FrkSky Telemetry To DroidPlanner Mavlink through external Bluetooth

Here at Airborne Projects we have been hard at work with new ways to bring MAVLink telemetry to the ground without extra parts. Specifically we are working on an Antenna Tracker that needs information about the whereabouts of the Drone, but this is for another post.

Because of our needs for wireless DRONE position information without the extra radio link we have developed a module that connects to the external module compartment of the Taranis Plus and retrieves the Frsky telemetry our Airborne Projects converter sends to the ground through the SmartPort protocol. This module transmits through Bluetooth the MAVLink data and in the video below you can see this working with DroidPlanner application in Android.

This converter is receive only, as the SmartPort as far as we know does not allow for sending.

We are able to reconstruct many messages from the information our converter sends to the ground, but even so we have been testing sending extra information through unmarked sensor IDs. This is going to be available with a free of charge firmware update to our customers.

Below is the data MAVLink data which is populated by our telemetry module:

mavlink_msg_heartbeat_pack(1, 1, &message, mavlink.mav_type, 3,
        mavlink.base_mode, mavlink.custom_mode, mavlink.system_status);
    uint16_t message_len = mavlink_msg_to_send_buffer(buffer, &message);
    Serial.write(buffer, message_len);

    mavlink_msg_sys_status_pack(1, 1, &message, ~0, ~0, ~0, 0, mavlink.battery_voltage,
        mavlink.battery_current, mavlink.battery_remaining, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0);
    message_len = mavlink_msg_to_send_buffer(buffer, &message);
    Serial.write(buffer, message_len);

    mavlink_msg_gps_raw_int_pack(1, 1, &message, 0, mavlink.gps_fixtype,
        mavlink.gps_latitude, mavlink.gps_longitude, mavlink.gps_altitude,
        mavlink.gps_hdop, 0, mavlink.gps_speed, 0, mavlink.gps_satellites_visible);
    message_len = mavlink_msg_to_send_buffer(buffer, &message);
    Serial.write(buffer, message_len);

    mavlink_msg_global_position_int_pack(1, 1, &message, 0,
        mavlink.gps_latitude, mavlink.gps_longitude, mavlink.gps_altitude,
        0, 0, 0, 0, mavlink.heading * 100);
    message_len = mavlink_msg_to_send_buffer(buffer, &message);
    Serial.write(buffer, message_len);

    mavlink_msg_attitude_pack(1, 1, &message,
        millis(), mavlink.roll * 3.14 / 180.0, mavlink.pitch * 3.14 / 180.0,
        mavlink.heading * 3.14 / 180.0, 0, 0, 0);
    message_len = mavlink_msg_to_send_buffer(buffer, &message);
    Serial.write(buffer, message_len);

    mavlink_msg_vfr_hud_pack(1, 1, &message, 0.0, mavlink.groundspeed,
        mavlink.heading, 0, mavlink.bar_altitude, mavlink.climb_rate);
    message_len = mavlink_msg_to_send_buffer(buffer, &message);
    Serial.write(buffer, message_len);

Lets us know what you think, or any suggestions.

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AeroPoints: new smart ground control points for easy survey grade drone data

Hi all,

At PropellerAero we think it is too hard and expensive for commercial drone operators to capture survey grade data – we needed a solution which was separate from drone or camera, and didn’t require expensive GNSS rovers out on site.

Today we are launching our new AeroPoints – easy to identify ground control targets with built-in PPK to capture very accurate (~2cm in X,Y, 3cm in Z) positions to georeference your aerial surveys.

AeroPoint ground control point by Propeller

The units are fully solar powered, water-resistant and last weeks on the inbuilt LiFePO4 Battery.

We have been working on the concept for the last 18 months – and the accuracy we are getting is pretty exciting: 

The AeroPoints correct off local RTK basestations, and we currently have coverage across AU, USA and the UK, with more countries coming online shortly. In areas outside RTK correction zones, the AeroPoints use a complex mesh algorithm (like PPP) to correct the position data, giving <1cm internal accuracies and decimeter-grade global accuracy after a few hours of recording. 

This mesh algorithm gives our AeroPoints much greater usable baseline lengths than traditional, instantaneous RTK as well – as we measure the same point from more distant base stations the difference from the Topcon control remains tolerable:

Post survey, the AeroPoints look for a wifi hotspot (SSID: “propeller”, password “propeller”) and will connect automatically to the Propeller servers and upload all their information, where we then tie against local CORS data and generate highly accurate points.  

For those who already use the Propeller platform for processing and visualisation, the AeroPoints will automatically tie down your data – and for those who use desktop processing (pix4d/agisoft), we output a PDF report of qualities and a CSV block ready to go straight into your workflow.

A of 12 runs for $6000 US, good for 150Ha (370acre).

Really looking forward to improving data accuracy across the industry: coarsely georeferenced information being used for technical applications is particularly frustrating for us at Propeller!



More information at

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New anode doubles battery energy density – For "some drones" this November

You may have seen reports about SolidEnergy’s batteries that use a new type of Li-metal anode which enables a doubling of the energy density of lithium batteries. I looked into it some more and found their first market is going to be drone batteries, this November. The article says “some drones” will be able to use this battery in November. Not sure what that means exactly. I hope “some” includes my Iris+!

On the SolidEnergySystems website, they say:

  • Ultra-thin metal anode can double energy density and achieve 1200 Wh/L and 400 Wh/kg.
  • Non-flammable and non-volatile, and can safely operate at elevated temperatures.
  • Can be manufactured using existing Li-ion infrastructure, and leverage an open ecosystem.

And in the drone batteries PDF:

SolidEnergy … innovates at the materials level, not the manufacturing level, but the batteries enabled by its materials can be manufactured using existing Li-ion manufacturing capability. This allows it to avoid massive infrastructure investment duplicating what the industry already has, leverage an established ecosystem, and efficiently capture the highest value.

SolidEnergy… acquires and processes raw materials from its strategic partners in chemical and equipment manufacturing. The company develops two key enabling battery materials: the anode, which consists of anode-lyte coating on lithium/copper; and the cathode-lyte (anode-lyte and cathode-lyte are two components of electrolyte), which consists of salts, ionic liquids and other chemicals. These two battery materials are then supplied to the battery manufacturers with a separator and a cathode to form complete batteries. SolidEnergy does not manufacture batteries, instead it provides key enabling battery materials.

I’m hoping this means they’ll have no production bottlenecks, they’ll be licensing out the technology to all our favorite battery makers, and by Christmas I’ll be able to fly my Iris+ for 30 minutes with equipment attached.

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DIY Drones at 80,000 members! Reflections on the evolution of DIY robotics and the next big things

It’s customary and traditional that we celebrate the addition of every 1,000 new members here and share the traffic stats. This time it’s a 80,000! 

There has been a huge amount of change in the drone market since this started as a hobby scratchpad for me back in 2007. We helped created a whole new industry, but it also moved from DIY to plug-and-play at light speed. The technologies, such as advanced IMUs, optical flow and cameras with computer vision, that we were first hacking together with parts from Sparkfun and Adafruit a few years ago are now standard on consumer drones that you can buy at Wal-Mart.

As drones become more sophisticated and autonomous (always the intention of this site), the hobbyists who just wanted to fly cool things shifted to FPV racing (called “drone racing” although by a strict definition they’re not drones since their manually piloted).  The actual “drone” part of DIY drones is now more focused on software and sensing, rather than simply getting an aircraft to fly by itself (mission accomplished on that last part — we’ve come a long way!). This software side is incredibly exciting, but it’s also getting pretty complex for most hobbyists and naturally lives in the world of GitHub commits and dev lists.  That’s what Dronecode, which is the professional side of this community, is for.

So what’s next for the DIY side of drones? Here are some of the things I’m excited about:

  1. DIY autonomous cars. Autonomous rovers are already a big part of DIY Drones, and those rovers are now starting to use many of the same technologies, such as computer vision and LIDAR, of full-size autonomous cars. Races like the Sparkfun AVC have been going for years, but now there are ones for full-size cars such as Self Racing Cars that I’m a part of. This could be the next big industry for the DIY’er to transform!
  2. Applications of drones. I love posts like this one on the use of Pixhawk-powered drones to help with the European refugee crisis. Let’s be as creative in finding innovative positive uses for drones as we were in creating them in the first place. 
  3. Data. Drones are just sensors in the sky. Now that we’ve made it easy to gather huge amounts of data, what are we going to do with it? Change detection, automatic classification and other forms of AI and deep learning are the next frontier of Big Data, and we’re at the forefront of that.  This is something we share with the new cubesat world and even driverless cars. Bits are the new atoms!

Thanks as always to all the community members who make this growth possible, and especially to the administrators and moderators who approve new members, blog posts and otherwise respond to questions and keep the website running smoothly.

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How To Move The Entire Route In UgCS

Hey, DIYDrones community,

We’ve had the request to implement a feature that allows moving the entire UgCS route.

This feature is coming, however, in the meanwhile, we have developed a script that allows you to move the entire route with ease.

The script is available on GitHub here:

To use it, you need to supply the following arguments to it:
– UgCS route or mission full name
– New latitude for the first route or mission waypoint
– New longitude for the first route or mission waypoint

The coordinates should be in decimal format.
Then run one of the following commands:

!moveRoute.cmd c:testmyroute.xml 22.42929880348565 114.1145629706805 


cscript c:testmoveRoute.js c:testmyroute.xml 22.42929880348565 114.1145629706805 

This script works on Windows.

Get the newest version of UgCS here:

Safe flights,
UgCS Team

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We've come a long way: US Department of Interior selects 3DR Solos, which got their start right here

Nine years and 80,000 members ago, we started with this

That first Lego Mindstorms autopilot was feeble, sure, but it was also possible. Inspired by the availability of cheap and increasingly good GPS, MEMS sensors, cameras and digital radios, we talked about the “bottoms-up disruption of the aerospace industry”, just as the Homebrew Computing Club (birthplace of the Apple II) did for computers.

The aerospace industry followed the classic path: first they ignored us, then they laughed us, then they fought us. 

But thanks to this community, the technology got better, fast. 

The great-great grandchild of those first DIY drones is the 3DR Solo. 

Today we have this announcement on the US Department of Interior home page. We’ve come a long way, DIY droners!

Drones will allow Department missions previously deemed impossible


Boise, Idaho – The U.S. Department of the Interior has awarded a contract to 3D Robotics of Berkeley, California for up to 40 small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The award follows a lengthy process to develop performance requirements and select the most useful type of aircraft.

“The contract is extremely important to the Department, as it will allow us to conduct many missions that were previously impossible due to limited resources and costs associated with using manned aircraft,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Safety, Resource Protection, and Emergency Services Harry Humbert.  

The aircraft weigh 3.3 pounds, are capable of carrying a variety of sensors, and are easily customized for the types of fieldwork and emergency response operations performed by the Department. The size and weight of these small UAS provide operators a simple, efficient and inexpensive tool to collect aerial data. Their design allows for rapid deployment of new payload options, as new sensors become available.  

“The Department expects to use these aircraft for a diverse set of missions including, wildlife and vegetation surveys, fire management, search and rescue, hydrologic study, cultural resource inventory, and surface mining monitoring, just to name a few,” said the Department’s Office of Aviation Service Director Mark Bathrick. “These UAS will not only provide us with better science and reduce the risk to our employees, but they will result in cost savings and better service for the Department and the American people.”

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Heavy lift X8 and sprayer system

Hello everyone, I have received some questions in another thread regarding my large X8 build and I wanted to take a minute and share a project that my company has been working on for the last 18 months. We have put together a heavy lift X8 multicopter as well as a sprayer system for use in agricultural settings. This will be a long post so I apologize in advance!

First, a little background: I am an engineer with a small consulting firm specializing in electro-mechanical system design; most of my clients are in the aerospace or industrial robotics industries. About two years ago, I was approached by a large commercial vineyard and asked to develop a small, lightweight sprayer system that could be carried on a small UAV. The client already had a vendor that would supply the UAV, and we were to design, build, and deliver a working sprayer system that could be mounted to said UAV.

Due to factors beyond the clients control, their vendor was unable to deliver the promised vehicle. My company stepped up and purchased an off the shelf T18 multicopter from a local vendor, and modified it to carry our tank system. Having worked on DoD UAS systems, but not being familiar with commercial products, there was a steep learning curve. Our T18 system was outfitted with KDE 5215-435 motors and KDE 75A ESCs. The autopilot was a DJI WKM (later I would learn that this autopilot was not a feature rich as the Pixhawk/Arducopter system).

The tank system consists of two machined hemispherical caps, bolted to a center cylindrical section. This center section can be swapped out for a longer piece, and thus increase the volume of the liquid payload. There is also a baffling system inside the tank that prevents the fluid surge from causing issues with the flight vehicle. The requirements by the customer were for a 1 gallon payload, and the first tank was designed as a 1 gallon system. Since then, we have also designed a 2 and 3 gallon system.

The concept behind the sprayer is to use pressure to dispense the liquid in the tank, rather than having an electric pump on board. This pressure driven system has several advantages over a more conventional system, most notably significantly lower weight. In addition to being lighter than a comparable pump based system, the pressurized tank also has no parasitic electrical draw from the vehicle’s flight battery. This means that we are able to get more flight time for the same amount of liquid payload. The liquid is released by triggering a solenoid valve; the valve is powered by a small 3S lipo. The spool on the solenoid is the only moving part in the system, and thus is very reliable.

The tank is filled on the ground via a fill station, which consists of a closed loop sump and pump system. This allows the operator to mix the product outside of the tank, and then fill the tank without being exposed to any pesticides or herbicides.

We used the sprayer tank system on our T18 octocopter for almost a year, in various locations and field conditions. We also received great feedback from the customers and potential end users. Several key points that we walked away with:

  • The vehicle needs greatly improved flight time (we are getting approx 8-10 minutes with a full tank)
  • exposed wiring/autopilot/ESCs are not acceptable, they are fragile and can be easily damaged by dirt/dust/pesticides during spraying and rough handling on the ground
  • The vehicle needs to be sealed from dust and water
  • The clamping system for mounting arms and motor mounts is unacceptable. The integrity of the mount is dependent on tightening lots of small screws, which strip easily and loosen each flight
  • The vehicle should be able to be broken down for shipping, and fit in the back of a pickup truck at the worksite.
  • The vehicle needs to carry a variety of payloads. Ideally the same unit should be able to be configured to carry the sprayer system, a camera system, and have a standard interface that allows other future payloads
  • Be able to be maintained with simple hand tools (ie field replaceable parts, no complex mechanical assemblies)

Armed with this information, we looked around to try to find a vehicle that met our needs. After months of searching, we came up empty handed. We realized that the performance of our tank system was being held back by the performance of our vehicle, so we decided to build a multicopter that could meet our needs.

We settled on the X8 layout because it allowed us to use the largest propellers for a given frame weight. We intended to keep the AUW of this machine under 55lbs, and the X8 layout allowed us to fit 30″ props vs 18″ props on a flat octo.

Once we had decided on the layout, we set about designing the center electronics housing. Most frames on the market utilize a ‘tube and plate’ construction, which is fine for personal use, but is not the most efficient structure.

In our case, because we are giving up some efficiency with the coaxial prop setup,  we needed to optimize the weight of our system as much as possible. To do that we settled on a central body that was machined out of a single piece of 6061-T6. We performed extensive FEA to determine how thin we could make certain critical sections, and the result is a central body that measures 12″x12″x3″ that weighs just 1.4lbs (~630g), and can easily carry a 40lb payload.

The aluminum monocoque also has the interesting feature of doubling as a heatsink for the ESCs. All of the avionics are mounted inside of the enclosure, and the ESCs are mounted directly to the aluminum with 3M 8810 thermal tape. This allows the heat generated by the ESCs to be conducted to the main structure itself, and then radiated/convected away. The system works very well, and you can feel that the body of the copter is warm after a long flight.

Another area where we were able to gain some efficiency was by using an airfoil shaped motor boom. While most companies use round arms, from an aerodynamics point of view round arms have approx 10 times the drag of a streamlined shape of the same projected area. By reducing the drag on the boom we get a direct increase in efficiency. Second, because most frames use a clamping system to grab onto the booms, there is a lot of extra weight in the design.

We designed a streamlined airfoil shape, and had unidirectional carbon fiber tubes manufactured. We then designed machined aluminum hardpoints that were then bonded into the carbon tubes with Loctite E120-HP (a very common structural adhesive in aerospace). There are precision holes on the hardpoints, which mate up with precision dowel pins on the central structure. In this way, we can easily remove the arms from the vehicle for storage or transport, and reinstall them back into perfect alignment with just two bolts on each arm. In the unlikely event of a crash, there are aluminum fracture pins that allow the arm to break before damaging the center section (the most expensive part).

Another advantage of the airfoil arms has to do with vibration reduction. A major cause of vibration is caused by the low pressure bubble that forms downstream of the arm collapsing. This phenomenon is called vortex shedding. Depending on the speed of the flow and the shape of the body, it can have quite dramatic effects. The streamlined airfoil arms help to mitigate this effect, which can be especially dramatic with the large props that we are running. I also suspect that the airfoil shape acts like a stator in a jet engine, and helps to remove some of the swirl from the upper prop wash, thus helping increase the efficiency of the lower prop as well (although I have no proof of this).

When all is said and done, we ended up with a copter with the following specs:

KDE 7215-135 motors


Tmotor 29×9.5″ props

Pixhawk (of course!)

Custom designed frame (detailed above)

48Ah 8S batteries

In the end, we ended up with a vehicle that meets all of our requirements, and is something that we are proud to put our name on. We are seeing flight times of around 45 min with a Tiny2 Gimbal, Git2 camera, and a Connex HD video link, and flight times around 35 minutes with our sprayer tank system.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I want to thank the Arducopter development community for compiling top notch software, and documenting it all. I just wanted to give back to the community and share my project, I hope you liked it. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.



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