3D Robotics

Anyone remember UNAV?


Way back in 2007, when I was getting started with UAVs, the only autopilot available for less than $15,000 was the UNAV PicoPilot.  I got one, stuck it in a plane (see above), and decided I could do better for less. Thus the open source ArduPilot project and the rest is history.  

On a whim, I went to see if UNAV was still in business. It isn't. The site is now domain squatted, selling herbal aphrodisiacs (see below). Anybody know what happened to them?

Other companies from the early days that seem to be gone include uThere (Ruby autopilot), AttoPilotGluon (Gluonpilot), and perhaps some others I've forgotten.  Amazingly, the thermopile-based (IR) FMA stabilization system I first used back then is still for sale (now just $39). One of the reasons we moved quickly into IMU-based autopilots was the FMA had a patent on thermopiles. We told them the thermopile era would end, in part because they were blocking others from using them, but apparently I was wrong ;-)


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  • The FMA Copilot was the first one I used. It worked well except on frosty mornings, on a Dynam Hawksky. It amazed me how well it worked when flown near hills where the horizon on one side should have appeared higher than the horizon on the other side.

  • I had a unav device which cost $450 just as a GPS steering module. Didn't like it much so built my own using pic micro. The game changer was the mems imu and haven't look back since.
  • Developer

    AttoPilot lives on in ning http://attopilot.ning.com (though i think you can't post)

  • 3D Robotics

    Randy: That's a different u-Nav. The UNAV that made the Picopilot was a small operation in Washington State. Run by a guy named Dave Perry. I interviewed him back in the day when we had a podcast. Pretty grumpy, as I recall. The early days of autopilots were tough on customer support.

  • We started development about 2006/2007 with a gumstix linux board and a midg imu.  Then moved to a crossbow mnav talking to the same 400mhz gumstix.  Then graduated to an ardupilot (original) + vectornav imu + verdex (600mhz) cpu.  When the APM2 came out I rewrote the firmware so it simple reported sensor data out the uart and handled RC in/out and the rest was handled by a gumstix overo (800mhz.)  Now I'm up to a 1Ghz beaglebone, I've tightened up the APM2 firware quite a bit, designed my own beaglebone cape, and pushed everything I can into the open-source realm.  My latest push has been to deeply integrate python into the main application and main loop running right onboard the autopilot.  I've built up a mission/task system where independent tasks can be written in python (and have low level access to all the sensors and actuators, etc.) and then tasks can be sequenced in various ways.  I don't have a fancy web site, but you can browse the growing ecosystem here: https://github.com/AuraUAS

    Maybe one of the benefits of open-source is that projects can survive longer term without depending on sales and other market forces.  A really solid system can take many many years to develop.

    We owe a huge thanks to Chris and Jordi for developing low cost hardware to serve the hobby/diy community.  As Chris pointed out in his post: back in the mid-2000's there was nothing available that a hobbyist or university researcher could touch for under several thousand $$$.

    It has been a fun journey ... airplanes and computers and sensors and actuators at the same time, what could be better? :-)

    An independent autonomous flight ecosystem -- emphasizing robustness, accuracy, performance, and simplicity. - AuraUAS
  • I always though the FMA would make a good redundancy easy to implement and resistant to vibration. Wonder if you could stabilize a quad with those.

  • Developer

    Don't dis the FMA! :)

    Stick it on a high wing RC trainer plane and give the controls to a newb, and it's one of those magical 'just works' systems that are far and few between.

  • FMA stabilization was the first device I bought but inmediately I discovered the APM 2.0, sell the FMA without used and bought the APM  :)

  • Open Source VS Patents model.

    A clear example of how patent model limit innovation.

    I would hope that the patent ends soon for see an open source IMU + FMA autopilot.

  • Developer

    Looks like u-nav was acquired by Qualcomm in 2007.  So I guess they left the public eye with a smile on their face.  Maybe they're still kicking around somewhere in QC.

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