ROS2

Now it is time to give a little update about the ongoing ROS2 related projects. About a month ago we gave you an heads-up about the Summer ROS2 project I was working on, and even though the end goal hasn’t been reached yet, enough has happened in the mean time to write a blogpost about it!

Crazyflie Navigation

Last time showed mostly mapping of a single room, so currently I’m trying to map a bigger portion of the office. This was initially more difficult then initially anticipated, since it worked quite well in simulation, but in real life the multi-ranger deck saw obstacles that weren’t there. Later we found out that was due to this year old issue of the multi-ranger’s driver incapability to handle out-of-range measurements properly (see this ongoing PR). With that, larger scale mapping starts to become possible, which you can see here with the simple mapper node:

If you look at the video until the end, you can notice that the map starts to diverge a bit since the position + orientation is solely based on the flow deck and gyroscopes , which is a big reason to get the SLAM toolbox to work with the multi-ranger. However, it is difficult to combine it with such a sparse ‘Lidar’ , so while that still requires some tuning, I’ve taken this opportunity to see how far I get with the non-slam mapping and the NAV2 package!

As you see from the video, the Crazyflie until the second hallway. Afterwards it was commanded to fly back based on a NAV2 waypoint in RViz2. In the beginning it seemed to do quite well, but around the door of the last room, the Crazyflie got into a bit of trouble. The doorway entrance is already as small as it is, and around that moment is also when the mapping started to diverge, the new map covered the old map, blocking the original pathway back into the room. But still, it came pretty close!

The diverging of the map is currently the blocker for larger office navigation, so it would be nice to get some better localization to work so that the map is not constantly changed due to the divergence of position estimates, but I’m pretty hopeful I’ll be able to figure that out in the next few weeks.

Crazyflie ROS2 node with CrazySwarm2

Based on the poll we set out in the last blogpost, it seemed that many of you were mostly positive for work towards a ROS2 node for the Crazyflie! As some of you know, the Crazyswarm project, that many of you already use for your research, is currently being ported to ROS2 with efforts of Wolfgang Hönig’s IMRCLab with the Crazyswarm2 project. Instead of in parallel creating separate ROS2 nodes and just to add to the confusion for the community, we have decided with Wolfgang to place all of the ROS2 related development into Crazyswarm2. The name of the project will be the same out of historical reasons, but since this is meant to be the standard Crazyflie ROS2 package, the names of each nodes will be more generic upon official release in the future.

To this end, we’ve pushed a cflib python version of the crazyflie ros2 node called crazyflie_server_py, a bit based on my hackish efforts of the crazyflie_ros2_experimental version, such that the users will have a choice of which communication backend to use for the Crazyflie. For now the node simply creates services for each individual Crazyflie and the entire swarm for take_off, land and go_to commands. Next up are logging and parameter handling, positioning support and broadcasting implementation for the CFlib, so please keep an eye on this ticket to see the process.

So hopefully, once the summer project has been completed, I can start porting the navigation capabilities into the the Crazyswarm2 repository with a nice tutorial :)

ROScon talk

As mentioned in a previous blogpost, we’ll actually be talking about the Crazyflie ROS2 efforts at ROScon 2022 in Kyoto in collaboration with Wolfgang. You can find the talk here in the ROScon program, so hopefully I’ll see you at the talk or the week after at IROS!

In the first years that I started at Bitcraze I’ve been focused mostly on embedded development and algorithmic design like the app layer, controllers and estimators and such, however recently I started to be quite interested in the robotic integration between the Crazyflie and other (open-source) projects and users. This means that I’ll be dwelling more often in the space between Bitcraze and the community, which is something that I do really enjoy I noticed during the Grand Tour. It also initiated my work with simulators which I think would be very useful for the community too. The summer fun project that I’ve been now working on is to integrate the Crazyflie with ROS2 to integrate standard navigational packages, which will be the topic of this blogpost!

ROS2 Crazyflie Node

So first I worked on the ROS2 node that actually communicates with the Crazyflie directly. I think many of you are familiar with the USC’s CrazySwarm project, of which the ROS2 variant, CrazySwarm2, is already available for most functionalities. Even though the name says CrazySwarm, this can be very easily used for only one Crazyflie too. The CrazySwam2 is currently under more development by the IMRClab of TU Berlin, but please take a look if you want to give it a go!

For now while Crazyswarm2 is still under development, I used the Bitcraze Crazyflie python library to make a more hackish node that just publishes exactly the information I want. I am focusing on the scenario with the STEM ranging bundle, aka the Crazyflie + Flowdeck (optical flow + distance sensor) + Multi-ranger (5 x distance sensors) combo, where the node logs the multi-ranger data and the odometry from the Flowdeck with the Crazyradio and outputs that into necessary /scan and /odom topics. Moreover, it also outputs several tf2 transforms that makes it possible to either visualize it in RVIZ and/or connect it to any other packages and it should react to incoming twist messages as well.

Development with a Simulator

And of course… I went in head first and connected it directly with the SLAM toolbox. I have worked with ROS1 in the past, but I had my first experience working with that package in the course: Build Mobile Robots with ROS2 (by Weekly Robotic Newsletter’s Mat Sadowski), so I couldn’t wait to try it on a real platform like the Crazyflie. However, tuning this was of course more work than I thought, as the map that I got out of it first was mostly a sparse collection of dots. Of course the SLAM toolbox is meant for lidars and not something that provided sparse range distances like the Multiranger. Then I decided to take one or two steps back, and first connect a simulator to make tuning a bit easier.

Luckily, I’ve already started to look at simulators, and was quite far in the Webots integration of the Crazyflie. Actually… Webots’ next release (2022b) will contain a Crazyflie as standard! Once it is out, I’ll write a blogpost about that separately :). As luck has it, Webots also has good ROS2 integration as well, and even won the ‘Best ROS Software’ award by The Construct’s ROS awards! Another reason is that I wanted to try out a different simulator for ROS2 this time to complement what I’ve learned in the ROS2 course I mentioned earlier.

So I used the webots driver node to write a simulated Crazyflie that should output the same information as the real Crazyflie node, so that I can easily hack around and try out different things without constantly disturbing my cats from their slumber :). Anyway, I won’t go into to the simulator too much and save that for another blogpost!

Simple Mapping

I decided to also take another additional step before going full SLAM, which is to make a simple mapper node first! This takes the estimated state estimate of the Crazyflie and the Multiranger’s range values and it creates an occupancy grid type map of it. I do have to give kudos to the Marcus’ cflib Pointcloud script and Webot’s simple mapper example, as I did look at them for some reference. But still with the examples, integration and connecting the dots together is quite some work. Luckily I had the simulator to try things out with!

So first I put the Crazyflie in an apartment simulator, flew around and see if any decent maps comes out of it and it seemed it did! Of course, the simulated Crazyflie’s ‘odometry’ comes from near perfect position estimate, so I didn’t expect any problems there (and in such a situation you would actually not really need the localization part of SLAM). This still needs some improvements to be done, like now range measurements that don’t see anything are excluded from drawing, but still it was pretty cool to map the virtual environment.

So it was off to try it out on a real crazyflie. In one of our meeting rooms, I had one Crazyflie take off, let it turn around with a twist message in a /cmd_vel topic and made a map of the room I was currently in. The effect of the 4 range sensors rotating around and creating a map in one go, makes me think of these retro video transitions. And the odometry drift does not seem as bad for it to be possible, but I haven’t mapped our entire office yet so that might be different!

What’s next?

So I’m not stopping here for sure, I want to extend this functionality further and for sure get it to work with the SLAM_toolbox properly! But if the simple mapper already can produce such quality, I’m pretty sure that this can be done in one way or the other. What I could also do, is first generate a simple map and already have a go at the NAV2 package with that one… there are many roads to Rome here!

Currently I’m doing my work on my personal Github account in the crazyflie_ros2_experimental repository. Everything is still very much in development, hackish and quite specific for one use case but that is expected to change once things are working better, so please check the planning in the project’s readme. In the mean time, you can indicate to us in this vote if this is an interesting direction for us to go towards. Not that it will stop me from continuing this project since it is too much fun, but it is always good to know if certain efforts are appreciated!