Project Z

Project Z

We’re always looking for new ways to do “keyhole Archaeology”.  We (the guys at the University of Leeds Robotics and I) had a recent opportunity to access some interesting locations in a place that I will keep secret for now.  I wondered… what if we could create a small drone that could fit through a 20mm diameter drilled hole?  A 20mm drone would of course be ridiculously small, but what if it could be made in a modular way, so that a larger drone opens out into a straight line, can be pushed through the hole, and then transforms itself back into the wider, more useful shape?

The problem was, I only had two weeks to come up with something.  Some suggested that the ideas I had couldn’t work, that I would not be able to obtain suitable motors of small enough size, that the electronics could not squeeze through such a small hole, and that even if I managed to do this, the U and Z-shapes that I envisaged could not be made to balance, or would vibrate too much.  That did it, I saw it as a personal challenge…

Fortunately, I discovered that the brilliant drone builder, Simon at fishpepper had already come up with excellent 20x20mm receiver and brushless motor board designs, that were a long way towards what I needed.  I procured some boards, some brushless motors and props, and set about designing the all-important frame, in carbon-fibre composite of course, to keep it all nice and light and rigid.  The joints were arranged so that they were kept in place by friction.

I don’t do radio control very much, so I had a rather steep and rapid learning curve to get to grips with the Betaflight control software and the Taranis X7 transmitter and onboard receiver, but after some head scratching, everything was assembled and ready to go!

Z Quadcopter- partially open
Z-quadcopter – deployed configuration

But would it fly?  To my delight it did.  I had to modify some autopilot settings to get it to work just right, but it works beautifully, which may surprise some, given its unusual shape.  I had not “got my hands dirty” for sometime, so it was refreshing and rewarding to have a project that I had to create and build myself in such a short space of time.  Now I just need to find some interesting places to deploy it…

Z-Quadcopter lifting off from a piece of stone – note the dust that is kicked up!