Hello Ardupilot community,
I am a graduate student in a cranberry genetics laboratory who is putting together a proposal to purchase a lab drone for research (and attach a multispectral camera sensor). I have put together a list of options for my PI to review, with a range of customizable options. The least customizable options include a DJI Inspire 2 drone with hardware designed to mount to its gimbal interface and a DJI Matrice 2 drone with a newer Skyport interface that seems to be supported by many of the agricultural multispectral sensors I’ve been researching. A middle-of-the-road customizable solution is a DJI Matrice 100, which appears to be a good developmental platform, although adding components (such as live video streaming, visual guidance system) can quickly push the price skyward, and I am limited by proprietary DJI hardware and the fact that as an older model, DJI’s support for this model may dry up in time. At the most-customizable level, I’m proposing a hexacopter frame kit with suggested propulsion system, a gimbal that can attach ‘lightweight’ DSLR cameras and/or other sensors, with what I think is a nice-looking, high-quality flight controller unit that supports Ardupilot software (EMLID Edge).
I am pitching/recommending the custom-built drone option, foremost as an upgradeable and flexible platform, a non-proprietary hardware and software solution (less concern about repair or annoying software licenses), and significantly reduced cost for parts (new and replacement). However, my PI has said that he doesn’t want me to spend a tremendous amount of time assembling/engineering/debugging the drone before we can even get it into the field to collect data. Although I feel confident in my software background and skills, and I see that this community has built a solid framework around supporting various autonomous/remote-controlled vehicles, I am open to admit that my mechanical and electrical skills are limited. I’m hoping that with an intelligent selection of custom, high-quality parts/components, the assembly and off-the-ground debugging time will be minimal.
Thus, I wanted to know what the community thinks is reasonable in terms of doing this? Is this unreasonable? If not, what are recommended, high-quality controllers, frames, camera gimbals, etc. that can be reliably assembled with minimal debugging effort? What are good online sources for parts? Recommended frame kits? What are tradeoffs for hexacopter versus quadcopter design (I like that hexacopters can potentially carry more payload, and have some failsafe redundancy over a quadcopter in event of propeller failure, but the battery capacity requirements appear to be large for any reasonable flight time, e.g., 20-30 minutes)? I have read that one shouldn’t venture in building something more complicated than a quadcopter if experience is minimal in custom-built drones, but is this constraint reasonable with a purchase of good parts? In other words, with diligent selection of high-quality hardware, can hardware/mechanical debugging be kept to a minimum (again, I’m not concerned about software – I am very comfortable in this arena).
Current custom-proposal (feel free to give critical feedback on what I’m missing, what isn’t good, what’s overdesigned, etc.):
- Tarot X6 Hexacopter Build Kit - with battery charger, multirotors wire pack, Tarot 12kg AUW propulsion system pack
- EMLID Edge Flight Controller, Autopilot, and Video Transmission Module
- Universal Camera Gimbal
Thanks everyone! I look forward to engaging with this community, and at a minimum, I hope to build my own personal drone.