Category: Electronic

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.

We are working hard in the Bitcraze team to prepare and get ready for IROS 2018 in Madrid next week. As usual preparing for fairs and exhibitions make us add useful features and functionality that we might not had planned to implement but that we find useful or need. Even though some of it might be a bit hackish, most of it will add value to the project and will hopefully be useful to the community. Notable functionality that we are working on this time: 

  • design for a 3D-printable charging pad
  • basic support for the experimental Light House deck
  • support for the high level commander in the python lib
  • “app” for autonomous flying running in the Crazyflie

Charging pads

The plan is to fly a small crazyswarm with 6 Crazyflies using a motion capture system from Qualisys. Since we want to spend as much time as possible talking to people and minimize setup time, we were looking for a solution to automatically recharge the batteries between flights. We are planning to use Qi-charger decks for contact less charging with 3D-printed landing pads with slopes to make the Crazyflies slide into the correct charging position even if they land a few millimetres off. 

The Light House deck

Even though the Light House deck hardware still is very much experimental we have started to add support for it in the Crazyflie firmware. Hopefully we will be able to run our demos using either LPS or the Lighthouse to show the difference in performance.

Support for the high level commander in the python lib

The high level commander was contributed by Wolfgang Hoenig and James Alan Preiss (thanks!) an has been available in the Crazyflie firmware for a while. In an environment with positioning support it provides high level commands such as “take off” and “go to” as well as flying user defined trajectories and is used by Crazyswarm. We wanted to use the same functionality in our demo but running it stand alone in the firmware. The easiest way to get acquainted with the functionality was to play with it from python and as a side effect we implemented the API in the python lib for anyone to use. There is also an example script called autonomous_sequence_high_level.py in the examples directory.

App for autonomous flight

For ICRA last year we wrote code in the Crazyflie firmware to fly trajectories autonomously. At that point we simply fed setpoints to the PID controller to make the Crazyflie follow a preprogrammed path. Now we have more tools in the Crazyflie toolbox (the high level commander and the Mellinger controller) and by using them we have reduced the amount of code needed and complexity of the solution while the performance has been improved (code on github). 

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.

Ever since the Raspberry-pi zero was released we wanted to find-out what it would take to fly one with the Crazyflie 2.0. One immediate issue is the size and weight of the R-Pi-Zero. It is just a bit to big and heavy to make it work without modifying the Crazyflie 2.0. Also it requires 5V power which is something the Crazyflie 2.0 doesn’t provide if USB isn’t connected. Actually the R-Pi-Zero works well down to ~3.6V but this is still too high to reliably run directly from a single LiPo cell. So to begin with we created a Raspberry Pi Zero power deck. It is reusing the same step-up/step-down (STBB1) as used on the LED-ring to make things simple and the output is set to 3.8V. Other than that the UART and the I2C interfaced has been connected so that the raspberry pi zero could control the Crazyflie.

The raspberry pi zero would then be soldered to the deck with 0.1″ header pins. The result can be seen below and the power part works well. We chose to solder the deck header pins to the deck, instead of using the female deck connectors, to make it more sturdy. Another thing we did was fitting a Pi-camera using a 3D printed mounting bracket we designed. We think this is one of the interesting use cases, to run computer vision or maybe neural networks :-).

Well unfortunately this only solves the first part, powering the R-Pi-Zero from the Crazyflie 2.0. Next step will be to modify the Crazyflie 2.0 with bigger motors/props so that is can carry it for a decent time. So story to be continued…

We have been thinking for a while about making a Crazyflie control board that could be used to make a bigger quadcopter using the Crazyflie firmware and deck. This idea has materialized in the Crazyflie RZR project.

The Crazyflie RZR is a quadcopter controller board based on the Crazyflie design, as pointed if our previous blog post, it is intending to bring the strength of the CF2 but in a little bit bigger package :-). It runs the Crazyflie firmware and feature the Crazyflie 2.0 deck port. It is capable of driving brush-less motor controller and has an uFL port for an external 2.4GHz antenna. It also contains the new quadcopter-optimized Bosch BMI088 IMU. We have made some progress lately on the Crazyflie RZR, we have just got the first initial sample from the manufacturer shown in the picture above.

We are not sure yet when the RZR will be in the shop, but the project is definitely going forward. We will keep posting information about the project as it develop. 

We already wrote in a previous blog post that we where working on a Lighthouse positioning receiver deck for the Crazyflie 2.0. In this post we will describe a bit what has been the development process so far for this deck as it is an example of how to develop with the Crazyflie. Basically, our way of working often is to try to get one things working after another, this is what we have done here: we start from a hack and then we replace hardware and software pieces one after the other to make sure we always have one half (hardware of software) we can relie on.

The lighthouse deck started as a Fun Friday project, and as such we usually want to hack something together to see if the idea can work. So I looked around the web to get some information as of how to receive the lighthouse positioning signals and decode it. I found the vive-diy-position-sensor GitHub project by ashtuchkin. The project describe the schematic and contains the software for a Teensy board to receive a lighthouse 1.0 signal and calculate the position of the receiver. I went forward and cabled the circuit on a Crazyflie prototyping deck and attached a Teensy board to another prototyping deck. The idea is to install these two board above and bellow a Crazyflie:

Discreet-component Lighthouse receiver

Teensy to decode the lighthouse signals

The signal from the lighthouse receiver goes to the Teensy, then the serial port of the Teensy is connected to the serial port of the Crazyflie. As a first approach the Teensy was configured and we could get the position data using the Teensy USB port. When everything was working correctly I could implement a small deck driver in the Crazyflie to receive the position and push it in the Kalman filter. This way I could get a Crazyflie 2.0 flying in lighthouse with minimal firmware work.

The obvious next step was to get rid of the Teensy, this was done by implementing the lighthouse pulse acquisition and interpretation in the Crazyflie. Once that was done, we could make our own deck. Instead of using op-amp we used the official receiving chip available at this time, the TS3633:

First lighthouse receiving deck prototype

This board implements up to two receiver which would allow to get the orientation as well as the Position of Crazyflie. Due to questionable soldering only one receiver has ever worked but the prototype was useful to test the concept anyway, one of the lesson learned is that the receiving angle of the two flat is not big enough to fly very high, with the two lighthouse base station near the ceiling we could only fly up to ~1.5m before loosing the signal.  We would need a microcontroller or other chip capable of acquiring the signals on the deck since the Crazyflie 2.0 deck port only has two input capable of acquiring the pulses.

At this point informations about Lighthouse 2.0, the next version of Lighthouse tracking that will allow to cover much bigger area, started appearing on the internet and a new receiver chip was release to receive the signal, the TS4231. One big difference was that Lighthouse 2.0 would transmit data in the laser carrier. The data transmitted are in the range of 1 to 10MHz dixit the TS4231 datasheet so it makes them impractical to acquire with a microcontroller. This gives us a perfect opportunity to play with the iCE40 FPGA and the icestorm open-source toolchain that has just been release. 

The result is a deck containing enough receiver to cover a much bigger flying space and an iCE40UP5K FPGA to acquire the signals sent by the lighthouse. There is already two prototype of this design: one without SPI flash, so the Crazyflie would have to embed the FPGA configuration bitstream and program it at startup and the latest one has an SPI flash so the deck can start by itself:

First FPGA-Based lighthouse deck prototype

 

Partially populated second FPGA-Based lighthouse deck prototype, now with SPI flash

As a first approach the FPGA will acquire the Lighthouse 1 pulses and send the raw timing via a serial port to the Crazyflie. The Crazyflie can then decode and interpret the pulse. I am currently playing with the idea of maybe running a picorv32 Risc-V 32 bits CPU core in the deck, this will allow to acquire and interpret the pulses in the deck and send angles to the Crazyflie, this would greatly lighten the processing load on the Crazyflie 2.0. Eventually this FPGA should be able to acquire and decode the Lighthouse 2.0 signals.

This is very much work in progress and we will write more about the Lighthouse deck when we have further results.

 

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!

It is now the first day in 2018 and a good day to look back at 2017. Its been a busy year as always and we have had a lot of fun during the year. One of the first things popping up is that things takes so much longer then we think. Luckily we are working with open source and the progression is not only dependent on us as we have awesome help from the community. We are already really excited about what’s coming in 2018, looking forward to working together with so many great people!  

Community

The Crazyflie 2.0 is still gaining attention and are becoming more and more popular among universities around the world. We see interest from researchers working with autonomous systems, control theory, multi-agent systems, swarm flight, robotics and all kinds of research fields, which is really great. This means that a lot of exciting work have been contributed by the community, so here is a small summary of what has happened in the community during the year.

In the beginning of the year the Multi-Agent Autonomous Systems Lab at Intel Labs shared how the Crazyflie 2.0 is used in their research for trajectory planning in cluttered environments. We wrote a blog post about this if you want learn more about their work. The Crazyflie showed up on the catwalk of Berlin Fashion week being part of fashion designer Maartje Dijkstras futuristic creation TranSwarm Entities”, a dress made out of 3D prints accompanied by autonomously flying Crazyflies.

For the third year Bitcraze visited Fosdem. We had a good time and got to hang out with community members like Fred how did a great presentation about what’s new in the Crazyflie galaxy. During the conference we took the opportunity to present the Loco positioning system and demo autonomous flight with the Crazyflie controlled by the Loco positioning system. In the demo we flew with the non-linear controller from Mike Hammer using trajectory generation from Marcus Greiff

We have had a few interesting blog post contributions during the year from major universities. Including a guest post written by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. The researchers are using the Crazyflie 2.0 drone to create an adaptive multi-robot system. Similar work has been done by the researchers at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT were they have been studying coordination of multiple robots, developing multi-robot path planning for a swarm of robots that can both fly and drive.

We have also had two interesting guest blog post from the GRASP Laboratory at University of Pennsylvania, the “A Flying Gripper based on Modular Robots” and “ModQuad – Self-Assemble Flying Structures“. Inspired by swarm behavior in nature, for instance how ants solve collective tasks, both projects explore the possibilities of how multiple Crazyflies can work together to perform different missions.

During the fall Fred took the time to pay us a visit at the office in Sweden and worked together with us. He is making great progress on the Java Crazyflie lib that is going to be used in the Android client as well as in PC clients. It will allow to connect and use a Crazyflie from any Java program, there has already been some successful experimentation done using it from Processing

Some other great news is that thanks to Sean Kelly the Crazyflie 2.0 is now officially supported by the Betaflight flight controller firmware. Betaflight is a flight controller firmware used a lot in the FPV and drone racing community.

Thanks to denis on the forum, there is now support for Crazyflie 2.0 in the PX4 flight controller firmware. PX4 is a comprehensive flight controller firmware used in research and by the industry.

Finally The Crazyswarm project, by Wolfgang Hoenig and James A. Preiss from USC ACTlab has been presented at ICRA 2017. It is a framework that allows to fly swarms of Crazyflie 2.0 using a motion capture system.  There is currently some work done on merging the Crazyswarm project into the Crazyflie master branch, this will make it even easier to fly a swarm of Crazyflie. In the meantime the project is well documented and can be used by anyone that has a couple of Crazyflies and a motion capture system.

Hardware

During 2017 we released four new products. Beginning with the Micro SD-card deck which e.g. makes high speed logging possible. Then the Z-ranger that enables a height hold flight mode up to 1m above ground. We like to call it drone surfing as that is very much what it feels like when flying. We ended by releasing two boards, Flow deck and Flow breakout, in collaboration with Pixart containing their new PMW3901 optical flow sensor. The Flow deck enables scriptable flight which is very exiting. That lead us to release the STEM drone bundle which we hope will inspire people to learn more about flying robotics.

Hardware prototypes, our favorite sub-category, are something we have plenty of lying around here at the office. To name a few, a possible Crazyradio 2, the Loco positioning tag, the Crazyflie RZR, the Glow deck or Obstacle avoidance/SLAM deck. It takes a long time making a finished product… Hopefully we will see more of these during 2018!

Software

At the same time we released the Flow deck we also released the latest official Crazyflie 2.0 FW and client (2017.06). This enables autonomous capabilities as soon as the Flow deck is inserted by automatically turning on the corresponding functionality. Just before that, the loco positioning was brought out of early access with improved documentation and simplified setup. Since then a lot of work has been put into making a release of TDoA and improving overall easy of use. With the TDoA2 and automatic anchor estimation starting to work pretty well we should not be far from a new official release!

We would like to end 2017 with a big thank you to our users and community with this compilation video. Make sure to pump up the volume!

video link

We’ve been seeing an increase in the demand for a “programmable drone”, where users can easily give simple commands though scripting and the Crazyflie 2.0 following them. In order for this to work well you need a closed-loop control, i.e you need a reference system to see how you’re moving. Previously this was only possible using external camera systems or bulky on-board cameras. But a while ago we released the Flow deck which solves this problem. Thanks to the mouse-like sensor the deck contains it enables the Crazyflie 2.0 to see how it’s moving along the floor. Suddenly it’s possible to give commands like “move 1 m forward” or “fly in a clock wise circle with the radius of 1 m”.

To make it easier for users to pick out the parts needed we’ve put together a discounted STEM drone bundle. It contains all the parts needed for scripting the flight. If you have a gamed-pad or a Bluetooth LE enabled phone you can of course fly it manually as well :-)

To quickly get up and running, we have written a getting started guide. There is also a great hackster project, Beginner’s Guide to Autonomous Quadcopters by community member Chathuranga Liyanage, containing more details.

So we are now back in the cold and dark Sweden after about a weeks visit to a warm and nice Shenzhen, China. Every time we go there something major has happened. When we visited last time, about a year ago, cash was king. Now apparently payments are done with QR codes, even in small lunch restaurants. And I was kind of proud about the BankID and Swish payments we have here is Sweden, until now… Another observation we did was that there are now a lot of colorful rental bikes which can be found about everywhere and which can be rented for around 1 RMB/hour. A great way of resource sharing and pushing Eco-friendly transportation. It has it downside though as piles of bikes could be commonly found and e.g. written about by theguardian.

Aside from the above observations the Maker Faire Shenzhen was one of the reasons we came to visit. As Shenzhen is called the “the silicon valley for hardware” we had pretty high expectations when coming to the Maker Faire. Even though it was a great Faire it did not really reach our high expectations but it is growing fast and I’m pretty sure in a couple of years it is the Maker Faire to be at. A quick summarize, robotics was one of the top categories of products on the faire. 3D printers which are popular on European and US faires was not that common which surprised us. Now let the pictures do the talking:

 

We exhibited on the faire sharing booth with Seeedstudio where we showed an autonomous sequence on top of a table using the flow deck. By pressing a button, the Crazyflie 2.0 would take of, fly in a circle, come back and land roughly in the same spot. It was a very engaging demo catching many peoples attention and especially the kids. The kids constantly wanted to press the button and interact with the Crazyflie.

All the interaction made us very happy and next time we will try to add the obstacle avoidance deck to make it even more engaging.

 

Unfortunately the Crazyradio PA is out of stock in our store and is estimated back around December 1. Until then please checkout our distributors for availability.