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Autopilots for small unmanned aerial vehicles: A survey

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This paper presents a survey of the autopilot systems for small or micro unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The objective is to provide a summary of the current commercial, open source and research autopilot systems for convenience of potential small UAV users. The UAV flight control basics are introduced first. The radio control system and autopilot control system are then explained from both the hardware and software viewpoints. Several typical off-the-shelf autopilot packages are compared in terms of sensor packages, observation approaches and controller strengths. Afterwards some open source autopilot systems are introduced. Conclusion is made with a summary of the current autopilot market and a remark on the future development.

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Correspondence to HaiYang Chao.

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Recommended by Editor Hyun Seok Yang. This work is supported in part by Utah Water Research Lab (UWRL) Seed Grant (2006–2010) on “Development of Inexpensive UAV Capability for High-Resolution Remote Sensing of Land Surface Hydrologic Processes: Evapotranspiration and Soil Moisture”. The authors would also like to thank the reviewers for their insightful comments that help improve this paper.

HaiYang Chao received the B.S. and M.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering both from Zhejiang University, China, in 2001 and 2005, respectively. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Utah State University. His research interests include cooperative control, cooperative remote sensing, distributed control, mobile sensor networks and flight control of unmanned aerial vehicles.

YongCan Cao received the B.S. degree from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, China, in 2003 and the M.S. degree from Shanghai Jiaotong University, China, in 2006. He is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Utah State University. His research interests include cooperative control, robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles.

YangQuan Chen is currently an associate professor of electrical engineering at Utah State University, Logan, and the Director of the Center for Self-Organizing and Intelligent Systems. In addition to 13 granted and two pending U.S. patents, he has published over 100 refereed journal papers, over 20 refereed book chapter papers, over 200 refereed conference papers, and more than 50 industrial technical reports. He has coauthored three research monographs (Springer 1999, 2007, 2009) and six textbooks (Tsinghua University Press 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008; SIAM Press 2007; CRC Press, 2008). His current areas of research interests include: applied fractional calculus, distributed measurement and distributed control of distributed parameter systems using mobile actuator and sensor networks, mechatronics and controls (intelligent, optimal, robust, nonlinear and adaptive), UAV multi-spectral cooperative remote sensing and real-time water management and irrigation control.

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Chao, H., Cao, Y. & Chen, Y. Autopilots for small unmanned aerial vehicles: A survey. Int. J. Control Autom. Syst. 8, 36–44 (2010).

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