You want to have your own fully-autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for under $500 bucks?
Check out this blog posting on diydrones.com entitled "Arduplane" that was posted by Chris Anderson back in 2010.
You basically add the ArduPilot Mega autopilot module (looks like another receiver to me) and hook it up with your radio control model airplane (or car, helicopter, boat, tank, etc) and you now have a fully-programmable robot with ground station and Mission Planner.
You can have unlimited 3d GPS waypoints, built-in camera control. One-click software load and point-and-click Mission Planner software. You have to do NO programming on your own to operate this.
Record your "missions" for future playback back at headquaters. Controlling the drone you have two options: fly with your transmitter's joystick or gamepad through your PC for no RC control at all!
Best feature of all is a built-in failsafe that will bring your aircraft back home in case of radio loss.
ArduPilot Mega (APM) is all Open Source.
The one thing you do need to get started is a minium of a 5-channel RC transmitter and airplane. A mini USB cable. And be willing to do your own soldering with your soldering iron.
The blog posting that I got this information has the particulars and nuts-and-bolts information for the system. You can order and also download the manuals from that webpage.
Now, FPV (First Person View) is something real neet. Its like your in the cockpit of full scale airplane. It is technically a UAV. But you must still be within range of the model to be able to uplink/downlink with the model. The really BASIC version of FPV is just sticking a video camera on the airplane and flying it around. Then watch the results when you get home that night.
But this thing, the ArduPilot Mega (APM) appears to be a game changer. Especially if some of my flying buddies can get their mitts on some for themselves.
The biggest concern is someone (i.e. a Terrorist) will use this for a small scale terror attacks. And with recent developments with mini-drones that can fly as 'one,' that threat will keep on growing. Be it from Terrorists or a Oppressive government tyring to control its citizens on the cheap.
The Gee-Wizz factor on the other hand is nice. When I got into this hobby (RC model airplanes), I overheard some of the older club members talk about flying their models "cross-country." That sounded really neet to me. Sitting in the back of a pickup truck as you go down the backroads flying your model and then coming in for a landing to refill your fuel tank to go on the next leg of your cross-country flight.
With this thing (ArduPilot Mega), you could program a cross-country flight and have the video downlink to your ground station as your model airplane flies over the "checkpoints." I would love to see a scale model or warbird event done this way!
I don't think we'll see it however due to the badguys out there wanting to harm us. Too bad. I was wanting to do this with either my PC-9 from Seagull models or my original P-51D from Hangar 9 (Horizon Hobbies).
1. diydrones.com. "Arduplane" by Chris Anderson. May 1, 2010. ( http://www.diydrones.com/profiles/blogs/ardupilot-mega-home-page ).