Controlling the AR.Drone with the iPhone is pretty cool at first. And for people who have never flown an RC aircraft, it’s a nice start. However, the drone is much more fun and maneuverable with a regular RC transmitter. MHeeLi from rcgroups.com has done an awesome job coming up with this mod. I followed his well written tutorial and I’m happily flying the drone with my Spektrum DX6i. I won’t go into a lot of details here because MHeeLi did a good job of it already. Instead I’ll focus on why you would do such a mod.
When I first got my drone, I flew it around and it was neat but it wore of quick. It wasn’t hard to fly with the iPhone, it was just weird. It’s like driving a car with a video game controller. I mean you could but it just doesn’t seem right. So from the start, I kinda wished you can use a regular transmitter. Of course someone figured it out and now we can. The non-tactile screen of the iPhone doesn’t really lend itself well for controlling an aircraft. Most of the time I wasn’t sure what position my controls were in. I wasn’t able to make very minute adjustments. It just threw me off a lot. I’m not use to it.
With this mod, you’re basically replacing the iPhone with the Yellow Jacket/recevier. I have several programmable 2.4ghz RC transmitters and I chose to use my DX6i. I could’ve used my FlySky 9x or my Frankenstein Art-Tech transmitter with a FrSky transmitter module. I like my DX6i so I started with that. I plan to eventually use my FlySky 9x with FrSky telemetry capable TX module in the future so I can monitor the battery voltage of the drone.
Obviously with the transmitter you can’t control the drone by tilting it like you would with an iPhone. But you can make more precise movements with the 2 sticks. You also increase the range of the drone. When controlling it with the iPhone via Wi-Fi, you’re getting maybe 100m of range. With a 2.4ghz radio system, you’re looking up to 2.5km or more if you have better systems. I’m okay with 500m. If I can’t see it then I won’t be able to control it.
Here’s the things you’ll need:
AsyncLabs Mini Arduino WiFi YellowJacket
DFRobot FTDI USB to Serial Basic Breakout Board (3.3V / 5V)
TURNIGY 3A UBEC w/ Noise Reduction
RC transmitter (TX)
RC receiver (RX)
Servo extension cables
This mod is very involved and requires you to solder a bit. MHeeLi’s tutorial is pretty detailed and I was able to make it work right from the start. I wouldn’t say it’s hard if you follow the directions exactly. The only thing that was foreign to me was the Arduino IDE application which I have never used before. Please view my Youtube video for more details of my experience with this mod. As usual I have tons of photos below.
The radio setup might throw you off if you never configured a transmitter before. Because terms like yaw, pitch, roll can have other names like rudder, elevator, aileron, etc. For non-aviation buffs, this will be confusing as hell. A minor issue I had was I plugged up the AUX from the Yellow Jacket to the AUX1 on my receiver. You would think that is the most logical but, it has to go into the GEAR channel on my DSM2 receiver.
For easy reference, here is how the Yellow Jacket connects to my DSM2 compatible receiver:
Roll connects to Aileron
Pitch connects to Elevator
Throttle connects to throttle
Yaw connects to rudder
Aux connects to Gear
I’m very happy with my AR.Drone now. It flies like a helicopter but is much more stable. If you let go of the sticks, it just hovers in place (on a calm day). I can still use my iPhone to control it if I want. I can even have the video down-link to the iPhone but control it with my transmitter. The best of both worlds. I hope Parrot will come out with a plug and play kit for the AR.Drone for easier conversion to a RC transmitter someday. But until then, you’re gonna have to get your hands really dirty.