2022 Dronecode data sheds light on who is most committed to open source

Which drone companies are the most committed to open source? The Dronecode Foundation shared some key insights as part of its annual review, which sheds light on what sort of pace the open source community is growing at, what companies are contributing most to it and how much code is being committed or changed. I got a peek at some interesting 2022 Dronecode data, and here are some of the highlights:

  • Ten people were responsible for 73% of changes in 2022.
  • 4.4 million lines of code changed in 2022, with 9,200 code commits and 2,500 pull requests.
  • There are roughly three dozen participating members in the Dronecode Foundation as of 2022, and 284 unique contributors to the code base.

Keep scrolling for an even deeper dive into these 2022 Dronecode data highlights!

Why open source is important for drones?

Unlike closed source code, which a company might build on its own to power its own proprietary software, open source code relies on the public to help contribute to its code base. Think of it as public tools and public knowledge, enabling other companies to use that knowledge to build out their own systems and products rather than have to reinvent the wheel every time.

“There are proprietary drone solutions out there, but the innovation and technological backbone on which they rely are thanks to open technologies,” according to a statement from the Dronecode Foundation.

In fact, the majority of non-DJI drones out there use open-source tech. Drones leveraging open-source tech account for 16% of all commercial drones — a figure that is inclusive of DJI drones. When broken out by all non-DJI commercial drones, open source accounts for 60% of drones, according to a 2021 Drone Analyst report.

A brief history of the open source drone community

The open source drone community largely dates back to 2011, when PX4 — which is an open-source flight control software for drones — was developed. That led to the establishment of the Dronecode Foundation in 2014, which is an independent, non-profit organization that aims to promote and develop open-source projects for drones.

So who is that Dronecode Foundation comprised of? It’s a team of developers, manufacturers, and users, ranging everywhere from companies with millions of dollars of investor funding to individual, regular folks who might contribute as part of their own personal project. It even as buy-in from tech giants including Microsoft.

It’s tough to talk about open source without talking about Pixhawk, which entails a set of open standards endorsed by major semiconductor manufacturers, software companies, and drone engineering companies.  Pixhawk estimates that there are more than a million Pixhawk-based devices in the field as of early 2023. It’s even a popular device in classrooms or for DIY drone makers, such as what you’ll find with Drone Dojo’s Raspberry Pi Drone Kit.

In 2021, the Dronecode Foundation launched multiple Pixhawk Standards, including the Payload Bus Standard which defines how payload modules can be connected to a drone’s flight controller (and it’s important because it allows for more flexibility and interoperability between different payload modules). And in 2023, Dronecode announced the latest version to its autopilot system called the Pixhawk v6. Among the most popular devices that use Pixhawk (and the companies that make them) are:

Who (or what companies) are contributing to open source?

While many companies choose to keep their code 100% private, others devote resources to committing code that it open source.

One of the names at the forefront of conversations about open source is Auterion, which is the largest open-source drone software platform in the world and is building an ecosystem of software-defined drones, payloads, and third party applications. That’s perhaps unsurprising given that Auterion co-founder and CEO Lorenz Meier also chairs the Dronecode Foundation. Kevin Sartori, the other co-founder of Auterion, is a Dronecode Foundation board member.

Auterion was responsible for 52.7% of all open source contributions in 2022. As far as academic institutes, ETH Zürich — which is a public university in Switzerland — contributed the most at 6.6%.

Other notable companies contributing to the open source drone community include Blue Robotics Inc., Volans-i, and NXP Semiconductors Netherlands B.V.

But of course, many contributors are completely unaffiliated with companies or research universities. 35% of contributions came from non-affiliated folk.

Here’s some interesting data around what happened in the open source world of Dronecode in 2022:

Perhaps most interesting is that just ten people were responsible for 73% of changes in 2022. Here were those top contributors:

But while it may seem like a select few are leading the charge, many, many folks are contributing. See just how the number of folks contributing to the open source data has grown over the past five years:

Of course, if you’re interested in contributing to open source, you can. Dronecode shared these getting started links, so you too can dive in:

Community Engagement

Source Code

Documentation and Guides

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