Category: How we work

It has been a few months of when the Covid-19 crisis started, but it feels like almost a year ago when we all decided to stay and work from home. Considering circumstances, we managed to do to handle ourselves pretty well. We set up our home labs in our kitchens and/or living-rooms and managed to do a lot of development. Even though this situation did not come easy as you can see from our experiences here, we were able to pull ourselves through it in one peace. Now we also have to consider that Covid-19 is here to stay and we need to deal with the complications until at least the vaccine is finished and distributed. Until then, we might have to think about alternatives on how we do things, including how we go to events and meet/talk to you all!

Every year we try to go to at least two conferences, with last year being a particular busy year of us going to three big events (ICRA 2019, IMAV 2019 and IROS 2019). Before going to those conferences, we usually try to crunch and make an awesome demo. This also enables us to add new features to the firmware or fix problems that we find during this crunch. Moreover, we also really like to meet our users face-to-face, so that we can hear about how you use the Crazyflie in your research or classroom!

Since going to conferences and in-person events will be difficult to do this year and maybe the next, we were thinking about events that we can possibly organize to as an alternative. We were thinking about a couple of options on which we would like your opinion on as well. For instance, we could do an remote tutorial or lecture, like we did here for EPFL. Or maybe we can organize an online seminar we were invite users to give a talk about their work (I personally took part in a VR seminar in Mozilla hubs, which was pretty awesome). We can also consider to invite users for an online meetup to talk about the direction of the Crazyflie and its firmware. Another idea that we had recently, is to organize an online Crazyflie competition, where users can control the Crazyflie remotely or upload custom firmware, so that it can fly autonomously through an obstacle field.

We set up a poll of these ideas, so we can know what you guys like best! Also please comment below if you have further ideas about this or start a thread on the forum!



It’s been more than 2 months since we decided, to preserve our health and the Swedish health care system, to work from home. Since then, the majority of the world has had to do the same, and as all of you, we had struggled to adjust to this new situation. What’s it like behind the curtain ?

The home setting

First things first: I’m not from the tech side of the company. Setting up my working environment was not difficult. I have my laptop, I plug it, and boom, I’m ready to work. I know that some of my colleagues had to get creative, setting up base stations in their summer house or in their kitchens.

My main problem setting up was dealing with comfort and distractions. Comfort means finding a good chair, and resist the temptation to just slouch on the couch – let’s be honest, maximum productivity is not achieved when the remote control is one arm’s length away.

Dealing with distractions is a whole another problem. My husband works remotely too. We’ve learned quite quickly that we can’t both work in the living room: collisions of video calls, or simply resisting the urge to chitchat together made it impossible. But the one major distraction that was impossible to ignore is 20 month-old and full of youthful energy. In Sweden, preschools are not closed, but every cold symptoms mean staying at home. It is perfectly reasonable, but we soon realized that having a toddler nearby is incompatible with working peacefully. As many parents have learned during the last couple of months, kids are a great way to lose your train of thoughts, to disrupt a video-call with inappropriate sentences or to simply disrupt any plan. As fun as it was to see how our daughter deal with the “no banging on the room’s door when mommy is working” rule, I feel incredibly lucky that we have a big enough apartment to be able to work in a separate room, and of course that she was able to have fun at the daycare while we could work from home.

A new routine

I have to say that I’m quite proud with the way we settled into this new routine. We meet each morning, setting up the goals of the day. We did that at the office too (see here), but where it lasted 10 minutes when we were all together all day, it can easily climb up to 45 minutes now. We tried to use new tools, and whether those worked or not (if you can tip on a good virtual whiteboard we’ll appreciate it!), in those two months we had time to experiment new ways of working. We tried to set up a quarterly meeting, (meaning a whole day of meeting) without a good quality webcam.. And managed it!

As the days turned into weeks, we realized that one big problem with our new setup meant that each day looked the same. This Groundhog day feeling made us lost count on our 3-week cycle and left the weekends with a strange, unsatisfying aftertaste. After all, now that I’m all the time at home, what’s the difference between a workday and a Saturday ? Well, I haven’t figure out a good solution yet.

It’s not all bad, though. I like that my new routine includes a big, often home-cooked lunch with my husband (I’m French, so of course my first thought is towards cooking !). And after the first weeks of minor stumble, the Bitcraze team is as productive as ever, with some exciting things coming soon. I have to admit too that I got used to listening to my own music while working, or that reducing the commute has allowed for some much appreciated 30 extra minutes of sleep.

And, last but not least, with the warm days returning, I started taking my laptop near the sunlit window, allowing for a great bask in the sun – what I often need to gather up energy.

My perfect spot near the window

Away but together

Each one of us had his struggle with remote work. For me, who has just started in the company, it was an unexpected challenge. I still have a lot of things to learn, and it’s easier when I can just tap on someone’s shoulder or quietly observe what they’re doing. Instead, I had to figure out quickly how to do things on my own. It meant making some mistakes, but eventually I’m convinced I’m now more efficient than if I had more relied on my colleagues – learning things the hard way is sometimes the best way.

If you are working from home too, you’ll understand when I say that the hardest part has been to keep up the motivation. At Bitcraze, we’re a tight-knit group, and I never realized before how much I rely on social interactions to keep me going. I’m a social animal, and my coworkers are always one of the most important part of my work. Helping them, seeing how they’re doing, sharing a ‘fika’ (Swedish coffeebreak) … I had no idea it was such a big chunk of my workplace well-being.

Thankfully, we’re now a digital tight-knit group. We have daily digital fikas to keep up with each other’s progress, and even though we could be more thorough with them, it helped with the loneliness.

As I noticed my motivation went usually down after my home-cooked lunch, a new resolution came forth: after lunch, exercise ! A great way to keep in shape and to resist the temptation of a quick nap. I’ll indeed gingerly admit that, with a comfy bed so close, it’s hard to not think about closing my eyes, just for one second… Getting the body moving and the heart rate up is the best solution I’ve found to avoid this trap, with the added benefit of not gaining too much weight during this strange period.

We also started having picnics when the weather allowed it. Respecting social distancing (each on its own blanket), it is a great way to reconnect, share a meal in the sun, and appreciate the great parks of Malmö.

A Bitcraze picnic

All in all, I’ve learned a lot during these months working from home. We’ve managed to tackle the hurdles in our way and found our stride with this new routine. Improvisation, creativity and adaptation were necessary, but I’m happy to report we didn’t lose our motivation and will to create great product !

New stock

Speaking of great products, we have renewed our stocks that were beginning to thin a little. The buzzer decks, for example, are back in stock !

Considering the recent pandemic and the global situation, we at Bitcraze had to think about what will be our next step. Even though everyday life in Sweden is still going on, and all of us are in good health, we know there are a lot of you that are impacted by the CoronaVirus. We wanted to take responsibility for each other, the Swedish health care system, and the rest of our community by actively minimizing our social interactions. The best we can do right now is contributing to stop the disease and preserve our health. 

So for the time being, we all will be working from home. Shipping of orders will be a bit slower (twice every week instead of the current four times), but other than that we hope to still be available as usual. Forums posts, sales and other daily tasks will go on as usual. Hopefully you won’t see the difference! We will still work on providing you the best flying experience we can. 

With the new situation comes new challenges for the team, that we’re trying to make the best of. First of all, we will test a whole new way of working – together but apart! And we hope this will also give us the opportunity to work on some things that otherwise are a little bit left out… But you’ll have to be a little patient to discover these!

If you’re stuck at home and are getting bored, why not fly your Crazyflie and send us a video? We’ll post regularly those on our social media to fight against the current feeling of gloom and potential loneliness associated with confinement!

Our thoughts and well-wishes are with everyone affected by the situation.

Hello there ! 

My name is Barbara, and I’m really proud to say I’m the new member of Bitcraze. As of now, I will be dealing with everything non-technical, so that the great minds here can focus on creating more of their amazing products!

If you want to know a little more about me, I should start by the beginning. I come from France originally, but have moved a lot over the years. From my early childhood in Tunisia to my semester abroad in Canada, I never really settled down… Until I came to Sweden, a little over 5 years ago. After having lived in Paris for some time, Malmö was a much needed breath of fresh air. In France I worked on a lot of different fields: receptionist, assistant, salesperson, teacher’s assistant, even as an actress. Those different experiences broadened my horizon and taught me a lot. Most of all, I learned to follow my passions: helping people, singing, and generally loving what I’m doing. My last assignment included community management and content creation in a video game company, but I’m happy to use every bit of my 5 years experience as an administrative assistant to be the office wizard here at Bitcraze. 

When I’m not taking care of my family or working, I keep on following my passions. I could talk hours about movies or books (especially about Terry Pratchett books, or musicals, my favorite type of movies!). I took up knitting a year ago and can’t put my needles down now. And I consider myself a real geek. Video-games, movies, comics, I even learned some programming over the years (even tough I can’t compare with the other team members!). My greatest challenge last year was to build my own PC, and I have to say that I managed it with flying colours. Another way I past the time (while making everyone happy) is by baking, and every time a new batch of cookies gets out of the oven, I feel the weight of the family tradition: my grandfather was a french pastry cook, and I proudly follow his footsteps (and recipes!).

I’m really happy to join the Bitcraze team and excited about the future. I hope I’ll learn a lot from working with Arnaud, Kristoffer, Kimberly, Marcus and Tobias. My girly-geek side can’t stop jumping with excitement at working in such an impressive and stimulating environment. 

Fosdem 2020

Arnaud is going to Fosdem this weekend, check out his forum post and say hi if you are there.

2019 is coming to an end and we are soon flipping the calendar to a new year. This is the last blog post of 2019 – time to look back and recap what has been going on during the year.

Community

We have had quite a few blog posts by community members this year. It is exciting for us to hear about the cool things our users are doing with our products, and we are happy to share them with all of you. If you have not read them yet and you might have some spare time during the holidays, it is well worth the time spent!

During 2019, we have also attended a number of conferences and events, where we have met a lot of interesting people, heard about amazing projects and got feedback from users. We attended FOSDEM (Belgium), ICRA (Canada), IMAV (Spain), ISRF (South Korea) and finally IROS (China).

Software

There have been quite a lot of improvements to the software in the Crazyflie ecosystem. Apart from bug fixes there has been some restructuring to simplify modifications and increase the utilization of system resources. The Crazyflie firmware has also been generalized to support multiple hardware platforms. We have added an app layer, Peer 2 Peer communication and support for new decks (see below).

The community has been buzzy contributing new and improved functionality as well as bug fixes to the software stack. Just to mention a few: support for new sensors, improved positioning support, better logging to SD-card, improved communication, new controllers and compressed trajectories. We can not express how grateful we are, thank you all!

Hardware

There have been quite some work on new hardware as well during 2019. We kicked the year off by releasing the two new platforms: the Crazyflie 2.1 and Roadrunner, and finished it by the recent release of the Crazyflie Bolt.

On the deck side there has been a focus on positioning support in the Passive– and Active marker decks that we have released in collaboration with our friends at Qualisys. The Lighthouse deck also falls into this category, we are excited about the performance and have high hopes of future awesomeness when it leaves Early access!

We have put a lot of work into the AI-deck during the year. Unfortunately we did not manage to finalize it 2019, but hopefully it should not be too long into 2020 until it is available in the store.

Documentation

Documentation is always hard, especially when the system is spread over many repositories. We have moved a fair amount of our documentation from the wiki to the code repositories to keep it closer to the code, and hopefully make it easier to keep it up to date. The documentation is now also published on the web to make it easy to access.

Logistics

We have tried out various 3d party shipping solutions earlier, but have settled on shipping our selfs, from our own warehouse in Sweden. This give us better control of the process and we have made a number of improvements and automated as much as possible to keep it lean and smooth.

Bitcraze

It has been an intense year for the Bitcraze family. We have moved to a new office with much more space and opportunities. It has required quite some work to set up labs, flight arena and other areas to our liking, but finally we have settled in and are very happy with the result!

Björn decided to leave the company in the beginning of the year, but on the other hand Kimberly joined in May! We have also had the great pleasure of hosing interns Victor and Zhouxin during the year.

Kimberly McGuire

On the system side, we have revamped our server platform for web, forum, wiki and internal services and are now using kubernetis. We also had a rapid increase in spam on the forum during the summer, but managed to counter it with better anti-spam tools.

Conclusions

It is a good exercise to look back and remember what we have done during the year. We are equally surprised each time we do this and realize all the things we have managed to squeeze in, only being 5 persons in the company! It has been yet another hectic year, but full of happiness and excitement.

Thanks for an awesome year!

We are currently finishing production test design for a couple of expansion decks and we figured we never wrote about it and about the more general board production process. In this blog post we wanted to talk a bit about how we test boards in the productions phase, taking as an example the forthcoming active marker deck.

The active marker deck

When finalizing an electronic board, we send to the manufacturer documentation that allows to manufacture & assemble a, hopefully, functional board. Although we assume that the individual components are in working order, the problem is that the assembling is not always perfect, so we need to check that everything we do is actually working,. This is what the production test is solving.

The first thing is to find out what to test, for that we need a strategy. The strategy we have been using is to test every step where we have modified or work on: for example we will test all the connections we have soldered in the manufacturing process. We will normally not test all the functionalities of ready-made module. For example, following this strategy, we will usually test all communication interface we have cabled, but we will not test all functionalities of a microcontroller we solder on the board, these are deemed to be already tested and working by the microcontroller manufacturer. This step usually end up with an annotated schematic:

Annoted schematics of ActiveMarker Deck

Once we know what to test and roughly how to test it, we document a test rig that will be able to run the tests automatically. Some tests are generic and applicable to all our boards, for example we do test voltages with a multi-meter on every board that has a regulator. Some tests are very board specific. For example, for the active marker deck we want to test IR LEDs and an IR detector, we define a test rig that has reflector to reflect the LED to the detector and we will use the onboard detector to test the LEDs:

Simple block diagram of the test rig for the ActiveMarker Deck

We are normally using a Crazyflie on all our test rig, since it is usually possible to test all functionality from the deck port. We also try as much as possible to integrate the test software into the real software. For the active marker deck it meant adding 38KHz modulated output mode to the LEDs in order to emit a signal detectable by the detector, which will make it to the final firmware. Finally, we have a test software, running on the test computer, that uses the Crazyflie python lib to talk to the Crazyflie and run the test. The last step of all the test is to write the deck One Wire identification memory so that it can be detected by a Crazyflie.

Screenshot of the test program for the test engineer

From these specification, the manufacturer can then build a test rig and start testing boards, non-passing board will be re-worked until they pass or discarded.

Test rig for the Multi-ranger expansion deck

What we have learned in our years at Bitcraze is that testing phase is the most important part of the development process of PCB. Therefore, the earliest we already start thinking about the production tests in the board design, the more smooth the final phase of production of our new products will be.

Hey there, my name is Zhouxin. I was born in the Netherlands and I still live there, but not for the upcoming four months since I am going to be an intern here, at Bitcraze. I am really looking forward to contribute and to be part of this team! In this blog post I will share with you my motivation of interning here and something about myself.

I am doing this internship as part of my studies at the TU Delft, an university in the Netherlands, but the main reason is that I like the technical challenges related to their product and the dynamic work environment. I am convinced that I can learn a lot here about the practical things like working in a tech company and also about the technical challenges when developing code for practical applications such as the Crazyflie 2.1.

As mentioned before this is part of my studies, at the moment I am studying for my Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering. In this degree there are profiles. I choose the profile Control and Simulation which is mainly focused on the control and navigation systems in aviation. This still sounds quite general, so I will give a few examples where you can think of. A graduate from this profile might work on the automatic pilot of an aircraft, on the simulators for pilot training, on air traffic management systems, or on autonomous micro air vehicles. The latter is something I am interested in and that’s one of the reasons I am doing my internship at Bitcraze.

As a child I was always intrigued by how birds can fly, this led to my desire to fly. I had tried flying several times by wearing a cape and by jumping of the couch while trying to optimize the airtime with flapping my cape. This gave me some adrenaline boost but I never was able to fly. Later I discovered that the only way for humans to fly is to become a pilot. This became my new dream. When I was about 8 years old I started to practice flying by controlling RC airplanes. This made me interested in electronics and technology which later translated into pursuing my degree in Aerospace Engineering.

Besides my academic interests I also occupy myself with other activities. About two years ago I took a gap year and went traveling in East Asia. There I have discovered my enjoyment of nature and exploring cultures. Also I love to snowboard in the French Alps during the winter holidays and to share these wintersport adventures with friends. When I am not traveling or abroad, I enthusiastically play field hockey or tennis.

We have referred to Fun Fridays in a number of posts in this blog, but recently realized that we never described what it is about. Hopefully that will be rectified in this post.

Light painting

The concept is simple: on Fridays we do what ever we want to, as long as it is fun, interesting and (at least remotely) connected to Bitcraze. It might be trying out a new technology, play with a new sensor, create new functionality, design a prototype board or similar. Our belief is that playing is key to being creative and that creativity is beneficial to the employees as well as to the company.

There are many other companies that have similar concepts, though most of them might not go as far as reserving 20% of the time for it. For us this was a simple choice since we’re all really passionate about technology and like to explore new things.

We’ve tried to implement this in previous work environments and also talked to other companies about it. Most of the time it comes down to two things, trust and money. The concern that employees will not do useful things and this will waste company resources (i.e money). For us this isn’t really an issue. First of all we work in a way where everyone is involved and takes responsibility for the company, so we trust everyone on the team. Secondly the idea behind Bitcraze is to create a workplace where we want to work. The idea has never been to optimize on profit but instead create a sustainable company that shares the values and direction of the team.

Even though we do not prioritize higher profits, it turns out that time when employees can make their own choices are very good from a business point of view as well. It has been said that 3M has a similar concept where they invest 15% of the time into “free” projects, and that 85% of the revenue today comes from these projects!

Playing with Crazyflie 2.1 choreography with Lighthouse positioning

Looking back it has also been a good deal for Bitcraze, a lot of our products (actually most of them) and internal systems have been started on Fun Fridays. A few examples are the LPS, the Lighthouse and the Multiranger deck as well as the Bolt. There is also a (large) number of prototypes in our drawers that never made it into products, not to mention the happiness it has created!

We have a busy schedule in the fall, since we are planning to travel all around the world for all kinds of awesome conferences and symposia. Here is a quick overview of where we are planning to go in October and November.

IMAV Madrid 1/10-4/10

We will attend the IMAV 2019, and this time it is in Madrid (Spain) from the 1th to the 4th of October. This is a conference for anything related to micro-aerial vehicles and also includes an awesome indoor and outdoor competition. Arnaud and Kimberly will be present at both the indoor and outdoor fair, where we will show some demos with the lighthouse system and show off our new Crazyflie Bolt!

https://imav2019.org/

Symposium Seoul 14/10 – 15/10

In collaboration with our partner CLRobur, we will have a symposium in Seoul (Korea) on the 14th and 15th of October. Kristoffer will explain the attendees all about positioning systems, and show off the LPS and our new lighthouse deck.

Sign up here or send an email to clrobur@naver.com

IROS Macau 4/11-8/11

Last but not least, we will be there at IROS 2019 as well! This is one of the flagship robotics conferences of IEEE. In Macau (China) from the 4th till the 8th of November, Marcus and Tobias will show some awesome demos with the lighthouse system and hopefully we will present the new AI deck!

https://www.iros2019.org/

We have so many interesting things we want to do, but too little time to do it. Now we are looking for more talented people to join our team to help us create awesomeness!

We don’t have a clear description of exactly what we are looking for but there are some properties that we think are important:

  • You are interested in technology
  • You are passionate
  • You want to learn new things and evolve your skills

Head over to our jobs page for more information.