Ardupilot, an open source unmanned vehicle software provider, is often developed in hobbyist shops, garages, and basements with many of them located in Australia. Surprisingly, many drone enthusiasts have not heard of Ardupilot, but they have likely seen the actual software in action.
Developers such as Andrew Tridgell, a software engineer with an interest in drones, leads the way in creating new software code that allows drones to function in new and innovative ways. Tridgell and other programmers formed clubs to upgrade the code for Ardupilot, taking free and open source software and combining it for better use. Tridgell and his growing network of programmers and test pilots take part in the Drone Outback Challenge, a yearly competition that encourages the development of new software and technology for drones.
The Outback Challenge takes place in Australia and comes with a series of challenges for drone software developers. The event is based around completing medical tasks to promote developer cooperation. Drones must fly autonomously to a given site, perform a task, and return to the staging area. As drone technology increases every year, the tasks become more difficult.
In 2016, the challenge was to fly a drone 20km to a remote farm, locate a target dummy that was dubbed “Outback Joe”, collect a medical sample, and then return to the staging area with the sample. Not only does this promote new innovative drone software, but it furthers the application of drones in medicine to save lives. The drone challenge helps find new, cheap, and effective ways of creating rescue operations that are aided by drone technology.
Tridgell took his love for these challenges and brought Ardupilot to the best minds in open source software development. The software suite is a driving force behind the Outback Challenge, with many teams utilizing at least some portion of the code in their drones. Now, Ardupilot has grown from a simple and free project into a system that has been implemented in drones around the world.
The Ardupilot software is installed on many drones from companies including Boeing, Microsoft, AG Eagle and PrecisionHawk. The ongoing improvement of the Ardupilot software as well as the Outback Challenge brings the drone community together to find new and innovative ways to improve drone technology including ways for drones to help save lives.