The HoverGames drone development platform is a modular and flexible NXP hardware/software solution that can be used to build any autonomous vehicle, from drones and rovers to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The idea was born in collaboration with the NXP HoverGames, a coding competition to optimize your drone for a variety of applications. Coders, developers, and innovators can solve problems creatively.
As part of the kit, participants receive a complete reference drone that includes the flight management unit (FMU).
Each NXP HoverGames hardware and virtual coding competition takes place over several months. Participants just purchase the kit and have fun. Initially, the HoverGames commissioners ask participants to familiarize with the drone by following simple tutorial examples. Then, participants can sign up for any of the Virtual Software challenges currently active (some qualifications are required).
The development platform has a typical credit card size and is fully open for the development of robotics, control algorithms, security networks, and communication protocols, and may include additional support components.
“We built the drone as a development kit as this is exactly the intent for everyone who wants to work on it,” said Iain Galloway, drone program lead, Systems Innovation, NXP. “Then, we thought, how can we help more people get involved with the software ecosystem? So, we started last year with the HoverGames program. We defined a social theme called ‘Fight Fires with Flyers’. And this is a challenge to help first responders in any way, a challenge for software coding. It’s not a flying challenge.”
Unmanned aerial vehicles
UAVs promise new perspectives on the world around us and the possibility to go to places that were once impossible.
Technology has evolved since the beginning of the last century, with extraordinary growth over the last decade. In the past, drones were only available for military purposes. However, in the last decade, this type of equipment has become easily accessible to ordinary people and companies of all kinds.
The use of drones is also becoming increasingly widespread as part of the first aid kit at the scene of an emergency or disaster. Drones are connected devices, and as with any such device, data security risks also arise. The main problem is that these tools were designed a few years ago before cybercrime was considered a real threat.
NXP HoverGames drone development kit
The development kit is essentially based on a microprocessor with Linux and Open CV and various accompanying sensors to guide the flight.
“For HoverGames 1, we had the KIT-HGDRONEK66, which included the FMUK66 real-time MCU flight controller running NUTTX RTOS and PX4 flight stack,” said Galloway. “It includes all the sensors to create an IMU (Inertial measurement unit) and interfaces for CAN, 2-wire Automotive Ethernet and Security. In Challenge 2, we are introducing a separate companion computer called 8MMNavQ (or NavQ). This Linux companion computer uses the NXP i.MX 8 M Mini system-on-chip and includes hardware accelerators for video encoding, and is supported with Linux that includes OpenCV machine vision, ROS, Python, MAVSDK, and other tools needed.”
The flight controller ensures that the drone remains stable. The board is offered as open-source with the possibility to insert other external sensors to optimize operations according to the functionality.
A LiPo battery and country-specific telemetry radio must be implemented using one of the IoT connections. For full functionality of the kit, you will need to select which of the two available telemetry radios to purchase. Through the telemetry, you can have a live connection to the vehicle during flight, and can see the status of the drone during flight, load and control autonomous waypoints, and make any necessary changes. Telemetry data is sent to the control station but also stored onboard in the flight unit (figures 1 and 2).
Figure 1: KIT-HGDRONEK66 kit block diagram
Figure 2: kit components of the KIT-HGDRONEK66
RDDRONE-FMUK66 flight unit (FMU) is supported by the business-friendly open-source PX4.org flight stack, with the BLDC motor control capability. PX4 is extensively used for research and commercial drone platforms. Its permissive BSD license preserves the ability to include proprietary IP. This reference design gives you freedom to develop your own robotic vehicle. Furthermore, the FMU is versatile and can run other open-source or proprietary flight stacks, including GPS and other positioning inputs for autonomous navigation to mission way points. The kit is also supported by QGroundControl ground station software which is available as a desktop program and mobile app for Android and iPhone.
The RDDRONE-FMUK66 runs NuttX RTOS on a NXP Kinetis K66 microcontroller, with an ARM Cortex-M4 core at 180 MHz and 2 MB flash memory. It uses NXP sensors, automotive CAN bus transceivers, as well as the new two-wire automotive 100BASE-T1 ethernet transceiver TJA110x.
HoverGames drone development kit components also include DC-to-DC power module, GPS NEO-M8N module with mount, Safety switch, Buzzer, and bright RGB status LED, SEGGER J-Link EDU Mini / FTDI USB-TTL-3V3 cable / Debug breakout board with cable, BLDC brushless motors 2212 920 kV, ESCs motor controllers 40 A OPTO.
Figure 3: RDDRONE-FMUK66 flight unit – Top view
Figure 4: RDDRONE-FMUK66 flight unit – Bottom view
Once the entire chassis is assembled, the kit has additional space for other components such as a Rapid IoT adapter or a support computer such as the new NavQ i.MX 8M Mini for use as a vision processor with Linux, OpenCV, and ROS (figures 3 and 4).
“I think one of the most important parts of this solution is that it’s completely open,” said Galloway. “So other drones and companies will provide you with a drone, but then they’ll provide you only with an API based software development kit. You really don’t have control. You don’t know what’s going on under the hood. In our project, both the flight controller and external computers, all is open-source hardware and software. So, you could actually work with this tool and eventually turn this into a business or product.”
The development kit is sold at a price of $450 with various discounts applied to developers during the various hover games programs.
Many challenges with drones involve controlling or programming a drone. HoverGames wants to encourage participants to write codes to improve or activate new features in their vehicles, as well as fun software racing challenges. The PX4 Slack community, GitHub, and GitBook platforms provide support for sharing opinions as a community, as well as receiving support from NXP.
Participants will have to design solutions to solve a social problem or some of the biggest challenges facing society – for example, a simulation of waste cleanup, or monitoring the migration patterns of an endangered animal species, or disaster management, health crises, environmental protection, wildlife conservation and more.
HoverGames Challenge 2 has just been launched and is titled “Help Drones Help Others in Pandemics”. This challenge adds the NavQ vision computer and encourages participants to think of positive influences where drones can help people. There are many ways to help during a pandemic, from delivering medicine, helping first responders with communications networks or even helping farmers who are having difficulty getting labor manage their crop monitoring needs.
The challenge is now open for registration at https://www.hackster.io/contests/hovergames2.
>> This article was originally published on our sister site, EE Times Europe.