Case Study

2012 - World first: UAV autopilot runs on $25 Raspberry Pi


A small UAV helicopter developed by Blue Bear has demonstrated the world’s first automated flight with software running on a Raspberry Pi, a $25 miniature computer first conceived as an educational tool. Using Blue Bear’s proprietary processes and software algorithms, the UAV can hover and follow waypoints.

UAV autopilots are usually a major cost item, with in-service autopilots typically ranging in cost from $5,000 to $10,000. The research conducted by Blue Bear points the way to a time when small UAVs with all the capabilities required for the front line could be mass produced with a step-change reduction in unit cost compared to UAVs currently in service. Blue Bear already offers the affordable SNAP autopilot for serious UAV development, but is always keen to explore the art of the possible.

The work was led by Principal Scientist Dr Simon Willcox.

“Pushing the envelope is what it’s all about,” said Willcox. “For serious UAV development we have SNAP, which is a proven product that meets the safety and reliability requirements of regulators. This project has allowed us to explore an extreme vision – low cost UAVs produced in high volumes. Although meeting safety and reliability targets may not be achievable by running software on the Raspberry Pi per se, this work should certainly change customer thinking about high volume UAV procurement.”

Raspberry Pi is a trademark of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

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