Unlocking the power of the Micro Drone 3.0

This project is about reverse engineering the hugely successful Indiegogo project: Micro Drone 3.0, porting a fw, and upgrading the hw.

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Micro Drone 3.0 was a hugely successful crowdfunding project on Indiegogo, promising people a small, yet nimble and fast quadcopter, with a wireless camera for recording videos and FPV.

They delivered, and I think it's quite nice, but there are a few things I think we can improve. :-)

What is this Micro Drone 3.0 you refer to?

Indiegogo project about making a small, fun, customizable drone:

Why are you working on this project?

  • It's fun, and I'm fascinated with robotics, vehicles and especially stuff that flies.
  • I like to know what's going on "behind the scenes"
  • I would like to learn more about control theory and what it takes to make something stay in the air
  • Customize and improve the product, work on the shortcomings of the product
  • I would like to have a drone that I can use for areal photography, where I don't have to worry so much about the controls, but more about getting the shot, but also not spend thousands of dollars on a drone.

Why the MD3.0 instead of *insert random other drone*?

  • It's affordable (not too cheap, but also not $1000+ beast)
  • It's safe(r) than bigger drones: I'm a noob drone flier, so I'd rather have this one fall out of the sky than a bigger model
  • It's reasonable quality
  • It's powerful enough to carry some (very) small payload

What are the shortcomings of the MD3.0?

  • It lacks sensory inputs for more "high end" features like altitude hold, gps lock, etc
  • The firmware is closed source, so it can't be tweaked

What kind of mods are you thinking about?

  • Alternate (open source) firmware, which would enable more features (fx. acro mode)
  • Add a compass + barometer for it to know heading + altitude
  • Upgrade the 720p@30fps camera to a 1080p@30-60p with an ultra wide angle lense (110+ degrees)

  • Day 0 - The basics #1

    Attila Sukosd06/07/2016 at 18:07 2 comments

    The back story

    To start off the project, the first step was to crack open the drone, and look at how things were setup. I probably wouldn't have started fiddling with it if one of the MOSFETs on one of the motor ports would not have smoked.

    Unfortunately it seems that some people face this with their drones, as I've seen a couple of complains on the Micro Drone 3.0 Google+ group around it. Anyway, I've emailed Extreme Fliers about the problem, and they have promptly shipped a replacement PCB for free of charge! Thanks EF!! :-)

    To cut the story short, I ended up having a surplus PCB with more or less everything working except the driver for a single motor, which makes it the perfect candidate to reverse engineer.

    The grand plan

    To get started with the project, I had the following plan to see if it's even feasible:

    • Take a glance at the PCB and try to deduce components
    • Research and identify each individual component
    • Research if other drones also use these components
    • Try to figure out the wiring between the components (come up with some sort of a schematics at the end)
    • Identify a way to interface with the micro controller to be able to program (and debug if possible)
    • Try to backup original firmware (if possible)
    • Create a small firmware which confirms that my code runs on the MD3.0!

    The hardware

    After scraping off some glue off the PCB, and reading off the text from the different ICs, the 3 main components of the drone are:

    • STM32F031K4: An ARM Cortex-M0 microcontroller, with 16K flash and 4K ram
    • MPU-6050: A six-axis Gyro + Accelerometer with MEMS MotionTracking
    • XN297: 2.4Ghz RF chip for communicating with the transmitter

    + some LEDs, motor drivers, and etc.

    Research on other drones with similar hardware

    After googling for a bit, it turns out that there are at least a couple of drones that use the same (or quite similar) set of hardware components, including the Cheerson CX-10, so there is definitely hope of getting something up and running. Reading through the threads, and looking at the github projects, gave some encouragement that I'm not completely alone in trying to figure out stuff, so there would be some people to reach out to for some help.

    Generally I'm quite impressed with the RC geeks community at RCGroups, those guys really know what they're talking about! I've joined the site early 2007 when I wanted to work on an autonomous solar powered glider, but like it always is, life took over, and that project never materialized. The frame of the glider with it's 2 meter wing span does make a great lamp cover though... I still haven't give up hope on it completely... :-)

    Interfacing with the micro-controller

    To figure out how much effort would it be to get some code running on the STM32, I had to research a bit about how to connect to it. After looking at the PCB for a bit, I've noticed a number of TPs (test points) broken out on it.

    Since I've been through designing some electronics a couple of times already, I could assume that these TPs that are exposed are used for production testing + programming of the chips, since this is how I would have designed it too. However I couldn't see a clear set of headers that sometimes comes with electronics, which would expose a UART or a JTAG interface. I did notice some curious silkscreen on some of the TPs labelled SC, RST, SD, GND and some others which I couldn't really read no matter how hard I tried.

    Digging a bit through the STM32 datasheet and hardware application note, it turns out that most of these ARM chips have more or less dropped the JTAG interface in favor for a lower pin count SWD (Serial Wire Debug), which requires 3 pins:

    • GND - to have a common ground (as always)
    • Clock - the clock signal which drives the transmission (SC in our case)
    • Data - the bidirectional data signal (SD in our case)

    Now this was only a theory up to this point. I needed to get my hands dirty to see if my hypothesis was right.

    To get started with anything, I needed...

    Read more »

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gw0 wrote 07/30/2016 at 20:00 point

You are hacking the main PCB board, but it is also possible to go from the other side (from the camera module and Android/iPhone app). You may find something useful at:

  Are you sure? yes | no

Attila Sukosd wrote 07/31/2016 at 14:29 point

Wow gw0, awesome work! I was thinking about tinkering with the camera too at some point. Looks like you made some great progress!

I've got a bit further with the main PCB, and also reversing a bit of the 2.4ghz tx protocol too, I'll try to post it once I got a bit more time :)

Come to think of it, I guess the serial port you're talking about on the camera is the one hooked to the main PCB through the green/white wires, that will make my life easier for debugging.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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