I think for the hobbyist, the only real choice is an open source autopilot. Unfortunately with a closed source solution, you are stuck with the feature set that the developer wants you to have. Another major advantage of open source autopilots is that reading the source code is a valuable learning, and troubleshooting tool. Even if you never intend to modify the code, just being able to look at it can be enough to resolve a problem.
In my personal opinion, the Paparazzi project is the best hobby autopilot. At the hobby level, no closed source(or open source) project can match the coding resources the Paparazzi project has. The Paparazzi project has a long list of features which are only matched by expensive proprietary autopilots. Want a camera, multiple UAVs, video, full featured ground station(with integrated real time video if you want), telemetry, powerful flight plans, to control a quadcopter? You can do all of this and more with Paparazzi.

What are the technical requirements?
I added a technical requirements post for UAVs in general here. The only thing you need to add to that list is some decent Ubuntu Linux ability. If you are halfway competent with windows you will be just fine. My father has been using Ubuntu exclusively for months now, and he is doing fine. He can barely even delete folders, and his first successful download in the short time he had Vista was spyware pretending to be antivirus.

How long does it typically take to get it working?
It took me a few months working off and on. It takes a while to fully get a handle on all the parts. You ARE going to bang your head on the wall a bit. I also spent about two days building the wiring harness. The molex picoblade connectors are a pain. Tip from me: buy the precrimped wires.

What are the real costs, all included?
Expect to spend around $600 for autopilot with telemetry. excluding RC Plane and laptop
You will need:
The autopilot: Tiny V2.11 Comes with integratedGPS(Get the LEA-4P model, since the GPS is easier to deal with)
Vertical IR Sensor
Horizontal IR Sensor
See the Get Hardware page on the wiki for parts sources. Do not buy any parts from Halfbase.com, or you will most likely lose your money.
I recommend using the Xbee Pro modems, it is pretty easy to get them working.
For airborne, part number: XBP24-AWI-001 ← OEM module with whip antenna
For ground, part number: XBP24-PKC-001-UA ← This one has a nice aluminum enclosure for your ground station which will keep your modem alive longer.
These are the 2.4ghz modems, if you have 2.4ghz video on your plane you can get xbee in 900mhz.

Start with a slow and stable plane, and you will have an easier time and will not need to add a rate gyro on the roll axis.

Where's the best place to get started?
The best place to get started is on the Paparazzi wiki. The wiki can be hard to understand at times, but bear with it. If you find a problem, make some edits please.

Go to the site map link on the wiki, and read EVERY page on the site map. It is a pain to read the whole thing, but it will help you a lot.

Next download and install the paparazzi software, and simulate some flights, and play with the flight plans.

Once you have done that, then I would purchase the hardware.

What's the best place to turn to for help?
1.The wiki
2.The mailing list (don't forget to search the list archives)
3.This big nasty thread on rcgroups (don't forget the thread search tool)
The normal rules for getting help online apply: Show what you have tried to solve your problem, and use a descriptive title.

Whew! You still with me? Paparazzi is not easy, but it is rewarding. Anyhow if you wanted easy, you would not be wanting to build your own UAV. It is a lot of hard work no matter what autopilot you choose, but it is extremely rewarding when you are standing in a field watching your plane fly around with no input from you.

Views: 5127

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on October 31, 2008 at 12:03pm
Many thanks, Cory! For those who are wondering, the plane he is using is a NexStar EP, which is an excellent UAV platform.
Comment by Cory on October 31, 2008 at 12:07pm
I wrote a post about the plane way back when for those who want more info.

I think my next project will be using an epp based plane. I am thinking of giving the Easy Glider Pro a try.
Comment by Cory on October 31, 2008 at 12:25pm
I forgot to add that if anyone wants help getting started with Paparazzi, then send me a PM and we can talk in greater detail.

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on October 31, 2008 at 12:26pm
You might have better luck with the Multiplex Mentor, which has more room inside for equipment.

Of course the EasyStar is always a great choice if you can live without ailerons. Great for anywhere, anytime flying and pretty close to indestructible.
Comment by Cory on October 31, 2008 at 3:13pm
I got

a question about altitude hold. Paparazzi does that pretty well. Here is a pic of the flight track of my first successful auto flight. The side view shows the altitude hold pretty well. Be aware that the plane needs a lot of tuning. I should be able to get much better performance from it.
Comment by Paul Marsh on November 1, 2008 at 6:48am
Cory, Thanks for the updated info, and for your original post. All great info.
Comment by Phillip Chilson on February 21, 2009 at 7:40pm
Cory - I really appreciate your posts. We are getting started with a research project at the University of Oklahoma, with the intention of making atmospheric measurements with an R/C airplane using the paparazzi system. So far we have: 1) bought the plane (electric-powered NexSTAR), 2) bought the meteorological sensors, 3) installed the paparazzi software, and 4) purchased the paparazzi hardware (just arrived). We bought the
TINY 2.11_LEA-5H Basic no RF
888-XBP09-DPSIT-156 XBee-PRO 900, 900MHz
888-XBP09-DPWIT-156 XBee-PRO 900 900 MHz
Since your set-up sounds similar to what we would like to put in the air, I was wondering if you could share any additional experience with us or configuration files.

Thank you in advance and again thank you for sharing your information.
Comment by James Turner on February 22, 2009 at 5:29am
Looks a fantastic development system but I was wondering if anyone knows where I can buy an assembled Tiny V2 board because My PCB skills are not yet good enough to handle SMD's. THanks.
Comment by Cory on February 22, 2009 at 11:56am
Quote from post above:
See the Get Hardware page on the wiki for parts sources.

The link is above.
Comment by Harsh on July 16, 2009 at 9:29am
Hey Cory,
Thanks - this was a very helpful post. I am just getting started with Paparazzi - I got the hardware and was having some problems with the USB cable. So I wanted to make a new picoblade -> USB cable. I was wondering where I can get the precrimped molex picoblade connectors? I found them on halfbase.com but then you mentioned that I shouldn't buy anything from halfbase.com. Why is that?



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