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Snappy Ubuntu Core takes off in a quadcopter

May 5, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 2,968 views

[Updated May 6] — Erle Robotics has launched an Ubuntu Core “Snappy” version of its open source Linux and ROS-based Erle-Copter quadcopter, with Erle-Copter app store access.

The “Erle-Copter Ubuntu Core Special Edition” is functionally almost identical to the Erle-Copter quadrotor drone announced by Erle Robotics in December, but instead of the usual Debian Linux distribution, it offers one of the first implementations of the lightweight new Snappy version of Ubuntu Core.

Erle-Copter Ubuntu Core Special Edition
(click image to enlarge)

Released last month with Ubuntu 15.04, Snappy is billed as being smaller and more secure than any previous Ubuntu edition. It integrates a cloud interface, and provides automatic smartphone-like software updates, as well as security safeguards that are said to block unauthorized updates. The key advance, especially for the Erle-Copter, is its mechanism for downloading apps from a common app store. The Ubuntu Core version is therefore the first of its devices to support its new app store.

Ubuntu Core “Snappy” architecture
(click image to enlarge)

In an email to LinuxGizmos, Erle Robotics CTO and co-founder Víctor Mayoral Vilches wrote that “We are happy with Debian but results with Snappy are amazing.” Mayoral Vilches went on to note that Snappy’s applications, called Snaps, “are provided through a simpler mechanism” than with Debian. Although, Snappy is pre-installed on the separate Ubuntu Core version, anyone can download either Linux distribution, for any of its quadcopters, he added.

The Ubuntu Core version was announced in March, and is shipping now for €300 ($334) as a DIY kit, or for €399 ($455) assembled, plus extra-cost options including a telemetry radio module with 2km range, a 9-channel RC controller, a Ublox Neo 7M GPS module, and an 802.11ac WiFi module.


(click to enlarge)

Like the other Erle-Copters, the Ubuntu Core version runs on the separately available Erle-brain autopilot, which was the first Linux-based autopilot to support the open source APM (ArduPilot Mega) autopilot platform from the 3DRobotics backed DIYDrones community. Last month, 3DR announced its own Linux based Solo quadcopter.

The Erle-brain autopilot incorporates a BeagleBone Black SBC, as well as the open source APM MultiPlatform Autopilot software and the APM-compatible Pixhawk hardware. The latter is implemented with Erle’s Pixhawk Fire Cape. The Erle-brain also runs the open source Robot Operating System (ROS) Hydro Medusa software, enabling application development. The Erle-Copter is touted for having “official” ROS support, with the blessing of the Open Source Robotics Foundation.

Erle-brain autopilot end views, showing connectors
(click images to enlarge)

The Erle-copter builds upon the features of the Erle-brain by adding four brushless motors, four propellers, and four electronic speed control (ESC) circuits. The 85 x 55 x30cm Erle-copter can be programmed to run for 20 minutes using the 5000mAh battery, a boost from the originally announced 3000mAh battery. The company says the 500-gram quadcopter can carry up to 2 kilograms of payload.

Erle-Copter details and options
(click image to enlarge)

You can connect Spektrum controllers for direct control, and a RC controller option should be ready in early 2015. Since the original announcement, the Erle-Copter has added a gimbal that supports a GoPro Hero camera. Other options include WiFi ac, telemetry radio, GPS, a buzzer, longer legs, and various external device connectors.

Further information

The Ubuntu Core Erle-Copter drone is available at the Erle Robotics website in the form of an Erle-Coptor Ubuntu Core Drone Kit for €300 ($334), and as a pre-assembled Erle-Copter Ubuntu Core Special Edition for €399 ($455). The Debian version is also available in various kits starting at €399, and Erle Robotics recently announced a variety of volume discount kits, including educational packs. A new Erle-HexaCopter, starting at €699, is similar to the standard Debian model, but adds two more rotors. All the products are available at the Erle Robotics store.

Technical details about the Erle-Brain’s Ubuntu Core implementation appear in the GPL v3.0-licensed Erle Brain GitBook.

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2 responses to “Snappy Ubuntu Core takes off in a quadcopter”

  1. Michael says:

    “Erle brain” seems a bit pompous given rather limited computing power of Beaglebone. Yes, it has more than enoughpower to run autopilot software, but nhardly sufficient for something like robotic vision. Also, running computationally heavy applications will endanger autopilot operation, because Linux can not provide guaranteed response time. An application that overloads the processor will literally cause the drone with “Erle brain” to crash.

  2. Jake says:

    I guess this one is pretty useful for aerial shots. But can it fly and make software updates at the same time? Won’t it drain the batteries in the process?

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