Articles for May 2016

Compass calibration progress with geodesic sections in Ardupilot

The Ardupilot flight stack has an embedded compass calibrator, which has the advantage of providing a consistent behavior across different GCSs. Another good point of the internal calibrator when comparing to the algorithms implemented in the popular GCSs is that it makes sure the samples collected are well distributed over a sphere in order to get good calibration parameters.

The calibrator can be triggered and stopped with MAVLink commands. MAVProxy is an example of a GCS that uses the internal calibration and the source code can be checked in the module. During the calibration, Ardupilot keeps sending MAVLink messages informing the progress of the calibration. The calibration message is called MAG_CAL_PROGRESS 1 and two of its fields are completion_pct and completion_mask. The former is the overall percentage of the calibration completion and the latter is is a bitmask representing sections of a geodesic grid.

The goal of the completion_mask is to provide a picture on how the calibration is progressing with respect to the distribution of the samples collected and a way for the GCSs to somehow guide the user when she is performing the compass calibration, which would make the process faster than just letting the user rotate the vehicle randomly until the calibration is completed.

I recently implemented the completion_mask and the patch set was applied on master a few days ago. More details about it can be found in my personal blog.

Here is a link to a demo video.


Gustavo Sousa

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Introducing the 3rd Dronestagram & National Geographic International Drone Photo Contest

After two successful editions with over 7000 photos published, amazing winning pictures and a huge international press coverage, we’re launching the 3rd Dronestagram‘s photo contest, a new way of seeing the world and let your captures be one of the best aerial shots around the world.

t aerial photos will be conducted by Dronestagram and National Geographic. The competition will be judged on creativity, photographic quality and respect of each category.

>> Please take a look at what’s been published yet

A one week stay in beautiful Mauritius Island and much more amazing prizes.

To enter the contest, you need to publish your aerial photos at
Be a part of this amazing experience when Dronestagram presents the highlights of international drone photography in the following three categories:
The election of the best aerial photos will be conducted by Dronestagram and National Geographic. The competition will be judged on creativity, photographic quality and respect of each category.

Are you passionate about drone photography? It’s time to show your work to the world and may be win a prize for your best pictures.

>> Find out more about the rules & conditions

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Copter-3.4 beta testing starts

Copter-3.4-rc1 has been released for beta testing and can be downloaded using the Mission Planner’s Install Firmware screen’s beta firmware link.  Some of the changes since Copter-3.3.3 are listed below.

1) EKF2 allows “boat mode” (attitude initialisation without gyro calibration)
2) Throw mode by Paul Riseborough
3) Terrain following:
    a) Support terrain altitudes during missions using GCS’s map data or rangefinder (i.e. Lidar)
    b) LightWare range finder driver fixes (I2C works but we still recommend using Serial interface)
    c) Bebop sonar support (we strongly recommend the Bebop2 over the original Bebop)
4) Precision Landing using IRLock sensor
5) Attitude controller re-organisation (all parameter changes automatically moved and scales adjusted)
    a) RATE_ parameters become ATC_RAT_ (i.e. RATE_RLL_P becomes ATC_RAT_RLL_P)
    b) Rate Roll, Pitch, Yaw P, D are reduced by 10% for X, V, H frames, increased by 27% for all other frames
    c) STB_ parameters becomes ATC_ANG_ (i.e. STB_RLL_P becomes ATC_ANG_RLL_P)
6) Motors library improvements:
    a) support OneShot ESCs (set MOT_PWM_TYPE to 0 for Normal, 1 for OneShot or 2 for OneShot125)
    b) TriCopter compensates for tail servo angle
    c) SingleCopter, CoaxCopter adjust control surfaces based on throttle output
    d) MOT_PWM_MIN, MAX allow specifying output ranges to ESCs which are difference from throttle input channel (i.e. RC3)
    e) TradHeli servo objects moved into heli class (HSV_ parameters become H_SV1_)
7) uAvionix Ping sensor support (ADS-B vehicles appear on GCS, avoidance will come in future release)
8) Improved Solo support (gimbal and buttons now work)
9) Pixracer support
10) Safety:
    a) warning if GPS update rate is slow (under 5hz, does not stop arming)
    b) RTL cone (vehicle won’t climb to the full RTL_ALT if it is RTL-ing from close to home)

Warning: It has been reported that Tower’s Follow-Me mode causes a rapid descent with Copter-3.4 so we recommend not using Follow-Me until this is resolved (it’s likely a mix-up as we’ve added support for absolute and terrain altitudes).

For this release we will be doing the support on the new ArduPilot discourse server instead of creating a monster thread here on DIYDrones.

This beta testing include both multicotpers and traditional helicopters.  We’re also starting beta testing of the Antenna Tracker (Release Notes here).

Thanks in advance to the beta testers!

P.S. I would like to personally thank EnRoute (youtube channel) for stepping in to support my ongoing development efforts on ArduPilot and Colestl/GatewayGeospatial for their sponsorship of the Terrain following work.

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PXFmini (Dronecode on RaspberryPi Zero) on Hackaday

I’ve been using my RasperryPi’s more and more with Dronecode software, including with the fantastic Navio2 autopilot shield and the slightly more basic Erle 2. I’ve also got Erle’s new PXFmini shields for the Raspberry Pi Zero, but unfortunately no Zeros 🙁 Since the release of the new version with a camera port (which I need) they’re out of stock everywhere.  Fingers crossed they become available soon. In the meantime, enjoy Erle’s post on Hackaday showing how to get a PXFmini flying:


This project builds a Linux drone with the Raspberry Pi Zero using a BOM (Bill of Materials) of less than 200 US$. The drone uses a PREEMPT_RT patched Linux kernel, a Debian-based file system and Dronecode’s APM flight stack compiled for the PXFmini autopilot shield. 


  • Drone made with the PXFmini autopilot shield for the Raspberry Pi (available from here).
  • Open schematics
  • APM/ardupilot flight stack compiled for the Pi Zero (sourcesinstructions)
  • Linux drone using a Debian file system made by Erle Robotics specially for the Pi Zero (available here). Includes a catkin workspace with the Robot Operating System (ROS) Indigo.
  • Docs about the PXFmini

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Pix4DCapture now supports 3DR Solo

Great news for Solo owners: the impressive Pix4DCapture app for iOS and Android is now available for the 3DR Solo. 

Plan and Fly

Easily define single or multiple flight missions around your area of interest: Customize altitude, image overlap, and camera angle for optimal results. For complex missions or more manual control, choose Free Flight mode.

Quick 3D Preview Post-Flight
Quick 3D Preview Post-Flight

Right after flight, upload the images to Pix4Dcloud directly from the app and receive a Quick 3D Preview on the phone within minutes.

Once the images are uploaded, you can also download the dataset from your Pix4D user account page and open the project inPix4Dmapper Pro or Mesh on your computer.


Transfer to Pix4Dmapper
Transfer to Pix4Dmapper

After your mission, just transfer the project from your phone to computer, either directly from the drone or via Pix4Dcloud.

With your Pix4Dmapper Pro or Mesh license, process the project in full resolution, verify and improve the project quality, edit the point cloud, export professional outputs, and measure features with survey-grade accuracy.


New Mission Manager for Android


  • Pix4Dcapture 3.0

    Map bigger areas by creating multiple missions, which you can save, duplicate and combine into projects. Plan flights from your office and press START in the field for fast and efficient mapping, then easily visualize the images from each mission . Project details are saved and organized for optimal access.


Multiple Missions

Create a tailored mapping plan by flying multiple missions under one project



Optimal Flight Planning

Plan projects and missions in advance or on the field



Recreate Flights

Duplicate individual flight missions or entire projects for efficient mapping over time

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SmartAP 4 and other products available!

Sky-Drones has recently announced the release of SmartAP 4 – the latest generation autopilot. Now, SmartAP 4 and other products are available for purchase in online store. All SmartAP products are based on custom hardware and software and oriented at the wide range of applications, including hobby, professional and industrial ones. The key features of the systems are easy configuration, excellent flight performance and intuitive ground control station. More information can be found on the official website and in the description below. 

SmartAP 4 Flight Controller


  • Powerful microcontroller 32 bit 168 MHz STM32F4 ARM Cortex M4
  • Compatible with GPS/GLONASS receiver
    – UBlox NEO8, GPS/GLONASS, up to 24 sats, 10 Hz) active antenna
  • Up to 12 PWM I/O support (5V out)
  • USB interface for configuration / firmware update
  • Various communication lines (UART, I2C, SPI)
  • MicroSD, 4-bit SDIO interface for data-logging / parameters storage
  • Backup battery for RTC
  • 2x ADC inputs for battery voltage / current monitoring
  • Electromagnetic sound audio indicator
  • 3-channels LED support (up to 500mA / ch)
  • 2-channels solid state relay

SmartAP 3 Flight Controller


  • Powerful microcontroller 32 bit 168 MHz STM32F4 ARM Cortex M4
  • Compact board size of 8×8 cm (3.15″x3.15″), weight 60g, 6 layers PCB design
  • Power supply from main LiPO battery (3S – 8S) support, up to 36 Volts
  • Power supply from BEC 5V support
  • 12V, 5V, 3.3V generated onboard
  • Integrated telemetry module (100 mW), external module is supported as well (up to [email protected] powered)
  • Up to 24 PWM I/O support (5V out, high-power), SBUS support
  • USB interface for configuration / firmware update
  • Various communication lines (UART/USART, RS232, I2C, SPI)
  • MicroSD card driven by 4-bit SDIO interface for data-logging / parameters
  • Backup battery for real-time clock and GPS receiver
  • Integrated main LiPo battery voltage monitoring
  • – Electromagnetic sound audio indicator
  • – 4-channels bright LED support (up to 100mA/ch)

Flight performance

  • Extremely stable flight in stabilize (user control), position hold (semi-autonomous control) and auto (fully autonomous navigation and control) modes
  • Native support of SmartAP Ground Control Station and Configuration Tool
  • Accurate GPS Position hold (up to 40cm), manual position override
  • Accurate Altitude hold (up to 10 cm), manual altitude override
  • Fully autonomous waypoints flight
  • Return to home mode
  • Failsafe detection and event triggering
  • And many more…

SmartAP Ground Control Station

SmartAP GCS (Ground Control Station) is the software application which allows you to plan autonomous mission for SmartAP Autopilot as well as control the drone using intuitive high-level commands:

Also, SmartAP GCS supports real-time video display:

More information and ordering at

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Flying Robot Commander and GSA #1

Global Synchronized Autonomy #1 is rapidly approaching and with it, the need to safely manage the flight of multiple autonomous aircraft. Over the past few months, I’ve been fine tuning a distributed, browser based, UAV control system that I call the Flying Robot Commander, FRC for short. The FRC integrates with PaparazziUAV via the PPRZLink messaging interface and gives me the ability to safely manage multiple autonomous aircraft. Sometimes I remember to setup a tripod and capture a bit of the development process. Case in point, here’s a short video clip of a pre-flight system test that I conducted yesterday. Pretty pleased with how well the system works and how easily I can create a diverse set of interfaces for managing the aircraft in a safe manner. Enjoy the video and remember to take part in GSA #1. Plans for GSA #2 are already in the works. Upward and onward.

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Queen B Robotics introduces the Exo360! 5 integrated 4K cameras for the ultimate VR experience

The Exo360 brings together the latest in drone and VR technology for the ultimate immersive experience. With 5 integrated 4K cameras, the Exo360 offers an uninterrupted 360 video for use with your VR headsets. The footage can be viewed in real-time or uploaded to YouTube or Facebook360 upon landing.

The drone can capture video in both linear and spherical modes, and 16MP images. With the use of our 360 video capture you will never need a gimbal again!

To learn more please go to Queen B Robotics

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