Quadcopters are all the rage right now for amateur drone projects and hobby flying, and it’s no wonder; a quadcopter has outstanding speed, maneuverability, and payload capacity. They are as fun to fly as they are useful, but unfortunately they tend to be something else: prohibitively expensive.
But the R10, an open source quadrotor designed by Universal Air, may be about to change that. With its monstrous success on Kickstarter, having blown past its funding goal in under 30 hours, a highly capable and customizable quadcopter at a reasonable price looks to be right around the corner.
The R10 is designed to address the core problem with current quadrotor vehicles: the extreme cost. Instead of costing thousands or even tens of thousands for an extendable quadcopter platform, the R10 comes in at only $370 for the complete ready-to-fly kit. If you provide your own radio, that cost comes down to just $300.
While there are existing quadcopters at this price point, such as the Parrot AR.Drone, these craft are only slightly more than toys. The R10 on the other hand, is a vastly more capable system. Whether you just want to fly it around for fun, or have some kind of payload you want to fly on it (such as a camera), the R10 can handle it.
Open Source Flight Controller
There are already a number of choices for quadcopter kits on the market, but what really makes the R10 stand out is its open source flight controller. This device has been designed in-house by Universal Air, and with its source completely available to the public, it can easily be modified and improved by the community.
The flight controller, known as Thalamus, is based around an impressive 72 MHz ARM processor, which gives it plenty of speed to perform the rapid and complex functions required to keep the R10 in the air. The Thalamus also makes clever use of its USB port, such as firmware updates which are performed by simply dragging and dropping a new firmware file onto the USB drive which appears when it’s plugged in. The USB port can also be used to directly control the Thalamus (and through that, the aircraft) with high level programming languages.
Thanks to the R10s high payload capacity and the direct control offered via the Thalamus, it would be possible to do things like carry a small embedded computer (such as the Raspberry Pi) which has direct control over the aircraft. This could open up a whole new era of low cost unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), where students and experimenters can get a completely computer controlled aircraft up and flying for less than $500.
Supporting the R10
Since the R10 Kickstarter campaign has nearly hit 300% funding with a full 25 days to go, you may think you can sit this one out; and just grab an R10 once they actually enter production.
But the team at Universal Air have several functionality upgrades planned which they have decided to develop as incentives to push the campaign even farther: the more money they generate, the more features move from planning stages and into the final hardware.
If you’ve ever wanted to play with a serious quadcopter but didn’t think you could afford one, of if you would just like to help fund the next generation of drone technology, Universal Air’s R10 is definitely a project to keep your eye on.