Upgrade your drone to a first-person view and make it the ultimate eye in the sky.
FPV, or first-person view, is the experience of seeing what a drone sees through its camera or GoPro attached to it. Instead of just squinting up at your quadcopter when being on the ground, you can see the live view through your onboard camera with a pair of goggles, a portable monitor, or an iOS or Android mobile device. It allows you to fly further, higher, and faster without getting too disoriented or confused.
On the ground, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of which way your drone is facing and whether the stick inputs need to be rearranged to make it turn in the right direction.
As you fly FPV, left and right never reverse because your perspective is similar to your drones. Also, the immersive nature of FPV flying adds to its appeal. Flying over aerial footage is easy; you can view it as you fly.
You could waste your entire drone’s battery on a perfect shot to realize later that you pointed it in the wrong direction. It not only makes aerial photography possible but also allows quadcopters to race.
Digital vs. analog
You can watch video downlinks from many ready-to-fly UAVs through an app on your phone or tablet, such as Parrot BeBop or DJI Phantom 2 Vision. Video signals are transmitted via Wi-Fi, requiring a special antenna on the control transmitter to reach beyond a few meters.
Further, there is a slight lag in the image you see on the screen when using Wi-Fi signals. This isn’t an issue for framing a shot or lying reasonably sedately. Still, Wi-Fi video isn’t responsive enough for high-speed, low-level lying, particularly around obstacles such as buildings and trees.
Home-built multirotor almost always use analog video systems, so that’s not an issue. The picture is transmitted over radio waves at 5.8GHz as an analog TV signal with a lower resolution. Even though these systems can suffer from ‘snow’ interference and the picture quality is generally worse, it updates almost instantly. You can use this to perform acrobatics.
Additionally, analog systems are easier and cheaper to install yourself.
Connecting it up
We can upgrade a simple quadcopter for under $150 that we built in the book for FPV flying. As well as recording its own HD digital video on the memory card, the Mobius ActionCam can output analog TV video. By combining two cameras into one, you can save both weight and money. When you’re already using a GoPro camera, it’s better to add a simple front-facing 600TVL (TV lines) board camera, such as the CC1333-B.
Regardless of the camera you use, you will need to connect it to a video transmitter (VTX). Our transmitter is the Aomway mini transmitter with a range of 200 milliwatts, which allowed us to lie in the park. You can hack an old mini-USB cable to connect the two quite easily if you need to make your cable connect them. Connect the yellow wire to the video-in pin on the transmitter, red to +5V, and black to ground. Ignore the white wire inside the cable, which is the audio signal.
You will need a receiver with a 5.8GHz frequency to capture the video signal. FatShark goggles, for example, come with a receiver built-in. If you’re not sure FPV flying is for you, it’s better to start with a separate video receiver that’s less expensive.
Quanum DIY has a 2.2-inch screen with a simple case and simple lens perfect for beginners. It will plug into any analog screen and works with any analog screen. It can be worn like a pair of goggles, or you can remove the lens and use it as a monitor with a sunshade.
You might feel claustrophobic when taking off or landing in FPV during your first few moments. Making the learning process more comfortable will be possible if the Quanum DIY is used from the beginning. The first few times you try FPV with goggles, you might feel nauseous if you’re prone to motion sickness.
The action will be easier to follow if you watch it on a monitor screen, where you can still use your peripheral vision to locate yourself. If you upgrade to FatShark goggles later, your Quanum screen won’t be wasted since you can allow a ‘passenger’ to fly along with you, sharing the same view.
In addition to installing and testing these basic setups, you can significantly enhance the experience by adding some easy upgrades. An antenna upgrade is the most important when aligned parallel to each other, the basic stick antennas supplied with the transmitter and receiver provide good reception.
Whenever a quadcopter banked or pitched, its antenna tilted, and signal reception was affected. When you replace both antennas with circularly polarized leaf antennas, you will significantly increase your FPV range.
Increasing the transmitter’s power on the quadcopter is a much better way of extending your range. Due to the tyranny of the inverse-square law, doubling the transmitting capacity only improves your range by about 40 percent, while switching to cloverleaf antennas allows you to double your range without consuming any extra power.
An on-screen display (OSD) is a more advanced upgrade. Overlapping the camera’s view is telemetry from the drone’s flight controller in the form of text and numbers. It is possible to configure what information is displayed on the OSD, from something as simple as just the battery voltage to an entire dashboard’s worth of data, including speed, altitude, heading and artificial horizon.
A GPS unit fitted to your quadcopter may also allow your OSD to display how far you have traveled and an arrow pointing back to the launch point. In this way, one field looks quite similar to another from 100 meters up.
Among the most popular OSDs is the Micro MinimOSD, a postage-stamp-sized circuit board that plugs into the serial port pins of the Naze32 flight controller, as well as the video connectors on the camera and VTX.
In other words, there is no impact on the quality of the video that you record on your Mobius or GoPro since all the additional data is only added to the transmitted feed.
The FPV experience is something that every drone pilot needs to experience at least once, regardless of whether you stick with a budget system or upgrade as far as current technology will allow. The closest thing to being a bird isn’t just flying a plane.