In search of a DIY Drone kit with Camera


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Good Morning - I am hoping someone can provide some suggestions:  
 
Background: I work for a school division and our Maintenance department  is in need of a drone to use when they need to identify problems at our schools.  The thought is that the drone could help to save time and money and provide a safer way to complete certain tasks (i.e.,  getting pictures on top of water towers, roof top issues, etc.)
 
Our Idea is to involve our students in a hands-on STEM activity - by finding either a Middle or High School STEM group that would build and test the drone.  Then, at the end of the year give it to Maintenance.
 
Here is where we are:
- I am currently researching Grant funding to purchase the drone package.  
- I have been in contact with a local engineering company and one of their employees is interested in mentoring and working with the students as they build the drone.
 
My questions:
- Do you have any suggestions on drone kits that would be appropriate for students to build and meet the needs of our maintenance department?
- It needs to have a camera for pictures and/or video feed.
 
THANK YOU!!
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On 2/1/2017 at 6:59 AM, abelako said:

I work for a school division and our Maintenance department  is in need of a drone to use when they need to identify problems at our schools

@abelako - might be helpful to deconstruct this a bit...meaning, let's forget about the DIY / building component for a bit and let me ask, what minimum camera / flight / operating requirements do you need for the maintenance department to be able to do what they want to do? Once we get a better sense of what those requirements are, we can back into a DIY build / framework that is a good fit for you. Also wanted to echo @Spitfire76's comment re: budget!

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On 2/1/2017 at 4:45 PM, Spitfire76 said:

@abelako - You are not the only one looking for a kit like this. I guess my first question is do you have a budget limit ?.

We are going to be looking to secure grant funding for the purchase - so, not exactly.  I am trying to get an idea of what I need so I know the cost before starting to pursue the $$.

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12 hours ago, Alan Perlman said:

@abelako - might be helpful to deconstruct this a bit...meaning, let's forget about the DIY / building component for a bit and let me ask, what minimum camera / flight / operating requirements do you need for the maintenance department to be able to do what they want to do? Once we get a better sense of what those requirements are, we can back into a DIY build / framework that is a good fit for you. Also wanted to echo @Spitfire76's comment re: budget!

The maintenance dept originally said they want something like the DJI Phantom 4.  But - we are looking to buy a kit - to make it a hands-on project for the students.  And that is where I need some help - as I am not sure where to go.  

Camera - Go-Pro for video and photos with ability to transmit back to an iPAd for viewing during flight

Flight - at least 20 minutes

Range - to make it to the top of a water tower

Those are the only specifics I have - I am still waiting for additional details from the folks maintenance.

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@abelako does the school already have a Go-Pro camera or would it have to be purchased as a part of this project ?. The reason for asking is that it most likely will cost more to build a UAV than to buy a DJI P4 if you don't already have a camera. Take the following kit as an example.

http://erlerobotics.com/blog/erle-copter/

By the time you add GPS, a gimbal and a camera its well over a $1000. I am sure its a great learning tool but you end up with an UAV that has no where near some of the features that you get from a DJi Phantom. I really like to build my own UAVs but I am finding that less economical these days. When companies like DJI abandoned the Go-Pro and included their own camera they designed a camera that was built for aerial video and photography and integrated it into their platform. For example there was no need for an LCD display and so they could reduce the cost of the camera. Also the GoPro is designed as an action camera typical used for sports and so has a wide angle field of view (FOV) which is not really want you want in an UAV camera as it distorts the image. There is a company that sells replacement lens with a narrow FOV but they cost $150. Then there is also the ability to get live video from the camera and control its settings which you could get from the built in WiFi of the GoPro but it won't have the range of a DJI light bridge.

Edited by Spitfire76
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On 2/3/2017 at 6:07 PM, Spitfire76 said:

@abelako does the school already have a Go-Pro camera or would it have to be purchased as a part of this project ?. The reason for asking is that it most likely will cost more to build a UAV than to buy a DJI P4 if you don't already have a camera. Take the following kit as an example.

http://erlerobotics.com/blog/erle-copter/

By the time you add GPS, a gimbal and a camera its well over a $1000. I am sure its a great learning tool but you end up with an UAV that has no where near some of the features that you get from a DJi Phantom. I really like to build my own UAVs but I am finding that less economical these days. When companies like DJI abandoned the Go-Pro and included their own camera they designed a camera that was built for aerial video and photography and integrated it into their platform. For example there was no need for an LCD display and so they could reduce the cost of the camera. Also the GoPro is designed as an action camera typical used for sports and so has a wide angle field of view (FOV) which is not really want you want in an UAV camera as it distorts the image. There is a company that sells replacement lens with a narrow FOV but they cost $150. Then there is also the ability to get live video from the camera and control its settings which you could get from the built in WiFi of the GoPro but it won't have the range of a DJI light bridge.

Thank you for the info!!  I am going to share this info with our Maintenance Dept - and see what way they want to go.  I appreciate your time and will let you know if there are any follow-up questions.  Much appreciated!!!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Nor sure how far down this path you are, but using drones for STEM education is GREAT.  Using drones for industrial inspection is GREAT.  Using drones that were built as part of a STEM class for industrial inspection is a non sequitur.

If they haven't already, your school district will drill down to assess the risk of using drones in those applications and will eventually reach the decision to not use the same drone for both.  The drone you use for industrial inspection carries a lot of liability and it should not be a class project or toy (hobby grade) drone.  

We have worked with several school districts in California and this has been the case with all of them.  Sorry, probably not what you wanted to hear.  Might be different where you are.

Here's a video of one of the High School STEM programs we support:

 

If you'd like to know more about our experiences don't hesitate to ask.

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3 hours ago, abelako said:

We seem to be at a stand-still.

I appreciate your input.

Thanks!

One last item to consider: You will need someone to pass the FAA Part 107 test to pilot the drone for your inspections. I'm not sure where in educational the need to have this stops, but my guess would be if the STEM instructor was teaching the students how to fly, by flying the drone itself, then the instructor would need a license too. Then you have the insurance and liability issue to consider: is your school district allowed to operate drones near students, whether for instruction or maintenance? 

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Legal is the reel fly in the ointment.  But regarding your Part107, the person operating the drone doesn't have to have a Part107 certificate.  That can be you or the instructor as long as your present and in a position to take control if necessary.  The Part107 holder is responsible and is always the PIC.

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