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Proposal: Drones and Model Aviation

As per the title, how would this site's content differ from a mixture of:

  • Aviation (for everything related to flying, aerodynamics, regulations, etc)
  • Electrical Engineering (for the electronic part)
  • Robotics (for general automation and control questions)
  • Physics (for everything physics-related not covered by aviation)
  • Engineering (in beta, for everything not covered by Electrical Engineering or Robotics)

As someone with some experience in model flying and drone development, I find that the main three topics in this are are making something that flies, making a system that can control this flying contraption automatically and the regulatory aspect of flying it legally. Those are covered by the first three sites linked above.

In other words:

  • Why should questions about aircraft aerodynamics or flight mechanics be here?
  • Why should questions about lithium battery handling be here?
  • Why should questions about control theory or PID parameters be here?
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    For the legal aspect having multiple country tag would be useful too. – yagmoth555 Dec 9 '19 at 17:16
  • That's a great answer! – Newby FPV Dec 10 '19 at 1:56
  • The legal side is on-topic and even well covered already on Aviation.SE, though. – AEhere supports Monica Dec 10 '19 at 8:41
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It differs in that it will have a concentration of people who can answer the questions. In my experience:

  • Aviation isn't much good at answering questions about the practical applications of aerodynamics. It's a reasonable place to go for theoretical answers, but the practical experience of the userbase is limited to large fixed-wing aircraft.
  • LiPo battery handing is nominally on-topic for Electrical Engineering, but again, you're going to get answers mostly from a theoretical standpoint, not from the standpoint of someone who's actually used sandbags to deal with a battery pack exploding while charging.
  • Control theory and PID parameters are on topic at Robotics, but again, the answers tend to come from a theoretical standpoint, not an "I did this with my quadcopter and it works" one.
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    +1 Very succinctly described what I was trying to say. – ifconfig Dec 7 '19 at 5:56
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    "Aviation isn't much good at answering questions about the practical applications of aerodynamics. It's a reasonable place to go for theoretical answers, but the practical experience of the userbase is limited to large fixed-wing aircraft." Could you point me to a few examples to understand what you mean by this? It does not seem to match my perception of the site. – AEhere supports Monica Dec 10 '19 at 8:35
  • *"I did this with my quadcopter and it works" * Would you consider anecdotal answers a good fit? I feel that kind of information is more suited to forums discussing specific implementations, while SE is best for general answers; although I think I understand the idea you have in mind. Overall you have put forth what I think is the best possible case for a separate site. I don't necessarily agree it is a good enough case, but that is besides the point. – AEhere supports Monica Dec 10 '19 at 8:41
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    Great detailed answer. My personal opinion is that whilst this site as an overview fits into the other three sites/catagories, quadcopters come with many of their own specific questions and I am not sure that people would get as benifical of an answer on the other three. For example, if you asked on the other 3 sites "I keep overshooting on my flips and rolls, what do I do?" the other three sites won't have a clue what you are talking about however here someone would answer "reduce your rc rate or super rate slowly ect" and OG Q&A is now easily accessible for the thousands that always ask it. – Nads_fpv Jan 18 at 17:26
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This is a good question. Rather than answering each part piecemeal, I think it's helpful to set up a comparison to Robotics alone.

Robotics (for general automation and control questions)

This is SE's catch-all for everything automated. The robotics field is so huge, it can arguably cover washing machines, elevators, coffee pots, and all of commercial aviation. Understandably, the robotics SE is therefore the home for any specific robotics branch which has an insufficiently small community to be self-sustaining.

Similar to the OP, it would be fair to ask if robotics would naturally be covered by Engineering and Physics, as well as Electrical Engineering. However, we all would recognize that Robotics, while it touches on all those fields, is none of them. It has special interactions which lead to frequently recurring problems, and this is where Stack Exchange's Q/A approach excels.

Drones/UAVs can be described in the same way. Better, it is a very large and relatively homogenous field, with millions of users who all interface in very similar ways with very similar themes.

  • (almost) all drones are described by the same relation to 3D space
  • (almost) all depend on an IMU
  • (almost) all use GPS in (almost) the exact same way with (almost) the same antennas
  • (almost) all are heavily automated through flight algorithms
  • all depend on the same aerodynamic forces to fly.

In contrast, "Robotics" is a catchall which, frankly, is too diffuse to be very helpful to a targeted community. As a roboticist-- specifically an aeroboticist-- I don't find hanging out in Robotics to be very helpful, because the questions are too imprecise to my field. For example, it is very hard to answer a question about Kalman filters without precise knowledge of the application-- Kalman filters work really well until they don't.

"Drones", on the other hand, is unlikely to get diluted by questions about how to make a five-finger soft actuator, about how to sense bilge water levels, about addressing of sensors on an SPI bus, etc... When someone explores a new Kalman filter derivative, the community can bring a helpful amount of specific information which is relevant to the particular challenges shared across the drone community.

The upshot is that a Drones SE has a combination of purity and scale, which I would argue are the essential characteristics of a successful SE group.

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My concept for what this proposal would turn into if it passed into the beta stage is a forum where questions and resources which technically fall into the purview of other SE sites, like the aforementioned Aviation, EE, and Robotics, could be discussed through a lens more focused on applications to model aviation and drones.

Often times, when I look for answers on EE.SE, the answers I see are often more generalized and unspecific to my topic of interest than I would like. The same goes for other SE sites of similarly broad subjects like Robotics. For example, if searching for reasons why high-frequency IMU filtering is sometimes counterproductive in drones on Robotics.SE, I would most often (based on prior experience with curiosities and not this specific example) find answers which go deep into control theory in very nonspecific terms in attempt to make advice as widely applicable as possible, failing to explain implications for the topics I care about as a drone pilot.

In accordance with that concept, all of the following subjects would be on-topic for this forum:

  • Questions about aircraft aerodynamics or flight mechanics
  • Questions about LiPo (not necessarily just this chemistry) battery handling
  • Questions about control theory or PID parameters

as long as their subject pertains directly to applications at the model/hobby scale (used loosely to exclude significantly larger and more complicated craft, e.g. military UAVs) of drones and other aircraft.

Does this better help address your concerns and clear up the intent behind the proposal?

  • I think I understand your vision, though I believe that those questions would be better served on the existing communities, at least at the moment, and splitting them into a separate site feels awkward, like asking a drone control question related to Dutch roll damping on Robotics.SE. Technically on topic, but the expert community on Aviation is better suited to answer. In the end it boils down to whether this site can gather enough expert attention to get going, otherwise you risk ending up with a rehash of the multitude of existing forums, with mostly low-quality answers. – AEhere supports Monica Dec 10 '19 at 8:57

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