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Author: chad

Eclectically enterprising autodidact possessed of a polyhistor penchant for effervescent efforts of concentrated creativity toward veritable ventures in volatile veracity. Also, a nice guy.
The Little Charger That Could

The Little Charger That Could

I happened to be browsing Seeed Studio‘s site the other day after buying a cable and found a new product from Bitcraze that I hadn’t known about.

It’s a tiny battery charger for spare Crazyflie batteries!

CF2 Battery Charger FrontThis little gem is a 500mA charger based on the MCP73832 single-cell LiPo charge controller. It’s exceptionally small and works with the stock Crazyflie 2 batteries.

One of the cool added features are the connection points you can use to solder multiple chargers together in a chain, thereby creating a charging station for multiple batteries. For the sport flier, I can see this as being a great way to increase flight times or make multiple-battery racing heats. For the researcher, these will go a long way to increasing precious flight time for further data acquisition and experimentation.

Seeed Studio is stocking these with extra batteries for $8 USD (a battery alone is $5.50 USD) so the price is not restrictive if you want a few of them!

CF2 Battery Charger BackI picked one up the other day and found it quite useful. I have a few Crazyflie 2s and these days I love using my Devo 7e so much, I’ve set the channel and data rate the same on each of my ‘flies to facilitate control with the Devo 7e. Of course, if I plug a Crazyflie in to charge it, I can’t fly another since the transmitter controls both the one I’m using and the one I’m charging! I accidentally realized this the hard way. Now, I disconnect the battery of the one I’m charging so that the Crazyflie doesn’t have to be “on,” and I can charge the battery with this little charger while I fly my other ‘flie. As a result, I can keep the channels the same on all my ‘flies and not have any unintended, tethered flights!

I might have to pick up a few more chargers and put together a charging bank!

Decks

Decks

Deck is the official name of Crazyflie 2.0 expansion boards and now the variety of them is growing!

At first, Bitcraze had only released a few decks, which I covered here on the Crazyflier blog. The LED ring is the most vibrant and flashy of them, followed by the functional and convenient Qi Charging deck.

Breakout DeckI didn’t write about the breakout deck for use with breadboards nor the prototype deck, which is perfect for modding projects. These two decks are quintessential for anyone tinkering with the Crazyflie expansion connectors. They make both development and early prototyping easy and fun. They’re also relatively cheap.

Recently, (well at the end of last year) Bitcraze started producing a few more decks, bringing the total to five (six if you included the battery holder deck, which has only specialized functionality). The new offerings include the Buzzer and the Big Quad decks. The Big Quad deck is, as of this writing, still in early access.

Buzzer deckThe Buzzer deck provides some useful and fun functionality. Tones sound at start up, when battery is low, when the battery is charged, when USB is connected or disconnected, and a few other events. While it may, at first, seem just a novelty, the Buzzer deck is surprisingly functional and convenient. Plus, since it mounts on top, you can even use it together with the Qi charger or LED ring decks! Don’t get me wrong… It is as fun as it is functional. Out of the box, the firmware can play the Star Wars theme and the opening of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” (the latter provide by yours truly). Just imagine your Crazyflie 2, in a darkened room, headlights on, rising above your desk, playing the “helicopter” theme from “Apocalypse Now!” I think that’s worthy of a promo video.

Big Quad deckThe Big Quad deck may be one of the coolest consumer decks on offer right now as it allows your Crazyflie 2 to interface with the hardware typically used on the larger (250mm class and above) quadcopters. The great thing about the Big Quad deck is that it allows you use the familiar Crazyflie 2 “brain” on larger quads. Given the firmware for the Crazyflie 2 is open-source and constantly being improved upon by the community, you have significant control over the flight characteristics of your large quad. The Big Quad deck seems, to my mind, to be perfect for the 250 class first-person-view (FPV) copters! Anyone into FPV racing could benefit from the Big Quad deck as a way to make the Crazyflie (and all its open-source goodness) the heart of a winning racer quad.

Loco Positioning deckFinally, still in development and currently in its early access stage, is the local-positioning-system (LPS) deck and nodes – appropriately dubbed “Loco” positioning. This trick system gives you absolute positioning of the Crazyflie indoors using ultra-wide-band radio. The system reached its alpha-stage early this year. There’s plenty more about it on Bitcraze’s blog. While in its early stage it may mainly appeal to academic and research efforts, once the system matures and it’s price drops due to mass production, this could be an awesome system to make your autonomous, household drone a reality. I can’t wait to add a Crazyflie 2 to my home automation system. I’m imagining the doorbell ringing, my front door video identifying who it is, my automatic door lock unlocking and my door solenoid opening the door to my FPV Crazyflie waiting to greet the visitor and allow me to interact via audio. After all, I’m downstairs in my “lab” working on another project, why should I want to interrupt myself just for a package delivery? The best part of this future is that three-quarters of this system already exists in my house!

A few more decks are still in development and its exciting anticipating their release. The global-positioning-system (GPS) deck, and the WiFi (ESP8266) deck should be on their way soon.

Crazyflie 2 expansions look to be gaining momentum these days and I think it’s a great time to be a Crazyflie fan. I’m really looking forward to the potential of all these new open-hardware/open-source expansion decks!

Using Docker for Bitcraze Fun on Mac OS X

Using Docker for Bitcraze Fun on Mac OS X

Docker is the new hotness for Crazyflie development. The Bitcraze boys have a number of Docker VM images that can be used for everything from firmware builds to website editing! Pretty cool stuff. It takes a little setup though, and this is how to do it…

Install the Docker Environment

The easiest way to do this is to download the Docker Toolbox installer and run it. Keep in mind, you need to be running OS X 10.8 or later for compatibility. I just used the defaults for this installer. It installs all the Docker binaries in /usr/local/bin. At the end of the installation, I chose to run the “Docker Quickstart Terminal” which installed the docker engine.

Install the Bitcraze toolbelt

The toolbelt is a set of scripts that allow you run a VM instance, perform a build, and watch the VM instance disappear into the ether leaving only your build product. It’s magical. In the Terminal simply run the following to install it:

docker run --rm -it bitcraze/toolbelt

Add an alias to your .bashrc file

To easily use the Bitcraze Docker toolbelt environment, it’s best to add an alias that you can quickly type in your terminal. Here’s what to do…

cat <<EOM >> ~/.bashrc
alias tb='docker run --rm -it -e "HOST_CW_DIR=${PWD}" -e "CALLING_HOST_NAME=$(hostname)" -v ${PWD}:/tb-module -v ${HOME}/.ssh:/root/.ssh -v /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock bitcraze/toolbelt'
EOM

Now, you simply need to type tb to run the toolbelt! Cool!!

Clone the Crazyflie firmware

To build Crazyflie firmware, you first need to clone the crazyflie-firmware git repository from GitHub. This is pretty easy. Switch to the directory you’d like to clone the repository into (e.g. ~/Documents) and run the clone. Then pull down the required submodules.

cd ~/Documents
git clone https://github.com/bitcraze/crazyflie-firmware.git
cd crazyflie-firmware
git submodule init
git submodule update

Run a Crazyflie firmware build

This part is insanely simple now. To run a firmware build, it’s only a matter of changing into the crazyflie-firmware directory and running the toolbelt build.

tb build

The process is awesome! Not only does it run a build, it also runs system tests. At the end of the build, you’re left with binary and dfu file ready for flashing.

You can also specify arguments to the Makefile on the tb command line. For instance, to build firmware for the Crazyflie Nano (1.0), clean the build and then specify the platform.

tb build clean
tb build PLATFORM=CF1

What could be easier and more consistent!?

The next time you want to build, make sure you run the Docker QuickStart Terminal application (it’s in /Applications/Docker), then just cd to your crazyflie-firmware directory in the Terminal window that opens and run tb build. It’s incredibly easy and consistent.

Walkera Devo 7e Modding

Walkera Devo 7e Modding

Bitcraze did a great job when they implemented the Crazyflie system. With a Crazyflie and Crazyradio, a PC, and a game controller, anyone can get a mini-quadcopter flying. It’s an extensible system made of ubiquitous pieces. For what it’s worth, flying with a game controller is pretty good. Control is comfortable and easy to learn and the fidelity is high. But… What does a Crazyflier do when she wants more control or less system overhead or both? The answer is the Devo7e remote transmitter from Walkera! If you want to know more about the Devo7e and modability, check out the primer thread at the RC Groups forum. The following is a journal, if you’re just looking for the steps needed to mod your Devo 7e for use with the Crazyflie, check out my project on Hackster.io. If you’d rather have more color, read on….

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Stable Flight with an iPhone

Stable Flight with an iPhone

Some Crazyfliers seem to have trouble learning how to fly with the iPhone mobile client. I hope this entry can ease the learning curve for those people just new to the Crazyflie 2 who are using only a mobile client. This guide is written for iPhone (because that’s what I have and use) but most of it is probably applicable to Android as well.

If you find it a little hard to learn how to control your Crazyflie 2 with the Crazyflie iPhone client, read on…

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FAA Drone Registration Requirement

FAA Drone Registration Requirement

As of tomorrow (21-Dec-2015), if you live in the United States and have a drone, you have to register it. The Federal Aviation Administration has created new statues governing private drone registration, likely to curb problems stemming from reckless drone pilots. Fortunately for us Crazyflie enthusiasts, the Crazyflie is exempt because the new law only requires registration if your drone weighs 250 grams or more (up to 55 pounds – then it is a different category). Of course, if you’re using a BigQuad deck or have integrated your Crazyflie airframe into a larger quad yourself, then you might need to register still – provided the big quad your Crazyflie is controlling is heavier than 250 grams, of course.

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Crazyflie 2 Bundle on Massdrop

Crazyflie 2 Bundle on Massdrop

Massdrop has the Crazyflie 2 bundle available for the next 7 days. It’s a really good price for the quad and a few accessories. I’m going to pick up another Crazyflie 2 just for fun and hope Massdrop gets enough purchasers to make the $99 price! Even at the $109 price for 10 purchasers it’s a steal. I’d really like to see 20 purchasers though because $99 is an even sweeter bargain! It’s only available on Massdrop for another 7 days though. So, if you want one, get on over to Massdrop and join the drop!

Flying on a Mac

Flying on a Mac

I’ve been out of the Crazyflie scene for a few months due to newfound (overwhelming) responsibilities as a dad and homeowner, but recently I came back because I had a few moments to spare. I’ve almost finished setting up my “workshop” in my new house and once I get my shop stool and soldering station put together, I’ll have more entries to make. But for now, I thought I should just get up and flying again.

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Unified Firmware Source Code

Unified Firmware Source Code

In my last post on compiling Crazyflie firmware on Mac OS X, I mentioned that the band at Bitcraze had plans to eventually merge the Crazyflie 2.0 firmware source with the Crazyflie Nano (1.0) source on the master branch and now they have done it! Crazyflie Nano (1.0) and Crazyflie 2.0 firmware source code is now unified in the Bitcraze crazyflie-firmware GitHub repository on the “master” branch. This is really great news because it makes building for either (or both) targets even easier now! Read on for updated instructions on building Crazyflie firmware on Mac OS X given the new unified firmware source…

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Bitcraze LED Ring

Bitcraze LED Ring

A couple posts back I wrote a little about the Qi Inductive Charger as part of my posts on things that make the Crazyflie 2.0 safer, easier to use, and more enjoyable. This post is about an expansion deck that makes the Crazyflie 2.0 more enjoyable (if that’s even a possibility).

One of the coolest, most attention getting, and fun expansion decks you can get for the Crazyflie 2 is the Bitcraze LED ring. This little device is a bottom mount only deck that has a ring of 12 high-output WS2812B LEDs facing downward and two high-output white LEDs facing forward. Simply turning on the LEDs make for a really cool effect on the Crazyflie (think spaceship launching from a dark, distant planet) but the fun really begins when you animate the LEDs!

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