DIY Linux autopilot – cool for cats… and geeks


I want to share with you the tremendous fun I’m having with the BBBmini DIY ArduPilot project, which I discovered during the summer. Hopefully, I can demonstrate what a sexy DIY Linux Autopilot for around 100 bucks looks like and convince you why Linux autopilots are cooler than a cat playing the piano.

For some background, Mirko Denecke, who designed the BBBmini, wrote an introductory blog post on his DIY ArduPilot Cape here, and about further enhancements here.

Since Mirko released rev1.4 into the wild as Open Hardware, there’s been a BBBmini usergroup down at DIY Drones, so that’s a good place to see what’s happening with the technology.

Rekindled enthusiasm

Being a Linux autopilot enthusiast, I naturally had a BeagleBone Black lying around and so was immediately attracted to this project. While building and getting the BBBmini into the air, I quickly realized that it was just the right kind of project I needed to rekindle my enthusiasm.

DIY Linux autopilots: What’s the attraction?

I really love the idea of flying Linux autopilots and must admit I’ve been hooked since I saw the first talks Andrew Tridgell and others gave on the topic, the early rumors about PXF, and the first boards like NavIO and  Erlebrain and so forth. I can see a bright future in this field, with the kind of  collaborative community effort such as that down at DIY Drones – which drives the technology forward.

After finally joining the Linux autopilot club, I had a kind of epiphany about how it opens a huge door to the opportunity of getting new ideas integrated much more easily thanks to the power of open innovation. The underlying Linux offers a sense of comfort and massive gains in usability.

Getting more out of your Autopilot

For example, I recently decided to configure my quad to log into different folders each day and rsync my log files to my NAS running samba at startup. That way I can archive them for later use as well and delete old logs when the SD cards becomes full. So, I should be find logs more easily and create a permanent archive, which was the initial reason for the set-up. This was all done with a few very basic modifications and open source tools / software made available by developers for public use.

Build your own DIY Linux autopilot

So, if you too like getting hands-on and want to make your own DIY Linux autopilot, now is the time to get your feet wet.

We’re all keen to see what you’ll come up with. For example, Mirko did a self-balancing robot based on the BBBmini and ArduPilot software, and I have something in the pipeline to fill the long winter nights.

We are working on improving the BBBmini experience and since Mirko recently added dual-MPU9250 support we are now flying with two MPU9250’s. We also have a few ideas for extra add-ons.

I have put together a BBBmini DIY Kit to simplify the process of getting started, and if you are interested in buying a kit or just a PCB please send me a PM or go here.

Here is a short video of me flying the bbbmini just for fun.

The full project is available on GitHub and we invite interested users to contribute to the further development of the project.

Happy flying.

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