4 Open Source Drone Projects

Jason BakerOver the past few years, interest in both civilian and commercial use of drones has continued to grow rapidly, and drone hardware sits at the top of many people's holiday wish lists.

Even just within the civilian side of things, the list of unmanned aerial devices that fit the moniker of drone seems to be constantly expanding. These days, the term seems to encompass everything from what is essentially a cheap, multi-bladed toy helicopter, all the way up to custom-built soaring machines with incredibly adept artificial intelligence capabilities.

Most people I know who consider themselves drone enthusiasts are looking for something in the middle. They'd like a flying vehicle that is large enough to support a decently long flight time, hold a camera or other data capture device, and perhaps be able to control some or all of its flight autonomously using pre-programmed coordinates or real-time data.

The pre-made devices in this space vary greatly in both price and build quality, and most of the ones I've seen use proprietary software and hardware. But you don't have to go this route! The drone-building community has created many software and hardware projects under open licenses that allow you to build, repair, customize, and experiment with your own drone, or to supplement the use of drones in some other way. Let's take a look at just a few of those projects.

Paparazzi UAV

Paparazzi UAV is a project that combines both the software and hardware needed to build and fly an open source vehicle, released under open licenses. Its primary focus is autonomous flight, and is designed to be portable to allow operators to take their devices into the field easily and program their flights across a series of waypoints. Source and releases to the software components can be found on GitHub, and tutorials for adapting it to off-the-shelf or custom-built hardware can be found on the project's wiki.

Dronecode / PX4

The Dronecode project is a Linux Foundation-sponsored project working to build a common open source platform for UAV development. We've covered the project before in further depth, but they continue to host a number of different developer resources, including GitHub repositories of several useful tools. A split in the project earlier this year brought several of the supporting companies and developers from Dronecode to a new project called PX4, which provides updated versions of many of the same resources under active development.


So you've used a drone to capture a bunch of overhead imagery of an area of interest. Now what? OpenDroneMap may be able to help. OpenDroneMap takes this aerial imagery and helps you to process it into point clouds, digital surface and elevation models, or just orthorectify the imagery (in essence, line up the imagery to a known coordinate system for further analysis).

Grab the source or a beta release on GitHub under a GPL license, as well as a sample data set, and see whether it’s a good fit for you; the project's wiki has more information. OpenDroneMap is designed to be run in Linux and can be run with Docker to avoid needing the exact configuration environment the project was built for.

Drone Journalism Lab operations manual

One of the more interesting instances of seeing drones impacting everyday life has been their use in journalism, especially amateur investigative journalism, bringing an eye to the sky to document what's going on in the world around us. The Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln exists to educate journalists about how drones can be used legally and ethically as a part of the journalistic process. To further that goal, they have open sourced their operations manual, available on GitHub or as a PDF, under a Creative Commons license to bring best practices to any news organization hoping to use a drone further their reporting capabilities.

This is definitely an incomplete list of projects; we hope to cover others in the future, including an upcoming article on DronePan an aerial photography tool for certain devices. In the meantime, what other open source or open hardware drone projects are out there? Which ones are targeted towards relative beginners, and which ones are going to take more effort and commitment to put to use? Let us know in the comments below.

4 Open Source Drone Projects was authored by Jason Baker and published in Opensource.com. It is being republished by Open Health News under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0). The original copy of the article can be found here.