I just bought a Gluonpilot to test it out, and this post will record some first impression.


First, Gluonpilot is a single-board, open source IMU-based autopilot created by Tom Pycke in Belgium. Tom is a long-time autopilot designer and one of the best in the business, so this is solid gear. It's available for $322 with GPS from his store.


The hardware is a nicely-designed two-sided board, a little wider than APM but shorter. It uses a fast dsPIC processor, and supports six RC channels in and five channels out (with the option of driving two aileron servos). It has 1 MB dataflash onboard, and a pressure sensor (no magnetometer). It uses a FTDI cable for programming and communications with a desktop setup utility.


When you first get the board, it comes with cables to connect 4 RC channels, which is a little confusing because you need the 5th channel to control the autopilot. After a little digging around on the wiki, I figured out that you need to solder on two more pins to some spare holes and find some jumper cables to connect the 5th (and optionally 6th) channels.


The code is pre-loaded, so you just need to connect the included FTDI cable to the board (make sure the black cable is closest to the edge) and plug it into your PC. If you're using Windows Vista or 7, the FTDI drivers will be automatically loaded.  The Gluonpilot instructions say the board can be powered by the FTDI cable, but I found that wasn't the case with servos connected. It shut down my USB hub like that, so I had to power the board with an ESC while using it on the bench.




Once you've got it plugged in, you can start the configuration software (Windows only).  There you can set up your RC, check the sensors, download datalogging files, and do some mission planning. Overall, it's a very nice and simple setup process, similar to the ArduCopter Configurator. Everything is handled by one app, and once you've got your FTDI working, communications is fast and easy. Changes are written to the board via this app, and you can even update your firmware with it. No need to mess around with code.


Here's the RC setup screen:



I found the RC setup a little confusing. It turns out that the servo output 1 and 2 are both for ailerons (I guess for people who use two aileron servos without a Y connector?), so for regular configurations, you actually have to skip Output 2 and put the elevator on Output 3. I eventually figured that out by re-reading the manual, so no biggie.


You can also see the sensors working in this screen:


Ground Station


The configuration also has a very simple Ground Station that looks like this (you can also use it to open Google Earth and see a moving map)



But the good news is that the terrific Happy Killmore GCS also supports Gluonpilot, so I'd suggest you use that instead.


Unfortunately, there is no dedicated port for an Xbee for wireless telemetry, so you'll have to plug wires onto the FTDI port and unplug them when you want to change Gluonpilot configurations or change your mission. That means you'll need to put the autopilot in a place in your plane where you can get easy access to it and deal with some fiddly wire swapping at the field. I hope in the next version of Gluonpilot, Tom adds a dedicated Xbee connector (although I'm not sure if the dsPIC he's using has a spare serial port for this).


Mission Planning

Mission planning is done via a scripting language. The configuration utility lets you enter commands pretty easily, but there is so far no point-and-click waypoint entry as you can find in most other autopilots, so it's a bit of a hassle to look up lat/lon on Google Maps and copy them over.  So right now Gluonpilot is better for relative waypoint (go 100m north of current position). Here are the available commands:


Final thoughts


I haven't had a chance to fly Gluonpilot yet, but by all reports it's very solid. Now that it's supported by the HappyKillmore GCS, it has a proper Ground Control Station. The only other big missing software piece is a point-and-click Mission Planner.  Otherwise, it seem to be in very good shape and quite mature for a one-man operation (no surprise if you know the inimitable Tom!)


Tom has flown a quadcopter with Gluonpilot, but given that it doesn't have a magnetometer or any way to add one that I can find, that doesn't seem like the best fit for this board.  Instead, it seems perfect for fixed wing aircraft, especially those with easy-to-access cockpits where you can plug in the FTDI cable and swap wires to add the Xbee.


Tom is also planning to add an on-screen-display (OSD) interface with a daughterboard, so that will be cool to see. 


Overall, this seems like a very good launch from a top autopilot designer. It's somewhat similar to the UAVDevBoard (similar processor) but is easier to set up and the hardware is more sophisticated, with a built-in pressure sensor and datalogging (although it doesn't have as strong of a community yet, and it costs twice as much).  Overall, at this point I'd recommend this for people who want an easy-to-use autopilot for fixed-wing aircraft and don't mind not being able to click on a map to enter waypoints.


Next, I need to fly it and see it it works as well in the air!


Views: 1877

Comment by Michal on March 6, 2011 at 4:36pm

I hate you Chris...





Comment by Florian Schulz on March 7, 2011 at 6:06am

Hi Chris,

I have also a Gluonpilot Board. Tom did a good job!



Comment by Tom P on March 7, 2011 at 1:02pm
Thanks for the review Chris!
Let me answer some of your questions:
- It supports 8 channels out (and not 5 :-) )
- It supports 6 channels in, but the "RTF-kit" only has 4 wires because the currently autopilot only needs 4 inputs (pitch, roll, motor, autopilot-mode)
- Indeed, if you add servos it can drain too much power from the USB hub (especially a problem for some laptops)
- Yes servo out 1 and 2 are for people using 2 aileron servos (using a Y connector can be a bad idea on longer wires: the capacitance of the wires get higher -> lower signal strength -> more noise on the PWM signal)
- Quadrocopters will be better supported in the future! It has an I2C connector so it's ready to have the (sparkfun) HMC5843 plugged in (under development as we speak :-) ).
- Point-and-click waypoint planning will be possible in the future using HappyKillMore's GCS!


3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on March 7, 2011 at 1:54pm

Hi Tom, 


Thanks for the clarifications! One last question: how can it support 8 channels out when channel 1 and 2 are ganged together? Is there some way to ungang them?

Comment by passunca on March 7, 2011 at 1:55pm
I one too. great board but i like my APM better.
Comment by Tom P on March 8, 2011 at 2:29am
@Chris: basically you have 8 PWM outputs. The contents of each channel depends on the "mixing" type selected in the Control configuration tab page of gluonconfig.
Comment by ionut on March 8, 2011 at 7:49am
The firmware is opensource?Why do you say it costs double because it's not:there is included a GPS and an FTDI cable.Considering has a faster processor than UDB I guess its price is competitive

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on March 8, 2011 at 8:35am
Tom: I did play with the mixing tab but still couldn't find a way to assign output 2 to anything other than an aileron, but I'll keep trying.

Ionut: yes, the firmware is open source. Go to the Gluonpilot site to get it.
Comment by Tom P on April 1, 2011 at 3:01pm
Sorry Chris I didn't get your last question earlier.
Output 2 is the aileron, why would you want to assign it to anything else?

Comment by UnmannedTechShop.co.uk on September 27, 2011 at 11:54pm

Thanks for the review.  The hardware has since been updated to support 6 inputs, and 8 outputs, as well as having an extension board that gives telemetry and OSD functionality.  A Ground control station software has also been released.  We are also selling GluonPilot Kits at our store.


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