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I want to build a drone with the same functionality as a DJI's Mavic 2. Are there any books/videos/guides available? What would be involved?

I need a flying machine that:

  • has a good enough camera for short films
  • has at least 25 mins of flight time
  • is small and portable
  • has an object sensing system, so I don't wreck it :)
  • has a object tracking system to track people, cars, etc...

Its main purpose is "object tracking" for short films. I know it will not be easy to build, but have the time and money to do it. I just need to know how.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you be more specific in your goals? Is it to have video or just a foldable drone of approx the same size and performance? $\endgroup$ – Kenn Sebesta Apr 17 '20 at 1:49
  • $\begingroup$ @KennSebesta I want a drone of approximately the same size and performance. $\endgroup$ – user306 Apr 17 '20 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ If you have the time and money, specifically money, have you considered just buying a Mavic 2? If you are trying to save some money, I think building your own would be about the same price. $\endgroup$ – Jacob B Apr 17 '20 at 2:50
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    $\begingroup$ @JacobB I believe the benefit of building a drone (learning how to do it), outweighs the benefit of buying a drone (saving time and possibly money). So to answer your question, Yes I have considered buying a Mavic 2, but decided against it. $\endgroup$ – user306 Apr 17 '20 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ Honest answer: I think this is a ludicrous objective. "I want to build a car as fast, comfortable and fuel-efficient as a modern BMW - what book do I need to read?" would be similar. $\endgroup$ – mcenno Apr 18 '20 at 18:14
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Everything you requested is possible in a home-built unit (EXCEPT: object sensing and tracking.)

I'd recommend the painless360 youtube channel. Lee has detailed build videos on just about every kind of RC model that flies as well as tutorials about radio gear, GPS, ESC, batteries, camera gear, etc. They are excellent and you can follow along with the builds. It makes building your first model a great chance of success. His channel is amazing especially if you are new. All the lingo, terminology, etc are explained there in some way in literally hundreds of videos. This may sound like a shameless plug for his youtube channel but I've literally spent hundreds of hours watching his stuff since 2015 and learned so much in the process. If you are new to the hobby, this is a must.

Painless 360 YouTube Channel

As for the sensing and tracking features, it would be very hard or impossible to build one that would do all those things effectively for less trouble and money the aforementioned Mavic series could. Things like object sensing and tracking are still very proprietary software options and you're not going to make this yourself currently. As stated in the previous answer: Just buy it from DJI if you really need those features. Otherwise, build your own. It's a blast.

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    $\begingroup$ It would not be impossible to get object sensing and tracking yourself, but DJI will almost certainly be better than what you can do yourself. You would have to either make your own flight controller, or (easier, but far from ideal (and still not easy)) install a microcontroller between the receiver and FC to emulate stick inputs. You would also have to install some kind of sensors on the drone. $\endgroup$ – Hannes Hultergård Apr 17 '20 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ +1 @HannesHultergård Would it be easier to modify an open source flight controller like cleanflight.com or would you recommend installing a microcontroller? As far as the sensors, would you recommend ultrasonic sensors or cameras? $\endgroup$ – user306 Apr 17 '20 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ You are on pretty deep water here, but you could maybe modify a betaflight flight controller for example. That would save you from designing your own, but it might be hard to find one with enough UARTs for all sensors. Adding a microcontroller might be the best to start with, but it will add some delay, and you have to figure out how to modify the stick commands. As for the sensors; I would go for optical. $\endgroup$ – Hannes Hultergård Apr 17 '20 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ Also: You will want an iNav on the FC as a base instead of betaflight or cleanflight, because of the GPS functionality $\endgroup$ – Hannes Hultergård Apr 17 '20 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ To do object tracking, you would need software such as available from FlytBase. flytbase.com/flytos It will require an elegant control system such as Pixhawk, which weighs enough that you will quickly be out of foldable/portable territory. $\endgroup$ – Craig Corbin Apr 18 '20 at 3:39
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Some options for that type of drone:

  • Camera: A GoPro with ReelSteady or a gimbal-mounted camera if you want extremely level footage.
  • Battery: Definitely a Li-ion battery for the long flight time. (A liPo battery has more amperage but less capacity)
  • Frame: "Small" is relative, but a 5'' drone frame could work unless you want to make a custom frame.
  • Electronics: You will likely want a GPS so that the drone can return to home and hover in place. As for object sensing, that will be extremely difficult because you would need some sensors and software to figure out how the drone should react. Object tracking may also be extremely challenging because you would need advanced software integrated into the camera. The camera would need to be able to discern a specific target and give the drone commands to move the camera or change the drone's position. The motors need to be efficient in order to get long flight times and should be rather small so they don't use up too much power.

In the end, This would be a great learning experience and will probably give you skills that will be very useful. It may be more expensive and more time consuming though.

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