Raspberry Pi drone

How to build a Raspberry Pi drone

The Raspberry Pi is a tiny, relatively low-cost computer used to teach programming. And if you want to build your drone from scratch, it’s one of the best ways to make it happen.

When you build your own drone, you can purchase a flight controller, which is a small circuit board able to direct the motors on how to move. You can certainly buy it pre-made, but if you want to build more of the drone than simply soldering together the hardware, consider using a Raspberry Pi — which you’ll program yourself — as the flight controller.

build your own Raspberry Pi drone
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized single-board computer, and is a key component of building your drone.

What is Raspberry Pi, and what does it do?

Rapsberry Pi is a line of small, single-board computers about the size of a credit card, developed in part by the United Kingdom-based Rapsberry Pi Foundation and Broadcom. The initial intent of its creators was to use these computers in schools to teach baic computer science. However hobby makers, small business owners, and more caught on to them in the robotics industry due to their low cost, modularity, and open design. Today, the Raspberry Pi is one of the best-selling British computers, with more than 30 million boards sold as of December 2019.

And yes, you can use them to build your own drone, too.

Learn how to build a Raspberry Pi drone with a Pixhawk flight controller

Drone Dojo, an online community, provides practical how-to drone classes. They recently uploaded a 36-minute YouTube video demonstrating how to create a Pixhawk Raspberry Pi drone from scratch. The video is produced by Caleb Berquist, the founder of Drone Dojo. He has a background in chemical engineering and specializes in building DIY drones from scratch. Caleb also researches open-source flight software used for DIY drone flights.

To be fair, it’ll probably take you longer than that, but the video itself is 36 minutes. In that half hour, Berquist goes over how to:

  • Set up the Raspberry Pi+Pixhawk hardware
  • Wire the RPI and Pixhawk together via a UART connection
  • Flash ArduPilot firmware to the Pixhawk
  • Set up the RPI SD card and dependencies
  • Set up RPI OS to allow communication via UART
  • Control the Pixhawk drone from the Raspberry Pi with MAVProxy AND a simple Dronekit Python script

Learn how to build a Raspberry Pi drone via Drone Dojo‘s online course

That above is the short option. But there’s a more detailed option that could be more gratifying.

Rather than use Pixhawk, you can also use a Navio2 controller. Emlid, the maker of Navio2, developed a Raspberry Pi shield that transforms any standard Raspberry Pi board into a flight controller. Learn how to build a Raspberry Pi drone that way with Drone Dojo’s text guide.

If you want even more, Drone Dojo has a full-length, multi-hour online course on “How to Build a Raspberry Pi Drone.” In it, you’ll learn how to design, build, fly and code your own Linux-powered ArduPilot drone. You have the flexibility to delve deep or just scratch the surface with this course. Some may choose to build a flyable drone from scratch, while others learn to select parts for designing their drone. Additionally, there’s content on software for scripting automatic drone missions, perfect for innovative ideas like a ‘taco delivery’ company.

The 5.5-hour online course is taught by Berquist too, and it covers the following subjects:

  • Hardware: Basic Drone Components (GPS, motors, ESCs, LiPos etc)
  • Design: How to design your own drone and find the right parts
  • Building: Assemble and build your drone from the parts that were chosen from the design process
  • Flying: Basic flying and best practices
  • Coding: SSH into your Linux drone and configure/code it from the command line

Berquist’s course, divided into five sections, delves deeper than this 36-minute video. It tackles more complex topics, answering questions like “What does the C-rating of a LiPo battery actually mean?” and “How do mAh and Coulombs relate?” Additionally, it guides you in estimating the thrust and current draw of your drone design before purchasing parts.

How much does it cost? The How to Build a Raspberry Pi Drone course itself costs $99. If you don’t need the online course and just need the materials, expect to spend at least $400 on drone-specific equipment (or $500 if you need to buy other generic tools such as a soldering iron, drill, or screwdrivers). Separately, Drone Dojo sells a Raspberry Pi drone kit which puts all the materials you need to build it in one handy kid (which costs about $1,000).

Plus, here’s a limited-time offer! The first 30 readers who use promo code DRONEGIRL2 at checkout will get 10% any Drone Dojo course, including this one!

Enroll in the How to Build a Raspberry Pi Drone course here.

What if I just want to learn how to code a drone?

Of course, Raspberry Pi is not the only means of learning how to code via drone. Another popular drone can be coded — and you won’t have to build the drone itself. If you’re only interested in learning how to code a drone but aren’t necessarily keen on building all the parts together, consider the Ryze Tello drone, a $159 toy drone made in partnership with DJI.

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