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

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

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

As we announced recently, the Flow deck for the Crazyflie has been released. There was a high demand the first days and we were unfortunately out of stock in the store for a short time, but now we are restocked and the deck is available again. We also got a shipment of a few production Flow decks to the office, and of course we wanted to play a bit with them to find the limits. During development of the deck we only had one or two working prototypes at a time, but now there were manny, so what could we do?

Swarm with the Flow deck

Swarm with the Flow deck

Aggressive flying

So far we have flown slowish when using the Flow deck and we know that works, but what about more aggressive manoeuvres? We modified the flowsequenceSync.py script in the examples directory of the crazyflie-lib-python library. The original script flies a figure 8 at 0.5 m/s, and we spiced it up to do 1.5 m/s instead.

Link to video

It works pretty well as you can see in the video but we get a drift for every finished figure 8 and we have not really figured out yet the origin of this error. There are a number of potential error sources but it needs further investigation to be fully understod.

Flying one Crazyflie above another

What if one Crazyflie flies above another? How will that affect the performance of the Flow deck? The optical flow sensor is in essence a camera detecting the motion of the floor, a Crazyflie passing through the field of view could potentially confuse the system.

We set up two Crazyflies to fly on a straight line in opposite directions, one 0.5 m above the other. The result was that the top Crazyflie was almost not affected at all when the other passed under it, just a small jerk. The lower one on the other hand, passed through the turbulence of the top one and this caused it to swing quite a lot, though it managed to more or less continued in the correct direction it was decidedly out of track. As expected, flying above another Crazyflie is not a good idea, at least not too close.

Flying a swarm with the Flow deck

When flying with the Flow deck all navigation is based on dead reckoning from the starting position, is it possible to fly a swarm using this technique? We thought that by putting the Crazyflies in well known starting positions/orientations and feed them trajectories that do not cross (or pass over each other) it should be possible. The start turned out to be critical as the system is a bit shaky at altitudes under 10 cm when the sensors on the Flow deck are not working very well yet. Sometimes the Crazyflie moves slightly during take-off and this can be a showstopper if it rotates a bit for instance, as the trajectory also will be rotated. It worked pretty well in most cases but sometimes a restart was required.

We were inspired by the Crazyswarm from USC and decided to fly 5 Crazyflies with one in the center and the other 4 spinning around it. Note the center Crazyflie turning but staying on the spot. 

Link to video

We used the Swarm class in the python library to control the 5 Crazyflies. The code used to connect to the Crazyflies one by one which takes quite some time, we changed it to a parallel connect while we were at it and got a significant speed up.

The code for the swarm is available as an example in the python library.

It is a lot of fun playing with the Flow deck and scripting flights. I know it might be silly, but we laugh the hardest when we fail and crash, the more spectacular the crash the more happiness!

The Flow breakout

For other robotics projects that don’t use the Crazyflie, remember that the same functionality as the Flow deck delivers soon will be available in the Flow breakout board. It is compatible with Arduino and other hosts.

Last week we released the Flow deck, it enables you to get really stable autonomous flight with the Crazyflie without requiring an external positioning system. We have been lucky to get access to the brand new Pixart PMW3901 optical flow sensor, the core of the Flow deck, very early and we wanted to bring this awesome functionality to everyone, including those without a Crazyflie. The solution is the Flow breakout board, it enables anyone to use this new optical flow sensor for any kind of motion tracking.

The flow breakout contains a PMW3901 optical flow sensor and a VL53L0x time of flight ranging sensor, the same sensors that are mounted on the flow deck. We have also added voltage translation logic that allows you to use the flow breakout with a system voltage of 3 to 5V that makes it possible to use it directly with any Arduino board and most embedded system. Further more we have written an Arduino driver for the PMW3901 optical flow sensor to make it easy to use the breakout deck. For the VL53L0x there are already a couple of drivers available out there.

The flow breakout is currently being manufactured and will be available in our shop in a couple of weeks. If you want to be notified of the Flow breakout board availability, please sign up in the shop or follow us on twitter.

There have been a few requests from the community for a brushless Crazyflie and we blogged about a prototype we are working on a few weeks ago. The most common reason for wanting brushless motors is to be able to carry more load, in most cases a camera. A camera could be used for FPV flying or open up various image processing use cases like understanding the would around the drone using SLAM. Image processing on-board requires quite a lot of processing power and the CPU in the Crazyflie could not handle that, so more processing power would be required for a scenario like that. It is summer time (with a slight touch of play time) so we wanted to see what we could do with the CF Rzr and if it would be a useful platform for these types of applications. We hope that we might get some insights on the way as well.

We set the goal to try to add a camera, a small “computer”, the Flow deck for assisted flying, FPV capabilities and support for a standard RC controller.

We chose the Raspberry pi zero-w in order to get video processing and video streaming from the quad as well as more computing power. The Raspberry pi zero is not the most powerful board our there but it has a couple of advantage for our prototype:

  • It has a readily available, good quality camera and good software support for it
  • It has an analog video output and hardware streaming support, which means that the quad could be flown FPV using the Raspberry pi camera
  • It has hardware JPEG and H264 encoders that will enable us to save and stream images and videos if we want to

Raspberry pi and camera mounted on the top part of the frame

For assisted flight and improved stability, the XY-part of the Flow deck works fine outdoors but the laser height sensor on the deck has a maximum limit of 1-2 meters, and further more it does not go well with direct sunlight. We decided to add an ultrasound sonar distance sensor to measure the height instead. The ultrasound sonar connects via I2C and was simply soldered to a breakout deck that plugs into the CF Rzr.

Crazyflie Rzr with ultrasonic sonar, breakout deck and flow deck mounted on the lower part of the frame

The first step is to see if we can physically fit everything on the frame. With some 3D printed mounts for the camera and the Raspberry pi, we think it starts to look pretty good. Next step will be to squeeze in the FPV video transmitter board, the RC receiver board and finally connect everything together.

The current setup with everything mounted

We are far from done but it is a good start, and it is fun.

We are pleased to announce the release of a new expansion deck for Crazyflie 2.0: the Flow deck. The flow deck is a new expansion board for Crazyflie 2.0 that contains an optical flow sensor from Pixart and a ranging sensor. These two sensors allows the Crazyflie to understand how it is moving above the floor and using this information the Crazyflie can fly itself.

The Flow deck can be used for manual flight where it allows to super easily fly the Crazyflie: if you realease all joystick the Crazyflie just stays there and hovers! The flow deck is even more interesting when used in combination with scripting: it is now possible to script the Crazyflie movement to achieve autonomous flight without needing any external positioning system.

Link to video

The Flow deck is available in the Bitcraze shop and at Seeedstudio.

It is summer again in Sweden and things are now starting to slow down and people are going to vacation. The last couple of years we have used the summer to look back and clean-up the technical dept accumulated during the year: when trying to get things done we have to prioritize which means that some things have to be left on the side (at least until we invent a way to add more hours to each day). This year is no exception, the last couple of weeks we have been working very hard to get the Flow products out and now the production is hopefully on rails so the cleanup can begin.

There is a lot of things we could do but here is a sneak peek of what we are currently looking at:

  • Crazyflie Client gamepad handling and configuration: The current input device handling is complicated and the architecture is hard to work with. There is a lot that can be done both in the front-end and the back end to make it easier to use and to work with.
  • Loco positioning system support for multiple Crazyflie, we have two mode implemented for that, TWR-TDMA and TDoA, both are very experimental and need some more work.
  • Cleanup of the webpage, information and documentation: we already have done a lot of work to make better documentation but there is always margin for improvement.
  • Cleaning up and improving the Crazyradio firmware: the Crazyradio starts to show its limits when flying swarms of Crazyflie. There is some improvement that could be done in the Firmware to make it more efficient. The first step is clean up the current implementation.

If you have any ideas of areas you feel we should focus on, even better if you want to help with some things and fix it together with us, just tell us in the comment.

On a side note, the manufacturing of the Flow products is still on progress and it should soon be on the Bitcraze shop and the Seeedstudio bazaar, stay tuned.

This week’s Monday post is a guest post written by members of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT.

One of the focuses of the Distributed Robotics Lab, which is run by Daniela Rus and is part of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, is to study the coordination of multiple robots. Our lab has tested a diverse array of robots, from jumping cubes to Kuka youBots to quadcopters. In one of our recent projects, presented at ICRA 2017, Multi-robot Path Planning for a Swarm of Robots that Can Both Fly and Drive, we tested collision-free path planning for flying-and-driving robots in a small town.

Robots that can both fly and drive – in particular wheeled drones – are actually somewhat of a rarity in robotics research. Although there are several interesting examples in the literature, most of them involve creative ways of repurposing the wings or propellers of a flying robot to get it to move on the ground. Since we wanted to test multi-robot algorithms, we needed a robot that would be robust, safe, and easy to control – not necessarily advanced or clever. We decided to put an independent driving mechanism on the bottom of a quadcopter, and it turns out that the Crazyflie 2.0 was the perfect platform for us. The Crazyflie is easily obtainable, safe, and (we can certify ourselves) very robust. Moreover, since it is open-source and fully programmable, we were able to easily modify the Crazyflie to fit our needs. Our final design with the wheel deck is shown below.

A photo of the Crazyflie 2.0 with the wheel deck.

A model of the Crazyflie 2.0 with the wheel deck from the bottom

The wheel deck consists of a PCB with a motor driver; two small motors mounted in a carbon fiber tube epoxied onto the PCB; and a passive ball caster in the back. We were able to interface our PCB with the pins on the Crazyflie so that we could use the Crazyflie to control the motors (the code is available at https://github.com/braraki/crazyflie-firmware). We added new parameters to the Crazyflie to control wheel speed, which, in retrospect, was not a good decision, since we found that it was difficult to update the parameters at a high enough rate to control the wheels well. We should have used the Crazyflie RealTime Protocol (CRTP) to send custom data packages to the Crazyflie, but that will have to be a project for another day.
The table below shows the mass balance of our miniature ‘flying car.’ The wheels added 8.3g and the motion capture markers (we used a Vicon system to track the quads) added 4.2g. So overall the Crazyflie was able to carry 12.5g, or ~44% of its body weight, and still fly pretty well.


Next we measured the power consumption of the Crazyflie and the ‘Flying Car.’ As you can see in the graph below, the additional mass of the wheels reduced total flight time from 5.7 minutes to 5.0 minutes, a 42-second or 12.3% reduction.

Power consumption of the Crazyflie vs. the ‘Flying Car’

 

The table below shows more comparisons between flying without wheels, flying with wheels, and driving. The main takeaways are that driving is much more efficient than flying (in the case of quadcopter flight) and that adding wheels to the Crazyflie does not actually reduce flying performance very much (and in fact increases efficiency when measured using the ‘cost of transport’ metric, which factors in mass). These facts were very important for our planning algorithms, since the tradeoff between energy and speed is the main factor in deciding when to fly (fast but energy-inefficient) versus drive (slow but energy-efficient).

Controlling 8 Crazyflies at once was a challenge. The great work by the USC ACT Lab (J. A. Preiss, W. Hönig, G. S. Sukhatme, and N. Ayanian. “Crazyswarm: A Large Nano-Quadcopter Swarm,” ICRA 2017. https://github.com/USC-ACTLab/crazyswarm) has made our minor effort in this field obsolete, but I will describe our work briefly. We used the crazyflie_ros package, maintained by Wolfgang Hönig from the USC ACT Lab, to interface with the Crazyflies. Unfortunately, we found that a single Crazyradio could communicate with only 2 Crazyflies at a time using our methods, so we had to use 4 Crazyradios, and we had to make a ROS node that switched between the 4 radios rapidly to send commands. It was not ideal at all – moreover, we had to design 8 unique Vicon marker configurations, which was a challenge given the small size of the Crazyflies. In the end, we got our system to work, but the new Crazyswarm framework from the ACT Lab should enable much more impressive demos in the future (as has already been done in their ICRA paper and by the Robust Adaptive Systems Lab at Carnegie Mellon, which they described in their blog post here).

We used two controllers, an air and a ground controller. The ground controller was a simple pure pursuit controller that followed waypoints on ground paths. The differentially steered driving mechanism made ground control blissfully simple. The main challenge we faced was maximizing the rate at which we could send commands to the wheels via the parameter framework. For aerial control, we used simple PID controllers to make the quads follow waypoints. Although the wheel deck shifted the center of mass of the Crazyflie, giving it a tendency to slowly spin in midair, overall the system worked well given its simplicity.

Once we had the design and control of the flying cars figured out, we were able to test our path planning algorithms on them. You can see in the video below that our vehicles were able to faithfully follow the simulation and that they transitioned from flying to driving when necessary.

Link to video

Our work had two goals. One was to show that multi-robot path planning algorithms can be adapted to work for vehicles that can both fly and drive to minimize energy consumption and time. The second goal was to showcase the utility of flying-and-driving vehicles. We were able to achieve these goals in our paper thanks in part to the ease of use and versatility of the Crazyflie 2.0.

A couple of weeks ago Qualisys visited us at the Bitcraze office, they came with the Miqus motion capture system that they installed temporary in the office. This gave us the opportunity to play with their motion capture system and the Crazyflie 2.0 :-).

It was our first hands-on experience with a motion capture system. We were eager to try the algorithms that have been developed for the loco positioning system with the more precise position information offered by the motion capture. The result was above our expectations. You get a bit amazed when it is just sitting there in the air. The normally difficult in-air photo shoot became a breeze since you suddenly have plenty of time to focus and shoot.

After running a couple of simple stabilized flight demos, we endeavored to run the ICRA demo with motion capture instead of our loco positioning system. As the loco positioning deck isn’t needed it was removed and instead the measured position was sent using Crazyradio. Doing so made the demo work pretty much out of the box. The ICRA demo had 2 buttons, one for playing a pre-recorded trajectory and one for recording a path and playing it back as soon as the Crazyflie is dropped. Both modes worked seamlessly without requiring any code change. We tried the path recording and playback functionality and were pretty impressed by the precision:

Link to video

We look forward of meeting and working more with Qualisys. One goal is to provide better information, documentation and tools to get started with Crazyflie in a motion capture system.

This week’s Monday post is a guest post written by members of the Robust Adaptive Systems Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.

As researchers in the Robust Adaptive Systems Lab (Director: Prof. Nathan Michael) at Carnegie Mellon University http://rasl.ri.cmu.edu, we’re interested in developing algorithms for control, planning, and coordination to enable robots to adapt to their environments, and we use the Crazyflie platforms to help us test our theory on real world systems.

We employ Crazyflie quadrotors to evaluate several research objectives in our lab. One research thrust looks at enabling a platform to learn new controllers as it flies, allowing the quadrotor to automatically switch between controllers to handle specific flight conditions. Another objective looks at adapting flight plans for multiple robots in real time, based on what a user tells the robots to do. We use the Crazyflie platform to evaluate our algorithms because the hardware is robust and the user community has helped make firmware available on which we can base our own systems (J. A. Preiss, W. Hönig, G. S. Sukhatme, and N. Ayanian. “Crazyswarm: A Large Nano-Quadcopter Swarm,” ICRA 2017. https://github.com/USC-ACTLab/crazyswarm). At the same time, the power and memory constraints of the Crazyflie force us to pursue efficient algorithms that can handle real world considerations such as limited battery life and computing restrictions.

We’re bringing these research ideas together to make an adaptive multi-robot system that a person can direct online and operate over long periods of time–longer than the lifespan of a single battery. In this blog post, we wanted to share a bit of information about some of the research we’re working on that uses the Crazyflie platforms. We look at single-robot controllers, multi-robot planning systems, and hardware designs to move us towards a persistent, adaptive swarm of Crazyflies.

Control Approaches

We have looked at implementing advanced control strategies onboard the Crazyflie for improved safety and flight performance. This includes an extremely efficient formulation of explicit Model Predictive Control (MPC) developed specifically for systems like the Crazyflie that have severe computational constraints due to size, weight, and power limitations. MPC optimizes the control commands based on current and predicted motion, allowing us to enforce speed limits and avoid motor saturation. The controller is run in a separate task on the STM32F405 MCU, allowing it to maintain a 100 Hz position control rate without blocking other components, such as the state estimator and attitude controller.

In the image above, the vehicle uses MPC control to rapidly and accurately move between two destinations. [V. R. Desaraju and N. Michael, “Fast Nonlinear Model Predictive Control via Partial Enumeration,” ICRA 2016.]

Multi-robot Systems

Another element of our research emphasizes adapting plans for multi-robot systems online, in order to translate a human operator’s intent into dynamically feasible and safe motion plans. We are using a swarm of Crazyflies for hardware validation of the online motion planning algorithms.

Our experimental testbed consists of a Vicon motion capture system that provides the state information (position and orientation) of the robots. The position coordinates and the heading angle are broadcast to the individual Crazyflies using the radios at a rate of 100 Hz. A centralized planner, running on a separate thread, parses user instructions into dynamically feasible and safe motion plans for each individual robot. The user instructions consists of high level information such as robot ids, behavior type (go to a target destination, rotate in a circle), and formation shapes (line, polygon, 3D). Once the feasible and safe motion plans are computed, the desired position setpoints are broadcasted to the Crazyflies at a rate of 30 Hz.

These images show a formation of 30 Crazyflies in a 3D shape and five groups of three Crazyflies, flying around a motion capture arena in response to a user’s direction. The multi-robot planner computes these flight plans online in response to the user’s commands, without any prior planning. [Ellen A. Cappo, Arjav Desai and Nathan Michael. “Robust Coordinated Aerial Deployments for Theatrical Applications Given Online User Interaction via Behavior Composition,” DARS 2016.]

Hardware Considerations 

As we move towards operating for long periods of time, we needed to incorporate the Qi inductive charger to enable the robots to recharge. We also want to retain the LEDs, to keep an aesthetic visual element and act as status indicators. There were two concerns with using both the standard LED and Qi decks: they both mount to the bottom of the Crazyflie, and both decks add weight. We created a combined deck based on the schematics from the Bitcraze wiki, and the final deck is shown below and weighs in at 6-7g.

Even with the combined Qi + LED deck, we observe shorter flight times and motor saturation with the Crazyflie flights, so we increased the battery capacity and flying with different motor and propeller combinations. Pictured below is a Crazyflie with 7×20 motors using 55mm propellers and a 500mAh battery, and carrying a foam mount for the motion capture markers. No frame modifications are required as the motors fit in the mounts and the battery is chosen to fit within the header pins. These changes resulted in an increase in flight time, greater control margin and aggressiveness, and larger payload capacity.

Toward Persistent Operation

The capabilities we mentioned above allow us to work towards long duration operation. We are currently integrating our adaptive control, online planning, and efficient hardware design to enable persistent operation of a swarm of Crazyflies. To achieve this goal, we are developing scheduling algorithms that update flight plans based on battery capacities across a Crazyflie fleet. The flight planner calculates trajectories that allow robots with full batteries to exchange places with robots with expired batteries, landing Crazyflies that need to recharge onto charging stations. In the first image below, 10 robots rotate in a circle formation. The time-lapsed image shows three Crazyflies with full batteries (with blue LEDs) exchange places with three Crazyflies with depleted batteries (with red LEDs). The second photo shows a close-up of our Crazyflie charging station.

In closing, we show a few video clips of Crazyflie flight illustrating the research we discuss here. We show a group of fifteen Crazyflies following online-issued commands to split and merge between formations; a formation of 30 Crazyflies; and an example of our exchange planner, substituting robots into a multi-robot formation and returning robots to ground station locations.

Contributors: Ellen Cappo, Arjav Desai, Matt Collins, Derek Mitchell, and Vishnu Desaraju, students and researchers at the Robust Adaptive Systems Lab (Director: Prof. Nathan Michael), Carnegie Mellon University.

For a while now we have been selling the BigQuad deck which makes it possible to transform the CF2 to control a bigger sized drone. It does so by becoming the quadrotor control board, controlling external brushless motor controllers, which allows to scale up the size. This can be very convenient when trying out/developing new things as it first can be tested on the small CF2 and later scaled up by attaching it to a bigger quad. However for a more permanent setup it is a bit bulky, so we have been playing around a bit and designed something in the middle. The result is a stand alone control board targeting quads around 0.1 – 0.5kg.

We call it the CF-RZR as it is inspired by the smaller sized racers with some fundamental differences. It is designed with a higher level of autonomous functionality in mind and being easy to repair while still being fully compatible with the CF2 firmware and decks. Listing the biggest features of the current prototype:

  • Fully compatible with the CF2 firmware, expansion decks as well as radio.
  • Connectors to attach motor controllers (still possible to solder though) so it is easy to build and repair.
  • Power distributions built into controller board. (Max ~8A per motor controller though)
  • Motor controllers can be switched of by the system so the system can go into deep sleep and consume around 50uA.
  • Voltage input 1S-4S (3V to 17V)
  • Standard mounting (M3 mounting holes placed 30.5mm square)
  • External antenna for increased range

To summarize, the strength of the CF2 but in a little bit bigger package :-). Last week we got a chance to test fly it for the first time. We used a off the shelf racer frame, ESC and motors. At first it did not fly that well at all but after some PID tuning it became pretty stable and we had a lot of fun :-).

We would love your feedback, good/bad idea, what do you like/dislike etc!

Link to video