Author: Marcus

We’re happy to announce that the Multiranger and the STEM ranging bundle are now available! The Multiranger deck gives lots of exciting new possibilities when it comes to navigation and classroom activities. One of the features is that you can work with the Crazyflie more without getting into the hardcore control algorithms. Some ideas we’ve had are:

  • Working on algorithms for autonomously driving obstacle courses
  • Scanning rooms and environments and mapping them out (like below)
  • Creating fun applications like airhocky or ping ping where you can play around with the Crazyflie

We’re still working on a nice video for presenting the product (like the STEM bundle video) but until it’s finished here’s a screenshot of using the STEM ranging bundle to map out a small course.

If you want to try out some of the Multiranger deck demos they are available in the example directory of the crazyflie-lib-python project (note they require the Flow deck as well):

  • multiranger_push.py: When the application in launched the Crazyflie will take off and hover. If anything is getting close to the right/left/front/back sensors the Crazyflie will move in the opposite direction. 
  • multiranger_pointcloud.py: When the application is launched the Crazyflie will take off, hover and a 3D-plot will be shown of what is detected by the Multiranger deck sensors. By default the left/right/front/back/up sensors will be plotted, but you can also add the Crazyflie position and the down sensor if you like. The Crazyflie can be moved around by using the arrow keys on the keyboard and w/s for up/down and a/d for rotating CCW/CW. For more info see the documentation in the example.

If you have any other ideas that might be cool to try, make sure to leave them in the comments below!

During the fall there’s been a lot of things going on in production. Like we wrote a couple of weeks ago we’re releasing lots of new hardware during the fall and in the meantime we’re of course continuing to manufacture batches of the previous products. Unfortunately things don’t always run smoothly as one would hope. We’ve hit a few bumps in the road and we wanted to share the latest status so you know what’s going on. As always the times stated below are our current best estimate, but we’re expecting the current issues to be sorted out within a couple of weeks.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Crazyflie 2.0 / Battery charger kits (with battery)

Due to an issue with battery sourcing the last batch has been delayed for some time. This has now finally been solved and a both of these products should be available within a few weeks, and with them the bundles that depend on them (like the Swarm bundle).

Flow deck v2

Shortly after shipping the first units customers noticed issues due to the deck connector not fully connecting all the pins. After investigating this with our manufacturer we’ve found the source of the problem: The test rig where the final testing is done was actually deforming the metallic connectors inside the female connector on some of the units. Right now the factory is re-working the effected units and as soon as they are finished we will stock the deck again. Unfortunately there’s no update yet to when the re-worked decks will be available, but we’re estimating a couple of weeks. We will contact the customers that have gotten faulty boards shortly and organize a replacement.

Multi-ranger

Finally the multi-ranger deck has been manufactured and is undergoing final testing. The deck should be available within a couple of weeks.

 

 

The last couple of weeks has been really intense since we’ve been busy preparing for IROS. Finally it’s here, and with it we’re releasing a few new products!

We’re excited to announce that during the fall we will be releasing the following new products:

  • Crazyflie 2.1: The Crazyflie 2.0 was released almost 4 years ago now. Over the years there’s been thousands of users and lots of feedback on the product. Most of it great, but there’s been a few things we’ve wanted to fix. Now with the updated 2.1 version we finally have the chance to do it. Here’s a quick list of the updates:
    • Better radio performance and external antenna support: With a new radio power amplifier we’ve improved the link quality and added support for dual antennas (on-board chip antenna and external antenna via u.FL connector)
    • Better power button: We’ve gotten feedback that the power button breaks too easily, so now we’ve replaced with a more solid alternative.
    • Improved battery cable fastening: To avoid weakening of the cables over time they are now run through a cable relief.
    • Improved sensors: To make the flight performance better we’ve switched out the IMU and pressure sensor. The new Crazyflie uses the drone specialized sensor combo BMI088 and BMP388 by Bosch Sensortech.
  • Flow deck v2: The Flow deck has been upgraded with the new ST VL53L1x which increases the range up to 4 meters
  • Z-ranger deck v2: The Z-ranger deck has been upgraded with the new ST VL53L1x which increases the range up to 4 meters
  • Multi-ranger deck: Finally the Multi-ranger deck is currently in production and will be available during the fall!
  • Mocap deck: The motion capture deck with support for easily attaching markers
  • “Roadrunner” (alpha): With TDoA3 to be included in the next firmware release we’re happy to release one of our LPS tags code named “Roadrunner”. The hardware is basically a Crazyflie 2.1 without motors and up to 12V input power.

In the upcoming weeks we’ll post more details about the products and when they will be available, so stay tuned!

We should also mention that we will showing off some awesome prototypes of products that are planned to be released next year, among them:

  • “RZR”: The long awaited Crazyflie + BigQuad stand-alone combo code-named “RZR” is making it’s way into production and we are aiming to release it during the beginning of 2019. Basically it’s a Crazyflie 2.1 where instead of motors you can directly connect ESCs to build bigger quads up to around 0.5kg.
  • Lighthouse deck: Our current prototype is now flying with both Lighthouse 1.0 and 2.0 and the performance is awesome! This is definitely the next product out the door after the list above and we’re aiming at having it available during the spring.
  • Raspberry Pi Zero power deck: This deck allows you to add a Raspberry Pi Zero to the Crazyflie 2.x and the “RZR”.
  • LPS tag: We’ve shown this tag before but now we’ve updated it to use the Crazyflie 2.1 IMU and to have proper mounting holes. We’re getting closer to release and this will hopefully be available during the spring.

During IROS this week we will be showing off all the products above (including the prototypes). So if you want to be one of the first to check them out drop by our booth nr 91.

E-store

Like we’ve mentioned a few times before it’s not always easy shipping batteries. Due to this we’ve unfortunately had to switch off checkouts containing batteries to some countries (like Canada, Australia and India). We’ve finally found a workaround for this, so today we’ve switched from using DHL to using FedEx in our E-store. As a positive side-effect of this most customers will also benefit from lower shipping rates on their orders. As always if there’s any issues with shipping or ordering please let us know and we’ll do our best to sort it out.

Loco node Rev.E

After receiving feedback from some customers that the micro-USB connector on the Loco nodes broke we’ve decided to update the design. So in the coming weeks we will start phasing in the new revision (Rev.E) of the Loco node and phasing out the old one (Rev.D). Aside from the updated micro-USB connector we’ve also connected more spare pins to the expansion connector on the board. For full details on the schematic changes have a look at the the Rev.E schematics over on the wiki. As a side-note it’s worth mentioning that the first batch of Rev.E Loco nodes have a dark blue silkscreen instead of the standard Bitcraze black silkscreen, this will be updated in future batches.

After a couple of chaotic months of warehouse and logistics issues we’re now almost back on track! As noted before we’re now shipping orders from our E-store directly from our office in Sweden and we’ve now restocked all the products (except for old CF1 spare parts which are coming).

One of the few issues we have left to solve is with shipping orders containing batteries to Canada, India and Australia. Unfortunately we’ve had lots of issues so we’ve temporarily had to block orders containing batteries to these countries. So during checkout if you have products containing batteries and the shipping country is one of the above, you will not get any shipping quotes and will therefore be unable to check out. Orders without batteries, like LPS products will pass the checkout just fine. We have found a solution for this and we’re working on implementing it, so bare with us it should soon be fixed!

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

A lot of awesome things have been going on at Bitcraze during the last couple of months (like TDoA3, Swarm shows and a new front page), but on the logistics side we’ve been struggling. Like we wrote a couple of weeks ago we’ve been having huge issues with out 3rd party warehouse supplier. Unfortunately the issues have continued and we’ve been working hard on patching things together to get orders to our customers as soon as possible, but it’s not a sustainable situation and some of our customers have unfortunately had to wait too long for their orders to arrive.

So a couple of weeks ago we took the decision to move handling of the E-store from the 3rd party in Hong Kong to our office in Sweden. This will initially mean more work for us, but we feel that it’s something we need to do in order to keep the level of service we want to give our customers. So for the time being orders will be shipped from our office in Sweden.

So what does this mean in practice? Except for things hopefully working much more smoothly there won’t be any noticeable change for non-EU customers. However for EU customers there’s a big improvement: previously our EU customers had to import the products into the EU where the orders where subject to VAT and import duties. With the E-store moved to Sweden these orders are now subject to Swedish VAT (25%) directly on the order and customers will not have to import the goods so no additional VAT or duties are added upon receiving the order. Since this makes things easier and faster for our EU customers we’re really happy about this. Note that for customers with valid EU VAT numbers the VAT can be deducted directly in the E-store, you can either enter your VAT number directly in the cart or in your account if you have created one.

We’re doing our best to sort out the new situation and if there’s any issues along the way please let us know so we can work on fixing them.

 

Things are moving fast here at Bitcraze and we have lots of exciting things going on. So it’s time to grow the team and try to add one or two new team-members to increase the tempo and bring more awesome products to our customers. The normal case might be that you would post a job ad describing what kind of skill-set potential new members should have, but we would like to try something different. So today we added a jobs page describing a bit about how we work and what we do. Our goal is to give a picture of what it’s like to work at Bitcraze and try to find individuals who like what we do and how we work. If you would be interested in joining the team let us know on jobs@bitcraze.io who you are, what you like and how you think you could contribute.

Something we seldom write about on the blog is production and supply chain. It’s a big part of what we do, both in time and business wise. Even though we spend most of our time on firmware/software we’re actually only selling hardware. So this blog-post is about how we’ve set this up and the problems we’ve been facing the last month due to our 3rd party warehouse moving to a new location.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

The current set-up

Currently we’re using Seeedstudio for our manufacturing. They do varying batch sizes, but most of the batches we produce are between 300 and 2000 units. We’ve been experimenting a bit with varying size of batches, too large and you tie up too much funds in stock while with smaller batches you spend most of you’re time tending to manufacturing. Another issue with large batches are things like battery shelve life and changing market (i.e suddenly some parts are EOL or have been replaced when it’s time for the next batch).  Finding a good level for different products depending on production cost, complexity and shelf-life is tricky.

After production the goods are moved to a number of warehouses. Part of the goods are warehoused at Seeedstudio, part of them are sent to our 3rd party warehouse in Hong Kong serviced by Shipwire and a small amount is sent to our office for testing/development/customers. The products in Seeedstudio’s warehouses services a number of distributors though their wholesale channels as well as end-users though their Bazaar. We service our E-store though Shipwire in Hong Kong and a few customer though our Swedish office.

Scaling up

Since the end of last year we’ve seen an increase of sales, which we are of course really happy about! More sales will mean more resources for development which translates into more awesome products and features for everyone. The problem is that it takes time to scale up the supply chain on the back. Today we have have 27 SKUs and 7 bundle SKUs “virtually” made out of combining products into bundles. Out the 27 SKUs we control the manufacturing of 17 SKUs (like PCBs and plastic parts) and 5 SKUs are things we buy (like the USB-cable). Typically the lead time for simpler products is 1 month and more complex products 2 months, with an additional lead-time of at least a week to reach our Hong Kong warehouse and become available in the E-store. Creating bundles by “virtually” tying together a number of products is great since it gives us more flexibility but if one of the bundled SKUs is out of stock the bundle will also be our of stock.

Controlling this complex situation while scaling up for larger sales has proved challenging, also when everything works as expected (see below). Most of our customers have gotten their things in time, but we’ve had to put a lot of hours into juggling products around between warehouses to make it happen.

Warehouse issues

Back in February we were notified by Shipwire that they would be moving the operation to a new warehouse in Shenzhen/Hong Kong. The timeline that was communicated was that the inventory would be offline 3rd – 6th of April. This might seem optimistic for a warehouse that is  about 10 000 m2, but since they have a large amount of warehouses around the globe we assumed they would pull this off. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, a number of factors played in to delay the move. Since the first week of delays the expected timeline has been “next week”, which unfortunately hasn’t held. Finally we’re at a point where our old inventory has been moved into the new warehouse and is available. The next problem we’re facing is getting our incoming goods into the inventory, which is currently expected to be finished by the end of this week. To say the least we’re unhappy about this situation, but unfortunately we have had very little control. We don’t have a large number of products available in any other warehouse so we haven’t been able to “switch over” to another solution. We’ve done our best to keep the effected customers updated on the situation and calling support every day to get an update.

Moving forward

We’re a small team of 5 people and we’ve always been most focused on product development. It’s what we like to do and it’s what we’re best at. So an easy way forward would be to pay someone else to handle all of the above. Unfortunately this has proven to be tricky for us. Basically handing over everything that generates revenue for our company to someone else is a huge risk, to say the least. So we’ve realized that this has to be a central part of what we do, just like development. This was the main reason for starting our own E-store last year and it’s something we’re continuously working on improving.

Moving forward the overall goal is to minimize the work spent on production and stock management while making sure to not run out of stock or tie up all our funds in stock. We think that one key to this is being proactive instead of reactive. So we have integrated this into our daily work just as much as development. Next to the “development” board with stories/tasks we have an even bigger kanban board with production/logistics/warehouses and it’s something that is constantly part of the planning/status meetings. We’ve also been gearing up for producing batches of popular products more often and increasing the batch sizes to meet the increased demand and to lower the risk of being out of stock. The last part is an internal system we’ve been developing during the last couple of years that keeps track of stock, production, customer shipments and stats in general. More on this in a future blog-post!

It’s time for an update on the Multi-ranger deck (see previous updates here: 1, 2, 3). Back in February/March we were just about to start the production of the Multi-ranger deck when the new VL51L1 ToF sensor from ST became available. Among the interesting features for the new sensor is increased range and ROI (region of interest) settings. We felt that the improvement was enough to consider using the new sensor for the Multi-ranger so we got some sensors and started testing.

Point cloud

We’ve made a little example where you can control the Crazyflie with a keyboard (using velocity mode) that records estimated position, body attitude and all the distances (down/up, left/right, front/back) from the ToF sensors. We then did some post-processing of the log data and plotted it using pyntcloud, you can see the results in the point cloud. There are still lots of possible improvements (like taking body attitude into consideration) to be made on the script, but once we’ve cleaned it up a bit we’ll publish it on GitHub so others can play around with it. Note that in the plot the blue points are up/down sensors (i.e Crazyflie movement) and the red points are the side sensors (front/back/left/right).

The room that was mapped

So far we’re happy with the results. We feel that the increased range and new features enables users to work on more interesting problems with the deck, so we’ve decided to switch our the sensors and go to production with the new one. Right now we’re running a 0-series of 10 units using the real production manufacturing fixture (for the standing PCBs with sensors) as well as the production test rig. Our best estimate for when the deck will become available for purchase is some time during the summer. Below is a picture of the latest prototype. We’ll make sure to keep you updated on the progress!

Warehouse issues

On an additional note we’re having some issues with our warehouse provider which ships out orders from our E-store. In the beginning of the month the provider hade scheduled a move of the warehouse to a new physical location which would delay handling of orders for max a week. Unfortunately the move, which should have been finished mid last week, is still in progress which means we can’t ship out any orders for the moment. We’re working hard on trying to work this out with the provider.

During the fall we did two blog-posts (12) about a new prototype named Obstacle Avoidance/SLAM deck, but since then it’s been a bit quiet about it. So we thought it was due for an update! First of all, after a lot of discussions, we decided to rename the deck to Multi-ranger. It better describes what the board does and matches the naming of the Z-ranger. We’ve sent out some samples to customers and so far the response has been great. So we’re pushing forward and preparing for production that’s estimated to begin in March. Below is a picture of the latest prototype.

The biggest change for the final prototype is adding a LDO regulator to power the sensors. We’ve seen that depending on the settings for the sensors they might consume a lot more than when we initially tested. Using the same settings as for the Z-ranger brings the consumption to 90 mA, which together with the Crazyflie 2.0 electronics, comes close to filling the power budget for the Crazyflie 2.0 VCC LDO regulator. Aside from that we’re making some minor changes to simplify production and testing.

We’ll keep you updated on the progress!