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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Start selling this!!!

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...

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.

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.

This shouldn't be a problem for most of us, but take into consideration that cellular towers only provide a strong signal at or near ground level. I'm a (manned) glider pilot and my phone doesn't establish a reliable data connection above 1500 ft AGL or so.

It is pretty amazing how far cellular data connections have advanced. I easily reach 75-100 megabits/s and 25 ms ping where I live.

So 4G is great, except for high altitude applications.

Hi Charles,

I would like to know the details of setting up the same. I am new to drone but would love to stream/control over 4G. Is this opne source?

Hey Charles

It depends on what country you are operating 4G in. Australia uses "drones" too ;-)

Besides theres are a bunch of forwarding services that work out of the box.

Mavproxy is a easy way, that is purpose built to distribute telemetry. There's no need to run it over "hardware" if you're already relying on a pi to run the 4G and camera. A PXH (or APM) can already connect and run both RFD900 and 4G telemetry via the pi at the same time (one PXH serial to the RFD900 and one serial to the pi). Why switch between them if both work at the same time with mavproxy? (You can also use UDPCI for telemetry etc) Mavproxy also works on the ground to route different mavlink streams, like from 4G and RFD900 to run Mission Planner.

Wifi has plenty range for video for legal line of sight operations and half decent latency, let alone no data costs.

Anyways, just wanting to share whats been working for us for over 4 years in the OBC etc thanks to CUAV's work.

http://ardupilot.github.io/MAVProxy/html/index.html

And since the FAA tells us we can't go over 400'.  No problem!



Michel said:

This shouldn't be a problem for most of us, but take into consideration that cellular towers only provide a strong signal at or near ground level. I'm a (manned) glider pilot and my phone doesn't establish a reliable data connection above 1500 ft AGL or so.

It is pretty amazing how far cellular data connections have advanced. I easily reach 75-100 megabits/s and 25 ms ping where I live.

So 4G is great, except for high altitude applications.

 I guess I didn't understand what Mavproxy did before I decided to "roll my own", but I have what I think is a great solution that works with video as well as telemetry.  I just have a few more things to work out before it becomes what I would say is nearly perfect.  No more multipath, no more "snow".  And no more "lost telemetry for X seconds messages"!

You should also know that I have my Part 107 license and have applied for a non-VLOS exemption.

JB said:

Hey Charles

It depends on what country you are operating 4G in. Australia uses "drones" too ;-)

Besides theres are a bunch of forwarding services that work out of the box.

Mavproxy is a easy way, that is purpose built to distribute telemetry. There's no need to run it over "hardware" if you're already relying on a pi to run the 4G and camera. A PXH (or APM) can already connect and run both RFD900 and 4G telemetry via the pi at the same time (one PXH serial to the RFD900 and one serial to the pi). Why switch between them if both work at the same time with mavproxy? (You can also use UDPCI for telemetry etc) Mavproxy also works on the ground to route different mavlink streams, like from 4G and RFD900 to run Mission Planner.

Wifi has plenty range for video for legal line of sight operations and half decent latency, let alone no data costs.

Anyways, just wanting to share whats been working for us for over 4 years in the OBC etc thanks to CUAV's work.

http://ardupilot.github.io/MAVProxy/html/index.html

A large part of it is open source, but not all - at least not yet.



Mohammad Bhuyan said:

Hi Charles,

I would like to know the details of setting up the same. I am new to drone but would love to stream/control over 4G. Is this opne source?

Can you at least provide a diagram of the system so that I can understand. Is it like MissionPlanner  connecting to the drone through your custom server? Do you see the Video stream in Mission Planner? Is the controller stick sending the telemetry through Mission Planner (routed by your server)? 

I hope I am not asking too much. I am new but very much interested to repeat your achievement (possibly using your server?) 

Regards,

I could give you a diagram, but it is really easy.

APM or PixHawk connects (via its telemetry port)  to a little (1" X 1") board which acts as a level shifter / failover / data selector.  That board connects to 6 GPIO and power pins on a Raspberry pi, and 4 pins of a RFD 900 radio (also works with 3DR radio).

The Raspberry pi has a ribbon cable (CSI2 interface) which connects to a camera (Raspberry pi 8MP camera).  A 4G "dongle" connects to the Raspberry pi's USB port.

The Raspberry pi is programmed (over WiFi) to connect to a special server - for example:  ec2-server1.drone.com. This needs to be done one time only.

On the ground, a laptop is connected to the internet.  This can be done either by plugging in another 4G dongle into one  its USB ports, or by using a "HotSpot".  I use my cell phone as a hotspot. No software is needed in the laptop except Mission Planner and a web browser.

You power the drone and wait about 90 seconds for the Raspbery pi to boot and the 4G connection is made, which is shown by a blue blinking LED on the 4G dongle. Using Mission Planner, you connect using EITHER a RFD900 radio over a COM port,  OR  by via tcp (4G). The tcp server will be the same as above (ec2-server1.drone.com). Choose whichever connection method you wish and press CONNECT.  Voila!  You will be connected.  Mission Planner remembers the url and port number of the tcp connection, so that information needs to be entered only once.

If you want to see video, you use either the laptop that is running Mission Planner or use two laptops.  The video works with Chrome or FireFox browsers only.  In the search bar, type in  ec2-server1.drone.com:XXXX (where 'XXXX' is a port number).  You will then be watching video.  Note that you cannot show the video in Mission Planner's inlay. The video must be shown in a web browser. A  LogiTech game controller can be connected to the USB port of the machine running Mission Planner, and you can control your drone by that method (setup described in the Mission Planner docs).  I don't like the little Logitech game controller as much as I like my Futaba radio, but it is usable.  I'm thinking of modifying a REAL controller (like the Futaba) so it will connect to my laptop using USB.  

At any rate, the video must come over 4G, but the telemetry can be done either with the RFD 900 or 4G.  I use 4G exclusively unless I'm somewhere where there is no 4G coverage.  If the 4G signal goes away while I'm in flight, I can take over with the RFD900, assuming I'm within radio range. 

Latency is about 0.8 seconds, both with the telemetry and video.

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