I've always wanted to build a R/C helicopter but thought that the technology and learning curve would be much more than I could squeeze into my limited schedule and budget. Tuesday night, Randy MacKay and Jiro Hattori totally blew me away and evaporated all my misconceptions.
They visited Tokyo Hackerspace and were kind enough to share the work that they have done with Arduino based drone helicopters, based on open source software and hardware designs from DIY Drones.
It turns out that with a small investment in time and money - typically $500-$700 - you can be up, flying, and exploring the world of unmanned autonomous flying. There are even companies that will sell you the complete quadcopter preassembled and almost ready to fly.
Typically you might have to add your own R/C control set, or load the firmware. Or, if you are the type that really enjoys assembly and hacking, you can buy just the parts you need and download all the software, drawings, and other information from the internet.
The quadcopter is surprisingly light yet will carry a reasonable payload. Randy mentioned that many builders are using still and video cameras, like the GoPro, to record flights. As an example he shared the recent riot video below taken by a Polish drone builder.
The crowd that turned out for the meeting was awesome, and probably set a new record for Tokyo Hackerspace meeting attendance. When he demonstrated the quadcopter Randy had to ask everyone to stand back and make sure they protected themselves with chairs just in case the copter suddenly got out of control.
Here's the video that Randy shared that totally sold me on building a quadcopter: