If you haven’t seen it yet then check out our latest Christmas video! In it, we show off a bunch of new stuff, with the main ones being the new Crazyflie brushless and the Lighthouse V2 (which supports up to 16 base stations). But there were also a few other things featured in the video! One of them is the charging pad the Crazyflie brushless takes off from and lands on in the video. This weeks blog post is about the charger, how it came to be, how it works and what lies ahead.
A while back I worked a bit on a contact charger for the Crazyflie 2.1. The idea was to try and make a design where small pogo-pins could be added to various decks which would allow the Crazyflie 2.1 to charge when lading on a charging pad. Some of the issues with the design was that the area was small (it had to fit on a deck), it put requirements on each deck and that some decks (like the Flow V2 deck) has components which are taller than the pogo-pins. So after the blog post back in 2021 this has been on the shelf, until recently when the Crazyflie brushless work has been moving forward.
With the new prototype design for the Crazyflie brushless being made, there was a chance to address some of the issues I’ve seen before and do another try. All we needed was to add some pads for soldering pogo-pins on the wings (which actually wasn’t as easy as one would think due to layout constraints). So now the charging points didn’t have to be on each deck, they are built into the Crazyflie BL base. The distance between the points is also larger, allowing for a bigger hole in the charging PCB and allowing for a higher variety of decks, like the LED ring with the diffuser shown in the video.
The last missing part of the puzzle was when we needed to do more flight testing with the Crazyflie brushless. We wanted to reproduce the infinite flight demo we previously had for the Crazyflie 2.1, but the current Qi charger pad didn’t work with the new Crazyflie brushless. Time for the next iteration of the charger prototype!
Under the hood
So how complex can you make a charger? Lots! When making a prototype I like to add as much ideas possible to the design. Missing something you wanted to test and doing a new version takes a lot of time but adding some extra crazy ideas might be pretty quick in the design phase. A lot of the time ideas are scrapped along the way, most of the time because of space- or price constraints. Sometimes they are just bad or too complex. Luckily in this case the charger has a large PCB with lots of space and it’s just an early prototype so there’s (almost) no bad ideas!
Under the hood (or 3D printed plastic in this case) there’s a bunch of stuff:
- An WiFi/BLE module, the ESP32-C6-MINI
- USB-C connector
- USB-PD controller
- 6 DC-jack connectors and 5 terminals for connecting power
- Measurement of charging current and supply voltage
- 12 WS2812B RGB LEDs for the outer ring and 12 for the inner one
- 20-to-5V DC/DC and 5-to-3V3 DC/DC
- Some debugging LEDs and UART
The idea with the contact charger has been to easily charge your Crazyflie without disconnecting the battery, plugging in the micro-USB connector or blocking the use of decks facing downwards like the Qi charger does. In addition to this I also wanted to try out some other ideas.
Chaining chargers: When we go to fairs we normally show a demo of 9 x Crazyflie 2.1 flying with decentralized decision making and the lighthouse positioning system. As you can see there’s a lot of power cords and charging pads laying around. The idea here was to chain the power supplies together and also attach the chargers to each other (hence the hexagonal shape).
WiFi: For a long time I’ve had a prototype of a server for connecting various hardware to (like a charger) so I wanted to try to connect it to this for monitoring.
BLE: The idea was that the Crazyflie could talk to the charger via BLE to for instance change the light effect.
LEDs (and lots of them): The idea was to give some feedback from the charging of the Crazyflie but also to give the charger the ability to act as something more, like lighting up when a Crazyflie decides to land on it.
USB-PD: This is connected to the chaining of power. The ideas was to connect a USB-C charger and distribute the power from it to other chargers via the DC-jack.
Currently the charger is an internal project, since we use it in our lab for the infinite flight. But it’s of course something that would be exciting to offer our users if there any interest. So let us know what you think!
Also, don’t forget to join us for this Wednesday’s dev meeting. the main topic will be about the Kalman filters however we can answer questions about the wireless as well!