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. Then, individuals innovate on top of that. The beauty of open standards, in particular, is 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.
Open standards begin with an open process. At the Dronecode Foundation (DF), we foster the Pixhawk FMU (Flight Management Units) Open Standards with contributions and participation from the Pixhawk Special Interest Group during FMU Workgroup meetings. Participation is open to all members of the Dronecode Foundation. It is a mature community with a proven ecosystem of tools and services.
Why adopt open source?
Choosing to adopt a robust and mature open-source community, like here at DF, can help organizations and developers get started quickly, thanks to the vast tools and rich feature set already available from decades of architectural improvements, critical safety considerations, the many challenges that we overcame that helped us get to where we are today, as well as a continuously growing ecosystem of hardware options to choose from.
Speaking of mature and proven, the 6th-generation of Pixhawk flight controller of open standards is now available, including several hardware products already being manufactured. But, first, what is Pixhawk?
Pixhawk Open Standards
Pixhawk is not a specific product; it is a set of open standards endorsed by major semiconductor manufacturers, software companies, and drone engineering companies. These de facto standards cover requirements for many aspects of hardware and electronics design in drones. The Pixhawk Special Interest Group is in charge of developing the latest standards through recurring public meetings hosted by the Dronecode Foundation.
The Open Standards are implemented by manufacturers, many of which are DF members, such as Auterion, ARK Electronics, Holybro, ModalAI, CUAV, 96Boards, and NXP Semiconductor. They release products or reference implementations for end-users or other organizations, all based on the Pixhawk standards. The Pixhawk ecosystem has been growing for over a decade and has achieved great success. We estimate more than a million Pixhawk-based devices in the field as of this writing.
FMUv6X & FMUv6C—Sixth Generation Pixhawk’s
Now, the 6th generation of Pixhawk FMU’s is available in two versions:
- FMUv6X: the high-end version made for performance and reliability (see features below)
- FMUv6C: made for the cost-conscious end of the market. Reliable and cost-effective
Every version of Pixhawk ships with the latest supported version of the PX4 Autopilot (v1.13) by default.
Which companies are making hardware for Pixhawk 6th gen?
As of this writing, four companies are manufacturing hardware utilizing the Pixhawk 6 standards
- Auterion – Skynode
- Holybro – Pixhawk 6X & Pixhawk 6C
- CUAV – CUAV Pixhawk FMUv6X
- ARK Electronics – ARKV6X
In addition, some companies are creating new baseboards with companion computers, such as Raspberry Pis, and Nvidia Jetson’s that run Linux, allowing you to use an API instead of modifying the PX4 Flight Controller code. This increases the availability of options and showcases how innovation can build on top of open-source technology. Companies offering baseboards with Pixhawk Autopilot Bus compatibility include:
- Auterion – Skynode, and AI Node
- Holybro – Default, Mini, RPi CM4
- CUAV – Default
- ARKElectronics – Default
How are the new Pixhawk standards making a difference?
Let’s go straight to those who are offering new products utilizing these standards and see how the enhanced standard is making more possible.
“Auterion is continuously supporting Dronecode, and its projects, our commitment to open source and standards is part of our DNA. At Auterion, we take the invaluable work of a community of innovators, we integrate it with different services that create value for the end user, and deliver it to the wider market as an enterprise-ready product. The newest generation of FMUv6X is another great advancement, and we are looking forward to the value it will bring our customer base in future release cycles”Lorenz Meier, co-founder and CEO of Auterion
“CUAV Pixhawk 6X is the result of close cooperation between CUAV and Dronecode. We implemented the mature and reliable FMUv6X open standard. CUAV has leveraged its in-house hardware design expertise to create a unique autopilot with very reliable sensors (IMU, barometer, RM3100 magnetometer) and a new shock absorption system. This makes it possible to extend its use to more industrial fields, making your imagination possible.”Ray Bin, Founder and CEO of CUAV
“The ARKV6X flight controller is the perfect combination of advanced technology and versatile design, offering users the best of both worlds. Open standards are the foundation of a healthy and innovative industry, allowing for collaboration and progress without the constraints of proprietary technology.”Alex Klimaj, Founder of ARKElectronics
“The Holybro Pixhawk 6X and Pixhawk 6C Flight Controllers have implemented the FMUv6X and FMUv6C open standards. We have followed the Pixhawk standards since 2018 and have continued to work closely with the PX4 Team and Dronecode to improve on them. It is great to see how far we have come with all the companies joining in on this effort to benefit the community as a whole.”Vince Poon, CTO of Holybro
“From the very beginning our system was built with the Pixhawk flight controller at its heart. Upgrading to v6 will allow us to take the Sunflower Labs Beehive to a new level of autonomy, reliability and flexibility to meet our customer’s needs. The increased redundancy, computing power, hardware standards and incredible community support makes this an easy decision. We are proud to support and contribute to Pixhawk and the community that built it.”Alex Pachikov, CEO at Sunflower Labs
Enabling a Pixhawk Ecosystem
Pixhawk Autopilot Bus Verification by Dronecode
Additionally, Dronecode can help validate standards implementation to guarantee cross-vendor compatibility of PAB modules and baseboards, enabling an ecosystem. For a small fee, we can help verify your implementation is up to standard; we test against a known reference implementation and verify cross-compatibility with other validated hardware available to us. After all, cross-vendor compatibility is a crucial benefit of using open standards.
How can manufacturers adopt the standards and become part of the community?
Are you interested in how to build your own drone flight controller utilizing the Pixhawk standards? You have a couple of options.
Build your own using the Open Standards
If you would like to adopt the standard, start here, join the DF Discord channel, and participate in the monthly coordination calls for the FMU workgroup.
The best way to contribute to the open efforts hosted under the Dronecode Foundation is to become a member. By becoming a member, organizations can help support open standards and guarantee the continued success of the open-source projects hosted under our umbrella. Join The Dronecode Foundation Today.
The standard is now available for everyone to download
- All Pixhawk FMUv6 Open Standards on GitHub
- DS-010 Pixhawk Autopilot Bus (PDF)
- DS-012 Pixhawk FMUv6X (PDF)
- DS-018 Pixhawk FMUv6C (PDF)
Partner with a verified Pixhawk manufacturer
You can partner with manufacturers who are experts (who contributed to the development of the standards). They include: Auterion; ARKElectronics; Holybro; and, CUAV. All hold a Dronecode membership and help to maintain the standards.
Design your own using the reference Schematics
In either case, an exclusive benefit for Dronecode Foundation members is access to the reference schematics. Leverage access to the reference implementation of the open standards and boost your time to production.
Access to the Pixhawk Trademark
Once your flight controller is market-ready, Dronecode can help you access the Pixhawk trademark to help you demonstrate your Pixhawk standards-compliant hardware is tested as 100% compliant. It is an exclusive benefit for Dronecode members at an additional cost. If you are interested in exploring any of the Pixhawk services (Validation / Access to Schematics / Trademark License) we offer and/or joining the Dronecode Foundation, please reach out to Ramón Roche (email@example.com).
About the Dronecode Foundation
The Dronecode Foundation (DF) hosts open-source and open-standard projects and their communities, forming an ecosystem of critical components to the Drone Industry. DF is a vendor-neutral foundation for open drone projects and is part of the Linux Foundation. We work with developers, end-users, and adopting vendors worldwide. DF provides a neutral space for collaboration in the development of open standards between engineers and organizations members of the drone community, nurturing an open ecosystem providing open alternatives of hardware and software components key to the development of Uncrewed Vehicles. www.dronecode.org
About the Pixhawk
The Pixhawk project has provided readily available open standards for drones and open hardware for more than a decade. The Pixhawk SIG was formed to tackle the lack of specifications and guidelines for drone systems development and is supported by Dronecode Foundation members who support Open Standards. Pixhawk is a registered trademark of the Dronecode Foundation. pixhawk.org