The recently updated UAVCAN V1.0 protocol is an open lightweight protocol designed for reliable intra-vehicular communication in aerospace and robotic applications over CAN bus, Ethernet, and other robust transports. NXP drone team works to provide reference designs and promote the adoption of high-reliability silicon solutions for use in Drone, Rover, and similar Robotics applications.
Modern industrial drones have advanced far beyond the popular DIY hobbyist and consumer camera drones. These new era industrial-grade autonomous systems are now used to provide safety-critical tasks, from search and rescue to medical transportation and delivery. We see that systems like these begin to require many additional sensors connected by a highly robust and functionally safe CAN bus network.
UAVCAN 1.0 addresses the challenge of deterministic on-board data exchange between systems and components of next-generation intelligent vehicles: manned and unmanned aircraft, spacecraft, robots, and cars. In addition to its use in drones other small robotic systems, it can be used in industrial applications and control systems. The updated UAVCAN V1.0, which builds upon lessons from the V0 specification, is also intended to be taken through a formal standardization process.
As the largest global semiconductor supplier to the automotive industry, NXP has modernized the vehicle network with CAN and CAN-FD silicon. UAVCAN is similarly poised to transform the networks of modern software-defined small robotic vehicles. Networks for industrial-grade drones are becoming more complex as the number of sensors and distance between sensors and fight controllers increases. Furthermore, low-latency deterministic networks are key to safety-critical systems. However, commonly used short-range buses such as I2C and SPI interfaces are not as robust and cannot handle the distance and the growing complexity of the network. In comparison, CAN-FD offers data rates from 2 to 5 MbpsBPS, and their robustness has been well proven in Automotive applications. Because of the priority-based bus architecture, it means many devices can be connected while managing real-time peripherals such as motor controls. Multiple busses or transports can be connected to enable redundancy.
In the new V1.0 specification, provisions are made to allow for abstraction of the lower layer protocols from the actual functional use. This makes it easily adapted to different use cases or for other functional domains. By changing the datatype-name definitions, the UAVCAN V1.0 protocol works equally well for a PX4 Drone or a completely custom device such as a micro-spacecraft. A major update in V1.0 is not only the support for modern higher speed CAN-FD hardware interfaces but also the ability to use it over other types of physical layer protocols.
UAVCAN V1 is in development now, and NXP is pleased to support its development by working with the community and providing engineering resources to enabled this improved standard. This is a standard open to everyone. No licensing or approval of any kind is necessary for its implementation, distribution, or use.
In order to better reflect the applicability of the standard not just to drones, but now to many different networks and vehicle types, the name UAVCAN can be interpreted as Uncomplicated Application-level Vehicular Communication And Networking.
For additional reading, a high-level overview of the protocol is provided in the article “UAVCAN: a highly dependable publish-subscribe protocol for real-time intravehicular networking”.