Submitted 2/7/2020

A project log for F450 Drone Kit with ESP

This is an esp-idf project in progress with an ESP32 flight controller/receiver and esp8266 D1 mini transmitter 02/07/2020 at 17:060 Comments


On my two axis testbed with two motors spun up to average throttle of 1450 (close to what it would hover at with 4 motors) seem to be enjoying a 1 sigma attitude control of better than 0.1 degrees after a half hour of playing with tuning. It is impressive how hard you have to push these things to get them to move. Also included a graph of what the recovery looks like in time with the contributions from the proportional, integral and derivative components of the PID control loop. In attached files have included a video of recovery from a pretty good push on my two axis test setup. 

In gallery have included a closeup picture of flight controller board. The two other modules on the breadboard are the MPU9250 with SPI interface wiring back to the ESP. The ESCs required a 5 volt servo input and are being routed through a 4 port 3 to 5 volt level converter, with wires heading off to the four ESCs. The usb plug heads back to my desktop monitor where I can modify parameters (PID gains, throttle speed, etc) and monitor state. 

So far I have learned a bit from this project, it's my first exposure to drones, but I do have other relevant experience and think this procedure an informative introduction to the subject. I feel pretty good about being able to make a flight controller at least as good as the CC3D that came with my drone kit. I have gathered info from the web but the code is 100% mine except for the device drivers contained in the esp-idf framework.

Next Steps

Think up tethering scheme for 'safety conscious' indoor hover testing
Free up other drone axis for actual flight (no more metal rod or testbed)
Modify testing software for other 2 motors, yaw and altitude PID loops
Integrate 4 inner PID loops (currently just using 1) into ESC servo commands
UPDATE -- Received my much nicer joysticks Saturday morning and mounted them in cigar box. I was expecting the process of getting these working to go smoother than it ended up being. Turns out the ESP8266 briefly uses more than an amp of  current when transmitting wifi packets. This resulted in bad adc readings (~5% worst case) during wifi transmits. At first I tried to clean up the power supply going to a battery and further power filtering for the adc and joystick and managed to cut the errors only by less than half - I feel I could have done better with some good 1mF low esr caps which I don't have. Decided to try synchronize adc data acquisition to when wifi transmit is quiet and get rid of the wiring complexity of the filtering effort. The espnow example that I used to start my code with uses an event queue to schedule both espnow transmits and receives, I couldn't find a way to predict when the scheduled transmit would be unspooled from the event queue (even after waiting 100msec). Ended up pulling the transmit out of the event handler and issuing it directly with a 40msec vTaskDelay prior to starting the next adc reads. The 40msec delay seems to have eliminated (none in an hour) the adc interference (a 20msec delay gave me a little noise on one or two of the adc readings every minute or so).

Tethering drone by hanging it from ceiling for the time being cradling two arms - need to get to single point (and to a point further from my desk). The metal rod is gone, other two motors incorporated into software. Currently have yaw, pitch and roll inner control loop PIDs tested and tuned for just hanging there at a relatively low throttle, but disturbances to yaw, pitch and roll do correct nicely.

Next going to integrate transmitter commands into flight control PIDs by summing transmitter commands with error input to PIDs (already have communication between boards setup and working on 40msec loop).

Update - Drone hanging from much nicer cradle about 15 feet from desk. Made changes to flight controller to receive flight controller data. In progress of doing some tethered maneuvers. When processing the espnow packets the mpu9250 fifo would overrun (only takes 30msec) and data would be lost and become misaligned, pinning the imu data aquistion and processing to the second core fixed this problem and freed up a lot of headroom - the compiler apparently does not do this automatically. So - it is looking pretty good, I have my transmitter controls doing what I want on the drone. The sensitivity and range of the transmitter controls need to be tamed and further PID tuning and data analysis are on going. Also need to start thinking about some sort of arming procedure to implement as well as fail-safe and disarming procedures.