A few years ago, we wrote a blogpost about the Commander framework, where we explained how the setpoint structure worked, which drives the controller of the Crazyflie, which is an essential part of the stabilization module. Basically, without these, there would not be any autonomy on the Crazyflie, let alone manual flight.

In the blogpost, we already shed some light on where different setpoints can come from in the commander framework, either from the Crazyflie python library (externally with the Crazyradio), the high level commander (onboard) or the App layer (onboard).

General framework of the stabilization structure of the crazyflie with setpoint handling. * This part is takes place on the computer through the CFlib for python, so there is also communication protocol in between. It is left out of this schematics for easier understanding.

However, we notice that there is sometimes confusion regarding these different functionalities and what exactly sends which setpoints and how. These details might not be crucial when using just one Crazyflie, but become more significant when managing multiple drones. Understanding how often your computer needs to send setpoints or not becomes crucial in such scenarios. Therefore, this blog post aims to provide a clearer explanation of this aspect.

Sending set-points directly from the CFlib

Let’s start at the lower level from the computer. It is possible to send various types of setpoints directly from a Python script using the Crazyflie Python library (cflib for short). This capability extends to tasks such as manual control:

send_setpoint(roll, pitch, yawrate, thrust)

or for hover control (velocity control):

send_hover_setpoint(vx, vy, yawrate, zdistance)

You can check the automatic generated API documentation for more setpoint sending options.

If you use these functions in a script, the principle is quite basic: the Crazyradio sends exactly 1 packet with this setpoint over the air to the Crazyflie, and it will act upon that. There are no secret threads opening in the background, and nothing magical happens on the Crazyflie either. However, the challenge here is that if your script doesn’t send an updated setpoint within a certain amount of time (default of 2 seconds), a timeout will occur, and the Crazyflie will drop out of the sky. Therefore, you need to send a setpoint at regular intervals, like in a for loop, to keep the Crazyflie flying. This is something you need to take care of in the script.

Example scripts in the CFlib that are sending setpoints directly:

Setpoint handling through Motion Commander Class

Another way to handle the regular sending of setpoints automatically in the CFLib is through the Motion Commander class. By initializing a Motion Commander object (usually using a context manager), a thread is started with takeoff that will continuously send (velocity) setpoints at a fixed rate. These setpoints can then be updated by the following functions, for instance, moving forward with blocking:


or a giving body fixed velocity setpoint updates (that returns immediately):

start_linear_motion(vx, vy, vz, rate_yaw)

You can check the Motion Commander’s API-generated documentation for more functions that can be utilized. As there is a background thread consistently sending setpoints to the Crazyflie, no timeout will occur, and you only need to use one of these functions for the ‘behavior update’. This thread will be closed as soon as the Crazyflie lands again.

Here are example scripts in the CFlib that use the motion commander class:

Setpoint handling through the high level commander

Prior to this, all logical and setpoint handling occurred on the PC side. Whether sending setpoints directly or using the Motion Commander class, there was a continuous stream of setpoint packets sent through the air for every movement the Crazyflie made. However, what if the Crazyflie misses one of these packets? Or how does this stream handle communication with many Crazyflies, especially in swarms where bandwidth becomes a critical factor?

This challenge led the developers at the Crazyswarm project (now Crazyswarm2) to implement more planning autonomy directly on the Crazyflie itself, in the form of the high-level commander. With the High-Level Commander, you can simply send one higher-level command to the Crazyflie, and the intermediate substeps (setpoints) are generated on the Crazyflie itself. This can be achieved with a regular takeoff:


or go to a certain position in space:

go_to(x, y)

This can be accomplished using either the PositionHLCommander, which can be used as a context manager similar to the Motion Commander (without the Python threading), or by directly employing the functions of the High-Level Commander. You can refer to the automated API documentation for the available functions of the PositionHLCommander class or the High-Level Commander class.

Here are examples in the CFlib using either of these classes:

Notes on location of autonomy and discrepancies

Considering the various options available in the Crazyflie Python library, it’s essential to realize that these setpoint-setting choices, whether direct or through the High-Level Commander, can also be configured through the app layer onboard the Crazyflie itself. You can find examples of these app layer configurations in the Crazyflie firmware repository.

It’s important to note some discrepancies regarding the Motion Commander class, which was designed with the Flow Deck (relative positioning) in mind. Consequently, it lacks a ‘go to this position’ equivalent. For such tasks, you may need to use the lower-level send_position_setpoint() function of the regular Commander class (see this ticket.) The same applies to the High-Level Commander, which was primarily designed for absolute positioning systems and lacks a ‘go forward with x m/s‘ equivalent. Currently, there isn’t a possibility to achieve these functionalities at a lower level from the Crazyflie Python library as this functionality needs to be implemented in the Crazyflie firmware first (see this ticket). It would be beneficial to align these functionalities on both the CFlib and High-Level Commander sides at some point in the future.

Hope this helps a bit to explain the commander frame work in more detail and where the real autonomy lies of the Crazyflie when you use different commander classes. If you have any questions on what the Crazyflie can do with these, we advise you to ask your questions on and we will try to point you in the right direction and give examples!

The Flow deck has been around for some time already, officially released in 2017 (see this blog post), and the Flow deck v2 was released in 2018 with an improved range sensor. Compared to MoCap positioning and the Loco Positioning System (based on Ultrawideband) that were already possible before, optical flow-based positioning for the Crazyflie opened up many more possibilities. Flight was no longer confined to lab environments with set-up external systems; people could bring the Crazyflie home and do their hacking there. Moreover, doing research for exploration techniques that cannot rely on external positioning systems was possible with it as well. For example, back in my day as a PhD student, I relied heavily on the Flow deck for multi-Crazyflie autonomous exploration. This would have been very difficult without it.

However, despite the numerous benefits that the Flow deck provides, there are also several limitations. These limitations may not be immediately familiar to many before purchasing a Crazyflie with a Flow deck. A while ago, we wrote a blog post about positioning systems in general and even delved into the Loco Positioning System in detail. In this blog post, we will explore the theory of how the Flow deck enables the Crazyflie to fly, share general tips and tricks for ensuring stable flight, and highlight what to avoid. Moreover, we aim to make the Flow deck the focus of next week’s Developer meeting, with the goal of improving or clarifying its performance further.

Theory of the Flow deck

I won’t delve into too much detail but will provide a generic indication of how the Flow deck works. As previously explained in the positioning system blog post, the Flow deck is a relative positioning system with onboard estimation. “Relative” means that wherever you start is the (0, 0, 0) position. The extended Kalman filter processes flow and height information to determine velocity, which is then integrated to estimate the position—essentially dead reckoning. The onboard Kalman filter manages this process, enabling the Crazyflie to use the information for stable hovering.

Image from Positioning System Overview blogpost

The optical flow sensor (PMW3901) calculates pixel flow per frame (this old blog post explains it well), and the IR range sensor (VL53L1x) measures height up to 4 meters (under ideal conditions). The Kalman filter incorporates a measurement model that describes the relationship between these two values and the velocity of the Crazyflie. More detailed information can be found in the state estimation documentation. This capability allows the Crazyflie to hover, as explained in the getting started tutorial.

Image from state estimation repo documentation

Tips & Tricks and Limitations

If you want to fly with the Crazyflie and the Flow deck, there are a couple of things to take in mind:

  • Take off from a floor with texture. Natural texture like wood flooring is probably the best.
  • The floor shouldn’t be too shiny, and be aware of infrared scattering for the height sensor
  • The room should be well-lit, as the sensor needs to see the texture.

There are certain situations that the Flow deck has some issues with:

  • Low or no texture. Flying above something that is only one plain color
  • Black areas. Similar reason to flying above no texture, but it’s more difficult than usual. Especially with startup, the position estimate diverges
  • Low light conditions
  • Flying over its own shadow

We made a video that shows these types of behaviors, starting of course with the most ideal flying conditions:

Moreover, it is also important to note that you shouldn’t fly too high or yaw too often. The latter will make the Crazyflie drift, as the optical flow cannot be distinguished as being caused by the yaw movement.

Developer meeting about Flow deck

We believe that many of the issues people experience are primarily due to the invisibility of the positioning quality. In many of our examples, the Crazyflie will not take off if the position is stable. However, we don’t have a corresponding functionality in our CFclient, as it is more up to the user to recognize when the positioning is diverging. There is a lot of room for improvement in this regard.

This is the reason why the next developer meeting will specifically focus on the Flow deck, which will be on Wednesday the 6th of December, 3 pm central European time. During the meeting, we will explain more about the Flow deck, discuss the issues we are facing, and explore ways to enhance the visibility of positioning quality. Check out this discussion thread for information on how to join.

As of this year around March/April we started with both Bitcraze developer meetings and Aerial-ROS meetings (the latter in collaboration with Dronecode Foundation). Now that summer is around and our office is a bit empty, we had a bit of a summer break, however we will start the meetings back up again soon! The next ROS-aerial meeting will be on the 16th of August and we will also have a Bitcraze developer meeting planned on the Wednesday the 6th of September (keep an eye on our announcements in discussions). In this blogpost we like to take the opportunity to show an overview of the meetings we had so far.

Aerial ROS meetings

In March we started a [ROS community working group] for aerial Vehicles together with our friends at Dronecode foundation, aka Aerial-ROS! We have biweekly meetings with some standard discussion meetings (with a topic) and with an invited guest presentation.

Here are the discussion topic meetings we had:

And we had several guest speakers as well! Like Miguel Fernandez-Cortizas from CAR-UPM talking about Aerostack2:

ROS-aerial Meeting guest presentation about Aerostack2

Then we had a guest presentation from Gerald Peklar from NXP talking about the Drones4Bats project:

ROS-aerial Meeting guest presentation about Drones4Bats

And the last before the summer was from Alejandro Hernández Cordero (Open Robotics Consultant) about the ROS2 Project Vehicle Gateway.

ROS-aerial Meeting guest presentation about Vehicle Gateway

The next meeting for ROS-aerial is planned on the 16th of August. Keep an eye on the ROS discourse forum.

Bitcraze Developer Meetings

We already had a couple of developer meetings before but we started recording them since April. The first recorded one was about the loco positioning system. Here first we gave a presentation about the system itself, with the latest developments cooking in our pot and time for questions afterwards.

Dev meeting about Loco positioning.

Then we had a meeting about the development of safety features in the Crazyflie in light of the Bolt developments:

Bitcraze Dev meeting about Safety features.

Then we had a meeting where Kristoffer highlighted the autonomous swarm demo we showed at ICRA 2023.

Bitcraze dev meeting about the autonomous swarm demo

And the last before the summer holiday, we had a meeting where Kimberly explained about the Crazyflie simulationmodel intergrated into Webots

Bitcraze Dev meeting about Simulation

We are still planning to have developer meeting every first wednesday of the month starting with September 6th (keep an eye on our announcements in discussions).

EPFL 101 Crazyflie presentation

Oh yeah, by the way, we also were invited by the EPFL-lis lab to give another Crazyflie 101 presentation in Lausanne last April! We made a prerecording of it so you can check it out right here:

EPFL LIS crazyflie 101 presentation.

See you all after summer!

This weeks guest blog post is from Hanna Müller, Vlad Niculescu and Tommaso Polonelli, who are working with Luca Benini at the Integrated Systems Lab and Michele Magno at the Center for Project-Based Learning, both at ETH Zürich. Enjoy!

This blog post will give you some insight into our current work towards autonomous flight on nano-drones using a miniaturized multi-zone depth sensor. Here we will mainly talk about obstacle avoidance, as it is our first building block towards fully autonomous navigation. Who knows, maybe in the future, we will have the honor to write another blog post about localization and mapping ;)

A Crazyflie 2.1 with our custom multi-zone ToF deck, a flow deck and a vicon marker.

Obstacle avoidance on nano-drones is challenging, as the restricted payload limits on-board sensors and computational power. Most approaches, therefore, use lightweight and ultra-low-power monocular cameras (as the AI-deck) or 1d depth sensors (as the multi-ranger deck). However, both those approaches have drawbacks – the camera images need extensive processing, usually even neural networks to detect obstacles. Neural networks additionally need training data and are prone to fail in completely new scenarios. The 1d depth sensors can reliably detect obstacles in their field of view (FoV); however, no information about the size or exact position of the obstacle is obtained.

On bigger drones, usually lidars or radars are used, but unfortunately, due to the limited weight and power consumption, those cannot be carried and used on nano-drones. However, in 2021 STMicroelectronics introduced a new multi-zone Time-of-Flight (ToF) sensor – with maximal 8×8 pixel resolution, a range up to 4m (according to the datasheet), a small form-factor and low power consumption of only 286mW (typical) it is ideal to use on nano-drones.

In the picture on top, you can see the Crazyflie 2.1 with our custom ToF deck (open-sourced at We described this deck for the first time in [1], together with a sensor characterization. From this, we saw that we could use the sensor in different light conditions and on different colored obstacles, but from 2m on, the measurements started to get incomplete in all scenarios. However, as the sensor can detect invalid measurements (due to interference or obstacles being out of range), we can still rely on our information. In [2], we presented the system and some steps towards obstacle avoidance in a demo abstract, as you can see in the video below:

The next thing we did was to collect a dataset – we flew with different combinations of decks (flow-deck v2, AI-deck, our custom multi-zone ToF deck) and sometimes even tracked by a vicon system. Those recordings amount to an extensive dataset with depth images, RGB images, internal state estimation and the position and attitude ground truth.

We then fed the recorded data into a python simulation to develop an obstacle avoidance algorithm. We focused on only the ToF data (we are not fusing with the camera in this project, we just provide the data for future work). We aimed for a very efficient solution – because we want it to run on-board, on the STM32F405, with low latency and without occupying too many resources. Our algorithm is very lightweight but highly effective – we divide the FoV in different zones, according to how dangerous obstacles in those areas are and then use a decision tree to decide on a steering angle and velocity.

With only using up 0.31% of the computational power and 210 μs latency, we reached our goal of developing an efficient obstacle avoidance algorithm. Our system is also low-power, the power to lift the additional sensor with all accompanying electronics as well as the supply of it totals in less than 10% of the whole drone. On average, our system reaches a flight time of around 7 minutes. We refer to our preprint [3] for details on our various tests – they include flights with distances up to 212 m and 100% reliability and high agility at a low speed in an office environment.

As our paper is currently submitted but not yet accepted our code and dataset are not yet released – however, the hardware design is already accessible:

[1] V. Niculescu, H. Müller, I. Ostovar, T. Polonelli, M. Magno and L. Benini, “Towards a Multi-Pixel Time-of-Flight Indoor Navigation System for Nano-Drone Applications,” 2022 IEEE International Instrumentation and Measurement Technology Conference (I2MTC), 2022, pp. 1-6, doi: 10.1109/I2MTC48687.2022.9806701.
[2] I. Ostovar, V. Niculescu, H. Müller, T. Polonelli, M. Magno and L. Benini, “Demo Abstract: Towards Reliable Obstacle Avoidance for Nano-UAVs,” 2022 21st ACM/IEEE International Conference on Information Processing in Sensor Networks (IPSN), 2022, pp. 501-502, doi: 10.1109/IPSN54338.2022.00051.
[3] H.Müller, V. Niculescu, T. Polonelli, M. Magno and L. Benini “Robust and Efficient Depth-based Obstacle Avoidance for Autonomous Miniaturized UAVs”, submitted to IEEE, preprint:

Before the summer vacations, I had the opportunity to spend some time working on AI deck improvements (blog post). One of the goals I set was to get CRTP over WiFi working, and try to fix issues along the way. The idea was to put together a small example where you could fly the Crazyflie using the keyboard and see the streamed image along the way. This would require both CRTP to the Crazyflie (logging and commands) as well as CPX to the GAP8 for the images. Just before heading off to vacation I managed to get the demo working, this post is about the results and som of the things that changed.

Link drivers

When using the Crazyflie Python library you connect to a Crazyflie using a URI. The first part of the URI (i.e radio or usb) selects what link driver to use for the connection. For example radio://0/80/2M/E7E7E7E7E7 selects the radio link driver, USB dongle 0 and communication at 2Mbit on channel E7E7E7E7E7.

While working on this demo there were two major things changed in the link drivers. The first one was the implementation of the serial link (serial://) which is now using CPX for CRTP to the Crazyflie. The usecase for this link driver is to connect a Raspberry Pi via a serial port to the Crazyflie on a larger platform.

The second change was to add a new link driver for connecting to the Crazyflie via TCP. Using this link driver it’s possible to connect to the Crazyflie via the network. It’s also possible to get the underlying protocol, the CPX object, for using CPX directly. This is used for communicating with for example the GAP8 to get images.

In the new TCP link driver the URI starts with tcp:// and has either an IP or a host name, followed by the port. Here’s two examples:

  • tcp://aideck-AABBCCDD.local:5000
  • tcp://

Comparison with the Crazyradio PA

So can WiFi be used now instead of the Crazyradio PA? Well, it depends. Using WiFi will give you larger throughput but you will trade this for latency. In our tests the latency is both larger and very random. In the demo I fly with the Flow V2 deck, which means latency isn’t that much of an issue. But if you were to fly without positioning and just use a joystick, this would not work out.

The Demo!

Below is a video of some flying at our office, to try it out yourself have a look at the example code here. Although the demo was mostly intended for improving CPX, we’ve made use of it at the office to collect training data for the AI deck.

The Crazyflie with AIdeck during over WiFI controlled flight.


Unfortunately I was a bit short on time and the changes for mDNS discovery never made it it. Because of this there’s no way to “scan” or discover AI decks, so to connect you will need to know the IP or the host name. For now you can retrieve that by connecting to your AI-deck equipped Crazyflie with the CFclient and look at the console tab.

A part from that there’s more improvements to be made, with a better structure for using CPX (more like the CRTP stack with functions) in the library and more examples. There’s also still a few bugs to iron out, for example there’s still the improved FPS and WiFi throughput issues.

IMAV 2022

Next week from 13th to 16th of September Barbara, Kristoffer and Kimberly will be present at the international Micro Aerial Vehicle Conference and Competition (IMAV) hosted by the MAVlab of the TU Delft in the Netherlands. One of the competitions is called the nano quadcopter challenge, where teams will program a Crazyflie + AI deck combo to navigate through an obstacle field, so we are excited to see what solutions will come out of that. If any of you happens to be at the conference/competition, drop by our table to say hello!