# 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.
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:
# Managed Integrated Systems
The following integrated companion computer/flight controller systems use managed/custom versions of flight controller and companion computer software by default. They are listed here as they can be updated with "vanilla" PX4 firmware for testing/rapid development.
# 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
- 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 (opens new window) - libraries in various programming languages to interface with MAVLink systems such as drones, cameras or ground systems.
- ROS 2 to communicate to ROS 2 nodes (may also be used).
- ROS 1 and MAVROS
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:
- C/C++ example code (opens new window) shows how to connect custom code
- MAVLink also can also be used with many other programming languages (opens new window)
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.