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iPhone contains

  • Gyroscope
  • GPS
  • Two photo and video cameras
  • Self-sufficient battery that outlives the motor battery
  • Wifi
  • Backup connectivity (cellular, bluetooth)
  • Programmable computer
  • Real-time image processing capabilities and face detection
  • General purpose IO (with something like this)

and old models are available very cheap.

What is the main benefit of having a separate dedicated flight controller and camera on hobbyist rotorcraft rather than a general purpose device like the iPhone?

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Speaking from experience, smartphones (android in my case) do work as flight controllers but they have significant drawbacks

  • The operating system gets in the way. You don't have root access and can't kill off unnecessary processes.
  • The cameras are decent, but somewhat narrow field-of-view. Dual cameras are not setup to enable stereo vision and even trying to use both at the same time overheats the phone quickly.
  • Camera placement is fixed relative to the body (problem if you want to look forward rather than down)
  • IMU sensors are really cheap which leads to noisy signals
  • Everything is thermally connected and not well cooled, so sensors exhibit significant drift.
  • You still need extra processors. Most motors talk over PWM or i2c so you need a board to receive commands from the phone and translate.
  • WIFI range is smaller than most RC transmitter/receiver pairs.

Like I said, you can make it work but it is not optimal.

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Using a smart-phone may have advantages, but anything that can be accomplished using other traditional flight controllers.

Some advantages

  • Easier to implement
  • Relatively cheap
  • Relatively user-friendly
  • Usually a built in way to recover the craft in the event of a flyaway (caused by what is doing the flight controls)

Some disadvantages

  • Limited to the operating system's abilities and quarks
  • Without rooting the device you may not be able to kill a process that is not responding
  • Not as customizable as using an opens-ource flight controller
  • latency caused by running a full operating system
  • Smart-phones are fragile and ca

    Here is a list of common flight controllers and their capabilities.

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