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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Comment by Ben on April 8, 2016 at 8:16pm

Don't know about UNAV, but to me it started with the Paparazzi autopilot that had almost the same goal to make a cheap autopilot.

They started in 2003 (and are still alive) :


Some photos : http://www.nongnu.org/paparazzi/gallery_v0.html

At that time the IR sensors to detect the plane attitude were the only cheap option, and in the following years the price drop of the gyro and accelerometers gave them the place we know today in all FC systems.

Comment by Graham Dyer on April 9, 2016 at 12:02am

Are there any figures/graphs showing popularity or usage of the various autopilots out there, commercial and/or hobby?

Comment by benbojangles on April 9, 2016 at 2:08am

Attopilot's voltage sensor is also now used by ardupilot for it's own voltage sensor correct?

Comment by Randy on April 9, 2016 at 2:37am

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.

Comment by lot on April 9, 2016 at 4:17am

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.

Comment by Cala on April 9, 2016 at 5:34am

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  :)

Comment by John Arne Birkeland on April 9, 2016 at 6:16am

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.

Comment by dionh on April 9, 2016 at 7:27am

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.

Comment by Curt Olson on April 9, 2016 at 7:37am

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? :-)

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on April 9, 2016 at 7:54am

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.


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