Linux Foundation looks to control drone platforms with Dronecode

The Linux Foundation is expanding its open source Dronecode venture, the platform on which projects like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Flight is built, and this week it has announced investments from 27 new members and has formed three new working groups – bringing the list of signatures to 51 since its 2014 unveiling.

The three technical working groups have the mission of advancing drone technologies and protocols in the areas of camera and gimbal controls, airspace management, and hardware/software interfaces.

Dronecode itself is a project designed to encourage the development and adoption of open source platforms for drones, and although it could be a long time before a fully-fledged working platform is developed and eventually rolled-out, it is certainly gaining some attention from industry players and the open source community.

Qualcomm Technologies, one of Dronecode’s founding members, has upped its investments in the project to platinum level, following the launch of its Snapdragon Flight development kit in September 2015. The kit is about the size of a Raspberry Pi and centered around the Snapdragon 801 SoC featuring a quad-core 2.26GHz Krait CPU, with Dronecode PX4 open source UAV software – providing plenty enough processing power for small to medium drones. For Qualcomm, expanding into drones expands its portfolio, using its mobile SoCs.

Now, the new MAVlink Camera Working Group will be working alongside camera manufacturers to aid the integration of the MAVlink protocol into cameras, as well as expanding the Dronecode platform to support a wider portfolio of cameras and functions.

The Dronecode Airspace Working Group is set to be digging deep into the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) planned regulations to ban any drone activity in large areas of airspace across the US, and the potential impact of this.

And the Hardware Working Group has the aim of creating electrical and mechanical standards for interfaces to the autopilot and the peripherals. The Linux Foundation says this group aims to bring together members of the Dronecode community with open source developers.

The Dronecode platform incorporates 3D Robotics’ ArduPilot Mega (APM) aerial vehicle platform code, as well as a real-time OS and drivers at the bottom of the stack, with mobile and cloud apps at the top of the stack. The CEO of 3D Robotics, Chris Anderson, also doubles up as the chairman of Dronecode’s board of directors, and his company recently opened up its hardware add-on program for its gimbal and accessory bays – allowing developers to build their own hardware add-ons.

Recently, drone vendors have begun to understand the importance of open development platforms if their products are to fully embrace the IoT. Chinese drone manufacturer DJI unveiled its open hardware developer board running Ubuntu 14.04 for its Matrice 100 drone at the end of last year. Before DJI’s open developer board, GPU and SoC manufacturer Nvidia launched a Jetson TK1 developer kit which is quite similar – with a board support package and software stack that includes CUDA, OpenGL 4.4 drivers, and support for the OpenCV library of Tegra.

Shenzhen-based DJI is the dominant leader in the drone market, but another Chinese drone manufacturer, Yuneec, recently said it would be one of the first quadcopters to use an autopilot based on Qualcomm’s new Ubuntu-based Snapdragon Flight development kit. Yuneec received over $60m worth of investment from Intel earlier this year – using Intel’s RealSense technology.

The list of newly enlisted silver members includes Aerotenna, AirMap, Airphrame, Altitude Angel, AutoModality, BirdsEyeView Aerobotics, CUAV, Droidika, Dig.y.Sol, DroneDeploy, DroneWorks, Emlid, EnRoute, Falcon Unmanned, Hex Technologies, Incite Focus, InspecTools, Matternet, ProfiCNC, Sentera, Skedans, Yin Yan Tech US and Zubax. New sponsored members include: Humanitarian UAV network, OpenTX Project, Stanford University Aerospace Design Lab, and UAVCAN.

“We have seen our membership grow nearly threefold. Further, to see a member like Qualcomm increasing their previous level of commitment to our highest level of involvement is a testament to the technical work we are moving forward for commercial adoption of drones,” Anderson told LinuxInsider.

Elsewhere, a report published this week says the drone market will reach $481m in 2016, with agricultural applications due to boost shipments some 84% over 2015’s $261m, according to Juniper. The film and TV industry is also seeing a rapid uptake of drones as a cheaper alternative to helicopters for filming footage.

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