Category: Crazyflie

Last week we have been focusing on making a release for nearly all our firmware and software. This was done mainly to support the new products we will release this fall but it also contains a lot of other functionality that have been added since the previous release. In this blog-post we will describe the most important features of this release.

New Loco Positioning status and configuration tab

New deck support

The Crazyflie firmware and Crazyflie client 2018.10 adds support for a range of new decks that are about to be released:

  • Flow deck V2 and Z-Ranger V2: New versions of the flow and Z-Ranger deck that uses the new VL53L1 distance sensor. Drivers are implemented in the Crazyflie firmware and the client has been updated to allow flying up to 2 meter in height hold and hover modes when the new decks are detected.
  • Multiranger deck: Diver for the new Multiranger deck is implemented in the Crazyflie firmware, support code is now present in the lib as well as an example implementing the push demo that makes the Crazyflie fly in hover mode using the flow deck and move away from obstacles:

The Flow deck V2 is already available in our webstore. The Z-Ranger V2 and Multiranger will be available in the following weeks, stay tuned on the blog for updated information.

Crazyswarm support

During the year, functionality implemented for the Crazyswarm project has been merged back to the Crazyflie firmware master branch. Practically it means that the Crazyflie firmware 2018.10 is the first stable version to support Crazyswarm. The main features implemented by Crazyswarm are:

  • Modular controller and estimator framework that allows to switch the estimator or the controller at runtime. Practically it means that it is not required to recompile the firmware to use a different controller anymore.
  • Addition of a high-level commander that is able to generate setpoints for the controller from within the Crazyflie. The high-level commander is usable both from Crazyswarm and from the Crazyflie python library. It currently has commands to take-off, land, go to a setpoint and follow a polynomial trajectory. It is made in such a way that it can be extended in the future.
  • Addition of the Mellinger controller: a new controller that allows to fly much tighter and precise trajectories than the PID controller. It is tuned pretty tight so it is currently mostly usable using a motion capture or lighthouse as positioning and togeather with the high-level commander.

Improved and more stable Loco Positioning System

A lot of work has been put in the Loco Positioning System (LPS) this summer. The result of this work is the creation of a new ranging mode: TDoA3. TDoA3 allows to fly as many Crazyflie as we want in the system and to add as many anchors are needed, see our previous blog-post for more information. With this release TDoA 3 is added as a stable ranging mode for LPS. The added features related to LPS are:

  • Added TDoA3 as a ranging mode in the LPS-Node-firmware, the Crazyflie 2.0 firmware and the Crazyflie client
  • Revampted the Crazyflie client LPS tab and communication protocol to handle more than 8 anchors
  • Implementation of a new outlier detector for TDoA2 and TDoA3 that drastically improve positioning noise and flight quality

Release notes and downloads

As usual the release build and release note is available on Github. The Crazyflie client and lib are also available as python pip package as cfclient and cflib.

In this blog post we will describe one of the demos we were running at IROS and how it was implemented. Conceptually this demo is based on the same ideas as for ICRA 2017 but the implementation is completely new and much cleaner.

The demo is fully autonomous (no computer in the loop) but it requires an external positioning system. We flew it using either the Loco Positioning System or the prototype Lighthouse system.
A button has been added to the LPS deck to start the demo. When the button is pressed the Crazyflie waits for position lock, takes off and repeats a predefined spiral trajectory until the battery is out, when it goes back to the door of the cage and lands.
For some reason we forgot to shoot a video at IROS so a reproduced version from the (messy) office will have to do instead, imagine a 2×2 m net cage around the Crayzflie.

Implementation

As mentioned in an earlier blog post the demo uses the high level commander originally developed by Wolfgang Hoenig and James Alan Preiss for Crazyswarm. We prototyped everything in python (sending commands to the Crazyflie via Crazyradio) to quickly get started and design the demo . Designing trajectories for the high level commander is not trivial and it took some time to get it right. What we wanted was a spiral downwards motion and then going back up along the Z-axis in the centre of the spiral. The high level commander is a bit picky on discontinuities and we used sines for height and radius to generate a smooth trajectory. 

Trajectories in the high level commander are defined as a number of pieces, each describing x, y, z and yaw for a short part of the full trajectory. When flying the trajectories the pieces are traversed one after the other. Each piece is described by 4 polynomials with 8 terms, one polynomial per x, y, z and yaw. The tricky part is to find the polynomials and we decided to do it by cutting our trajectory up in segments (4 per revolution), generate coordinates for a number of points along the segment and finally use numpy.polyfit() to fit polynomials to the points. 

When we were happy with the trajectory it was time to move it to the Crazyflie. Everything is implemented in the app.c file and is essentially a timer loop with a state machine issuing the same commands that we did from python (such as take off, goto and start trajectory). A number of functions in the firmware had to be exposed globally for this to work, maybe not correct from an architectural point of view but one has to do what one has to do to get the demo running :-) The full source code is available at github. Note that the make file is hardcoded for the Crazyflie 2.1, if you want to play with the code on a CF 2.0 you have to update the sensor setting

This approach led to an idea of a possible future app API (for apps running in the Crazyflie) containing similar functionality as the python lib. This would make it easy to prototype an app in python and then port it to firmware.

Controllers

The standard PID controller is very forgiving and usually handles noise and outliers from the positioning system in a fairly good way. We used it with the LPS system since there is some noise in the estimated position in an Ultra Wide Band system. The Lighthouse system on the other hand is much more precise so we switched to the Mellinger controller instead when using it. The Mellinger controller is more agile but also more sensitive to position errors and tend to flip when something unexpected happens. It is possible to use the Mellinger with the LPS as well but the probability of a crash was higher and we prioritised a carefree demo over agility. An extra bonus with the Mellinger controller is that it also handles yaw (as opposed to the PID controller) and we added this when flying with the Lighthouse. 

Going faster

Since the precision in the Lighthouse positioning system is so much better we increased the speed to add some extra excitement. It turned out to be so good that it repeatedly almost touched the panels at the back without any problems, over and over again!

One of the reasons we designed the trajectory the way we did was actually to make it possible to fly multiple copters at the same time, the trajectories never cross. As long as the Crazyflies are not hit by downwash from a copter too close above all is good. Since the demo is fully autonomous and the copters have no knowledge about each other we simply started them with appropriate intervals to separate them in space. We managed to fly three Crazyflies simultaneously with a fairly high degree of stability this way.

Last week half of Bitcraze, Kristoffer, Tobias and Arnaud were at IROS 2018 where we had an exhibitor booth. We have had a great week and met so many interesting and inspiring people, both users of the Crazyflie as well as persons curious in what we do. Thanks to everyone that passed by the booth, it is awesome to hear how Crazyflie is used and how we can improve it even more.

This year we invited Qualisys to share the booth with us, they kindly provided a motion capture system and we had the pleasure to be joined by Martin to help us and present Qualisys.

Demo-wise we had prepared a bunch of demos which you can read about in our previous post about IROS. It won’t surprise anyone to hear that not everything has been working as planned. The Lighthouse demo did not work when we set it up in the booth (it did in the office!) but some live hacking solved the problem on Tuesday. We also had unexpected issues with the Crazyswarm demo: our landing pad design and flight trajectory was working very well in the office, but in the booth we experienced much more instabilities that prevented us to successfully fly and land all 6 crazyflies in Crazyswarm. We still need to investigate what happened. The autonomous demos, both using the UWB Loco Positioning System and Lighthouse (when fixed), have been surprisingly robust: they do not require a connection to a computer and they worked almost all the time, when they failed they failed without drama and could be reset very quickly.

Overall we have been able to accumulate flight time and experience much quicker in this last week than in the last months, now we have a lot of things to test and improve and also a lot of things we can be much more confident about. We have been fixing and improving the demo during the event and we will write more blog posts in the coming weeks about things we have developed and improved for and during IROS.

To conclude, thanks again to everyone that dropped by the booth, this kind of event always make us come back with a boost of motivation and fresh new ideas and it is all thanks to you!

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.

We started the work on TDoA 3 in May and it has been functional for a few months, but it is a bit cumbersome to make it work since it requires compiling firmware with special flags and running scripts to configure anchors. To rectify this and make it more accessible we are now working on integrating it just like the other positioning modes; TWR and TDoA2. 

Changes

The anchors already contained most of the required functionality. We have added support to change to the TDoA3 mode via LPP, that is using the Crazyflie as a bridge between the client and the anchors, transmitting data to the anchors via UWB.

In the Crazyflie TDoA 3 has been added as a third mode. This means that it is now auto detected when the Crayzflie is switched on and it can be selected from a client – no need for compile flags any more! We have also added a new mapping to the memory sub system to transfer anchor information for a dynamic number of anchors to a client. This means that instead of being available to the client as a long list of log variables and parameters, most of the TDoA3 information and configurations are available in a memory map using the same protocol we use to access real memory like the configuration EEPROM or the deck memories. This way we have much more freedom to define and transfer the data-structure to and from the Crazyflie.

The python client/lib is the piece of software that requires most changes. The UI (and implementation) was designed to handle 8 anchors, but with TDoA3 it must support a dynamic and larger number. The new memory mapping has of course to be implemented in the lib as well. The anchor position configuration part of the LPS tab will be separated into a dialog box to get more space for the controls. We also have some ideas for improvements in anchor position configuration (saving to file and sanity checking of configurations for instance) that will be easier to implement in the future as well.

Feedback

The driver for this work is of course to make the TDoA 3 technology available to anyone that wants to try it out. It is important to remember that it still is experimental and that we have mainly tested it in single room setups with a few anchors. Our hope is that more users will use it in various settings and that we will get feedback and contributions to iron out any remaining problems. We currently lack easy access to larger spaces which makes it hard for us to verify the functionality in a system with many anchors.

The code in the firmware for the anchors and the Crazyflie is mostly ready while there still remains some work in the lib/client, hopefully it can be committed and pushed during the week (see issue bitcraze/crazyflie-clients-python#349). If you want to try it out when the client is fixed, remember to upgrade the anchor firmware (including git sub modules), the Crazyflie firmware (including git sub modules), the python lib and the python client. Since this is still work in progress APIs and protocols may change until the first official release.

Log and param are the two Crazyflie subsystems that have become the core means of communication with the Crazyflie.

The Log is a subsystem that contains functionality to transfer values of variables in the Crazyflie to a client. The client can setup log blocks, which are a list of variables, and start logging this log block at a certain rate. The Crazyflie will then send radio packets at the requested rate with the current values of the variables, thus enabling the client to read changing variables in the Crazyflie in near realtime. It is very useful for monitoring the state of the Crazyflie and further more, any log variable can be graphed in the python client.

Param is a subsystem that contains functionality to get and set the values of variables in the Crazyflie. This is essentially the opposite of Log, it allows the client to read or write variables that are read-only in the firmware.

Both subsystems are based on a Table Of Content (the TOC): at connection time the client pulls the list of log/param variables. This means that there is no hard-dependency between client and firmware and that we can develop new functionalities in the Crazyflie, adding log and param variables to access it without modifying the client.

The Log and Param subsystems have served the Crazyflie community very well, allowing for quick development of experimental and new functionalities. There has been a limitation that has become more and more painful lately though; we were limited to 255 variables due to the protocol using only one byte to encode the variable ID. This issue has now been fixed in the Crazyflie firmware and in the Crazyflie ROS driver by a pull request from Wolfgang at USC. We have recently also implemented the required changes in the Python lib to make it available in the python client (and any other python script using the lib). In the process, some bugs unfortunately found their way into the code, but they have quickly been fixed by a pull request from simonjwright. Thanks to every one involved!

So now Crazyflie supports up to 65535 log and 65535 param variables. This time we should be good for the foreseeable future! ;-).

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.