In this tutorial we will show you how to add RGB LED to a mini quad and setup through Betaflight, so that the colour of the LED can be controlled by the flight controller.
Take a look at our Betaflight setup guide for more tutorials.
Why Adding LED to a Quadcopter?
Having LED on your quadcopter is perfect for night time flying or in low light conditions. When flying LOS (line of sight) it is a major help in maintaining your orientation of the craft, especially for beginners. It’s great for personalizing your quad or just separating you from the competition. You can also use LED as status indicators!
And let’s be honest, they just look plain COOL!
Wiring and setting up our mini quad are much easier today (2018) than it was just a year or two ago, and the same goes for adding LEDs. Here I will show you how.
Recommended LED Strip for Betaflight
The LED feature in Betaflight is primarily designed for addressable LED strips. The recommended types of LED are WS2812 and WS2811.
WS2812 5050 LEDs come in a variety of forms. The most common form is long flexible strip that is rolled on spools and sold by the meter. These can be cut into individual LED’s or to any desired length strips for the perfect fit with a pair of scissors.
They come in two voltage ratings, 5V and 12V. The 5V version uses less power while the 12V LED’s are brighter. We are going to use the 5V version because 5V is more widely available on flight controllers and PDB.
Other Tools and Hardware
Here is a list of stuff you need to setup LED’s on a mini quad:
- A flight controller that supports the use of RGB LEDs (has a pin labelled “LED”) – our recommendation for FC
- Double sided tape / Zip-ties / Clear heat shrink – our recommendation for tools
- Small gauge electrical wire, 28AWG – 30AWG should suffice
LED Connection and Installation
Make sure you understand where to connect the LED’s per your flight controllers wiring diagram and what voltage your LEDs will require.
It is a simple three wire connection to most flight controllers: Power (5V), Ground and Data (to LED pad).
WS2812 LED strips are directional, each LED has data-in and data-out connections (DI/DO or Din/Dout). DI takes LED signal from the FC, while the DO connects to the DI of the next LED if you want to add more. Currently Betaflight and Cleanflight can control up to 32 LEDs in total.
When installing the LEDs be sure to insulate any solder joints from the carbon fiber frame.
Ensure they are securely attached to the quadcopter and will not come loose due to vibrations or a crash. After all the LED’s are wired correctly in series, write down their wiring order and their locations. Now it is time to configure them in Betaflight.
Overheating can damage these LEDs. Use lower temperature for soldering, and try not to leave your solder iron on the pads for too long.
You can just connect those LED straight to your flight controller. But if you can also test the LEDs beforehand with an Arduino board. (You probably want an external 5V BEC for the LEDs, in case they draw too much current than the Arduino can handle. Use the Arduino library NeoPixel for testing.
WS2812/WS2811 LED Current Draw
Make sure your flight controller or BEC can supply enough current to power the amount of LED’s you plan to use.
As tested, a single 5V WS2812 LED draw around 18mA in average. Note that the current draw changes with colour, blue uses more energy than red. But that’s pretty insignificant compared to what our motors can do. Here is the current draw for 3 LEDs.
Enabling LED Feature in Betaflight
ALWAYS REMOVE PROPELLERS whenever doing any configuration or bench testing BEFORE plugging in the battery!
Connect flight controller to Betaflight Configurator.
On the Configuration Tab in Betaflight, first enable the LED Strip feature by clicking the toggle switch under “Other Features” then click the “save and reboot” button.
If you already have the LED connected and the battery plugged in, this will illuminate the LEDs white by default. It will also enable the LED Strip tab on the left hand window. If you don’t see it, please turn on “Enable Expert Mode” in the top right.
Betaflight LED Setup: Wiring Order and Color Selection
Now on the LED Strip Tab in Betaflight, first we must setup the LED wiring order by clicking the “Wiring Order Mode” button.
This is where we tell Betaflight how the LED’s are ordered and arranged on the mini-quad.
Start with the very first LED coming from the flight controller and assign it to a location on the grid followed by the next LED in sequence and where it is located.
Pro Tips: It doesn’t matter where in the grid you drop the LED, all that matter is the ordering. The grid is only there to help you visualize the LED arrangement.
Betaflight starts numbering with 0 so when we get to the 4th LED the number is 3. Finish for every LED in the strip then deselect the Wiring Order Mode button.
Next we are assigning color to each LED.
Highlight the first LED (numbered 0) by clicking on it, select “Colors” from the “Functions” drop down menu then click the color you want to assign that LED in the color chart.
Notice that LED on the grid now has indicators telling us the color function is enabled and color Magenta has been selected.
Finish picking colors for each LEDs in the strip, any colors you like, and click save. Now all the LEDs will show the selected colors.
Now as soon as you power up your quad, all 4 LED’s will display magenta color. Let’s move on to a more complex example.
Here I have entered the first 4 LEDs.
Again, it doesn’t matter where on the grid, as long as you have room to enter all the LEDs and can make sense of where they relate to their position on the quadcopter.
Here I will place the rest of the LED’s in the grid, then deselect the Wiring Order Mode button. Notice that I have 6 separate strips, and the order represents how they are wired together in series.
Now we can start assigning functions to each individual LED. In this case we are just going to assign different colors for them.
Highlight the first LED (numbered 0) by clicking on it, select “Colors” from the “Functions” drop down menu.
Then click any color you want to assign that LED in the color chart.
Do the same thing for the next LED and so on until all the LEDs have been assigned a color.
Click the Save button and the LEDs on the quadcopter will switch from white, to the colors you’ve selected.
Betaflight LED Setup: Advanced Functions
The LED feature in Betaflight is pretty powerful, there are many functions that can be activated and overlaid for a completely customized LED display.
Color modifiers, Blinking, Larson scanner/Knightrider effects, warnings for battery, RSSI and more, even color coded VTX channels controlled through SmartAudio. The possibility is exciting :)
The throttle modifier will change the LED color depending on throttle position. The color selected will be shown at mid throttle, the previous selectable color will show at low throttle and the next selectable color at full stick.
To activate this, highlight the LED you want to use and click the Color Modifier for Throttle. This can also be changed from throttle to a different channel such as AUX switches for flight modes, rate modes etc.
Note the orange dot indicating Throttle Color Modifier.
Both rear arms set to change color according to throttle position. Once saved this can be tested through the transmitter without arming, simply slide the throttle up and down and see if you like the transition.
Turn indicators will flash corresponding LEDs when roll or pitch is applied. To do this, first we must select the orientation for the specific LED we want to use by selecting N, S, E, W or UP and DOWN.
Next click the “Indicator” switch. Do this for any LED you would like to blink when TX input is applied in that direction.
Now this LED will blink when left roll is applied, slow with small inputs and fast like a strobe when at full stick. This can also be tested now with the transmitter.
Arm State is another useful function. Highlight the LED you wish to use and select Arm State from the Functions drop down menu.
The Arm State function allows you to select two colors, one for when armed and one for when disarmed.
There are so many combinations that can be made here to get that custom look you’ve always wanted, start playing around with different settings and see what happens. Wether you would like to add some lights to help orientation, light up the entire night sky, or just add a touch of color for your race, LEDs are always cool. ;)
Here is a instructional video by Droneofprey.