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MAXrotor: Advanced open-source quadcopter. Innovative wire-free motherboard. Easy to build, repair, & upgrade.

MAXrotor

The MAXrotor is a multirotor helicopter, designed from the ground up to be be easy to assemble, fly, repair, and upgrade. Its MAXboard motherboard eliminates complicated wiring, while making it easy to add nearly any feature you could want.

Your support will enable me to finish development (specifically building prototypes, buying and evaluating components and tools, building test aircraft, etc.) so that I can complete and publish the design of the MAXrotor and MAXboard.

What's it good for?

They are fun to fly! Especially when flying with goggles and a live video link (known as FPV). It feels like you are the one flying! The MAXrotor design is a forgiving helicopter to learn on so it's well suited to people who are new to flying.

The MAXrotor (with the MAXstation) was specifically designed for use by the Utah Bomb Squad, so it's a great fit for law enforcement. I've also used it to assist in Search and Rescue operations. Multirotor helicopters excel at aerial photography, videography, and journalism. Its flexible, module design make it ideal for universities, research, and data collection.

This is still a new field and new applications are being dreamed up every day. I'd love to hear what you use it for!

Open Source

MAXrotor is an open standard platform for the multirotor community to build on. This unique design combines with the best available Open Source hardware and software, including the excellent ArduCopter flight controller, to create an advanced, full featured aerial platform.

All relevant design files will be released. This will include the following:

  • Schematics
  • PCB layout and Gerber files
  • Bill of Materials
  • CAD models

I have yet to determine which licence I will use (I'd love to hear feedback from the community!) but they will be released with minimal restrictions, with commercial use allowed. 

What makes it unique?

You can find many great, full-featured multirotor projects online, but in general they're complicated to build and set up. Wiring up the various components (RC receiver, flight controller, motor controllers, cameras, etc.) is a particularly difficult, error-prone process, and a nightmare to repair, as you inevitably need to do.

Additionally, most of the low quality consumer multirotors are limited in their capabilities. They generally can't be upgraded and repairs are challenging.

MAXboard

The most innovative feature of the MAXrotor is its motherboard, the MAXboard. It brings plug and play simplicity to the multirotor world. Plug in your flight controller, RC receiver, and motor controllers into their sockets and you've got what you need to fly. Want battery monitoring or LED lights? They're built in. Want to fly with a camera and a live video link? Plug in the video transmitter and the camera (or two, there's support for both). Want telemetry?.... You get the idea.

The MAXboard includes sockets for the following modules and features. Imagine wiring all this up by hand!

Sockets (The electronics that plug into these sockets are not part of the MAXboard itself and are only included at some reward levels)

Built in features

  • Battery voltage and current monitoring
  • Power distribution to all systems, including four speed controllers
  • Control hookups for up to 8 motor controllers, and camera tilt servo connections.
  • Video switch for two cameras
  • LED running lights
  • Downward facing LEDs for use of Optical Flow sensor in low light conditions

MAXrotor Frame

The MAXrotor Frame is designed to keep the number of parts to a minimum while integrating advanced features. The upper plate is made of durable ABS. It supports the MAXboard, battery, and camera equipment. It has guards to protect the props, that means fewer broken props (which means fewer crashes) and less chance of damage or injury if the MAXrotor collides with something.

The lower plate is aluminum for light weight and strength. It also acts as a heat sink for the motors and speed controllers.

The two frame plates are separated by spacers with semi-flexible ends. This means that vibrations from the motors are isolated from the sensors and cameras on the upper plate.

The prototype is 23"x24"x3.5" (about 58x60x10cm) without the antennas and weighs less than 3lbs (about 1.3 Kg) fully equipped but not including the battery.

Open Sourcing the airframe will make sharing flight configurations more practical and will eliminate a lot of the (guess) work that goes into component selection.

MAXstation

The MAXstation is the perfect companion to the MAXrotor. With the MAXstation, you can be ready to fly in moments. The MAXstation keeps all your accessories protected and in one convenient place. Pictured above is my prototype. The production MAXstation will be larger, include a much larger display, goggles, hookups for additional external displays, a video recorder, as well as storage for batteries and a charger.

The MAXstation uses two strategies to ensure that you have a solid video signal back from the MAXrotor. The first is circular polarized antennas, these employ an infrequently utilized property of radio waves that makes them resistant to multipath fading. To improve the signal further, it will use diversity reception, this involves having multiple receivers in different positions. The system continuously monitors these receivers for the best signal and switches to it seamlessly.

The organization of the MAXstation makes flying much easier and more enjoyable. The ability to quickly deploy can make the difference in law enforcement and search and rescue situations.

Rewards

What about batteries? There are limitations on shipping the Lithium Polymer batteries that the MAXrotor uses. I am going to try to include one for backers at the $1899 level and up, but I can't yet commit to it so it wasn't included in the cost. They are easy to obtain online or at local hobby shops.

Things to be aware of

I will publish information on how to assemble, build, and complete the basic setup for the MAXrotor, and a list of additional resources. Unfortunately, I am unlikely to have time to personally answer all questions about learning to fly, flying in general, or questions specific to the plug in electronics, etc. For example, for more advanced configuration of the flight controller, you'll need to visit the excellent DIY Drones site. Software for the flight controller is not under my control, so I can't grantee that all features will be fully implemented when units ship.

All MAXrotor frames and MAXboards will be checked for quality. I will replace defective Frames and MAXboards that have not been crashed or damaged. Crashes are nearly inevitable with RC aircraft, that's why I made this thing easy to fix, but I will not be able to replace crash-damaged hardware without cost. Issues with any of the plug in electronics will need to be taken up with their respective manufacturers.

It is your responsibility to ensure that you are able to operate the MAXrotor safely and legally. Do not fly where you may put people or property in danger. There may be local restrictions on where and how you can fly, and whether you can use it commercially. Please respect the privacy of others while flying with cameras. Some places may require radio licenses to use the video and UHF transmitters.

Basically, I am providing you with the system, but I cannot be held responsible for how you use it. Please fly safely and responsibly.

Utah Aerials & Me

My name is Michael Colton. I live in Utah with my wonderful wife Karalee. During the day I work as an electrical engineer and CTO of RPH Engineering.

I started Utah Aerials with my friend Scott Paul about three years ago. For me it has been a perfect combination of my passion for invention and engineering and my dream of flying. It's been an amazing journey and learning experience.

Utah Aerials has funded itself by developing and selling aircraft and shooting aerial video for Utah.com, BYU Broadcasting, GoPro, the National Guard, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Utah Search and Rescue, and the Utah Bomb Squad.

Production Plan

The prototype design, Unit 00, is already highly functional. When funding is complete, I will produce the next revision of my design, Unit 01, based on what I've learned so far. It will include fixes to bugs I uncovered in Unit 00, but will otherwise be identical. Unit 01s will be shipped to the BETA backers as soon as they are ready.

I'll fix any bugs that BETA backers find in Unit 01 and will attempt to include as much of their feedback as possible into Unit 02. This will then be produced and shipped out to all backers.

Manufacturing facilities have already been located. If funding reaches sufficient levels, I hope to bring some of the production in-house.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

MAXrotor is an ambitious project, but as you can see from the prototype, it's already far along and highly functional. There are bugs to be fixed and still design work to do, but I don't foresee any insurmountable difficulties there. Should issues arrive, I hope to leverage the open source community for help. In particular, I hope to get help with testing, and feedback on the motherboard design, on motor selection, and software tuning.

The main challenges I see are going to be supply related. I already have arrangements made for the components I've designed (the MAXrotor frame and MAXboard) but for backers that selected kits that include parts that are not produced by me (motors, RC electronics, etc.) I will be somewhat at the mercy of suppliers. I hope that being in a position to order large quantities of parts will give me more leverage in this area. I will attempt to locate multiple sources for each part to help offset this risk. Worst case, this may cause some backers to receive their rewards later than anticipated, but should not impede the project in other ways.

If this project is successful enough that it becomes impractical to handle myself, RPH Engineering has expressed willingness to assist with manufacturing and fulfillment.

FAQ

  • Wind: The MAXrotor, like most multirotors, can fly in moderate winds, but they become less stable. Since most of my flying is done to collect video, I usually choose not to fly in windy conditions (recent developments in camera stabilization are changing this, however). Of course, flying in calm weather isn't always an option. The MAXrotor can handle winds, but it will not fly as smoothly. It more surface area than some multirotors so it may not be the best choice for people who must routinely fly in extremely windy conditions.

    Rain: As I only have the one prototype MAXrotor, I've chosen to fly it rather conservatively until I can afford to build more, consequently it has never flown in more than a light drizzle. Rain water tends to be relatively free of contaminates and uncontaminated water doesn't conduct electricity very well. Since the voltages involved are pretty low, it should be pretty much okay. More testing is called for. I have looked into making a cover for the electronics that would better protect them, that may be an option in the future.

    Cold and Snow: For snow the answer is pretty much the same as it is for rain, except maybe better, as snow doesn't work it's way into things as well as water does. The MAXrotor can handle cold quite well. Most of my development was done during the winter here in Utah, so it's done a lot of cold weather flying. About the only thing to be aware of is that batteries don't perform as well when cold, so flights have to be shorter.

    You can see it fly on a very cold evening here: https://www.youtube.com/watch…

    Thanks for the question Chris!

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  • Pledge $14 or more
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    4 backers

    Get a cool laser cut keychain! Choose either a tiny MAXrotor Frame or a UtahAerials logo! Thank you for your support!

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  • Pledge $29 or more
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    14 backers

    Get the bare MAXboard PCB. This option does not include the components that normally populate the board. You'll need to buy and solder them yourself. A list of parts and assembly instructions will be available online.

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    8 backers

    Get the MAXboard. Professionally assembled, tested, and ready to go. Also included is an adapter plate to make installation on existing frames easier. Plug in modules (Flight Controller, RC receiver, etc.) not included.

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    2 backers Limited (28 left of 30)

    BETA Tester Special! You get the fully assembled prototype MAXboard much earlier than everyone else! (Plug-in modules not included) I'll need your input on any issues. Then, when the production board is ready, you get that too! You'll also get special recognition, and my extra thanks!

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  • Pledge $549 or more
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    1 backer

    MAXrotor Frame and MAXboard. The frame includes the upper and lower plates, standoffs, and nuts. The MAXboard will come fully assembled. It does not include any other electronics, motors, etc.

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  • Pledge $899 or more
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    0 backers Limited (20 left of 20)

    BETA Tester Special! Same as the MAXrotor Frame and MAXboard kit above, but you get it much sooner! Please give me your input on the design. Then, when the production frame and board are ready, you get those too! You'll also get special recognition, and my extra thanks!

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  • Pledge $1,299 or more
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    Flight kit. Includes the MAXRotor frame, MAXboard, motors, props, speed controllers, and flight controller. Everything you need to get in the air except for the battery and RC transmitter/receiver.

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  • Pledge $1,899 or more
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    RC kit. Includes everything in the Flight Kit above, plus the RC transmitter and receiver equipment you need to fly it. Includes a highly customizable RC controller with absolutely rock solid UHF transmitter and diversity receiver.

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  • Pledge $3,499 or more
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    FPV Kit. Fly with live video from the on-board camera. Feel like you are flying, It's incredible! Includes everything in the RC kit, plus GoPro camera, video transmitter, video goggles with video receiver, and circular polarized antennas. Does not include the full MAXstation.

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  • Pledge $7,999 or more
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    MAXIMUM MAXrotor. The complete package. This is what I designed this aircraft to be. Includes a fully assembled and tested MAXrotor helicopter with everything from the Flight kit, RC kit, and FPV kit. It includes all motherboard modules (GPS, sonar, telemetry, etc.) Includes the MAXstation with video goggles and a monitor for guests, diversity and long range antennas. Includes flight simulator software for your PC. Priority tech support.

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Funding period

- (30 days)