Build complex toys and simple tools
by Tony Karp

A quadcopter is a totally new kind of aircraft
< Previous Oct 20, 2017 Next >

 - A quadcopter is a totally new kind of aircraft - Tony Karp, design, art, photography, techno-impressionist, techno-impressionism, aerial photography , drone , drones , dji , mavic pro , video , 3D printing - Books -
This is my Mavic Pro quadcopter. It's standing on its extra-tall legs. The little thing attached to its rear end is a tracking beacon that I hope will help me locate the quad if it falls into the woods.

The history of flight goes back over 100 years, but until recently, the basic types of aircraft hadn't changed much. The Mavic Pro is a quadcopter, a totally new kind of aircraft. It has many advantages over traditional aircraft, and a few disadvantages as well.

The main advantages of the quad are its agility and its ability to be precisely positioned. This makes it ideal as a camera platform. The main disadvantage is that it's terribly inefficient, with short flight times. It can't be scaled up to compete with commercial aircraft.

Airplanes have wings and flaps. They're very good at going from point A to point B, and that's about it. Helicopters are more agile, can hover, and have been used as camera platforms for years. Think of those breathtaking scenes from Lawrence of Arabia, or car chases, or a view of the city at night. But helicopters are expensive to operate and they can't go just anywhere. They're agile, but they can't do things like easily moving sideways or being able to be programmed in advance.

Another problem with helicopters is that they are mechanically complex. The main rotor has a series of mechanical linkages that continuously varies the pitch of the rotor's individual blades. This part requires lots of maintenance, adding to the cost of operation.

Nevertheless, helicopters will still be used by the movies for their advantages, like being able to carry heavy cameras, or staying airborne for long periods of time.

A quadcopter can duplicate the helicopter's moves, but with a very big difference. Flying a helicopter to do these sorts of moves is very difficult and requires years of training and practice. Quadcopters like the Mavic have an onboard computer that takes most of the skill out of these maneuvers and presents a beautifully simple interface to the flyer.

Compared to a helicopter, a quadcopter is quite simple. No tail rotors, or adjustable-pitch rotors. All it has are the four motors and the four propellers, arranged roughly in a square. The only thing the quad's little brain can do is change the individual speed of each of the propellers. By doing this one simple thing, it can set the quad in the most complex of maneuvers. Let's see how that works.

Imagine the quadcopter hovering motionless in the air. All four motors running at about the same speed. Now imagine that the onboard control system raises the speed on the two motors at the rear of the craft. The back of the quad now has more lift and it raises up and starts to move forward. Speed up the front motors instead and the copter moves backwards. The same thing for moving side to side. Or even for moving at an angle by speeding up one of the motors at the corner.

These forward/backward/sideward moves are all handled by the right joystick. But, thanks to the interface, you don't have to think about individual motors going faster or slower. All you do is push the joystick in the direction you want the quad to fly.

Pushing the left joystick forward or backward causes the quadcopter to go straight up or down. It does this by speeding up or slowing down all four motors at the same time.

Pushing the left joystick to the left or right causes the quadcopter to turn on its axis. The theory behind how it can do this with just its four untiltable motors is left as an exercise for the student.

All the time that the quadcopter is in flight, even when it's just hovering, the flight control system has to make sure that the craft stays stable, without bouncing around too much. This is done with an accelerometer that feeds into the control system, with the same sort of inputs as the optical image stabilizer in your camera, with much the same effect.

It's impossible for the flight control system to smooth out all the nastiness as the quad goes zipping around. This is where the three-axis gimbal that holds the camera come into play. The three motors in the gimbal can pan, tilt, and roll the camera so that it always stays on target. I've seen the Mavic bouncing around during flight, especially during a landing. But the videos that I shot were always rock-solid.

The beauty of this is that all of this technology has been used to present a very simple interface so that you can concentrate on your photography instead of the nastiness that a pilot would see while putting an aircraft through complex maneuvers.

I hope that this has helped to explain how the Mavic, and similar multi-rotor craft, manage to leverage a lot of technology to make the ideal camera platform.

< Previous Oct 20, 2017 Next >

Copyright 1957-2023 Tony & Marilyn Karp
Web Site Design
Systems Design
The Future
Recent Entries
Cine-Simulator Samples * T-Zoom
Cine-Simulator Samples * The Muse's Eyes
Geeks vs Gurus * The cinematography edition
The Zen of Zooming
Why smartwatches failed, and how to fix it - Part 3
Why smartwatches failed, and how to fix it - Part 2
Why smartwatches failed, and how to fix it - Part 1
Some pictures from my smartphone
My fix for bird strikes on my window
Goodbye, Columbus
At an old curiosity shop in Purcellville
Smartphone vs camera -- Why you need both
Raw vs JPEG with the P30 Pro's super-wide camera
At the Air and Space Museum with a Huawei P30 Pro
A tribute to the architect, I.M. Pei
A blast from the past - Music's golden age
Green eggs and ham. And onions. And cheddar.
A blast from the past
Hidden views -- Discoveries from my drone
Will the FAA stop regulating hobby drones?
Here's a panorama from my Mavic, and two more
A quadcopter is a totally new kind of aircraft
Taking to the air -- First flights
Let's talk about the Mavic Pro's camera
A different viewpoint
The value of time in the creative process
Variations on a skink
Andy shoots raw. Ann always shoots JPEG
A butterfly in Havana -- From start to finish
Recovering highlight detail in JPEG images
A tribute to Paris on November 14, 2015
Some black and white pictures from long ago
Panasonic DMC-ZS40 pictures - Part 2
Panasonic DMC-ZS40 pictures - Part 1
Art in the 3rd Dimension -- A butterfly takes wing
Shooting for NBC
What's new at the zoo?
On being a photojournalist
Some pictures of Manassas
Finishing a picture
Watching the sunset in Adams Morgan
A night at the circus - 1966
Fortune Qwerkies (tm) -- Fortune cookies for the smartphone user
Art in the 3rd Dimension -- The evolution from flat to solid
Art in the 3rd Dimension -- Showing how the pieces fit together
Getting a grip on the Panasonic DMC-LF1
Some random thoughts about the Panasonic DMC-LF1
The Panasonic DMC-LF1 is a game-changer
Art and the Zen of QR Codes -- Making QaRt
A new process for printing art in the 3rd dimension
Bubbles! Bubbles! Bubbles!
Photographing the Perry Como Show
Hiking at Sky Meadows with my Panasonic DMC-ZS20
Working for the union
A new take on JPEG vs raw - Panasonic DMC-ZS20
Some pictures from my Panasonic DMC-ZS20 - Part 2
Some pictures from my Panasonic DMC-ZS20 - Part 1
My new go-everywhere camera - Panasonic DMC-ZS20
My brief life in the studio
Shooting Shakespeare - The Tempest - NBC, 1960
Impressionist bees
In the studio with Roz Kelly
At the Peppermint Lounge - 1962
An evening with Gene Kelly
A portrait of Donna Mitchell - Variations on a theme
The "Sky Dream Ultimate" plug-in from Wilkington-Smythe
Post-processing: Going from good to great
Winter pictures from my Panasonic DMC-FZ150
Using the Panasonic DMC-FZ150's "Photo Style" Menu
A valentine for the Artist's Muse
The Panasonic DMC-FZ150's controls
Some thoughts on the Panasonic DMC-FZ150 - Part 2
The Panasonic DMC-FZ150 - A cure for DSLR envy?
Some thoughts about my Panasonic DMC-FZ150 - Part 1
The Panasonic DMC-FZ150 -- Best camera ever?
Sunglasses - What can you add to a picture?
Hey, camera makers. If my smartphone can do this
The Artmuse Variations - a look inside my new book
A tribute to George Washington on Veterans Day
A visit to the White House
The little farmhouse, the tractor, and the interesting tree
Buckminster, the baby buckeye butterfly
Memories of September 11
Happy Corporation Day!
A trip to Monterey and San Francisco
The first battle of the American Civil War -- 150 years ago
The end of an era -- The last American manned mission
Growing an Italian stone pine tree
Random thoughts on art and other stuff - From my new book
Playing with a classic - Sony DSC-R1 - Part 3, Warrenton
Playing with a classic - Sony DSC-R1 - Part 2, In the house
Playing with a classic - Sony DSC-R1 - Part 1, Winter
Some recent pictures
Fixing a Panasonic DMC-FZ18/FZ28/FZ35 problem
Into the world of shadows
A walk through Warrenton
Partly moony with my Panasonic DMC-FZ35
My new Panasonic DMC-FZ35 - Part 3 - Video
Some pictures from my Panasonic DMC-FZ35 - Part 2
Happy birthday to muse...
Pixels and parking lots -- The Panasonic FZ35
Some pictures from my Panasonic DMC-FZ35
My new Panasonic DMC-FZ35 - Part 2
My new Panasonic DMC-FZ35 - Part 1
On our way to Warrenton
Evolution of an Iris
A new feature in Adobe Camera Raw 5.4
A tribute to the Apollo 11 astronauts
The pole dancer - Variations on a theme
Restoring lost highlight detail in JPEG images
A short course in photography in ten easy lessons
Kodachrome memories
A walk in the woods on my birthday
Mythbusters - More raw vs JPEG myths
Restoring lost shadow detail in JPEG images
Expose for the highlights, develop for the shadows
Something new -- Interchangeable cameras
Honey, I shrunk the newspaper - The "Nano" NY Times
Mistaking evolution for revolution
Some pictures from the artist's muse
Photography becomes art -- Daibutsu Buddha at Kamakura
Happy House-i-versary
25 random things about the artist's muse
It happened at the Met
Some pictures and some settings - Part 4 - DMC-FZ28
Some pictures and some settings - Part 3 - DMC-FZ28
Some pictures and some settings - Part 2 - DMC-FZ28
Some pictures and some settings - Panasonic DMC-FZ28
Noiseography -- A new photographic technique
Shooting infrared with the Panasonic DMC-FZ28
You're never too young
One month with the Panasonic DMC-FZ28
A trip to Berryville - Panasonic DMC-FZ28
It's the Hobbitt's birthday
On September 11th
Shooting Tri-X with the Panasonic DMC-FZ28
A shot in the dark - Panasonic DMC-FZ28
Sunset and the far-up lens -- Panasonic DMC-FZ18
Further musings on the Panasonic DMC-FZ28
Customizing your camera for high-ISO photography
Panasonic DMC-FZ28 vs DMC-FZ18 at high ISO
Some musings about the Panasonic DMC-FZ28
Hummers, SUVs, DSLRs, and my DMC-FZ28
Panasonic DMC-FZ28 -- At the Flying Circus
Panasonic DMC-FZ28 -- The journey begins
Farewell, my Panasonic DMC-FZ18
More about the settings for the DMC-FZ18
Dealing with the modes and settings of the DMC-FZ18
Photography becomes art - Bird on a wire
The artist's muse at sunset -- DMC-FZ18
Do you need fancy equipment?
Now here's my plan
Good cookie, bad cookie
But seriously, folks...
Post-processing Mr. Squirrel
A museum of one's own
We need new words to describe what's happening
Going over to the dark side
Shooting the moon
Happy Anniversary, Hobbitt
The view from my window - DMC-FZ18
My favorite museum
A toast to the artist's muse
The DMC-FZ18, a sunset, and a glass of beer
Remembering Herbert Keppler
Shooting abstracts with the Panasonic DMC-FZ18
Fixing a Panasonic DMC-FZ18 problem
More pictures from my Panasonic DMC-FZ18
The journey of a thousand Melvins
Stairway to the stars -- Extreme post processing
DMC-FZ18 - Raw vs JPEG - The JPEG Manifesto
Chromatic aberration and the DMC-FZ18
Raw vs JPEG, the DMC-FZ18, and a mystery
Some pictures from my Kodak P880 - Part 2
Some pictures from my Panasonic DMC-FZ18
Some pictures from my Kodak P880 - Part 1
DMC-FZ18 - Don't be afraid of the dark
Shooting in "Medium" - DMC-FZ18 - The right exposure
Shooting in "Medium" and the Panasonic DMC-FZ18
In-use review -- Panasonic DMC-FZ18 - Part 2
In-use review -- Panasonic DMC-FZ18 - Part 1
Photography becomes art - Fantasy at Ida Lee
Photography becomes art - The chefs at Little Washington
My new old camera - the Kodak Easyshare P880
Photography becomes art - Variations on a theme
All the (art) news that's fit to print
The museum becomes art - #1
Photography becomes art - Making an angel
How to test a camera
Hitting the wall
Extreme post-processing - Working with infrared
Blogging 2.0 - A new interface
A funny thing happened on my way to the blog
In the beginning...