Ground Control Stations Explained

In the ArduPilot world of vehicles, there are many ways of interacting with and controlling your robot. The most obvious method is an RC controller, but today we are going to look into something else called ground control stations. 

So what are these ground control stations? 

Essentially, they are GUIs that can do things: monitor vehicle state and control the vehicle. They aren’t require to fly, but they make missions a whole lot easier (and safer).

Here is an example screenshot of a GCS that is connected to a robot. You’ll notice the GPS position is shown on the map, as well as a handful of other helpful vehicle state information.

After reading this article, click here for a list of the top 5 ground control stations.

What’s In A Ground Control Station

For example, the number of healthy satellites being received by GPS, air speed, battery voltage, altitude, attitude, and a plethora of other things can be monitored. 

On the control side, the GUI makes it easy to change flight modes. Let’s say you were in a scenario where your RC controller was dead and you needed to land the drone. With a ground control station (GCS), you could simply put the drone into LAND mode with your computer mouse. 

You could also click on the map where you wanted the drone to fly, and the drone would accept the command and start flying to the waypoint. 

The foundation for GCS in the ArduPilot world is the MAVLink communication protocol, that provides a standardized method of interfacing with ArduPilot vehicles to allow for information pulls and command requests. 

How to Connect A Vehicle To GCS

So how does the ArduPilot vehicle connect to the GCS? Primarily via two methods. 

The first is through radio telemetry. Depending on where you live, the frequency will either be 915 MHz or 433 MHz. In the United States, 915 MHz is used, where one module plugs into the drone, and a USB module plugs into your computer running the GCS program.

To learn more about all the types of hardware you’ll need in your own drone build, bookmark this article.

Telemetry module pair (left air side, right ground side)

When powered, the modules pair with eachother and data can be transmitted. 

Another method of connecting your GCS to your vehicle is through internet routing. With MAVProxy, it is possible to route MAVLink packets to your GCS computer’s IP address, and with this method no radio telemetry modules are required. 

There are many types of ground control stations, and you should make your choice based on your specific mission needs. 

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