Open Sky Anchor WiFi Drone Brings The GIG

Mission "Wifi" Impossible > Bring Long Range 5G and 2.4 G WiFi Backed By A 1 Gigabit Fiber To The East Brainerd EF-3 Tornado Disaster area.

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Class: Dodeca Hexa X Compact Heavy Lift Long Range WiFi Communications Drone

"Here is your mission if you choose to accept it" Dun Dun Dun DUn DUN DUUUN > bring long range WiFi to the East Brainerd EF-3 Tornado Disaster Area. You will provide participating students in need a way to access school online. ::THIS MESSAGE WILL NOW SELF DESTRUCT::

After an EF-3 Tornado, Covid-19 Social Distancing and frequent quarantines, many students in my general area are left with some poor WiFi choices as they are displaced from their homes. Using 3D modeling and 3D printing we are building one of the most compact heavy lift drones to put in service with a payload of WiFi equipment. The power tether from the ground station allows the drone unlimited flight time. High db directional WiFi antennas for 5 G and 2.4 G are hacked and installed into an ultra light robotic targeting gimbals to control pitch and angle of broadcast and receiving area.

2020 Wildcard Mission Challenge

We had a tornado , or rather several come through devastating the community in East Brainerd , Chattanooga, TN . The fiber optic lines are back up, but now that Covid-19 has taken such a strong hold on the local economy most of our over 800 restaurants are closed or running take out orders only. So there are also issues with students being able to get an internet account financially as well as availability if they are in a location they cannot get an installation ( think campgrounds ). The city and my employer ( I am a fiber optics technician myself)  are working to do everything they can to help get internet to eligible homes, but ultimately there are lots of kids at hotels, Air B&B, relatives homes and camp grounds that cannot get good enough internet to do schoolwork on their school chrome books.  So I aim to utilize the Sky Anchor project to help with that. As part of testing, students using laptops in the area we will be testing both with no antenna, USB external antenna and external WiFi antenna client as well.


I love robotics and look forward to creating more public service robots like grounds keeping and security robots, that being said they benefit heavily from a high speed internet connection with unlimited bandwidth. Telemetry, GPS tracking and video recording are all essential aspects of robots in public or robots that operate without up close supervision like a rover.  Cellular speeds have been on the decline and there are no high speed unlimited hot spot plans that will fit the bill. I really needed a way to get fast network connections ( and possible open internet connections) to a robot far away and avoid obstructions to check on projects and download data.

In comes Sky Anchor, this allows myself and anyone else who duplicates this project to have a rapid deployment sky born communications for both Software Defined Radio, Long Range High Speed WiFi ( below the drone) and the ability to target a robot or AP off in the distance. a three servo gimbal locks onto that direction and angle and adjust if the AP is moving. This is where the smart part of the drone is important using machine vision and SDR to track projects or locations that need a solid internet connection to transfer data.  Think of it like a high speed IOT solution for research teams. This could be scaled down to as small as a quad copter with a single lightweight AP on a 220v tether. My idea however is to leverage the power, flight authority and reliability of more rotors, hence the Dodeca Hexa frame.

This Projects Mission is to Provide an OPEN BUILD, 3D Printed parts, using OPEN Hardware and Open and /or free software for the maximum repeatability. Sky Anchor empowers amateurs to have an instant sky platform for instant long distance communications. All 3D FILES WILL BE UPLOADED AFTER THEY HAVE BEEN TESTED AND FOUND SAFE TO USE IN THE COURSE OF DEVELOPMENT.

Special Features

1. Ground Facing Machine Vision Tracking to compensate for GPS drift.  On the Ground there is a beacon the camera tracks, giving the computer info to adjust position relative to the ground.

3. Camera and Antenna Gimbals Targeting system, Machine vision sees a light in the distance and locks the antenna angle on that long range target. This keeps alignment in the event of heavy wind.

4. Dodeca 12 Rotor drone, Custom 3D Printed arms and mounts to double up the motors and props on each arm. This gives Sky Anchor 12 props and 12 motors for exceptional lift and control authority in heavier winds

5. RGB light ring around the Drone, not only is this for visibility ,but someone who needs to align their antenna towards Sky Anchor can easily see it in a "North Star" approach.

6. 110-240v power tether from ground to the drone

7.  Cat5E shielded cable from ground to drone.

Judging Criteria Response

i. Concept

A. Is the...

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  • 12 × DJI 2212 920kv motors
  • 12 × 12 white Slow Fly Props
  • 12 × DJI e300 ESCs for the first 3 versions
  • 7 × DJI E420 ESCs swapping ESCs due to availability of the E300 being discontinued, it is best to have all matching equipment on the same level all the way around a drone.
  • 4 × PAC12 Delta 500 Watt Power Supply modules

View all 16 components

  • Next On The Agenda 11/4

    Josh Starnes11/04/2020 at 18:41 0 comments

    1. Build Thrust and wattage table

    2. Test wattage  and thrust is current prop choice. 10x4.5

    3.  Weigh new manufactured PCB Meanwell PSU boards

    4. attach connectors to the psu 

    5. Perform a burn in test to  500 watts continuously and monitor temps as well while doing so.

    6. test run one psu with 2 motors running full throttle, check wattage and make sure the psu can handle the continuous use.

    7.  Load firmware onto the new Pix Hawk PX4 FMU.

    8. Swap  out 6 of the ESCs for the new 420 models so they whole layer are matching equipment.

    9. 3D print mounts and fan shrouds for the new PSU printed circuit boards. They need constant airflow of at least 25 cfm, hopefully we can avoid this with clever positioning of the  board close to the prop wash.

    10. After new equipment swapped the air frame needs to be balanced from the back again.

  • Moving from Proto Board to Printed Circuit

    Josh Starnes11/04/2020 at 18:07 0 comments

    Hello guys, I am putting a couple posts in here and I will move some pictures from my phone. I assessed the damage and ordered parts for the next version.  As stated in the most recent flight the 220v Step UP converter pushed well over 275 volt thresh hold causing damage to one ESC and also the sensors on the Pixhawk no longer worked. A couple of ESCs were not spinning up the props as fast , they seemed to only have half the throttle response.  That being said we have a few parts that just arrived.

    7 of the DJI 420 ESCs because the e300 have been discontinued buying individually. 

    1 Radiolink Pixhawk PX4  set to replace this one

    2-2212kv motors to swap the overvolted motors that were not putting out full power.

    Since the machine is basically grounded at this moment I took the time to move from Proto Board lightweight power supplies to subcompact light ones made for me from Meanwell special order. They are .4kg each, right at 1 pound, so 4 (2000 watts worth) is approx. 4 pounds. I will weight them and give comparisons with pictures too.

    I am building a wattage test bench as well to tune the power supplies to the motors, adjusting voltage so we arrive at the best sweet spot for wattage to lift ratio. Right now the estimated mas is 22 pounds of thrust/lift, but this needs to be confirmed using the new power supplies. Surprisingly these power supplies only run a bout 108 dollars each where I think I spent around 230 each building my own. I guess Prototyping always costs more money than the end product !!

  • Pictures Outside During the Golden Hour

    Josh Starnes10/05/2020 at 22:25 0 comments

    more pics outside after a test flight, the boost up converter (110v to 220v) is defective and pumped over 280 volts into the PSUs. The flight electronic appear to be ok but now it tips to one side when I tested it after the 220v boost up converter did the bad thing. That being said I can swap to another couple PSUs or rebuild what I have. Anyways this is version 3 so I already have some videos of it flying at the moment. It is a proof of concept, with continued improvement. I’m taking a break for the evening.

  • Hackaday Prize Sponsor Plate Added

    Josh Starnes10/05/2020 at 12:19 0 comments

  • Airframe Balanced

    Josh Starnes10/05/2020 at 11:25 0 comments

    I had to balance and adjust 4-5 times to get the drone to sit label balanced on the tips of the motor shafts. The power supply rack needed to slide forward over an inch as well as the 5G dish. Zip ties on the front and back of the rails keep the power supplies in the balanced position. Any changes in the future require this balance to be adjusted to keep the power consumption down for extended hovering.

  • Cable Management Done... So pretty

    Josh Starnes10/05/2020 at 10:23 0 comments

  • ESC Cable Management

    Josh Starnes10/04/2020 at 23:04 0 comments

  • NEW AC to DC module 40 x 80 mm Heatsinks

    Josh Starnes10/03/2020 at 22:41 0 comments

  • Now that’s a WAP !

    Josh Starnes10/03/2020 at 20:55 0 comments

    Wireless Access Point... :)

    All 12 of the ESC power wires, the pixhawk power, RC receiver power, Nav LEDs, 2  POE injectors and more need to have ends terminated, soldered and connected. Also I like to label stuff which is super helpful when you need to troubleshoot.

  • FAA Registration Plate Installed

    Josh Starnes10/03/2020 at 15:25 0 comments

    3D printed FAA Registration Plate for UAV / Drones Part 107.

View all 105 project logs

Enjoy this project?



Matteo Borri wrote 09/13/2020 at 03:21 point

If you still care, we got this done a couple weeks ago :) it works. SMS only though.

  Are you sure? yes | no

target drone wrote 07/05/2020 at 23:09 point

As the weight of the copper is likely to be the most constraining aspect, consider using step up/down transformers to send a much higher voltage over thinner conductors. As described, 120V @ 30A for 200’ would require 50 pounds of stiff 6 AWG copper. If you up the voltage to 480, the current drops to 7.5A, and you could carry the same power over about 4 pounds of nice, flexible 16 AWG. 

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Josh Starnes wrote 07/06/2020 at 07:16 point

I appreciate the idea, but do you have suggestions of how to do that, what would I use?

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helge wrote 07/09/2020 at 09:17 point

1) leave galvanic isolation, rectification and PFC on the ground. Create 350-400V DC (don't worry too much about that, can always start with a modern 1000W ATX power supply and tap off the DC link capacitor + proper filtering, RSHN series filters maybe)

2) use heavy power filtering

3) use a quasi-resonant, non-isolated buck converter on the hexacopter (non-isolated:, isolated:, they can also be paralleled with load sharing)

4) with appropriate filtering on both ends, you can also use HomePlugAV modules, without the 50/60Hz mains sync they generate their own synchronization (I used the ones from BEL in a project, excellent performance and support

good luck

  Are you sure? yes | no

Josh Starnes wrote 07/09/2020 at 06:26 point

I moved to a 120 volt tether, with a switching step down 500 watt RMS power supply , the Power supply is 1.5 pounds and the power tether is a little over 2 pounds. I think I will move to an copper clad aluminum 16 gauge power wire.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Josh Starnes wrote 09/24/2020 at 02:22 point

@target drone , I have raised my feed voltage to 240 volts carried up the tether by a relatively lightweight 18 gauge tether with ground added. This should be able to reach the 400’ operating ceiling for drones with a little over 2kg of wire or 1kg at 200’. My goal is to keep the whole drone plus tether below 10 pounds.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Neo wrote 07/04/2020 at 19:13 point

Very interesting project. I hope you get somewhere with it. I was thinking of a similar solution for quick surveillance of sites.

As some have very eloquently and expertly pointed out, the power system will be crucial. I also see issues with the motors, you need to find motors that are reliable enough to run for hours on end when they are designed to run for 30 minutes tops. If you go for a hexacopter, losing a motor would be less of an issue, but if you go quadcopter it would mean a crash. Changing motors out could drive the cost of maintenence up a bit.

I remember NASA had some similar concept a while back, but now it's using tethered balloons. Seems a bit easier that way since they just stay up there without moving parts.

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Ethan Waldo wrote 07/03/2020 at 21:20 point

Meant to say monocrhomatic light source

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Ethan Waldo wrote 07/03/2020 at 21:19 point

Great idea.  A much more difficult feat to pull off that wouldn't require the tether would be lightweight solar panels as the base pointing down.  Generate a light source from the ground and use mirrors to focus light to illuminate solar panel to maximum efficiency.

  Are you sure? yes | no

KD9KCK wrote 07/03/2020 at 20:41 point

This is very interesting. I wonder if you could also use this type of tether to lift up the end of a vertical HF antenna. 

Also as a WiFi access point you could have it extend a AP that exists at the base station up to it, that would make the access point set up cheaper. Seeing a an AP that takes Fiber or a Fiber to Ethernet adapter is going to cause a good amount.

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BotLawson wrote 07/02/2020 at 04:58 point

A couple of comments from when I built a big tether at work. 

Your power tether needs a high surge power capability as current flight controllers are designed for batteries which have tight energy budgets, but loads of surge power capability.  Most power converters for a tether have exactly the opposite limits with "infinite" energy available but a fixed rigid power limit.   (re-coding the flight controller to stay in a power budget would be another option)

There is/was a chineese drone company that makes 400Vdc motors and controllers. looks like what I remember, though it's not loading.   (still alive on facebook )  Fun fact about motors and controllers, for a given power a 40Vdc and 400Vdc motor and controller is about the same size.  So ideally you just run the motors directly off the high voltage tether.  This also allows battery backup to stay on the ground.  Also the typical DC link voltage in a active power factor correction AC-DC power brick is 300-350Vdc so it's easy to get high power non-isolated supplies near 400vdc.  (oh, and these same universal AC-DC power supplies often happily run off of 100-270Vdc as well, some are even rated for HVdc input.)

The next best would be high voltage high frequency AC so you can use a small ferrite core transformer and diode pack to make low voltage DC on the drone.  100KHz to 1MHz would do.  But keeping emi and rfi in check will be a challenge.

Mil spec M27500-22RC2S09 high temp 200C 600V 2-core shielded wire is a good place to start.  The shield is a bit heavy, but makes a solid safety/lightning ground.  And the cable comes with 26awg to 8awg or lower conductors.  Aluminum wire will save you weight, but is more difficult to make reliable connections to.

Speaking of lightning, you should also be able to monitor ground current to estimate your lightning risk.  Check Wikipedia, but lightning storms have 1000-10,000x higher electric fields that most clear air, so if your ground current jumps to more that say 100x typical, you can be pretty sure a storm is nearby. 

For communication, home AC wiring Ethernet bridges will work great and be very happy to use a shielded twisted pair vs AC wiring.  (lots easier than finding tether wire with conductors and a fiber-optic) 

Finally spooling the wire.  The wire is going to get hottest on the storage spool.  You'll want to wind it in a way that you can keep it cool.  I eventually wanted to wind the wire with a fishing reel or yarn ball-winder mechanism as these can wind in a sparse pattern for wire cooling and potentially eliminate the need for a high voltage slip ring. 

Finally Finally, I'd look configure your drone like the endurance record drones featured in some YouTube videos.  They can get >2h flight times on LiPo's so should minimize the tether power system size. 

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Dan Maloney wrote 06/24/2020 at 00:27 point

I had an idea to use a drone to take a small amateur radio repeater aloft to get line-of-sight between two points in mountainous terrain, rather than put up a tower. Flight time limits would have made it only marginally useful though. I hadn't thought of tethering it like that - clever move.

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Martin wrote 09/17/2020 at 09:02 point

This was done with a Wouxun KG-UV8 as a cross band repeater.  This did enable communications in the order of 30 miles over hilly terrain.  The case and other unnecessary parts were removed from the Wouxun to reduce weight.  

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Josh Starnes wrote 06/23/2020 at 21:31 point

Thanks Bill, Yes one of the uses is lighting. I intend to 3d print a ring that will house 50 watt 6000k LED modules downward pointing and RGB LED array all the way around the ring. In the event high speed communications have too much interference, or one party away from camp does not have a mobile base station, they can also communicate through a morse code style short message by blinking the LED horizontal lights and the field crew only needs a bright light to reply to the Sky Anchor.

I do intend to do a higher voltage, I was thinking of a 110v line straight from a power conditioner up the power line tether.

  Are you sure? yes | no

James Hall wrote 06/29/2020 at 19:00 point

You could do a Close Encounters like thing with the LEDs.

Alternatively, I've seen pages talking about doing long range free space optic style communication by modulating LEDs. That would be neat to see. is one site.

  Are you sure? yes | no

billguetz wrote 06/23/2020 at 17:02 point

Interesting.  Some thoughts:

- it could also be used for temporary lighting

- it would be useful even if it didn't go up 100' ,  think tree canopy.

- high voltage power would require smaller cable, but increase safety concerns

- wind is major limitation.  tilt of platform due to wind may limit usefulness without stablized platform

  Are you sure? yes | no

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