Pixhawks have changed over the years, but the new Pixhawk v6 autopilots could prove to be the backbone for delivery drones.
Dronecode today announced the latest version to its autopilot system called the Pixhawk v6, which is set to make complex operations more reliable.
“The latest Pixhawk open standards offer rock-solid reliability for the most demanding applications on top of access to an ecosystem of compatible systems, thanks to the Pixhawk Autopilot Bus,” said Ramón Roche, GM of Dronecode Foundation. “We are expanding our ecosystem of known vendors from our community, implementing the latest open standards.”
As of now, the new standards are publicly available for everyone to download:
- All Pixhawk FMUv6 Open Standards on GitHub
- DS-012 Pixhawk FMUv6X (PDF)
- DS-010 Pixhawk Autopilot Bus (PDF)
The 6th generation of Pixhawk also means we’ll get new Flight Management Units (FMUs) from CUAV, among the many new devices we’re set to see from companies that use Pixhawk. Among the biggest changes include more reliable sensors including IMU, barometer, and RM3100 magnetometers, as well as a new shock absorption system.
The Pixhawk v6 FMUs come in two versions, the FMUv6X and the FMUv6C. The former is a high-end version designed for maximum performance and reliability. The latter is designed for the more cost-conscious crowd with some stripped-down features.
Here’s how the two Pixhawk v6 models compare to each other:
|Isolated I2C Bus||x|
|Seperate Power Supply On Sensor Bus||x|
|Support a REV without I/O MCU||x|
|Hardware Handshaking||3 Ports||2 Ports|
|Spare ADC Inputs||2||0|
|Safety Switch Support||x|
|Flash||2 MB||2 MB|
|RAM||1 MB||1 MB|
All versions ship with the latest supported version of the PX4 Flight Controller by default.
What is Pixhawk?
Pixhawk entails a set of open standards endorsed by major semiconductor manufacturers, software companies, and drone engineering companies.
Among the major manufacturing companies that have implemented Pixhawk’s Open Standards include Auterion, ARK Electronics, Holybro, ModalAI, CUAV, 96Boards, and NXP Semiconductor. Pixhawk estimates that there are more than a million Pixhawk-based devices in the field as of early 2023.
Among the most popular devices that use Pixhawk (and the companies that make them) are:
- Auterion – Skynode
- Holybro – Pixhawk 6X & Pixhawk 6C
- CUAV – CUAV Pixhawk FMUv6X
- ARK Electronics – ARKV6X
The Pixhawk project has been around making open standards for drones and open hardware for more than a decade. Pixhawk is closely tied to the Dronecode Foundation, which is a vendor-neutral foundation that hosts open-source and open-standard projects, and sits within the broader Linux Foundation.
There are also in-person events, such as as the PX4 Developer Summit (the 2022 edition was held in June in Austin, Texas, and even featured a DroneCode drone light show).
What’s the deal with open source?
An open-source drone uses a free-use license that’s openly and publicly worked on by developers. That means that — rather than a company building proprietary technology and software that they keep for themselves, companies or individuals contribute to writing code for the open source, allowing others to build upon it and improve their technology. Many consider open source to be a win-win for all parties.
In fact, the majority of non-DJI drones out there use open-source tech. Drone brands leveraging open-source tech account for 16% of all commercial drones out there, and 60% of non-DJI drones, according to a Drone Analyst report on the rise of open source drones.
It’s largely seen as a boon to startups and lean companies because — with open source code — organizations and developers get started more quickly than had they started from scratch.
“The beauty of open source is that innovation is fueled by a group of individuals coming together around a common goal to build a shared resource,” according to a statement from Dronecode. “Then, individuals innovate on top of that. The community has settled on a consistent way hardware and software integrates together so that components from different companies can consistently work together. This interoperability through collaboration builds everyone up and drives the innovation we see in drones and uncrewed vehicles.”