The story of the world's toughest drone airframe...
**Thanks to all of you, we reached our $25,000 in under 2 weeks and we've added MORE rewards and stretch-goals!!
But our project doesn't stop there - we're just getting started. So to celebrate and say "Thank You" to all our supporters, we've just announced a stretch goal to help the project reach even higher. So here it is....
If Game of Drones can reach $50,000 before our campaign ends, we will add several one-of-a-kind rewards for all our backers including a bar of "Flight Club" soap. - Plus the "Cadet" and above backers will all receive a set of hand-painted propellers seen in our promo images, as well as a set of matching 3D-printed motor mounts as well.
Flying amateur drones and UAV's is a fun and exciting hobby, and we were sold the moment we first saw one flying around overhead. Our excitement quickly deflated once we tried to build and fly some of the hobby drone kits on the market. Every crash - and even many hard landings - were devastating to the fragile airframes that were available and could easily cost hundreds of dollars in damages. Even a "good" day of flying would still cost up to $25 in broken frame parts and pieces. It was clear that this was going to be an expensive hobby, especially during the learning curve.
So we decided to build a better UAV airframe.
We began searching for a way to make a stronger, less expensive airframe. We experimented with cheap hardware and scraps, researched an array of exotic materials, and even tried making disposable airframes out of laser-cut cardboard. Ultimately all of these concepts were unable to meet our requirements - Inexpensive to make, extremely damage resistant, and quick and easy to make repairs when needed.
Reinventing the Wheel
Starting with crude hand-made models we were able to make proof-of-concept prototypes. We decided to join Techshop for access to their Makerbots, laser-cutters and other manufacturing infrastructure and soon began outputting more more sophisticated CNC molds from our original CAD designs.
Drone Testing = Drone Torture
We developed multiple design variations and experimented with a range of materials, manufacturing processes and flight electronics. We determined that thermo-formed polymers were the best materials, and began creating & testing models of different airframe designs. Our earliest prototypes were crude, but they flew very well and demonstrated their awesome potential for durability.
After months of hardcore torture testing, including drops from hundreds of feet, flying through fire, landing in water, crashing through windows, smashing into the ground at full speed hundreds of times and literally getting shot out of the sky with a 12 gauge shotgun, we can honestly say this airframe will not die. Lots of other components have bit the dust, and the airframe has plenty of wear & tear, but it remains as flightworthy today as the day it was made.
Enter the Game of Drones
After launching a website and publishing videos demonstrating how we designed, made, tested and generally abused our airframe, the viewer response has been overwhelming. We even began organizing top-secret drone fight clubs or "flight clubs" as they began to be known, attracting the interest of many highly skilled and creative engineers and robot designers. In addition to being a ton of fun, these weekly competitions really helped us to refine our designs to be as tough and resilient as possible.
Game of Drones has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, Right This Minute, and blogged, tweeted and re-posted thousands of times. However to our surprise, most of people contacting us didn't want to learn how to make their own drone airframe, they wanted us to simply sell them one. And the email requests and shouts of "Shut up and take my money!" just kept coming and coming. And so after long consideration...
This campaign was launched with the goal of raising enough capital to tool-up production for a small initial run of Action-Sports Quad airframes - and to expand our production capabilities for future development.
Our primary goal is to keep this Kickstarter campaign manageable by distributing our airframe only - not entire RTF (ready to fly) UAV's. So except for a small number of high-level supporters who will get an RTF drone - and in some cases private flight lessons - we will only be offering the Action-Sports airframe DIY kit. YOU provide your own motors, ESC's flight controller, radio, battery, etc.. A little assembly will be required, but we will provide build guides, instructions and how-to videos, as well as recommendations and shopping lists.
Our projected delivery time is Q2 2014, depending on order volume..
Our Plan Going Forward...
Based on initial feedback, we anticipate approximately 150-200 frames to be manufactured during this initial Kickstarter production run, but we will be capable of handing much higher volume if we meet our campaign goals.
Meeting our minimum financial goal allows our team several opportunities to expand beyond our current production level - including fabricating aluminum master molds, purchasing specially-formulated materials in bulk, and contracting with high-volume manufacturing firms to produce components and parts.
Exceeding our goals by a significant margin offers our team additional opportunities to further refine our retail offerings and get a head-start setting up our business for international distribution.
The current prototype has some pretty decent specs. The final design will be even lighter and stronger, but will not have a reduction in internal space.
Marque is an inventor, designer and conceptual technologist. He is often cited as a pioneering researcher in the field of telepresence robotics with his SPARKY project, the earliest known mobile video-chat prototype in the mid 90's. His award-winning art and short films have been exhibited at the SFMoMA, San Jose Museum of Art, The SJ Tech Museum and he recently celebrated 25 years as an artist with a major East Coast retrospective. He has been creating web shows for years and has earned millions of viewers for his award-winning DIY shorts. Marque is currently producing and hosting Game of Drones, a popular UAV web series.
Eli is an industrial designer, inventor and visual effect artist. He starting his career making props and practical effects for theatre and feature film, and eventually landed the position of video game art director, where he earned multiple awards for illustration. Eli is also a founding member of Paintball Jungle, the Bay Area's largest and most successful commercial paintball park. As founder of "Groom Lake" a new UAV test facility and airfield located in the North Bay, he is currently developing the next generation of UAVs for a variety of end-users, from hobbyist to industrial and agriculture clients and even search and rescue training operations.
Risks and challenges
Like many Kickstarter projects, we will face challenges associated with rapid growth and order fulfillment. Luckily, previous KS projects have shared the lessons they've learned from their own successful - and unsuccessful - campaigns. We have researched the costs and other factors associated with our business including insurance, legal, postage and other expenses.
Heeding these lessons and planning for the challenges, we designed our campaign with ambitious but achievable goals - and the ability to scale up as needed. If we meet our minimum goals, we have one action plan. If we exceed our goals by a significant margin, we have a modified action plan.
With that in mind, the primary reward is designed as a simple and easy DIY kit, and the more complex and time consuming rewards are limited in number. We have seen far too many fundraising campaign struggle because they offered goals that were too ambitious. We built our entire campaign around the lessons we learned from these other efforts.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
No, and yes. Our airframe is built for damage resistance, not waterproofing. However our design does make it naturally resistant to rainy weather and paintball attacks, so it's pretty well covered in that respect for most fliers.
Turning our airframe into a water-based drone requires some easy mods, but if you can build a drone, you can do this mod. We will be posting a step-by-step video showing the common materials and easy steps to crete this mod yourself. It won't create a drone that can be completely submerged under water, but it will be able to take-off and land on calm water easily. It should also be able to survive splashdowns and hard water landings without difficulty.
Can your drone lift a GoPro? How does the GoPro mount to the airframe? WIll you sell a GoPro version of your airframe?
We use the standard GoPro mounts in the current model. Sometimes we will drill a small hole in the airframe and use a well-placed zip-tie to secure a camera mount even tighter. Future designs (after Kickstarter ) may incorporate some specialized features incorporating GoPro mounts. However in our experience, our GoPros are pretty tough. Protected in their case they survive as well as our airframe.
Our airframe can support the weight of a GoPro as well as other cameras, gimbals and other gear. But you may need to add some landing gear if you to protect your gear better. I often just use double stick tape and mount the GoPro's case right on the bottom of the airframe - I even land on it, and it works just fine. But either way the payload should be no problem with DJI or 3Drobotics motors and props (our personal choice at the moment...)
We'll be posting all this info in detail very soon, but we have tried the motors, props and esc's and FC boards from 3DRobotics and DJI, as well as some knock-off components that are similar. We also fly the KK2 board from Hobbyking and sometimes the 4-in-one esc from Hobbywing. Basically any hobby gear we've come across can work just fine with our frame. The motor mount holes in our airframe are the standard used by both DJI and 3DR, so any motors that fit that standard should work just fine.
Yes, video and step-by-step instructions coming soon with recommended parts list.
Our drone was designed from the ground up to be the most durable airframe available to the drone hobbyist and small UAV pilots, and I really think we have achieved that goal. We have stomped on it, thrown it into walls and through windows, dropped it from hundreds of feet, flown through fire, landed on water and crashed literally hundreds of times. And we also shot it several times at close range with a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with heavy dove ammo, and although it was knocked out of the sky and one motor/prop was destroyed by the shot, the airframe was little more than scuffed - and was up and flying within 5 minutes with a new motor and fresh zip-ties.
Several people have pointed out that a different gun or ammo would destroy it, or leaving it in a sustained fire would melt it. These are true, so it is not technically indestructible. However, in our extensive torture testing, we have seen our airframes survive abuse FAR in excess of that you would expect to encounter in normal action-sports drone flying.
So, Is it indestructible? No.
The World's Toughest? You will have to judge for yourself...
Support this project
- (32 days)