In this article we will briefly explain the different flight controller firmware options available for autopilots, and mini quad (FPV Racing Drones). We will take a look at the background of these FC firmware, and what they were intended to do.
Many of these FC firmware have the ability to fly airplanes and other UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles), some can even stabilize ground vehicles and robots.
Check out this guide about flight controllers.
The List of Flight Controller Firmware
These are the FC firmware/project for autopilots:
These are the FC firmware/project for racing drones and mini quad:
Remarkable but Obsolete Projects:
Multiwii is regarded as the beginning of quadcopter firmware, the inspiration for many popular multirotor firmware later on. The firmware was created using the IMU sensor from the Nintendo Wii Nunchuck, combined with an Arduino board, thus the name Multiwii (Multirotor, Wiimote).
Ardupilot is probably the most popular open-source firmware for GPS autopilot. It’s been in active development for many years and is regarded as one of the most reliable solution for hobbyist when it comes to autopilot.
The firmware supports almost every type of aircraft you can think of: multirotors, fixed wings, cars, boats, submarines…
When it comes to GPS and autonomous flying, this is the ultimate choice without doubt, as it’s the most tested system, and being very advanced in Mission Planning and monitoring system.
However it’s not a popular choice for multirotor racing and freestyle flying, because it lacks a lot of modern features and supports of the latest protocols (SmartAudio, DShot, Crossfire etc).
Baseflight was one of the very first widely used 32-bit FC firmware based off of the 8-bit Multiwii flight controller firmware. Today, Baseflight is not being updated and is widely considered to be an outdated/dead firmware. Despite all the controversy surrounding the software author, TimeCop, Baseflight did help bring us to some of the greatest software we use today, and is worth noting in my opinion.
Forked (branching out) from Baseflight, came Cleanflight aiming to be a “clean code” version of Baseflight for easier maintainability and future development.
It quickly became a widely used and dependable flight control software. Since its beginning, Cleanflight has been forked into Betaflight and iNav. Many new features were added and tested from those, and merged back into Cleanflight to create Cleanflight 2.0 for a great well rounded flight controller firmware.
However the development and update has slowed down considerably, we think going forward Betaflight is a better alternative.
Betaflight is the most widely used flight control software for mini quad out there today, and for good reason.
It was forked from Cleanflight to focus on the leading edge of new features and flight performance available for racing drones, hence the name Beta-flight.
It supports a very wide range of FC targets. A default tune flies very well. It is packed with features for serious racers, acro/freestyle pilots and beginners alike. It remains open-source, has a great following of contributors and regular updates.
Betaflight is my own personal favorite and I very confidently recommend you give it a try if you haven’t already.
However although with all the options in Betaflight make it one of the most flexible and powerful flight software, it can also be one of the most awkwardly complex to setup, learn and use.
Betaflight is my go-to firmware at the moment for freestyle and racing FPV drones, and it also has basic GPS capability, such as Rescue mode (basic return to home).
I have written many tutorials for Betaflight:
- Here is a list of tutorials explaining how to use and setup Betaflight and its features
- Project Home Page on GitHub
Butterflight is a fork of Betaflight that aims to bring a renewed focus on mini quad flight performance and cutting edge features.
Right now (Apr 2018), the main differences between Butterflight and Betaflight are the software filtering for gyro and AKK VTX Smart Audio support.
INav, as the name implies, is geared more towards navigation and autonomous features such as flying Waypoint missions and Return to Home (RTH) functions.
It forks from Cleanflight also and benefits itself with an open source code, good range of target support, and regular updates as well. iNav supports both multi-rotors and fixed-wing aircraft.
iNav is fantastic for fixed wings and RC cars, also supports multirotors but lags the latest performance features for multirotors in Betaflight. It has full GPS capability, and mission planning is there (waypoints) and is being developed and improved consistently. The GUI Interface looks similar to Betaflight, so easier for BF users to learn.
If you are interested in more of that UAV/Drone style of flight, this is definitely an option to explore.
Originally forked from Betaflight/Cleanflight, Raceflight focuses on pure racing and acro flight as well as being oriented around F4 flight controllers. Since its creation, Raceflight changed to closed source development and after some controversy, which is irrelevant to this article, the developers released Raceflight One with their Revolt flight controller and claim it is now completely free of any GPL (general public licence) open source code. Raceflight is well known for its smoothness, but be aware of its narrow target support and get the right flight controller.
Raceflight has a very user friendly software interface, in my opinion one of the easiest to setup for beginners.
They later changed the name to FlightOne and closed source of the project.
Keep It Super Simple, is the concept used here.
KISS was developed by Flyduino, which has been making multirotor components since 2011. It is a proprietary firmware (closed source) and somewhat dependant on hardware interfacing (a lot like Apple products).
The KISS gear and software are popular and dependable, as well as up to date fairly well with where the hobby is progressing (closed-source development is slower than open-source).
The KISS GUI is much more simple than the Betaflight or Cleanflight Configurator, leaving one of the quicker setup/configuration processes to get airborne. But the lack of options in its GUI can sometimes be more difficult to adjust problematic configurations. With that said KISS is one of best FC firmware out there for racing and acrobatic flying with unique characteristics. Many top pilots fly KISS and recommend KISS builds.
One of the earliest open source FC firmware development for multirotors which influenced some major progressions in flight control firmware options. OpenPilot was discontinued and replaced by LibrePilot in 2015, but it is another firmware worth noting for what has become of its code.
LibrePilot, forked from OpenPilot, focuses on research and development for use in many, many different applications, even robotics .
While not as popular in the mini quad community, nor having support for as many hardware targets as other firmware in this list, it does show recent updates has a reliable team of developers and remains open source.
TauLabs, another fork of OpenPilot focusing on autopilot UAV oriented research and development. Targeting professionals, researchers and and students alike, the project not only reaches out to major researchers, but offers an entry level platform with fast and easy setup/configuration for any group who has use for UAV’s in their research. Again there is a limited target supports and a smaller following with mini quadcopters. But in my opinion I see this as a great “learning” firmware for a student project or trying something experimental with agricultural, air quality or whatever your brain can think up.
Last, but certainly not the least in this list is dRonin which is sort of the grandchild of OpenPilot.
Its name says it all, dRonin has a core focus on FPV drone racing. With regular updates, open source, and a development team seeking to improve racing and acrobatic flying performance, I see great potential here.
They have developed an auto-tune mode that can custom tune PID’s specific to your mini-quad build, as well as having the very quick and easy setup/configuration wizard.
Its main downfall would be the somewhat limited supported FC targets, but it is a sophisticated list of flight controllers with great reviews.
As with most things related to the multirotor hobby, everything is relative and connected to a learning curve. Firmware will play a big role in what your mini-quad will be capable of doing, what features it will have, and which flight controller you should use to get the most out of it.
Do your homework (you’re doing well if you have read this article) ;) and figure out what exactly you want to be able to do with your quadcopter.
You can find out about what Firmware Mini Quad flight controller use in this spreadsheet:
|I compiled the specifications of all FC’s for mini quad in this spreadsheet so you can compare them more closely.|
Author: Stephen Wilcox