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I'm pretty new to the world of UAS after a ten year holiday from RC flying.

I'm looking at Ardupilot and am wondering what purpose telemetry serves? Is it just to get in flight data back to a ground station or can it also be used to program the system in flight? Are there other capabilities that I am missing?

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Telemetry is used to get in-flight data back to a ground station. For example, attitude (roll, pitch, yaw), altitude, GPS position, speed, battery voltages. It just gives you more feedback.

It can also be used to alert you when battery levels are too low or when a fault occurs.

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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that in the Ardupilot context, a "telemetry link" is used to describe any digital serial communication with the aircraft. Usually, this is a 2-way link accomplished using a 3DR radio or xbee using the mavlink protocol. Commands can indeed be sent over this link. Traditionally, however, telemetry refers to one way aircraft -> ground communication. $\endgroup$ – foobarbecue Oct 25 '13 at 16:31

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