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How to Build a Quad Rotor UAV October 6, 2009

Posted by emiliekopp in code, labview robot projects.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Blog Spotlight: Dr. Ben Black, a Systems Engineer at National Instruments, is documenting his trials and tribulations in his blog as he builds an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), using a SingleBoardRIO (2M gate FPGA+400MHz PowerPC processor), four brushless motors, some serious controls theory and lots of gorilla glue.

I particularly appreciate his attention to the details, stepping through elements of UAV design that are often taken for granted, like choosing reference frames, when you should use PID control, and the genius that is xkcd.

Like most roboticists, throughout the design process, he has to wear many hats. I think Ben put it best:

I think that the true interdisciplinary nature of the problems really makes the field interesting.  A roboticist has to have at minimum a working knowledge of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science / engineering and controls engineering.  My background is from the world of mechanical engineering (with a little dabbling in bio-mechanics), but I end up building circuits  and writing tons of code.  I’ve had to pick up / stumble through the electrical and computer science knowledge as I go along, and I know just enough to make me dangerous (I probably don’t always practice safe electrons…sometimes I let the magic smoke out of the circuits…and I definitely couldn’t write a bubble sort algorithm to save my life).

My point in this soap-box rant is that in the world of robotics it’s good to have a specialty, but to really put together a working system you also need to be a bit of a generalist.

For anyone even considering building a UAV (or just likes to read about cool robotics projects), I suggest you check it out. He shares his .m-files, LabVIEW code, and more. Thanks Ben.



1. FIRST Robotics Meets the President « LabVIEW Robotics - December 1, 2009

[…] is challenging, at times frustrating, for many reasons. As Dr. Ben Black had put it: “A roboticist has to have at minimum a working knowledge of mechanical engineering, […]

2. LabVIEW Robotics Connects to Microsoft Robotics Studio Simulator « LabVIEW Robotics - January 27, 2010

[…] Instruments and Microsoft have simply identified a similar need from the robotics industry. With all the hats a roboticist must wear to build a complete robotic system (programmer, mechanical engineer, controls expert, electrical […]

3. varun - April 7, 2010

We tried to learn much about quad rotor uav and its circuit boards and the sensors which are used but couldnt get the correct info…can u plz send the complete details so that we can learn and start doing project
Thanking you

emiliekopp - April 7, 2010

Hi Varun,

Here’s Ben post where he lists out all of the control circuitry and the sensors used on his quad rotor: http://decibel.ni.com/content/blogs/quadrotor/2009/08/24/hardware-part-3-control-electronics-and-sensors

Hope that helps.

4. Rachmat Sobar - September 22, 2010

Hallo Sir,

I’m interesting to undertand about your quat-rotor UAV designed. can i have the information details to learn and start doing UAV (for Heli and Fix wing), project in my country?.


emiliekopp - September 24, 2010


Check out the hyperlinks in the post. They will take you to more info on how Ben built his quad rotor UAV.

5. Rachmat Sobar - September 22, 2010

Hallo Sir,
can you send me some videos demo of your 4-rotor UAV?.

Thanks you

emiliekopp - September 24, 2010

Hi there, Rachmat.
Here’s a video of the quad rotor UAV flying, untethered:

Oh, and by the way, I’m a ma’am, not a sir. 🙂

6. Krishna Teja - November 25, 2010

Hello ma’am,

i am intrested to know about quardrotor and i want to do the project. Can i have sending details about the circuit boards and sensors

emiliekopp - November 30, 2010

Hello Krishna –
I suggest you check out the blog on ni.com that describes the project. Ben Black provides details about the hardware used to build the UAV. You’ll probably find everything you need there.
Here’s the link to the blog: http://decibel.ni.com/content/blogs/quadrotor
Take care,

7. park - December 2, 2010

Hello everybody
err.. I need a m-file for help me make stagespace
for my quadrotor.Could you please help me for that?
Thank you very much

emiliekopp - December 2, 2010

Hey there, you’re at the wrong place to find m-files. Ben is building a quadrotor programmed in LabVIEW. You’d be dealing with graphical code, not text based. Those files have .vi extensions.
I’d still suggest you check out Ben’s blog though. He provides a lot of details behind the control theory to his code, which you might be able to apply to any adaptation you’re building using m-files.

8. vishal - January 5, 2011

hi.. i am working on a project for designing a unmanned rotorcraft. i would like to know a list of R-UAV’s .. so that it can help me to go ahead.

9. vishal - January 5, 2011

i am mainly interested in the specifications .. i am basically working on small R-UAV’s … for relief/emergency purposes ..

emiliekopp - January 5, 2011

Vishal – check out the webpage I linked to in my post. Ben’s blog will have most of the information you are looking for. Good luck with your rotary UAV project.

10. vishal - January 6, 2011

the link was very interesting and helpful .. for my report i have to collect a list of quad rotors with their specifications(range, MTOW, payload etc.. ) can u help with a link, which would give these info .. ? thanks ,

11. emiliekopp - January 6, 2011

To be honest, I don’t know if Ben has calculated/documented many of these specifications. He is still in the prototyping phase and I don’t expect he’s delivered any final numbers. I would suggest you comment on his blog and ask him directly.

Sorry I can’t be of more help. Good luck.

12. Bilal - May 31, 2011

hi there,

my friends and i are building an autonomous quadcopter. it would really be great if you could assist us in how to achieve autonomous state. thank you very much

13. manjunath k - July 15, 2011

hello madan we want to build an quard rotor uav i can take care about mechanical design i am worried obout electronics part please guide me …

14. ajaykumarkannan - July 10, 2012

I’m building an autonomous quadrotor as well. I’ll actually be documenting various aspects of it and posting tutorials at http://makingaquadrotor.wordpress.com/
This is my second attempt. The first one was on an atmega32 board and a wooden chassis but this time, I’m using a Beaglebone with an aluminum chassis and I2C sensors (So I’ve just interfaced them). Check it out and I would greatly appreciate some feedback. Thanks 🙂

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