"Real" instruments for MAVLink UAV groundstations


You all might remember my integrated groundstation project, which I started earlier this year. Based on this project, I started integrating flight instruments from Dutch manufacturer Flight Illusion. Flight Illusion in one of the leading manufacturers of gauges for flight simulators and has a wide range of various instruments. Piece by piece, I will write a library which is able to control the most important gauges to display MAVLink data.

Why oldfashioned "steam gauges", you ask? There's Mission Planner, QGroundControl, Andropilot, Droidplanner?

Very simple: "steam gauges" have various advantages:

First of all, they are fully sunlight readable. Unless you have a really expensive laptop, you will have problems with reading the screen on a beautiful summer day, unless you have some bulky glare shield. Next, with "steam gauges" you save space. If your ground station has a nice big FPV monitor and you additionally have a laptop, you have a pretty bulky piece of equipment going on. When using gauges, you can have your FPV monitor and 3 or 4 gauges in one nice Peli case, ready to go with all important information at a glance. Last but not least, having "real" flight instruments in your ground station is way cool :).

Of course, gauges don't work with FPV goggles, but neither does a laptop or tablet.

A solution with gauges is definitely no universal solution for everyone, but for more professional use, it is a very good solution.

Development will also include creation of a control unit which includes the necessary power supplies and accepts a MAVLink data stream to directly control the gauges, without the need of a computer.

Over time and if there is sufficient demand, we will also think together with Flight Illusion about creating a line of instruments specifically for drone use, e.g. a speed indicator or altitude indicator with a display range more suitable for small UAVs.

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  • Stefan, i had an idea a few months ago, i already have a 6channel Polulu Micro Maestro servo controller, wich already talks to mission planner and has two servos designated for antenna tracking.

    would it be possible to modify only the software on mission planner and be able to control 4 more servos, and then set pwms? it's not as cool as this, but everyone can print its own analog gauge and set a servo arm as the pointer. for under $5.

  • Joe:

    Modifying surplus gauges is probably going to be more expensive than those gauges, unless you get the surplus for free. But the surplus gauges I have seen on ebay or Aircraftspruce were either about the same price or more expensive than the FI gauges plus you need to rip them apart und create some electronis and mechanics to operate them.


    The gauges from Flight Illusion are ready products for the flight simulation market. I just started developing a control unit that accepts a MAVLink stream, decodes it and sends respective commands to the gauges.

    The attitude indicator arrived Tuesday, so first thing I had to do was learning how to talk to it. That obviously works already. Next step is to decode the MAVLink. I already have most of the MAVLink stuff done from my other GCS project, so that should go relatively fast. I'd guess, somewhen next week, the attitude indicator will be implemented. Then, let's see what's the next gauge.

    Only thing in the way of broad usage is yet the control unit. I'm working with an Arduino MEGA 2560, a breadboard and a lot of flying cables. Somebody would probably need to create a control unit PCB to make things really easy for end-users. I asked 3DR if they were interested - let's see how they decide.

  • Completely agree with Joe on that. Allready assembling a groundstation in my mind using these type of analog gauges. That should be awesome!

    On the project. What fase is it? I mean: "just an idea" , somewhere in the programming fase, first working prototypes, etc.

  • Hey, IMHO gauges like these are the shiznitz for those that like building ultra cool devices! NICE IDEA! Now to go find some surplus aircraft gauges and attempt to integrate them. It's all in what you want to do and how hard you want to work.

    Stefan, don't hold back on ideas just because some folks think they're too expensive. Guys, if it's too expensive for you, just don't use the idea! However, don't discourage people from innovating just for that reason. Enough said.


  • Very cool.Looks really nice

  • Ok, we'll see what happens.  There's no doubt that there is or will be some market for a nice professional GCS in the $1000-10,000 range.   That market just isn't well represented here.

  • Let's wait how the situation develops :)... I just started developing and FI is watching the situation and the feedback. Chances are, if there is enough demand, that FI might offer "UAV-GCS kits" as they already offer gauge sets which are cheaper than the sum of the single prices.

    Besides - a laptop with fully sunlight-readable display, e.g. a Panasonic Toughbook also costs around $4k - 6k IIRC.

  • I like the idea, but I agree with Georacer.  $300 is a lot of money for a single gauge.  I'm not commenting on the price of the unit, but the *value* of the unit in the context of this market. 

    I have no doubt that some applications will suit this unit very well.  But those applications are quite limited.  You'd be talking about a $2-5000 ground control station.

  • So is e.g. a Peli Case for $400 :). As I wrote, it's surely not the ideal solution for everyone but in a more professional context, I think, it's a very good solution.

  • I can't comment on whether the instrument is worth its money or not; I can't judge that since I don't know what it's made of.

    I'm just saying that multiples of $300 (for every indicator) is a great expense for an amateur ground station, according to my pocket, of course. ;D

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