Zuppa Autopilot: Flying Experience

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"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return "

-Leonardo Da Vinci

Flying is something that has been a piece of man's desire until the end of time. Ever since we first saw a bird fly and with the advent of technology we can travel in air across the world, we always wanted to take the sky. Although, a personal flight gives a unique experience and the closest we have gone in personal flying is by building DIY Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Luckily for me I got an amazing opportunity to build a Quadcopter from scratch at Cloudadic Inc, Raleigh, NC. Well the idea is to build a quadcopter for a use-case that houses Computer Vision, Mapping, precise Microlocation and IoT technology. It wasn't that hard for me to decide whether if this was the right project for me! Because, I was one of those curious kid who would always ask 'why', and would love to take apart things and put things back together.

There have been plenty of video tutorial, websites and blogs for dedicated DIY hobbyists like me but most of them tells you how easy it is to build yourself a RC Quad or any UAV. Everyone you talk to would tell you how and what they built themselves were the best, Well, that could be the best for them. But most of them have different application and experiences that changes people's opinion on what really is best out there for them. In this article I'll share my experience rather a dreadful one (you'll get to know why in the end of this article), on building my first UAV Quadcopter. As we all know the flight controller (FC), the brain of the RC aircraft is the one which determines the overall performance of the aircraft and there exists FC that range from the least expensive Flyduino KISS for Racing/Freestyle to the most expensive DJI's A3 for Pro Aerial Photography users. There are tons of reviews across the internet on their build, performance and sensors capabilities while there are very few reviews that explains why certain FCs are less popular and doesn't stand in the market to compete against the most popular ones. One of those FCs which are less popular owing to its build, stability and performance is ZUPPA Autopilot by Sree Sai Aerotech Inn.

DIY Parts:

1. Multicopter Frame Kit: RipaFire F450

2. Power Distribution Board: Hobbyking 3.5mm

3. Electric Motors & Propellers: Emax MT2213

4. Electronic Speed Control: ARRIS-2 30A SimonK Firmware

5. Lithium Polymer Battery : Turnigy 5000mAh 3S 20C LiPo 

6. Transmitter & Receiver : FrSky Taranis X9D Plus

7. LiPo Balance Charger:  Turnigy Accucel-6 80W 10A

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To give little bit background of the Zuppa, the controller runs on Dual Core 16-bit DPC(Distributed Parallel Computing)  with HPAS RTOS. As per the autopilot manual the Zuppa Autopilot is supposedly features nearly 8 Flying modes that could be configured to your receiver on a PWM or SBUS. The Ground Control Station is built for Windows only.

Features:

 Flying Modes: Auto Take-Off, Auto Circle, Loiter, Auto Landing & Manual override, Return-to-home, Spin Recovery
 Auto Navigation up to 30 waypoints (Multi Rotor), 100 waypoints (Airplanes) & Target Waypoint
 Altitude, heading hold with FBW (Fly By Wire) function.
 Auto descend and landing on GPS failure.
 Safety switch button
 IMU: MPU9250
 High magnetic interference resistance
 Full functional GCS for Windows

Find more details here: Zuppa Datasheet_v1

Zuppa Setup Tutorial: www.youtube.com/zuppa/tutorials

Flight Clips:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTFVIrPUbqiItR_5sCsAZeJO2iqEq_KBk

The major highlights of all my trials with Zuppa Flight controller seems to be okay. The main reason is that, firstly the ESC calibration doesn't work the way as per the manufacturer's description. I had to dig up on internet for a manual calibration where you arm the rotor individually by connecting to the receiver via ESC. No matter how many times I calibrate the ESCs, the quad always drifted (in manual mode and hold mode )as you could see in the trial videos. And there are no options for changing the PID values in Ground Control Interface. 

Secondly, to make it much harder for a newbie like me, the flight controller datasheet doesn't give you exact descriptions on what exactly each of those flight modes are used for. Neither does it tell you how to configure those fight modes on popular Transmitter Radio like Taranis X9D. It was with lot of trial and errors methods I figured out to assign the modes on the controller.

And finally, with regards to ground control station, even though there are not a lot of features to navigate through the user interface for the first time, I personally felt that there are lot of confusing and random or redundant settings that lay around the GUI. The whole experience was really tiresome. After all none of it matters if the flight controller doesn't help the quad fly well. Overall there has been great efforts to match the product's flight performance and support to other competitor manufactures like Pixhawk or Naze for a around similar pricing. Certainly this isn't something that one can recommend to a first time user. I hope Sree Sai Aerotech come up with more stable upgraded firmware-hardware integrations that make the end-user experience much user friendly especially for a newbie to world of DIY Drone like me.

-Kiran Prakash

https://www.linkedin.com/in/thekiranprakash

http://thekiranprakash.wixsite.com/portfolio

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Comments

  • @Andy. True that. As long as people want to build homebrew product from scratch AVR continues to have a strong hold. And wouldn't the performance of the flight controller per se largely be attributed to it's integration with the peripheral sensors and the efficient coding, rather than just the pretty pretty numbers on specs of mcu alone?

  • @Gustavo.Thanks for correcting. It's a 8 bit AVR. The datasheet says 16 bit probably a typo!

  • Developer

    It is great to see that AVR is still going strong. It is a classic for DIY like the 6502.  It seems to be popular too as an intro to FPGAs. Maybe the whole thing will be moved to FPGA as it develops!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmel_AVR#FPGA_clones

    http://opencores.org/project,pavr

    AVR microcontrollers
    AVR is a family of microcontrollers developed since 1996 by Atmel, acquired by Microchip Technology in 2016. These are modified Harvard architecture…
  • 8 bits you mean.

  • Yes, Andy. It is a Atmega328 16 bit high performance RISC based mcu.

  • Developer

    zuppa autopilot is certainly different. Looks to be based on AVR MCU?

This reply was deleted.