Get Started With UAS Data Mule


A data mule is a vehicle used to physically transfer data between locations. Mission Mule’s UAS Data Mule technology uses autonomous drone technology to retrieve data from ground-based sensors located in hard-to-reach areas. UAS Data Mule helps bridge the “last mile” to make regular ground-sensor data access safer and more efficient.

In this guide, we will discuss how to get started with data mule technology. All Data Mule technology is open source, but Mission Mule provides professional support for technology integration and operation if desired. Mission Mule can also support ongoing data mule operations. If interested, please get in touch.


Mission Mule’s Data Mule technology is compatible with any airframe from custom airframes to professional UAS. Since all data transfer from the ground sensor is managed by the data mule payload, users can select the airframe which best suits their requirements.

The FireFLY6 PRO airframe (pictured above) which was manufactured by BirdsEyeView Aerobotics is desirable for its ability to take off vertically and transition to more efficient fixed-wing flight after takeoff. Unfortunately, BirdsEyeView Aerobotics is no longer in business, so this airframe is not recommended.

We have had success integrating data mule technology into custom-built airframes powered by open-source Pixhawk autopilot hardware and PX4 hardware. For technical users, we recommend pursuing this route since it significantly reduces UAS hardware costs and gives total control over all aspects of the aircraft.


The Mission Mule payload controls all wireless data transfer between the UAS and the ground-based sensors.

The payload is made up of the following components:

  • Raspberry Pi 4
  • XBee Pro S3B Radio
  • Wi-Fi 802.11n USB dongle
  • 915 MHz antenna
  • 2.4 GHz antenna

Operating System and Firmware

To set up a payload with all required firmware, follow the instructions here.

Please note: the “firefly-mule” repository was built specifically to integrate with the BirdsEyeView Firefly6 PRO airframe and won’t work out of the box with any airframe. The software will likely need to be tweaked to work with your airframe. This repository should act as a good starting point.

Enclosure and Mounting

The 3D printed payload enclosure pictured above was designed specifically for the Firefly6 PRO airframe and may not be compatible with your chosen airframe. If you wish to print the enclosure as it appears in the image above, you can find the files here.

Data Station

The data station interfaces with ground-based sensors (i.e. camera traps) and transfers the data to the UAS when it is overhead.

All documentation to build and assemble a data station can be found here. This link includes the suggested bill of materials (BOM), microcontroller firmware, and PCB design files required for manufacturing.

Next Steps

Once set up, the next step is to plan your data mule flight operations. This requires careful consideration in order to 1) minimize the risk of a crash or flyaway event, 2) comply with local UAS regulations, and 3) optimize download speed and flight time to retrieve as much data as possible per flight. Please see the Flight Operations section of this forum for more details.