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Copyright © 2015 - 2020 Jalil Modares

This program was part of my Ph.D. Dissertation research in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University at Buffalo. I worked in UB's Multimedia Communications and Systems Laboratory with my Ph.D. adviser, Prof. Nicholas Mastronarde.

If you use this program for your work/research, please cite: J. Modares, N. Mastronarde, and K. Dantu, "Simulating unmanned aerial vehicle swarms with the UB-ANC Emulator," International Journal of Micro Air Vehicles, vol. 11, April 2019.

This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or any later version.

This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License along with this program. If not, see

UB-ANC Emulator

For more information about the UB-ANC Ecosystem, please visit the wiki.

For a quick start guide, please visit here

An Emulation Framework for Multi-Agent Drone Networks

The UB-ANC Emulator is an emulation environment created to design, implement, and test various applications (missions) involving one or more drones in software, and provide seamless transition to experimentation. It provides flexibility in terms of the underlying flight dynamics and network simulation models. By default, it provides low-fidelity flight dynamics and network simulation, thus high scalability (it can support a large number of emulated agents). Depending on the application, it can connect to a high-fidelity physics engine for more accurate flight dynamics of agents (drones). It can also connect to a high-fidelity network simulation to model the effect of interference, packet losses, and protocols on network throughput, latency, and reliability (e.g., we have integrated ns-3 into the emulator). Another important aspect of the UB-ANC Emulator is its ability to be extended to different setups and connect to external communication hardware. This capability allows robotics researchers to emulate the mission planning part in software while the network researcher tests new network protocols on real hardware, or allows a network of real drones to connect to emulated drones and coordinate their tasks.


The current version of the UB-ANC Emulator uses QGroundControl 3.2 and ns-3.27 as its main libraries. The build process explained here is targeted for 64-bit Linux (Debian) platforms. We recommend using 64-bit Ubuntu 16.04. If you would like to use the emulator on other platforms, such as Windows, we have also provided a docker image. Please read the Docker section for more details.

The following packages need to be installed before building the emulator:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install build-essential \
    libgl1-mesa-dev libsdl2-dev python-future \
    libfontconfig1 dbus-x11 geoclue curl git netcat xvfb

Then, we use to build and setup the emulator.

cd ~
mkdir ub-anc && cd ub-anc
curl -sSL \ \
    | bash

The build process takes some time. After the build is finished, you will have a new directory ~/ub-anc/emulator/ that has everything needed to run the emulator.

Finally, you need to run the following command so you can access the serial port:

sudo usermod -a -G dialout $USER


The UB-ANC Emulator uses the objects directory to recognize agents (drones) in the system. Every sub-directory in the objects directory represents an emulated agent. These sub-directories are named with the format mav_xxx, where mav stands for micro air vehicle and xxx denotes the MAV ID in the range 001 - 250. There are three important files in each mav_xxx directory:

  • agent: The mission executable

  • arducopter: The firmware executable emulating the flight controller

  • copter.parm: The default parameters used in the firmware

Together, the above three files define the agent.

In many cases, you will want all of the agents to operate with the same mission executable, firmware executable, and firmware parameters. We have created the script to help with this. By running n, where n is the number of agents you wish to emulate, the sub-directories mav_001, mav_002, ..., mav_n will be created in the objects directory and populated with all three default files from the mav directory. For instance, the following will create 10 replicas of the drone that is defined in the mav directory:

cd ~/ub-anc/emulator
./ 10

By default, the agent executable is the follower mission. To build and test your own missions, we recommend starting from the UB-ANC Agent template mission. After compiling the UB-ANC Agent mission (or any other mission), you simply put the resulting executable file in the emulator's mav directory, run the script, and then run the emulator.


To run the emulator, use the script This script starts all of the agents' firmwares, waits for the emulator to connect to all of the firmwares, and then starts all of the corresponding agents so that they can connect to the emulator.

cd ~/ub-anc/emulator

Note that you cannot start the mission until you receive the following messages from the drones (which are accessible by clicking on the Vehicle Messages status icon in QGroundControl):

[XXX] Info: EKF2 IMU0 is using GPS
[XXX] Info: EKF2 IMU1 is using GPS

IMPORTANT: For more details on running the follower mission click here

Advanced users

QGroundControl and ns-3 options

All options that are available in QGroundControl and ns-3 are also available in the emulator. These can be set in the start_emulator function in For instance, you can utilize the logging capabilities of ns-3. options

You can run the emulator without the GUI:

cd ~/ub-anc/emulator
./ -c

By default, the emulator is configured to start with the AODV routing protocol when it runs in console mode (see the start_emulator function in You can change or add more options if you need to, e.g., RxGain, Reception gain (dB) and see their effect on the mission.

IMPORTANT: Port 10 * i + 5760 can be used to connect to agent (drone) i.

Output traces and logging

By default, suppresses all messages from the agents by piping their outputs to /dev/null. This eliminates the overheads associated with logging and writing to the console, which allows the emulator to run with more agents. In many situations, however, it is useful to view information in the console in real-time and to log information for later analysis. You can modify start_firmwares/start_agents functions in to enable this functionality.

For your convenience, we provide an alternative script with enhanced logging here.


There is a public Docker image with UB-ANC Emulator installed which can be loaded and used. First you need to install Docker, and setup its privilege access. You can also build the Docker image locally:

docker build -t jmod/ub-anc-emulator:latest \

If you don't build the image locally, Docker will download it automatically. On Linux platforms you can run Docker container and connect it to X server on the host so that you can run the emulator in the container with GUI:

xauth nlist $DISPLAY \
    | sed -e 's/^..../ffff/' \
    | xauth -f /tmp/.docker.xauth nmerge -
docker run -it \
    --env DISPLAY=$DISPLAY \
    --env XAUTHORITY=/tmp/.docker.xauth \
    --volume /tmp/.X11-unix:/tmp/.X11-unix \
    --volume /tmp/.docker.xauth:/tmp/.docker.xauth \
    --device /dev/dri:/dev/dri \
    --device /dev/snd:/dev/snd \
    --volume $PWD/docker:/tmp/emulator \
    --publish 5770:5770 \
    --publish 5780:5780 \

On other platforms though, you need to find a way to map the X server socket between container and host, like Xming for Windows. A better solution is to run the container without mapping:

docker run -it \
    --volume $PWD/docker:/tmp/emulator \
    --publish 5770:5770 \
    --publish 5780:5780 \

Then you can start emulator in console mode, and use QGroundControl on the host to connect to agent's port to visualize it in the system.

Two things need to be noticed:

  • As you can see a new directory docker will be created on the host (in the current directory), and it will be mounted to /tmp/emulator directory on the container. This can be used to share files between the host and the container.
  • In order to connect to a port in container, you need to publish it --publish to the host, as you can see in the previous commands we publish two ports so that we can connect to them with QGroundControl (running on the host).

After you login to the container, you can start by:

cp -r emulator/ /tmp/
cd /tmp/emulator

By copying the emulator to the /tmp/emulator, you populate the container's emulator directory into the docker directory on the host so that you have access to the files generated by emulator later.

You can also use docker dirctory to put the mission source code and then build the mission using container. Notice that the username and password is ub-anc.

Check all scripts in the script directory for more information.


An Emulation Framework for Multi-Agent Drone Networks






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