Category: How we work

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.

Hello everyone, I’m Victor and you probably haven’t heard of me yet but I’ve got the awesome opportunity to spend some weeks during this summer working at Bitcraze. Working… Well, I’ve spent the majority of my time here getting invaluable experience, programming, flying with drones, eating incredible falafel and having fun so it’s really been a pleasure.

I’m quite new to both programming and electronics, so while I haven’t created any huge masterpieces of code yet, I did make a small program with a GUI that let you test the health of motors and propellers of the Crazyflie. You can run multiple ones simultaneously (I’ve tried up to 8, which works fine, even with a single radio, and you should be able to run many more) and it relies on using either Lighthouse or a Flow deck for positioning.
The propeller-test is essentially the same test as the one integrated with the cfclient, however the motor-test checks the thrust-levels of the motors (by hovering in the air for x seconds) to see if any of them are off and ranks them as good/bad. The default threshold is 15% but can be changed according to needs. The program is written in Python and uses tkinter to run the GUI application and the cflib to communicate with the Crazyflie. The script can be found here.

In the end of August I’m going to study Computer Science and Engineering which I’m extremely thrilled about and this has really been a perfect preparation for that! In the future I hope to contribute to the Crazyflie projects and learn more from the great team here at Bitcraze.

So until next time, fly safe!
Victor

A lot of you are using our forum on a regular basis. From our point of view, we prefer giving support and guidance on our forum instead of by email, since solutions we provide to our users can be found by others as well. However, we are experiencing some spam-related issues with the forum!

Somewhere last week, our forum started getting some weird posts, including some links to websites that are…. not exactly Bitcraze or Crazyflie related… We didn’t think about it too much, so we cleaned the forum, deleted the users responsible and moved on. But the very next day more spam post appeared, and it was getting so bad that we changed our sign-up from the regular security question to Captcha. Unfortunately, spambots are way too smart these days, so that didn’t work either… By the end of the weekend we had to remove over an hundred spam accounts and 500 spam posts!

The forum is experiencing a major spam attack at the moment and the usual security measures are not helping. Since yesterday, we enabled manual activation of new users (meaning that we physically need to approve each account), since currently this is the only way to catch the dodgy new accounts (we already caught over 100 in one day alone !!). This week we will look into other measures and plugins to better secure our forum, so we don’t have to manually go through all the newly registered users to see if they are not spam bots. We heard about Cleantalk by one of our users, so we probably will give that a go!

However, please be contact us if the following occurred or is occurring to you in our spam removing frenzy:

  • If we accidentally removed a post of you
  • If we removed or banned your account
  • If we are not activating your new account

Also make our lives a bit easier this week, and send us an email straight away if you have just have made a new account on the forum. Send an email to: contact@bitcraze.io with your username and a sentence about why you are using the Crazyflie (so we know that you are real).

This is only a temporary solution, so hopefully at the end of this week or the next we will not need to worry about this anymore :).

Improving the flow of information

Our usual blog posts usually consists of the awesome new products and demos that we make here at Bitcraze, but now we will talk about… documentation! Alright alright, it is maybe not the most thrilling topic, however you should be excited about it! Good documentation about the Crazyflie and its tools will not only enable you to recreate the demos and the work of others, but also to implement your own ideas and to contribute to our open-source firmware.

In the years that Bitcraze has been around, there has been quite the build-up of information, which can be either found on the main website, the wiki, the github repositories, and in bits & pieces on the forum. Although we try to provide all the information necessary for getting started with development, it is currently quite a clutter. If we at Bitcraze already have difficulty of finding and maintaining all the documentation, we can only imagine how difficult it would be for a starting developer. We therefore would like to improve the flow of information dramatically!

Here are some ideas of what we would like to do with the documentation:

Moving product information to the shop.

LED ring expansion deck in the main website, shop, and wiki.

Currently there are three different locations where you can find information about physical Crazyflie, localization systems or expansion decks, which is the main website, the online store and the wiki. We see that a lot of electronic and hardware shops usually put all the details of the product directly on the product page of their shops. We aim to do that as well, since there will only be one page for users to go to for schematics, specifications, instructions and more, and for us it will be also easier to maintain and update any product information

Moving Software Info to GitHub

There is a lot of bits and pieces of information to handle the firmware on the Crazyflie and all the tools in the tutorials on our main website, wiki and Github repository. This again makes a lot of duplicate information, which is difficult for us to maintain and therefore gets easily outdated. We could put all the information on the wiki, but what if somebody changes something in the code which requires a change in the procedure as well?

It would be the best to keep all the information about the firmware as close to the source as possible, therefore we think is best to move everything to the github repositories. For instance, the wiki cfclient instructions can be moved to the documentation of the cfclient repostitory, or Onchip debugging instructions can go to crazyflie firmware repostitory To keep it all manageable we will:

  • Create a /doc folder on the repositories to better structure all the information
  • Add more Doxygen comments to all the function in the the codes and automatically generate documentation for this.

Restructuring the Wiki Content

After moving all the hardware- related content to the shop, and moving all the firmwar- related info to the Github repositories, we will need to think about what we want to do with the Wiki! You would think that there is nothing left to put on the wiki anymore after the replacement of the earlier documentation, but we beg to differ! For instance, there is so many Github repositories that there is a really a need for an overview. The wiki can educate developers on which tools we have an how to properly use them. Of course, we already have the getting started tutorials, but we want to also provide a more in-depth explanation of the overall structure and how the different repositories would need tho work together, like this .

This does mean that we would need to restructure the wiki entirely and only focusing on topics like:

  • System Architecture Crazyflie
  • Communication protocol between STM and the NRF
  • Communication protocol between the Python library and the Client
  • Overview Github-repositories
  • Projects and hacks
  • etc etc

What do you think?!

Of course we can change all we want in the documentation, but you guys are the ones who actually use it! We are very curious of what what you think of the plans and give us more tips or suggestions on how to improve the overall documentation experience. Please leave a message below or express your opinion on this forum thread.