Choosing a Ground Station

This page gives a high-level overview of the available Ground Control Stations (GCS) and provides links so you can make the appropriate choice.

Overview

A ground station is typically a software application, running on a ground-based computer, that communicates with your UAV via wireless telemetry. It displays real-time data on the UAVs performance and position and can serve as a “virtual cockpit”, showing many of the same instruments that you would have if you were flying a real plane. A GCS can also be used to control a UAV in flight, uploading new mission commands and setting parameters. It is often also use to monitor the live video stream from a UAV’s cameras.

There are at least eight different ground control stations (Mission Planner, APM Planner 2, MAVProxy, Tower (DroidPlanner 3), AndroPilot, MAVPilot, iDroneCtrl and QGroundControl) that can be used to communicate with ArduPilot (i.e. Copter [http://ardupilot.org/copter/index.html#home], Plane [http://ardupilot.org/plane/index.html#home], Rover [http://ardupilot.org/rover/index.html#home], AntennaTracker [http://ardupilot.org/antennatracker/index.html#home]).

The decision to select a particular GSC often depends on your vehicle and preferred computing platform:

  • Ready-to-fly users may prefer the portability and ease of use of Tower (Droid Planner 3), or another GCS running on a tablet or phone.
  • DIY/Kit users and developers often have to access configuration and analysis tools, and would therefore need (at least initially) Mission Planner, APM Planner 2 or another more full-featured GCS.

Note

This wiki primarily refers to set-up and configuration using the Mission Planner, because it was created first and is the most full-featured GCS.

Comparison

Tower

Tower (a.k.a. “DroidPlanner 3”) is an Android GCS for phones and tablets. It is intended for end users and enthusiasts, and includes features like follow-me, “dronies” (i.e. “selfies” but taken with a drone) and special missions for 3D mapping.

  • Platform: Android Phones and Tablets
  • Licence: Open source [https://github.com/DroidPlanner/Tower/blob/develop/LICENSE.md] (GPLv3)
../_images/tower_droid_planner3_structure_scan.jpg
  • Download Tower [https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.droidplanner.android] (and 3DR Services [https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.droidplanner.services.android]) from Google Play.
  • Android compatible hardware list [https://github.com/arthurbenemann/droidplanner/wiki/Compatible-Devices]
  • Wiki [https://github.com/DroidPlanner/Tower/wiki]
  • Support Forum [http://ardupilot.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=15]
  • Issues List [https://github.com/DroidPlanner/Tower/issues]
  • Source Code [https://github.com/DroidPlanner/droidplanner]

Note

Legacy versions (DroidPlanner 2 [https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.droidplanner] and Droid Planner 1 [https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.droidplanner]) can also be downloaded from Google Play.

Mission Planner

Full featured and widely used GCS. Intended for both developers and enthusiasts.

  • Platform: Windows, Mac OS X (Using Mono)
  • Licence: Open source [https://github.com/ArduPilot/MissionPlanner/blob/master/COPYING.txt] (GPLv3)
../_images/MP-FP-Screen.jpg
  • Wiki [http://ardupilot.org/planner/index.html#home]
  • Support Forum [http://ardupilot.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=12]
  • Issues List [https://github.com/ArduPilot/MissionPlanner/issues]
  • Source Code [https://github.com/ArduPilot/MissionPlanner]

APM Planner 2

The best autopilot for use on MAC and Linux platforms. It has a smaller user base and reduced feature set when compared with Mission Planner. Intended for developers and enthusiasts.

  • Platform: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
  • Licence: Open source [https://github.com/ArduPilot/apm_planner/blob/master/license.txt] (GPLv3)
../_images/planner2_choose_agcs.jpg
  • Wiki [http://ardupilot.org/planner2/index.html#home]
  • Support Forum [http://ardupilot.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=82]
  • Issues List [https://github.com/ArduPilot/apm_planner/issues]
  • Source Code [https://github.com/ArduPilot/apm_planner]

MAVProxy

Linux GCS often used by Plane developers. Primarily a command line interface with graphical modules for map and mission editing. Written in Python, and extensible via python modules.

  • Platform: Linux
  • Licence: Open source [https://github.com/tridge/MAVProxy/blob/master/COPYING.txt] (GPLv3)
../_images/planner2_choose_agcs.jpg [http://dronecode.github.io/MAVProxy/html/_images/mavproxy_linux.jpg]

AndroPilot

Android GCS intended for enthusiasts.

  • Platform: Android Phones and Tablets
  • Licence: Open Source [https://github.com/geeksville/arduleader/blob/master/LICENSE.md] (GPLv3)
../_images/Andropilot_-_Android_Apps_on_Google_Play.jpg
  • Downloads (Google Play) [https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.geeksville.andropilot]
  • Android compatible hardware list [https://github.com/geeksville/arduleader/wiki/Android%20Device%20Compatibility%20List]
  • Wiki [https://github.com/geeksville/arduleader/wiki]
  • Support Forum [http://ardupilot.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=14]
  • Issues List [https://github.com/geeksville/arduleader/issues]
  • Source Code [https://github.com/geeksville/arduleader/tree/master/andropilot]

MAV Pilot

ArduPilot compatible GCS that runs on iPhone/iPad. Also supports PX4 Flight Stack and ArDrone2.0 with Flight Recorder.

See website for how-to on how connect it to your autopilot

  • Platform: iPhone, iPad
  • Licence: Proprietary
../_images/ChooseAGCS_MAVPilot.jpg

Fighting Walrus iDroneCtrl

iDroneCtrl is a free iOS app from Fighting Walrus, LLC. It uses Fighting Walrus’ iDroneLink radio (915 MHz or 433 MHz) along with an iPhone or iPad to talk to your APM-powered UAV.

  • Platform: iPhone, iPad
  • Licence: Proprietary, Free (previously open source [https://github.com/fightingwalrus/iGCS]).
../_images/iDroneLinkOnPhone.jpg

The $99 iDroneLink can be purchased from fightingwalrus.com [http://fightingwalrus.com/].

QGroundControl

Developed for our sister autopilot system, the “Native PX4 stack” QGroundControl can connect and display attitude information and parameter lists but is not customised to work with the ArduPilot firmware as much as the other ground stations listed above.

  • Platform: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android
  • Licence: Open Source [http://www.qgroundcontrol.org/license] (GPLv3)
../_images/QGroundControlTabletImage.jpg
  • Website [http://www.qgroundcontrol.org/]
  • Support Forum [https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/qgroundcontrol]
  • Gitter [https://gitter.im/mavlink/qgroundcontrol]

Warning

Januray 2016: Full support for ArduPilot firmware vehicles in QGroundControl is now in beta. This includes full Setup and Configuration, Mission Planning, Flight Display as well as streaming video. Also QGroundControl is now supported on Android tablets.

Additional GSC hardware

Android

For Android devices, you will need:

  • Android based tablet that can act as a USB host. Google Nexus tablet are recommended, and the compatible hardware lists for the different GSCs are listed in the table above.

  • SiK Telemetry Radio System or similar (915 Mhz for US, 433 for Europe) which includes the bidirectional ground and air telemetry units.

  • USB OTG cable (typically less than $2 on ebay [http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_trksid=m570.l3201&_nkw=usb+otg+cable&_sacat=0] and Amazon [http://www.amazon.com/T-Flash-Adapter-Samsung-GT-i9100-GT-N7000/dp/B005FUNYSA/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1376262351&sr=8-5&keywords=android+otg+cable]).

    AndroidGCS_USB_dongle

Desktop PCs (Windows/Mac/Linux

For Desktop devices you will need:

iPhone/iPad

The Fighting Walrus iDroneCtrl requires the iDroneLink radio transmitter. This can be purchased from fightingwalrus.com [http://fightingwalrus.com/].