An important aspect of building your own drone is powering your flight controller. Failure to do this properly could result in smoke coming out of your drone, or even worse, a mid-flight failure that damages more than just your flight controller. There are four main methods you can use to power your flight controller: directly from a battery, using an ESC (electronic speed controller), a voltage regulator, or a power module. In this blog, we will discuss each method.
The first method is to power your flight controller directly from your battery. While this seems like the most obvious choice, there are actually very few flight controllers that allow you to do this. Most electronic devices run on 5V or 3.3V, while a typical battery you would use would be at least 11.1V. Although you could solve this by using a voltage regulator, using a regulator to step down such high voltages will likely introduce added heat or other electromagnetic interference, both of which can cause issues. If you are using a battery to power your flight controller, ensure you are doing so with the correct voltage.
The second way to power your flight controller is by using your ESC. This is one of the most common methods, especially on simpler quadcopter configurations which can be powered directly by the ESC, as most ECSs feature a built-in voltage regulator that provides a constant 5V output. Despite this, there are a few important things to consider before using an ESC to power your flight controller. For one, not all flight controllers can be powered by an ESC, so it is important to check the documentation. Second, the voltage regulator in the ESC can be switching or linear. Switching regulators can lead to interference or power issues, meaning you will need to remove some of the wiring so that only one ESC will power your flight controller.
The third means of powering your flight controller is by using a voltage regulator. A voltage regulator will convert your battery voltage to a clean and constant 5V power supply. As stated, some ESCs will have a built-in voltage regulator, but many do not and therefore require a regulator to power the flight controller. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as most first-person view drones will need a separate power supply for the camera and transmitter anyway. Apart from using an individual voltage regulator, this can also be done using a power distribution board (PDB). Some types of power distribution boards feature a built-in voltage regulator, allowing you to solder your ESC power leads and battery connector directly to the board.
The final way to power your flight controller is through the use of a power module. Many autopilot systems have a dedicated power module. In addition to providing a stable 5V power supply, a power module often includes a few extra electronics such as a current and voltage sensor. These are useful as they allow your autopilot to monitor your battery so it knows how much power remains. A power module will often connect directly to your battery and its output can connect directly into your power distribution board. Because current needs to flow through the power module in a certain way, it is important that it be connected the correct way around.
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