Getting to know the Drones

The true stars of the Missouri Drone Journalism Program are the drones themselves, or the J-Bots, as the students pioneering the project have come to call them. Working with these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles is made possible through a partnership with the MU Information Technology Program, in which under the direction of IT Program lead Matthew Dickinson, students have learned to build and control the drones. Following are descriptions of the drones at the helm of the Missouri Drone Journalism Program:

– Quadcopter (DJI F450)

QaudThe Quadcopter, or “Quad,” is the most basic of the IT Program’s constructed drones and is the machine type that the Journalism Program’s students have been learning to fly by operating. The Quadcopter makes use of a hand-held radio transmitter, and runs on an external battery (either 3S or 4S) that attaches to the drone’s frame, allowing flight life of approximately 17 minutes. Motorized propellers, which lift the drone to flight, range from eight to ten inches in length. This drone does not have a camera gimbal, and is intended mainly for training use.

– TBS Discovery Quadcopter

This Quadcopter has been built around a TBS Discovery airframe. The TBS Discovery system uses an APM 2.5 controller, along with GPS and telemetry links, to carry First Person View equipment and

transmit 1.3 GHz live video. What all this means is that the TBS Discovery Quadcopter has the capacity to stream live video through flight to an adjacent monitor (see corresponding image to the right), for both flight control and recording purposes. This Quadcopter also has an attached base that can securely hold an additional camera, such as a GoPro, for either ground or overhead imaging. This Quadcopter also serves as a platform for the IT Program to develop APM flight controller code.

– Hexacopter (DJI F550)

The Hexacopter, or “Hex,” holds six motors, instead of the four that Quadcopters utilize. This, in theory, leads to better control of the vehicles when in flight, as the motors are spaced closer together and react with quicker and more precise movements from the radio transmitter. The Hexacopter’s larger size also allows it to support a built-in landing gear unit and a camera gimbal. The gimbal gives an external camera (when attached) a steady base.

– XAircraft X650 V8

The XAircraft X650 V8 drone is currently being tested for the purpose of determining if the vehicle’s eight motors rightly provide additional stability over lower models by the IT Program, and may not see the hands of the Journalism Program until more complex stories are approached. A high payload capacity on this drone also allows for the use of larger batteries and extended airtime.

– “The BumbleBee” Quadcopter

This tiny Quadcopter, nicknamed “The BumbleBee,” is remarkable in the fact that it was constructed completely through the use of the IT Program’s Full Spectrum Laser 40W Laser Cutter. This non-GPS Quadcopter, which is utilized as more of an indoor flyer due to its small size and will not serve duty in the Journalism Program’s approach to public land stories.

Information in this article was provided from Matthew Dickinson and the MU IT Program Drone Lab.

By Zach Garcia


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