Building the Android of UAVs with Open Source

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Nowadays, the interaction between a user and a drone, and a drone and its hardware is mediated by software. For that reason, developing secure, dependable, well-implemented, and feature-rich software is critical to fly safely and collect the necessary data during a commercial operation. While, on the surface, proprietary software seems to tick all those boxes, the drone industry is currently shifting its focus to open-source technologies.

In 2009, we saw the birth of the Pixhawk* (which became PX4 in 2011) and the ArduPilot (APM) flight-control projects to enable everybody to freely create and use trusted, autonomous, unmanned vehicle systems. As open-source projects, it meant, and still means, the platform’s software source code was freely available on the Internet, providing everyone with easy access to code, software, designs, and features that could be shared, modified, redistributed, and implemented into developers’ applications and hardware, under certain licensing terms – such as GPLv3 for APM and BSD-3 for PX4. While these are two of the leading open-source projects, there are others such as the industry-standard communication protocol MAVLink, QGroundControl, and more.

In 2014, the Dronecode Foundation was founded to make sure all drone software created in an open-source environment stays that way and remains non-discriminative while building a sustainable ecosystem for critical drone components and fostering a collaborative community of top developers, end-users, and vendors. Today, as a non-profit organization that belongs to the Linux Foundation, Dronecode has set the standards over the last decade in the drone industry with PX4, MAVLink, and Pixhawk.

Still in 2014, a DroneAnalyst report from Colin Snow mentioned that thousands of hobbyists and researchers were taking advantage of open-source platforms, whereas most commercial drone operators were using proprietary drone software. For the latter, this was mostly due to the misconception that open-source software couldn’t get certified to be used commercially, and that it was harder to work with than proprietary software since it “lacked” in various fields, such as quality and tech support. This…