Most consumer drones have some level of autonomy built into them. Whether that’s cinematic shots, obstacle avoidance, or subject tracking. However, complete autonomy is not in-built into most commercial drones. The Cube Autopilot by CubePilot is an add-on module that helps drones and other unmanned vehicles achieve complete autonomy.
What is the Cube?
The Cube is an add-on autopilot module by CubePilot. The Cube is essentially a flight controller with a powerful processor and a range of sensors. Cube was formerly known as Pixhawk, and it derives some of its component designs from Pixhawk. Users need to install the ArduPilot or the PIX4 firmware on the Cube through the ground control station or directly on the Cube. This autopilot module is compatible with multirotor, fixed-wing drones, and VTOL drones as well.
Cube is equipped with an H7 processor which houses ARM Cortex CPU and FPU for high-speed performance. The module also provides situational awareness through an ADS-B receiver. This is extremely important for autonomous BVLOS operations. The 1090MHz customized ADS-B receiver from uAvionix picks up signals from nearby manned aircraft and informs the operator to mitigate risks.
A triple-redundant IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) is also included within the Cube for accurate in-flight orientation. The IMU system is stabilized to isolate it from the drone’s vibrations, thereby improving performance.
How does the Cube work?
Firstly, the Cube needs to be mounted on the drone using the 3M double-layer tape or screws. Then load the SD card onto the Cube (without which the Cube will not arm). Following this you must make the power module connections, connections to the ESCs, motors, servos, and telemetry sensors. You can find a detailed guide on making all of these connections on the CubePilot documentation page.
Once the Cube is connected and wired in, you need to set up the ground station. As mentioned above, download the latest version of ArduPilot mission planning software for your ground station. You can upload this firmware onto the Cube from the ground station after installing it or directly upload it on the Cube. Read about firmware installation in the documentation guide.
After the firmware has been installed and uploaded on the Cube, the final step is sensor calibration and setting parameters. In the APM firmware, a list of calibration options is available. Starting with selecting the frame configuration of your drone, followed by accelerometer, compass, radio, servo, ESCs calibration, etc.
The APM has 10 different flight modes such as stabilize, loiter, circle, follow me, etc. that can be configured. Most importantly, you can create parameters for the drone to follow and introduce them into your flight plan.
CubePilot offers a high level of autonomy with the Cube add-on. With the flexibility to create parameters, configure sensors and flight modes, your drone can fly on its own with little to no supervision. Other popular products by CubePilot include an HD video transmission system called Herelink and a waterproof RTK supported GNSS chip called the Here3.
This has several useful applications. For custom drone rigs and operations, having a fully autonomous system can minimize risks and improve efficiency. Drone delivery is one such operation that can largely benefit from autonomous systems like the Cube. Other applications include reconnaissance, surveillance, and search & rescue.