Constructing a drone might be very rewarding, however selecting a flight controller in your drone might be an awesome activity. There are seemingly limitless drone flight controller selections available on the market as we speak. Whereas that is true, there may be solely a choose quantity of drone controllers which can be proper in your construct. Upon getting readability of your drone construct, the listing of potential autopilot boards decreases drastically, making your determination much less daunting.

This put up will present you 7 of one of the best flight management boards available on the market as we speak. You’ll both discover the flight controller that’s excellent in your construct, or achieve the data required to appropriately choose whether or not a board is acceptable for the drone you’re desirous to create.

For those who’ve by no means constructed a drone earlier than or would really like a refresher of the drone constructing course of, checkout my full information on how to build your own drone. Alternatively, enter your e mail deal with beneath and I’ll ship you a free 20-video excerpt from the course, which is able to stroll you thru easy methods to construct a raspberry pi drone. 

Flight Controller On DIY Drone

Autopilot Board Deciding on Standards

We analyzed 7 of the highest drone controllers available on the market by gathering data for elements akin to:

  1. Affordability
  2. Open Supply Firmware
  3. FPV Racing pleasant
  4. Autonomous performance
  5. Linux or microcontroller primarily based atmosphere
  6. Typical body dimension
  7. Reputation (Increased recognition means extra on-line assets and assist)
  8. Processor

In case you are fighting deciding on which board to purchase, explicitly defining what you are attempting to construct by filling out these 8 elements will drastically make it easier to in selecting a flight controller.

For instance, if you’re wanting to construct a drone with a ton of on-line help and open supply firmware, then it is advisable focus in on elements 2 (open supply firmware) and seven (recognition). Or maybe you wish to make an reasonably priced FPV quad? Then it is advisable give attention to elements 1 (affordability) and three (FPV racing pleasant)

Checkout this put up on the highest open source drone software initiatives if you happen to’re searching for a fast overview.

With out additional ado, right here begins the comparability of the most well-liked flight controllers available on the market. On the very finish of the put up, you will discover a giant chart that summarizes the 7 boards alongside the 8 elements of research.

Finest Flight Controller Boards

APM Flight Controller

APM Flight Controller

JUST DON’T!

The APM flight controller makes use of a puny 8-bit processor and is now not being supported by the ArduPilot venture.

It was revolutionary in its day, however that was a very long time in the past.

I do know it may be tempting to be drawn in direction of a really low cost product with an ‘Ardu’ in its title, however it’s low cost for a motive.

For those who have been trying into an APM flight controller, likelihood is you wish to construct a cool open supply drone with the ArduPilot venture. If that’s the case, the unique Pixhawk is what you’re searching for.

Pixhawk

The Pixhawk was the padawan to the APM flight controller, and have become rather more highly effective. The APM Flight controller has an 8-bit processor, and the unique Pixhawk makes use of a 32-bit processor.

This was a monumental leap for open supply drone controllers, and for that motive it turned very widespread amongst DIY drone builders.

Pixhawk Flight Controller

The Pixhawk can be utilized with each of the primary open supply drone initiatives, ArduPilot and PX4, and likewise is totally open supply {hardware}.

Because of this many impartial producers can construct and promote the boards, however the structure is similar.

There are many IO ports on the pixhawk, making it simple to speak with an onboard pc, like a raspberry pi.

It’s a straightforward product to search out and purchase. Most pixhawk kits include all of the required supplementary {hardware}, like GPS, magnetometer, buzzer, Lipo energy module and so forth. You could find a package like this on Amazon for ~$120.

PROS:

  • Some of the widespread boards for greater drone builds
  • Supported by the massive open supply software program initiatives
  • In a position to interface with a companion pc
  • Very talked-about. Youtube is affected by tutorials referring to the pixhawk
  • Low cost relative to the performance it gives

CONS:

  • It’s an older flight management board.

Pixhawk Cube

Additionally known as the Pixhawk 2.1

Pixhawk Cube Flight Controller

The pixhawk open supply {hardware} venture has made many flight management boards after the unique pixhawk, however the Pixhawk Dice is one in every of its newer designs. For that reason, open supply initiatives like ArduPilot usually tend to cater new performance and help to the Dice.

That being mentioned, there are plenty of similarities between the Dice and the unique pixhawk.

From this, if you’re extra centered on the affordability and performance elements, the unique pixhawk could also be your greatest guess, because the dice can price round $250.

If, alternatively, you’re desirous to future proof your drone and have plenty of on-line help in your flight controller, then the Pixhawk Cube might be the fitting selection.

PROS:

  • Extremely supported by ArduPilot, however works with PX4 as effectively
  • Finest pixhawk choice to future proof your drone
  • Excessive quantity of help for the Dice, that means extra youtube assets and boards to peruse for options to any issues you might encounter

CONS:

  • Related in structure to the unique pixhawk
  • Costly

Navio2

Full disclosure: That is my private favourite board!

Navio2 Flight Controlle

As famous beforehand, the pixhawk might be related to a raspberry pi to behave as a companion pc for issues like pc imaginative and prescient. This could require some guide tinkering with wires and Linux config information, as it is advisable setup a UART bridge of communication.

With the Navio2, your flight controller is a raspberry pi! That’s as a result of the Navio2 is a protect that merely attaches to the highest of a raspberry pi 3.

The maker of the Navio2, Emlid, offers a free Debian OS picture that comes pre-installed with ArduPilot as effectively. All you must do is flash the picture to an SD card and also you’re in enterprise.

The Navio2 has one other actually cool characteristic: the Ardupilot firmware is utilized in a purely Linux atmosphere!

With the revolutionary PREEMPT-RT patch that made Linux an actual time working system, many roboticists have migrated from microcontrollers to Linux.

Navio2 is among the first boards to make open supply drone software program runnable from a Linux atmosphere. Having a Linux drone opens up the doorways for a lot of cool options that aren’t out there on regular microcontroller-based boards, akin to:

  • SSH into your drone whereas it’s flying
  • Compile new firmware proper on the drone by
  • Deal with the Ardupilot firmware as some other course of in Linux

I’m a giant fan of Linux primarily based drones, as a result of I feel it lowers the barrier of entry required to start out flying. I feel it’s nice for collegiate research and people desirous to focus extra on excessive stage innovation, like pc imaginative and prescient primarily based flight.

The Navio2 is supported on each ArduPilot and PX4.

Just lately, I constructed a drone with a Navio2 mind. For those who’d prefer to see my creation and components listing, checkout my raspberry pi drone kit here.

PROS:

  • Linux primarily based board
  • Saves a ton of time
  • Lowers the data barrier of entry to construct a drone
  • Makes use of the superior computing energy of a Raspberry Pi 3, with its 4 CPU cores

CONS:

  • Comparatively costly ($205)
  • Requires a Raspberry Pi to perform

BeagleBone Blue

BeagleBone Blue Board

For those who’re not aware of BeagleBoard venture, it’s principally a lesser recognized model of an academic board just like the Raspberry Pi: low cost compute energy meant to teach and enlighten.

Keep in mind all my gushing about Linux primarily based drones within the Navio2 abstract?

Nicely ArduPilot carried out in Linux began out on the BeagleBone platform. ArduPilot was first ported to Linux on the BeagleBone Black as a proof of idea round 2014.

With the success of the ArduPilot Linux port on the BeagleBone Black, the BeagleBone Blue was created.

It’s designed particularly for robotics, and has two programmable PRUs for real-time demanding computations, making it an incredible selection for drones.

It does have much less compute energy than the Navio2+Raspberry Pi mixture, because it solely has 1 CPU core, however once more the PRUs assist to make up for this. In contrast to the Navio2, the BeagleBone Blue doesn’t require any supplemental boards.

The BeagleBone Blue is supported by each ArduPilot and PX4.

PROS:

  • The beagleboard neighborhood is very supportive
  • Linux primarily based board
  • Saves a ton of time
  • Low cost (~$90)

CONS:

  • Comparatively much less compute energy in contrast with the Navio2+RPi
  • Solely actually for smaller drone builds

Naza Flight Controller

Naza Flight Controller DJI

Queue the Darth Vader theme, DJI is about to enter the constructing!

Sorry, I feel my bias is exhibiting.

All kidding apart, the Naza Flight controller is a fairly widespread flight management board provided by the drone large DJI.

A Naza-M V2 package might be discovered on amazon for round $200, and it comes with the essential elements like GPS.

The flight management software program right here is closed supply, which implies the neighborhood doesn’t have entry to the code. So if you’re wanting to construct a drone you’ll be able to tinker round on, the Naza flight controller most likely isn’t for you.

For those who’re wanting a reliable flight controller and aren’t as involved with tinkering, possibly the Naza is an possibility for you. You’ll be able to’t argue that the DJI flight management firmware isn’t fairly superior, and contemplating it’s closed supply, that is a formidable feat.

Because the product is DJI, you get the benefit of the software program suite that DJI offers, and plenty of the firmware upkeep will probably be dealt with mechanically with out guide work required of you.

Another excuse you might wish to construct a drone with a Naza mind could be for the tech-savvy photographer. Having a plug-and-play flight controller that abstracts you away from having to consider firmware frees up your thought fairness for issues like pictures.

PROS:

  • Plug and play kind of flight controller
  • Supported by the most important drone firm on the earth
  • Popularly utilized by DIY drone builders who don’t wish to fear about firmware

CONS:

  • Closed supply flight management software program
  • Not a really perfect selection for college college students

Naze32

Naze32 Flight Controller

The Naze32 mannequin boards are extraordinarily widespread within the FPV quad racing world. They’re light-weight and really reasonably priced, costing round $30-40. You will discover many producers of the Naze32 boards, so be sure you choose one that’s an f3 or f4 flight controller.

The Naze32 works with open supply firmware, and is popularly used with CleanFlight. Their 32 bit processors are comparatively highly effective, and at a complete weight of ~5 grams, it is a perfect FPV quadcopter controller.

PROS:

  • Low cost
  • Light-weight
  • Very talked-about
  • Open supply firmware

CONS:

  • Restricted performance
  • Straightforward to mistakenly purchase an older model of the Naze32 (Once more, you wish to be certain it’s f3 or f4)

CC3D Revolution

Simply to supply some context: The CC3Ds originated with the OpenPilot venture that has since was the LibrePilot venture. The ‘OpenPilot’ key phrase has caught nevertheless, so you will notice many CC3Ds being bought as ‘OpenPilot CC3D’, regardless that the venture has dissolved.

The CC3D Revolution is very like the Naze32 in some ways: additionally it is gentle, reasonably priced, widespread and used for FPV drones.

Additionally beware that there are numerous totally different fashions of the CC3D, and also you wish to be sure you have an f3 or f4 flight controller to future proof your construct. The CC3D Revolution is an f4 controller, so that you’re good there.

Whereas each the Naze32 and CC3D Revolution help open supply firmware in CleanFlight, one of many key distinctions is that the CC3D Revo can be utilized with the very talked-about ArduPilot firmware. So you have got extra choices with firmware with the CC3D Revo.

PROS:

  • Low cost
  • Light-weight
  • Well-liked
  • Large number of supported open supply firmware

CONS:

  • The CC3D title has develop into generic and is slapped on many boards, additionally making it troublesome to decide on a good board utilizing f3 or f4.
  • More durable to search out locations to purchase the CC3D Revolution

Abstract of Autopilot Boards

Board Affordability ($) Weight (grams) Open Supply FPV Racing Autonomous Linux Typical Body Measurement (mm) Reputation Processor
Naze32 30 6 CleanFlight, BetaFlight Sure No No 250 Excessive 32 Bit
OpenPilot CC3D Revolution 50 9 CleanFlight, BetaFlight, ArduPilot Sure Sure No 250 Excessive 32 Bit
Pixhawk 120 60 ArduPilot, PX4 No Sure No 350+ Excessive 32 Bit
Pixhawk Cube 200 150 ArduPilot, PX4 No Sure No 350+ Excessive 32 Bit
Navio2 200 80 ArduPilot, PX4 No Sure Sure 350+ Medium 64 Bit
BeagleBone Blue 100 ? ArduPilot, PX4 No Sure Sure 200+ Low 32 Bit
Naza-M2 200 ? CLOSED SOURCE No Sure No 250+ Medium ?

An Different Drone Mind

A few of you might have an interest within the coding of the particular flight management algorithm from scratch. If that is so, I’d truly recommend that you just construct an Arduino drone as an alternative. Right here is my information on how to build an arduino drone.

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