Pi0drone: a $200 Smart Drone With the Pi Zero

Introduction: Pi0drone: a $200 Smart Drone With the Pi Zero

About: At Erle Robotics we aim to simplify robot and artificial intelligence creation and to do so, we build the next generation of artificial robotic brains.


Interested in drones? This hack teaches you how to build a $200 smart Linux drone with the Pi Zero and the PXFmini autopilot shield.


This tutorial demonstrates how to build a Linux drone with the Raspberry Pi Zero using a BOM (Bill of Materials) of less than 200 US$. The drone uses a real-time capable Linux kernel, a Debian-based file system and Dronecode’s APM flight stack compiled for the PXFmini autopilot board. All these components have been put together by Erle Robotics in their OS image for the PXFmini.


Hardware components:

Erle Robotics PXFmini ×1 (69.00€)
Raspberry Pi Zero ×1 (5.00$)

HobbyKing Spec FPV250 ×1 (56.47€)

Erle Robotics PXFmini compatible power module ×1 (30€)

Software apps and online services:

APM flight stack

Debian-based Linux file system for drones

Hand tools and fabrication machines:

Soldering iron (generic)



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Step 1: Assemble the Drone Kit

Required time: 30 minutes

Once you get all the components start by assembling your drone:

  • Get the black frame together and place the motors on top.
  • Fix the ESC (Electronic Speed Controllers) to the frame using some tape and connect them to the motors.
  • Put together the power (red) and ground (black) ends of the ESCs into the individual cable (to be connected later to the battery) and fix everything underneath the frame.
  • Adjust the power module connectors to the battery ones. There several ways to do this but here's a quick one: a) cut the connectors and solder battery and power module together (do it one at a time, careful with short circuits!). b) cut the other end of the power module and resolder the battery connector (previously cut) there. c) Done!, this will allow us to easily connect and disconnect the "battery+power module" to the drone.
  • Place the "battery+power module" pack underneath, use the velcro included in the package to do so.

Step 2: Get the Autopilot Ready

Required time: 30 minutes

Connect the PXFmini shield on top of the Raspberry Pi Zero as described in the previous pictures.

You're almost done but you still need to get the right software on the Raspberry Pi Zero+PXFmini set. This should include the flight stack, an appropriate kernel, enabled daemons that auto-launch on boot, and additional goodies...

Fortunately, if you purchased the PXFmini from Erle Robotics you'll get access to their Debian images which include all this so just fetch a PXFmini compatible Debian image and flash it into a microSD card.

Step 3: Mount the Autopilot

Required time: 5 minutes

Mounting the autopilot (Raspberry Pi Zero + PXFmini) in the drone can be done using several methods. Pick yours and connect the JST GH cable from the power module to the PXFmini. This will to power the autopilot when the battery gets connected.

Next is mounting the PWM channels in the autopilot. Get your ESC cables and connect ESC 1 (corresponding with motor 1) to PWM channel 1, ESC 2 to PWM 2 and so on.

Step 4: Mount the Propellers and Get It Flying!

Required time: 15 minutes

There's two kinds of propellers clockwise (marked with an "R") and counter-clockwise. Place the clockwise propellers in motor 3 and 4 and the counter-clockwise ones in motors 1 and 2.

Finally, you'll need a way to control your drone. I propose two methods:

  • WiFi + gamepad: Have the autopilot create its own WiFi network with a USB dongle (Erle Robotics images support this by default) and use a common gamepath to control the drone through a Ground Control Station.
  • Traditional RC: Alternatively you could buy an RC controller with PPMSUM-enabled receiver and attach it to the autopilot (to the PPM-SUM input channel).

The above video shows how to pilot the drone using the last option.

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    2 Discussions


    3 years ago

    That looks neat :)


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks a lot! @swansong