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Open Source: The Only Way Upward

Blog sponsored by Auterion, PX4 Developer Summit 2022 Sponsor

Pixhawk and PX4 are now ubiquitous drone technologies. They help create an ecosystem of interoperability which leads to users having more choice and flexibility. Creating an open drone ecosystem around these technologies was the goal, and it’s finally happening! 

This blog post highlights what the Dronecode Foundation and its member companies, like Auterion, are facilitating in conjunction with the open source community for real companies and end users.

Building the Foundation

The intention behind the creation of Pixhawk was to make drones fly autonomously using computer vision. But the drone computing power and technology we take for granted today didn’t exist in 2008. Auterion’s now CEO, Lorenz Meier, was a student at the time and set out to build the necessary flight control software and hardware. Realizing the task’s scale, he sought the help of fourteen fellow students, many of whom were more experienced than him, to make it happen.

Together, they not only built Pixhawk but kick started an open source community around various technologies. Lorenz enabled talented people worldwide to collaborate and create a full-scale solution that was reusable and standardized. By giving their technology a permissive open source license, they opened it to everyone for use and collaboration. 

A lot has happened since then. Here are a few milestones:

  • 2011: Birth of PX4
  • 2014: Dronecode Foundation Creation
  • 2019: MAVSDK now under MAVLink project
  • 2021: Launch of Pixhawk Payload Bus Standard
  • 2022: Dronecode Foundation has over 33 participating members

Benefits of Openness in the Real World

There are proprietary drone solutions out there but the innovation and technological backbone are thanks to open software hardware and standards. It took a while to get here, but we’re at a point where the benefits of an Open Ecosystem are visible and growing fast.

Companies now see the benefits of using open technologies and what was a foundation for the drone industry, is being infused into every crevice.

Here are two interviews with companies discussing the benefits of standardization and an open ecosystem in the real world.

Freefly Systems 

Max Tubman from Freefly Systems discusses open standards and how it is enabling interoperability of various payloads amongst partners in the Open Ecosystem.

Watts Innovation

In this interview, Bobby Watts of Watts Innovation, explains the power of standardization and how it has streamlined their interoperability with other ecosystem partners like Gremsy and Drone Rescue Systems.

The Dronecode Foundation is vital to a healthy open drone community and the developer community is key to its success and agility. Auterion believes open source is the winning approach to building software, including drone software and that companies need to work in tandem to create the best technologies.

Auterion’s Role

Open source was always a part of Lorenz’s vision but he wanted to make it sustainable and scalable long term. That’s why, in 2017, he and Kevin Sartori launched Auterion; a company committed to maintaining the open source ecosystem and distribution model, that supports other companies to use it in their products and services.

Open source and standards form the technical foundation of the drone industry, but it needs a little more work to be made ready for end users. That’s where Auterion and other companies come in, with open source at the core of what we do. 

Auterion brings the fantastic work of a global open source developer community around PX4, MAVLink, and other projects and puts them into a productized form that we maintain for end users so they can focus on their business. By making open source software as easy to adopt as a commercial product, it removes barriers for the enterprise users. 

The Open Ecosystem enables a symbiotic relationship between developers and the enterprise, bringing the best out of both worlds. A lot of Auterion’s work flows back into the open source community and enables those developers and technologists to make the next move: to build a rover, a VTOL or a more interesting drone configuration. 

Ramón Roche

Author Ramón Roche

Ramon is Dronecode's General Manager, you can read more about him on LinkedIn

More posts by Ramón Roche