13 Nov
2018

PynqCopter – An Open-source FPGA Overlay for UAVs

My paper on a custom FPGA overlay for use on UAVs has been accepted to be published in the proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Big Data. This December, I will be travelling to present my work, to learn about other systems developed by REU students, and to see the state of the art in Big Data.

Abstract—FPGAs are a computing platform that excels in performing signal processing, control, networking, and security in a high performance and power efficient manner. This makes FPGAs attractive for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) especially as they require smaller payloads and are processing multiple high data rate input sources (e.g. cameras, lidar, radar, gyroscopes, accelerometers). Unfortunately, FPGAs are notoriously difficult to program and they require significant hardware design expertise. However, there are newly released design tools aimed at making FPGAs easier to use, which drove the initial hypothesis for this paper: could three undergraduates program an FPGA to control a UAV in 10 weeks? The result of the experiment is PynqCopter – an open source control system implemented on an FPGA. We created and tested a UAV overlay which is able to run multiple computations in parallel, allowing for the ability to process high amounts of data at runtime.