Albatross: Open UAV Project

A Presentation by Hugo Vincent John Stowers

Recent advances in communications, solid state inertial sensors and increased computational power have made unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs) a feasible solution for many applications, and accessible to people in scientific research, commercial, and hobbyist communities. However, such UAVs require a sophisticated automatic pilot and guidance system to achieve autonomous flight, due to the absence of a human pilot. Although commercial systems exist, they are very expensive, are often targeted for military surveillance applications, and often have export restrictions associated with them.

During 2005, we began development on Albatross, a completely open source UAV project that has been surprisingly successful to date. This year we have begun work on the second version of the system, consisting of a new hardware design, an overhauled control and inertial measurement system, new user interface software, and a custom-designed aircraft.

We will outline the Albatross system; the hardware components, and the software architecture. We will illustrate how we used an custom hardware platform running embedded Linux, a transparent UDP-based IPC framework and a versatile combination of sensors and electronics to develop a successful first prototype in just six months. The talk intends to be interest to anyone involved in hardware hacking, embedded systems, and developing complex projects on a very tight budget.

The talk will also include observations and practical advice regarding embedded Linux for real-time applications, and insight into the current state of the Linux desktop as a platform for hardware design. The open source philosophy, especially as it applies to hardware and embedded software projects, will form an underlying theme for the talk.

We will conclude with a look to the future; the possible uses for a Free UAV, our specific goals, expanding the project, and how we hope to complete a autonomous trans-Tasman Albatross flight in the next 12 months.

Direct link to video