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A drone remote designed to enhance magic shows

Arduino TeamMay 17th, 2024

Maker culture has always been a major part of magic performance. Some tricks are well-rehearsed slight of hand, but many of them rely on clever engineering to sell an illusion. And modern technology offers a great deal of interesting possibilities. That is the idea behind Peter Boie’s Engineering Wonder “STEM infused magic show.” That show includes a drone and Boie needed a way to reliably control it, so he created this purpose-built remote.

This remote works with the Tello drone, which is an interesting piece of hardware all on its own. It is an affordable quadcopter that we would normally categorize as a toy, except that it contains high-quality DJI components (and, presumably, flight control firmware) and versatile control schemes. Users can start flying right away by piloting the drone with a smartphone app, but the drone can also respond to simple commands sent over Wi-Fi by any device. For example, you can connect to the drone’s Wi-Fi network from your PC and run a custom Scratch program to send flight commands.

Boie needed a way to do that while performing during his magic show. He needed to send flight commands without drawing attention from the audience and that had to be very reliable. His solution was to build a custom remote based on the Arduino UNO R4 WiFi board.

Boie designed his own shield that contains several buttons to trigger specific flight commands, such as “go up 50” or “do a barrel roll.” That also has two big, bright LEDs. Those provide a very clear indication of the Wi-Fi connection status, so Boie doesn’t risk an onstage blunder if the connection fails for some reason. 

When it detects a button press, the Arduino sends the corresponding Tello command over WiFi as a UDP (User Datagram Protocol) packet. Each button triggers a single function and Boie can find the buttons by touch on the custom 3D-printed enclosure, letting him focus on his magic performance.

Boards:Uno R4