HELI TALK: THE OPENPILOT PROJECT

Oct 28, 2013 No Comments by
This month, I’d like to shift gears and take a look at the OpenPilot Project (openpilot.org). What is OpenPilot? Simply stated, it’s a global community of more than 4,000 UAV and RC enthusiasts who collaborate on stabilization and autopilot systems that they produce at a fraction of the cost of commercial products. Once a design is finalized and hardware is contract manufactured, the open source software is constantly honed by dedicated developers around the world. But OpenPilot isn’t just for hardcore techies; these stabilization systems are suitable for use by regular RC’ers with reasonable experience, and member forums, videos, and FAQs on their outstanding website provide a wealth of information and support. Dave Ankers, from Australia, is one of the driving forces behind OpenPilot, and like so many in the user community, he’s eager to answer questions and to help with setups. He was a big help to me in providing a better understanding of what OP is all about.

The workhorse of the OpenPilot project is the CC3D stabilization board. This compact unit includes a three-axis gyro and accelerometer and provides flight stabilization for multi-rotors, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft, all at a fraction of the cost of most commercial units. While sold as a bare board, 3D printed cases are available from online suppliers.

CopterControl
At present, OpenPilot has two primary platforms, along with an assortment of accessories. The first platform is CopterControl, a compact all-in-one stabilization unit that runs OpenPilot’s firmware. This stabilization unit includes a three-axis gyro and accelerometer and is suitable for use in aircraft ranging from multi-rotors to helicopters to fixed-wings. Its present incarnation is the CC3D, an updated version of the original design. CC3D provides normal flight stabilization and also an auto-level function for even greater stability.

Revolution
The newest OpenPilot development is the Revolution. This newly released board is an autopilot unit that incorporates a magnetometer, three-axis gyro, accelerometer and barometric pressure sensor in its sensor suite. The result is a remarkably compact and cost-effective autopilot unit. Like the CC3D, the “Revo” runs the OpenPilot firmware, and setup and operation are designed to be straightforward. While capable of accurate position hold in its native configuration, the Revo can be upgraded with a separate GPS receiver. This not only improves position lock, but also makes features like “return to home” and cross-country waypoint navigation possible. To be clear, at press time, Revo was available in a Kickstarter version targeted toward developers and testers. The hardware is in its finished form, but the software is still being refined. Because of this, casual fliers may want to allow a little time for the developer community to work its magic.

Basic setup and more advanced programming for the CC3D and Revolution boards are handled by the Ground Control Station (GCS) desktop application, which is available in Windows, Mac, and Linux versions. Initial setup is a simple matter of launching the setup wizard and following the prompts.

The setup wizard provides a simple series of prompts for basic setup. For a multi-rotor, like shown here, the user selects the basic layout and calibrates the throttles and flight leveling before continuing on to radio setup.

The GCS’ Flight Data tab provides a wealth of information. Flight data can be recorded during flight ops and viewed here. This view also shows the Revolution autopilot’s waypoint navigation capability.

Ground Control Station
One of the most notable features of OpenPilot is the setup and calibration process using the “Ground Control Station” (GCS) desktop application. Available in Windows, Mac, and Linux versions, this application makes programming straightforward. The OpenPilot community may include some very advanced programmers, but they have gone the extra mile to make the software user-friendly and intuitive. Basic programming and calibration are a matter of launching the setup wizard and following the prompts. The software is particularly user-friendly for the CC3D’s core function of multi-rotor controller, and I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the process went. If you can read and follow basic directions, you should be able to program a multi on the CC3D.

With a worldwide network of enthusiastic users, OpenPilot opens a path to exploring a whole different niche of our hobby. Members are all encouraged to contribute, each according to their capabilities, and they have already achieved impressive results. It’s a great group of people.

 

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