So before the next meeting lets see what materials we can come up with. I think the cheapest options are likely to be either 3D printer filament (I've never printed a plane, but from what I hear it takes about a roll -- so ~$20), DTFB (a good place to start, but these air frames wear out fast), Insulation foam (This would probably make the best choice for something cheap and durable, but will likely require us to source some form of a hot wire cutter -- CNC would be awesome, but I'm sure a few plywood templates and some practice will work fine as well)
To get this project off the ground I think we should do it in a few bite-sized steps:
1) Build a DTFB plane and put an autopilot on it -- no cameras, no mapping, no expensive equipment. We take it up and have it fly a mission, come back and land safely under autonomy.
2) Redesign the air frame to be made from a better material (I imagine it will come to a decision based on price -- foam if we can afford to tool up for it, or printed if we can only afford some filament)
3) Move the electronics to the new air frame and repeat the mission from the first step -- analyze differences to determine improvements/drawbacks over DTFB model (and hopefully address the drawbacks).
Step 2 and 3 can be repeated to improve design further. (with more emphasis on aerodynamics/balance than materials)
4) Install camera and fly a mapping mission -- The goal here is just to test flight times with payload, while collecting some test data
5) Take the photos and make a test map using Microsoft ICE
What do you guys think?