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One of the pain points when setting up the Loco Positioning system is to measure the anchor positions and enter them into the system. I wanted to see if I could automate this task and let the system calculate the positions, and if so understand what kind of precision to expect. I have spent a few Fun Fridays playing with this problem and this is what I have found so far.

The problem can be broken down into two parts:
1. How to calculate the anchor positions. What data is required?
2. How to define the coordinate system. To make it useful the user must to be able to define the coordinate system in a simple way.

Anchor and ruler

How to calculate the anchor positions

The general idea of how to calculate the anchor positions is to set up a system of equations describing the distances between the anchors and/or the Crayzflie and solve for the anchor positions. The equations will be non linear and the (possibly naive) plan is to use the Gauss Newton method to solve the system.

To understand how to calculate the anchor positions we must first take a look at the data that is available. The Loco Positioning system can be run in two different modes: Two Way ranging (default mode) and TDoA.

Two way ranging

In the Two Way ranging mode we measure the distance between each anchor and the Crazyflie and to get enough data we must record ranging data for multiple positions. The anchor positions are unknown, and for each new Crazyflie position we add yet a new unknown position, on the other hand we measure the ranges to the anchors so these are knowns. 

The equations used are simply to calculate the distance between the assumed position of each anchor and the Crazyflie and then subtracting it from the measured distance.

TDoA

In TDoA we measure the Time Difference of Arrival, that is the difference in distance to two anchors from the Crazyflie’s position. It is probably possible to use this information, but I was looking for a different solution here. In our new TDoA implementation that we have been playing with a bit, we get the distance between all anchors (calculated in the anchors) as a side effect. 

In this case the Crazflie is not really needed and the equations describe the distance between assumed anchor positions versus measured distances.

How to define the coordinate system

To get a useable positioning system, the coordinate system must be well defined and oriented in a practical direction. For example when writing a script you probably want (0, 0, 0) to be at some specific spot, the X-axis pointing in a certain direction, the Z-axis to point up and so on. My initial idea was to use the anchors to define the coordinate system, use anchor 0 as (0, 0, 0), let the X-axis pass through anchor 1 and so on. Just by looking at our flight lab I realised that this would be too limiting and decided that the coordinate system should be completely disconnected from the anchor positions, but still easy to define. I also realised that a really good way to tell the system about the desired coordinate system would be to move the Crazyflie around in space to show what you want. The solution is to place the Crazyflie at certain positions and click a button to record data at these positions. The steps I have chosen are:

  1. Place the Crazyflie at (0, 0, 0)
  2. Place the Crazyflie on the X-axis, X > 0
  3. Place the Crazyflie in the XY-plane, Y > 0
  4. Move the Crazyflie around in the space with continuous recording of data

In this scheme the XY-plane is typically the floor.

Results

I have written basic implementations for both the Two Way ranging and TDoA modes and they seem to work reasonably well in simulations. I have also tested the Two Way ranging algorithm in our flight lab with mixed results. The solution converged in most cases but not always. When converging the estimated anchor positions ended up in the right region but some were off by up to a meter. Finally I did run the algorithm and fed the result into the system and managed to fly using the estimated positions which I find encouraging.

I will continue to work on this as a Friday Fun project and maybe it will make its way into the client code base at some point in the future? There are probably better ways to estimate the anchor positions and more clever algorithms, feel free to share them in the comments.

 

 

A few weeks ago we wrote about a new prototype that we call “the obstacle avoidance deck”. Basically it’s a deck fitted with multiple VL53L0x ToF distance sensors that measures the distance front/back, right/left and up of the Crazyflie 2.0. Combined with the Flow deck this gives you an X/Y/Z robot that you can program fly around avoiding obstacles which doesn’t need any external positioning system.

After implementing firmware support for the deck (see #253 and #254) we’ve finally had a chance to do some initial testing, see the video below. In the current implementation we’re doing the measurements in the firmware but using the logging framework to get all the distances into a Python script which does the movement control. Since we have the Flow deck attached we can control the Crazyflie 2.0 in velocity mode, which means we can say things like “Go forward with 0.5 m/s until the forward sensor shows a distance lower than 50cm” or “Go forward 1 m/s for 1s and rotate to measure the distance to all objects”. Since there’s no real-time requirements we can move the complexity of the algorithm from the firmware into external scripting which makes it a lot easier to develop. Now we’re really eager to start setting up obstacle courses and time how fast we can move though them ๐Ÿ™‚

The results from the testing shows that our two main concerns aren’t an issue: The sensors doesn’t seem to interfere with each other and we can sample them all at high-enough frequency without occupying the bus too heavily (currently we’re doing 20Hz). The next step is figuring out the requirements (i.e how many VL53L0x sensors are needed, do we really need the back one?) and a mechanical solution for attaching the sensors in production. If there’s any feedback let us know now and we’ll try to get it into the design. Also, we really need a new name for the board. Any suggestions?

A long time ago we got a request for a bright LED deck from a community member. When working with high powered leds heat becomes a problem that needs to be taken into account. From the community member we got suggestions of using one of the luxeon rebel leds and so we did. We designed a prototype pretty quickly but also realized that it is a bit harder than we first thought. If using a simple control scheme such as PWM and a mosfet the circuit is simple but brightness will be effected by battery voltage. Using a dedicated LED driver the brightness would be stable but the circuit more complicated and expensive. Trying to list the pros and cons:

MOSFET
+ Low complexity
+ Low cost
+ High efficiency
– varying brightness depending on battery voltage
– Might stress LED (could be solved with low ohm resistor)

LED driver
+ Stable brightness
+ Not as high efficiency (~80%)
– Higher cost
– Higher complexity

We ended up trying booth. The LED driver design failed due to that the battery voltage needed to be lower than the LED voltage + schottky and it is just in the middle. The PWM design half failed since the LED anode and cathode was swapped in the design but was possible to patch afterward. So at least we got something up and running.

The effect is very nice and it is what we used for the wedding show. The question now is, is this something we should finish and put in the store?

It was inevitable. At some point we needed to do a drone show of our own and wouldn’t the best occasion be on one of our coworkers wedding party! Well we have done demos before on maker fairs and conferences but never a one time show. This time we also had the possibility to collaborate with an acrobat, namely Arnauds brother, Adrien. Perfect match! The only problem was that we only had one day to pull something off and no possibility to rehearse anything with Adrien before the live show. Probably a piece of cake for a true artist such as Adrien but for newbies like us it was definitely increasing the stakes. There was no time to wank about that but better to get our hands dirty.

We wanted to create a choreography with a Crazyflie interacting with Adrien as he did some awesome acrobatics. The Crayzflie should be clearly visible with lights and we wanted it all to be synchronized to music. The final requirement was to minimize the equipment required since the wedding was abroad and we did not want to carry too much equipment.

We decided to use the Loco positioning system as a base to be able to do scripted flight and chose Two Way Ranging to reduce the number of anchors needed. We used only four anchors arranged as a 3×3 m square, three of them on the floor and the fourth 1.5 meters up on a tripod. Two Way Ranging works very well outside of the convex hull (which is really small in this case) but with the drawback that we only could position one Crazyflie – no swarm show.
For the visibility we used a prototype deck with a high intensity LED pointing downwards.

Photo by Eric Cunha

Again to minimize the equipment we decided to pre-program the sequence in the Crazyflie and put a start button on it to run the sequence. The piece of music to be used (composed by the groom during the bachelor party) was about one and a half minute long and the idea was to start the music and the sequence manually at exactly the same time and let them run without any further synchronisation.

We based our purpose built firmware on the demo code from ICRA earlier this year. It contained the sequencing but we had to add functionality to control the LED. We wrote a python script that generated data for the sequence that could be pasted into the firmware. A button was soldered on top of the Loco Positioning Deck and connected to a GPIO pin to be used as a start button.

We are engineers and not choreographers but after some trial and error we managed to create a sequence with light that was synchronized to the music. The overall idea was to start the Crazyflie on the floor in the center of the space, go out into the audience during the intro and turn on the light over Adrian (that was carefully positioned on the correct spot) and guide him onto the “stage”. While Adrien improvised acrobatics on the floor the Crazyflie circled around and above him with flashing lights. At the end of the music the procedure was reversed and the Crazyflie guided him back into the crowd and landed quietly in the center of the stage.

Photo by Eric Cunha

After dinner when it was time for the show we set up the positioning system and the crowd gathered. The first two attempts failed as it turned out that the ceiling of the venue was lower than expected and the Crazyflie hit a beam! What to do? We had a pre-programmed sequence that was going too high! We simply moved the anchors 30 cm away from each other and “stretched” the space to trick the Positioning system a bit. We had not tried this before and live hacking is a bit stressful, but we were possibly strengthened by one or two glasses of wine ๐Ÿ™‚

The third attempt was almost perfect with an incredible performance by Adrien! Phhuuu and what a success on the third attempt. Heart failure was close but did not kill us this time! ๐Ÿ™‚ Maybe this is why we stay away from live shows and rather sitt down in a dark basement coding :-).

At any given time we have a bunch of deck ideas floating around. Some of them might not be doable (or very hard), but still fun to discuss. Other we just never get around to since we’re always pressed for time. The “obstacle avoidance” deck is one of the latter ones.

The idea with the “obstacle avoidance” deck (current working name in lack of imagination) is to mount one of the VL53L0x ToF distance sensors, the same we have on the Z-ranger and the Flow deck, in each direction. This would allow you to keep a distance to the ground, avoid the walls (or any other obstacles you might fly into) and also keep away from the ceiling. Basically you could do a “turtle bot” that just flies around randomly without crashing. Another fun idea we’ve been discussing is being able to SLAM the room you’re flying in. If you can keep track of how you are moving around (with the Flow deck, Loco positioning system or any other means) while you’re measuring the distance on all sides you could make a map of the room.

After discussing this on and off for a some time, mainly focusing on mechanical and production issues of the design, we decided to just try out the concept with a simple prototype. The prototype, named “OA”, has daughter boards with VL53L0x sensors mounted front/back, left/right as well as one sensor facing up. It’s designed to be mounted on the top of the Crazyflie 2.0 and combined with the Flow deck which will give relative movement and also the sixth direction, distance to the floor. One of the issues with the design is that all the VL53L0x sensors are on the same I2C bus with the same address. To work around this the sensor has a nifty feature where you can re-program the I2C address. For this to work you need to release the reset of the sensors one by one: release the first reset, reprogram the address and then release the reset of the next sensor. The reset for the VL53L0x is not cabled on the Flow deck, so this is the first to be re-programmed. Then the reset will be released one-by-one for the sensors on the OA deck. In order to control the reset pins on the deck there’s a 8bit I2C GPIO expander. The reason for the GPIO expander is to use as few GPIOs on the deck connector as possible to keep the compatibility with other decks high. For instance the deck will work fine with the Loco positioning deck.

 

The goal with the prototype is to try out the concept of the deck and to see if it’s feasible. A few of the things we need to sort out is:

  • Mechanical solution for side senors (front, back, left and right)
  • Interference between sensors
  • Update rate when we have 6 sensors on the same bus which we might have to run one-by-one to avoid interference

The current status is that we’ve verified the electronics and written the I2C GPIO expander drivers to test all the sensors. The next step is to work on a new VL53L0x driver to allow multiple sensors running at the same time, which will force some refactoring of the firmware.  Once we’ve made some more progress we’ll do another post and report the results. If you have any feedback on the design/concept or have any ideas of what the deck could be useful for, don’t hesitate to drop a comment below.

Las week we announced that we released the Flow Breakout board. During the week we also played a bit with the board and the outcome is a hackster project that describes how to make a Touchless Mouse using the flow breakout.

The idea is that we can detect the proximity of the hand with the ranging sensor contained in the flow breakout and detect how the hand is moving with the optical flow sensor. The flow sensor is very similar to an optical mouse sensor so we are just inverting the concept to move the environment (the hand) instead of moving the flow sensor against a table. Using an Arduino Leonardo our hack is recognized as a regular mouse by any computer.

As a result, it works quite well but it requires some training to get the mouse to go where we want. We would not use this as our regular pointing device any time soon but we think is a nice example of what can be achieved with the flow breakout board:

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 are proud to announce that the Flow breakout board is available in our store!

The Flow breakout board is built around the Pixart PMW3901 optical flow tracking sensor and the ST VL53L0x ranging sensor and measures motion in 3 dimensions. We have used the same sensors in the Flow deck which is used by the Crazyflie drone for autonomous flight, but we thought that the functionality is so awesome that we developed the Flow breakout and made it compatible with Arduino to make it easy to use. With the Flow breakout it is possible create applications such as motion tracking of a robot, counting people entering a room or gesture tracking.

When you get your Flow breakout, follow the getting started guide to quickly get up and going by hooking it up to an Arduino and measure motion.

In the following weeks we are going to make a couple of Hackster project around the Flow breakout board so stay tuned for more motion tracking!

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.

 

 

The Crazyflie, the original one, usually called Crazyflie 1 to avoid confusion, was the first commercially available open source nano quadcopter back in 2013. After getting feedback on the platform and having a lot of ideas of things that could be improved, we developed the Crazyflie 2.0 during 2014 and released the same fall. We decided we wanted to keep full backward compatibility with Crazyflie 1, both in the firmware project and in the different clients and support libraries even though we now had more processing power and RAM.

But during the last year we’ve almost exclusively been adding functionality that is Crazyflie 2.0 specific, while still trying to stay inside the constraints of the Crazyflie 1. We’ve also seen a decline in the discussions and interest of the Crazyflie 1. So this week when we once again broke the build because we run out of RAM in the Crazyflie 1, we decided to remove the Crazyflie 1 support from the Crazyflie firmware project. It’s of course with a heavy heart we do this, but we feel that in order for the Crazyflie 2.0 to move forward it’s a must. The last release that’s compatible with the Crazyflie 1 is 2017.6.

But if you’re still using the Crazyflie 1, don’t worry we’re not completely dropping it, we will continue to carry spare parts and if anyone wants to continue firmware development we will be happy to assist. If anyone is motivated, the code can be branched from the last release and we could make a new repository to host the Crazyflie 1 code.