Journal of Intelligent & Robotic Systems

, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 139–164 | Cite as

Development and Modeling of a Low-Cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Research Platform



This paper describes the development and modeling of a low-cost and reliable small unmanned aerial vehicle research platform for advanced control implementation. The platform is mostly constructed of low-cost commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components. The only non-COTS components are the airdata probes, which are manufactured and calibrated in-house. The airframe used is the commercially available radio-controlled (R/C) 6-foot Telemaster airplane from Hobby Express, chosen mainly for its adequately spacious fuselage and for being reasonably stable and sufficiently agile. One noteworthy feature of this platform is the use of two separate low-cost onboard computers for handling the data management/hardware interfacing and control computation. Specifically, the single board computer, Gumstix Overo Fire, is used to execute the control algorithms, whereas the open source autopilot, Ardupilot Mega, is mostly used to interface the Overo computer with the sensors and actuators. The platform supports multi-vehicle operations through the use of a radio modem that enables multi-point communications. As the goal of this platform is to implement rigorous control algorithms for real-time trajectory tracking and distributed control, it is important to derive an appropriate flight dynamic model of the platform, based on which the controllers will be synthesized. For that matter, the paper provides reasonably accurate models of the vehicle, servomotors, and propulsion system. Namely, the output error method is used to estimate the longitudinal and lateral-directional aerodynamic parameters from flight test data. The moments of inertia of the platform are determined using the simple pendulum test method, and the frequency response of each servomotor is also obtained experimentally. The Javaprop applet is used to obtain lookup tables relating airspeed to propeller thrust at constant throttle settings.


Unmanned aerial vehicle Small fixed-wing aircraft Five-hole probe Flight dynamic model Time-domain system identification 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, Virginia TechBlacksburgUSA

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