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Why Do Professional Drone Developers Use PX4 Autopilot?

A gentle introduction to PX4-Autopilot, the most popular open-source project for autonomous vehicle autopilot.

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Elliot Lee - Oct.31, 2022

px4-vision px4-vision

1. What is PX4?

PX4 Autopilot is an open-source project for the software of autonomous systems.



Pixhawk 6C by Holybro Pixhawk 6C by Holybro

The autopilot is a system to intelligently control aircraft and other types of unmanned systems. The autopilot for unmanned systems often comes with a set of inertial sensors such as a gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer to measure the angular position or attitude of the unmanned system in real time. The autopilot calculates the desired output, such as motor RPM, velocity, and position to perform the various types of maneuvers like takeoff, landing, and cruise while maintaining the desired flight or driving paths.

2. What can you do with it?

There are many things you can do with it.

  1. Control and fly drones, RC cars, and boats with it. It has 3 modes: a manual control mode, a semi-autonomous mode, and a fully autonomous mode.

  2. Schedule flight paths to collect the data. Using a partner open-source project, Q Ground Control station, or QGC, you can set waypoints with a few clicks and go.

  3. Customize peripheral hardware. As the project is open-source, it is very flexible to attach your own hardware or sensors and integrate the system.

  4. Professional research and development. Lots of researchers from renowned universities and autonomous robot companies are using it. You should take advantage of the trend!

Custom TailsitterCustom Tailsitter

3. Pixhawk vs PX4

The main difference is that Pixhawk is the name of the project for the autopilot hardware and PX4-Autopilot is the project for the autopilot software. And they are all open source. As their names are kind of similar, it often confuses people to think PX4 is just a shorthand notation for Pixhawk. However, there are different brands for the Pixhawk hardware manufacturers, such as Holybro and ProfiCNC, just like there are many Android manufacturers like Samsung, Motorola, and Xiaomi. And there is one software project, PX4-Autopilot, while its version keeps going up.

Image & References

[1] Holybro, Vision, http://www.holybro.com/product/px4-vision/

[2] Holybro, Pixahwk 6C, http://www.holybro.com/product/pixhawk-6c/