Towards a Clojure Autopilot - First Steps

Quadrotors are all the rage these days, thats why we decided to build one. The idea is to program the autopilot in Clojure and run it on board the quadrotor using a BeagleBoard. Since building one is going to cost couple hundred bucks and nothing I write works the first time round, I would like a way to test the controller without endangering the real thing. This is where FlightGear an open source flight simulator comes into play, FlightGear allows external applications to control the aircraft which makes it a great simulation environment. This document goes over the process of creating a simple proportional controller for stabilizing the aircraft.

Programs can interact with FlightGear through FlightGear's property tree, it contains all the information about the aircraft and the game environment, using FlightGear's generic protocols we can define a data exchange scheme that allows us to get/set values in the property tree. We define two protocols an input protocol which allows us to control the aileron and the elevator on the plane and an output protocol that tells FlightGear to send us sensor readings for roll and pitch. All communication is done over UDP.


<?xml version="1.0"?>




<?xml version="1.0"?>

        <format>[ %f</format>

        <format>%f ]</format>

What the controller needs to do is keep the roll and pitch angle of the aircraft at 0 degrees, roll angle is a number thats between 180, -180, ailerons which control the roll angle takes a value between 1, -1 causing one to go down and one to go up. If the current roll angle is not between the range 90, -90 we turn them all the way once we are in range we map the roll angle to a number between -1 and 1 this way as we reach 0 degree roll we make smaller and smaller adjustments. We do the same for pitch.

(ns autopilot.core
  (:use clojure.contrib.swing-utils)
  (:import (javax.swing JFrame JButton)
           ( InetAddress DatagramSocket DatagramPacket)))

(def fg-host (InetAddress/getByName ""))
(def fg-port-out 6666)
(def fg-port-in 6789)

(defn in-thread [f] (doto (Thread. f) (.start)))

(defn map-number [x in-min in-max out-min out-max]
  (let [val (+ (/ (* (- x in-min)
                     (- out-max out-min))
                  (- in-max in-min)) out-min)]
    (cond (> val out-max) out-max
          (< val out-min) out-min
          :default val)))

(defn controller [roll pitch]
  (let [roll-cntrl (float (map-number roll 90 -90 -1 1))
        pitch-cntrl (float (map-number pitch -45 45 -1 1))]
    (println "Control: " roll roll-cntrl pitch pitch-cntrl)
    [roll-cntrl pitch-cntrl]))

(defn control-loop [active]
  (let [socket-in (DatagramSocket. fg-port-out)
        buffer-in (byte-array 2048)
        packet-in (DatagramPacket. buffer-in (count buffer-in))
        socket-out (DatagramSocket.)]
        (while @active
          (.receive socket-in packet-in)
          (let [state (read-string
                       (String. buffer-in 0 (dec (.getLength packet-in))))
                [roll-cntrl pitch-cntrl] (apply controller state)]
            (.setLength packet-in (count buffer-in))
            (let [msg (.getBytes (str roll-cntrl \, pitch-cntrl "\n"))
                  packet (DatagramPacket. msg (count msg)
                                          fg-host fg-port-in)]
              (.send socket-out packet))))
        (finally (.close socket-in)
                 (.close socket-out))))))

(defn autopilot []
  (let [active (ref false)
        button (JButton. "Autopilot OFF")]
    (.setFont button (-> button .getFont (.deriveFont (float 40))))
     (fn [_]
       (if (= false @active)
         (do (.setText button "Autopilot ON")
             (dosync (ref-set active true))
             (control-loop active))
         (do (.setText button "Autopilot OFF")
             (dosync (ref-set active false))))))
    (doto (JFrame.)
      (.add button)
      (.setVisible true))))

In our control loop we wait for a packet from FlightGear, from the packet we extract the current state of the aircraft, calculate control values for ailerons and elevators and send it.

In order run this example, you need to place the xml files to the folder,


and run FlightGear using,

cd /Applications/
./ --timeofday=morning --aircraft=c172p-2dpanel --shading-flat --disable-textures \
    --geometry=640x480 --fog-disable --disable-horizon-effect --disable-clouds \
    --generic=socket,out,40,localhost,6666,udp,output-protocol \