Category: Software

What’s better than a single Crazyflie? A swarm of them! Over a year ago our research group at the University of Southern California posted a blog post with the title “Towards CrazySwarms“, explaining how to fly six Crazyflies at the same time. Since then, we’ve expanded our fleet to 49 Crazyflies. It turns out that flying 49 requires a completely different approach. We will outline the additional challenges, and of course show a fun video!

Why is flying many Crazyflies hard? It comes down to two different categories:

  1. Communication Limitations: The standard Crazyflie software does not support controlling more than one crazyflie per radio. Putting 49 radios on a PC is possible, but would cause very high latencies because the Universal Serial Bus (USB) operates, as the name suggests, serially in 1 ms intervals. Earlier, we showed that we can share a radio for two Crazyflies by using different addresses, but 25 radios are still too much to be handled on one PC reasonably. We can overcome this issue by reducing the amount of data to be transferred. However, this forces us to increase the autonomy of the Crazyflie. Instead of sending attitude control input for each Crazyflie at a high rate, we move the controller on-board and send high-level trajectory descriptions and external position information at a low-rate. In particular, we need to:
    1. Move the position controller on-board, and
    2. Be able to handle packet losses more gracefully.

    i) is relatively easy, apart from the testing and tuning. For ii) we use an Extended Kalman Filter to estimate the state on-board. This state, consisting of the position, angle, and the translational velocities, is estimated by combining the on-board sensors (gyroscope, accelerometer) with external position information. Even if we are not able to send the external position for a while due to packet drops, the on-board sensors will keep the estimated state correct for a while.
    Finally, we implemented broadcasts (rather than 1-to-1 communication between PC and each Crazyflie) and used a number of compression tricks in order to limit the required bandwidth further. We are able to broadcast the pose (position and rotation) for all 49 Crazyflies using just three Crazyradios 100 times per second. Each Crazyflie can handle several packet drops in a row before the state estimate becomes too unreliable to fly.

  2. External Position Feedback: The on-board sensors of the Crazyflie are not sufficient to determine its position, so we need some external position feedback. In academia, optical motion capture systems are frequently used. They consist of a number of specialized, synchronized, high-speed infrared cameras. Each object to track is equipped with at least three retroreflective spheres (so-called markers), which reflect infrared light sent out by the IR light sources next to the cameras. If we know the pose of all cameras, we can use triangulation to determine the 3D positions of all retroreflective markers.Traditionally, motion capture systems require that each object has a unique arrangement of markers; this allows to determine each object’s position from a single frame of marker data by searching for its unique pattern. Unfortunately,  the Crazyflie is too small to have 49 unique marker arrangements that can be reliably distinguished. To solve that issue, we put the Crazyflies at known positions initially and use their marker arrangement to track their position and pose over time, at 100 Hz. This allows us to use the same marker arrangement for each Crazyflie.

 

Putting that together (combined with an improved controller), allows us to create nice formations:

So what is next? Eventually, we will integrate our changes into the various projects (including the firmwares and the ROS driver), allowing everyone to work on and with CrazySwarms.

Have fun flieing!

Wolfgang Hönig
PhD Student
Automatic Coordination of Teams Laboratory
University of Southern California
James Preiss
PhD Student
Robotics Embedded Systems Laboratory
University of Southern California

The loco positioning hardware is now manufactured and we are working hard on making it available. Loco positioning is still in early access, which means that we have tested the hardware but that the software still requires some love.

One of the big features still to implement is a position stabilization and position sensor fusion in the Crazyflie. This has been worked on from two fronts in the last weeks.

Community member jackemoore has been working hard on getting the Crazyflie 2.0 with a GPS deck working with position hold. He is getting close to having a GPS position hold working but has stumbled upon some system bugs that have to be solved first. You can follow, or even better help out, with the development on the forum post.

Mike Hamer, from ETH Zurich, has started to implement a Kalman filter, based on one of his publications, for the Crazyflie 2.0 firmware. This is still very much a work in progress but the initial results look promising. Mike has found and fixed a bunch of bugs on the way, which has greatly improved the firmware quality and stability. Since it is able to fuse the position estimate with the internal sensors, the Kalman filter will pair nicely with the GPS implementation from jackemoore to add a new layer of stability, as well as with the Loco positioning system. In addition, the Kalman filter is being written in such a way that it should be easy to incorporate additional sensors into the estimate. Keep your eyes open for a blog post in a couple of weeks with more detail on the Kalman filter’s inner workings, and hopefully a fully functional Kalman filter in the Crazyflie shortly thereafter :-).

While it is a central part of a quadcopter the core of the Crazyflie 2.0 had not moved since we released it. We deemed it to be good enough, it was flying and going fast after all.

Recently TheSeanKelly from the community did not hear it that way and started investigating the flight performance starting by the attitude control PID. The results so far are impressive!

Sean tuned the rate loop a lot, this is the loop responsible to control the angular rate of the Crazyflie in roll and pitch. Doing that and the attitude loop could be tweaked which we did a bit, the one responsible to control the absolute orientation of the copter. And the results is that two major issues with the flight performance seems to be greatly improved:

  • The take-off behavior: Crazyflie is currently not taking-off straight by itself. With the new settings this is fixed and at any thrust Crazyflie just goes straight up.
  • Attitude control: We had a lot of overshot in the attitude control. Basically it means that if you go forward 10 degrees and request 0 degree (level) the Crazyflie will overshoot with a negative angle causing it to stop. With the new tighter control if you ask +10degrees pitch the crazyflie accelerates and if you ask 0 it just stop accelerating. It will then continue at nearly constant speed. This is the “correct” behavior. This also means that the Crazyflie now reacts much more precisely and quickly to joystick controls.

We have tried to make a short video to show the new performance. Though the attitude control is really hard to show. We installed a test pilot on our Crazyflie that shows how much the new parameters helps in overall stability (I have tried to steer with old parameters as hard as I was steering with the new one). We also show more stability in pretty windy condition.

These new parameter have been pushed protected by an experimental flag. After more testing the official firmware will have much better flight performance out of the box :-).

As some of you might know, we are working full ahead on developing a local positioning system for the Crazyflie 2.0 ecosystem. There are many things to be done and we just took two major step by improving the stabilizer code architecture and moving the position control code into the firmware. Getting the position from an external system is fine and dandy, but we also have to control the pitch, roll and yaw of the Crazyflie to keep its desired position. Up til now we have been running this control algorithm outside the Crazyflie in an external computer, but now we have moved it into the Crazyflie itself. The controller is a simple PID controller and can definitely be improved, but the main purpose of the work has been to improve the architecture in this area. We know there are people in the community working on position related features and we hope the new architecture will make it easier for us all to implement the bits and pieces needed to get an autonomous Crazyflie. The estimation of the position has not been implemented in the firmware yet but the architecture now has support for it.

The general layout of the new architecture is as follow:

  • The sensors are gyroscope, accelerometer and pressure sensor. More could and will be added in the future like position and altitude measurement.
  • The state estimator calculate an as good as possible estimate of the Crazyflie state using the sensor values. The state contains the Crazyflie orientation (roll, pitch, yaw), its position and speed. Currently the state estimator has complementary filters for the orientation and the altitude. In the near future the full position will be estimated as well.
  • The commander generate a setpoint to be followed by the Crazyflie. Currently this is only done by receiving commander packet from the ground using Crazyradio or bluetooth low energy.
  • The state controller generates control output to achieve the requested setpoint from the current state.
  • Finally the power distribution is translating controls from the controller into driving the actual motors.

This is implemented in stabilizer.c and each block is implemented in there own file. Stabilizer.c used to be very verbose and complex to read and modify, it has now been greatly simplified and the above architecture is implemented in one short loop (see the full code in GitHub):

while(1) {
  vTaskDelayUntil(&lastWakeTime, F2T(RATE_MAIN_LOOP)); // 1KHz

  sensorsAcquire(&sensorData, tick);
  stateEstimator(&state, &sensorData, tick);
  commanderGetSetpoint(&setpoint, &state);
  stateController(&control, &sensorData, &state, &setpoint, tick);
  powerDistribution(&control);
  tick++;
}

Our philosophy with this new architecture is to keep the code as simple as possible and to allow customisation at compile time. The high-level functions have as simple as possible interface and so can be exchanged easily. So if tomorrow, we have a shiny new controller we just have to compile it instead of the current PID controller. We think that this fits the way the Crazyflie is used, as a development tool.

This is just the beginning: there is still some more to clean-up in the functions and we will most certainly enhance the code from feedback. Please tell us if this is useful and how it can be enhanced even more.

Crazyflie 2.0 already has two mobile clients, one for Android maintained by Fred and the iPhone client. Now we officially have a new one on development: the Windows client.

IMG_20160425_202412

Theseankelly, from the community, has started a Windows client for Crazyflie 2.0. It connects Crazyflie using bluetooth low energy and works both on phone and on PC running windows. Last week, he transferred the source code repos in the Bitcraze github so that it can have more visibility. We plan to eventually released it in the Windows store, but first it needs to have a little bit more features :-). To this end we have created a milestone on GitHub and have filled a couple of tasks. The plan is to get to a minimum set of functionalities. That for, we will focus on phone support first but if you are interested in PC support do not hesitate to say so and push tickets for it (gamepad support and configuration is the first thing I can think about for desktop support).

Last week Fred released a new version of the Android client. The outstanding new feature is a support of the LED and Buzzer decks when using Crazyradio! It means that you can now change the light effects and play sounds on the Crazyflie from the phone. This is even better because it means that the Android client code is now able to access the param subsystem and soon the log subsystem: this will allow for much more interactions in the future (like access to advanced Crazyflie settings and supporting more decks). The support of decks using BLE and more are on going so stay tuned and if you have any functionality request please head to the GitHub ticket tracker.

aclient-deck

We have just released a new version 2016.04.1 of the Crazyflie client.

client_2016.4.1

The biggest change is actually not so visible but very important: we have now separated the GUI client from the Crazyflie lib. The great advantage is that the lib became a small project and could be pushed to pypi. This means that if you want to control Crazyflie from your own Python program all you have to do is to “pip install cflib” and you are ready to “import cflib” in your program to control the Crazyflie.

For the new release of the client we also pushed the client in pypi as well. This will be mainly useful in Linux and Mac where you are now able to install the client with “pip3 install cfclient”. One little drawback however: since the GUI lib we are using, pyqt, is not in pypi it has to be installed on the side. This can be done in Ubuntu with something like “sudo apt-get python3-pyqt4 install python3-pyqtgraph” or on Mac with homebrew or MacPorts.

Last but not least we have enabled Windows continuous integration with appveyor and fixed the Windows build. This means that a Windows build and installer are going to be generated for every commit in the Crazyflie client repos. Maintaining the Windows client has always been a challenge to us since we are mainly Linux users, so the this will help a lot to keep good Windows support. We still consider this Windows build to be somewhat experimental so please test it and report any bug you are hitting.

The last system to support for executable distribution is Mac. We did put some time trying to generate a mac app out of the client without any success. If anyone wants to give it a try or have some tips please head to the ticket on github.

Historically the main way to control a Crazyflie has been by using a computer running a Crazyflie client and communicating with a Crazyradio (PA). However since very early we have made an Android client that also communicated using the Crazyradio. This was at the very beginning of USB On-The-Go for Android and it allowed to fly without a PC. When we released Crazyflie 2.0 with Bluetooth LE support we made an iPhone client as well as adding bluetooth to the Android client.

The Android App is the oldest and thanks to the community the most fully featured. It has a community maintainer, Fred, that is doing a great job a keeping the app stable and adding features.

android_client

With the Android app you can fly with both touchscreen control and game-pad control. It works with Bluetooth and Crazyradio. It can update Crazyflie 1.0 and Crazyflie 2.0 firmware using Crazyradio and soon Bluetooth for Crazyflie 2.0. Soon the possibility to use deck functionality like LED ring and Buzzer will be added.

The iPhone app is, for the moment, a bit more simple:

ios_main

 

It allows to fly and update Crazyflie 2.0 using Bluetooth low energy. There has already been a couple of contribution to keep the app up to date with Apple dev tools and more featured are currently being pushed.

Finally there is a new one coming soon. A windows 10 app prototype has been done by theseankelly and is just waiting to be enhanced. The exciting parts is that it works on Windows phone but it is also the first Bluetooth GUI client for Crazyflie 2.0 on desktop platform (there is nodejs libs that supports BLE on computer but no GUI that I know off, if I am wrong please comment!).

windows_client

A great thanks to all the contributors, the mobile clients for Crazyflie would not be that far without you! If you are interested in mobile development you are welcome to contribute, these clients started as a “just to fly” remote control but they could do so much more.

As we already talked before in a couple of post, we are currently developping a local positioning system for the Crazyflie based on ultra-wide-band radio DWM1000. This is one of our main focus currently so we wanted to post a short update on our progress.

We have assembled and shipped a couple of LPS system already and so far the performance and progress are great. We now think that we have the copter flying as good as we can have it without running sensor fusion and the control loop in the Crazyflie microcontroller. Next step is to integrate algorithms in the Crazyflie.

We are currently working hard at finishing the design to make it ready for production. We will write more updates about that so stay tuned :).

We have shot a short video demonstrating the current state, see after the video for more information about the setup:

To make this video we have installed 6 anchors. 3 are above the room and 3 at about 50cm from the ground. The Crazyflie has a LPS deck and ranges in a round-robing fashion with all 6 anchors. The ROS driver pulls the ranging, estimate the Crazyflie position, and calculate a corrected roll/pitch/thrust in order to keep it at the pre-defined setpoint. The Yaw is not controlled externally, it is kept by the Crazyflie internal gyroscope only.

The ROS computer was setup according to the instruction on our wiki, and by launching the pf_hover launch file:

roslaunch bitcraze_lps_estimator dwm_loc_pf_hover.launch uri:=radio://0/110/2M x:=1.5 y:=5 z:=1.2

We have stared to look at what is needed to make the Crazyflie position aware and to integrate the upcoming positioning system. The rough idea is to add a position estimation module to the firmware of the Crazyflie that will be responsible of estimating the current position based on data from internal or external sensors. The sensors could be mounted on the Crazyflie but it should also be possible to inject the position over radio from an external system. A control module will use the estimated position to try to navigate the copter to a desired position that could be set for instance by a user or by some navigation algorithm. If you want to participate in the design discussions or implementation head over to github where we will use issues for this conversation.

We decided that a suitable first step was to improve the altitude hold, so that is what we did last week. The code has been refactored and improved and we think the altitude hold is now working much better than before. It’s not perfect, still room for improvements 🙂

Tilt compensation

While we were at it we also added a thrust compensation to avoid loosing altitude when tilting the copter. It turns out it makes flying easier as the pilot does not have to add extra thrust when moving around. Good for both human and automatic pilots.

Hackster.io

Have you checked out our projects on hackster.io? Help out and make Bitcraze a featured platform by adding your own project or just follow us, we need 10 projects and 25 followers to be featured. You can make a difference!

First of all, happy new year on behalf of the Bitcraze team. In this post we would like to talk about the Deck API, but first a little bit of background.

Crazyflie and pretty much all we do is open-source. The main reason is that we want to share and allow everyone to build upon what we are doing. The first Crazyflie was expendable with an expansion port but modifying it was hard because it required good soldering skills. However if we really want others to build and use what we do, we had to increase the usability. So, when designing Crazyflie 2.0 we put a lot of efforts into making it easily expendable. We ended up with the deck port, which makes it easily to add an expansion board, called a deck, on top or bottom of the Crazyflie 2.0. An installed deck will automatically be detected and initialized when the Crazyflie starts thanks to the one-wire memory they contain. Finally we have also made the breakout and prototype deck to help making new decks.

Connector_multiplexing

With all this, we believe we managed to make it much easier to create a new deck. However making the firmware driver for these decks still required to understand a lot about how our firmware is architectured. It also did require to add code to multiple files to ensure the driver runs properly. The new deck API aims at making the firmware driver development more straightforward.

The base of the deck API is the driver declaration: it is possible to add a deck driver without having to modify any code in the firmware. The driver just has to be compiled and it will be automatically loaded at Crazyflie startup. This is inspired by the way the Linux kernel is loading modules and drivers. So the minimal driver can be written in 12 lines of code:

#define DEBUG_MODULE "HelloDeck"
#include "debug.h"
#include "deck.h"

/* init function */
static void helloInit()
{
 DEBUG_PRINT("Hello Crazyflie 2.0 deck world!\n");
}

/* Driver registration */
static const DeckDriver helloDriver = {
 .name = "myHello",
 .init = helloInit,
};
DECK_DRIVER(helloDriver);

In this example, the driver will be initialized automatically if a deck is installed with the name “myHello”. It is also possible to force the driver initialization. For more information there is a documentation for this on the wiki and there is also a short howto that will guides you from zero to having your code running in Crazyflie.

There is also an implementation of the digital and analog input/output API similar to Arduino.

There is a lot of work left on the deck API. Among other things:

  • Easy shortcut to run tasks: currently the only way to run a task is to create one using the FreeRTOS API. The plan is to provide easy to use timers and an Arduino-like loop function.
  • More drivers for SPI, Serial, I2C, …
  • Access to other parts of the system like controlling the flight setpoint or setting the LEDs.

The two first are quite straightforward and ‘just’ need to be done. We are not so sure how to implement the last one yet (we need a good way to modularise the firmware). If you have any input on things you would like to see in the API please contact us, the forum is good for discussion and a ticket in the firmware github project for functionality. You are also welcome to help-out with the implementation, documentation or reporting bug :-).