The Raspberry Pi is a tiny, relatively low-cost computer used to teach programming. And if you want to build your own 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.
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. But they caught on it the robotics industry as hobby makers, small business owners and more were drawn 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 that offers a number of practical, how-to online drone classes, posted a video to YouTube showing how to make your own Pixhawk Raspberry Pi drone in 36 minutes. The video is created by Caleb Berquist, the creator of Drone Dojo who is a chemical engineer by background and who builds drones from scratch and studies the open source flight software used to fly DIY drones.
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. The Navio2 is made by a company called Emlid. that developed a Raspberry Pi shield that can turn any normal Raspberry Pi board into a flight controller. Learn how to build a Raspberry Pi drone that way with Drone Dojo’ 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 can go as in-depth or surface-scratching as you want; some might build a flyable drone from scratch, others might learn how to select parts to design your own drone, and even some others can use the course to learn about software that would allow you to script automatic drone missions (you know, for that ‘taco delivery’ company idea).
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
With 5 sections, Berquist’s course goes much deeper than this 36-minute video, offering answers to more in-depth, complex topics like “What does the C-rating of a LiPo battery actually mean?” or “How do mAh and Coulombs relate?” and helping you estimate the thrust and current draw of your drone design before you buy the 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 about $400 on drone-specific equipment (or $500 if you need to buy other generic tools such as a soldering iron, drill, or screwdrivers).
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 $99 toy drone made in partnership with DJI.