Author: Arnaud

We have just released the Crazyflie Lighthouse deck as Early Access! It is now available in our web store.

The lighthouse deck allows the Crazyflie to estimate its position using the HTC Vive tracking base-station normally used for Virtual Reality. The positioning is done by tracking the timing of rotating infra-red laser beams emitted from the base-stations. This system has the advantages of having a very good precision and of allowing the Crazyflie to acquire its position autonomously: once the Crazyflie knows the position and orientation of the base-station, it can calculate its own position without the help of any external systems.

The release as Early Access means that we have finished the hardware and we are confident that the hardware is working properly. Though we have not yet finished all the software and firmware, by releasing the hardware early we can get the hardware into the hands of users quickly to try it out. In return we hope we can get some help making the software better.

Current state

  • The Crazyflie can calculate its position from the received Vive Base-Station V1 signals.
  • Direct line of sight should be kept to both base-stations. The Lighthouse deck has 4 receivers so in the future it will be possible to get a position from seeing only one base station.
  • Base-Station V2 support is still being worked-on, it will only require a software update.
  • The Base-station position is hard-coded in the Crazyflie and found using SteamVR. Ideally this should be sent from the ground and the Crazyflie should calculate the positions of the Base-Stations automatically.
  • The previous point means that a full VR system or at least two base stations and a controller or tracker is required to setup the system. In the future we hope to setup the system with only a Crazyflie and two base stations.
  • Since this version of the deck only has horizontal sensors, it is important that the base-stations are placed above the flight space and the Crazyflies should fly ~40cm bellow the base-stations

As long as the deck is in early access, the main documentation will be the lighthouse positioning page in the wiki. This page is going to be updated a lot in the near future and will track the progress in development.

Demo

We have written a small demo script that allows to set the position of the Crazyflie using a Vive controller. It is a good demo to experiment with the precision of the system and the ability to mix VR and Crazyflie since they are in the same tracking space:

In this demo, a python script connects to two Crazyflies and acquire the controller position using OpenVR and makes the Crazyflies take-off above the controller. Then, when the controller trigger is pushed, the setpoint to the closest Crazyflie is changed to follow the controller movement, the Crazyflies are flying autonomously only getting position setpoints from the python script. The position estimation and control is handled onboard.

We are pretty excited by this release since we think this positioning technology will be very useful for a lot of use-case. Let us know what you think and do not hesitate to contribute if you want to improve the system :).

We are glad to announce that we have manufactured the fist batch of Lightouse positioning decks and hopefully it will be ready to ship by the end of the month!

The Lighthouse positioning deck is a Crazyflie 2 deck capable of receiving IR signals from HTC Vive tracking base station (ie. Lighthouses). The basestations works by spinning IR laser beams that are received by the deck to measure the angle at which the base station sees the receiver. This allows the Crazyflie to estimate its position with great accuracy and so to fly autonomously.

The board we produced is very similar architecture-wise to the prototype we showed in previous blog posts. The main physical difference is that we now only have horizontal receivers. This change was made because we do not yet have a satisfactory mechanical solution to mount vertical IR receivers and we arbitrated that horizontal-only sensor already provides great performance for autonomous flight. Functionally it means that the Crazyflie should fly bellow the base stations to be able to position itself, we found that flying ~40cm bellow the base station gave good flying performance. We will continue looking at solution to make a deck with more receiver to increase the flight space in the future.

The lighthouse deck acquires the IR pulses transmitted by the lighthouses, the Crazyflie can then interpret these pulses to estimate its position. We also added soldering pads for a 2.54mm pin header which would allow to interface other microcontroller boards to the deck:

Lighthouse deck architecture

HTC has released 2 versions of the base stations that are incompatible with each other. Version 1 supports 2 base stations per system, and version 2 can support more than 2. We have good initial support for version 1 both in the deck and in the Crazyflie. Version 2 is currently being worked-on but early work shows that the deck should be compatible with version 2 with only a firmware update.

This leads to the current state of the product. The boards have been manufactured and we have received them but they are currently programmed with a test firmware. As previously stated the basic functionality is there but we still don’t have any finished bootloader. As soon as this is finished and tested we will start flashing all the boards. After that is is just a matter of adding them to the web-store stock and they will be ready to ship!

For now we consider this deck as early access, which means that we will document it in the wiki and that the software will still be heavily developed. For example an early limitation that will be worked-on is that it is currently required to run SteamVR on a computer to setup the system, this means that you need to have a full Vive VR setup or at least a vive gamepad or tracker to setup your flight space. Eventually we want to make it possible to setup the system with only base stations and a Crazyflie, without using steamVR.

We have added the deck to our web store so that you can subscribe to get notified as soon as it is in stock, we will of course post on the blog with more informations when this happens. In the mean time we can share again the video we did for the holidays that was made with 3 Crazyflie 2.1 equipped with the lighthouse deck using 2 V1 base stations:

While Crazyflie is nowaday mostly used connected to a computer, we have mobile clients that can be used to fly a Crazyflie using either Bluetooth Low Energy or a Crazyradio with an Android device or an iphone.

The Android client is currently the most advanced one with support for some decks. The goal of these mobile clients is to at least allow to fly a Crazyflie manually, though a lot more could be done by supporting the various decks of the Crazyflie (for example using the flow deck, one might imagine drawing a trajectory on the phone and having the Crazyflie following it :-).

As for development, we have not been very active in the development of the mobile clients and are relying mostly on contributions. So if you are interested into adding functionalities do not hesitate to drop by the Github page of the Android or iOS clients and to propose functionalities and pull requests.

Android client

In 2018, Fred the maintainer of the Android client, has worked hard to stabilize the current app and solve the last few bugs and problem in the current app. A new version was released last week that incorporate all the fixes.

Last years the Android client has seen big internal changes including separating all Crazyflie protocol handling in a separate java library. All these changes will make it easier to implement new functionality in the future and to make the functionality available to android as well as, to any Java program using the Crazyflie java lib.

Iphone client

The iPhone client has seen much less activity in 2018. It has been kept updated with the new versionsd of the Swift language and have seen some bugfixes, all thanks to Github contributors.

There have been reports of a couple of pretty bad bugs that have appeared in the latest release, as soon as these bugs are fixed we plan to release a new version of the iPhone client. The new version will also include the possibility to control the Crazyflie by tilting the phone, and with the bug fixes in place we should be off for a good start of 2019.

Windows client

The Windows UAP Crazyflie client is the least advance of all the mobile Clients. It has the particularity to work on Windows 10 for computers as well as for Phones. This makes it the only implementation of a Bluetooth low energy Crazyflie client for computers. However, Windows 10 for phones being pretty much dead now, the future of this client might be more on the Computer side if any.

Anyway, if anyone is interested in improving the Windows client, we will gladly test and merge pull requests when they come.

The post this week is going to be a bit more about ‘how we work’. In our daily work we often have to solve problems that are not directly technical, though we tend to solve them in a technical way. Our new automated printing system is an example of that.

Last year we have started our own e-shop to be able to sell our products by ourselves. At first we used an external warehouse which ended up causing a lot of problem so we decided to have all stock for our e-shop in our office and started shipping from Sweden. Part of the plan was to make the shipping process as efficient as possible to understand what it takes to handle stock and shipping worldwide. The latest addition is an automated printing system.

When you order in the Bitcraze store, the order is sent to a system we made to handle stock and production. In the morning, one of us will log-in in this system and start handling the orders of the night. The system is generating all documents and ordering shipping for the order, this means that all we have to do is to print the picking list and all required documentation, put the products in a box and stick all the document on the box. This level of automation was already saving us a lot of time but we still had to print manually the right amount of every required document.

We now have a Raspberry-pi connected to all the printers. A program (written in Rust, because I want to experiment with the language :) connects the management system using WebSocket and waits for a print order. When we connect to the management system we just have to click ‘print’ on the next order to get all the required instructions and documents printed, ready to use.

We are still not sure we will keep shipping from the office in the long run, but making it as efficient as possible allows us to ensure good quality and high flexibility. This kind of project is also a good excuse to play with various technologies.

2018 has ended, we at Bitcraze are now back from a short holiday break and we are looking forward to 2019. There is already a lot of things rolling that will give results in 2019 and we wanted to do a short post about what we are currently planning.

Product wise, we still have a couple of product in final state of production that we will be releasing during Q1 or early Q2 2019, Crazyflie 2.1 production is on-going and we have started a first batch of the Lighthouse deck.

We have talked about both projects in previous post but if you want to see what the lighthouse positioning is capable of you can look at the Holiday video we pushed two weeks ago:

This video was made using two HTC Vive base station V1 and prototypes of the lighthouse deck we are currently producing. We intend this deck to be the first version of a series of Lighthouse receiver deck: we had to simplify the design by using only horizontal IR receivers in order to be able to produce a first batch now, this meant making some compromises on the usable flight space. We will talk more on that in a future block post but as you can see in the video the system is promising.

We will also try to travel a bit more this year to meet you. IROS 2018 was an awesome experience and allowed us to meet a lot of our users and to get a better understanding on how Crazyflie is and can be used. This year we are aiming at visiting Fosdem 2019 in Brussels as well as exhibiting at ICRA 2019 in Montreal and IROS 2019 in Macau. None of them are completely finalized yet so stay tuned on the blog for future announcement. If you have other suggestion of conferences or event you would like to see us attending, please tell us in the comments or drop us an mail.

Finally on a company side, we are looking at growing the team and changing office. We are currently 5 at Bitcraze which means that we have a lot to do and growing would allow us to expand the Crazyflie ecosystem with more functionality and cool stuff. We are also going to move to a new office where we will have a dedicated flight lab. Until now we have had our office in a co-working space and we used about 4x4m of our office space as a flight lab. In the new office we will have a dedicated 100m² flight space which will allow us to work more on swarm support and to improve the LPS system in a bigger space.

The Crazyflie Z-ranger and Flow decks share one sensor: the VL53 ranging sensor that provides mm-precision by measuring the time of flight of laser pulses. The manufacturer of this sensor has released an improved version, the VL53L1x that works for longer distances compare to the old one. The old sensor worked for distances up to 1 meter while the new one works up to 2 meters.

The Z-ranger deck interfaces a VL53 sensor facing downwards underneath the Crazyflie, it allows to implement very precise altitude-hold by using the ranging to the floor as absolute height.

The Flow deck has both a down-facing VL53 for height measurements as well as an optical flow sensor for position measurements that allows the Crazyflie to hold its height and fly at constant velocity.

We have released both the Z-ranger V2 and Flow V2 which allows to achieve accurate altitude hold and position hold at much higher heights. With the Flow V2 and Z-ranger V2 it is possible to fly almost all the way up to the ceiling in an ordinary room!

Both decks are available in the Bitcraze online store.

Last week we have been focusing on making a release for nearly all our firmware and software. This was done mainly to support the new products we will release this fall but it also contains a lot of other functionality that have been added since the previous release. In this blog-post we will describe the most important features of this release.

New Loco Positioning status and configuration tab

New deck support

The Crazyflie firmware and Crazyflie client 2018.10 adds support for a range of new decks that are about to be released:

  • Flow deck V2 and Z-Ranger V2: New versions of the flow and Z-Ranger deck that uses the new VL53L1 distance sensor. Drivers are implemented in the Crazyflie firmware and the client has been updated to allow flying up to 2 meter in height hold and hover modes when the new decks are detected.
  • Multiranger deck: Diver for the new Multiranger deck is implemented in the Crazyflie firmware, support code is now present in the lib as well as an example implementing the push demo that makes the Crazyflie fly in hover mode using the flow deck and move away from obstacles:

The Flow deck V2 is already available in our webstore. The Z-Ranger V2 and Multiranger will be available in the following weeks, stay tuned on the blog for updated information.

Crazyswarm support

During the year, functionality implemented for the Crazyswarm project has been merged back to the Crazyflie firmware master branch. Practically it means that the Crazyflie firmware 2018.10 is the first stable version to support Crazyswarm. The main features implemented by Crazyswarm are:

  • Modular controller and estimator framework that allows to switch the estimator or the controller at runtime. Practically it means that it is not required to recompile the firmware to use a different controller anymore.
  • Addition of a high-level commander that is able to generate setpoints for the controller from within the Crazyflie. The high-level commander is usable both from Crazyswarm and from the Crazyflie python library. It currently has commands to take-off, land, go to a setpoint and follow a polynomial trajectory. It is made in such a way that it can be extended in the future.
  • Addition of the Mellinger controller: a new controller that allows to fly much tighter and precise trajectories than the PID controller. It is tuned pretty tight so it is currently mostly usable using a motion capture or lighthouse as positioning and togeather with the high-level commander.

Improved and more stable Loco Positioning System

A lot of work has been put in the Loco Positioning System (LPS) this summer. The result of this work is the creation of a new ranging mode: TDoA3. TDoA3 allows to fly as many Crazyflie as we want in the system and to add as many anchors are needed, see our previous blog-post for more information. With this release TDoA 3 is added as a stable ranging mode for LPS. The added features related to LPS are:

  • Added TDoA3 as a ranging mode in the LPS-Node-firmware, the Crazyflie 2.0 firmware and the Crazyflie client
  • Revampted the Crazyflie client LPS tab and communication protocol to handle more than 8 anchors
  • Implementation of a new outlier detector for TDoA2 and TDoA3 that drastically improve positioning noise and flight quality

Release notes and downloads

As usual the release build and release note is available on Github. The Crazyflie client and lib are also available as python pip package as cfclient and cflib.

Last week half of Bitcraze, Kristoffer, Tobias and Arnaud were at IROS 2018 where we had an exhibitor booth. We have had a great week and met so many interesting and inspiring people, both users of the Crazyflie as well as persons curious in what we do. Thanks to everyone that passed by the booth, it is awesome to hear how Crazyflie is used and how we can improve it even more.

This year we invited Qualisys to share the booth with us, they kindly provided a motion capture system and we had the pleasure to be joined by Martin to help us and present Qualisys.

Demo-wise we had prepared a bunch of demos which you can read about in our previous post about IROS. It won’t surprise anyone to hear that not everything has been working as planned. The Lighthouse demo did not work when we set it up in the booth (it did in the office!) but some live hacking solved the problem on Tuesday. We also had unexpected issues with the Crazyswarm demo: our landing pad design and flight trajectory was working very well in the office, but in the booth we experienced much more instabilities that prevented us to successfully fly and land all 6 crazyflies in Crazyswarm. We still need to investigate what happened. The autonomous demos, both using the UWB Loco Positioning System and Lighthouse (when fixed), have been surprisingly robust: they do not require a connection to a computer and they worked almost all the time, when they failed they failed without drama and could be reset very quickly.

Overall we have been able to accumulate flight time and experience much quicker in this last week than in the last months, now we have a lot of things to test and improve and also a lot of things we can be much more confident about. We have been fixing and improving the demo during the event and we will write more blog posts in the coming weeks about things we have developed and improved for and during IROS.

To conclude, thanks again to everyone that dropped by the booth, this kind of event always make us come back with a boost of motivation and fresh new ideas and it is all thanks to you!

As mentioned in an earlier post, this year we are going to exhibit at iROS 2018 in Madrid. Every time we go to fairs and exhibition, it is the occasion for us to work more on integration to put together the latest development into a demo we can show at the event. One of the latest development we will show at iROS is the lighthouse deck.

Work on the lighthouse deck have continued during the summer and we are now at a stage where things are starting to work quite well with Lighthouse V1 base stations. We are quite impressed by the performance: we have measured a positioning noise bellow 1mm. We are flying the Crazyflie using Crazyswarm which allows us to fly smooth trajectory using the high-level controller:

The goal for iROS is to stabilize and push the code in the main Crazyflie firmware repos. We will have a couple of Crazyflie setup with the Lighthouse deck and that we will be able to demonstrate. In the future we are also thinking of making a general purpose tag that could be used with other robots. One of the great advantage of the lighthouse tracking technology is that the position and orientation is available in the receiver, in the robot. This means that, like the LPS, the robots are autonomous and do not require an active data connection with a computer in order to locate themselves.

There is still a lot of challenges and work to be done on the deck. For once, this is currently using HTC Vive lighthouse base station V1, Valve has release the base station V2 that allows to cover much more space for each base station and to use more than 2 base stations in the same system, we plan to implement support for it. We will also need to work on multi-sensor localization and setup procedure. Currently the Crazyflie calculates its orientation using only one lighthouse receiver and requires to be in direct light of sight of both lighthouse, it is possible using more receiver to get a position and orientation with only one base station in sight which will increase the system reliablility. As for the system setup we are still using SteamVR to obtain the lighthouse positions using at least one Vive controller, the goal is eventually to be able to setup a system with the Crazyflie alone, without needing to install SteamVR. All that will most likely be discussed in more details in future post.

If you are attending iROS 2018 feel free to come and meet us at booth #91.

Log and param are the two Crazyflie subsystems that have become the core means of communication with the Crazyflie.

The Log is a subsystem that contains functionality to transfer values of variables in the Crazyflie to a client. The client can setup log blocks, which are a list of variables, and start logging this log block at a certain rate. The Crazyflie will then send radio packets at the requested rate with the current values of the variables, thus enabling the client to read changing variables in the Crazyflie in near realtime. It is very useful for monitoring the state of the Crazyflie and further more, any log variable can be graphed in the python client.

Param is a subsystem that contains functionality to get and set the values of variables in the Crazyflie. This is essentially the opposite of Log, it allows the client to read or write variables that are read-only in the firmware.

Both subsystems are based on a Table Of Content (the TOC): at connection time the client pulls the list of log/param variables. This means that there is no hard-dependency between client and firmware and that we can develop new functionalities in the Crazyflie, adding log and param variables to access it without modifying the client.

The Log and Param subsystems have served the Crazyflie community very well, allowing for quick development of experimental and new functionalities. There has been a limitation that has become more and more painful lately though; we were limited to 255 variables due to the protocol using only one byte to encode the variable ID. This issue has now been fixed in the Crazyflie firmware and in the Crazyflie ROS driver by a pull request from Wolfgang at USC. We have recently also implemented the required changes in the Python lib to make it available in the python client (and any other python script using the lib). In the process, some bugs unfortunately found their way into the code, but they have quickly been fixed by a pull request from simonjwright. Thanks to every one involved!

So now Crazyflie supports up to 65535 log and 65535 param variables. This time we should be good for the foreseeable future! ;-).