Drawing with the Crazyflie

There has been some work done earlier to use the Crazyflie for generating images, for instance the dot-drawing by Paul Kry and light painting. I wanted to see if it is possible to put a brush or pen on a Crazyflie and use it to draw lines on a paper. I decided to use a fun Friday to try it out. The idea is simple: mount a pen on the Crazyflie, put a paper on a wall, write a script to draw a figure, fly!

The setup

The first thing I looked into was to investigate if a Crazyflie can fly with a brush or pen mounted on it. I wanted to keep the weight down and my initial approach was to use a cotton swab (0.6 g) dipped in paint. I found one that was long enough to extend in front of the propellers and I mounted it by squeezing it between the battery and the PCB. Flying was no problem with such low extra weight.

For positioning I decided to use the Lighthouse system. It is very accurate, simple to use and the easiest way to get started. I mounted a piece of cardboard in the YZ-plane of our lighthouse coordinate system, where I could attach a drawing paper. The idea of setting up the drawing surface parallell to the YZ-plane was to make the scripting easier. I (of course) used the Crazyflie and lighthouse system to measure that the cardboard was mounted at the right position.

Finally I wrote a simple python script that utilized the high level commander to move towards the drawing surface and yawing at the right position to draw a stroke on the paper. It sort of worked, but the cotton swab has to be “refilled” before each stroke which took a lot of time, and the results were a bit random.

I decided to try out a pen instead. The upside is that it does not require refill, on the other hand it is much heavier which makes the Crazyflie a bit sluggish when flying. I mounted the pen on the top side of the PCB, squeezed under the Lighthouse deck, and moved the battery to under the Crazyflie to distribute the weight.

Initial tests – both cotton swab and pen

The script was updated to draw the outline of the Bitcraze logo. I had a couple of variations where I tried to draw the full outline in one long stroke, as separate strokes, going up or going down and some other flavours.

So was it successful? Currently the Crazyflie is not a new Picasso, but the painting skills could maybe be improved with some more work. I think the main problems were:

  1. the pen is too heavy and requires too much force on the paper
  2. the controller cannot handle the situation in a good way. In essence I set the set point a few millimeters “into” the paper to push the pen against the surface which seems to be confusing as the controller can not reach the set point.
  3. Flying that close to the drawing surface creates an air flow that disturbs the flight.

Video showing the Crazyflie drawing the logo

The Bitcraze logo (17×17 cm), drawn by the Crazyflie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *