webots

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!

In December we had a blogpost where we gave an overview of existing simulation models that were out there. In the mean time, I have done some work during my Fun Fridays to get this to work even further. Currently I moved the efforts from my personal Github repo to the Bitcraze organization github called crazyflie-simulation. It is all still very much work in progress but in this blogpost I will explain the content of the repository and what these elements can already do.

Low Poly CAD model

The first thing that you will need to have for any simulation, is a 3D model of the Crazyflie. There is of course already great models available from the CrazyS project, the sim_cf project and the multi_uav_simulator, which are completely fine to use as well. But since we have direct access to the exact geometries of the real crazyflie itself, I wanted to see if I could abstract the shapes myself. And also I would like to improve my Blender skills, so this seemed to be a nice project to work with! Moreover, it might be handy to have a central place if anybody is looking for a 3D simulation model of the Crazyflie.

For simulations with only one or a few Crazyflie, the higher resolution models from the other repository are absolutely sufficient, especially if you are not using a very complicated physics geometry model (because that is where most of the computation is). But if you would like to simulate very big swarms, then the polygon count will have more influences on the speed of the simulation. So I managed to make it to 1970 vertices with the below Crazyflie model, which is not too bad! I am sure that we can make it even with lesser polygons but this is perhaps a good place to start out with for now.

In the crazyflie-simulation, you can find the Blender, stl files and collada files under the folder ‘meshes’.

Webots model

We implemented the above model in a Webots simulator, which was much easier to implement than I thought! The tutorials they provide are great so I was able to get the model flying within a day or two. By combining the propeller node and rotational motor, and adjusting the thrust and drag coefficient to be a bit more ‘Crazyflie like’, it was able to take off. It would be nice to perhaps base these coefficients on the system identification of the Crazyflie, like what was done for this bachelor thesis, but for now our goal is just to make it fly!

The webots model can found in the same simulation repository under /webots/. You can try out the model by

webots webots/world/crazyfly_world.wbt

It would then be possible to control the pitch and roll with the arrow keys of your keyboard while it is maintaining a current height of 1 meter. This is current state of the code as of commit 79640a.

Ignition Gazebo model

Ignition will be the replacement for Gazebo Classic, which is already a well known simulator for many of you. Writing controllers and plugins is slightly more challenging as it is only in C++ but it is such a landmark in the world of simulation, it only makes sense that we will try to make a Gazebo model of the Crazyflie as well! In the previous blogpost I mentioned that I already experimented a bit with Ignition Gazebo, as it has the nice multicopter motor model plugin standard within the framework now. Then I tried to make it controllable with the intergrated multicopter velocity control plugin but I wasn’t super successful, probably because I didn’t have the right coefficients and gains! I will rekindle these efforts another time, but if anybody would like to try that out, please do so!

First I made my own controller plugin for the gazebo model, which can be found in the repository in a different branch under /gazebo-ignition/. This controller plugin needs to be built first and it’s bin file added to the path IGN_GAZEBO_SYSTEM_PLUGIN_PATH, and the Crazyflie model in IGN_GAZEBO_RESOURCE_PATH , but then if you try to fly the model with the following:

 ign gazebo crazyflie_world.sdf

It will take off and hover nicely. Unfortunately, if you try out the key publisher widget with the arrow keys, you see that the Crazyflie immediately crashes. So there is still something fishy there! Please check out the issue list of the repo to check the state on that.

Controllers

So the reason why I made my own controller plugins for the above mentioned simulation models, is that I want to experiment with a way that we can separate the crazyflie firmware controllers, make a code wrapper for them, and use those controllers directly in the simulator. So this way it will become a hybrid software in the loop without having to compile the entire firmware that contains all kinds of extra things that the simulation probably does not need. We can’t do this hybrid SITL yet, but at least it would be nice to have the elements in place to make it possible.

Currently I’m only experimenting with a simple fixed height and attitude PID controller written in C, and some extra files to make it possible to make a python wrapper for those. The C-controller itself you can try out in Webots as of this commit 79640a, but hopefully we will have the python version of it working too.

What is next?

As you probably noticed, the simulation work are still very much work in process and there is still a lot enhancements to add or fix. Currently this is only done on available Fridays so the progress is not super fast unfortunately, but at least there is one model flying.

Some other elements that we would like to work on:

  • Velocity controller, so that the models are able to react on twist messages.
  • Crazyflie firmware bindings of controllers
  • Better system variables (at least so that the ign gazebo model and the webots model are more similar)
  • CFlib integration
  • Add a multiranger and/or camera.
  • and more!

I might turn a couple of these into topics that would be good for contribution, so that any community members can help out with. Please keep an eye on the issue list, and we are communicating on the Crazyswarm2 Discussion page about simulations if you want to share your thoughts on this as well.