Cheap Low-Level Autopilot System - RC Groups
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Oct 13, 2012, 07:19 PM
I think I'm inverted. Maybe.
acetech09's Avatar

Cheap Low-Level Autopilot System

I recently got an email from a friend who was curious about having a banner towed for some sports events and gatherings in the area, since he knew what I was up to in RC.

I've towed a banner before, but for the duration and scale he's talking about, I'd be waaaaay to bored and tired after 10 minutes in.

Most of the autopilot systems I've seen on this subforum are pretty advanced and expensive, when all I really need is a simple 4-point GPS autopilot with enable and disable functionality.

I'm probably not the first to ask this question, but search didn't show anything...

Any thoughts? I'm thinking that a Multiwii board or other cheap GPS-capable Quadcopter board with custom firmware would work...
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Oct 13, 2012, 09:20 PM
Registered User
I use UAV Dev Board. It requires some tweaking, but for a 4 point path, should work OK,

Oct 13, 2012, 09:37 PM
Chris Anderson
Originally Posted by t-turley
I use UAV Dev Board. It requires some tweaking, but for a 4 point path, should work OK,


The original APM 1 is just $150 with GPS included. That can use the latest ArduPlane and ArduCopter code, which can do all you want and more. It doesn't require any code compiling -- it's just a point-and-click configuration process with the great Mission Planner software.

Or the more recent APM 2, which does the same but is smaller, has better sensors and comes assembled with GPS included.
Oct 14, 2012, 06:32 AM
A man with too many toys
The APM 2.5 is probably the lowest cost autopilot that actually works. The default parameters work very well with small airplanes. They have several setups that you can load.

You only need to tune for high performance airplanes. I have a 72” electric that cruises at about 40 MPH and I only to tune a little to get it flying well. It was easy and did not take long.

Oct 15, 2012, 02:33 AM
Gary Mortimer's Avatar
Somebody has to say it, RC banner towing with an autopilot around a sports event is commercial use and would be illegal, just saying.
Oct 15, 2012, 09:47 AM
I think I'm inverted. Maybe.
acetech09's Avatar
It's still recreational... Flying it around parks and high schools and not being paid is still recreational... it just happens that my hobby recreation happens to tow a banner related to the event in the middle.

Unless I'm wrong about something.
Oct 15, 2012, 03:27 PM
Gary Mortimer's Avatar
Well if it really is your hobby then maybe. Payment in kind would be valuable consideration, by that a snack or fuel for your car to get there that sort of thing.
Oct 15, 2012, 04:32 PM
I think I'm inverted. Maybe.
acetech09's Avatar
Is it still commercial even if over a single private property with consent? I.e. using my FPV quad to do a roof inspection for a friend, and he pays me for gas (which I haven't done, but has been asked of me).
Oct 15, 2012, 04:56 PM
Gary Mortimer's Avatar
Yes, but it would be hard for the FAA to track you down.
Oct 15, 2012, 06:47 PM
Registered User
brakar's Avatar
Gary, are you serious? Please post a link to the actual law-text, I need to have a closer look at this specimen. BTW; may I drive my old mum to the train station without a taxi-license? -or help her with the tax-submission without being a tax-lawyer? without being busted? (Supposed I was living in a certain country).

With regard to low cost, simple to use autopilots, which "actually works". From my experience, there is only one which really lives up to the expectations; Gluonpilot. (I do however not have any experience with the UAV Dev Board). If you want the most mature and advanced autopilot, I would suggest paparazzi, but it is also IMO pretty complex, and not the first to choose if ease of use is the #1 criteria.
Last edited by brakar; Oct 15, 2012 at 08:02 PM.
Oct 16, 2012, 01:02 AM
Registered User
HELModels's Avatar
The original Ardupilot is available from Sparkfun for $24.95 and the IMU is available from 3Drobotics for $78.90. A GPS is necessary for waypoints.

I'm playing with this combo now with mixed results, stabilize and FBW is solid with the IMU. If I get good results with waypoints, I'll consider it a success.
Oct 16, 2012, 03:08 AM
Gary Mortimer's Avatar
@Brakar its a really thorny subject that affects all aviators and remember model aircraft don't exist any more they are all UA now, but some are operating under the guidelines of model aircraft organisations like the AMA and BMFA for instance. There are provisions for demonstration flights so that's why manufacturers can have display pilots.

Read some more about Europe's thoughts here

So if someone from outside of the UK came and flew their UA, took some pictures got paid for it and any one of the 110 licenced operators complained and the CAA took it seriously then they might find themselves in court. To date there have only been warnings issued, but lets say it was a high profile spot that had been photographed it might be taken more seriously.

In some ways this protects peoples privacy as laws are in place to actually prosecute somebody if they step over the line. These rules will eventually be harmonized throughout Europe. At the moment the UK and France are the furthest ahead.

America is simple, you just can fly for fun and that's it. There is no legal framework in place for sUAS for commercial civilian use. You have to be a government agency or education establishment to get a COA. Joe Soap cannot apply.

This is some of the way as to why flying over a sports event would be bending FAA rules

Not sure what the AMA rules would be for it though.

Of course people are getting on with it and doing stuff, it will only hit the fan when there is an accident, much like the car analogy lets say you were charging people without a taxi licence and you had an accident and your insurance company found out. They would not pay out.

Technology is way ahead of the regulators but that does not make activities legal.

Now I have totally derailed this thread I shall let you return to normal viewing, sorry Acetech
Last edited by Gary Mortimer; Oct 16, 2012 at 03:16 AM.
Oct 16, 2012, 07:06 PM
Registered User
brakar's Avatar
Gary, thanks for the links and info, lots of interesting reading!

After browsing through the docs. I do however feel an urge for expressing a need for making a few clear distinctions; On the one hand; there are laws. On the other hand; there are: regulations, recommendations, guidelines, EC recommendations, norms, standards, best practice guides,etc, etc.

IMO, there are usually plenty of good; experience, thoughts, ideas, etc. to find in the latter mentioned doc's. But, (the important distinction); they do have nothing to do with law. (Unless the law-text actually mentions one of those single doc's specifically).

BTW, any chance for a beer this winter?

Oct 17, 2012, 07:41 AM
Gary Mortimer's Avatar
If you mean a beer in South Africa then yes of course! I will be here for the Northern hemisphere winter.
Oct 18, 2012, 08:02 AM
Registered User

Low cost is elusive

There is an old expression, you want it cheap, you want it fast, you want it good, Pick any 2.

If you choose an autopilot purely on price you may be disappointed in the amount of effort it takes to ge a working system. This means slow.

To make an autopilot that is ready to use and complete out of the box, costs money, as in not cheap.

To make one that is good, as in has durability and has been tested before delivery with all the components you ordered takes time and money. If it has a clearly written English language manual as well, then that takes a lot of time as well.

So if you spend between $350 and $600 on an autopilot with GPS and OSD and a functioning Ground Control Station, you should get a working system, You can spend more but the value of the extra money spent may not be there.

Also what do you consider cheap?

When you compare $2000 to $8000 for some of the units available $600.00 is a steal if they work. If the $2000 unit does not work well it is a steal as well but for a totally different reason.

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