ThermoPilot project: a Thermal Hunter Glider drone

ThermoPilot, a Thermal Hunter Glider Drone

This project has been started in october 2010 and its purpose is to build a full autonomous Thermal Hunter Glider which is able to fly for a long duration in an area defined by a radius, a ceiling and a minimal altitude. The glider uses thermal soaring and dynamic soaring methods commonly used by full scale gliders during cross country soaring competitions.

During a full autonomous flight defined by a flight plan, the glider is able to optimize itself the onboard power using the energy gained by the updrafts during its thermal hunting process. For safety reasons, the glider can use its electrical engine to sustain the minimal altitude required.In the video, you will see some samples of the test flights during the phase 2 of the Thermopilot project. The glider is fully stabilized by the Thermopilot software.

During the Phase 2 of the project, the firmware has been tested in flight with an ArduPilot/ArduIMU board (firmware ThermoPilot v2.9.x JLN version). The ThermoPilot (phase 3) will use an ArduPilot MEGA 2560 and a bigger glider. The setup has been successfully tested on the MAJA drone in May 2011. The ThermoPilot will be able to learn and optimize itself the thermal upwards areas during its thermal hunting...

The ThermoPilot firmware has been tested in High Mountains in July 2011 (Savoie, French Alps): Ridge Soaring tests flights done in high wind conditions.
It has also been tested in the fields in August 2011 (Auvergne, France): Thermal Soaring tests flights in various weather conditions.

The Cularis UAV autopilot setup is:

- Autopilot: Ardupilot (Atmega 328)@16MHZ + ArduIMU flat v2

- ardupilot v2.9.1 (JLN) + arduimu v2.0.1 (JLN)

Sensors: (arduIMU on board):
•3 Axis Accelerometer (ADXL335)
•3 Axis Gyroscope (LPR530AL + LY530ALH)
•3 Axis magnetometer (HMC 5843)
•1 pressure sensor (air speed sensor)
•1 Mediatek MTK16 10 Hz GPS

Video cameras:
•1 GoPro HD Wide (forward view)

More infos at:

Views: 14568

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on September 5, 2011 at 10:02am

Impressive! Your work is always state of the art...

Comment by eduardo on September 5, 2011 at 10:19am

Congratultations Jean ... alway state of the art as chris say.

Comment by Mark Colwell on September 5, 2011 at 12:31pm

Great application of AP328 !

How are you implementing vario?  Without absolute pressure sensor, fusion readings from GPS gyro & accels?

Thanks for all your testing and revisions of code.  

Comment by Darren on September 5, 2011 at 1:17pm

Could this work in conjunction to motor to alt routines? aka, if there is natural lift why use motor (if one is availible at all)

Your work may assist the iHAB Project, in payload getting "Home" with altitude to spare.

You should hit up Marshall sometime on his Balloomerang project.

iHAB= Iowa High Altitude Ballon Project

Comment by GliderUAV on September 5, 2011 at 1:30pm

Wow, Nice!


And I thought only a few people care about Autonmous Thermalling....


I would love to see more of this.


Oh, here is my project:


Keep up the good work.




Comment by Jason Short on September 5, 2011 at 10:27pm

Very inspiring! As always.


Comment by Jean-Louis Naudin on September 5, 2011 at 10:36pm

Hello to All,

Thanks for you comments and your encouragements.


To Mark Colwell: With the AP328, I use the ArduIMU and the Mediatek GPS without a barometric pressure sensor, as you have noticed. The Vz climb rate is calculated and filtered with only the GPS altitude data. Its amazing to see that it works very well and also it is sufficiently accurate to detect the thermal lifts.

With the APM1280 or 2560 with the ALT_MIX set to 1 you may use the barometric pressure to increase the sensitivity of the Vz measurement.


To Darren: The motor is only used for safety reasons: To sustain a minimum altitude above the ground (i.e. 50 m) and to maintain the reference altitude set in memeory when the AP is set to THERMAL seek mode. In the other cases the glider do automatic searching of the thermal lifts in the designed area.




Comment by bGatti on September 5, 2011 at 10:41pm

Does it have any power recovery? Solar?

at some point, it will run out of power?


Comment by Jean-Louis Naudin on September 5, 2011 at 10:57pm

Hello bGatti,

At this moment, the ThermoPilot project is in Phase 2 (autonomous flights with AP328 for code validation with a Cularis e-glider). The Phase 3 is the use of a bigger glider (ASW24) for tests flights with the APM2560 and testing the self-leaning routines used for the thermal hunting process. The ThermoPilot Phase 4 is the optimisation of the onboard power (Solar helped) for long endurance and long range flights...

Regards, Jean-Louis

Comment by bGatti on September 5, 2011 at 11:09pm



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