Telemetry and HD video over 4G

I am successfully using a 4G LTE network connection to send bidirectional telemetry AND HD (1280X1024 / 25fps) Video from my drones.  The video is perfect, the telemetry is perfect - regardless of range (assumes 4G is available).  I use my cell phone as a hotspot and connect using MISSION PLANNER on my laptop. The video is "snow free" and is viewed  on CHROME or FireFox browsers. 

The cost of all the equipment is under $100, but I do have to pay for a data plan ($15-$50/month) - and a small monthly amount for server time. The server setup is special to allow for the 4G<->4G connection.  The telemetry data is encrypted, the video data is not (at this time, anyway).  The system camera is non-standard but tiny.I can control the drone with a joystick connected through Mission Planner.  The latency is 0.8 seconds - max. The total weight of the system is 100 grams.  No equipment other than a computer running Mission Planner is needed on the "ground side" (except for a cell phone or other hot-spot).

I was thinking that others could use my setup as well. In that case I would have to set up multiple accounts on the server and manage them.  Before I take this any further -

Would anyone else be interested in the setup I have?

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  • No, I'm not using Mavproxy.  I'm using serial to connect to the  Raspberry pi, which allows me to use hardware to easily switch between the Raspberry pi and the RFD900 radio.

    A static 4G ip is prohibitively expensive.  Besides, Verizon doesn't allow incoming connections.  I have a dedicated 'reflector' that allows both my ground station and the drone to connect to a network name.  That way, both sides are using outgoing connections. Both sides are using tcp for telemetry and UDP for video. WiFi doesn't have nearly enough range.

    I'm using both APM and PixHawk controllers.  Both work.  My failover circuit does level shifting (3.3V <-> 5V) where appropriate.

  • Hi Charles

    Are you using mavproxy for telemetry handling/forwarding? This should allow you to connect the pi to the PXH via serial (don't use the PXH USB) and UDP broadcast telemetry via 4G mavproxy running on the pi, without any extra hardware required. (Apart from IP forwarding from your server if you don't have a static 4G IP) You can have many telemetry streams via mavproxy. There are some dedicated VPN services that will allow IP forwarding natively through a mobile service NAT.

    Failover video, on the other hand, should be as simple as having wifi and 4G running on the pi as UDP.

  • I'm thinking strongly about doing just that.  I want to do this the right way - I need to write documentation and develop a plan on how to deal with a large number of users on the server as well as come up with an idea of how and what to charge.

    I'm also waiting to have my little "automatic failover" circuit built (layout is done, it is out to the PCB house) that allows either radio or 4G to handle the telemetry.  Currently, the video doesn't have a "failover"  If I want live streaming video I have to run with 4G or else use two cameras (one with a 5.8Ghz link, the other using 4G).

    Of course, only the 4G signal has  virtually "unlimited range".

    I like to have a 915Mhz/4G  failover of the telemetry/control signal because there are a few places in the mountains where 4G isn't available. Having redundant control is good!

    I would also like to make some sort of change to Mission Planner so that when it stopped getting "x" heartbeats from the radio it would automatically switch over to 4G and block the re-downloading of all parameters (and vice-versa).  Currently, I have to do that manually.

    And I want to get some better lenses for the camera.

    But soon...

  • Start selling this!!!

  • Charles Linquist said:

    No, you can't connect to the server I use.  Not only do I pay for it, but you would have to know the protocols, the ports and a lot of other things to use it. The last thing I need is someone screwing up MY setup.

    The Logitech game controller model is described in the Mission Planner documentation.

    Richard Huang said:

    Hi Charles, can I get an account for the server? Mind telling me the model-name of Logitech game controller? I'll try to buy one by local store.  Cheers.


  • Richard Huang said:

    Hi Charles, can I get an account for the server? Mind telling me the model-name of Logitech game controller? I'll try to buy one by local store.  Cheers.


  • completely interested over here!

  • Currently, only one camera is supported with the CSI2 camera interface I'm using.  But I think you could add a second camera two different ways:

    #1.  Use a small gate array to switch the one CSI2 interface between two different cameras, or

    #2.  Use a different interface.  A Logitech C920 webcam has on-board h.264 compression and a USB interface. I have used ONE of those successfully at 1280 X 720 / 25 fps.  They are a bit large for your application.  I'm certain they could be shrunk, however.

    So with some hardware work, yes, it would be possible.  If you want to work together on this, I'd be willing. I do have a EE degree.

  • Would it be possible to use this with two camera plane? We ( would need to choose from ground station from which camera the video is transmitted to ground station.

    My front page
  • I'm using a Raspberry pi  "ZERO" for telemetry only, or a Raspberry pi 3B for telemetry and video. I use the Raspberry pi 8MP camera.   The 'dongle' I'm using is a Novatel USB 551 (about $15 on eBay). My "failover" is a hand-wired circuit, although I'm in the process of laying out a PCB.  My setup works with both APM and PixHawk controllers.

    The software in the Raspberry pi's is a bit tricky, as is the server setup (like I mentioned, I'm using Amazon's aws services), but there is no special software running in the flight controllers or my laptop, which is running Win10 and Mission Planner. 

    For a test, I took off and flew in my friend's large back yard 13 miles away. He was my "visual observer" and kept me informed via phone.  

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