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Hackable drone controller runs Linux

Nov 3, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 2,514 views

Gizmo for You has gone to Indiegogo to ask for $600 for a modular, Linux based “Open Source Remote Control” for UAVs and other remote-controlled craft.

Three years in the making, the Open Source Remote Control (OSRC) device is available in Indiegogo fixed-funding packages starting at 350 Euros ($600) for the basic version, or 1,250 Euros ($1,561) for an advanced version. The Linux-based OSRC device is designed to act as a hackable universal controller for all types of “drones, filming, UAV control and general RC.” It seems to be primarily aimed at high-end, hobbyist remote model airplanes.

(click image to enlarge)

The OSRC is in its third generation, descending originally from a prototype announced back in 2011. The Indiegogo page, posted by chief developer Demetris Rouslan Zavorotnitsienko, mentions the company name only in passing, but the Gizmo For You website links to the Indiegogo page as well as a Facebook page, and offer some additional specs.

OSRC prototype

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Gizmo for You also promotes an Ilios 3D Printer, which has been used to create about 90 percent of the OSRC parts. The printer is touted as a way for backers to further customize the open spec device on their own.

On the Facebook page, Zavorotnitsienko wrote on Oct. 31: “Just seems like a real shame to let this one go after so much work and effort. I will attempt to create one last campaign for OSRC on IndieGoGo to try and collect the funds for production. There are over 1300 likes on this page so with a 10 EU commitment it should be enough to make a really small batch to begin selling the system.”

Back in 2009, Gizmo For You began shipping an open source Linux Flow smartphone kit, which like the original OSRC prototype, was built around a Gumstix Overo computer-on-module. No processor or memory details were revealed for the new OSRC version, except that the advanced OSRC model has a faster 1GHz processor with 3D acceleration and more RAM and flash than the previous prototype.

OSRC close-up view, front and back, with the rear view (right) showing PPM module interface at top

It’s possible the OSRC still uses a Gumstix module, as Gumstix now offers both the Overo and DuoVero modules with TI OMAP3730 (Cortex-A8) and OMAP4430 (Cortex-A9) processors respectively. Both are clocked at 1GHz and offer 3D acceleration, as well as more RAM and flash than earlier versions.

It’s unclear whether the OSRC uses Gumstix’s AeroCore MAV (micro air vehicle) controller board, which is designed primarily for micro-helicopters. The AeroCore module runs Linux on a DuoVero COM plus NuttX on a Cortex-M4 MCU. Nuttx is the open source RTOS used by 3D Robotics’s APM platform, which is now being standardized under the Linux Foundation’s Dronecode project.

The combination of open source claims and relatively few specs led one Indiegogo commenter to suggest the OSRC might be a scam. That is unlikely, considering the long Gizmo for You history, as well as the fact that many open source crowdfunding projects withhold at least some specs until the ship date. The hardware designs will eventually be released under a Creative Commons non-commercial ShareAlike 3.0 unported license, says Gizmo for You.

Inside the OSRC

Even if you’re an experienced RC enthusiast — which sadly, we are not — gaining a full understanding of the highly modular OSRC from the available material may take some doing. There are actually quite a few details revealed here, but unfortunately not in a very coherent presentation.

Zavorotnitsienko might have served his cause better by posting more specs on Indiegogo and less of the rambling, sometimes confusing marketing verbiage extolling the OSRC’s benefits. The OSRC is “an engineering marvel” and “a dream come true for any developer with its almost unlimited potential,” writes Zavorotnitsienko. “Every single feature we give to OSRC is innovative and important.”

Rear view of the OSRC (left) and OSRC with modular components, including a shoulder module (lower right)
(click images to enlarge)

The main OSRC unit houses the stick gimbal and other modular controls using a PPM interface. It also houses a modular, removable FPVC (First Person View Computer) unit, which features a 4.8-inch 800 x 480-pixel, full-color touchscreen and its own power supply. The FPVC has its own processor — a 1GHz CPU on the advanced version. It’s unclear whether this is also the main processor for the OSRC in general.

The FPVC is designed for real-time video preview, display, and recording from a linked aerial craft’s cameras and sensors. The touchscreen device supports GPS navigation, GSM data transfer, as well as wireless communication to the OSRC system itself. The FPVC integrates data from the main OSRC unit’s real-time motion recording, which is derived from the on-board gimbals, says Gizmo for You.

The FPVC’s UI offers short-cuts and custom functions, as well as advanced settings such as exponential adjustments, dual rates, and switch assignments, says the company. The platform features open source Linux GPS tracking, 3D simulation, video playback, and video editing software.

Remote communications is enhanced via an “RF Cloud”

The FPVC module communicates with both the UAV and OSRC through an “RF Cloud,” according to the company. This is said to enable multiple users to control multiple devices on the same remote controlled craft without the need for additional hardware. This should also enable range extension, as well as long range hand-over of control, says Gizmo for You. Although the nature of the RF cloud is not detailed, it appears to be some sort of RF mesh network.

Actuated stick gimbal (left) and one of the shoulder modules

The main unit’s actuated stick gimbals are touted for their support of both X and Y axes. This is accomplished with the help of four steel ball bearings, “suspending the entire motion in complete freedom and smooth operation,” says Gizmo for You. Only the bearings touch the moving parts thanks to using optical encoders, which are said to read the position in increments of less than 0.1mm.

Stick gimbal detail view
(click image to enlarge)

Analog thumbsticks are also available. These can be assigned to any function, but are primarily designed to remotely control the drone’s onboard camera gimbals. Both the basic and advanced FPVC systems provide an additional video out port, enabling the same system to be controlled by more than one user, says Gizmo for You. For example, one person could fly the model craft while the other controls the camera and monitors the live video stream.

The OSRC is available with a choice of up to 24 customizable shoulder modules. The device incorporates a shoulder switch architecture, which is said to enable the use of all 13 signals on each shoulder module. “You not only can interface switches or buttons but also LCD displays, motors or anything else,” says the company.

OSRC side view
(click image to enlarge)

Four analog pots are also available to support custom trims, and enable “advanced and high quality switches with position locking, larger head assemblies and unique position alternatives,” says Gizmo for You. The device is available with three RF radio modules, and it supports a variety of other RF modules, letting you match your device to a variety of flying models. Additional modular add-ons include Mark 1 or Mark 2 model controllers, and as well as sensor modules, both of which are said to be useful for more advanced UAVs and drones.

Some of the other hardware features on the OSRC include:

  • 2.4GHz RF modem with 2.4GHz, 5.8GHz, and 900MHz removable antenna mounts
  • 128 x 64-pixel backlit graphical display
  • 18x assignable front buttons
  • 2x assignable back buttons
  • Vibrator, buzzer
  • 2x RGB status LEDs
  • USB port
  • Video out port
  • 3650mAh 7.4v protected Li-Po battery with internal charger
  • Step-up voltage support
  • Handle, case, and stainless steel strap holder
  • Buddy/trainer cable connector

OSRC on YouTube

Further information

The Open Source Remote Control (OSRC) is available through Nov. 30 for Indiegogo funding at 350 Euros ($600) for the basic version, or 1,250 Euros ($1,561) for an advanced version. Shipments are due in April 2015. More information may be found at the OSRC Indiegogo page, as well as the OSRC Facebook page and the OSRC page on Gizmo for You’s website. Partial specs are listed at the end of the Gizmo for You page.

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