What is a GPS?
The GPS system uses GPS satellites, a GPS receiver and software to calculate it’s own position – the latitude, longitude and elevation with 6 to 4 meter precision. Besides the GPS system which was originally created by the US Department of Defense, modern GPS receivers can use the Russian GLONASS system too. In the future the number of global positioning systems will extend even further, and the receivers will probably support the European Galileo, and later the Chinese BeiDou-2 and maybe the Indian IRNSS system too.
What is a GPS quadcopter?
A GPS quadcopter is a quadrotor which has an integrated GPS receiver. With a GPS receiver onboard the quadrotor will know where it is, which makes advanced behavior possible. If quadrotor gets equipped with a GPS and a good flight controller, it will be able to fly to preset locations, follow a flight plan, visit waypoints or return home automatically.
In general these functions are useful for surveying crops and buildings, by flying over them and taking photos automatically or recording other kind of data.
Quadcopters with a GPS will be very useful as automated parcel delivery agents too, as they could handle the “last mile” part of the delivery without needing human control.
Law enforcement and the military benefits from GPS enabled quadcopters too,as they can be used for gathering intelligence, surveillance, and will be able to fly to the requested location automatically, without putting the pilot in danger.
Why have a GPS in your quadcopter?
If you buy or build a quadcopter with a GPS, it will be able to autonomously fly back to it’s takeoff location for landing, automatic “follow me” mod becomes possible too.
A quad with a GPS can send it’s current location back to you regularly,which can help you find it would it get lost.
Besides these simple uses cases you could use it to regularly tour your property to secure it for example. This”scanning” mode is available in the Paparazzi autopilot, but emulating it using waypoints is easy too.
Quadcopters usually use one of ublox’s GPS modules.
A quad with GPS will still need calibration.
A GPS enabled quadcopter will still need the same calibration as a quad without a GPS: the magnetometer, accelerometer and the gyro is not replaced by the GPS. So do not get one just to get rid of the magnetometer dance 🙂
Ready-to-fly quadcopters with GPS
You can simply buy or, if you are a bit more adventurous, build your own GPS enabled quadcopter. GPS functionality is available in these popular ready to fly quads:
The Cheerson CX-20
supports GPS position hold, GPS based return-home functionality and automatic landing. The CX-20 is fairly clever,as it will return to you and land if the transmitter signal is lost – all this is possible due to it’s integrated GPS. The CX-20 is available on Amazon too.The CX-20 is among the cheapest GPS quads you can get. The CX-20 comes in multiple flavors, the Open Source edition is based on ArduPilot. As such it’s compatible with the Mission Planner software, which makes features such as flight planning possible. Click here for the CX-20’s official page.
The Cheerson CX-22
is the larger brother of the CheersonCX-20. In short it has the same GPS features as the CX-20: GPS based position hold, GPS based return home and landing. Compared to the CX-20 the CX-22 has a gimbal and a built-in camera, it’s capable of FPV and the transmitter works at 5.8 Ghz. The CX-22 supports flight planning out of the box, so you will not have to fish for open source versions, which is a plus compared to the CX-20.Still it’s not as professional as could it be – the flight planner software is available here as a simple download. Click here for the CX-22’s official page.
The DJI Phantom 2
is a professional GPS quadcopter from DJI. The main GPS based features are position hold, automatic return-home and landing. Flight planning is supported too, using DJI’s own iPad app. Beware though, it is not included in the Phantom 2’s price. Click here to visit the official Phantom 2 page. The Phantom 2 is available from Amazon for example. The Phantom 2 is running out of stock, so get it while you can.
The DJI Phantom 3
is the bigger brother of the Phantom 2,it has upgraded electronics, longer flight time, and longer range too. As there are a lot of differences between the Phantom 2 and the Phantom 3, they need different ground station software too. For the Phantom 3 you have to use the DJI GO app for flight planning. The app supports waypoint planning so you can command your drone to fly to a location you choose without having to control it using the sticks. The DJI Forum has more information on using waypoints. The DJI GO app is available for free both from the App Store and from Google play An alternative flight planner for the Phantom 3 is available here. The DJI Phantom 3 itself is available from various stores,for example Amazon has them too.
The DJI Phantom 4 and the Inspire 1 are supported by the DJI GO app too, sofrom point of view of GPS support they are the same.
The Yuneec Typhoon H
is a professional hexacopter for aerial photography and video recording by Yuneec. Out of the two most popular Yuneec multicopters, the Typhoon H and the Thyphoon Q500, the TyphoonH has much better GPS based features: it supports waypoint based flying, GPSbased return home and follow me, and GPS based “circle around a location”(the Q500 lacks waypoint support). Both multicopters have their own controllers which act as their ground stations too – you’ll only need this single device both for stick based and waypoint based flying. Both the Typhoon Hand the Typhoon Q500 are available from Amazon and other vendors.
If you need waypoint planning just go with the Phantom 2 or the Phantom 3,you’ll get much more bang for your buck this way. If ou need the follow me/circle location feature then go with the Typhoon Q500. If you need both the waypoint planning and the follow me feature, get the Typhoon H.
Quadcopter flight controllers with GPS support
Besides ready-to-fly quadcopters, home-built quads can have GPS functionality too, as lot of flight controller hardware and software supports GPS in some form. This way you can build your own quad at home (read more on this here and here), add a capable flight controller, and start waypoint-based flying.
For a flight controller board to support GPS it has to be able to connect to a GPS,must have enough RAM to hold the code for the GPS support,and a high performance CPU to run that code. For example the CC3D flight controller does not support a GPS as it’s just not powerful enough.
These systems usually use one of u-blox’s GPS modules.
The Ardupilot Copter
(also know as APM:Copter) supports GPS based flight planning, and has a nice looking mission planner too. The mission planner supports waypoint based flying,circling a location and it has follow me mode and automatic landing too. Even advanced modes like scanning an area in a grid pattern are supported.
The ArduPilot runs on a very wide range of flight controller boards (click here for the full list). For best results use a Pixhawk flight controller board, for example the Pixhawk Mini. Other flight controllers which support a GPS out of the box are the EMLID Navio2 and the Snapdragon flight kit.
To start GPS-based flying even faster, it’s possible to run the ArduPilot on the Parrot Bebop 2 Drone. The Bebop 2 is available inonline stores too. Another possibility is to get the Open Source edition of the Cheerson CX-20..
The LibrePilot Ground Station supports waypoint based flying, GPS based position hold and circle, and lot of other modes including automatic takeoff and landing. Still,the ArduPilot is more advanced than the LibrePilot.
The Paparazzi UAV
(homepage) is yet another autopilot software with GPS based navigation features.Paparazzi has more features than many commercial offerings, for example it supports waypoint based flying, circles, ovals, eights – read the full list for more information. A simple flight plan editor is available too, but in the end you’ll probably have to resort to editing the XML flight plan file manually. You can verify the flight plan with Paparazzi’s built-in simulator.
To learn about general purpose flight controllers, check our What is a quadcopter flight controller? article.