The utilization of drones in various industries is favorably increasing because of their availability and ease of operation. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), around 868,012 Drones Registered in the United States till November 2021, of which 339,998 are commercial drones.
Image Credits: Pixabay
Irrespective of the categories of the drones, most of the drones available are programmable based on the flight controller present onboard. Nowadays, the usage of drones extends from complex to very complex applications such as drone delivery applications to drone light shows, other than military applications.
Is it hard to program a drone?
In simple words, programming a drone is not that hard as you think. It’s much easy to program a drone if you’re already aware of the programming language that the drone’s flight controller supports.
It is not an issue, even though you’re not already well versed with any programming languages. You can able to learn a programming language like Python in a matter of time. Python is an interpreted high-level general-purpose programming language.
Most of the programmable drones support the python programming language. Though some of the low-level support is lacking in the python-like programming language (can be achieved by using C and C++), it’s perfectly okay for beginners and, also, for some advanced operations with ease.
As mentioned earlier, one of the complex applications of programmable drones is the Drone Light show. The programming is responsible for the unison movements of all the drones present in the airspace to move them in an orchestrated manner.
Video Credits: Guinness World Records
The above video is one of the longest animations performed by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is 26 min 19 sec, by EFYI Group (China), supported by Tianjin University (China) in Tianjin, China, on 18 December 2020.
What Programming Language Do Drones Use?
In general, we can classify the programming languages into two major categories, as below:
You can achieve the firmware and board-level modification using the low-level programming languages, but most of the board-level or low-level programming languages are not human-understandable.
The utilization of some of the middle-level languages like C and C++ enables us to achieve the freedom to work on memory management and firmware-level operations.
Most advanced users prefer this level of programming for the sake of reduced usage of resources and the better management of available resources.
For most general-purpose operations, you can rely on high-level programming languages like Python for programming your drones. Also, as mentioned earlier, the learning curve is more apparent compared to low-level languages or middle-level languages.
Also, when it comes to high-level programming, you don’t need to care about register or cache level memory operations because those kind of things will be taken care by the API (Application Programming Interface) itself.
While programming your drone using high-level programming, you need to only care about things like how-to guide the drone to the next waypoint, how to retrieve the video feed from the drone, when to track the objects, etc.
How to program a drone?
If your drone is a proprietary programmable drone, then you can control the drone using the proprietary API (Application Programming Interface) or SDK (Software Development Kit). The API/SDK will have several high-level commands which you can include in your code or application, take care of the movements of the motor based on the executed commands.
Image Credits: Technology illustrations by Storyset
If you’re using the DIY drone or community-supported flight controllers like pixhawk or navio, you can use DroneKit-Python to control your drone. The DroneKit-Python is an Application Programming Interface (API) that allows developers to create Python apps that communicate with vehicles over MAVLink protocol.
Let’s hope the above section helped a lot in understanding the fundamental things involved in programming a drone. Adding, a simple python script named
simpleMission.py performs basic autonomous takeoff and landing missions on execution.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 # Import Necessary Packages from dronekit import connect, VehicleMode,LocationGlobalRelative import time def basicTakeOff(altitude): """ Inputs: 1. altitude - TakeOff Altitude """ vehicle.mode = VehicleMode("GUIDED") vehicle.armed = True time.sleep(2) vehicle.simple_takeoff(altitude) while True: print("Reached Height = ", vehicle.location.global_relative_frame.alt) if vehicle.location.global_relative_frame.alt >= (altitude - 1.5): break time.sleep(1) # Connecting the Vehicle vehicle = connect('udpin:127.0.0.1:14551', baud=115200) # Takeoff the Vehicle takeOffAltitude = 10 basicTakeOff(takeOffAltitude) print("Reached:", takeOffAltitude, " m") # Landing the Vehicle vehicle.mode=VehicleMode('LAND') print("Landing the Vehicle!!!") time.sleep(1) print("Exiting the Code!!!") time.sleep(1)
The program needs to be executed as below,
1 $ python simpleMission.py
Video Credits: Dhulkarnayn, Elucidate Drones
I’ve tried to showcase how simply we can program a drone without any headache using acquired information from various sources. I’m expectantly waiting for your valuable feedback and suggestions regarding this topic.
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