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Linux module controls micro-helicopters

Apr 15, 2014 — by Eric Brown 3,699 views

Gumstix announced an “AeroCore” MAV (micro air vehicle) controller board that runs NuttX on a Cortex-M4 MCU, plus Linux on a Cortex-A9-based DuoVero COM.

The AeroCore MAV control board is principally run by a separately available Yocto Linux-based DuoVero Zephyr or DuoVero Crystal computer-on-module (COM) that plugs into the board. The AeroCore itself includes an ARM Cortex-M4 microcontroller unit (MCU), which is said to be directly interfaced with the DuoVero. The device is intended for developers of micro air vehicles such as tiny helicopters or quadrocopter drones.

Backed up by 1MB of SPI FRAM, the MCU runs on the POSIX-based, VxWorks-like NuttX real-time operating system (RTOS). The MCU supports machine controls and sensors, while high-level Linux programs manage mission intelligence, including visuals.

Gumstix AeroCore baseboard
(click image to enlarge)

AeroCore supports integration with open-source projects like Robot Operating System (ROS), PX4, and PX4-compatible projects such as QGroundControl and MAVLink. This software ecosystem is said to enable the incorporation of firmware like optical-flow analysis program and target acquisition algorithms.

Simplified (left) and detailed block diagrams
(click images to enlarge)

The AeroCore sells for $149, or else $199 with the addition of a GPS/GNSS location module. You also have to factor in the cost of a DuoVero, which costs $169 for the Crystal model and $199 for the newer Zephyr. Both COMs feature a dual-core, 1GHz, Cortex-A9 based OMAP4430 system-on-chip from Texas Instruments paired with a PowerVR SGX450 3G GPU.

DuoVero Zephyr COM, front and back
(click image to enlarge)

The DuoVero Zephyr is almost identical to the original DuoVero Crystal except that it adds a Wi2Wi wireless module, which supports 802.11b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 3.0. Like the DuoVero Crystal, the DuoVero Zephyr is equipped with 1GB of RAM and supports dual 1080p HD cameras. The Zephyr can handle a 0 to 75°C operating temperature range, in contrast to the Crystal’s 0 to 85°C range.

AeroCore being prepped for flight
(click image to enlarge)

The AeroCore baseboard offers multiple control options for up to eight motors. It integrates a 6-axis accelerometer with magnetometer, as well as a 3-axis gyroscope and barometer. Breakouts are available to add other sensors.

Flight of the Gumstix!
(click images to enlarge)

A micro-USB OTG port is provided for cameras and other peripherals, along with a quad-USB serial converter. A variety of expansion headers are provided for interfaces such as SPI, I2C, UART, GPIO (see spec list farther below).


Gumstix UAV legacy


The AeroCore arrives a decade after the debut of the first micro-helicopter to run on Linux-based Gumstix module, says the company. We believe Gumstix may be referring to the UltraSwarm helicopter demonstrated by the University of Essex ‘s Gridswarm project in 2005, although there may have been an earlier prototype. UltraSwarm ran on an early Gumstix module that was powered by an ARM-based Intel PXA255 XScale processor running at 200MHz or 400MHz.

“Gumstix’s COMs have set the standard for lightweight, in-flight Linux computers on MAVs for the last 10 years,” stated Gumstix CEO W. Gordon Kruberg.

“The AeroCore builds on popular open-source autopilots by leveraging the power of the DuoVero COM with minimal power and weight costs,” stated Andrew C. Smith, a Ph.D. Candidate in Stanford University’s Aerospace Robotics Lab. “Proven stability and the ability to incorporate additional processing capabilities in a small package open the door for researchers and advanced users to implement complex planning and control applications not possible on currently available systems.”

A Gumstix blog posting from last summer highlights the use of Gumstix technology in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Summary of AeroCore specifications

Specifications listed for the AeroCore include:

  • Processors:
    • ARM Cortex-M4 MCU
    • TI OMAP4430 (2x Cortex-A9 cores @ 1GHz plus PowerVR SGX450 3G GPU) via separately available DuoVero Zephyr or DuoVero Crystal COM
  • Memory — 1MB SPI FRAM for MCU; 512MB or 1GB RAM and microSD slot on DuoVero
  • Networking — WiFi and Bluetooth 3.0 via DuoVero with U.FL antenna connector
  • Sensors:
    • Optional GPS/GNSS
    • 6-Axis accelerometer (LSM303D) with 3D digital linear and magnetic sensors
    • Barometric sensor (MS5611), accurate to 10cm
    • 3-Axis gyroscope (ST L3G4200D) angular rate sensor
    • Breakouts for other sensors
  • Other I/O:
    • Micro-USB OTG port
    • Quad-USB serial converter (FTDI FT4232) for up to 4x USB ports
    • 2 x low-profile 20-pin header for JTAG
    • 24-pin header with 8x PWM outputs
    • 40-pin header for GPIO/breakout and power
    • 6-pin header for Cortex-M4 SPI breakout
  • Gumstix COM interface — 2 x 70-pin DF40 Hirose connectors for mounting DuoVero module
  • Other features — Multiple control options for up to 8x motors
  • Power — Step-down converter (TI TPS62111) with component max. Vin of 17V, 1.5A
  • Operating system — Linux (Yocto Project) on DuoVero; NuttX on MCU

Further information

The Gumstix AeroCore is available now for $199 with GPS or $149 without, plus a DuoVero COM ($199 for the Zephyr and $169 for the Crystal). Sales and more information may be found at the AeroCore product page and in the AeroCore blog announcement.

(advertise here)

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2 responses to “Linux module controls micro-helicopters”

  1. olalalavic says:

    I’m considering using this gumstix board and I wonder which quad rotor platform you use?
    How is the compatibility with the platform you use?
    Thank you!

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