A full hardware setup needed for Skybrush Live to run drone shows consists of the following components:
A laptop, desktop machine or a dedicated HW module running Skybrush Server
One or more clients running Skybrush Live. These are preferably laptops, but smaller devices with a touchscreen are also supported. If you have a single client, it is an option to run Skybrush Live on the same machine that runs Skybrush Server for convenience.
Compatible drone fleet
Router providing wifi network for all components
A 433/868/900 MHz radio for providing a secondary communication channel to the drones, depending on local regulatory requirements and your own safety assessment.
RTK base station or NTRIP-based RTK correction source for outdoor shows, depending on the accuracy requirements.
MIDI Time Code source or MIDI Time Code display if the show has to be synchronized to an external time code source. Not required for standalone shows or events without a central time code.
Recommended GCS configuration
The recommended configuration for the main ground control device (laptop) running Skybrush Live (and optionally Skybrush Server) is the following:
at least an Intel Core i5 or equivalent CPU
At least 2 GB of RAM (4 GB preferred)
Dedicated NVIDIA or AMD GPU for 3D views
Supported OS: Windows 10, Linux or macOS 11.0 (Big Sur) or later
Additional ground control devices may be added to the system with the same specifications. In some jurisdictions you might need two separate computers, one for the wifi communication and one for the secondary radio channel; contact your local Civil Aviation Authority for the exact requirements.
|Although Skybrush Live can handle secondary communication channels on its own, it is advised to configure Skybrush Sidekick for enabling a completely independent radio link towards the drones.|
Communication with drones
Skybrush Live is a GUI that communicates with the drones, RTK base stations and other peripherals through its backend, Skybrush Server. Skybrush Server comes together with Skybrush Live and is deployed either on a separate, dedicated network device or on the local desktop where Skybrush Live is also running. Skybrush Server acts as a translation layer that converts drone-specific messages to a common format that Skybrush Live understands. Due to this modular architecture it is very easy to adapt Skybrush Server and thus Skybrush Live to basically any drone type with certain minimal requirements.
In all cases, once Skybrush Server is configured properly (in which we assist) it works plug-and-play. You attach your communication module (e.g. external wifi antenna or radio transmitter), your RTK base station, your time code source etc., and all these peripherals get autodetected by the system right away.
Outdoor show drones
For outdoor drone shows, Skybrush supports drones equipped with a GPS receiver (preferably RTK-based) and typically an autopilot module from the Pixhawk-family. A custom ArduCopter-based firmware is provided to facilitate communication with Skybrush.
The following list is a comprehensive summary of the types of outdoor drones Skybrush supports out-of-the-box.
- Off-the-shelf outdoor show drones
Skybrush is compatible with all drones based on the Pixhawk autopilot family (Pixhawk, PixRacer, Cube Black, Cube Orange etc.) that have a wifi-to-serial module attached to one of the telemetry ports, and a light module that can be controlled from the autopilot. For such drones we provide a custom firmware and a parameter setup based on the latest stable ArduCopter release that supports communication with Skybrush Live.
If you have a ready-made show drone fleet you wish to use with Skybrush or you are planning to buy a fleet from an external manufacturer, contact us for assistance.
- Custom-built MAVLink drones
On many other drone types Skybrush typically uses a standard MAVLink channel for communication through wifi. There are several manufacturers that claim to support MAVLink, but the MAVLink protocol specification itself is ambiguous and the implementation details are usually left to the firmware developers. Therefore, it is crucial to test compatibility with new drones beforehand with our assistance. Drones that use ArduPilot as the base of the factory firmware are usually a good match.
The latest firmware for all officially supported ArduCopter-based flight controllers is available in a precompiled format at our website. If your custom flight controller is not listed there, you may ask for assistance at our Discord community server.
If you use a custom show drone, make sure it meets the following minimal requirements:
the flight controller must have a decent-sized micro-SD card where Skybrush can upload the show file automatically
the flight controller has enough free RAM after boot, especially if a NeoPixel LED strip is used as the light module (1MB or more is usually enough)
some jurisdictions might require that the drone be equipped with a secondary radio communication channel that acts as a fallback in case the wifi channel fails or the drone goes out of the wifi range. Even if it is not a legal requirement in your country, it is a good idea to have such a secondary communication channel between the drone and the GCS.
- DJI Matrice series
Skybrush is also compatible with DJI’s Onboard SDK through a companion computer running our proprietary fleet-level control framework called FlockCtrl.
If you are planning to use such a system, please contact us for more details.
Skybrush was initially designed for the communication with CollMot’s proprietary drones that are Pixhawk-based and contain a companion computer running our fleet-level control framework FlockCtrl for maximal flexibility in swarming missions, interactivity and self-organized collective intelligence.
If you have a swarming application that requires high-level swarm intelligence, contact us to cooperate!
|If you work with an outdoor drone type not listed here and would like to test compatibility with Skybrush, please contact us!|
Indoor show drones
For indoor drone shows, Skybrush requires an external positioning system that replaces GPS in indoor environments. A custom firmware is required to facilitate communication with Skybrush.
The following list is a comprehensive summary of the types of indoor drones Skybrush supports out-of-the-box.
|If you work with an indoor drone type not listed here and would like to test compatibility with Skybrush, please contact us!|
Supported RTK base stations
Any RTK base station that is configured to stream RTCM3 messages regularly on a standard communication channel (serial or USB port, TCP connection, Bluetooth link) should be compatible with Skybrush out of the box. RTK base stations that provide an NTRIP server to connect to are also supported, as well as virtual RTK base stations operated by third parties over the Internet.
We have already tested compatibility with the following RTK correction sources, for which we also implemented an automatic self-survey before transmitting the correction messages, to create an out-of-the-box solution for field corrections:
u-blox M8Pv2 or F9P based devices, such as the HERE+ or simple breakouts
External NTRIP servers
On the receiver end, the GPS devices on the drones must be able to understand RTCM3 MSM7 correction messages. MSM4 can be used as a fallback if the receiver does not support MSM7.
The wifi router that provides a wireless network between the drones and the ground station is an essential component of your system. It needs to be performant enough to sustain communication between hundreds of devices (depending on the size of your swarm) and its antennae have to be strong enough to reach over larger distances. Densely populated urban areas tend to produce lots of noise on the standard 2.4 GHz wifi channel, therefore a dual-band or even a tri-band router is highly recommended.
With a single router, your router will be the single point of failure of the drone swarm; a malfunctioning router could prevent communication between your GCS and the drones, leaving it up to you to use a secondary radio channel or a remote controller to bring the swarm back home safely. Therefore, we also recommend setting up multiple wifi routers capable of mesh routing, with a wired Ethernet backbone, in order to ensure redundancy in the communication channel, and also possibly to extend the area that the wireless network covers.
To sum it all up, the perfect wifi router should
be able to work on the frequencies of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz
support the 802.11b/g/n/ac standards
be able to manage hundreds of connected devices
provide strong WPA2 encryption to ensure the safety of your swarm
provide support for using multiple wifi routers with a wired Ethernet backbone to extend the range of the network if needed
Most consumer-grade wifi routers do not satisfy all the requirements outlined above as they are designed for the requirements of home networks with only a few connected devices. We therefore recommend the ASUS RT-AC5300 router or other routers with similar specifications and we would love to hear about your experiences with other routers so we can extend the list of recommendations here. If you are satisfied with another router brand, please let us know.