Lighthouse

Ever since we released the Lighthouse deck back in 2019, we’ve wanted to offer a bundle with the deck and the base stations. There’s multiple reasons for this, but the main reason was that we wanted users to be able to buy a full swarm (like the Loco Positioning Swarm) directly from us, without having to find the base stations separately. Initially this seemed easy to do, but it turned out to be a bit tricky. This post is about how we finally managed to get the Lighthouse Swarm Bundle finished and into the E-store.

The Lighthouse swarm bundle

When the Lighthouse deck was initially released it only had support for Lighthouse V1 base stations, but Ligthouse V2 was already out. Since the V1 base stations were already in short supply, we wanted to support V2 since this was what would be available in the future. We had started looking at V2 support, but there was still ongoing efforts from us (and others) to reverse engineer the protocol. After some prototyping we had some initial support, but there was still a lot of infrastructure work to be done before it could be released.

In parallell with this work we started trying to buy the Lighthouse V2 base stations. Normally there’s two options here, either buy from local distributors or buy directly from the manufacturer. Buying from local distributors wasn’t a good option for us since these will only have local power plugs and buying directly from the manufacturer often requires very large orders. So this process quickly stalled. But after a couple of months we got an offer to buy a bulk shipment of Ligthouse V2 base stations (without box or power adapters) which we finally decided to accept. And yeah, that’s me looking really happy next to a bunch of base stations…

Marcus looking happy about the base stations

With a bunch of base stations at the office, work with sourcing a power adapter and creating a box started. Unfortunately the number of COVID-19 cases started rising again shortly after receiving the base stations, so we started working more from home again. And with only 2 persons at the office at a time, it’s hard to work with hardware. Different team-members needs access to different resources, like the electronics labs, flight arena or packing orders. So getting box/adapter samples from manufacturers, doing testing and getting input on physical objects from other team-members quickly went from days to weeks.

Finally, after a couple of months of testing, evaluating and learning lots about adapters and cardboard, we had good candidates. But then, literally as we’re ordering the power adapters, it turns out the certification was not good for all the regions we wanted. Thankfully this time around we already had other options so we quickly decided on the second best option (now the best option) and ordered.

In the meantime work was underway finalizing the implementation of Lighthouse V2, including client support, firmware updates of the Lighthouse deck and documentation/videos. Finally in the beginning of 2021 we got documentation and the full implementation (although only for 2 base stations) in place (blog post).

After a bit more than a month of waiting, the power adapters and boxes finally showed up at our office. With all the supplies in place, we started preparing for the packing. Since you can buy base stations for multiple sources, we wanted to keep track of the base stations that we were sending out to be able to debug issues users might have with these units. Also, even though the base stations had already been factory tested, we wanted to quickly test them before shipping them out. So our flight arena was turned into a makeshift assembly line and we had some outside help come in to do the packing.

Finally, the end result! We’re really excited to be able to offer yet another swarm bundle, the Lighthouse swarm bundle. And we’re pretty happy about how the packaging turned out :-)

If you haven’t visited our store in a while, you may have missed our new addition: the Lighthouse Swarm bundle!

We’ve been working for some time now on improving the Lighthouse decks and its positioning system. Earlier in the year, we have brought the Lighthouse deck out of early access. While working with it, we have seen the great possibilities and the accuracy of this new positioning system. Thanks to Steam’s VR base station that we use as an optical beacon, the Crazyflie calculates its position with an accuracy better than a decimeter and millimeter precision. It gives a tracking volume of up to 5x5x2 meters with sub-millimetre jitter and below 10 cm accuracy while flying. It’s perfect for a swarm, as it’s accurate, precise and autonomous. We’ve flown our Crazyflies with it a number of time and seen some awesome stuff with it!

As an example, here is a demo we’ve shown on a conference back in October. We’ve used 8 Crazyflies equipped with Lighthouse decks and Qi chargers, to make a spiraling swarm. A computer orchestrates the Crazyflies and make sure one is flying at all times, while the others re-charge their batteries on their pads. After a pre-programmed trajectory is finished or when the battery of the flying Crazyflie is depleted, it goes back to its pad while another one takes over. The demo had an all-in mode that runs the trajectory on all Crazyflie with sufficient charge at once, the result is quite impressive and demonstrate the great relative precision of the Lighthouse system:

After the launch signal is sent to the Crazyflies, the computer is not required anymore: the Crazyflie will autonomously estimate its position from the lighthouse’s signals. The Crazyflie can estimate its own X, Y and Z in a global coordinate system.

What’s great with the Lighthouse Swarm is that it allows you to do drone research even if you’re on a tighter budget.

And when we got the opportunity to acquire our own base stations (that are also available in the shop by the way), it seemed only logical to offer a Swarm bundle similar to our Loco swarm bundle. So what’s in it ?

While the positioning will work with one base station, two base stations will allow better coverage of the flight space and better stability; as Kimberly can attest, it’s even possible to set it in your kitchen. The Crazyradios allow communication between the Crazyflies and your computer.

We dedicated a lot of time to the Lighthouse this winter, writing a paper with the help of Wolgangs’ calibration expertise. In this paper, we compared both Lighthouse V1 and V2 with the MoCap system. In all cases, the mean and median Euclidean error of the Lighthouse positioning system are about 2-4 centimeters compared to our MoCap system as ground truth. You can check the paper here, but here is a brief summary we used for our ICRA workshop:

The poster presenting our paper

We are now quite excited to get to see what you will do with this exciting new swarm bundle !

And if you don’t know how to set up the Swarm, you can get started at least with your Lighthouse system in this tutorial or watch Kristoffer explain it in this video:

Only a week left until we stand in our ICRA booth in Montreal and give you a gimps of what we do here at Bitcraze. As we have been writing about earlier we are aiming to run a fully automated demo. We have been fine tuning it over the last couple of days and if something unpredictable doesn’t break it, we think it is going to be very enjoyable. For those that are interested in the juicy details check out this informative ICRA 2019 page, but if you are going to visit, maybe wait a bit so you don’t get spoiled.

Apart from the demo we are also going to show our products as well as some new things we are working on. The brand new things include:

AI-deck, Active marker deck and Lighthouse-4 deck
  • AI-deck: This is a collaborative product between GreenWaves Technologies, ETH Zurich and Bitcraze. It is based on the PULP-shield that the Integrated and System Laboratory has designed. You can read more about it in this blog post. The difference with the PULP-shield is that we have added a ESP32, the NINA-W102 module, so that video can be streamed over WiFi. This we hope will ease development and add more use cases.
  • Active marker deck: Another collaboration, but this time with Qualisys. This will make tracking with their motion capture cameras easier and better. Some more details in this blog post. Qualisys will have the booth just next to us were it will be possible to see it in a live demo!
  • Lighthouse-4 deck: Using the Vive lighthouse positioning system this deck adds sub-millimeter precision to the Crazyflie. This is the deck used in the demo and could become the star of the show.

Adding to the above we will of course also display our recently released products:

  • Crazyflie 2.1: The Crazyflie 2.1 is an improvement of the Crazyflie 2.0 but keeping backward capability.
    • Better radio performance and external antenna support: With a new radio power amplifier we’ve improved the link quality and added support for dual antennas (on-board chip antenna and external antenna via u.FL connector)
    • Better power button: We’ve gotten feedback that the power button breaks too easily, so now we’ve replaced with a more solid alternative.
    • Improved battery cable fastening: To avoid weakening of the cables over time they are now run through a cable relief.
    • Improved sensors: To make the flight performance better we’ve switched out the IMU and pressure sensor. The new Crazyflie uses the drone specialized sensor combo BMI088 and BMP388 by Bosch Sensortech.
  • Flow deck v2: The Flow deck v2 has been upgraded with the new ST VL53L1x which increases the range up to 4 meters
  • Z-ranger deck v2: The Z-ranger v2 deck has been upgraded with the new ST VL53L1x which increases the range up to 4 meters
  • Multi-ranger deck: The Multi-ranger deck adds VL53L1x sensors in all directions for mapping and obstacle avoidance.
  • MoCap marker deck: The motion capture deck with support for easily attachment of passive markers for motion capture camera tracking.
  • Roadrunner: The Roadrunner is released as early access and the hardware is basically a Crazyflie 2.1 without motors and up to 12V input power. This enables other robots or system to use the loco positioning system.

You can find us in booth 101 at ICRA 2019 (in Montral, Canada), May 20 – 22. Drop by and say hi, check out the products & demo and tell us what you are working on. We love to hear about all the interesting projects that are going on. See you there!