Category: Mechanic

A while ago I started working on a brushless motor control driver for the Crazyflie. I implemented most of it but did not really have time to test it. Recently we have gotten some request and questions about it so we took some time to do some further testing.

Implementing a brushless motor control driver can be done in many ways. If you have brushlesss motor controllers that can be controlled over I2C that could have been one way but usually the brushless motor controller (BLMC) take a PWM input. This is most commonly a square wave with a period of 20ms and a pulse width of 1-2 ms high, were 1 ms is 0%, and 2 ms is 100%. A period of 20 ms means a frequency of 50Hz. This is most often a high enough update rate for R/C electronics like servos etc. but when it comes to BLMC that is not the case. Therefore many new BLMC can read a much higher update rate of up to 400 Hz were the pulse still is 1-2 ms high. That way you can match the BLMC input to the update rate of the stabilization control loop and increase stability. In the code we added a define BLMC_PERIOD where this can be set.

To test this we wanted a frame which was quick to setup and found this. It is based of a PCB just like the Crazyflie and has the four motor controllers with it, perfect! The built in BLMC are based on an the Atmel MCU Atmega8 which is very commonly used in the R/C BLMC which means it is possible to re-flash them with the SimonK firmware. This is know to be a great firmware and enables fast PWM update rate etc. So we built and flashed the firmware configured for the tgy6a which is compatible and it worked right away, yay!

Now we only had to connect the Crazyflie to the BLMC:s on the frame. The BLMC electrical interface for the PWM signal is often a 5V interface but the Crazyflie runs on 2.8V. 2.8V would in most cases be treated as an high input and can probably be used directly but there is no simple way to connect this signal on the Crazyflie. Instead one way is to use the existing motor connectors and the pull-down capability that is already there. Then it is also possible to pull this signal to 5V with a resistor to get a 5V interface so this is what we did. To power the Crazyflie we took the connector of an old battery and soldered it the 5V output of the frame.CF to BL Frame connections

Now it was just a matter of testing it! However as size increases so does the potential damage it can make. We therefore took some precaution and tied it down. First we tested the stability on each axis using the stock values and it worked really well so we decided to not tune it further. The only issue was that suddenly one of the BLMC mosfets burnt. We replaced it and it worked again but don’t know why it burnt. Later when we flew it something was still strange so we have to investigate this.

We will upload the code as soon as it has been cleaned up. Please enjoy a short video of the journey :)

We hope everyone had a great holiday! We are really happy that some of you decided to join our holiday challenge. After looking though all of the submissions we finally decided on a result.

First of all there was the mechanical challenge of creating a hull or cover for the Crazyflie. When finding the winner we looked at features such as wight, design and manufacturing. After a long discussion we decided on Gottfried Dungl’s submission, the Crazysheild, that you can see below. Even though it might be tricky to manufacture/3D-print, it’s lighter than the other submissions while still being durable as he showed by crash simulations.

Crazyshield submitted by Gottfried.

Crazyshield submitted by Gottfried.


Secondly there was the free-fall detection and recovery. For this challenge we only got one submission and it’s from Oliver Dunkley. That doesn’t matter since his solution works really well and has great potential. The implementation is done in the Crazyflie client, where both free-fall detection and recovery is done. There’s lots more information about this solution which we will post on the wiki or forum during the week. You can have a look at the code here.


Great job and big thanks to everyone that participated! Gottfried and Oliver will receive a Crazyflie 10-DOF kit and we have also decided to reward all others that participated with a little gift so check you email ;).


With roughly one week to go until the holidays most people are still stressing about getting presents, food and trees. We have done our best to get into the holiday spirit, but December isn’t well known in the south of Sweden for delivering a white Christmas. So with no snow and +7ºC outside it’s a bit hard to get into the holiday spirit.

After the holiday stress has leveled out, you might find yourself having some extra time on your hands. Being off from work is great, but unless you get tech toys for Christmas you might get some abstinence being away from your high-tech things. At least we get this feeling. So this year we thought that we would try to help everyone that is a bit bored during the holidays, by announcing a little competition! We have two different categories of fun things to do: Mechanical and software.

  • Software: Controlled decent when free falling
  • Mechanical: 3D model for a plastic hull

For the first category the goal is to implement a controlled decent of the Crazyflie. The idea is to do this without any user interaction. Imagine dropping the Crazyflie from your hand and the controlled decent algorithm kicks in and lands it graciously without the user doing anything. Or why not throwing it away :-) This could be implemented using firmware, host software or a mix of the two. Here’s roughly what we had in mind:

  • Connect to the Crazyflie and enable controlled decent mode in free fall
  • Pick up the Crazyflie and drop it (preferably above a soft surface)
  • The free fall can be detected using the accelerometer. When in free fall all three axis of the accelerometer will be very close to 0 (see image below)
  • Control the decent of the platform and land graciously (unlike in image below :-) )
Crazyflie free fall

Plot of accelerometer before, during and after free fall from 1,5 meters


For the second category the goal is to create a nice looking body for the Crazyflie. A while back we put together a home made vacuum plastic molder (something similar to this). Our idea was to create a 3D model of a body and then use it as a base for the vacuum molding hack. The end result would be very durable and light. The only problem is that we are really bad at 3D graphics (and at graphics in general) so this has been a blocker for this hack. We need some help with creating the 3D model. If you don’t have a Crazyflie you can always have a look at the mechanics repository. It contains a great model of the Crazyflie that Erik did a while back.

Aside from satisfying the geek inside you during the holidays, we will also be awarding the winner of each category with a Crazyflie Nano Quadcopter 10-DOF with Crazyradio and additional spare parts! In order for the projects to be judged we will need some video/images and code/model. The projects will be judged on how good the solution works and also how good the implementation is. The competition will end on Sunday the 12th of January and we will announce the winners in our Monday post on the 13th of January.

So what will we be doing during the holidays? Well we had something else in mind. A couple of weeks ago we picked up a uBlox MAX 7 GPS breakout. It’s about 2.1 grams with a chip-antenna and is small enough to fit on the Crazyflie. We won’t exactly have path-following functionality after the holidays, but we are hoping for something that will report back the location to the client.

Happy hacking!

Edit: We forgot the most important part, where to submit your entries if you want to join in. Send them to before the end of 12th of January 2014.

We have been in need of a 3D printer for a while now, in order to print parts designed by community members and also prototype new parts. After talking about it for ages we finally got around to buying an Ultimaker. For now we have mostly been playing around (printing various things found online) but our plan is also to make some models that users can print themselves. Let’s see if we run out of plastic before we get that far :-)

Below are some parts we printed. The Crazyradio cover designed by foosel and the frame designed by VGer.

Bitcraze Ultimaker


Thanks to some of the motor mount feedback we have now managed to improve the motor mount a bit. It now has a longer extruded cylinder and a larger stop to prevent the motor form popping out when landing hard. This should add a bit more protection but it is still a good idea to do one of the mods described in the wiki for even better protection, especially when expecting to do some hard crashes.

Motor mount v2

Motor mount v2

The improved motor mounts will be available in the next batch of kits, which is still scheduled to be ready in the end of June, and also as a separate spare part item. For the next batch the Crazyflie kit without the Crazyradio and antenna will also be available for ordering.

On another note we are planning on modifying our webpage a bit. We feel that when new people visit our webpage they get no overview of our projects. So we are planning a nicer landing page with some images and more general information. We will of course keep the blog and also keep updating it at least every Monday. Aside from this we are also planning on integrating the forum and wiki with the blog and also have the same theme. After doing a quick test with the forum we are pretty sure our green/black theme will look good, but we aren’t that convinced about the wiki…. Let’s see where we end up. If you have any suggestions or comments about the webpage and our plans then  don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

Lastly we have also installed TapaTalk on our forum. So if you use the TapaTalk app you can find our forum in the directory by searching for Bitcraze.

After one week of flying the new copters we have to say that they are preforming very well. We’ve done a lot of crashes but only had one incident with a bent axis on one of the motors which we fixed by replacing the motor.

We have noticed that using some radio channels in combination with some link speeds causes too much packet drops when the motors are powered. It’s almost certainly the PWM that causes ripples on the power supply and that effects the radio transmission. It was by chance we saw this and changing the channel or speed works around the problem.

Currently we are working with Seeedstudio to sort out the details for starting up but we don’t have an estimate for when it will happen yet. But one thing is for sure, we will go with the rapid-prototype mounts for the first DIY kit. We are still working on the details for the molded motor mounts but since there’s a lot of leadtimes for this it would delay the kit with months and we really don’t want that. Since after the summer we have been using the same design for the rapid-prototype motor mounts and we have only had 2 that has broken.

The plan is to package 1 spare motor, 1 spare motor mount and 4 spare propellers with the kit. There will also be extra spare parts available for purchase.

On Wednesday we assembled and tested all of the kits in the pre-series. We ran though the production tests, that will be used once the kits are produced, as verification. Since we can’t test that they really can fly the test isn’t covering everything but it checks most of the components. One of the units had a solder-bridge between two of the MPU-6050 pins and our tests showed that the unit was faulty. We are glad our tests caught the problem and removing the short fixed it.

The assembly doesn’t take too long and once you have done a few it’s fairly quick. We timed the last one we assembled and it was finished in just under 10 minutes (including fixing errors that were made :-) ). And that time was done by the worst solderer of us! As long as you are a bit steady on you hand it should be ok. It was a really great feeling unpacking, assembling, testing and then directly flying them! We numbered all the units and will track them if there’s any problems. So during the next weeks we will be flying a lot :-). We cross our fingers that they will hold up to what we expect.

The change we did where, connecting the motors directly to the battery and not through the power management chip, turned out great and we could feel the 8% increased power difference (it might have been some placebo effect but it just feels great).

To sum it all up it was a great night and we are really happy with the results! We remember in the beginning when we had to be in a pretty big room to be able to fly the Crazyflie at all and now it’s so stable you can (if you are brave enough) hover it 10 cm in front of your face and then push the throttle and it swishes away!

As for the project progress we are now discussing with Seeedstudio on how to carry on and we are trying to sort out the motor mount problem and some smaller issues.

We’ve also spent some time creating a new page on the wiki describing the hardware. It’s still a work in progress, but there’s a lot of information. We will continue updating the wiki whenever there is time.

Head over to our Picasa albums for more pictures.


While we are waiting for the pre-series to arrive, which hopefully will be within 4-5 weeks, we have tested this idea we have had for a while. On the Crazyflie PCB we placed mounting holes in each corner for the possibility to add e.g. a landing gear, canopy or maybe a protective frame. The holes are about 0.9mm and plated so it is possible to solder something in it and a protective frame made of piano wire would be a good candidate.

We bought a couple of 0.8 mm thick 1m long piano wires at a nearby hobby store and got to work. On the first try we bend the wires into the shape solely by hand and it didn’t look or work well at all. We figured there must be some better way! And after searching the net we found this site explaining how to make your own DIY springs of different types. We however needed a circle with a much bigger diameter than normal springs use so it took us a while to find a tube with the right diameter to bend it around to get the right size. We found out that when bending the piano wire around a tube with the diameter of 20mm it ended up at about 55mm which was close enough to the 60mm we needed. Piano wire is a bit hard to solder but with plenty of solder flux it works well. We are pretty pleased with the result!

The piano wire frame itself weights about 3.5-4g so it is within the acceptable payload limit. The flight characteristics is changed a bit making it more controllable but less agile which is perfect for beginners. We have tested throwing it in the ground and crashing it several times and the Crazyflie just bounces so it works great. It might even be possible to go to a smaller piano wire diameter to save weight because now the frame is very stiff. Next step would be to come up with a design that could be attached/detached without soldering. It should also be cheap and easy to manufacture.

One of the goals during this project has been to only use open-source tools for development. The main incentive for this is that we want everyone to be able to take part in the development and look at the all the parts of it once it has has been released. Also it was a great opportunity to see how far we could push open source free development software in a non-trivial embedded project.

Some of the tool has worked great and some has caused us some headaches since we have worked with the proprietary alternatives during the daytime. Our conclusion is that a project like this is definitely doable, but some parts does still require more work (and some frustration). The open-source tools for firmware development and PC client are state of the art and could be used instead of there proprietary counterpart (of course most of the time there is no GUI and some more setup or manual job might be required, but this comes with the benefits of a greater flexibility). However the hardware design tolls are still behind there (expensive!) proprietary counterparts and often requires a great deal of efforts to reach the wanted result.

Of course it’s great that these open-source alternative exists and that a lot of great developers puts time into making them. Without them this project would not have been possible!

The firmware – For firmware development we use a wide number of applications: gedit, Eclipse, Mercurial, gcc, make, openOCD and gdb. On Crazyflie we run  FreeRTOS. As we built the development environment with cross platform tools the development can be done seamlessly on Linux or Windows, on the console or with Eclipe. The radio dongle has been developed from scratch (ie, just from the datasheet) with the help of sdcc to compile for the 8051 contained in the nordic chip.

The client software – For the client side software we use Python, libusb, pyusb, QT/PyQt. Even though there was a lot of discussion within the group (Ruby vs Python, qt vs gtk) we landed on Python due to all the bindings that works out of the box on Linux and Windows. This enables you to quickly create applications. Combining this with QT/QTDesigner and you get a nice GUI application.

The hardware – Since the very first prototype we switched from Eagle CAD to Kicad to use a fully open source e-cad program. It does the job perfectly fine but the routing part requires a lot more time as many of the time reducing functions are still lacking compared to proprietary programs.  For complex boards, if time is an issue, Kicad is not the e-cad to use, but for simple board and typical DIY boards it does the job fine (ie. our experience of kicad is a lot smoother for the radio dongle than for the copter).

The mechanics – For the mechanics we have used freeCAD which is one of the few open-source 3D CADs tools that we have found. When we started out we had a lot of problems with this software because it keep crashing during the design. After the stable release of the 0.12 branch it’s gotten better but we’ve still had some problems with crashes. Over all we managed to design and 3D print many revision of the motors holder with freeCAD.

The website – On our server we are running WordPress, Mercurial and Redmine, all these on a Linux and Apache. We will probably also run phpBB later on.


Sensor poll

Waiting another week did not make things clearer whether to mount all sensors or not, but the quotation to buy and mount them did. The $20 we estimated was too low, depending on the amount of boards we make of course, but we would probably have to add another $10 to that which made the decision simple. It is mainly the barometer that is very expensive so we might still decide to mount the magnetometer. First we will do some tests though to find out how much “value” it really adds. For people that wants the barometer it will still be possible to manually mount it afterwards making it a win-win decision.

The coming week we are reviewing the new revision of the hardware before we press the order button. With the previous prototype we had a few violent incidents where one of the arms broke off. Fixing it wasn’t to hard. We used an aluminium tube we cut to the right size and glued over the arm and it holds up well. For this next revision we have changed the board outline around the arm joint to be smoother as this seams to be the weakest point. If everything goes according to plan the next prototype should be the last before we can order a larger batch.

During the last week we also did a little test making an small Android app and plugging the radio dongle in one of our Galaxy Nexus. It’s detected and can be used via the USB API.  It’s nothing that we are planning on spending any time on right now but in the future…