August 18th, 2014
arnaud One Response
One of the nice new functionality of Crazyflie 2.0 is the Bluetooth 4.0 low energy (BLE) connectivity. In Crazyflie 2.0 we are using a radio microcontroller chip from Nordic semiconductor, the nRF51822. This radio chip allows us to keep compatibility with the existing Crayradio (and future Crazyradio PA), and to support BLE connectivity as well. The radio chip is a bit bigger that the one we used so far, and with the Power amplifier, we end up having the radio taking more space on the PCB:
The extra footprint is offset by the fact that we are now using smaller sensors and that the nRF51 is also handling the power management thus freeing pins on the main CPU.
The main usage of BLE will be to fly Crazyflie from a compatible mobile device like an Android phone or an Iphone. This could be used both to ‘just fly’ or to develop crazyflie control apps using the mobile phones capabilities. For example the phone camera could be used to detect and control Crazyflie autonomously. We have prototyped the BLE communication both on the existing Android client and for IPhone. The plan is to provide basic apps for the Crazyflie 2.0 release so that the copter can be flown from a mobile device out of the box. So far we have got the copter to fly from both Android and IOS:
We are not planning on implementing any BLE support for the PC client, so Crazyradio is still the main way to communicate with Crazyfle. It is possible to have BLE on PC but it would require a major effort to get it to work for Linux, Windows and Mac (there is no cross-platorm Python BLE lib as far as I know. If there is some please tell me in the comments!). Also Crazyradio is lower latency and has an higher datarate which makes it better for flying and communicating with one or many Crazyflie 2.0 from a PC.
We are also implementing BLE in the bootloader. This means that it will be possible update the Crazyflie 2.0 firmware from both a PC or a mobile device.
Technically we are using the Nordic Semiconductor soft device BLE stack. The stack runs a little bit like an operating system, behind and independently of the firmware: the firmware is not linked to the stack. This will make things a little bit easier to have an open-source firmware even though the nordic bluetooth stack is closed. Another nice thing about the nordic chip is that the radio peripheral is well documented so implementing open source stacks in the future is potentially possible.
Practically we where originally planning to have two modes for the firmware: one Crazyradio and one bluetooth mode. However the new release of the Nordic BLE stack allow to mix BLE and Crazyradio at the same time. So we are working on having a seamless connection procedure between Crazyradio and BLE: when starting Crazyflie 2.0 it will be accessible both via BLE and with the Crazyradio. When connected the unused mode will be disabled until disconnection. Also the name of the copter will be communicated both in BLE and Crazyradio mode and can be changed by the user. This will help a lot people having more than one Crazyflie (us first!) to differentiate them.