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The BeaglePilot project started three years ago, when Víctor Mayoral Vilches, researcher at the Italian Institute of Technology and co-founder of Erle Robotics, decided to create his own Linux flying robot (the Erle Robot, shown above). Víctor wanted to make the development of UAV technology accessible to the global public, not just to a small group of talented people as it was at the time with the ArduPilot community. The Linux operating system was the obvious way to go: free and open-source, and ported to more computer hardware platforms than any other operating system on the planet. Today, Víctor’s BeaglePilot project — named after the BeagleBone Black, the open-hardware, community-supported computer it’s built around — is supported by Google, BeagleBoard, and 3D Robotics.

Chris Anderson, who’s also pursuing Linux/APM integration full-stop with 3D Robotics, points out that a Linux autopilot not only assimilates all the power of Linux systems — web servers, network applications, Python scripting — but also serves as a bridge that will connect the huge Linux developer community to UAV technology. On the programmer’s side, this means a lower barrier to entry for users around the world who want to add functionality to the platform. On the drone side it means new access to a panoply of pre-existing software, including state-of-the art image processing, as well as portability to a wide range of powerful hardware platforms, up to and including full PCs.

“Imagine the changes that a Linux-integrated flying robot could bring,” Víctor said. “We could have small and mobile flying web servers, integrated systems used in healthcare, environmental monitoring robots — you can see that BeaglePilot is not just a technological enabler, but also a business one.”

Víctor tells me that BeaglePilot is “really open to new brains.” The team’s coding efforts are available at this ardupilot fork, and they also publish their progress on the Erle Robotics blog. The group holds weekly meetings, and you can review their code roadmap here. Everyone is welcome to contribute at drones-discuss.