It would be great to have some guidance about what kind of equipment we need for our project. Here are the details.

Area:  no more than 3km2, atacama desert of Chile. Average height, 900-1000 masl. No issues with air space. (see attached KMZ)

Conditions: winter june-aug, southwest winds , cloudy days most of the winter. slopes and hills.

What are we mapping: shrubby vegetation up yp 50 cm height in a parallel banded pattern.

Budget: 1000 USD up to 1200 max. We are interested in a ready to fly UAS + camera + 3 - 4 batteries (for the UAV) + GPS/radio controller and any other required equipement. The wiki site has a ready to fly version of 756 USD but we don't know what is included there. We need some details to create our first rough budget.

thanks in advance!


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Comment by Stephen Gienow on December 31, 2013 at 1:47pm

Dear Flavio,

Unfortunately, I don't think I can suggest a solution for you within your current budget.  To give you a sense of what our equipment is like: our biggest copter costs over 3000 USD including equipment, and it can fly for 30 minutes.  In this 30 minutes, the longest flight we have been able to take it on covered only 0.5 km^2.  This copter carries four batteries at once, meaning that each additional consecutive flight needs four more batteries at 83 USD a battery.  Not only does this solution require somewhere between 4-8 consecutive flights to cover your entire area of interest, it is far above your price range.

So let's look at some other solutions.  3DR's X8 copter should be able to capture about 0.25 km^2, given my work with its closely related but discontinued hexacopter variant.  If you're willing to break the mapping up into probably 10+ flights made over multiple days, this copter may work.  Unfortunately, it is still a bit out of your price range once you factor in equipment.  The similar Y6 has a shorter flight time but is a bit more affordable.

3DR also offers a plane, but planes are outside my area of expertise.  There are certainly other sources for RTF copters, but I can only personally vouch for 3DR and Mikrokopter (the latter of which is out of your price range).  

3DR's newest copter, the Iris, is the only one that I would call definitively within your price range (assuming you are ok with using the GoPro as your camera.)  It can fly for about 10 minutes on one battery carrying the GoPro, so you would have to break up your mapping into many small flights.  Plus, it has pretty much everything you need.

Could you describe in more detail how you hope to map this area?  Do you want a full 3D model, or just a flat photo map?  Are you trying to do it all in one large flight, or broken up into many small flights?

Comment by Stephen Gienow on December 31, 2013 at 1:47pm
Comment by Erle Ellis on December 31, 2013 at 3:00pm

Hi Stephen- thanks so much for your help with this!

I think we should also consider making as many as 10 flights to complete the work- it could be done over a period of up to 4-5 days?

In that case, maybe they could do multiple flights with a 3DR rig?

Comment by Flavio Sciaraffia on December 31, 2013 at 3:38pm

Hi Stepehen!, thank you so much for the info. I really appreciate it.

First, we can stretch our budget to have he 3DR's X8 copter with additional components, so good news there.

The idea is to make a 3D map of the terrain and vegetation and calculate biomass, areas and so on. We are trying to get a near infrared camera but a normal digital camera is fine for now.

The project will go over an entire week so I agree with Erle, we can split the mapping into multiple flights. Also I think the area will be narrowed as we start to refine our site for the research.

I was looking at the 3DR's X8 copter on the web site. I understand that we would need to add:

.- Rpalcement kit

.- Telemetry Set (this is the GPS tracking device?, if so do you recommend this or buying a different one?)

.- Radio Control (there are two types which one do you recommend?)

.- Battery Kit.

.- Camera (they mention a OSD/FPV, but I'm not sure if this is what we need. There are other models in the wiki...)

Thank you so much! Happy new year!

Comment by Stephen Gienow on December 31, 2013 at 4:44pm


The replacement kit is definitely a good idea, it allows you to repair minor damage in case of accidents.

The telemetry kit is non essential, but I consider it highly worthwhile.  It is a wireless connection between your copter and your laptop which allows you to monitor the copter's location, battery, and status (speed, direction, altitude, etc.)  The X8 comes with its own GPS board built in for navigation.  We also use this GPS dog tracker on our copters as a backup tracker, but you may not require this.

As for transmitters, we use the more expensive Spektrum controller.  I have not used the cheaper option, but I think it would probably be fine for what you're doing.

3DR's battery kit is a good value and comes ready to go, but will probably result in shorter flights.  We use these batteries, which are a good deal beefier and could perhaps get the X8's flight time up to 15 minutes with camera (in my estimation).  Of course with these, you would need to order a separate lipo charger, lipo safe bags, and solder on connector to the batteries.  I can explain this further if you decide to go that way.

OSD/FPV is not what you need.  This is the equipment to get a First Person View from a live video feed on your copter.  While neat, this adds extra weight and cost to the copter, so we don't use it.  We use this canon camera (its fast shutter speed is a must!) secured in this case (the easiest way to protect and mount the camera!).  We mount the case to the front plate of the copter using rubber anti vibration mounts, and hold down the shutter button on the camera using velcro.

Hope this helps, looking forward to further refining your plan.

Comment by Flavio Sciaraffia on December 31, 2013 at 5:22pm

Thanks!, it's coming along.

The lipo batteries is a must due the extension of the area. Definelty we will go with this option.

How many  batteries/chargers do you think we need, considering that we are doing this in multiple flights? In the spread sheet in the wiki they consider 2 chargers.

What are the solder on connectors?

I think I'm clear with the camera and case equipment The mounts are specify in the spread sheet as well. Additional batteries for the camera is necessary for what I see.

Hopefully we'll get the funds to do this project. It's amazing what you can do using this techs, so exciting.


Comment by Stephen Gienow on December 31, 2013 at 6:04pm

Ok, I think you will only need one charger.  You could probably cover that area in... five consecutive flights?  I'm guessing there, very rough estimate.  Unfortunately the issue of flight planning is a complicated one.  You need a copter in hand to measure how long the copter can fly while carrying your payload.  Once you have that, you can make flight plans in Mission Planner, which determines how many batteries you'll need for consecutive flights.  If you can find someone else flying the same setup on the X8, they could tell you how long a mission is acceptable.  If everything has to be done ahead of time, then I think a conservative estimate of 2.5km long missions is acceptable.

The XT60 is the connector that 3DR uses for their copters.  A female connector is needed on each battery.  This video tutorial shows how it is done. A male connector may be needed for the charger, if one isn't included.

Remember that when mounting the camera case, you'll need M3 bolts on the case side, M3 nuts on the copter plate side, and a method of drilling 3mm holes in both the case and the plate (I recommend drilling them with the camera held to the plate so that the holes line up automatically).  

Comment by Jonathan Dandois on January 2, 2014 at 9:37am

Hi Guys, 

Have you heard anything about waypoint flying using the DJI Phantom or Phantom 2 copters?  The Phantom 2 is advertising 25 minute flight time and it says it has a GPS enabled auto-pilot, but I can't see anything in the manual where it talks about waypoint flying.  Perhaps with one of the Naza autopilots it could fly waypoints?  But if a Naza is needed, the DJI's will be more expensive than a 3DR X8.

Comment by Stephen Gienow on January 2, 2014 at 11:56am

I did some research and the Phantom 2 can fly waypoints.  You need to have a datalink package, an iPad, and DJI's iPad ground station app.

Comment by Jonathan Dandois on January 2, 2014 at 12:06pm

Thanks Stephen, that is what I am seeing also, like here.  Also, sounds like it is pretty limited - this review says that the Phantom can only be programmed for 16 waypoints!  

I guess it will be necessary to see what kind of flights can be tweaked out of an 3DR X8.  I have read some pretty bad reports on X8 flight times on the DIYDrones forums though.  Lot's of people are reporting sub 10 minute flight times, ouch!  Have you seen anything better?


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