Motors F-60/F-80 series racing motors include support for 6s batteries.  Other ImmersionRC products like their video transmitter support 6s batteries.
- Option for integrated GPS.  Hard to add after the fact.
- Slightly longer receiver pad to better accommodate ezUHF receivers.  ezUHF does fit but 1cm additional receiver pad length would be helpful.
- Neoprene landing pads for softer landings on hard surfaces.
- 600mW video transmitter.  350mW is ok but 600mW would be better.  Options to replace module with other frequencies like 1.3Ghz.
- Ditch the stock props and work a deal with DAL.  DAL's 5x4.5 are much better than the stock props and come pre-balanced.  My stock props included with the Vortex were out of balance and produced loads of vibration.  BTW, DAL makes matching red props.
- More flexible video transmitter antenna option.  Removable spring loaded rubber.

Radio Settings
Throttle expo=15%, ailerons=25%, elevators=25%

PID Settings
Role, P=3.1, I=.021, D=16
Pitch, P=3.6, I=.023, D=16
Yaw, P=0.1, I=.045, D=10
Level, S(a)=9.0, S(h)=0.10, T(h)=100
Roll Rate=.46
Pitch Rate=.46
Yaw Rate=.46
TPA Break=1500
* I offer the previous PIDs as a starting point for the stock motors and DAL 5x4.5 props.  I will post future improvements as I make them.  Still working on this PIDs but they should get you flying without too much vibration.

ImmersionRC is not advertising the Vortex as a beginner aircraft but even so my experience was better than I was expecting.  It's tough to build a racing drone anyone can fly directly out of the box but ImmersionRC does a great job.  The Vortex 250 Pro is 90% of the way to what I consider a flyable racing drone.  Contrary to ImmersionRC's advice, if you are a beginner you probably want a Vortex.  Trying to build a racing drone on your own is far more complicated.  If your a complete beginner, I suggest starting out with a low cost Hubsan X4 series drone and start watching some drone racing videos.  Once you have some experience under your belt, understand how the sticks work, step up to the big boys club and grab a Vortex.  I'm happy to have a Vortex in my collection.

Following is my horrible maiden flight.  Ouch, but I share the good and the bad.  Hard to see on the video but the maiden flight had so much vibration I felt more comfortable flying in angle mode instead of rate mode.  I returned home, removed the stock props and mounted DAL props, improved the PIDs, and I follow up the maiden flight video with a much better flight video demonstrating the amazing power of this aircraft.  No fancy flying but it provides fair idea of what your experience may be like.

Video: Vortex 250 Pro Maiden w/improved follow-up flight.  No music.  In my haste to fly, I temporarily mounted camera to jello mount platform using velcro.  Using the included mounts provides better video results and aims the camera a few degrees up so your not looking at the ground so much.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

REVIEW: Lumenier Neoprene Landing Pads

Have a small(<300mm) racing or acro quad and want a landing gear solution?  I found these Neoprene Landing Pads by Lumenier online.  The back of the pad comes with plastic tape covering an adhesive service.  Pull off the tape and stick to the underside of your quads arms.  That's it.

Landing carbon fiber on any kind of hard service can loosen bolts so absorbing the shock is important.  This is one of the reasons I never like the carbon fiber clip type landing gear shipped in the quad kits.  I purchased several neoprene landing kits from in the event one I loose a pad.  So far none have fallen off.  I think these will be popular with all except the most hardcore racers.  Another benefit is that the pads are very low profile and unlikely to get snagged on objects in proximity flights, very important.  The pads are sold in a 4-pack for around $4US and weigh around 1g for 4.  A great low cost upgrade anyone can do.  Thumbs up!

* Image from

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