# Companion Computers

Companion computers ("mission computers"), are separate on-vehicle computers that are connected to the flight controller, and which enable computationally expensive features like object avoidance and collision prevention.

The diagram below shows a possible architecture for an unmanned vehicle architecture that includes a flight controller and companion computer.

PX4 architecture - FC + Companion Computer

The flight controller runs PX4 on NuttX, and provides core flight and safety code. The companion computer usually runs Linux, as this is a much better platform for "general" software development. They are connected using a fast serial or Ethernet link, and typically communicate using the MAVLink protocol (opens new window) or uXRCE-DDS.

Communications with the ground stations and the cloud are usually routed via the companion computer (e.g. using the MAVLink Router (opens new window)).

# Integrated Companion/Flight Controller Boards

Controller boards that come with a pre-integrated companion computer and flight controller can significantly ease both software and hardware setup. In some cases the boards are set up to allow easy replacement of flight controller and/or companion computer parts.

The following boards are known to provide a good integration with PX4:

# Companion Computer Options

PX4 can be used with computers that can be configured to communicate via MAVLink or microROS/uXRCE-DDS over over a serial port (or Ethernet port, if present).

A small subset of possible alternatives are listed below:

  • Raspberry Pi
  • Odroid
  • Tegra K1


The choice of computer will depend on the usual tradeoffs: cost, weight, power consumption, ease of setup, and computational resources required.

# Companion Computer Software

The companion computer needs to run software that communicates with the flight controller, and which routes traffic to ground stations and the cloud.

# Drone Apps

Drone APIs and SDKs allow you to write software that can control PX4. Popular alternatives include:

MAVSDK is generally easier to learn and use, while ROS provides more pre-written software for advanced cases like computer vision. Drone APIs and SDKs > What API Should I Use? explains the different options in detail.

You can also write your own custom MAVLink libraries from scratch:

# Routers

You will need a router if you need to bridge MAVLink from the vehicle to a ground station or IP network, or if you need multiple connections:

# Ethernet Setup

Ethernet is the recommended connection, if supported by your flight controller. See Ethernet Setup for instructions.

# Flight Controller Specific Setup

The following topics explain how to set up companion computers for specific flight controllers, in particular when you are not using an Ethernet connection.

# Additional Information