How universal are flight controllers?

Please forgive me if this question seems stupid or if I’ve misinterpreted any of the research I’ve done. I’m completely new to the drone world and trying to learn as fast as I can.

I’m looking for a robust, industrial, programmable drone platform for AI driven (NVIDIA Jetson companion) full autonomous search and rescue operations. It seems like the options are fairly limited.

I’m aware that DJI provides their On Board SDK for the Matrice series. However, I don’t love the idea of being limited by their proprietary flight controller. I’d much prefer to work with something a little more agnostic like Pixhawk.

Some of the drones from Freefly Systems seem like they could be good options, but the specs on their website state that the drones use a “Custom PX4 flight control stack,” and the FAQs mention that users can’t customize code on the Pixhawk yet. They advertise their drones as being compatible with the MAVSDK, but the Action class provided by the API seems very limiting. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t look like there’s any way to do things like control/adjust heading, control/adjust current altitude, set takeoff speed, or apply any sort of custom navigational algorithms.

Acecore Technologies in the Netherlands seem to build some robust and weather resistant drones. But their drones are controlled by the Cube flight controller. Again, please correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t look like the Cube is programmable at all.

So my questions is: Say I purchased a drone from Acecore, could I replace the Cube with Pixhawk 4 to make it programmable? Could I put Pixhawk on a DJI drone?

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I mainly use Arducopter, and there are many more knowledgeable pilots on here than myself, but I took a look at those Acecore Technologies drones you mentioned. They use the Cube Orange, one of the most advanced, stable flight controllers on the (civilian) market. I can’t think of anything you would gain by replacing it with a Pixhawk 4. In my view, that would actually be going backward. :wink:
Is there anything specific the Cube Orange can’t do that you need it to do?

You could certainly put a Pixhawk (or any PX4 / Arducopter compatible FC) on a DJI drone in lieu of whatever version DJI controller the drone came with. I’m actually doing that right now, refurbishing an older DJI S900 with a Cube Black setup. But in some ways it might not make sense to purchase a new DJI system, for example, just to rip out the controller and put in a Pixhawk. Unless you really prefer everything else about the DJI setup, then I suppose one upside is, you could always sell the DJI flight controller afterward.

Acecore ship with ArduPilot, and have developer’s variants designed for integration of a companion computer - so Dronekit, pymavlink, mavros are all “sdk” options (
Freefly ships with px4, so mavros and mavsdk should work fine. I’m sure they’d be willing to discuss how to integrate onboard computing.
Basically, either of those two you’ve identified should be able to do what you want, but are part of different ecosystems. Perhaps look at the sdk’s and dig around the various forums to figure out which you’re more comfortable working with.

I don’t see why Cube wouldn’t be programable.
You modify the PX4 firmware as you need, then build and upload on your Cube as per PX4 build

Thanks for the response. I was mostly just trying to gauge how easy it would be to swap FCs from one drone to another. Just as you mentioned, it wouldn’t really be worth it to swap out FCs on a brand new DJI especially since there are a lot of other strong drone platforms on the market. I just like that the price point of the Matrice 600 is a bit lower than most of the other industrial drones.

The only reason I considered swapping out the Cube Orange for a Pixhawk 4 was because I thought that the Cube wasn’t programmable and required a human pilot. But based on one of the other responses to this post, it sounds like the Cube does have that capability.

Dude…that changes EVERYTHING! I’ve spent so much time on Acecore’s website and never found that developer page. Thank you so much for sharing that!

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I didn’t see anything on the Cube Orange User Guide webpage that talked about development on the FC, so I just assumed that it required a human pilot and couldn’t be controlled by software. I’ll spend some more time trying to understand how PX4 firmware uploads onto the Cube. Thanks for the reply!

Yeah we try to keep the developer page fairly low-profile as it is not supposed to attract the attention of any of our ‘regular’ end-user-customers. It’s not a secret but would only lead to miscommunication.

Anyway; robust, industrial, programmable for search and rescue operations?! Say no more. This projects screams Acecore. How do we get in touch?

What’s up, Youri?

I actually had a conversation with Luuk yesterday and he answered some questions for me.

As I understand it, RTK and retractable landing gear aren’t available for any of the developer packages. That presents a major design challenge for my application. Precision GPS is a necessity and one of my peripherals/payloads requires a wide range of motion. RTK is a bit easier because I could just purchase and integrate the unit myself. The fixed landing gear is the bigger issue because it’s too limiting. That means that I would have to hack the current landing gear and build my own retractable system. That adds too much overhead.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m looking for, the Freefly Atla X’s Skyview landing gear is perfect for my design. It can easily be modified and added to with some 3D printed parts and it provides a convenient interface to mount each peripheral.

Other than that, the Acecore options would probably by my top choice. The Zoe is a perfect platform for prototyping and testing and the Noa would be the weapon of choice when we’re ready to go to market. Your company seems to be very willing to collaborate with 3rd parties. If you could find a way to sell me the retractable landing hardware on the side I could integrate it myself.

Thanks for the reply!

Hey Sam,

Sorry for not getting back to you sooner, I don’t log on here enough… :grimacing: Anyway, yes- I can sell you the complete retract landing gear separate from the Zoe Developer kit.

There are some requirements to qualify for the Developer Program though, I’m not sure if Luuk talked you through this yet. I will send you an email shortly to discuss how that works and how to move forward.

Speak soon.