Introducing the Epigone Drone

NASA has introduced that the Ingenuity helicopter has left the nice and cozy convenience of the Perseverance rover, and has effectively survived the chilly Martian nights on its own with simply sun panels and a chargeable battery. Which means the following take a look at for the little four-pound helicopter is to check out for flight in an alien setting. If the demonstration is a success, it is going to be an enormous win for area analysis, and the probabilities for touring round Mars will open up.

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We’re in particular eager about this flight as a result of Ingenuity is supplied with more recent, riskier, publicly to be had era, together with a Garmin laser altimeter ordered from SparkFun.

LIDAR-Lite v3

LIDAR-Lite v3




Impressed via their use of open supply sources, we determined to check out the era ourselves! We needed to get very meta with this, and determined to do an indication of Ingenuity’s era, which itself is demonstrating flight on Mars. So, we constructed a drone using similiar {hardware} and the instrument framework on Ingenuity, and examined simply how onerous it’s to fly right here on Earth. Introducing: the Epigone Drone!

Epigone himself

An epigone is “a much less prominent follower or imitator of any individual, particularly an artist or thinker.” Excellent to understand. Let’s get to the construct!

The Construct

We saved the construct as gentle and compact as imaginable to steer clear of headaches from {hardware} connections, as that would not fly neatly with us. This implies the use of the Qwiic device, together with the Qwiic SHIM for the quickest strategy to make the most of a Pi.

F’ (NASA’s flight framework) has unbelievable documentation for working the framework in an embedded context on a Raspberry Pi, as it might probably run Linux. We will construct an app that may obtain messages via a typical UART driving force and move assemble it for the Raspberry Pi. The Pi may even want energy, and fortunately there is a swish answer for this – the PiJuice HAT. It offers the Pi sufficient power to move off the grid, however does not compromise the provision of the Pi simply extends it!

We picked up the ZOE-M8Q GPS Breakout Board as a result of it is small and will make the most of the NMEA protocol, so the messages it sends are in NMEA formatted ASCII textual content. This may additionally want an antenna, and the Molex Versatile GNSS Antenna is best for the activity as it’s compact too.

Final, however under no circumstances least, we’re going to use the Qwiic LIDAR-Lite v4 to peer if we will be able to measure distance atop the drone. The Ingenuity helicopter makes use of the LIDAR-Lite v3 from Garmin, which includes a laser for as much as 40 meters of optical vary. The LIDAR-Lite v4 as an alternative makes use of an infrared beam and will measure as much as a 10-meter vary with 1 cm of answer. Plus, it is a part of the Qwiic ecosystem, so it is simple to combine with the remainder of the venture.


SparkFun GPS Breakout – ZOE-M8Q (Qwiic)




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PiJuice HAT – Raspberry Pi Transportable Energy Platform




Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (4 GB)

Raspberry Pi 4 Type B (4 GB)




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SparkFun Qwiic SHIM for Raspberry Pi




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Qwiic LIDAR-Lite v4

Qwiic LIDAR-Lite v4



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Molex Versatile GNSS Antenna – U.FL (Adhesive)



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For the construct itself, I at the beginning idea {that a} compact enclosure could be required, as it might sit down beneath the drone and the LIDAR may just level down. Alternatively, when our videographer Cassy introduced her drone in, we learned the the venture construct itself was once almost the similar measurement because the drone, and {that a}) an enclosure would not be imaginable because of weight, and b) the venture construct could not sit down beneath the drone for the reason that drone would freak out no longer starting off from a strong level. So, in a just right old style SparkFun means, we took some duct tape, located it atop the drone, and strapped it down. This additionally supposed that the LIDAR sensor was once situated on the entrance, because it could not be at the abdominal.

The Code

What was once in reality thrilling about this venture was once the power to make use of the open supply flight framework NASA had advanced: F’ (fprime). It has neighborhood participation and documentation, which is beautiful fantastic making an allowance for that is the instrument used on NASA deployables. It is fine as a result of it is fast, adaptable and resuable…it isn’t most effective been used on Ingenuity but in addition CubeSats, SmallSats and different tools.

The overall approach of creating with F’ is to design distinctive Elements (take a look at the F’ explicit terminology) that may learn information, and Ports for the ones Elements to glue to one another.

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Take a look at the GPS educational for in-depth steps at the .xml information constructed, and the best way to deploy the app!

The Flight

To start with, the venture construct was once onerous to situate correctly on most sensible of the drone, because it was once nearly too large. The drone rotors saved reducing the tape, and would freak out seeking to carry off. We needed to situate it completely within the middle of the drone in order that each and every rotor had a couple of millimeters of area to fly. After we discovered the easiest spot, the drone was once in a position to take off! But it surely without a doubt felt the load of the venture; it ended up depleting part of the battery of the drone in four mins, when the battery will have to have reached that time after flying for 20 mins.

We have been in a position to fly up shut SparkFun HQ to check out studying within the information during the F’ app!


Ultimate Ideas

We’re so excited that NASA ditched their legacy {hardware} and instrument for the Ingenuity flight, and determined to make use of {hardware} to be had to shoppers and instrument for everyone to take part in. It is a beautiful fantastic idea that we’d quickly fly on any other planet, and we are hoping this sort of open supply era is what could make {that a} fact. We are rooting for the Ingenuity helicopter right here at SparkFun, so best possible of success to the group, and we will be able to’t wait to peer what that little helicopter is able to!

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