Pixhawk, PX4 and autonomous flight


I’m so new to PX4 and drones in general, that I’m not even sure in which category I should post–sorry!

I have some very basic (naive) questions I hope someone will be kind enough to answer…

  1. What is the difference between PX4 and Pixhawk?

  2. I took the on-line Drone Safety course and got my certificate. Does that certification allow me to use PX4/Pixhawk. That is, am I allowed to have an on-board micro-controller command a drone’s flight control system to perform a task (e.g. circle a lat/lon point at a fixed height (under 400 feet) and fixed radius.

Ultimately, what I want to do is gather research (non-commercial) data on cell tower signals.

I manufacture custom IoT devices which include a LInux-based single-board-computer and also Cat 1 cellular modems with GNSS receivers. My intention is to purchase a drone able to carry my equipment which will maintain cellular connectivity. My IoT device is custom-programmed to collect signal strength and Cell ID information from all towers within range, tag them with the drones lat/lon and send that data (via cellular modem) to our custom servers.

I intend to create and store a flight plan(s) for the drove, have my equipment fetch the flight plan and then execute it.

None of this is difficult to do, but I need to make sure I use an appropriate interface between my IoT device and the drones flight control systems, and that I am not violating FAA regulations.

Suggestions regarding Pixhawk/PX4 will be gratefully accepted.

Also, if anyone needs help with any aspects of cellular connectivity, just ask!



PX4 is the software, Pixhawk is the hardware, of which there are many varieties.

These are questions easily answered by Google/ChatGTP. No need to use the forums.

No idea what the “Drone Safety” course is, but any drone operation regulatory requirements depend on where you live and operate. That has nothing to do with PX4. In general, what you describe should be legal anywhere as long as you stay within visual line of sight.

1 Like

Hi Chris_Anderson,

Thanks for the info. Sorry, about clogging the forum with my question. I wasn’t aware it was frowned upon to ask questions of the experts on this forum when the same questions might be answered elsewhere.

Also, for what it’s worth, the drone safety course I referred to is to obtain the certificate required to operate a drone recreationally. More info is available here:


Also, I’m not sure you’re correct when you write, “…any drone operation regulatory requirements depend on where you live and operate.”

My understanding is that all drone operators must comply with federal FAA regulations (e.g. recreational users must obtain flight safety certificate). Additionally, of course (as you write), all operators must comply with regulations according to “where you live and operate.”

Also, I’m not sure you’re correct when you write, “…[the regulations have] nothing to do with PX4.” The reason I raised the question is to find out if executing a “flight plan,” via PX4, as I described in my post, is allowed by recreational drone pilots, ones without professional pilot certifications.


I can’t comment on what you’re allowed to do and what not but technically it sounds feasible.

I think the way to go about this, is to:

  1. First use simulation (SITL) to develop your program to safely test it.
  2. To get familiarized with a PX4 drone first just flying using RC in e.g. altitude and position control mode, to make sure you have a good grasp on how it performs.
  3. To have RC always ready to take over when you do “autonomous” missions, so that if something goes wrong, you can step in and take over (e.g. using a mode switch on the RC).

Then, for interfacing with the drone, you basically have two ways:

  1. You can use offboard setpoints via MAVLink. For this I suggest to use a library like MAVSDK to make it easier for you.
  2. You can use control commands via ROS 2.

Either work, it’s a matter of preference whether you want to build on top of the ROS 2 stack or not, and what programming language, etc.

Hi @MattB It’s not “frowned upon” to ask questions, however as @Chris_Anderson points out the answer was easily searchable.

Regarding regulatory compliance, we can’t give you legal advice, but based on your original post, it wasn’t clear you were under FAA jurisdiction, we are a worldwide community, and FAA doesn’t regulate airspace outside the USA.

I know many pilots who do utility pole inspections, depending on where you are located you might be fine to fly as long as you remain within visual line of sight and you have a way to take over manual control. Having said that, PX4 has no notion of regulations, so it won’t really affect your performance at all.

Regarding your application, I would take @JulianOes advice, and go with MAVSDK, here’s the basic gist:

On board Drone:

  • Pixhawk with PX4
  • RPi or similar conected via serial to Pixhawk TELEM

This will make it so PX4 can broadcast MAVLink to your companion computer, which allows you to use SDK’s like MAVSDK. Here’s a quickstart guide for MAVSDK-Python


I suggest you read up on the available interfaces for MAVSDK-Python, there’s tons of telemetry you can access, and allows you to control the drone as well.

Lastly, here’s a few video tutorials on PX4, MAVSDK, and QGroundControl:

Happy Flying

1 Like