Using PX4 GPS Autopilot to Guide a Glider Home

Many drone flight controllers now have integrated autonomous autopilot features. Those can be used to have a drone move through a series…

Cameron Coward
a year agoDrones

Many drone flight controllers now have integrated autonomous autopilot features. Those can be used to have a drone move through a series of GPS waypoints, follow you as you move, and even return home from wherever it currently is. But those features were all created with the assumption that the drone would have power, and could fly to those points. YouTuber RCTESTFLIGHT wanted to see if the same technology could be used to guide a glider back home.

The idea is that the glider can be dropped from a high altitude, and then it will autonomously fly itself back to the home coordinates, or even through a series of waypoints. The glider that RCTESTFLIGHT built to experiment with that possibility is just a simple frame made from foam board. That means it’s extremely lightweight and can handle a number of rough landings without breaking. The only control on the glider is two servo-actuated flaps. All of the other electronics are for the guidance system.

That system is PX4, which is an open source autopilot developed specifically for use in drones. That’s running on a Pixracer flight controller. A GPS receiver provides the glider’s coordinates, and a standard RC link is used to send flight data back to ground control. While PX4 has proven to be reliable for powered drones, it isn’t intended for gliders. All the flight controller can do is adjust the flaps to steer the glider. Even so, RCTESTFLIGHT was able to get it to return home fairly reliably, as well as pass through waypoints. His next step is to 3D print a more permanent frame, and try some high-altitude balloon drops.

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