New Volta companion computer for Pixhawk brings computer vision, more

This new companion computer from Volta costs just $299 but brings a huge amount of power to Pixhawk-based drones. It's designed to compete with the DJI Manifold at a lower price, and it's open source. OpenCV-based computer vision, streaming HD video, 4G wireless and a 30-second installation with Pixhawk.  Impressive! 

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Comment by Volta Robots on January 12, 2016 at 6:08pm

Thank you @Chris_Anderson, @Randy, @benbojangles, @Thomas_Stone, @Edildrone, @The_Sun, @Jiro_Hattori for the appreciations, they mean a lot to us!

Thanks also to all the new 4Gmetry customers, you will enjoy it!

We received a lot of feedbacks / suggestions: they are all taken is serious consideration, thank you! We are working hard on the next generation of 4Gmetry, open source as usual - for the pleasure of DIY-at-any-cost. See you all in http://diydrones.com/group/volta!

Comment by JB on January 13, 2016 at 8:47pm

The easiest way for anyone to adopt this is if one of the developers would publish a ready to go XU4 linux image to write to a SDCard, like BBBmini etc. Ideally someone would offer a simple serial to DF13 cable for the Pixhawk interconnection for a few bucks (instead of a FTDI) and then the hardware can be bought from anywhere at a cost saving, with the same amount of parts that need to plugged together.

Of course, as previously, and if so inclined, 4GMetry could of course offer the linux image for download on their website for a fee. If the image would cost around $20-30 plus $5 or so per update, I think that's fair, considering there is no substantial ongoing costs in distributing the OS image. Of course alternative images could be made available for various platforms, like the Nvidia platforms.

On that point, a comparison with the nvidia platform is not really beneficial to the XU4 at all. The current X1 nvidia platform is considerably more powerful in the GPU department (1TFLOP vs 100 GFLOP ie 10x faster) plus it also has many more camera interfaces, which allows for multiple HDMI in/outs as desired, plus multiple USB3 ports for connecting other peripherals like SDR etc. The new X1 module plus Jurgens dev board is of similar size to the XU4 but with excessive amounts of extra connectivity. Just alone factoring in the extra performance and connectivity, plus the reduced energy required by the nvidia and overall better OpenCV integration, makes the old last generation Exynos chip look a bit sad on the test bench.

I'd compare it with the Solo companion board instead to make it look better... ;-)  In fact the XU4 is a little bit overkill for just mavproxy services, the old version using a Pi or C1, or maybe a version using the new PiZero would be better suited to provide 4G telemetry, at a considerable lower cost and size? 

On the 4G telemetry range I'd also like to see range at least labeled as being "subject to mobile reception". It's true the GCS can be operated wherever it has an internet connection...even from the other side of the planet. But technically, the RF reception and connectivity of the aircraft over 4G is separate from the "infinite range" of the GCS via the internet over landlines etc.

However, in saying that, the GCS won't work either if it can't connect to the internet. From experience the aircraft always has better mobile reception than the GCS on the ground using 4G, which means that in reality any local GCS is the limiting factor for 4G range, unless of course the GCS is plugged into a landline ADSL! Which sort of the defeats the purpose somewhat, unless one is used to operating UAVs out of a remote secret lair! ;-) 

In any case the range is limited by 4G coverage, regardless of how little bandwidth is used for telemetry over 4G and this should be made clear to buyers, that aren't "savy" or "DIY" enough to build the kit themselves. 4Gmetry could be open to litigation should they not define the actual range sufficiently, for example from a fly-away that results in property damage or worse due to the loss of "infinite range".

Regards

JB

 

Comment by Jouni Helminen on January 25, 2016 at 7:33am

I think this is really great for certain things.

For anything that required GPU acceleration (deep learning, most machine vision) you are better off with an Nvidia board - as the main frameworks and libraries atm primarily use CUDA. Caffe has OpenCL support in the works but last time I checked BLAS libraries (required for neural networks) for openCL are still 5x slower than with CUDA.

Jetson TX1 is pretty expensive still, TK1 boards (which have less CUDA cores but still powerful) are not too pricey.

NVidia is really pushing deep learning hard, much harder than ARM for Mali, and they have a big advantage at the moment.

Comment by Edildrone on January 25, 2016 at 11:21am

It's fantastic, I pilot my drone to the office and my workers bring it in different locations and I pilot it to the remote control


Developer
Comment by Bill Bonney on January 28, 2016 at 10:17pm
@JB after discovering that the 4gmetry solution does not even come with a LTE module I'm going to produce a image for RPi and XU4, since $200 for $99 dollars worth of parts that come straight from the ODROiD store is excessive. And the system doesn't even do what peopl expect without a lot of extra work. It's no where near a plug and play solution. If the markup was a more reasonable amount I wouldn't have felt compelled to complain about it. They don't even list compatible LTE modules on there site.

I fear that any real person that purchases the system will feel cheated. The supplier is also heavily using DIYD to sell the product, so its more imperative to make it clear to potential customers looking at this product it is not going to do what they expect easily.
Comment by Andreas Olofsson on February 9, 2016 at 1:26pm

@chris

A fine platform for sure! Good job Volta.

I expect most folks don't care...but I think it's a disservice to the community to call it open source.

The Odroid boards and Samsung processors are pretty far down pile in terms of open source friendlyness.

http://www.hardkernel.com/main/products/prdt_info.php?g_code=g14061...

http://www.oshwa.org/definition/

Comment by Al B on April 15, 2016 at 11:08pm

We ordered a Volta 4Gmetry III a couple of weeks ago, and it arrived today.  After unpacking it, I realized that we could just ordered the ODROID-XU4 and save some money.  The Volta doesn't even include a power supply and the available documentation is really bad and out of date.  You are pretty much paying over $200 more for just an USB chinese cable adapted with a DF13 connector to connect to the Pixhawk. Ouch!  For security reasons here in US, we cannot even use 4G for our project. Grazie Mile, Silvio!

Comment by Volta Robots on April 16, 2016 at 1:34am

Dear AI B, 

XU4+DF13 is just the hardware, 4Gmetry III is a companion computer. Differences are:

  1. Volta takes full commercial responsability for the final use as companion & LTE telemetry 
  2. Volta gives a pre-designed, pre-selected, installed, configured software; including libs, dependencies, etc..
  3. Volta provides full customer support 

As shown and listed everywhere, power supply is not included in 4Gmetry v.III: the reason is that system integrators have very different constraints. E.g.: on rovers you could be redundant with BECs; on copters and planes you tipically want to minimize the load and - typically - use single 5V source.


AI B, I assume that when you bought 4Gmetry you wanted 4G telemetry. If you've some problem I do strongly invite you to take advantage of our customer support: we've seen hundreds of cases in different application fields from military to security, from SaR to FPV hobbyst - we're very pleased to assist you!

Best,
S.

Comment by Al B on April 16, 2016 at 9:59am

Caro Silvio,

We do a lot of prototyping and tests (e.g. HITL and debug) on the bench first not on the vehicles so including the 5V/4A power supply would have been nice.  However, I understand that hardkernel might have given you a better bulk price without it.

I have a few questions that I'll prefer to post here since it might help others. 

From a hardware standpoint, what is exactly the difference between the 4Gmetry III and the standard ODROID-XU4 ?

Regarding the 4G telemetry, how does Volta suggest to handle roaming onto another network or if there is not sufficient network coverage?

Can you provide with a link to the online documentation for the 4Gmetry III? (e.g. Quick Start, How to setup/use WiFi instead of 4G, step-by-step on how to setup the 4Gmetry III companion computer with the Pixhawk, how to install the Volta RTOS image into the SD card, specially if one wants to use a bigger and faster SD card).

BTW, I'm assuming that the OS used by Volta is a RTOS flavor, correct?

Regarding your 3 bullet points above, #1 and #3 are pretty much required if you want to build a brand and a good reputation within the community and customers.  #2 is free so one can just buy the standard ODROID-XU4 and save $200. 


Developer
Comment by Bill Bonney on April 16, 2016 at 10:02am

@Al B see http://diydrones.com/group/companion_computers

for the info you need on using a companion computer and the software need. The Odroid-XU4 is viable with an eMMC for less $100 and they also provide base images of either Android and Linux you can use.

Don't be persuaded by spending an extra $200 for nothing.

http://www.hardkernel.com/main/products/prdt_info.php

From a hardware standpoint, what is exactly the difference between the 4Gmetry III and the standard ODROID-XU4 (http://www.hardkernel.com/main/products/prdt_info.php?g_code=G14345...) ?

A $5 FTDI cable with a DF13 connector on the end.

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