Can ArduPilot be managed to comply with DO-178C?

With full commercial integration of UAS on the horizon for 2015, open-source projects like ours have the potential to erradicate barriers to entry into the UAS marketplace.

The regulations involved with getting software certified by the FAA are pretty intense, but is it really anything that an open-source community can't handle? This place is chock full of people who are passionate about unmanned systems, and more than just a few who really know their stuff. As an engineering student, I'd be willing to do some of the paperwork myself, just for the bullet point on my resume, and I know I'm not alone.

Moreover, because of all the work that's been put in by guys like Mick, our GCS has got most of the capabilities the big boys have, like HiL simulation. Depending on how D)-178C pans out with using simulation environments for some of the system validation, it might even make it easier for us to get our projects stamped than it would be otherwise.

If we went through the process ourselves, using community resources, we could get our FAA stamp for a helluva lot less money than it would cost the people who pushed for the regulations in the first place. While they pay millions in salary to validate their own systems, our manpower is free.

Chris just got 5 million dollars in venture capital. With us helping on the legwork, and him putting the money towards greasing the right palms, every single one of us could own an aerospace company in five years, powered by 3D Robotics hardware. 

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  • There is alot of correct and incorrect information in this thread.


    DO-254 = Hardware

    DO-178C = Software

    I can speak for the software side of things from experience, hardware is not my expertise.

    To clarify some points:

    • Certification
      • Both hardware and software certification is not currently required for UAVs since there is no human on board. This has been stated, but I wanted to reiterate it.
      • Compliance
        • There are levels of compliance or criticality that determine the extent of V&V (verification and validation) required.
        • This directly impacts the cost of the effort.
      • Independence
        • Depending on the compliance level of the software, a different level of independence is required. Typically you want an individual who do not write the software, to verify the software (compliance level may make this a requirement). An outside entity is not required. Physical copies must exist, and in FAA blue ink (true story).
    • Open sourcyness
    • The adu* family of software and tools is GPL, which is extremely specific. A commercial company cannot legally (USA) take the software, change it and or modify, and sell it as there own. They cannot even access the software via dynamic loading (implement an interface and i'll load you at run time) or use shared memory to access the software; for commercial gain. So, no fancy tricks.
    • A commercial company could provide the ardu* products for free, modify it, provide source, etc. and profit from it in another matter (typically via a service of some type - we'll implement toy mode for you, etc; or selling hardware).
    • Certifying Open-Source Software
      • Completely viable and a precedent has already been set
        • In fairness I've only seen proposed certification of linux in various forms, but it's likely this has succeeded by now.
      • But how is this possible?
        • Create a copy of code in compliance with all respective licensing (GPL namely), certify it. Done.
        • It does not matter that someone can take certified software and modify it. This only means that there modified version is not certified. Putting non-certified software on an aircraft is a world-of-hurt you do not want.
      • Would anyone have access to the certified software?
        • Yes, given its current licensing structure.
      • But if I change the code would it still be certified?
        • NO.
    • Simulation as part of V&V
      • The fun part of DO-178C is that even your tools have to be verified.
  • This has been a really educational experience for me. Thanks to Stephen and Chris A. for coming in and setting the record straight.

    So the way I understand this now, is that anyone can come in and grab the code, and run it through the certification process. Whether they change the code or not, the certification process is basically value added that is frozen to their now-closed branch of the code. So even if they kick whatever improvements they made back to the community, and that code goes into the trunk, the trunk does not become certified by extension. Is that correct?

    To me, that creates value for the company who goes through the certification process, since the value they added basically remains their property. I could say that's a good thing since they are trying to start a for-profit business, and they are putting in the resources and effort to take that next step.

    Pretty cool stuff.

  • Moderator
    The problem: constantly evolving code written for constantly evolving hardware.
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