DJI Phantom 4 vs. 3DR Solo

TL;DR – The DJI Phantom 4 is the better drone by far. The only case in which you should buy the 3DR Solo is if you are able to get it during its $600 sales (Drone + Gimbal), already own a GoPro, and are willing to use the lesser product.

Pros of the Phantom 4

  • Lighter
  • Better Battery Life
  • Better video from their in-house camera
  • More sturdy for travel with the connected legs and rigid camera attachment
  • Charger comes as one instead of separate ones for the controller and the drone batteries
  • Longer range
  • Better design with the controller (Allows for extender to be dropped)
  • USB connection instead of WiFi for connecting the controller to your phone or tablet
  • Quick connect propellers
  • White – turns out it gets less hot on sunny days (who would have figured)
  • Can easily be flown without a GPS Lock (The 3DR Solo requires you to turn on Advanced flying and also set one of the dedicated “A” or “B” buttons up for “Manual Flight” which flies it without GPS)

Pros of the 3DR Solo

  • Can be made to go faster
  • More modular (possible future attachments & Easier to fix or replace components)
  • Really cool smart flying capabilities.

Price Breakdown

 

Just a little insight into my drone purchase history. I bought both drones. I owned a DJI Phantom 4 first and had an awesome experience with it, but found it to be a bit too pricey for me. Then I saw a deal on the 3DR Solo + gimbal for $600 and I figured I would return the DJI Phantom 4 and get that instead. After obtaining the 3DR Solo, I noticed immediately a couple areas where the DJI was better, but figured I could handle it. But as I continued to fly it, the cons started adding up a bit too much and so I returned it. I am planning on obtaining a DJI Phantom 4 again in the future.

Unboxing the Bluz Dev Kit – Kickstarter

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In April of 2015 I found a Kickstarter called Bluz which offered a cloud-connected Bluetooth LE development kit that could be run off a coin cell battery for months or even years on end. The Bluz is very similar to a product called the Particle Photon released earlier last year and the Photon has quickly become one of my favorite development platforms for developing Maker projects. I figured that a Bluetooth LE dev kit would be a great addition to my maker tools.
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After a bit of wait, it arrived on my doorstep and I figured that I would record an unboxing video and a simple test with the Bluz.
Since I pledged $49, I received what they call the Wearables Kit which included one Bluz dev kit, a Coin Cell Battery Shield and an Accelerometer shield.
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The accelerometer shield that I received was not a custom Bluz created one, but actually a Sparkfun branded shield that I had already purchased on my own (an extra never hurt).
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The coin cell battery shield is unique to the Bluz and allows it to be powered off a single coin cell battery. Included in this shield is an on/off switch that is surprisingly missing from the number of other battery shields that I’ve bought and tested.
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The Bluz itself looks very similar to the Particle Photon and actually has the same footprint so that it can take advantage of the same shields as the Photon. It even piggybacks off the Particle’s online development tools and the same deployment pattern (aside from the need to be hooked to a gateway that I’ll talk more about later). One big difference in the immediate presentation of the Bluz is that it does not have a micro USB port for powering it. This is partly due to the fact that it can supposedly last longer periods of time on very little battery and its primary purpose is to not be continually connected to an outlet. The’ recommended method of powering it is to use the coin cell shield, or the VIN, or 3.3V pin
For my unboxing, I didn’t have a method of powering it through the Vin or 3.3V pin directly or a coin cell battery lying around, so I decided to use a Particle Shield Shield in order to breakout a DC Power connection (which ends up powering it through the Vin pin anyways).
The major thing to know about the Bluz is that it needs to be connected to a gateway or the Bluz iOS or Android apps in order to communicate to the cloud. While there are plans to open source the iOS and Android connection code, they haven’t been released yet and this is a pretty big limitation for anyone like myself that wants to use a direct communication line between Bluetooth devices and the Bluz. However, Bluz sells a gateway shield that can be attached to a Particle that allows up to 8 Bluz to connect to it and communicate to the cloud.
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Also, I have yet to test out the claim that it can last months or years on a single coin cell battery, but will be using it future projects and will be testing this out. There is one difference in the code that supposedly helps the Bluz achieve this feat. The code inside the loop function contains a System.sleep call in the default sketch.

I expect the Bluz to be a worthwhile investment and can’t wait to see what kinds of projects I can build with this low powered Bluetooth LE dev platform. I love that they leveraged the Particle ecosystem and online development IDE as well.

Making an Electric Longboard

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Electric longboards have been taking off lately and gaining publicity through Kickstarter campaigns and tech sites like TechCrunch, Engadget, and Tested. The most popular commercial products come from Boosted, evolve, and Marbel. However the price for a consumer board is upwards of $1000!

Because of this price, there has also been a huge movement in DIY electric longboards and the most common designs take a regular longboard and RC Car electronics to create a custom electric longboard with swappable components. This was the route that I was interested in going since I already had a regular longboard and couldn’t justify spending over $1000 on a longboard that I could build myself for less than $600.

The first step in building your own electric longboard is of course research. I found a lot of great material on forums, instructables, custom sites and blogs, but the best resource was a forum dedicated to electric vehicles which had a specific section for electric skateboards and scooters known as Endless-Sphere. From here I was able to gain insight and chat with a bunch of similarly minded DIYers who had built or were building their own electric longboards. The most common designs were a single motor setup, dual rear setup, and dual diagonal setup.

What are the differences?

Single Motor

The cheapest option to build, it’s main use is for traveling on flat ground and it is lighter due to the one motor setup. It doesn’t have as great hill riding capabilities and could burn out with too many or too long of an incline ride.

Dual Rear

This costs more than the single motor setup, and creates a size restraint on the motors since you can’t use two 63mm motors with a traditional truck. However, it allows you to ride faster, tackle more hills with less stress on the motors, and have a back-up motor in case one fails.

Dual Diagonal

Some people prefer this build over the Dual Rear because it spreads out the motorized wheels in order to give better coverage over uneven ground. The cost and performance should be relatively the same as a dual rear, but you are able to use two bigger motors for this build since you don’t have the size constraint of mounting two motors on one truck.

What do you need to build your own electric longboard?

Longboard Components

  • $20 and up – Longboard deck (there are plenty of options here, whatever floats your boat)
  • $60 – Longboard wheels (preferrably with some sort of hub that you can interface a motor pulley with, common choices are ABEC 11 Flywheels and Orangatang Kegels)
  • $50 -Longboard trucks (your choice, but I prefer the Caliber trucks since they come with decent bushings and are great stable)

Mechanical Components

  • $50 to 100 – Motor mount (Can be bought for a couple types of trucks, or made yourself and welded onto your mount or clamped)
  • $10 – Motor pulley (Can be bought for 9mm or 15mm wide belt with varying teeth. Recommended teeth are 12T, 14T, and 15T)
  • $10 – Wheel pulley (This will depend on your wheel. You can make one yourself using a CNC machine and aluminum, or you can buy one for certain types of wheels. Recommended 36T)
  • $10 – HTD5 belt (after you figure out the spacing and mounting, you’ll want to measure and buy this to fit perfectly)

Electrical Components

  • $70 – Motors (The general rule of thumb is to use a Brushless DC Outrunner motor with over 1000W and below 300 KV)
  • $110 – ESC (Electronic speed controller which determines how fast the motor should spin. Check out the VESC that is being developed specifically for electric longboards)
  • $60 – Batteries (LiPo batteries are the most common, and these are commonly used)
  • $35 – Controller (Some people used a generic RC car controller, but I went the Wiiceiver route and a Wireless Wii Nunchuck)

Total: $565 with quality parts!