Academics in the Netherlands claim they have designed and built the world’s smallest autopilot system for drones. 

At four square centimetres, the open source Lisa/S chip (Lost Illusions Serendipitous Autopilot/Small) that the autopilot system runs off is roughly the same size as a €1 coin. Despite its small size, the 1.9g piece of silicon contains everything required to fly a micro aerial vehicle (MAV) without human interaction.

Project leader Bart Remes told Techworld that the biggest challenge with Lisa/S, which is 30 grams lighter than its predecessor, was getting everything to fit onto a 2x2 cm board. 

 “The overall strategy of our MAV lab is to make everything small, light and electrically efficient,” said Remes. “If the autopilot is smaller and more efficient you can fly longer or carry more payload.” 

The chip's software is based on Paparazzi, a free open source drone autopilot system that's existed since 2003 and is available to everyone.  

Remes said he chose to make Lisa/S open source because he wants MAVs to become as popular as mobile phones. “The best way to achieve this is making it available for the public so they can come up with the killer application,” he said in reference to the decision.  

“Now the community can test it in much more test environments than we can do here in the lab,” said Remes. “They let us know when an issue arises and help us to solve it.  Thanks to the community the open source autopilots are safer than closed source autopilots.”

Drones have traditionally been largely confined to the military but the team hopes that civil drone applications will become more common and used in everything from agriculture to search and rescue. 

“More and more farmers are using drones for monitoring their crops,” said Remes. “It is a way to save money because they only spray fertiliser on the crops that need it, by looking at the data coming from the drone's multi spectrum camera.” 

The Lisa/S will compete in the International MAV competition next month.