Category: Guest-blogger

We have a guest blog post this week from Christopher Banks at Georgia Tech, where he tells us about their work with the Robotarium. Enjoy!

Multi-Agent Aerial Robotics

In the GRITS Lab  we focus on autonomous control and coordination of multi-robot systems with applications in – but not limited to – optimal control, constraint-based control, and hardware development. We are home to the Robotarium [1], a remotely accessible swarm robotics testbed that is free for anyone around the world to use for academic and educational purposes. We have integrated Crazyflies into the Robotarium as the main vehicle for aerial robot swarms due to their small size, quiet operation, and high maneuverability . Also, due to their low inertia, they pose minimal harm to their surroundings if system failures occur. Their small size and robust nature are well suited for flying in an indoor testbed like the Robotarium. As we work towards extending the operation of the Crazyflies in the Robotarium to external users, we encountered some important research questions: How do we guarantee the quadcopters remain “safe” (undamaged) while minimizing modifications to user inputs? How do we develop an easy to use interface for external users, with experience ranging from novice to expert? What commands can be used by external users to control a swarm of robots?  This post will briefly describe the ongoing research aimed at solving these questions.

Safety Guarantees

To ensure hardware safety while flying experimental algorithms we have developed Control Barrier Functions (CBFs) for quadcopters, allowing users to give nominal control inputs while obeying some safety constraints for the system (e.g. collision-free trajectory following). In the video below, we give four Crazyflies the commands to fly in a circle. A fifth Crazyflie is then told to fly to waypoints that will intersect the circle and attempt to collide with the circling quadcopters. Using CBFs a central controller can modify the inputs given to Crazyflies near collision to ensure safe velocity commands that are close as possible to the user intended control [2] . These CBFs can also be designed to ensure safety by bounding the quadcopters to a designated region of the testbed, giving additional safety constraints by protecting areas outside of the motion capture system during flights.

Quadcopters execute pre-planned flight trajectories designed to collide and use CBFs to avoid collisions.

User Interfaces

We have also used the Crazyflies to understand how remote users can best interact with the Robotarium both at the interface level and in planning. One project involved studying the effectiveness of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) on swarm robotic control. Two GUIs were developed with different interaction modalities. The GUIs were designed to map user inputs to a set of hoops placed in the Robotarium. One GUI (shown in Fig. 1) provided users the ability to draw paths through a touchscreen interface on a two-dimensional map and then map those inputs to trajectories for a team of robots. The other GUI (illustrated in Fig. 2) allowed users to input a sequence of desired hoops for a team of robots and execute trajectories based on the input.

Figure 1: A GUI that maps hand-drawn paths to inputs for a group of Crazyflies
Figure 2: A GUI that maps the string of indexed hoops as inputs for a group of Crazyflies.

Multi-Agent Planning

In planning, we looked at how multi-agent planning can be approached using high-level specifications. These high-level specifications allow users to develop plans requiring groups of robots to visit regions of interest (see Fig. 3) and trajectories are generated automatically. To represent these specifications, we use a logic formalism known as temporal logic to encode a preferred sequence of plan execution. As an additional step, users could include constraints on the trajectory by minimizing a cost using stochastic sampling. For more details, see the attached video demonstrating task allocation in a fire-fighting scenario.

Figure 3: Using the multi-agent planning framework, users give high-level specifications that plan trajectories for quadcopters to visit regions of interest (hoops) in the Robotarium.
A optimizing task allocation framework that assigns quadcopters a set of tasks based on user specifications.

Future Directions

As we continue to expand the capabilities of the Robotarium we are looking into how to develop long term autonomy for the Crazyflies. This includes autonomous charging as well as remote access for the lab and other users. We hope to use the Lighthouse system as a method for long term tracking since the Crazyflie will know its position instead of relying on passive tracking from a Vicon system. Our plans also include a lab-based simulator for in house projects related to the Crazyflies as well as updating our system to incorporate Crazyswarm to make control of the Crazyflies easier in implementation. In addition to this, in order to accommodate unknown users, we will have to figure out a control scheme that encourages use from a wide variety of users ranging from novices in quadcopter control to experts. We’ll keep Bitcraze updated on the Robotarium’s progression towards fully autonomous aerial swarms!

Links

  1. Robotarium Article: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8960572
  2. CBFs for Quadcopters: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7989375

Accurate indoor localization is a crucial enabling technology for many robotic applications, from warehouse management to monitoring tasks. Ultra-wideband (UWB) localization technology, in particular, has been shown to provide robust, high-resolution, and obstacle-penetrating ranging measurements. Nonetheless, UWB measurements are still corrupted by non-line-of-sight (NLOS) communication and spatially-varying biases due to doughnut-shaped antenna radiation pattern. In our recent work, we present a lightweight, two-step measurement correction method to improve the performance of both TWR and TDoA-based UWB localization.  We integrate our method into the Extended Kalman Filter (EKF) onboard a Crazyflie and demonstrate a closed-loop position estimation performance with ~20cm root-mean-square (RMS) error.

A stylized depiction of our UWB indoor localization system and the schematics of the proposed estimation framework.

Methodology

UWB measurement errors can be separated into two groups: (1) systematic bias caused by limitations in the UWB antenna pattern and (2) spurious measurements due to NLOS and multi-path propagation. We propose a two-step UWB bias correction approach exploiting machine learning (to address(1)) and statistical testing (to address (2)). The data-driven nature of our approach makes it agnostic to the origin of the measurement errors it corrects. 

(1) Neural Network Bias Correction

The doughnut-shaped antenna radiation pattern causes the relative poses of anchors and tags to have a noticeable impact on the received signal power, which leads to systematic, predictable biases.  To empirically demonstrate the systematic measurement errors resulting from varying the relative pose between anchors and tags, we placed two DWM1000 UWB anchors at a distance of 4m and collected both TWR and TDoA UWB range measurements for the UWB tag mounted on top of a Crazyflie spinning around its own z-axis.

Left: schematics of the ranges (∆p’s), azimuth (α’s) and elevation angles (β’s) defining the relative poses of tag T and anchors A0, A1 when collecting the systematic bias measurements. Right: the neural network’s inferred bias (in red) with respect to the tag’s varying azimuth angle towards anchor T0, αT0, plotted against the UWB raw measurements.

We choose to leverage the nonlinear representation power of neural networks to learn the systematic bias which only depends on anchor-tag relative poses. Considering the limited onboard computation power, we select a fully connected neural network with 50 neurons in each of two layers with ReLU activation. To represent the relative pose between the UWB tag and anchors, we select the relative distance ∆p and roll, pitch, and yaw angles of the quadcopter as the input features x for the network. As we used fixed anchors, we do not include their poses as inputs (this level of generalization is left for future work). Given sufficient training data, the spatially-varying measurement bias can be described by a nonlinear function b=f(x) captured by the trained neural network.

(2) Outlier (Spurious Measurements) Rejection

Besides our learning-based bias correction, we use a quadcopter’s dynamic model to filter inconsistent UWB range measurements. Given the estimated velocity v and maximum acceleration amax, we can compute the maximum distance dmax a quadcopter can cover during time ∆t. Based on this information, we can reject unattainable measurements before fusing them into the EKF by comparing the measurement innovation with dmax

Moreover, we use a statistical hypothesis test to further classify potential outlier measurements. Since the measurement innovation vector is assumed to be distributed according to a multivariate Gaussian distribution, the normalized sum of squares of its values should follow a Chi-square distribution. We use the Chi-square hypothesis test to determine whether a measurement innovation is likely coming from this distribution.

UWB measurement bias f (x) prediction performance of the trained neural network (in red) compared to the actual measurement errors (blue dots) as well as the role of model-based filtering (purple dots) and statistical validation (orange dots) in rejecting outlier measurement innovations (teal dots) during a 60” flight experiment.

Data Collection and Training

We use a Crazyflie 2.0 quadcopter and the Loco Positioning System (LPS)’s UWB DW1000 modules as our research platforms. Our calibration approach runs on the Crazyflie STM32 microcontroller within the FreeRTOS real-time operating system. We equipped a cuboid flying arena with 8 UWB anchors, one for each vertex. The anchor positions were measured using a Leica total station theodolite.

Left: three-dimensional plot of our flight arena showing the positions and poses of the eight UWB DW1000 anchors (each facing towards its own x-axis, i.e., the red versor). Right: two of the training trajectories we flew to collect the samples that we used to train our neural network-based bias estimator

For all experiments, the ground truth position of the Crazyflie was provided by 10 Vicon cameras. The neural network was trained using PyTorch. To perform inference on the Crazyflie’s microcontroller, we re-use PyTorch’s trained weights in a plain C re-implementation. Since the DW1000 modules in the LPS provide UWB measurements every 5ms, the neural network inference runs at 200Hz during flight as well. Our outlier rejection method is also implemented in plain C and merged with the onboard EKF.

Close-loop Position Estimation Performance

We demonstrate the position estimation and close-loop performance of the proposed methods by flying a Crazyflie quadcopter along planar and non-planar circular trajectories (which were not among the trajectories used for training). A comparison between the estimation error of (A) the UWB localization estimate enhanced with outlier rejections and (B) the estimated enhanced with both outlier rejection and neural network bias compensation is conducted in our experiments for both TWR and TDoA2 modes. We repeated all of our experiments 10 times with a target velocity of 0.375m/s. The quadcopter trajectories during these flight tests are displayed in the following plots.  

Flight paths and the tracking performance of our approach with (in blue) and without (in orange) the neural network bias correction for two reference trajectories (planar and non-planar circular orbits) and both UWB modes (TWR and TDoA).

The distributions of the RMS estimation errors are summarized into a box plot. TWR-based ranging results in better localization performance than TDoA. However, we observe that, with our neural network bias compensation, the average RMS error of TDoA localization is around 0.21m, which is comparable to that of TWR-based localization (~0.19m). Thanks to the neural network bias compensation, the average reduction in the RMS error is ~18.5% and 48% for TWR and TDoA, respectively. Most notably, this result suggests that bias compensation might help closing the performance gap between TWR- and TDoA-based localization.

Root mean square error (RMSE) of the quadcopter position estimate before (in orange) and after (in blue) the neural network calibration step for both TWR and TDoA ranging modes. Each pair of box plots refers to a planar reference trajectory (left of each pair) and a reference trajectory with varying z (right of each pair), showing a greater performance enhancement for the latter.

Outlook

In this work, we presented a two-step methodology to improve UWB localization—for both TWR- and TDoA-based measurements. We used a lightweight neural network to model and compensate for pose-dependent and spatially-varying biases and an outlier rejection mechanism to filter spurious measurements. Through several real world flight experiments tracking different trajectories, we showed that we are able to improve localization accuracy for both TWR and TDoA, granting safer indoor flight. In our future work, we will include the anchors’ pose information to allow our method to further generalize to previously unobserved indoor environments, with different anchor configurations.

Links

The authors are with the Dynamic Systems Lab, Institute for Aerospace Studies, University of Toronto, Canada, and affiliated with the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Toronto.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or ideas: wenda.zhao@robotics.utias.utoronto.ca. Please cite this as:

<code>@article{wenda2020learning,
  title={Learning-based Bias Correction for Ultra-wideband Localization of Resource-constrained Mobile Robots},
  author={Wenda Zhao and Abhishek Goudar and Jacopo Panerati and Angela P. Schoellig},
  journal={arXiv preprint arXiv:2003.09371},
  year={2020}
}</code>

 

I started working with the Crazyflie 2.0 in 2015. I was interested in learning how to program a quadcopter, and the open-source nature of the Crazyflie’s hardware and software was the perfect starting point.

Shortly after, I discovered the world of FPV and the thrill of flying with a bird’s eye view. My journey progressed from rubber-banding an all-in-one camera/VTX to my Crazyflie, to building a 250mm racing quad (via the BigQuad deck), and into the world of Betaflight (including bringing Betaflight support to the Crazyflie hardware).

 

Naturally, the announcement of the Bolt (then known as the RZR) piqued my interest, and the folks at Bitcraze graciously allowed me early hands-on with the product.

This post details my progress towards building out a FPV-style drone on top of the Crazyflie Bolt.

Component List

The FPV community has come a long way since 2015. What once was a very complicated process is now well documented and similar to building a PC (well, with some soldering). For latest details on the specifics of building FPV drones, I recommend resources such as Joshua Bardwell or the r/Multicopter subreddit.

Turns out I had enough components lying around for a 4-inch (propeller diameter) build based on 3S (3 cell) LiPo batteries. Again, there’s nothing special about these parts (in fact they’re all out of date). Take this list as a guide, and do your own research.

  • PDB (Power Distribution Board): This is a circuit board that produces regulated voltages from an unregulated LiPo battery. The Bolt has built-in regulators but is only rated up to an 8A current draw per motor. My 4 inch propellers will certainly draw more than 8A, and so an external PDB is required (plus having dedicated 12V and 5V supplies is nice for peripherals).
  • 4x DYS 1806 Brushless Motors: Brushless motors use magnetic pulses to rotate a motor bell (distinct from brushed motors found on the regular Crazyflie).
  • 4x DYS 20A BLHeli_S ESCs (Electronic Speed Controller): This is a piece of circuitry that accepts a logic-level control signal and applies direct battery power to motor coils to make a brushless motor spin. They have to be rated for the current draw expected by the battery+propeller combination.
  • Tweaker (by Shendrones) Frame: I’ve been wanting to build a quad around this frame, and the large square hole is interesting for the Bolt (more on that later). One thing to keep in mind is this is an ‘H’ style frame. That is, it’s longer than it is wide, so flight will not be perfectly symmetrical. If you’re interested in building a larger Crazyflie and not so interested in FPV, you’ll definitely want a symmetrical ‘X’ style frame.
  • WS2812B addressable LEDs: LEDs are proven to make things better. It’s science.
  • Camera + VTX: For a full FPV setup, you’ll need a camera and a video transmitter. For the most part these run completely independently of the flight controller and so I’ll omit them from this article — what I’ve shown in the picture above is horribly out of date anyway.
  • RX: Radio receiver. For longer range flights and reduced latency it may be a good idea to use an external radio and UART-based receiver with diversity antennas. However, some specific work went in to the Bolt’s antenna design, so I’ll be sticking with the on-board NRF51 and external antenna.
  • Flight Controller: The Crazyflie Bolt!

The Build

Again, there are hundreds of fantastic guides on the web that detail how to build an FPV quadcopter. Instead of trying to create another, here are some notes specific to my Bolt build.

Expansion Decks

Since the Bolt is pin compatible with the Crazyflie, I thought it would be interesting to try and take advantage of a couple existing Crazyflie expansion decks in my build: The LED Ring Deck, the Flow Deck v2, and the Micro SD Card Deck.

The LED Ring Deck

The LEDs were the most hands-on feature to enable. Rather than simply attaching the LED ring inside the frame, I mounted a series of WS2812B lights to the underside of my frame’s arms. The LED Ring Deck consists of 12 LEDs connected in series — so I put three LEDs on each arm of the frame and wired them up in a daisy-chain.

Finally, I soldered the lead to IO_2 (the same that’s used by the LED Ring Deck) on a Breakout Deck.

Since this isn’t the official LED Ring Deck, there’s no OW memory ID. The deck must be force-enabled by specifying a compile flag in your tools/build/make/config.mk file:

CFLAGS += -DDECK_FORCE=bcLedRing

With the custom firmware, the under-arm LEDs work just like the LED Ring Deck (other than the lack of front-facing LEDs).

Micro SD Card Deck

Most popular flight controllers feature flash storage or SD card slots for data logging. The FPV community uses storage to log sensor data for PID tuning and debugging. Naturally, this deck is a good fit on my Bolt build, and requires no additional modification.

Flow Deck (v2)

Remember my interest in the square cutout on my frame of choice? That, and my unorthodox choice to mount the Bolt board below my PDB, means I can theoretically use the bottom-attached Flow Deck to achieve some lateral stabilization while close to the ground. In theory, the VL53L1x ranger should work outdoors thanks to its usage of 940nm light as opposed to 850nm.

Note: This photo also shows the daisy chain wire connecting banks of LEDs in series

Other Build Tips

  • It’s good practice to soft mount flight controllers to minimize transferring motor/prop vibrations into the IMU. I used these to isolate the flight controller from the frame — not perfect, but better than a rigid mount.
  • The receiver antenna must be mounted clear of the carbon fiber frame and electronics. I like to use a heavy duty zip tie and attach the antenna with heat shrink.
  • The Bolt can be powered from a 5v regulator on your PDB, but if you want to take advantage of the VBat sensor it should be powered from the raw battery leads instead. However, most ESCs support active breaking (ability to slow/stop the propellers on demand). Active breaking is known to produce a lot of back-voltage, which can damage some circuits. To be safe, since I’m using a 3S battery (12.6V when fully charged, 11.1V when depleted) I chose to power the Bolt off a regulated 12V supply from my PDB. This way, the PDB’s regulator will filter out voltage spikes and help protect the Bolt. Readings won’t be accurate at the higher range, but what really matters for a voltage sensor is to know when to land.

Results

It works! There is work needed to improve flight, though:

  • Control tuning is required. The powerful brushless motors respond much quicker than brushed motors, and so many of the PID and/or Kalman parameters are too aggressive or just non-optimal.
  • Stabilization with the Flow deck does not work — I haven’t spent much time debugging but my guess is it’s either due to the Kalman tuning, or problems with the VL53L1x depth working outdoors (which also impacts the flow measurements)
  • Betaflight Support: Betaflight has no driver for the BMI088 IMU used on the Crazyflie Bolt or the Crazyflie 2.1.
  • Safety Features: Brushless quads are very dangerous and can cause serious injuries. It’d be good to implement a kill-switch and a more aggressive failsafe in the firmware to prevent flyaways.

All in all, this was an enjoyable project and I’m excited to see some autonomous brushed quads coming out of the Crazyflie community!

This week we have a guest blog post from Joseph La Delfa.

DroneChi is a Human Drone interaction experience that uses the Qualisys motion capture system that enables the Crazyflie to react to movements of your body. At the Exertion Games Lab in Melbourne Australia, we like to design new experiences with technology where the whole body can be the controller and is involved in the experience.

When we first put these two technologies together we realised two things. 

  1. It was super easy to keep your attention on a the drone as it flew around the room reacting to your movements. 
  2. As a result it was also really easy to reflect on and refine ones own movements. 

We thought this was like meditation meditated by a drone, and wanted to investigate how to further enhance this experience through design. We thought the smooth movements were especially mesmerising and so I decided to take beginner Tai Chi lessons; to get an appreciation of what it felt like to move like a Tai Chi student.

We undertook an 8 month design program where we simultaneously designed the form and the interaction of the Crazyflie. The initial design brief was pretty simple, make it look and feel light, graceful and from nature. In Tai Chi you are asked all the time to imagine a flower, the sea or a bird as you embody its movements, we wanted to emulate these experiences but without verbal instruction. Could a drone facilitate these sorts of experiences through it’s design?

We will present a summarised version of how the form and the interaction came about. Starting with a mood board, we collated radially symmetrical forms from nature to match a drone’s natural weight distribution.

We initially went with a jelly fish, hoping to emulate their “push gliiide” movement by articulating laser cut silhouettes (see fig c). This proved incredibly difficult, after searching high and low for a foam that was light enough for the Crazyflie to lift, we just could not get it to fly stable. 

However, we serendipitously fell into the flower shape by trying to improve how we joined the carbon rods together in a loop (fig b below).  By joining them to the main hull we realised it looked like a petal! This set us down the path of the flower, we even flipped the chassis so that the LED ring faced upwards (cheers to Tobias for that firmware hack). 

Whilst this was going on we were experimenting with how to actually interact with the drone. Considering the experience was to be demonstrated at a major conference we decided to keep the tracking only to the hands, this allowed quick change overs. We started with cardboard pads, experimented with gloves but settled on some floral inspired 3D printed pads. We were so tempted to include the articulation of the fingers but decided against it to avoid scope creep! Further to this, we curved the final hand pads (fig  d) to promote the idea of holding the drone, inspired by a move in Tai Chi called “holding the ball”.

As a beginner practicing Tai Chi I was sometimes overwhelmed by the number of aspects of my movement that constantly needed monitoring, palms out, heel out, elbow slightly bent, step forward etc. However in brief moments it all came together and I was able to appreciate the feelings of these movements as opposed to consciously monitoring them. We wanted this kind of experience when learning DroneChi so we devised a way of mapping the drone to the body to emulate this. After a few iterations we settled on the “mid point” method as seen below.

The drone only followed the midpoint (blue dot above) if it was within .2m of it. If it was outside of this range it would float away slowly from the participant. This may seem like a lot, but with little in the way of visual guidance (eg a laser pointer or an augmented display) a person can only rely on the proprioceptive feedback from their own body. We used the on board LED ring on the drone to let the person know at least when they are close, but that is all the help they got. As a result this takes a lot of concentration to get right!

In the end we were super happy with the final experience, in the study participants reported tuning into their bodies when using the drone, as well as experiencing a unique sort of relationship to the drone; not entirely like a pet and also like an extension of the body. We will be investigating both findings from the study through the design and testing of a new system on the Crazyflie. We see this work contributing to more intimate designs for human drone interactions as well as a being applicable to health contexts such as rehabilitation.

CrazyFlies are great for indoor applications, thanks to their maneuverability and ubiquitous character. Its small size, however, limits sensor quality and compute capability. In our recent work we present source seeking onboard a CrazyFlie by deep reinforcement learning. We show a general methodology for deploying deep neural networks on heavily constrained nano drones, using full 8-bit quantization and input scaling. 

Our fully autonomous light-seeking CrazyFlie

Problem definition

Source seeking can be interesting in a variety of contexts. We focus on light seeking, as seen in nature. Many insects rely on light, either for survival or navigation. Light seeking in aerial robotics has many applications, such as finding the exit out of a dark room. 

Our goal is to fully autonomously find a light source, using only the onboard Micro Controller Unit (MCU) and deep reinforcement learning. 

Crazyflie configuration

Our fully autonomous nano drone uses several standard and custom sensors. We use the multiranger and flowdeck for position control and obstacle avoidance.

The Multiranger deck with our custom light sensor

We add a custom light sensor, based on the Adafruit TSL2591 sensor. The custom light sensor nicely fits in the multiranger deck, adding little mass and inertia (total vehicle mass is 33 grams).

CrazyFlie 2.1 with multiranger, flowdeck and light sensor

Algorithm

We use a deep reinforcement learning algorithm with a discrete action space. The neural network policy has laser rangers and light readings (current and past values) as input. The neural network tells the drone to rotate left, right or fly forward. We train a neural network with 2 hidden layers of both 20 nodes, featuring bias add and relu activation functions. The input layer is a vector with a length of 20 (4 states), which, compared to images, greatly reduces computational effort. 

DQN policy architecture

Simulation and conversion

We train our agent in simulation using the Air Learning simulation platform, after which we fully quantize the neural network to 8-bit integers.

To maintain accuracy after quantization, we have come up with quantization innovations. Both input layer and all tensors in the network need to have a pre-defined [min,max] range in float32, to convert to 8-bit integers. 

Air Learning pipeline

In the input layer, not all inputs have the same range. That is, a laser ranger can have values from 0 to 5 meters while our light sensor may return a value between 0 and 300 lux. To avoid this issue, we scale all inputs to the same range.

Additionally, the tensors in the network need to have an assigned [min,max] range for quantization. To achieve this, we input a range of representative input into the unquantized model, and read out the values of intermediate layers. With this strategy, we arrive at a 2.9x speed-up compared to float32 inference.

Implementation

We use Tensorflow Lite to deploy our tensorflow models in C on the CrazyFlie. The TFMicro Stack, together with the actual model, almost completely fill up the available RAM. 

RAM utilization on the CrazyFlie 2.1

The total amount of RAM available on the CrazyFlie 2.1 is 196kB, of which only 131kB is available for static allocation at compile time. The Bitcraze software stack uses 98kB of RAM, leaving only 33kB available for our purposes. The TFMicro stack takes up 24kB, thus leaving 9kB for the actual model (e.g., weights, bias terms). 

We also analyzed CPU usage, and noticed a high amount of interrupts by the ‘stabilizer’ thread, i.e., the PID controllers. Because of these interrupts, inference of our model takes 46.4 times longer than it would have been without interruption. 

Our quantized model is 3kB. If it were an FP32 model, it would have taken 12kB, which would not have fitted in the available memory. We were able to run inference at 4Hz, compared to the estimated 1.4Hz of the same but unquantized model. 

In a practical sense, we noticed a decreased level of stability when increasing model size. Occasionally the drone would reboot randomly while flying. Possible causes for this behavior are RAM overflow and task scheduling problems in RTOS. Besides, we observed variation in performance loss after quantization. Some of our trained models would just keep rotating after quantization, while our final model demonstrates robust source seeking behavior. This degree of uncertainty can possibly be avoided using quantization aware training. 

Finally, flying in a dark room without a position estimate can be challenging. The PID controllers heavily rely on information provided by the Flow Deck. This information is limited when little light is present while flying over a floor containing little features. To fix this, we added mats with texture on the ground, adding features and enabling stable flight in a dark room.

Flight tests

To validate our results in simulation, we created a cluttered environment with a light source. We randomly initialized the drone in the room, and hereby observed a success rate of 80% in a total of 105 flight tests. By varying the environment and initial drone position, we learned more about the inner workings of our algorithm.

Experiment testing environment

We learned that the algorithm performs better with more obstacles, and that a closer initial position improves performance. Generally, source seeking far away from the source seems really hard. Almost no variation in source strength exists between different measurements, and the drone observes mostly noise. 

Outlook

With our methodology, we were able to perform fully autonomous source seeking using deep reinforcement learning on a Cortex-M4 MCU. We hope our methodology will be applicable to other TinyML applications where resources are heavily constrained. Developing custom accelerators for a specific workload is time-consuming and expensive, while general purpose MCU’s are cheap and widely available. With our methodology, we unlock new applications for learning algorithms on heavily constrained platforms.

Direct path to source in empty room, blue = take-off

Links

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmVKbX7MOnU

Paper: https://arxiv.org/abs/1909.11236

Github: https://github.com/harvard-edge/source-seeking

Feel free to contact us might you have any questions or ideas: bduisterhof@g.harvard.edu

Hi everyone, here at the Integrated and System Laboratory of the ETH Zürich, we have been working on an exciting project: PULP-DroNet.
Our vision is to enable artificial intelligence-based autonomous navigation on small size flying robots, like the Crazyflie 2.0 (CF) nano-drone.
In this post, we will give you the basic ideas to make the CF able to fly fully autonomously, relying only on onboard computational resources, that means no human operator, no ad-hoc external signals, and no remote base-station!
Our prototype can follow a street or a corridor and at the same time avoid collisions with unexpected obstacles even when flying at high speed.


PULP-DroNet is based on the Parallel Ultra Low Power (PULP) project envisioned by the ETH Zürich and the University of Bologna.
In the PULP project, we aim to develop an open-source, scalable hardware and software platform to enable energy-efficient complex computation where the available power envelope is of only a few milliwatts, such as advanced Internet-of-Things nodes, smart sensors — and of course, nano-UAVs. In particular, we address the computational demands of applications that require flexible and advanced processing of data streams generated by sensors such as cameras, which is beyond the capabilities of typical microcontrollers. The PULP project has its roots on the RISC-V instruction set architecture, an innovative academic and research open-source architecture alternative to ARM.

The first step to make the CF autonomous was the design and development of what we called the PULP-Shield, a small form factor pluggable deck for the CF, featuring two off-chip memories (Flash and RAM), a QVGA ultra-low-power grey-scale camera and the PULP GAP8 System-on-Chip (SoC). The GAP8, produced by GreenWaves Technologies, is the first commercially available embodiment of our PULP vision. This SoC features nine general purpose RISC-V-based cores organised in an on-chip microcontroller (1 core, called Fabric Ctrl) and a cluster accelerator of 8 cores, with 64 kB of local L1 memory accessible at high bandwidth from the cluster cores. The SoC also hosts 512kB of L2 memory.

Then, we selected as the algorithmic heart of our autonomous navigation engine an advanced artificial intelligence algorithm based on DroNet, a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) that was originally developed by our friends at the Robotic and Perception Group (RPG) of the University of Zürich.
To enable the execution of DroNet on our resource-constrained system, we developed a complete methodology to map computationally-intense deep neural networks on the PULP-Shield and the GAP8 SoC.
The network outputs two pieces of information, a probability of collision and a steering angle that are translated in dynamic information used to control the drone: respectively, forward velocity and angular yaw rate. The layout of the network is the following:

Therefore, our mission was to deploy all the required computation onboard our PULP-Shield mounted on the CF, enabling fully autonomous navigation. To put the problem into perspective, in the original work by the RPG, the DroNet CNN enabled autonomous navigation of big-size drones (e.g., the Bebop Parrot). In the original use case, the computational power and memory was not a problem thanks to the streaming of images to a remote base-station, typically a laptop consuming 30-100 Watt or more. So our mission required running a similar workload within 1/1000 of the original power.
To make this work, we combined fixed-point arithmetic (instead of “traditional” floating point), some minimal modification to the original topology, and optimised memory and computation usage. This allowed us to squeeze DroNet in the ultra-small power budget available onboard. Our most energy-efficient configuration delivers 6 frames-per-second (fps) within only 64 mW (including all the electronics on the PULP-Shield), and when we push the PULP platform to its limit, we achieve an impressive 18 fps within just 3.5% of the total CF’s power envelope — the original DroNet was running at 20 fps on an Intel i7.

Do you want to check for yourself? All our hardware and software designs, including our code, schematics, datasets, and trained networks have been released and made available for everyone as open source and open hardware on Github. We look forward to other enthusiasts contributions both in hardware enhancement, as well as software (e.g., smarter networks) to create a great community of people interested in working together on smart nano-drones.
Last but not least, the piece of information you all were waiting. Yes, soon Bitcraze will allow you to enjoy of our PULP-shield, actually, even better, you will play with its evolution! Stay tuned as more information about the “code-name” AI-deck will be released in upcoming posts :-).

If you want to know more about our work:

Questions? Drop us an email (dpalossi at iis.ee.ethz.ch and fconti at iis.ee.ethz.ch)

This week we have a guest blog post from Javier Burgués. Enjoy!

I would like to introduce you a rather unknown application of the CrazyFlie 2.0 (CF2): chemical sensing. Due to its small form-factor, the CF2 is an ideal platform for carrying out gas sensing missions in hazardous environments inaccessible to terrestrial robots and bigger drones. For example, searching for victims and hazardous gas leaks inside pockets that form within the wreckage of collapsed buildings in the aftermath of an earthquake or explosion.

To evaluate the suitability of the CF2 for these tasks, I developed a custom deck, named the MOX deck, to interface two metal oxide semiconductor (MOX) gas sensors to the CF2. Then, I performed experiments in a large indoor environment (160 m2) with a gas source placed in challenging positions for the drone, for example hidden in the ceiling of the room or inside a power outlet box. From the measurements collected in motion (i.e. without stopping) along a predefined 3D sweeping path that takes around 3 minutes, the CF2 builds a map of the gas distribution and identifies the most likely source location with high accuracy.

1. MOX deck

The MOX deck (Fig. 1a) contains two sockets for 4-pin Taguchi-type (TGS) gas sensors, a temperature/humidity sensor (SHT25, Sensirion AG), a dual-channel digital potentiometer (AD5242BRUZ1M, Analog Devices, and two MOSFET p-type transistors (NX2301P, NEXPERIA). I used TGS 8100 sensors (Figaro Engineering) due to its compatibility with 3.0 V logic, power consumption of only 15 mW (the lowest in the market as of June 2016) and miniaturized form factor (MEMS). Since the sensor heater uses 1.8V, two transistors (one per sensor) reduce the applied power by means of pulse width modulation (PWM). The MOX read-out circuit (Fig. 1b) is a voltage divider connected to the μC’s analog-to-digital converter (ADC). The voltage divider is powered at 3.0 V and the load resistor (RL) can be set dynamically by the potentiometer (from 60 Ω to 1 MΩ in steps of 3.9 kΩ). Dynamic configuration of the load resistor is important in MOX gas sensors due to the large dynamic range of the sensor resistance (several orders of magnitude) when exposed to different gas concentrations. The sensors were calibrated (by exposing them to several known concentrations) to convert the raw output into parts-per-million (ppm) concentration units.

The initialization task of the deck driver configures the PWM, initializes the SHT25 sensor, sets the wiper position of both channels of the potentiometer and adds the MOX readout registers to the list of variables that are continuously logged and transmitted to the base station. The main task of the deck driver reads the MOX sensor output voltage and the temperature/humidity values from the SHT25 and sends them to the ground station at 10 Hz.

2. Experimental Arena, External Localization System and Gas Source

Experiments were performed in a large robotics laboratory (160 m2 × 2.7 m height) at Örebro University (Sweden). The laboratory is divided into three connected areas (R1–R3) of 132 m2 and a contiguous room (R4) of 28 m2 (Fig. 2). To obtain the 3D position of the drone, I used the Loco positioning system (LPS) from Bitcraze, based on ultra-wide band (UWB) radio transmitters. Six LPS anchors were positioned in known locations of the experimental arena and one LPS tag was fixed to the drone. The six LPS anchors were placed in the central area of the laboratory, shaped in two inverted triangles (below and above the flight area).

A gas leak was emulated by placing a small beaker filled with 200 mL of ethanol 96% in different locations of the arena (Fig. 4). Ethanol was used because it is non-toxic and easily detectable by MOX sensors. Two experiments were carried out to check the viability of the proposed system for gas source localization and mapping in complex environments. In the first experiment, the gas source was placed on top of a table (height = 1 m) in the small room (R4). In the second experiment, the source was placed inside the suspended ceiling (height = 2.7 m) near the entrance to the lab (R1). Since the piping system of the lab runs through the suspended ceiling, the gas source could represent a leak in one of the pipes. A 12 V DC fan (Model: AD0612HB-A70GL, ADDA Corp., Taiwan) was placed behind the beaker to facilitate dispersion of the chemicals in the environment, creating a plume. The experiments started five minutes after setting up the source and turning on the DC fan.

3. Navigation strategy

The drone was sent to fly along a predefined sweeping path consisting of two 2D rectangular sweepings at different heights (0.9 m and 1.8 m), collecting measurements in motion (Fig. 5). These two heights divide the vertical space of the lab in three parts of equal size. Flying first at a lower altitude minimizes the impact of the propellers’ downwash in the gas distribution. For safety reasons, the trajectory was designed to ensure enough clearance around obstacles and walls, and people working inside the laboratory were told to remain in their seats during the experiments. The ground station communicates the flight path to the drone as a sequence of (x,y,z) waypoints, with a target flight speed of 1.0 m/s. The CF2 reports the measured concentration and its location to the ground station every 100 ms.

At the end of the exploration, the ground station uses all the received information to compute a 3D map of the instantaneous concentration and the ’bouts’. A ’bout’ is declared when the derivative of the sensor response exceeds a certain threshold. Bouts are produced by contact with individual gas patches and some authors use them instead of the instantaneous response (which is more affected by the slow response time of chemical sensors). For gas source localization, we compare two approaches: using the cell with maximum value in the concentration map or using the cell with maximum bout frequency. The bout frequency (bouts/min) is computed as the bout count in a 5 second sliding window multiplied by 12 (to convert it to bouts/min).

4. Results

In the first experiment, the drone took off near the entrance of the lab (R1), 17 meters downwind of a gas source located in the other end of the laboratory (R4). From the gas distribution map (Fig. 6a) it is evident that the gas source must be in R4, because the maximum concentration (35 ppm) was found there while concentrations below 5 ppm were measured in the rest of the lab. The gas plume can be outlined from the location of odor hits. The highest odor hit density (25 hits/min) was found also in R4. The cells corresponding to the maximum concentration (green start) and maximum odor hit frequency (blue triangle) were found at 0.94 and 1.16 m of the true source location, respectively.

In the second experiment, the gas source was located just above the starting point of the exploration, hidden in the suspended ceiling (Fig. 7). The resulting maximum concentration in the test room was measured when the drone flew at h=1.8 m, highlighting the importance of sampling in 3D for localization and mapping of elevated gas sources. However, since the source is presumably not directly exposed to the environment, concentrations below 3 ppm were found in most locations of the room, which complicates the gas source localization task. The concentration and odor hit maps suggest that the gas source is located in the division between R1 and R2, which represents a localization error of 4.0 and 3.31 m, respectively.

5. Conclusions

These results suggest that the CF2 can be used for gas source localization and mapping in large indoor environments. In contrast to previous works in which long measurement times were taken at predefined or adaptively chosen sampling locations, a rough approximation of such maps can be obtained in very short time with concentration measurements acquired in motion. The obtained gas distribution maps seem coherent with respect to the true source location and wind direction, and not only enable the detection of the source with relatively small localization errors but also provide a rich visual interpretation of the gas distribution.

If you are interested in more details about this work, take a look at the journal paper or drop me an email at <jburgues8 at gmail dot com> or leave a comment on the blog!

This week we have a guest blog post from Percy Jaiswal about quad rotor dynamics. Enjoy!

  1. Components
    Although most of us are aware how a quadcopter / drone looks, a generic picture (It’s of a drone called Crazyflie from Bitcraze) of drone is shown above. It consists of 4 motors, control circuitry in middle and Propellers mounted on its rotors. For reasons described in below section, 2 of the rotors rotate in clockwise (CW) direction and remaining 2 in counterclockwise (CCW). CW and CCW motors are placed next to each other to negate Moment (described in next section) generated by them. Propellers come in different configurations like CW or CCW rotating, Pusher or Tractor, with different radius, pitch etcetera.
  2. Force and Moments

    Each rotating propeller produces two kind of forces. When a rotor rotates, it’s propeller produces upward thrust given by F=K_f * ω² (shown by forces F1, F2, F3 and F4 in Figure 2) where ω (omega) is rotation rate of rotor measured in radian / second. Constant K_f depends upon many factors like torque proportionality constant, back-EMF, Density of surrounding air, area swept by propeller etc. The values for K_f​ and K_m (mentioned below)​ are generally found empirically. We mount the motor and propeller on a load cell and measure the force and moment for different motor speeds. Refer “System Identification of the Crazyflie 2.0 Nano Quadrocopter” by Julian Forster for details regarding measurement of K_f and K_m.
    Total upward thrust generated by all 4 propellers is given by summing all individual thrusts generated, for i= 1 to 4 its given by
    F_i = K_f * ω²
    Apart from upward force, a rotating propeller also generates an opposing rotating spin called Torque or Moment (shown by Moments M1, M2, M3 and M4 in Figure 2). For e.g. a rotor spinning in CW direction will produce a torque which causes the body of drone to spin in CCW direction.  A demonstration of this effect can be seen here. This rotating torque is given by M=K_* ​ω²
    Moment generated by a motor is in opposite direction to its spinning, hence CW and CCW spinning motors generate opposite moments. And this is the reason why we have CW and CCW rotating motors so that in steady hover state, moments from 2 CW and 2 CCW rotating rotors negate each other out and drone doesn’t keeping spinning about its body axis (also called yaw).
    Moments / Torques M1, M2, M3 and M4 are moments generated by individual motors. The overall Moment generated around drone’s z axis (Z_b in Figure 2) is given by summation of all 4 moments. Remember that CW and CCW moments will have opposite signs.
    moment_z = M1 + M2 + M3 + M4, again CW and CCW moments will have opposite signs and hence in ideal condition (or whenever we don’t want any Yaw (rotation around z axis) movement) moment_z will be close to 0.
    Contrary to moment_z, overall moment / torque generated around x and y axis’s calculations are little different. Looking at Figure 2, we can see that motor 1 and 3 lie on x axis of drone. So they won’t contribute to any moment / torque around x axis. However we can see that difference in forces generated by motor 2 and 4 will cause drone’s body to tilt around it’s x axis and this is what constitutes overall moment / torque around x axis, which is given by
    moment _x = (F2 — F4) * L, where L is the distance from the axis of rotation of the rotors to the center of the quadrotor. By same logic,
    moment _y = (F3 — F1) * L.
    Summing it up, moment around all 3 axis can be denoted by below vector
    moment = [moment_x, moment_y, moment_z]^T (^T for Transpose)

  3. Orientation and position

    A drone has positional as well as orientational attributes, meaning to say it can be any position (x, y, z coordinates) and can be making certain angles (theta (θ), phi (φ) and psi (ψ)) with respect to world / Inertial frame. Above figure shows theta (θ), phi (φ) and psi (ψ) more clearly.
  4. Moving in z and x & y direction

    Whenever a drone is stationary, it’s in alignment with World frame, meaning to say its Z axis is in same direction as World’s gravitational field. During such a case, if a drone wants to move upwards, it just needs to set proper propeller rotating speed and it can start moving in z direction according to equation total generated force — gravity. However, if it wants to move in x or y direction it first needs to orient itself (making required theta or phi angle). When that happens, total thrust generated by four propellers (F_thrust) has a component in z direction and in x/y direction as shown in above 2D figure. For above shown example, using basic trigonometry, we can find z and y directional force by following equation, where phi is angle made Drone’s body z axis with world Frame.
    F_y ​= F_thrust * ​sinϕ
    F_z ​= F_thrust * ​cosϕ
  5. World and Body frame

    To measure above stated theta, phi and psi angles, usually drone’s onboard IMU sensor is used. This sensor measures how fast drone’s body is rotating around its body frame and provides that angular velocity as its output. When processing this IMU outputs, we need to be careful and understand that angular velocities sent by it are not with respect to World frame, but are with respect to its Body Frame. Above diagram shown both this frames for reference.
  6. Rotation Matrix

    To convert coordinates from Body Frame to World Frame and vice versa, we use a 3×3 matrix called Rotation Matrix. That is, if V is a vector in the world coordinates and V’ is the same vector expressed in the body-fixed coordinates, then the following relations hold:
    V’ = R * V and
    V = R^T * V’ where R is Rotation Matrix and R^T is its transpose.
    To understand this relation completely, let’s begin by understanding rotation in 2D. Let the vector V be rotated by an angle β to get the new vector V′. Let r=|V|. Then, we have the below relations:
    vx = r*cosα and vy = r*sinα
    v’x = r*cos(α+β) and v’y = r*sin(α+β). Expanding this, we get
    v’x = r * (cosα * cosβ — sinα * sinβ) and v’y = r * (sinα * cosβ + cosα * sinβ)
    v’x = vx * cosβ — vy * sinβ and v’y = vy * cosβ + vx * sinβ
    This is exactly what we want because the desired point V’ is described in terms of the original point V and the actual angle β. For conclusion we can write this in matrix notation as

    Going from 2D to 3D is relatively simple in Rotation Matrix’s case. In fact, the 2D matrix we just now derived can actual be thought of as an 3D rotation matrix for rotation around z axis. Hence, for a rotation around z-axis the Rotation Matrix would be

    0, 0, 1 in values in last row and column indicate that z coordinates for rotated point (v’z) is same as original point’s z coordinate (vz). We will call this Z axis Rotation Matrix as Rz(β). Extrapolating same logic to rotations around x and y axis, we can get values for RX(β) and RY(β) as

    And final value for 3D motion Rotation Matrix will just be cross multiplication of above three Rotation Matrices.
    R = Rz(ψ) x Ry(θ) x Rx(φ), where psi (ψ), phi (φ,) and theta (θ) are rotation around z, y, and x axis respectively.

  7. State Vector and its Derivative
    As our drone has 6 degrees of freedom, we usually track it by monitoring this six parameters along with their derivatives (how they are changing with time) to get an accurate estimate of drone’s position and velocity of movement. We do this by maintaining what is often called a state vector X = [x, y, z, φ, θ, ψ, x_dot, y_dot, z_dot, p, q, r] and its derivative X_dot= [x_dot, y_dot, z_dot, θ_dot, φ_dot, ψ_dot, x_doubledot, y_doubledot, z_doubledot, p_dot, q_dot, r_dot] where x, y and z are position of drone in World frame, x_dot, y _dot, and z_dot are positional / linear velocities in World Frame. φ, θ, ψ represent drone attitude / orientation in World frame whereas φ_dot, θ_dot, ψ_dot represents rate of change of this (Euler) angles. p, q, r are angular velocities in body frame whereas p_dot, q_dot and r_dot are its derivate (derivative = rate of change) aka angular acceleration in body frame. x_doubledot, y_doubledot, z_doubledot represents linear accelerations in World Frame.
  8. Linear Acceleration
    As briefed before, whenever propellers are moving, drone will start moving (accelerating) in x, y and z direction depending upon total thrust generated by it’s 4 propellers (represented by Ftotal in below equation) and drone’s orientation (represented by Rotation Matrix R). We know force = mass * acceleration. Ignoring Rotation Matrix R, if we just consider acceleration in z direction, it would be given by
    Z_force = (mass * gravitational force) — (mass * Z_acceleration)
    mass * Z_acceleration = mass * gravitational force — Z_force
    And therefore Z_acceleration = gravitational force — Z_force / mass
    Extrapolating it to x and y direction and including Rotation Matrix (for reasons described in section 4 and 6), equation describing linear acceleration for a drone is given by below equation, where m is mass of drone and g is for gravitational force. Negative sign in F indicates that we are considering gravitational force to be in positive z direction.
  9. Angular acceleration
    Along with linear motion, owing to rotating propellers and its orientation, drone will also have some rotational motion. . While it is convenient to have the linear equations of motion in the inertial / world frame, the rotational equations of motion are useful to us in the body frame, so that we can express rotations about the center of the quadcopter instead of about our inertial center. As mentioned in section 4, we will use drone’s IMU to get its angular accelerations. Let’s consider output from IMU be p, q and r, representing rotational velocities around drone’s x, y and z body axis.

    We derive the rotational equations of motion from Euler’s equations for rigid body dynamics. Expressed in vector form, Euler’s equations are written as

    where ω = [p, q, r]^T is the angular velocity vector, I is the inertia matrix, and moment is a vector of external moment / torques developed in section 2. . Please don’t get confused with usage of ω (as angular velocity) in this section with it’s usage as propeller’s rotation rate. We will stick to usage of ω as rotation rate post this section. We can rewrite above equation as

    Replacing ω with [p, q, r]^T, expanding moment vector and reshuffling above equation we get angular accelerations in body frame as

  10. Rate of change of the Euler angles
    Although drone’s orientation is originally observed in Body frame, we need to convert them to World Frame. Again, we use rotation matrix as per below formula for this purpose. The derivation of this formula is little elongated and is provided in the Reference [6]
  11. Recap
    So to recap what we have learnt so far
    1. A quadcopter has 4 (2 CW and 2 CCW) rotating propellers
    2. Each Propeller creates F =K_f * ω² force in direction perpendicular to its plane and Moment M = K_m * ω² around it’s perpendicular axis.
    3. A drone can be in any x, y, z position and theta (θ), phi (φ) and psi (Ψ) orientation.
    4. When a drone wants to move in z direction (in World Frame) it needs to generate appropriate force (total thrust divided by 4) on each propeller. When it wants to move in either x or y direction (again World Frame), it makes respecting theta / phi angle along with generating required force
    5. When tracking drone’s motion, we need to handle data in World and Body Frames
    6. To convert angular data from Body Frame to World Frame, a Rotational Matrix is used
    7. To track drone’s movements, we keep track of its state vector X and its derivative X_dot
    8. Rotating propellers generate linear accelerations in x, y and z direction as per equation shown in section 8
    9. Rotating propellers generate angular accelerations around z, y and z axis in Body frame as per equation shown in section 9
    10. We convert angular velocities in Body Frame to World Frame Euler angle velocities as per equation shown in section 10.
  12. References
    I don’t want to just list down references, but instead would like to sincerely thank individual authors for their work, without which this article and the understanding which I have gained for drone dynamics would have been almost impossible.
    1. System Identification of the Crazyflie 2.0 Nano Quadrocopter by Julian Forster — http://mikehamer.info/assets/papers/Crazyflie%20Modelling.pdf
    2. Trajectory Generation and Control for Quadrotors by Daniel Warren Mellinger — https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1705&context=edissertations
    3. Quadcopter Dynamics, Simulation, and Control by Andrew Gibiansky — http://andrew.gibiansky.com/downloads/pdf/Quadcopter%20Dynamics,%20Simulation,%20and%20Control.pdf
    4. A short derivation to basic rotation around the x-, y- or z-axis — http://www.sunshine2k.de/articles/RotationDerivation.pdf
    5. How do you derive the rotation matrices? — Quora — https://www.quora.com/How-do-you-derive-the-rotation-matrices
    6. Representing Attitude: Euler Angles, Unit Quaternions, and Rotation Vectors by James Diebel — https://www.astro.rug.nl/software/kapteyn/_downloads/attitude.pdf

I would like to sincerely thanks Bitcraze team for allowing me to express myself on their platform. If you liked this post, Follow, Like, Retweet it on Twitter, it will act as encouragement for writing new posts as I continue my journey in becoming a complete Drone engineer.

Till next time….cheers!!

 

Malmö is known to be very beautiful in June. At least that’s what i’ve heard from the Bitcraze team when we talked about having a meet-n-geek in their offices in Sweden.

I’ve been working on the crazyflies and developing artist friendly interface to control them for a year now, and I always was impressed with their philosophy of work and communication. Over the past year, they’ve helped me and my companies a lot to be able to create the shows we want, with our specific needs and constraints, that researchers don’t have, like fast installation time, or confidence in drone take off (you want to make sure that a drone won’t hit the theater’s director’s head at the very beginning of the show !).

 

For that I created LaMoucheFolle, which is an open-source software with a nice UI to be able to connect, monitor and control multiple drones. LaMoucheFolle is not made to be a flight controller, but acts more as a server that any software will be able to use, like Unity or Chataigne. That way, people and users don’t need to handle all the connection, feedback, warning, calibration process and can concentrate essentially on the flight and interaction.
While the fist version of LaMoucheFolle got me through most of the demos and workshops, I knew that it could be vastly improved if I understood better the drones, so I decided to ask the creators to meet them, and here I am !

As I hoped, being physically there allowed me to understand better what are their practices, and allowed them to better understand mine, so we could find a way to improve both their Crazyflie ecosystem and my contribution to it.

So I refactored, redesigned and improved LaMoucheFolle to a (soon to be released) V2, featuring :
– New drone manager interface  with a more intuitive feedback of the drones
– New multi-threaded drone communication mechanism
– New state-safe sequenced initialization and flight control of the drone, with a progressive take-off vastly increasing its stability
– Unity demo app and Chataigne demo session to show how to control from other softwares via OSC

 

 

 

While developping the new version and talking to the team, some key features and improvements for the use Crazyflies in shows were discussed and some of them are now in research/development :
– Health analysis : using the accelerometer’s data and Tobias’ magic brain, it allows to test the motors while the drone is on ground and find out if one or more are problematic (too much or not enough vibration, meaning either the propeller or the motor needs to be repaired/replaced)
– Battery analysis : when the battery is fully charged, this allows to have an automated motor sequence which will find out if the battery has an abnormal discharge behavior
– Steath mode : Shut down all the system leds (the 4 builtin leds on the drone) so it can be invisible, ninja-style
– Normalized battery level and low battery log values : it allows for safe and consistent feedback of the battery level in percent, and an indicator if the drone should land soon. It will also possible to use this value to monitor the charging progression of a drone.
– LedRing fade pattern : This mode allows for easy fading between solid colors on the led ring, so it’s not necessary to stream all the colors from one color to another, but instead having a very beautiful smooth interpolation, using only 2 parameters : the target color and the fade time.

I hope you are as excited as I am about those new features, and if you’re not, please tell us what would make you “vibrate” !

I’ve been spending the last week at their office, and it was a great week : I initially came to improve my software, and discuss about future development of the Crazyflies [which was great], but what i’ll remember the most from this trip is by far the human aspect of the Bitcraze team.
Marcus, Kristoffer, Tobias, Björn and Arnaud are amazing and i’m really happy to have had the chance to see them working, and collaborate with them. I admire their choices of being fully transparent on their work and amongst themselves, and there is a natural kindness mixed to the passion for their project that makes working there feel like everyday’s special. Also, Malmö is very beautiful indeed :)

Thank you very much and I hope to reiterate the experience soon,

Skål

 

 

I’ve spent the last 5 years of my career at Microsoft on the team responsible for HoloLens and Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets. Typically, augmented reality applications deal with creating and manipulating digital content in the context of real-world surroundings. I thought it’d be interesting to explore some applications of using an augmented reality device to manipulate and control physical objects and have them interact with the real world and/or digital content.

Phase 1: Gesture Input

The HoloLens SDK has APIs for consuming hand gestures as input. For the first phase of this project, I modified the existing Windows UAP/UWP client to handle these gestures and convert them to CRTP setpoints. I used the “manipulation gesture” which provides offsets in three dimensions for a tap-and-drag gesture, from the point in space where the initial tap occurred. These three degrees of freedom are mapped to thrust, pitch and roll.

For the curious, there’s an article on my website with details about the implementation and source code. Here’s a YouTube video where I explain the concept and show a couple of quick demos.

As you can see in the first demo in the video, this works but isn’t entirely useful or practical. The HoloLens accounts for head movements (otherwise moving the head to the left would produce the same offset as moving the hand to the right, requiring the user to keep his or her head very still) but the user must still take care to keep the hand in the field of view of the device’s cameras. Once the gesture is released (or the hand goes out of view) the failsafe engages and the Crazyflie drops to the ground. And of course, lack of yaw control cripples the ability to control the Crazyflie.

Phase 2: Position Hold

Adding a flow deck makes for a more compelling user experience, as seen in the second demo in the video above. The Crazyflie uses the sensors on the flow deck to hold its position. With this functionality, the user is free to move about the room and make shorter “adjustment” hand gestures, instead of needing to hold very still. In this mode, the gesture’s degrees of freedom map to an x/y velocity and a vertical offset from the current z-depth.

This is a step in the right direction, but still has limitations. The HoloLens doesn’t know where it is in space relative to the Crazyflie. A gesture in the y axis relative to the device will always result in a movement in the y direction of the Crazyflie, which begins to feel unnatural if the user moves around. Ideally, gestures would cause the crazyflie to move in the same direction relative to the user, not relative to the ‘front’ of the Crazyflie. Also, there’s still no control over yaw.

The flow deck has some limitation as well: The z-range only goes to 2 meters with any accuracy. The flow sensor (for lateral stabilization) has a strong dependency on the patterns on the floor below. A flow sensor is a camera that relies on measuring pixel deltas from frame to frame, so if the floor is blank or has a repeating pattern, it can be difficult to hold position properly.

Despite these limitations, using hand gestures to control the Crazyflie with a flow deck installed as actually quite fun and surprisingly easy.

Phase 3 and Beyond: Future Work & Ideas

I’m currently working on some new features that I hope will open the door for more interesting applications. All of what follows is a work in progress, and not yet implemented or functional. Dream with me!

Shared Coordinate System

The next phase (currently a work in progress) is to get the HoloLens and the Crazyflie into a shared coordinate system. Having spatial awareness between the HoloLens and the Crazyflie opens up some very exciting scenarios:

  • The orientation problem could be improved: transforms could be applied to gestures to cause the Crazyflie to respond to commands in the user’s frame of reference (so ‘pushing’ away from one’s self would cause the Crazyflie to fly away from the user, instead of whatever direction is ‘forward’ to the Crazyflie’s perspective).
  • A ‘follow me’ mode, where the crazyflie autonomously follows behind a user as he or she moves throughout the space.
  • Ability to walk around and manually set waypoints by selecting points of interest in the environment.

The Loco Positioning System is a natural fit here. A setup step (where a spatial anchor or similar is established at same physical position and orientation as the LPS origin) and a simple transform for scale and orientation (HoloLens and the Crazyflie define X,Y,Z differently) would allow the HoloLens and Crazyflie to operate in a shared coordinate system. One could also use the webcam on the HoloLens along with computer vision techniques to track the Crazyflie, but that would require constant line of sight from the HoloLens to the Crazyflie.

Obstacle Detection/Avoidance

Example surface map produced by HoloLens

The next step after establishing a shared coordinate system is to use the HoloLens for obstacle detection and avoidance. The HoloLens has the ability to map surfaces in real time and position itself in that map (SLAM). Logic could be added to the HoloLens to consume this surface map and adjust pathing/setpoints to avoid these obstacles without reducing the overall compute/power budget of the Crazyflie itself.

Swarm Control and Manipulation

As a simple extension of the shared coordinate system (and what Bitcraze has been doing with TDoA and swarming lately) the HoloLens could be used to manipulate individual Crazyflies within a swarm through raycasting (the same technique used to gaze at, select and move specific holograms in the digital domain). Or perhaps a swarm could be controlled to move out of the way as a user passes through the swarm, and return to formation afterward.

Augmenting with Digital Content

All scenarios discussed thus far have dealt with using the HoloLens as an input and localization device, but its primary job is to project digital content into the real world. I can think of applications such as:

  • Games
    • Flying around through a digital obstacle course
    • First person shooter or space invaders type game (Crazyflie moves around to avoid user or fire rendered laser pulses at user, etc)
  • Diagnostic/development tools
    • Overlaying some diagnostic information (such as battery life) above the Crazyflie (or each Crazyflie in a swarm)
    • Set or visualize/verify the position of the LPS nodes in space
    • Visualize the position of the Crazyflie as reported by LPS, to observe error or drift in real time

Conclusion

There’s no shortage of interesting applications related to blending augmented reality with the Crazyflie, but there’s quite a bit of work ahead to get there. Keep an eye on the Bitcraze blog or the forums for updates and news on this effort.

I’d love to hear what ideas you have for combining augmented reality devices with physical devices like the Crazyflie. Leave a comment with thoughts, suggestions, or any other relevant work!