Friday, January 18, 2013

Does your neighbor have a drone?

By Donald Sensing

Worried about the local police getting military-type drones and cruising around looking invading your privacy?

Forget them! It's your neighbors you have to worry about!

Actually, I have wanted to get a video-linked, FPV remote aircraft for a long time. I learned to fly when I was young and single (and therefore had money) but I just can't afford it now. So this kind of setup would be the next best thing.

A year ago I got with some Christmas gift money a remote-control helicopter with a built-in video camera, 640 X480 resolution, not HD by any means. This is it, on Amazon:

I did quite a bit of flying with it until while landing it a sharp gust hit it when it was about two feet up and blew it into the ground at just the right angle to wreck it. Parts are practically unobtainable. It still is in pieces in my closet.

I would not recommend it, though. The video quality was pretty poor since the camera was basically a pinhole model. Also, the helicopter itself did not control well. It was built tough, though, as it had already survived crashes from much higher heights than the one that killed it. Here is the best example of video I got from it. The camera did not have audio but all a mike would have picked up is rotor noise, anyway.

So this year  replaced it with a camera-less RC model, the Syma S033G 3.5 Channel 700mm Large RC Helicopter Ready to Fly. Superficially the same as the other one, the Syma is actually a little larger and sturdier, with a full-metal frame and metal skids. With this photo from Amazon's page, you can see it is definitely not an indoor chopper unless your indoors happens to be a gymnasium:

 I have learned with both models that even though they are large the flying conditions need to be almost dead calm, especially since neither of the two seems to want to fly straight ahead easily even with the control rammed and held all the way forward (a common problem, it seems, from reading the message and hobby boards).

Once I master this new model, I intend to attach a small HD video camera to it. As of today, the leading candidate is the ContourROAM Waterproof HD 1080P. The main attractions of this model are that it is very lightweight and the lens rotates, meaning I do not have to mount the camera level on the copter, giving me many more placement options. We'll see how it goes. But someday I want to have an RC machine with a real-time video downlink. (I suspect it takes money, darn it.)

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