Not many people know but we have an piece of open source software for controlling an Antenna Tracker.  It's been built by Tridge (Arduplane lead developer) for use in the outback challenge.

Sadly we have no documentation and, as far as I know, nobody except Tridge has used it.  Still given Tridge's track record on building great software I suspect it works well and if it doesn't, I'm sure we can fix it.  So to not let this piece of code go to waste, I'd like some help from people who are interested to give it a try and help me figure out how it works.

Here's the little that I know:

  • It runs on any of our supported board (APM1, APM2, PX4, Pixhawk, Flymaple and perhaps VRBrain)
  • For APM1/APM2 users building the code is as easy as opening our hacked ArduinoIDE and selecting File > SketchBook > Tools > AntennaTracker and then building in the normal way.  For PX4/Pixhawk, our autobuilder doesn't automatically build a binary but I can provide one if people are interested.
  • It can control a Pan and Tilt gimbal like this or this found on servocity.com.
  • It may or may not require a GPS
  • It must somehow receive vehicle position updates from the ground station which has the telemetry radio that is connected to the vehicle. Maybe through a USB cable.  Tridge probably uses the python ground station, MAVProxy, to passthrough the vehicle position data to the AT but perhaps we can get MichaelO to build out a similar feature in Mission Planner.
  • I imagine this antenna tracker could also be used to keep a camera focused on the vehicle which might be good for easing the burden on creating videos of our vehicles.

So if you want to give it a try please do and stick any findings, questions or issues below. Alternatively Issues can go into the issues list.

I'll start sticking things into the wiki as they become clear.

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@DougB,  I will post a blog shortly on how to build the entire tracker from scratch, including STL files, software, and assembly instructions.

Hi Patrick,

Nice setup! The Ubiquiti NanoBeam was less expensive than I expected. I didn't see a cone pattern for it but the 25dBi gain is impressive for the price.

Did you print the 3D parts yourself or send out for them? I was wondering what the approximate cost would be?

Thanks for sharing...

G'day

91 pages of reading, kudos to brains giving their time to this project.

Just upgraded APM to Pixhawk mini for the AT and loaded 0.8 firmware. Pixhawk sporting a solid red error light and isn't wanting to play. If I reload Plane 3.8.1 it connects and away we go. AT 1.0.0 also does not seem to work. Any tips fellas? I would assume it's something simple I've missed. SD card changed and still the same..

Cheers,

Rico.

Well, you have to pre-arm and arm to make it work. You can override this with the safety setting in the AT firmware. That's like an automatic arm.

Hi Anthony,

thanks for the reply - let me study up on that. New to Pixhawk, thought it was going to be a tad more straightforward after APM2.5/2.7.

Sounds indicate 'Failed to Start'.

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Hi Rico,

Many has changed since APM, you'll be surprised. Best thing to do is connect the AT to mission planner, select Antenna tracker from the drop down box in the upper right hand corner and look at the error messages you get.

Don't forget to do your accelerometer and compass calibrations.

The AT firmware is a bit tricky, but once you've got it working, it's flawless.

Good luck.

Sorry for late answer Patrick. Thanks very much. I remember your post now.

As far as I know, TBS Crossfire is now the only compact Long Range solution that transmits Mavlink and RC with DYNAMIC bandwidth and avoids all the complexity of another link (xbee, 433, RFD868, LTM, 3G/4G)

So I would go to simplicity for now but very curious about your digital link because your setup are always clever and reliable. If only someone like you will sell a WORKING and RELIABLE compact ready to use antenna tracker like MFD ...   Still did not understand that in the ardupilot/arducopter ecosystem...

 

These are the details, that mean anything to you?

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One of the miracles of mission planner....

@Greg Covey,

I have a Robo 3d R1 printer, and printed everything except the PVC pipe I used to connect the base to the tilt servo.  I purchased the gear assemblies and servos from servocity.com, and designed the 3-d printed parts to fit the servo base.  I attached the entire assembly to a standard camera tripod.  

The cost to build the base is about $200. I have not checked the price of the nanobeam lately, but I think it's about another $120.  A good estimate cost to build would be about $350 I think.   The servos are driven by an Arduino which receives the data from MissionPlanner during flight.  The Arduino is another $25, plus enclosure.  

Stay tuned for the blog on how to build. Probably next week.

@Jean-Marie PRIGENT

For the digital connection, I am using a Raspberry PI on all my UAVs to transmit both HD video and telemetry.  There are a few options for video, but usually I just mount the cheap $25 PI cam on gimbals. 

It is possible to commercial something like the tracker I build, however, my particular design would require the UAV to have the Raspberry PI and camera. If you want something different, it's no longer 'plug and play'.   Not sure what the market is for trackers, people doing this stuff, even on this website are a minority.  You want to start a go-fund-me and find out?

GWS builds a sailwinch servo that does 1T or 360°. GWS S125 1T

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