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Open source "Dronecode" UAV platform project launches

Oct 13, 2014 — by Eric Brown 8,794 views

[Updated Oct 14] — The Linux Foundation launched a collaborative “Dronecode Project” aimed at creating a shared open source platform for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

The not-for-profit Linux Foundation announced the Dronecode Project at its Embedded Linux Conference Europe in Düsseldorf today. The key member of the collaborative project is 3D Robotics, which is contributing technology from its widely used APM platform for UAV autopilots (formerly called “ArduPilot”). The Dronecode project will also incorporate technology from the PX4 project, led by Lorenz Meier of ETH, the Technical University of Zurich. Most APM projects either use Arduino circuitry or PX4’s open source Pixhawk hardware foundation.

In addition to 3D Robotics, Dronecode members include Intel, Qualcomm, Chinese search giant Baidu and cloud storage firm Box. There are also seven smaller companies more closely tied to UAVs.


There was no mention of Linux in the announcement, and none of the smaller UAV-focused Dronecode members appear to have any publicly announced projects involving embedded Linux. All of them use APM technology, however. (Incidentally, the acronym “APM” comes from “ArduPilot Mega. “It was originally based on the Arduino Mega, back in the day, and the initials stuck,” wrote 3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson in an email to LinuxGizmos.)

Over the last year, 3D Robotics has been busy porting APM to Linux. The APM platform currently runs on Arduino technology governed by the open source Nuttx real-time operating system. Presumably, Dronecode will encompass the Linux version of APM when it appears, but the main focus is on the current Nuttx/Arduino version.

Autopilot modules from 3D Robotics (left) and PX4
(click images to enlarge)

In addition to 3D Robotics, the UAV-oriented companies in the project include DroneDeploy, jDrones, Laser Navigation (owner of VirtualRobotix), SkyWard, Squadrone System, Walkera, and Yuneec.

3D Robotics APM software screenshots
(click images to enlarge)

More than 1,200 developers are already working on Dronecode with more than 150 code commits a day on some projects, says the Linux Foundation. Examples of projects include APM, Mission Planner, MAVLink, and DroidPlanner. Dronecode also has been adopted by organizations including Skycatch, DroneDeploy, HobbyKing, Horizon Ag, PrecisionHawk, Agribotics, and Walkera, among others. PrecisionHawk is one of the few companies here with a strong link to Linux, with its Linux-based Lancaster UAV platform.

Linux-based UAV projects include Parrot’s AR.Drone and new BeBop Drone, as well as Pleiades’s Spiri. Higher-end commercial projects that use Linux include Airware’s Aerial Information Platform and Draganfly’s Draganflyer X8.

BeaglePilot autopilot leans on technologies from five key sources
(click image to enlarge; source: DIY Drones)

On the low end there are also a wide variety of BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi based UAV projects, mostly for smaller hobbyist craft. Erle Robot has developed a BeaglePilot autopilot that combines APM with Linux using a BeagleBone Black platform. This appears to be one of the main testbeds for the Linux port of APM.

In a blog post at DIY Drones, Anderson said that porting APM to Linux provides UAV developers with tried and true web servers, network applications, Python scripting, and advanced image processing technology, not to mention adding a heck of a lot more developers looking for cool new applications.

Dronecode project details

Dronecode infographic
(click to enlarge)

Long time Linux hacker Andrew Tridgell (“Tridge”), one of the key inventors of Samba, will become the chair of the Dronecode Project’s technical steering committee (TSC) and will have a seat on the board. Tridgell is now “a lead maintainer in the development of APM,” says the Linux Foundation.

The Dronecode Project will have a neutral governance structure and will coordinate the funding for resources and tools needed by the community, according to the Linux Foundation’s announcement. The governance structure “will allow other parties and developers to influence and participate in the development and direction of the software,” says the organization.
The Linux Foundation cites a report from The Teal Group, an aerospace market research firm, that projects that within a decade the total amount spent worldwide on research, development, testing and evaluation of drone technology will reach $91 billion. Drones are becoming recognized for a wide variety of uses beyond commercial and defense applications. As indicated in the infographic at the right, the LF expects Dronecode’s applications to include environmental research, wildlife conservation, humanitarian work, and search and rescue, in addition to commercial applications.

“The Linux Foundation is well-recognized for its ability to rally support and advance the work of important open source projects,” stated Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics. “The Dronecode Project will benefit from this expertise and bring to bear important resources for developers working on drone technology.”

“Open source software and collaborative development are advancing technologies in the hottest, most cutting-edge areas. The Dronecode Project is a perfect example of this,” stated Jim Zemlin, executive director at The Linux Foundation. “By becoming a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project, the Dronecode community will receive the support required of a massive project right at its moment of breakthrough. The result will be even greater innovation and a common platform for drone and robotics open source projects.”

Further information

For more details on the Dronecode Project, visit the project’s website at Additional information regarding the APM UAV platform is available at the 3D Robotics APM page and at APM Multiplatform Autopilot site.

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