Raspberry Pi 3 WiFi FPV Drone Bridge

I recently got a cheap WiFi FPV drone. Specifically the Visuo XS809HW. I can’t legally use it past line of site in the U.S., but I thought it’d be cool to take a shot at boosting the WiFi range. Initially I installed an external antenna which on its own will probably take the little thing out of my line of site, but I really wanted to take it a step further.

There are a couple cheap WiFi repeaters that can be used with pretty good results and I did buy one of them, but I really wanted to get it repeating from my 1000mw alfa with a nice 9dbi antenna to really be able to drive it out. On top of that I wanted to be able to easily take pcaps of the traffic so I can maybe work on reversing the protocols to get FPV and control native on the Pi.

Well I got it working with mixed results, but be warned, what follows isn’t exactly kosher networking. It’s not something I’d advise implementing on a real network, or for that matter, on a drone you’re not willing to see crash and burn.

The control latency is pretty good, but the FPV is pretty lossy with a full 1-2 second lag. In the future I’m likely to try a DDWRT repeater, and I’m considering working an angle to get my rtl8187 supported on LineageOS on my Pi via a custom kernel build or chrooted nix so I can run the XSW UFO app natively with the high power card and high gain antenna. Thats for a later day though, so lets begin with what we’ve got now.

Everything beginning with “pi#” is to be run on the Pi’s shell. Boxes following “CONFIG:” are inside a config file.

Starting with a fresh install of Raspbian Stretch lite install all updates and the requisite softwares. I use vim so if you like another editor then use that. Unless it’s emacs then you can just go suck an egg. 😛 If you’re not a nix nerd then you should probably use the nano editor instead of vim.

pi# sudo apt update && sudo apt full-upgrade
pi# sudo apt install vim dnsmasq hostapd parprouted avahi-daemon

Generate network interface names based on their mac addresses. This way even if one wireless card is brought up before the other during boot the config files wont need to be changed because the cards swapped the wlan0 and wlan1 names.

pi# sudo rm /etc/systemd/network/99-default.link
pi# sudo vim /etc/systemd/network/99-default.link


NamePolicy=kernel database onboard slot path mac

Reboot the Pi.

pi# sudo reboot

After the device reboots ensure both of your WiFi devices are plugged in and run.

pi# ifconfig

You should see something similar to the following picture. The device names beginning with wlx are what you want to take note of. These are the names with which we will be addressing the WiFi cards in the following config files. If you’re unsure which card is which then just unplug one of them and run ifconfig again. The one that is still plugged in shows up. For the rest of this tutorial I will refer to the wired NIC as enx0 the card connecting to the drone as wlx0 and the card broadcasting the local network as wlx1, but you will need to use your device names.

Edit your /etc/network/interfaces file to reflect the following. I just delete everything in there and use the following config. If your drone broadcasts a secured network then see this link and make changes as appropriate. Adafruit WiFi Connection

pi# sudo vim /etc/network/interfaces


auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

auto enx0
iface enx0 inet dhcp

auto wlx0
allow-hotplug wlx0
iface wlx0 inet dhcp
    wireless-essid Your-Drones-essid-Here
    post-up parprouted wlx1 wlx0
    post-up ip addr add $(/sbin/ip addr show wlx0 | perl -wne 'm|^\s+inet (.*)/| && print $1')/32 dev wlx1
    post-down pkill -9 parprouted
    post-down sudo ip addr flush dev wlx0
    post-down sudo ip addr flush dev wlx1

auto wlx1
allow-hotplug wlx1
iface wlx1 inet manual

Set some iptables rules to set up NAT and allow multicast and broadcast forwarding. If someone who knows iptables a bit better can double check this I’d be grateful.

pi# sudo vim /etc/iptables.ipv4.nat


-A FORWARD -m pkttype --pkt-type multicast -j ACCEPT
-A FORWARD -m pkttype --pkt-type broadcast -j ACCEPT
-A FORWARD -i wlx1 -o wlx0 -j ACCEPT
-A FORWARD -i wlx0 -o wlx1 -j ACCEPT

Set up the dnsmasq.conf for the dhcp server. This bit is not exactly kosher. We’re starting a second dhcp server on the same subnet. This makes me cringe, but its listening on a different interface, there should never be more than a couple hosts on this machine at any time, and the ip range is well away from where the drone’s ip lease range starts. If someone out there can get dhcp-helper working reliably then that would be a much better solution.

pi# sudo vim /etc/dnsmasq.conf



Edit rc.local so we start dnsmasq on boot and load in our iptables rules. Add the following lines just above the line “exit 0”

pi# sudo vim /etc/rc.local


iptables-restore < /etc/iptables.ipv4.nat
service dnsmasq start

Now we will enable ipv4 forwarding. Go into the sysctl.conf file, find and uncomment or add the following line to the file.

pi# sudo vim /etc/sysctl.conf



Next we will set up hostapd to manage the local repeated WiFi access point. I’m boring, but you can change the values below to make your access point something more fun.

pi# sudo vim /etc/hostapd/hostapd.conf



Now we need to make sure that this hostapd file is actually getting loaded when hostapd starts. Modify the following /defaults/ file to match this.

pi# sudo vim /etc/defaults/hostapd



Now we’re going to set up the avahi daemon. We need to enable mDNS relaying here. Do so by uncommenting the following line and ensuring it mirrors this.

pi# sudo vim /etc/avahi/avahi-daemon.conf



Next make sure you’re in your /home/ and create a little script to reconnect your Pi to your drone whenever you inevitably change the battery. Then make it executable.

pi# cd ~
pi# vim ~/DroneConn.sh


#!/usr/bin/env bash
sudo ifdown wlx0
sleep 2
sudo ifup wlx0
pi# sudo chmod +x DroneConn.sh

Finally disable unwanted services, enable the services you want to run at boot, reboot everything, and cross your fingers. I find that some times things fall over, but if I’ve got the drone on to hand out an I.P. to wlx0 then the Pi boots fine.

pi# sudo systemctl disable dhcpcd.service
pi# sudo systemctl enable hostapd.service
pi# sudo systemctl enable dnsmasq.service
pi# sudo reboot

Finally I want to shout out to the resources I used to piece this together.
Surfer Tim on the RasPi forums
This pimylifeup.com guide
The Debian Wiki
This Adafruit Tutorial

Questions, Comments, Suggestions? Let me know. I’m open to all of it.