Europe Multirotor

Anish Mohammed Up in the Air


Susan Karlin

Several years into his hobby of building unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), IEEE Member Anish Mohammed earned some geek cred when he met William Premerlani, who’d written some of the initial open-source software that galvanized the do-it-yourself drone community. “He called me a true UAV addict!” Mohammed recalls, laughing.

Mohammed, an independent management consultant in information and data strategy in Woking, about 50 kilometers southwest of London, has degrees in medicine and information security. He has long maintained a side interest in robotics.
Shortly after his 2002 move to the United Kingdom from his native India, he began tinkering with design kits from Vex Robotics and Lego Mindstorm. He went from building remote controlled airplanes and helicopters to building drones.

While traditional remote-controlled aircraft are controlled manually via a wireless network from the ground, drone models are programmed to fly themselves. “I was looking for ways to reduce the number of crashes and found a software component that programs an autopilot takeover if the craft flies out of preprogrammed boundaries set with GPS,” he says. He began to collect the individual components for a quadcopter (four-rotor) drone and built one from scratch. That was in 2010. Since then, he has built 10 multicopters—aircraft with more than two rotors—including an octocopter made with eight rotors, as
well as two fixed-wing aircraft.

The rotors of his largest multicopters are more than a meter in diameter.
Mohammed flies multicopters both manually and autonomously. “I was really interested in all the algorithms that help hold the multicopter in the air and fly and allow fixed-wings to fly along a programmed path,” he says. “There’s a whole bunch of challenging math and theory for doing that.” Mohammed says he spends 10 to 20 hours each week working on or testing his drones. He flies his copters with fellow enthusiasts in a nearby park.

“It’s the configuration—making it stable—that takes the most time,” he says.
The cost for DIY drones depends on “how geeky you want to get,” he says. Both fixed-wing and copter drones can cost from US $300 to $3000, depending on their accessories.

Higher-end models, for instance, might include a video camera that enables the flier on the ground to see where the aircraft is headed in real time. Mohammed says it’s exhilarating to build something and make it fly:

“After all the long hours and wanting to give it a rest, the day I get a drone off the ground and into the air, it’s like, ‘Wow! I got it right!’”

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