DRONES ACCESSORIES

Quadcopter Flight Controllers: The Process Behind Every Quadcopter

Quadcopter Flight Controllers
Jack Brown
Written by Jack Brown

Ever wondered what makes the quadcopter what it is today? A dozen of processes definitely! A quadcopter requires a number of components in order to work smoothly and the flight controller is one of the most important in the list. The quadcopter flight controller is basically the point of contact between the device and the user. Whatever information you feed into the transmitter will be conveyed to the quadcopter by means of the flight controller.

Basically, the flight controller is nothing but a circuit board that manages the functioning of the drone. If you want it to move in a certain direction, all you have to do is put in the controls and the circuit board will then manipulate the motors of the device likewise. It is basically the nervous system of the quadcopter.

Drone Flight Controller

Also, because the controller comes with so many sensors, they can give us accurate information with respect to the position and other details of the copter in the air. The efficiency of a quadcopter is hugely dependent on the flight controller as it is the component that processes all the functions and the controls that manage the flight of the drone.

Today, we are going to discuss the best flight controllers with all their important features.

Best Quadcopter Flight Controllers on The Market

The controllers that are used with quadcopters are just as important as the quality and capabilities as the quadcopters themselves. Without a quality fly controller to a quadcopter, the entire thing is practically useless. Applications exist for this purpose, but some applications are simply not as good as the controllers.

Hobbypower KK2.15

Size: 4.7 x 3.1 x 0.8 inchesHobbypower KK Mini

Weight: 8.6 grams

Signal from Receiver:  1520us

Special features: Customer self-update function, adjustable signal to motors, polarity protection, added stability through 6050 MPU updates

Best for: Those who want an upgrade from the previous version

The Hobbypower KK2.15 is a next generation flight controller board that hosts multi-rotor drone types. All you have to do is install the board into your drone, select the type of craft that it is, check the propeller direction and motor layout, calibrate the ESCs and the radio, and you’re good to go.

This specific board has been updated from the first of its line for a more sensitive 6050 MPU system and an additional auto-levelling function.

Check the price on Amazon

DJI NAZA-M V2

Size: 5 x 3.7 x 31 inchesDji Naza

Weight: 10.4 ounces

Compatible Receivers: PPM and S-Bus

Special features: GPS, automatic course deviation compensation, altitude stabilization algorithm, IOC, error identification and warning, IMU advanced calibration, RTL

Best for: Hexacopter and Octocopter users

The DJI Naza M V2 flight controller has revamped the first of its kind and added more features. It has support that is specifically designed for hexacopters and octocopters to ensure that a safe landing is possible should an unexpected motor fail occur.

The upgraded version includes GPS, RTL, and better position holding capabilities for improved flight performance. The automatic course deviation compensation reduces any effect of a magnetic disturbance and overall interference in regard to the compass, as well.

Check the price on Amazon

New Pixhawk PX4 2.4.6

Size: 81.5 mm x 50 mm x 15.5 mmNew Pihawk

Weight: 1.1 pounds

Compatible Receiver: PPM

Special features: External multi-colored LED, dual full angle LED, NuttX RTOX real time operation system, automatic and manual mode, Micro SD

Best for: Aerial photography drones

The New Pixhawk PX4 2.4.6 flight controller board has 32 bit chip technology and integrated sensor technology. This allows for the need of an 8-bit APM or CPU to be eliminated. It includes an external multi-colored LED and a main controller efficiency that allows for alternate backup control.

Both automatic and manual modes are available and provide a redundant power supply failover and input. The Micro SD allows for images and a storage device overall.

Check the price on Amazon

LHI Pro Racing F3 Flight Controller

Size: 36 mm x 36 mm x 30.5 mmLHI Pro Racing Flight Controller

Weight: 0.2 ounces

Compatible Receivers: SBus, SumH, SumD, Spektrum1024/2048, XBus, PPM, and PWM

Special features: RGB LED strip support, Autotune, In-Flight PID Tuning, blackbox flight data logging, OneShot ESC, additional PID controllers

Best for: Racing mini FPV quadcopters

The LHI Pro Racing F3 Flight Controller is perfect for mini quads that are both made for racing and have FPV capabilities. It allows for easier maintenance with future developments with the software, features an RGB LED strip support, blackbox flight data logging, and allows for multiple different flight controllers.

You can use a CC3D, CJMCU, and a Sparky as your choice. It supports more than 8 RC channels, which makes it perfect for racing.

Check the price on Amazon

HobbyKing Race 32 Micro

Size: 30 mm x 18 mmHobbyKing Race

Weight: 5 grams

Compatible Receivers: SBus, SumH, SumD, Spektrum 1024/20148, XBus, PPM, and PWM

Special features: Blackbox flight log recorder, built-in inverter, battery monitoring buzzer port, protective case, cross-platform GUI

Best for: Fixed wing quads of all types and quads designed for racing

The HobbyKing Race32 Micro is designed to have a critical weight reduction that is vital where racing drones are concerned. This allows for less weight and faster speeds as a result.

The ARM-Cortex M4 Core uses a floating point hardware unit that allows for more efficient loop times and flight calculations that will be twice as fast when compared to STM2 F1 boards, the previous generation. It also includes an output dedicated for programmable LEDs, as well.

Check the price on Amazon

AbuseMark Naze32 Flight Controller

Size: 6 x 4 x 0.4 inchesAbuseMark Naze32

Weight: 0.3 ounces

Compatible Receivers: PWM, PPM, Sum, Spektrum Satellite

Special features: Onboard Micro USB, bright LEDs, MultiWii-based configuration system, standalone camera stabilizer

Best for: Aerial photography drones

The AbuseMark Naze 32 Flight Controller has a 3-axis MEMS gyro and an accelerometer, the MPU6050, 3-axis magnetometer, the HMC5883L. It incorporates motor outputs that are fully flexible and allows for multiple airframe types for quads, hexas, tris, bis, Y4s, octos, and camera gimbals in general. You can get up to 8 RC channels through standard receivers.

The 16Mbit onboard SPI flash onboard Micro USB allows for an easier setup and total configuration. The software is MultiWii-based.

Check the price on Amazon

TAULABS SPARKY 2.0 Flight Controller

Size: TauLabs Sparky Flight Controller

Weight: 2.1 ounces

Signal from Receiver:  RFM22b

Special features: Can be connected for better connectivity through an RCVR, Flexi, 12C Auce, Main, or USB, dual analog input for current monitoring and overall voltage, runs an external magnetometer, OSD, GPS, FrySky Telemetry support for Sensor Hub and/or S. Port receivers, 3-axis gyro

Best for: High-speed drones, including racing but more for drones that are generally fast regardless if they are for racing or not. Also good for drones that use Waypoint, have a more complicated scripting, such as the PicoC coding, and those that are used mainly for flight logging

The TauLabs Sparky 2.0 Flight Controller features an additionally powerful processor that has had improvements from the prior generation. It includes a STM32F4 processor that runs at 165MHz, and also brings increased flash and memory to the table, as well.

There is a full sensor suite, 3-axis gyro, and a brushless, external gimbal that aids in the necessity of POI tracking and control from the transmitter over to the gimbal itself.

Check the price on Amazon

OpenPilot CC3D Flight Controller

Size: 3.4 x 2.3 x 0.9 inchesOpenPilot CC3D Flight Controller

Weight: 0.3 ounces

Compatible Receivers: PWM and PPM

Special features: 128KB flash, 20KB RAM, 3-aix high-performance MEMs gyro, 3-axis high-performing MEMs accelerometer, 4-layer PCB, software is supported by Linux as well as Windows and Mac, direct high-speed USB support without a driver needed, 4Mbits onboard EEPROM for storage configuration, CC3D, CopterControl boards, can be paired with a mini-USB, RC harness

Best for: More complicated, sophisticated drones that require more work where software and hardware are concerned

The OpenPilot CC3D Flight Controller board is a very extensive, thorough controller board that allows for quite a bit. You can even hack it to obtain the free software, unless you purchase it. The install packages are provided. The RC harness allows for a connection to be established to any PWM standard receiver of your choice.

The can either use the 12C connectivity, the single serial port, the dual serial port, or whatever you may want to use. It supports a high-speed USB without support from a driver, and come with OpenPilot integrated software for the purpose of ease of use and usability for users of all ages.

Check the price on Amazon

Uses of flight controller

When it comes to flying a quadcopter, the pilot has absolute control. However, it is close to impossible to control all the four motors at once. This is where the flight controller comes in. This small circuit board is capable of channeling the RPM of each motor of the device in response to the input fed into it.

For instance, a pilot just feeds in the command to move forward in the flight controller. This device then works on the command and decides how to manipulate the motors to achieve this goal.

The flight controller is an essential component of the whole setup as this is what gives the user the power to maneuver the device according to his/her desires. But, if you’re a beginner is a bit difficult to imagine how a flight controller looks like or does. So, let’s see, in detail, what these flight controllers actually do.

Racing Flight Controller

Firstly, the flight controller receives the signals from the operator’s transmitter. This allows the commands and instructions of the user to reach the quadcopter midair. The flight controller is also useful for functioning alongside sensors that are placed on board for a smooth flight. These would include devices like an accelerometer, gyroscopes and the likes.

The controller has yet another function. A quadcopter is a multirotor that comes packed with four different motors. Each motor has a specific speed. So, the flight controller is capable of computing the speed of each of the four motors, and then it sends a signal to the Electronic Speed Controllers or ESCs. This facilitates a smoother flight.

Electronic Speed Controllers

But there is something really interesting about flight controllers. Each of these functions mentioned above can be performed by the quadcopter flight controller numerous times, which leads to an efficient flight. The devices actually come equipped with a number of sensors in order to help them do the calculations for the motor speeds and the likes.

Sensors in a flight controller

Different quadcopter flight controllers come with different sensors. Below is a list of some of the most common sensors available with these programmable controllers.

The accelerometer

First and foremost, almost all flight controllers have an accelerometer. This is essentially a device that measures the linear acceleration of the copter in a 3-axis system. This sensor gives an output that allows the user to make an idea of the position of the drone.

Flight Controler With Accelerometer

The simple fact that an accelerometer is able to detect and respond to gravity means that it stays stable in the air, ensuring a smooth flight. The correct way to mount an accelerometer on to a flight controller board is by aligning the linear axis of the device with the primary axis of the UAV.

The gyroscope

Just like the accelerometer, the gyroscope is useful for measuring the rate of angular change. Once again, this can be measured up to 3 axes. However, you need to do some iteration in order to get the angle. The rotational axis of the sensor should align with the UAV axis.

Inerta measurement unit (IMU)

This part of the quadcopter flight controller consists of both the gyroscope and the accelerometer. There are some systems that combine the use of a magnetometer and the likes.

Flight Controller With Inerta measurement unit (IMU)

The magnetometer

As the name suggests, this sensor is basically an electronic compass placed on the controller board. This is especially required to align the drone’s direction as compared to the magnetic field of the earth.

The Barometer

A barometer, as we know, is a device for measuring pressure. A pressure sensor on the drone can give us an accurate value of the height of the device from the sea level. The most accurate information about the height is given by the combination of the pressure sensor and the GPS altitude.

The distance sensor

A distance sensor is being incorporated in the most modern quadcopter flight controllers. This basically improves on the height value given by the pressure sensor or the barometer.

Distance Sensor

A distance sensor can be ultrasonic, laser or LIDAR technology.

How to choose the best controler?

There are different types of quadcopter flight controllers in the market and, to help you decide on best one, below are some factors you could consider.

Flying style

Before we jump into purchasing a quadcopter and wanting to fly it like a pro pilot, we need to understand that there are different styles of flying and one flight controller is usually best suited for one specific style.

Drone Cinema Flying

So first make a choice on your flying style. Here are some options:

  • Cinema flying – This is a term used to denote flying purposes that are essentially meant for obtaining smooth videos. These might be used for the purposes of moviemaking as well. For this, you will need to have a flight controller that has dampened flight characteristics and slow control stick rates. The latter means that you will have to maneuver it slowly, instead of giving it a sudden push.
  • Autonomous flying – This is another rather important style of flying. A lot of flyers, especially beginners, look to fly the quadcopter without using too many controls. For this, you would need a controller that is able to do maximum work like auto take-off and auto landing.
  • Sport flying – Sport flying is the most exciting and adventurous flying styles of all. This is also quite different from the other two since here, you would be required to make quick changes in the flight of the device and you would have to vary between very aggressive and very passive maneuvers. Also, if you are racing with other pilots, you would need your flight controller to support you in the quest. The device should be able to move on from fast roll rates and hold a particular angle. This is why a sports quadcopter flight controller is a real challenge to use.

FPV Drone Racing

Open source flight controller

This is another aspect you should keep in mind before you go and purchase the controls for yourself. In an open source board, you have the choice to bring in changes on to your board, add or remove features as and when desired.

Price

There are quadcopter flight controllers in different ranges in the market now, but you have to choose the best suited to your needs. For a beginner, it is best to opt for a cheap device since this might get damaged within time. If you choose to go for an expensive control board, make sure the quality of the setup is strong enough for the money.

Drone Flight Controller

Here are a few features to keep in mind for a good flight control:

  • Gyro stabilization – this allows the pilot to keep the quadcopter stable in midair and well under control.
  • Self-leveling – this is a rather useful feature that allows the quadcopter to stay level in the air by letting go of the pitch.
  • Orientation mode – a quadcopter having an orientation mode gives the pilot the chance to control the orientation of the drone.
  • Altitude hold – this feature allows the quadcopter to hover and remain stable at a certain distance from the ground level and the pilot does not have to keep adjusting the throttle.
  • Position hold – similar to the altitude hold, this feature allows the quadcopter to stay at a fixed position or location.
  • Return home – this is a special feature that is present in a lot of copters which allows the device to return to its initial position of takeoff even when the flyer loses control.
  • Waypoint navigation – this is another exciting feature in a copter. By virtue of this quality, the device can follow a few points marked out on a map as part of the flight plan.
  • GPS – this feature has been gaining a lot of importance lately. It not only allows the device to maintain its position but also keeps a record of the flying data for convenience.

Quadcopter Value

Not sure what model to buy?

If you still haven’t decided, take into consideration the reviews mentioned above. Keep in mind that all these information come from people who already tested these flight controllers and are happy with the result. Overall, flight controllers are important to quadcopters in order to have a safe and smooth flight. However, there ups and downs with these products and below are listed some of the most important ones.

PROS:

  • The flight controllers come equipped with a number of sensors that give us accurate information about the drone, including the pressure, the height, the direction and the likes.
  • These devices convey the instructions and commands of the user to the quadcopter in order to give it some directions.
  • The controller can also help control and manipulate the motors in order to attain the desired speed for the quadcopter.
  • However, there are some disadvantages using a flight controller as well.
 CONS:

  • A quadcopter flight controller is a very fragile object and can get damaged very easily due to the windy conditions or a few occasional crashes. So you have to be ready to get replacement parts as and when required.
  • Some of the sensors need to be wrapped or protected with foam, lest the winds break them.

In conclusion, a flight controller is definitely an invincible and vital part of the quadcopter. Care should be taken while choosing it based on your requirements. Which one are you going to pick? Let us know in comments!

About the author
Jack Brown
Jack Brown

Jack is the Chief Pilot at MyDroneLab.com bringing experience, expertise and knowledge in this quite new industry. He is a graduate of the Drone/UAV Pilot Training Certificate program and member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Besides having all the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to drones, Jack and his team love to spend the time outside by the ocean, working on new features and teaching others how to pilot these amazing and exciting new robots.

  • Christopher Mills

    It’s very interesting how important is this item in any drone. It stores everything that allows it to fly, listens for commands from the controller and even allows you to rotate the camera.

    • I appreciate your views. It is like the brain of drone.

  • George Patterson

    I have bought the Crazepony EMAX Skyline32 Flight Controller and I must say I really liked it. It doesn’t have pins that stick out and make the drone to look ugly. It also has a really simple set up. I had no problems connecting it with my OSD controller, and the connecting itself was pretty easy. However, it is a really delicate flight controller that can be broken if not handled right.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with us George 🙂

  • Mike Walker

    I got the CycleMore NAZER 32 10DOF and I’m amazed by it. Awesome flight controller. I think it is the best flight controller out there because it offers so much functionality. Great beginner flight controller.

    • Jack Brown

      Yes, it is one of the best beginner controller available on the market! Glad to know that you had great experience with it, and thanks for sharing!

  • Daryl Lu

    With the hobby fastly growing, there will be lots of options in the market. Choosing a quadcopter controller would be like choosing a car brand with lots of factors to consider. But for me, the most important features to look into are self-leveling (the ability of the controller to bring the craft to a level position when you let go of the sticks), position hold (the ability of the controller to hold a position using GPS signal against wind or other environmental factors), and the return-to-home feature (the ability of the controller to automatically return the quadcopter home if it looses signal with the transmitter).

  • Jack Brown

    I agree, those are the most important features in my book as well 🙂 Thanks for your opinion, Daryl!

  • Pauline Smith

    YKS CC3D flight controller is on-top of my list as a powerful unit to be used efficiently with the latest CleanFlight technology. I have had the privilege to use it on my FPV 250 quadcopter. In fact, any entry level hobbyist can manage to maneuver the quad with this flight controller. With the GCS software, it becomes easy to configure it and follow the instructions. I also like the fact that it is inexpensive.

    • Jack Brown

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience with this flight controller! Always a good thing to hear the actual user talking about a certain drone part. Thanks again, Pauline, much appreciated!

  • NAWRAJ LAMSAL

    I am new in this field and thinking to choose CC3D. Hope i”ll get the better result.if any suggestion needed i’ll share with Jack. Pl help me.

    • Jack Brown

      Well, your choice is not bad, but what do you plan to do with your quad? That would help me in giving you the right suggestion for the FC choice.

0
0
Total
0
Shares