Author: Kristoffer Richardsson

We announced the release of the Flow breakout board yesterday and we were happy to finally get it into the store. A few hours later we got some samples of the first production batch to the office and we discovered that we have messed up a bit.

First of all there has been a mixup when the pin headers were packed into the plastic bag, there are only 4 pins instead of the intended 10. We are sorry about this and if you get a bag like this, it is a standard pin header and the best way to fix it is to buy it in your local store.

The second problem is only cosmetic, the print on the bag states “Crazyflie Flow Breakout”. The Flow breakout is not intended for the Crazyflie but can of course be used with virtually any other hardware such as an Arduino for instance.

We were very eager to get the Flow Breakout, with its awesome functionality, into the store as quickly as possible, but maybe we were a bit too fast. The problems will be fixed in the next batch and for those of you who get a bag with the wrong pin header, we are really sorry! We hope it will not be too much of an inconvenience.

 

We have had an implementation of a Time Difference of Arrival algorithm (TDoA) in the Crazyflie 2.o and the Loco Positioning System for quite a long time. The coolest feature of the TDoA algorithm is that it can be used to position virtually unlimited number of Crazyflies concurrently as opposed to the standard Two Way Ranging algorithm that is limited to one (or very few Crazyflies). The original implementation is working pretty well but contains some flaws that we are not completely happy with, hence we have not released it officially and are still calling it experimental. Since support for tracking multiple objects is a requirement for flying swarms and we like swarms, we have started to iron out the problems. 

A small swarm using the old TDoA algorithm, from February 2017.
 

In the current implementation each anchor transmits the time of the transmission and the times of the latest reception of transmissions from all other anchors about every 16 ms. From this information it is possible to calculate the difference in time of flight for the radio waves from two anchors to the Crazyflie. When we know the difference in time of arrival, by multiplying with the speed of light we get the difference in distance and can calculate the position of the Crazyflie. This all sounds fine and dandy but the set up has some problems, the biggest one being error handling. If one or more packets are lost, either from anchor to Crazyflie or anchor to anchor, there is no deterministic way to detect it in some cases. The current algorithm relies on sanity checking the calculated result and discarding data that looks suspicious, which is usually easy as the distances quickly gets unrealistic (several thousands of meters!). We suspect that some erroneous values slip through the check though and we would like to be able to really understand when data is valid or not.

TDoA 2.0

What we are working on now is to add a sequence numbering scheme to enable the receiving party to understand when a packet has been lost. With this information it will be possible to discard bad data as well as use the available information better. While we are re-writing the code we are also moving a part of the algorithm from the Crazyflie to the anchors, after all there is a CPU in the anchors that is not fully utilized. The idea is to let each anchor continuously calculate the distance to all other anchors and add this information to the messages it transmits, which will reduce the work in the Crazyflie.

This is work in progress and we are not completely sure where we will end up, but we are aiming at making the TDoA mode part of the official release at some point.

Sensor fusion

Related to the Loco Positioning system is our line of other positioning sensors; the Z-ranger deck and the Flow deck. The Flow deck has really good precision at low altitudes but can not provide absolute positioning while the Loco Positioning system does not have the same precision but absolute position capabilities. So what if we fuse the information from the Flow deck with the Loco Positioning system? We have tried it out and it works pretty well, we can get the best of two worlds! The Z-ranger can also be used in the same way to improve the Z component of the estimated position when flying bellow ~1m.

Even though it works using multiple positioning sensors at the same time, there is room for improvements and some tweaking will be required to make it rock solid.

 

 

As we announced recently, the Flow deck for the Crazyflie has been released. There was a high demand the first days and we were unfortunately out of stock in the store for a short time, but now we are restocked and the deck is available again. We also got a shipment of a few production Flow decks to the office, and of course we wanted to play a bit with them to find the limits. During development of the deck we only had one or two working prototypes at a time, but now there were manny, so what could we do?

Swarm with the Flow deck

Swarm with the Flow deck

Aggressive flying

So far we have flown slowish when using the Flow deck and we know that works, but what about more aggressive manoeuvres? We modified the flowsequenceSync.py script in the examples directory of the crazyflie-lib-python library. The original script flies a figure 8 at 0.5 m/s, and we spiced it up to do 1.5 m/s instead.

Link to video

It works pretty well as you can see in the video but we get a drift for every finished figure 8 and we have not really figured out yet the origin of this error. There are a number of potential error sources but it needs further investigation to be fully understod.

Flying one Crazyflie above another

What if one Crazyflie flies above another? How will that affect the performance of the Flow deck? The optical flow sensor is in essence a camera detecting the motion of the floor, a Crazyflie passing through the field of view could potentially confuse the system.

We set up two Crazyflies to fly on a straight line in opposite directions, one 0.5 m above the other. The result was that the top Crazyflie was almost not affected at all when the other passed under it, just a small jerk. The lower one on the other hand, passed through the turbulence of the top one and this caused it to swing quite a lot, though it managed to more or less continued in the correct direction it was decidedly out of track. As expected, flying above another Crazyflie is not a good idea, at least not too close.

Flying a swarm with the Flow deck

When flying with the Flow deck all navigation is based on dead reckoning from the starting position, is it possible to fly a swarm using this technique? We thought that by putting the Crazyflies in well known starting positions/orientations and feed them trajectories that do not cross (or pass over each other) it should be possible. The start turned out to be critical as the system is a bit shaky at altitudes under 10 cm when the sensors on the Flow deck are not working very well yet. Sometimes the Crazyflie moves slightly during take-off and this can be a showstopper if it rotates a bit for instance, as the trajectory also will be rotated. It worked pretty well in most cases but sometimes a restart was required.

We were inspired by the Crazyswarm from USC and decided to fly 5 Crazyflies with one in the center and the other 4 spinning around it. Note the center Crazyflie turning but staying on the spot. 

Link to video

We used the Swarm class in the python library to control the 5 Crazyflies. The code used to connect to the Crazyflies one by one which takes quite some time, we changed it to a parallel connect while we were at it and got a significant speed up.

The code for the swarm is available as an example in the python library.

It is a lot of fun playing with the Flow deck and scripting flights. I know it might be silly, but we laugh the hardest when we fail and crash, the more spectacular the crash the more happiness!

The Flow breakout

For other robotics projects that don’t use the Crazyflie, remember that the same functionality as the Flow deck delivers soon will be available in the Flow breakout board. It is compatible with Arduino and other hosts.

There have been a few requests from the community for a brushless Crazyflie and we blogged about a prototype we are working on a few weeks ago. The most common reason for wanting brushless motors is to be able to carry more load, in most cases a camera. A camera could be used for FPV flying or open up various image processing use cases like understanding the would around the drone using SLAM. Image processing on-board requires quite a lot of processing power and the CPU in the Crazyflie could not handle that, so more processing power would be required for a scenario like that. It is summer time (with a slight touch of play time) so we wanted to see what we could do with the CF Rzr and if it would be a useful platform for these types of applications. We hope that we might get some insights on the way as well.

We set the goal to try to add a camera, a small “computer”, the Flow deck for assisted flying, FPV capabilities and support for a standard RC controller.

We chose the Raspberry pi zero-w in order to get video processing and video streaming from the quad as well as more computing power. The Raspberry pi zero is not the most powerful board our there but it has a couple of advantage for our prototype:

  • It has a readily available, good quality camera and good software support for it
  • It has an analog video output and hardware streaming support, which means that the quad could be flown FPV using the Raspberry pi camera
  • It has hardware JPEG and H264 encoders that will enable us to save and stream images and videos if we want to

Raspberry pi and camera mounted on the top part of the frame

For assisted flight and improved stability, the XY-part of the Flow deck works fine outdoors but the laser height sensor on the deck has a maximum limit of 1-2 meters, and further more it does not go well with direct sunlight. We decided to add an ultrasound sonar distance sensor to measure the height instead. The ultrasound sonar connects via I2C and was simply soldered to a breakout deck that plugs into the CF Rzr.

Crazyflie Rzr with ultrasonic sonar, breakout deck and flow deck mounted on the lower part of the frame

The first step is to see if we can physically fit everything on the frame. With some 3D printed mounts for the camera and the Raspberry pi, we think it starts to look pretty good. Next step will be to squeeze in the FPV video transmitter board, the RC receiver board and finally connect everything together.

The current setup with everything mounted

We are far from done but it is a good start, and it is fun.

We exhibited at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Singapore a couple of weeks ago.

We had a booth where we demoed autonomous flight with the Crazyflie 2.0 and the Loco Positioning system, without any external computer in the loop. The core of the demo was that the Crazyflie had an onboard trajectory sequencer that enabled it to fly autonomously along a path, based on the position from the Loco Positioning system.

We had a pre programmed path that we used most of the time, since it enabled us to start the demo and the leave the Crazyflie without any further manual interference from our side (except changing battery). The other option was to manually record a path for the Crayzflie to retrace by moving it around in the flying space. When we dropped it (detecting zero gravity) the onboard sequencer and controller took over to replay the recorded path. This mode was very useful when showing the accuracy and performance of the system by recording a short sequence of one point and just leaving the Crazyflie to hover. We had mounted a deck with two buttons on the Crazyflie that we used to chose which mode to use.

The code used for the demo is available at github for anyone to play with.

Optical flow

We also showed our brand new Flow deck that we will release soon. It is a deck that is mounted underneath the Crazyflie with a downwards facing optical flow sensor. The sensor is in essence what is used in an optical mouse but with a different lens that enables it to track motion further away. The output from the deck is delta X and Y for the motion of the Crazyflie and can be used by the onboard controller to control the position. We will publish more information in this blog soon.

We had a great time talking to all you interesting, bright and awesome people. Thanks for all feedback, sharing ideas and telling us about your projects!

We are going to the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Singapore. The exhibition is open Tuesday May 30 to Thursday June 1 and we will have a booth, number C08, where we will show demos and discuss our work, positioning technologies and quadcopters.

We have not finalized our demos yet but they will include autonomous flight with the Crazyflie and the Loco Positioning system. We also hope to show our brand new optical flow expansion deck that will enable positioning and autonomous flight when on a tight budget. We also plan to show integration with external computers running ROS or our own python library. If we are lucky there might even be a small swarm, even though the space is very limited.

We love to talk to people that are using our products or just interested in our technology, if you are at the conference please drop by and say hi and tell us what you are working on. We will arrive in Singapore on Saturday morning May 27, and if you want to hook up and say hi and have a coffee during the weekend, drop us an email.

See you in Singapore!

Early on when we started to work on the Loco Positioning system, we came up with an idea of a Crazyflie autonomously flying into a light box, positioning it self for a few product pictures and then flying out again. The positioning system is now pretty mature and close to leave Early Access and this Friday we finally got around to do it. In this blog post we will share what we did and it also doubles as a brief howto on how to set up the system and fly a simple autonomous sequence.

We used a Crazyflie with a Loco Positioning Deck and eight Loco Positioning Anchors in our setup. Six anchors would have been fine too, but we happened to have eight in our flight lab.

When working with the Loco Positioning system the first step is always to make sure the anchors are set up correctly. We had an experimental version of the anchor firmware so we started out by pulling down the latest stock version of the source code and compiled it into a .dfu file. After that we fired up the brand new lps-tool that is used to flash firmware and configure the anchors. The anchors must be connected with a USB cable to the computer but the lps-tool reduces the flashing and configuration into a few clicks. When all anchors were updated we were ready for the next step.

The positions of the anchors are stored in the anchors them selves and the position is transmitted to the Crazyflie as a part of the ultra wide band messages used for measuring the ranges to the anchors. This way, the Crazyflie gets both anchor positions and ranges in the same process and has all the information needed to calculate its position. The second step is thus to store the positions in the anchors. In our “flight lab” we have fixed mounts for the anchors with known positions, so we could skip measuring the physical positions of the anchors.

We are working on making it possible to remotely configure the anchors to reduce the need to physically connect to them, and the position can now be set from the Crazyflie Client. We simply opened the “Loco Positioning” tab in the client, connected to a Crazyflie (with a Loco Positioning deck mounted), entered the anchor positions and hit the “Write to anchors” button. A few seconds later the anchor positions in the graphs were updated to indicate that the positions have been written to the anchors and then subsequently sent back through the ultra wide band messages to the Crazyflie.

Step three is to verify that the system is working as expected. First thing is to check that we did not mix the anchors up when configuring or placing them. In the “Loco Position” tab in the client, click the “Anchor Identification” button. In this mode anchors are lit up in the graphs when the Crazyflie gets close to them in the physical world. We went from anchor to anchor with the Crazyflie and checked that the correct anchor lit up on the screen. When confident that all was good we changed to “Position estimate” mode and verified that the estimated position matches the physical position of the Crazyflie. We have found that it can be very hard to understand, for instance that two anchors have been mixed up, by looking at the estimated position and that the “Anchor Identification” step simplifies the setup.

At this point we had a fully functioning Loco Positioning system ready for autonomous flight!

Now it was time to script a sequence. The easiest way to script a sequence is to start from the autonomousSequence.py example. Our intern Alfred took over at this point, he updated the uri to the correct settings and crafted a sequence to take off, fly into the light box, wait a while and then fly back out for a stylish landing in his hand!

Now we were ready for the actual photo shoot and Björn came down with the camera to shoot the product pictures. We hope you enjoy the results!

Bitcraze is not organized as most other companies, we are self organizing, strong believers in continuous improvement and are minimizing planing to be as agile and flexible as possible. We have written a few blog posts about this earlier. One result of this philosophy is that we don’t have a long term plan or road map to share, for instance of when a particular product will be released, but never the less we will tell you a bit about what we think lies ahead of us for the Loco Positioning system.

Our goal for the coming weeks is to finalize the first version of the positioning system, that is to leave the Early Access phase. The capabilities of the first release will be to autonomously fly one Crazyflie using two way ranging. The more advanced features such as TDoA will be considered experimental and requires compile time flags to be enabled.

We feel that the performance of the system is reaching levels that we think are good enough for many use cases, what is still lacking is ease of use. To fix that we are focusing on simplifying installation and configuration of the system by adding a few new tools. 

We have found that one problem area is to install the system and get the anchor positions right. If the positions are not correct the estimated position of the Crazyflie will of course be wrong and it can be hard to understand what the cause of the problem is. To solve this we have added a new tab in the PC client (the LPS tab) that allows the user to see and configure the anchor positions as well as see the estimated position of the Crazyflie. There is also a mode in the client that is used to identify anchors by moving the Crazyflie around in the room, when close to an anchor that anchor lights up in the client to verify the setup. 

Loco Positioning Tab

The anchor positions have up till now been stored in the Crazyflie or the client (ROS or python script), which is not optimal as data in the firmware or client becomes tightly coupled to the physical layout of the positioning system. If we move an anchor we either have to rebuild the Crazyflie firmware or have to transfer position data from the client to the Crazyflie before we can estimate the position. The solution is to move the anchor position into the anchor it self and send it as a part of the ultra wide band communication to the Crazyflie when ranging. 

In the current Loco Positioning Node firmware, configuration changes and firmware updates are a bit cumbersome as it requires a few different external software packages. Further more different tools are needed depending on the OS of the host. To simplify this process we are working on a LPS-tool that will enable the user to configure and update the nodes using a GUI with clear feedback on the progress. The tool is written in python and the intention is that it will work on all our supported platforms.

We hope these improvements will lead to a positioning system that is easy to use and will enable all you people out there to do awesome stuff! As always, feedback is welcome.

We have spent most of our time working on the two way ranging in the Loco Positioning system lately, mainly on features that are not directly related to the actual ranging but such as making it easier to configure and upgrade the anchors. As a result we have not exercised the TDoA mode in a while, so on our Fun Friday we wanted to play a bit with that and try to fly a small swarm with some sort of coordinated autonomous flight.

Setup

We have a Loco Positioning system set up in the basement, we call it the flight lab to make it sound more fancy! The setup has been 6 anchors with three anchors in the ceiling and three on the floor, configured as triangles pointing in opposite directions. When using two way ranging that is fine as the positioning works pretty well outside the volume defined by the anchors. For TDoA on the other hand, the accuracy of the estimated position degrades rapidly when you go outside the convex hull. We decided to add two more anchors (to a total of eight) and arrange them as the corners of a box. A few hours and mounting/cabling later we were ready to try it out.

We modified the swarmSequence script to suite my (limited) space and set it up to fly four Crazyflies in a square, moving them to the next corner of the square every 5 seconds. Next problem was to find 4 working Crazyflies and Loco Positioning decks. We have a few Crazyflies lying around but a fair number of them have been modified in one way or another but finally we had the hardware we needed and could run the script. After a couple of failed tries (out of battery and such) we shot this video

Lessons learned

So what did we learn from this exercise? Adding two more anchors and changing anchor positions improved the positioning significantly. We have seen earlier that TDoA is less accurate than two way ranging, but better anchor positions reduces the problem. We could also fly the swarm using our example python script (not using ROS) without too much work and trouble, even though the TDoA mode still is very experimental.

In this flight we used the stock controller and just moved the set point to the next desired position for each copter. We are really looking forward to try out the improved controller and trajectory planning that we showed at Fosdem in combination with the TDoA mode, we think it will improve the performance a lot!

So you have opened your Christmas present and found your long wished-for Crazyflie. Congratulations! Or maybe you have had your Crazyflie for a while and want to play with it during the holidays? In this blog post we will give you some pointers on where to find information and inspiration.

 

Getting started

You can find all our getting started guides in the “Tutorials” menu on www.bitcraze.io. Take a look at “Getting started with the Crazyflie 2.0” to see how to assemble the kit and take off for your first flight. If you have an expansion deck you will also find a guide for how to install it.

Development

When you are comfortable flying the Crazyflie you might feel that it is time for the next step, to make use of the flexibility of the platform. After all it is designed to be modified!

Check out the “Getting started with development” tutorial to set up your development environment, build your first custom firmware and download it to the copter.

Maybe you want to add a sensor or some other hardware? Heat up your soldering iron and dive in to it! Find more information about the expansion bus on the wiki. The wiki is the place to look for all product and project documentation.

All source code is hosted on github.com/bitcraze and this is also where you will find documentation related to each repository. 

Projects

Looking for inspiration for a project? Take a look at hackster.io or read our blog postsThe video gallery contains some really cool stuff as well as our You Tube channel.

Contribute!

Open source is about sharing, creating something awesome together and contribute to the greater good! Whenever you do something that you think someone else could benefit from, please contribute it! If you were curious or confused about something, someone else probably will too. Help them by sharing your thoughts, insights and discoveries.

Why not

Need help?

Can not find the solution to a problem? Don’t understand how or what to do? Have you read all documentation and are still confused? Don’t worry, head over to the forum and check if someone else had the same problem. If not, ask a new question on the forum and get help from the community.

Happy hacking!