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A Westporter builds a drone. Here's how ...

Photo by Westport News/Contributed Photo

Mark Mathias and son Nick display the quadcopter drone they built. Westport CT. March 2014.

There has been a lot of news about personal drones, especially since Amazon announced its Amazon Prime Air service a few months ago. It plans to use drones to deliver packages within 30 minutes.

The drones also are referred to quadcopters, hexcopters or octocopters, depending upon the number of propellers on them. These "copters" generally have a central hub with a number of arms extending from them with electric motors on them. The shaft of each motor has a propeller on it.

In the central hub are the "brains" of the drone that knows how many propellers it has, how fast to spin each propeller and other flight information. There's also a decent sized battery to run a drone.

With all due respect to the people at Amazon, they won't be delivering packages any time soon. But it certainly was a brilliant marketing message.

Having had a small toy quadcopter for about a year, I have wanted to build a bigger, more sophisticated one.

The recently opened Fairfield County Makers' Guild -- www.makersguildfc.com -- in Norwalk, announced a class to build a quadcopter, so I signed up.

Over the weekend, my 9-year-old son and I built our own personal drone.

It started as a kit of parts that had been collected by our instructor, Chuck Allen. In the kit were a number of carbon fiber arms and plates for mounting our hardware, a flight control board, motors, propellers (including some spares because they inevitably break), jumper cables, a battery, a charger and more.

Over the course of Saturday, we were able to put the quadcopter together, including soldering a number of wires and ends, building the frame, mounting the parts, etc.

Of the 10 people in the class, none of our quadcopters was identical. While traditional manufacturing has the resulting item look identical, building a quadcopter can be a very personal project, with each person deciding how they want their final aircraft to be.

And, there was the occasional goof-up that required some re-work, which, while not the most expedient way to complete the project, is very instructional and even fun.

By the end of the Saturday, we had the airframes assembled and all of the electronics completed. But it was late in the day, and we didn't want to start a next step that would take a couple of hours.

The group reassembled Sunday afternoon. The remaining work was to install the propellers, program the transmitter (that lets us fly the drones) do some tuning and actually fly the drones.

With help from Chuck and others in the class, we were able to get the quadcopters flying. Some flew well without a lot of tuning. Others had trouble getting off the ground. Some pilots were better able to control their aircraft, while others crashed into ceilings, walls, or floors. But we all learned from each other and eventually all of the quadcopters flew. Read Full Article 

I brought mine home and flew it in the backyard Sunday afternoon. It will definitely take some time to get used to flying my new drone. Things like wind and trees make flying drones challenging.

I want to modify my drone so that it an carry a small video camera, but that will be for another day.

My guess is that I'll have my drone carrying a camera well before Amazon is able to have one of its drones deliver the parts I need for the next stage of my drone building.

Go here to see a video of the drone lifting off: http://youtu.be/mMIc5d-SwGU

Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years. His "Living With Technology" appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at: livingwithtechnology@mathias.org

Mark Mathias

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