Book Image

Designing Purpose-Built Drones for Ardupilot Pixhawk 2.1

By : Ty Audronis
Book Image

Designing Purpose-Built Drones for Ardupilot Pixhawk 2.1

By: Ty Audronis

Overview of this book

The Ardupilot platform is an application ecosystem that encompasses various OS projects for drone programming, flight control, and advanced functionalities.The Ardupilot platform supports many Comms and APIs, such as DroneKit, ROS, and MAVLink. It unites OS drone projects to provide a common codebase. With the help of this book, you will have the satisfaction of building a drone from scratch and exploring its many recreational uses (aerial photography, playing, aerial surveillance, and so on). This book helps individuals and communities build powerful UAVs for both personal and commercial purposes. You will learn to unleash the Ardupilot technology for building, monitoring, and controlling your drones.This is a step-by-step guide covering practical examples and instructions for assembling a drone, building ground control unit using microcontrollers, QgroundControl, and MissionPlanner. You can further build robotic applications on your drone utilizing critical software libraries and tools from the ROS framework. With the help of DroneKit and MAVLink (for reliable communication), you can customize applications via cloud and mobile to interact with your UAV.
Table of Contents (16 chapters)
Title Page
About the Author
About the Reviewer
Customer Feedback


We live in the drone age. Drones currently serve purposes in defense, entertainment, and in some countries, package delivery. However, the drone age is still in its infancy. There are a plethora of uses for drones that are just on the cusp of being discovered; drones for mapping, drones for convenience, and even drones for scientific research.

This book will walk you through the design process for drones that navigate the air, land, and even the sea. We will show you how to come up with ideas, overcome the limitations of budget and current technology, and implement them. However, a drone without a "brain" is just an RC vehicle. We’ll show you how to integrate the Pixhawk 2.1 guidance system into your drone and how to add peripherals and sensors to Pixhawk to make ordinary RC vehicles into smart drones that serve purposes.

What this book covers

Chapter 1, Drones 101, introduces you to the world of drones and explains that there are many types of drones. We also give you a high-level overview of Ardupilot and Pixhawk flight controller systems. Finally, we walk you through some of the safety best practices to minimize the risks associated with prototyping new drones.

Chapter 2, Your First Drone - An Autonomous RC Car, walks you through kitbashing (using an existing) RC car and turning it into a surface drone (a rover). We show you the basics of designing, 3D-printing, and even molding new parts for your rover to adapt it to Pixhawk. You will be given even more familiarity with the plugs on the Pixhawk 2.1 board and how sensors are attached, as well as a basic overview of the Mission Planner interface. By the end of this chapter, you will have an understanding of how to create a rover using Pixhawk 2.1, a GPS sensor, and a remote telemetry transmitter.

Chapter 3, A Drone for Hunters – Autonomous Duck Decoy, takes the principles of a rover and applies them to the open water. This chapter focuses largely on the process of coming up with a marketable idea and planning your design. You will be shown how to cannibalize parts from an RC boat and implement them into a custom 3D-printed hull (a duck). We will also educate you on the pitfalls of a water drone with regards to waterproofing, ballast, and even water-cooling your drive motor.

Chapter 4, A Drone for Golfers, takes purpose-built rovers to the next level by showing you that drones can fit into almost any market demographic: in this case, golf. We will build a golf trolley on an existing RC golf trolley’s frame and motor system. It implements skid-steering and Bluetooth for telemetry and control, enabling it to follow a golfer that is carrying a phone in their pocket. Also, we will integrate a new sensor: a LIDAR rangefinder that allows the trolley to avoid obstacles while it follows the golfer autonomously.

Chapter 5, Introduction to UAVs, transitions the reader from the surface to the air. Aerial drones represent a whole new level of complexity. With weight considerations, balance, and safety concerns being the focus of this chapter, you will learn to think more like an aeronautical engineer when designing your aerial drones.

Chapter 6, A Simple Multicopter Drone, shows the reader how to build and tune a multicopter drone. We adopt a “GoPro” gimbal (designed to stabilize a GoPro camera) to hold a 360° VR camera (a Ricoh Theta S). We also walk you step-by-step through the Mission Planner interface to get a ground station up and running, which will display a video on a laptop screen, along with the heads-up display and even allows you to fly the drone using gaming joysticks.

Chapter 7, The Holy Grail - A Fixed Wing Drone, walks you through designing and setting up a fixed-wing drone. We will integrate an airspeed sensor (pitot tube) and use a rangefinder again but this time to sense altitude from the ground to assist with autonomous landings. This chapter largely focuses on the Mission Planner software. Using it to tune a fixed-wing drone to fly properly, we will execute autonomous missions and even land with no input from the pilot.

Chapter 8, The Principles of VTOL with Pixhawk, is a bonus chapter added due to the popular demand from the drone community. VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) drones are airplanes that can also hover and land/take off like a helicopter. Rather than build a drone in this chapter, we walk you through the concepts of planning, building, and tuning a VTOL aircraft.

Chapter 9, Programming Ardupilot, is largely a reference chapter designed to give you quick reference to the Mission Planner interface and all of the basic parameters therein.

What you need for this book

This book guides you through building various types of drones by example. You do not have to buy all of the materials, nor even build along-side. All this book really requires from you is an imagination, which we hope to spark by example.

Who this book is for

This book is intended beginners and intermediate drone enthusiasts. But at some point, even professional designers may benefit from the book’s contents.


In this book, you will find a number of text styles that distinguish between different kinds of information. Here are some examples of these styles and an explanation of their meaning.

Code words in text, database table names, folder names, filenames, file extensions, pathnames, dummy URLs, user input, and Twitter handles are shown as follows: "The next lines of code read the link and assigns it to the to the BeautifulSoup function."

New terms and important words are shown in bold. Words that you see on the screen, for example, in menus or dialog boxes, appear in the text like this: "In order to download new modules, we will go to FilesSettings | Project Name | Project Interpreter."


Warnings or important notes appear in a box like this.


Tips and tricks appear like this.

Reader feedback

Feedback from our readers is always welcome. Let us know what you think about this book-what you liked or disliked. Reader feedback is important for us as it helps us develop titles that you will really get the most out of. To send us general feedback, simply email [email protected], and mention the book's title in the subject of your message. If there is a topic that you have expertise in and you are interested in either writing or contributing to a book, see our author guide at

Customer support

Now that you are the proud owner of a Packt book, we have a number of things to help you to get the most from your purchase.

Downloading the color images of this book

We also provide you with a PDF file that has color images of the screenshots/diagrams used in this book. The color images will help you better understand the changes in the output. You can download this file from


Although we have taken every care to ensure the accuracy of our content, mistakes do happen. If you find a mistake in one of our books-maybe a mistake in the text or the code-we would be grateful if you could report this to us. By doing so, you can save other readers from frustration and help us improve subsequent versions of this book. If you find any errata, please report them by visiting, selecting your book, clicking on the Errata Submission Form link, and entering the details of your errata. Once your errata are verified, your submission will be accepted and the errata will be uploaded to our website or added to any list of existing errata under the Errata section of that title.

To view the previously submitted errata, go to and enter the name of the book in the search field. The required information will appear under the Errata section.


Piracy of copyrighted material on the internet is an ongoing problem across all media. At Packt, we take the protection of our copyright and licenses very seriously. If you come across any illegal copies of our works in any form on the internet, please provide us with the location address or website name immediately so that we can pursue a remedy.

Please contact us at [email protected] with a link to the suspected pirated material.

We appreciate your help in protecting our authors and our ability to bring you valuable content.


If you have a problem with any aspect of this book, you can contact us at [email protected], and we will do our best to address the problem.