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3 Days of the PixRacer with ArduPilot

I spent my 3 day long weekend getting the Pixracer to work. For some reason it made me think of the classic Robert Redford movie “3 Days of the Condor”, where a CIA research analyst who “just reads books” had to figure out a complex conspiracy in 3 days.

Ok, so this is not that, but I was under the pump, I really thought it would be easy, I was planning to get the Pixracer wired up and flashed on Saturday, then work on my Sopwith Camel build for the rest of the weekend. It didn’t work out like that.

But, in the end – I got it working, 3 long days later!

I recorded the whole saga, so come along for the ride! (please Subscribe to Tim the Planman on YouTube for updates). These are the links to the videos:

Maybe my problems are partly because I use a Mac. Why is the Mac “second fiddle” for things like this? Mission Planner has no official version available for Mac. The new release (thanks ArduPilot), still has this caveat: 

Native MacOS and iOS support is experimental and not recommended for inexperienced users. For MacOS users it is recommended to use Mission Planner for Windows via Boot Camp or Parallels (or equivalent).

Mission Planner does run on the Mac, but

  • It looks horrible, the fonts are too small to be readable on my laptop screen (I put it on an external monitor when I’m at home, but this won’t work in the field)
  • None of the panes are resizable
  • It doesn’t seem to be able to flash the Pixracer. I had to use QGroundControl to do this (worked great).
  • I don’t know why I should have to use BootCamp or Parallels

But my challenges getting it all working were not just about the Mac. 

There is a lot of folklore about flight controllers and how to get them to work, and not a lot of useful documentation. Most of the best information came from getting tidbits of information here and there, from various videos from people like Painless360Joshua Bardwell and Andrew Newton. But even then – I had to pay attention, it was one 2 second soundbite from one of Painless360’s videos that gave me the hint about why the servos didn’t work while I was running the Pixracer off the power from the USB.

That said there is some useful information out there. Here are some useful links:

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