Technology Innovation Institute’s Secure Systems Research Center in Abu Dhabi Announces Integration of Secure PX4 Stack into RISC-V Based Drone

RISC-V Based Drone


The Secure Systems Research Center (SSRC) at Technology Innovation Institute (TII), the applied research pillar of Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC), today announced the launch of its first Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC-V) based drone flight controller that leverages the Center’s own secure PX4 stack. The flight marks a milestone in SSRC’s path to making RISC-V based UAV systems a reality through this successful testing and validation of the RISC-V + the secure PX4 stack system.

Earlier this year, the Center became a strategic member of RISC-V International, a non-profit organisation controlled by its members, which directs the future development and drives the adoption of RISC-V free and open Instruction Set Architecture (ISA). SSRC is focused on building an RISC-V based secure flight computer system. Today’s milestone is a major signpost on this path, with the Center using a commercially available RISC-V development platform to port the DroneCode PX4 open source software to RISC-V.

Dr. Ray O. Johnson, CEO of TII, said: “RISC-V’s ISA is revolutionising the world of computing systems, and TII is proud to build this capability into our growing collection of breakthrough solutions that are future-proofing our world – one step at a time. We are seeing the use cases for drones and similar autonomous systems now spanning multiple sectors from e-commerce to healthcare and communication to security. This achievement will further strengthen our credibility as a global research center at the forefront of cutting-edge technology that is working to shape an enabled and more secure world.”

Dr. Shreekant (Ticky) Thakkar, Chief Researcher, SSRC, said: “We are putting TII on the world map as leaders in pioneering Zero Trust Drone System research through this effort. The DroneCode community is the leading open-source community of PX4 Autopilot and fight controller hardware code and specification, respectively. A significant part of the work in realising this project required the porting of NuttX real-time OS and PX4 flight controller software to the RISC-V platform. SSRC has already included some of the planned security improvements into its existing PX4 software stack, and we will continue to develop this software and contribute the modifications back to open source.”

He added: “Through this milestone, we intend to highlight our regional expertise in the research and development of security for Drone and Autonomous Systems, an area that is set to have an outsized impact in shaping the Smart Cities of the future - making them safer and also significantly accelerating the opportunities for new services.”

As a follow-up, SSRC will continue to improve the security and resilience of the open source PX4 flight control software stack and NuttX real-time OS in collaboration with open source community. Furthermore, the Center has presented a roadmap that includes improving memory protection of NuttX OS and PX4, protecting data on the removable media and utilising commercially available Root-of-Trust components.

Jukka Laitinen, Drone Software Lead Engineer and Architect at the SSRC in TII and Technical Lead for Dronecode Security Special Interest Group also presented a talk on making the current drone platform better, more secure, and resilient at the PX4 Autopilot Development Summit in September 2021.

SSRC is on track to achieving the first TII custom flight controller hardware, with the initial prototypes of this hardware, using a commercial off-the-shelf RISC-V SoC, expected by Q1 2022. This will enable researchers and industry to replace existing commercial flight controllers with a TII secure flight controller.