The 24th annual Chaos Communications Congress in Berlin is already off to a great start. The first talk we attended was [Antoine Drouin] and [Martin Müller] presenting Paparazzi – The Free Autopilot. Paparazzi is an open source hardware and software project for building autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles. The main hardware board has an ARM processor and GPS. It uses inertial and infrared sensors to determine orientation and altitude. The four infrared thermopiles measure the air temperature. The ground is warmer than the sky and if you compare the temperature in the direction of each wing tip your can tell what angle the airplane is at. It’s really that simple.
They did a pretty amazing live demo. Using the network connection they controlled a UAV flying in France and another in Germany. Both planes were streaming live video from belly mounted cameras. One relaying through a home DSL connection and the other through a UMTS cellphone. They were able to change way-points on the fly and issue flight pattern commands. There is a ground crew at each location with a security pilot that will switch the controls to manual if things get out of hand.