Programmable drone kit [recommendations from experts]

Programmable drone kits are perfect for people who want to delve deep into the drone flying world. They offer an experience beyond flying or capturing photos and videos. People can play with the internal components of the drone as well as the software controlling the flight.

The best programmable drone kits include the Crazyflie drone system and Robolink CoDrone. Programmable drone kits are perfect for people who love to tinker and for educational experiences for students and adult learners alike.

I purchased a DJI drone for photography purposes which quickly opened my interest in learning how drones fly and making them do exactly as I wish. A programmable drone kit was the first step for me in learning how all the hardware and software components work together.

Who are programmable drone kits for?

Programmable drone kits are perfect for people who want to tinker with their drones, programmers who want to go beyond the standard options given to them by manufacturers and students who want to learn about programming, software, and drones by getting a hands-on educational experience.

Tinkerers

Tinkerers will benefit from a programmable drone kit by being able to completely customise and play about with every aspect of their drone.

When I bought my DJI Mavic air for photography and videography purposes, I was always thinking about what I could do to change the features and flight of the drone.

Buying a standard shelf model limits your ability to get the drone to do exactly what you want.

Programmable drone kits allow you to fly and maintain a drone exactly as you want.

Programmers

Several drone platforms and hardware options are available, allowing developers to test the limits of drone flying and programming.

The sort of work you can undertake is determined by the flight controller hardware you’ll be utilising. If you are using Arduino, it will be Arduino code, which is pretty close to C+.

There are also several open-source projects from which to choose and learn to enhance and grow your programming abilities and build drone software.

The type of drone you should buy determines the type of development you plan to undertake and your present skill level.

If you want to know more about the best drones for developers, check out my other article – where I go through all of the options for you.

Best drones for developers [C++/ JAVA/ API options]

Students

Drone technology has a bright future in education. Getting a drone into the air requires a wide range of skills and methods, and it’s a fun exercise that kids like.

You can utilise programmable drone kits in the classroom in several ways:

  • science class – you can encourage your students to build a drone and code utilising a range of programmable drone kits
  • Writing classes – building and getting a unique perspective on the world can help get the creativity flowing. You can take some drone photographs of a familiar place in unique ways, playing a fun drone journey writing exercise.
  • Maths – using a drone to illustrate different distance-time graphs.
  • Physical education – With so many more analytics tools and data-driven training options in sports, shooting and analysing drone video might be the ideal approach to better any activity.

The best programmable drone kits

here are the best programmable drone kits that you should seriously consider if you want to build your drone and program its flight pattern or artificial intelligence.

Crazyflie systems

The Crazyflie open source flying development platform comes with a 27 g nano drone that fits your hand’s palm.

They have been improving the software over the last few years. It is equipped with low latency and long-range radio and Bluetooth interface giving you the option of downloading their app and using your mobile device as a controller.

You can also use the long-distance communication antenna for long-range and radio-controlled control for up to 1 km.

There are two kits in the Crazyflie system that is of particular interest to people looking for a programmable drone kit.

Happy hacker

The happy hacker drone bundle has everything you need to develop the firmware and hardware for drone flying.

You’ll be able to plug directly into the drone to do advanced debugging, real-time logging, and parameter setting through the radio connection.

You can build your hardware on a prototype board before permanently putting it on your drone through soldering.

You can even design your PCB board, starting with their template decks on Github.

The happy hacker range makes it very easy to prototype new drones quickly, and if you are a tinkerer, you’ll love the ease at which you can try out your ideas with this programmable drone kit.

STEM range

The STEM range of drones comes with a drone that can fly autonomously using Flow Deck (detects movement of the drone for stable autonomous flight), and it can be controlled from a remote computer using simple Python scripts.

The easy Python API makes this drone perfect for people getting started with robotics.

Higher education students can also re-implement the controller algorithms for lower-level programming experience.

This range comes in two different levels:

The STEM drone bundleThe STEM drone bundle includes everything you’ll need to get started scripting and learning how to control a three-dimensional robot. They provide an easy-to-use Python API that allows you to issue instructions such as “go ahead 1 metre” or programme the Crazyflie’s path. You’ll also access the entire logging framework to read telemetry data easily.
The STEM ranging bundleThe STEM ranging package includes the Multi-ranger deck and everything in the STEM drone bundle. The Crazyflie drone may be interacted with or used to map a room with the Multi-ranger deck.

Circuit Scribe Drone Builder Kit

The drone builder Kit for kids lets you get your hands dirty with drone building. It is super easy to assemble and is a great chance for students to learn about simple and complex circuits.

https://amzn.to/3u6hQqz

The kit was invented by three PhD students from Harvard University and is a brilliant intercept between art and science.

It uses nonconductive ink to connect the circuit board and is suitable for ages 8+.

You can build your drone without having to use any soldering and snap together the drone hub and motors.

The app includes easy to fly automatic hover and take off modes and full programmable options for students.

Airwood 4 in 1 drone

Airwood drones are perfect for people who want to dip their toe into the drone building and programming world but are also eco-conscious.

This drone company uses low-cost and high-quality wood panels as raw materials.

They sell a range of education products, and their modular building technique means that you do not have to use tools to build your drone. The ergonomic installation is designed to allow even the youngest children to operate independently.

There is a graphic programming interface using code blocks and an editing area which means that you can code your drone without actually writing any complicated code. The drag and drop interface makes it perfect for iterative and intuitive programming.

They have a range of options, and the programming guide can be found online easily. Click here to be taken to the Airwood programming guide.

This set is perfect for people who care about the environment but want to tinker with electronics and easily program a drone to perform different functions.

Robolink Co Drone

This drone is the world’s first programmable drone created specifically to teach programming. It comes with a programmable remote and numerous free online lessons.

They are the first educational drones to directly address the stem education demand to use drone technology directly. It is aimed at youth aged 10 to 18. However, anybody interested in learning how to create drone software may find it useful.

It takes around 10 minutes to build and fly your drone, and then you can learn how to programme it with custom flight patterns and other flight capabilities and compete against other drones.

This drone is available in micro, light, and pro variants, allowing you to customise the hardware to fit the type of development you want to undertake.

PlutoX Drone Kit

The Pluto drone kit was launched from an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign with the plan of making an affordable aerial robotics kit.

Straight out of the box, you can make ten drone projects, and it is a fantastic kit for tinkerers and fellow drone enthusiasts.

The nano drone startup based in Bombay was able to create something affordable but entertaining and interesting for drone enthusiasts.

“Being tinkerers ourselves, we’re well aware of the demotivating crashes, burdensome coding and other challenges that limit the scope of tinkering and innovating with drones. PlutoX was engineered particularly ensuring agility, durability and affordability for fellow tinkerers,”

Apurva Godbole, co-founder

In the box, you get:

  • a PlutoX drone
  • experiments
  • link to download the smartphone app
  • Cygnus IDE (place to program your drone)
  • camera module for capturing all those awesome views.

The Cygnus IDE is at the heart of the Pluto X development experience, allowing you to build real-world apps. It’s the simplest approach to convert your concept into code and send it to Pluto X.

The manufacturer also has a dedicated forum where you can ask your questions.

Tello

Because it supports Scratch’s programming tool, this drone is ideal for learning all about programming.

This drone may be small and light, but it is packed with functions powered by DJI, a well-known drone manufacturer.

DJI is the undisputed drone leader, and they’ve nailed this entry-level model.

The following are the features of this drone:

  • Tello App – The Tello app makes flying a breeze. It makes even the most difficult moves as easy as pressing a button.
  • This ultra-compact drone fits in the palm of your hand and weighs about 80 grammes.
  • You may do acrobatics with the drone, such as hurling it into the air with the Throw&go technology. You may also use the app to execute acrobatics and tricks (such as flips).
  • Safe to fly inside — The Tello drone is enjoyable and safe to fly indoors, thanks to its rotor guards and vision positioning system.
  • Thirteen minutes of flight time is incredible for a drone of this size, especially when fueled by the best drone batteries available — DJI cells!
  • Programmable — Scratch, an MIT-developed coding system geared at schoolchildren, may be used to learn programming fundamentals. Create your flying paths.

Books to help you program your drone

If you are new to programming drones, you will probably need a little help understanding how you can program your drone.

I have found that online tutorials and books are brilliant for understanding exactly what you need to do to get it flying properly and safely.

Here are some books to help you program your new drone.

Building Smart Drones with ESP8266 and ArduinoLearn how to use Arduino and ESP8266 and their customised versions of hardware to build a fully working drone. Implement smart features that improve the functionality of your drone. A project-based tutorial to help you build next-generation drones to monitor a specific region using mobile-like gadgets.
Make: Drones: Teach an Arduino to FlyThe material in this book will teach Makers how to build better drones and pilot better drones, and it will also apply to nearly any robotics project.
DIY Drones for the Evil Genius: Design, Build, and Customise Your Own DronesThis entertaining book will teach you how to build strong drones from affordable components, customise them, and become a full-fledged pilot. DIY Drones for the Evil Genius: Design, Build, and Customise Your Drones teach not only the principles of Aerospace Engineering but also covers safety, mechanics, drone design, and assembly.
Build a Drone: A Step-by-Step Guide to Designing, Constructing, and Flying Your Very Own DroneConstruct a Drone will not only show you how to build your own drone, but it will also discuss the history of drones in the military and the influence they will have—and are now having—on our daily lives.

Programmable drone project ideas

I have found that my interest increases in a new hobby when I have an outcome that I am aiming towards. Here are a few options for your programmable drone kit that may spark interest in your new purchase and help keep the fun alive well beyond building and flying your drone initiative.

  • Methane sensing drone – sending a drone into hazardous areas to keep human lives safe is an important application of drone technology. In this project, you will be making a methane sensing drone to detect gas leaks.
  • Swarm project – work out how to get two or more drones working together in a swarm.
  • Lifeguard drones – getting life rafts and flotation aids to save lives quickly. In this project, you will have two come up with a way to send a rope or buoy to someone who is drowning.
  • Drone with wheels – drones don’t just have to fly. Can you create a hybrid drone with wheels for terrain and sky domination?

Programmable drone kit buyers’ guide

Here are all of the important things to consider when purchasing a drone kit.

Type of programming

Many manufacturers have developed drones that can be programmed using high-level development building blocks by youngsters. Otherwise, you may learn a programming language or purchase gear to use your prefered programming language.

  • Low-level programming – this is the fundamental operation of the drone. C and C++ will most likely be used to construct drone software. These are not the simplest languages to learn, but many online courses can help you get started.
  • High-level programming – The firmware has already been developed to respond to requests from various drone apps at this level. This development allows novice developers to learn high-level programming while having all of the nitty-gritty and firmware components taken care of.

Kit inclusions

You must choose a programmable drone kit that contains everything you need for a fun experience. This advice also encompasses the longevity of that enjoyment.

Many drone kits come with disposable or depletable resources such as plywood, propellers, or conductive ink.

Ensure that you can purchase more of the consumables should you run out.

Robustness

If you conduct a lot of drone development, your drone will most likely crash and collide with items on a frequent basis.

I would suggest using a drone with a high level of durability. Educational drones are often less in weight than camera drones since they are less likely to shatter when they fall.

If you want to minimise the damage and cost caused by a hard landing or an accident, go for a lightweight drone with inexpensive replacement components.

If you choose a carbon fibre build-it-yourself kit, you’ll reduce the number of pieces you’ll need to repair if you have serious accidents or heavy landings.

Summary

We have been over everything you need to know about the best programmable drone kits and what to look for maximum enjoyment in this article.

Programming your drone is an exciting prospect and can act as an educational experience for students and hobby drone flyers.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones. His favourite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!