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Nov 18 2010

ArduPilot Assembly

Last Friday all of the ArduPilot parts had arrived and work had begun on assembling each of the individual components. This process was relatively simple thanks to the instructions on the DIY Drones webpage. Throughout this past week I’ve been working on getting the GPS, IMU, ArduPilot shield and the Futaba transmitter and receiver to communicate with one another. I’d like to say that this was straight forward as well, but unfortunately the ArduPilot has already been through some rough times. The first problem arose during the pre-solder process in which one of the electrical conduction pads had been removed along with the imbedded circuit wire that was attached. Although This was eventually fixed by simply bridging the header pin to the exposed wire the connection is now vulnerable to being pulled apart. As of now however, the connection has not caused any immediate problems. After this was fixed I had begun to attach the components and test their ability to “talk” to one another. This is when I had noticed that the ArduPilot board, after working perfectly for the past few hours, would either not turn on or only turn on for a few seconds under very specific powering conditions. After several hours of refining solder joints and probing the board with a volt meter I had noticed that one of the imbedded circuit wires had developed a hairline crack resulting in a poor electrical connection. This was eventually resolved by creating another bridge between one of the board’s components and a resistor. Although the ArduPilot board may not look like new, it at least functions like it’s new.

There is however, some good to come of all this trouble. I’ve become hypersensitive when working on circuit boards to sounds, smells, small sparks, overheating, smoke and fire; all of which to some degree, are a part of working with electronics. Well…maybe not the smoke or the fire parts in my case, but I’m certainly more careful with circuitry now than I was before. Nathan Seidle, founder of SparkFun electronics once declared “The New Rules of Electronics” as follows: “Build it and plug it in. If it sparks, unplug it. If it smokes, turn it off. If it heats up, check it, and plug it back in. Don’t be afraid of trying something new. That’s when you’re having the most fun.” That being said, I think I’ve been having a bit too much fun as of late.

Everything is in working order now. The IMU is detecting acceleration and moving the servos accordingly. The toggle switch for designating the flying mode is functional and the GPS is able to connect to satellites. This next week I’ll begin to work with getting the XBees to communicate with one another and installing all of this into the EasyStar’s frame. I’ll probably be doing a flight test without the ArduPilot sometime next week as well to get a feel for where the center of gravity should be located.    

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