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Linux-based commercial drone autopilot debuts in India

Oct 23, 2015 — by Eric Brown 2,740 views

Navstik Labs showed off its Linux-based “Flyt” commercial drone autopilot, while 3DR opened up its Solo quadcopter’s hardware add-on spec to developers.

3DR Solo

It’s been a busy week for drones. While the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) community argued over the merits of FCC regulations proposed this week that would require U.S. UAV owners to register their drones with the government, two new developments emerged in Linux-based drone hardware. A startup called Navstik Labs in Pune, India demonstrated a new Linux-based “Flyt” autopilot platform for commercial drones, while 3DR launched a “Made for Solo” hardware development program for third-party developers to build add-ons for the accessory bay of its Linux-based Solo quadcopter.


Navstik’s Flyt, FlytOS, and FlytPod

Navstik Labs made its first public demonstration of its Flyt autopilot platform at Nasscom Product Conclave in Bangalore, India, on Oct. 13, according to a Gadgets 360 report. Navstik has posted an update notification page on the beta release, which is expected in December, and has also revealed some basic specs.

Three views of the Navstik FlytPod
(click images to enlarge)

Navstik’s Flyt platform consists of an ARM-based FlytPod autopilot device, as well as a Linux-based open source operating system and application development platform called FlytOS. There are no plans for Navstik to build finished drones, only the autopilot.

The FlytPod is expected to sell for under $1,000, says Gadgets 360, and is designed for drones that are more expensive and advanced than prosumer drones like the Solo, the Yuneec Typhoon, or the proprietary market leader, DJI Phantom, all of which sell for $1,000 to $1,400. According to the story, FlytPod has advanced features like long-range telemetry systems, and it supports larger drones and both fixed-wing and multi-rotor designs. It is also “more suited for business applications,” says the story.

Navstik FlytPod system architecture
(click image to enlarge)

As Gadgets 360 suggests, the combination of the FlytPod’s octa-core, 2GHz ARM SoC and the app platform makes it somewhat “Android-like.” The idea is that a common app platform will work across multiple drone products from multiple vendors.


3DR and the Linux Foundation’s Dronecode project have a similar plan for Dronecode, although currently the focus is on hardware standardization. Erle Robotics and Canonical are deploying the Ubuntu Snappy apps platform for the Erle-Copter and other Erle Robotics products.

The Flyt platform is a second-generation version of a NavStik platform that was sold privately by Navstik Labs parent company Navstik Autonomous Systems. The company has sold technology to defense and research labs like DRDO, HAL, and NAL, says Gadget 360.

The Flyt platform offers a full Linux environment with onboard web server. The platform exposes high level APIs in REST, CPP, Python, and ROS (Robot Operating System), according to the Flyt website. It uses the Navstik-developed open source PandaPilot autopilot flight navigation platform, a fork of PX4 code-base and 3DR’s ArduPilot (APM), upon which Dronecode is based.

The FlytPod autopilot supports its octa-core ARM SoC with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC flash. According to the PandaPilot site, the stack was first used on the NavStik, the first-generation forerunner of the FlytPod, which incorporated a 32-bit Cortex M4 processor, a DSP core, and an FPU. It’s unclear if the FlytPod includes any of these other processors in addition to the ARM SoC.

The FlytPod provides payload integration for adding cameras and gimbals, using UART, ADC, and GPIO interfaces. Other hardware features include vibration isolation to provide stable sensor readings, fail-safe functions, and onboard image processing. Together with the Flyt platform, the FlytPod supports swam collaboration and simulation, and provides a cloud-connected, mobile device interface for automatic updates.

Gadget 360 quotes CEO Nitin Gupta as saying: “You will be able to talk to your drones, get data from them, control them over the internet. There could be multiple systems doing the job for you, and you can control the entire swarm through your mobile phone or tablet.”

NavStik NanoPilot autopilot module (left) and front/back details
(click images to enlarge)

The company also provides a NanoPilot autopilot, which is billed as a tiny, “generic” navigation and control module for micro aerial vehicles. NanoPilot offers a wide range of navigation sensors, including accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometer, pressure sensors, and GPS.

NavStik and Gumstix Overo side-by-side and stacked together
(click images to enlarge)

The Navstik NanoPilot has the same footprint as a Gumstix Overo computer-on-module and can stack directly with the Overo’s pair of high-density connectors, as shown above and demonstrated in this video.

3DR opens up Solo hardware bay

3DR, also known as 3DRobotics, launched its first Linux-based drone — the Solo — back in April. At the time, 3DR released a Dronecode-based open software development platform called DroneKit, and said it would launch a Made for Solo developer program to enable selected small companies to work directly with 3DR and its manufacturing partners to develop new hardware accessories for the Solo.

3DR Solo
(click image to enlarge)

This week, the company officially launched the program, inviting developers to apply. Made for Solo (MFS) will initially open up the specs for the promised gimbal and accessory bay, but not yet for the swappable motor pods, which were mentioned in April. The program provides developers with direct access to Solo’s onboard Cortex-A9-based Linux computer, says 3DR.

This does not appear to be a fully open source project. Developers need to be approved by 3DR, which will also test and certify the add-ons, which are sold and co-branded by 3DR.

Partners can build devices for the gimbal bay such as plug-and-play gimbals or imaging devices as an alternative to GoPro, or build an augmented reality device, says 3DR. Devices for the accessory bay might include a ballistic parachute system, LED lighting systems, and or optical flow indoor flight stabilizers, says 3DR. The announcement notes that the applications are endless. For example, the company discovered recently that drones are being used by farmers to bomb farms with sterile moths for organic pest control. (Someday, perhaps, there will be an add-on and an app for that.)

Early partners include JK Imaging, which is optimizing Kodak’s PIXPRO SP360 action cameras for the gimbal bay, providing 360° spherical video. Epson is developing a version of its Moverio AR Glasses, and Fiilex has developed lighting accessories for the Solo.

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