Exploration of a low-cost autopilot system for use in academe

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Kissack, Bryan J.
Miller, L. Scott

With the world’s growing use of autonomous unmanned aerial systems (UASs), there is also a growing need for higher education to teach students how to design and implement the autopilot systems that many of these UASs depend on to perform their designed missions. Given the inherent cost and complexity of these systems, it has been difficult in recent years to provide students the hands-on experience that is crucial to understanding how these autopilot systems work. Another stumbling block to implementing this type of education has been the proprietary nature of autopilots, which restricts the ability to modify/enhance the autopilot. The good news is that autopilot-related components continue to become lighter and cheaper, which has created the development of open software/hardware platforms. Arduino is one such microcontroller that has come to the forefront as a leader in the open software/hardware autopilot system market. The goal of this study was to determine whether or not an Arduino-based autopilot system would be a viable candidate for implementation into higher education at a design level. A series of flight tests were performed to discover the strengths and weaknesses of this product in order to help determine how easy or difficult it would be to integrate it into undergraduate studies. Results from the flight tests show that this autopilot system is fairly robust and has a wide range of functionality. Through these tests, it has been concluded that the Arduino-based ArduPilot-Mega microcontroller would be a worthwhile educational tool and is an inexpensive alternative to proprietary autopilot systems.

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Thesis (M.S.)--Wichita State University, College of Engineering, Dept. of Aerospace Engineering