Build A Jetson Nano Smart Drone

If you want to build a Jetson Nano drone, you’ve come to the right place. Jetson Nano Drones are great for CPU intensive applications and computer vision scripts. Now, can you fly a Jetson Nano drone with just the board and no other processors? 

Jetson Nano Board

Well, no. 

Most advanced DIY drones consist of a flight controller to command the low level hardware, and a companion computer to program in custom functionality. 

For example, a flight controller like the pixhawk sends commands to the motors to balance the drone. While a companion computer, like the Jetson Nano, can attach to a camera with object detection and send flight commands to the flight controller to track an object. 

Pixhawk Flight Controller

Both are needed for advanced missions, because the companion computer isn’t dependable enough to write commands to the flight controller. The CPU would prioritize other tasks not related to flight, and the drone may fall out of the sky. 

For this reason, we drones need both a flight controller and a companion computer. 

For flight controllers, the pixhawk flight controller is the perfect blend with performance and affordability. 

Here is one example of a Jetson Nano Drone which incorporates both the nano and the pixhawk. 

Meet Stanley, my NVIDIA Jetson Nano drone | DIY drone pt. 4

The neat thing about the Pixhawk is that is uses ArduPilot firmware, which provides free vehicle control code. It may be free, but it is advanced. 

For example, the same Jetson Nano Pixhawk combo can be used on many different vehicle types, not just drones. 

Here’s an example of the same setup being used on a smart rover. 

Full Jetson Nano Smart Rover Guide | From Pieces To Programming In 2 Hours!

ArduPilot can work on boats, cars, planes, multirotors, and even blimps.

Both videos provide good details on how to actually build the vehicle and incorporating the Jetson Nano + Pixhawk combo. 

We know that the Jetson Nano needs to communicate with the Pixhawk so that it can control the drone, so how is this done? 

Basically, there is a UART bridge which links the two devices together, so that information can easily be sent back and forth. 

Check out this clip at 1:25:04 in the car video to see how that is done.  

Smart Jetson Nano Robot Projects

After your vehicle is put together and your Jetson Nano can communicate with the Pixhawk, it’s time to unleash the power of your new smart vehicle!

To help spur your imagination, here is a computer vision application running on the smart rover to autonomously precision park on an aruco marker. 

OpenCV Projects With The Jetson Nano Smart Rover

For a drone application, here’s a neat project which uses vision running on the Jetson Nano to autonomously follow the user with object recognition. 

Teaching my custom AI drone to track humans

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the possibilities are endless once you pair the flight controller with the companion computer. If you’d like to see an in depth guide on how to build your own drone, check out this in depth guide which will walk you along the process. 

The Jetson Nano is a powerful board, but should only be used if absolutely required by your application. Under most circumstances, the Raspberry Pi companion computer is the better route for your robot because it is still highly capable, but costs only a fraction of a Jetson Nano board.

For example, the Raspberry Pi can be bought for ~$80, while the Jetson Nanos are going for $300 for the lower end boards, and $500+ for the higher RAM versions. Raspberry Pi drones can do most of what the Jetson Nano drones can do.

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