Hacking a broken RC helicopter into something useful

Posted: July 7, 2013 in Engineering
Tags: , ,

Small RC helicopters have been used in countless hacks, but not every hack goes according to plans. While working on a computer controlled RC helicopter, a bug in my Arduino code caused the helicopter to crash. Most of the time these cheap RC helicopters are just fine, but turns out falling from 20 ft into cement isn’t a ‘recoverable’ accident. Oops…

Helicopter with battery removed.

Helicopter with battery removed.

Now I do have a spare helicopter, so the project will continue (just had to find it…). But what to do with the old helicopter? Well it turns out these cheap little buggers are full of components that are handy to have around. Take for example the 3.7 volt battery housed in the noise. It just so happens that I could use one of these for another project. I got out my soldering iron and desoldered it from the broken aircraft. Next I took a LiPo charger from Sparkfun and attached a couple of leads. After some twisting of some wires the battery began to charge. Check out the pictures of this quick and simple hack. There are a few more toys inside the helicopter including some gears, a few switches, and a couple of motors, so expect those to be removed soon.

Hacked together charging system for battery from charger.

Hacked together charging system for battery from charger.

Just in case you were wondering on how I am controlling the helicopter from the Arduino. I have simply attached a couple of servo motors to the stock controller. This is far from the best solution as these motors can sometimes slip off their posts. I am working on using PWM, a simple RC low-pass filter and direct input into the controller. This should make things a bit more controllable. The only thing is to now figure out a way make sure the hack is reversible. Just in case I want to use that RC helicopter again for, you know, normal operation.

It is worth noting that the battery from the helicopter is a LiPo at 3.7 volts and 170 mAh. Not a bad deal since the closest thing from Sparkfun retails at $6.95, is only 110 mAh, and I only paid $11 bucks for the helicopter off ebay (including shipping). Plus, I am sure there are a few other goodies in the controller that I can put to some use. Not such a bad day after all!

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