Partie interactive du site pédagogique ELECINF344/ELECINF381 de Télécom ParisTech (occurrence 2011).


Copterix : battery problem

Last days, we spent plenty of time understanding why we had so much problems.

It started yesterday evening: our motors weren’t responding to our commands. After long hours debugging with an oscilloscope, we finally succeed in making them work again, but we didn’t find any rational explanation of this problem.

Today, as we wanted to test graphical logs of copter flights, we experimented big problems again. After having taken advices from our professors, we added some improvements to our code: we improved our scripts, added locks on processes to avoid multiple instances of them… Finally, we found the problem which was making us mad. One of our battery has a big problem: it seems it can’t deliver enough power to the motors, what gives our copter a very strange behaviour.

We now have the same conditions of work than a few days earlier, but with a better work environment. We are going to spend next day intensively working on the stabilization and the command of our copter, we hope this will be easier than the days we just passed through.

RoseWheel: Improvement of the PID

These last two days we mainly worked on tuning the PID coefficients to improve the stability. In this way, we tried to find the best set of PID coefficients so that RoseWheel could raise from an almost horizontal position and recover stability as soon as possible and then maintain this stability over time, even under hard external perturbation. We also worked on improving the coefficients we found for the human driving mode to make the right compromise between smooth-driving and responsiveness.

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During this test and improve phase, Alexis advised us to plot the curve of the different values critical for our system. Thus, we plotted over time the value of the angle and the angle rate before and after the kalman filtering and also the command sent to the motor calculated by our PID algorithm.

It made us find 2 problems in our software that explains why at the beginning RoseWheel was so unstable:

  • The Kalman filter wasn’t configured correctly. We first configured it for the testbench but we forgot to change the time step that was indeed ten times smaller than the correct value. That led to latency and incorrectness in the output of the Kalman filtering. Changing this parameter to its correct value made the system become really more stable.
  • Even after the Kalman filtering, we noticed that the angular rate was still a lot noisy. This noise caused our gyropod to vibrate a lot when increasing the derivative coefficient Kd in the PID. That is a problem because increasing the derivative coefficient is the only way we have to lower the amplitudes of the oscillations induced by a big proportionnal term Kp in the PID. Thus, we decided to smooth the angular rate value by using a low-pass filter after the Kalman filtering. It’s really a simple filter as it’s only made of 2 coefficients, but according to the plots, it made its work correctly and the angular rate seems to be really smoother than before. But while testing, increasing the derivative coefficient still leads to oscillations and vibrations, so we still have to work on it.

As we obtained satisfying results at making RoseWheel maintain its equilibrium, we started working on other features :

We implemented the safety switch and elaborated a protocol to avoid as much dangerous situations as possible :

At the very beginning, when one presses the power on button, RoseWheel is in self-driving-mode by default. That means it will try to reach its equilibrium position as soon as possible and then remain in this position. We assume that the user isn’t too silly and, for instance, will not try to power on RoseWheel in an almost horizontal position whereas he is facing it. Then, as soon as the safety switch that is located on the base is pressed, that means that someone has its foot on RoseWheel and wants to ride it : RoseWheel switches to its human-drive mode. If suddenly the safety switch is released, RoseWheel checks the angle. If it’s almost 0°, that means that RoseWheel’s speed is almost 0 and the person maybe wants to get out, then calmly RoseWheel switches to its self-driven mode (we still need to implement it). If the angle is under 75°, that could means two things: the person has felt down or the person has temporarily raised its foot. Thus, if the safety switch isn’t pressed within 1 second, RoseWheel makes a special noise, then, if it’s still not switched on within another second, RoseWheel switch to its self-driven mode. Finally, if the angle is greater than 75°, that means that the person has felt down and RoseWheel could represent a menace for people around, motors are disabled.

2) Concerning the obstacle detection, we almost finished to implement the sharps and sonar drivers. As these detectors are really sensitive to the external conditions, we still have to test them and see how they react in the different environnements RoseWheel will evolve in.

3) Concerning the remote control, we almost finished to implement the drivers for the Bluetooth, we made some tests yesderday, but we still need to continue them today and we will talk more about it in the next article.

Copterix : First outdoor flight

We can now control the attitude of our copter with the RF remote control. We have also implemented the possibility of turning on/off the motors directly with the RF remote control. Bertrand has made a script for running all the control tasks at boot. We can thus take control of our Copter as soon as the gumstix has started and is running Linux, without using any SSH connexion.

Then, we took the Copter outside for a first flight in real conditions. We succeed in taking off, but I wasn’t very comfortable with it. Then, we had a big crash: Bertrand accidentally put the thrust too high at the takeoff. The Copter overturned and damaged/broke some propellers. Fortunately, we put a protection onto the motors’ boards yesterday. They thus don’t seem to have suffered damages. Here are some photos after the crash. (Photos are from Samuel Tardieu)

the broken propeller... what a shame.

Crash of the 22th April, 2011


Tomorrow, we’ll try to improve our PID algorithm for pitch, yaw and roll, and then we’ll probably work on the Kanade algorithm, for X and Y control loop.

Copterix has had a harsh day

Today, we added the yaw servomechanism on the Copterix and it responded pretty well, it is now able to fall slowly like a fall leaf. Sorry we don’t have any video this time, but you will soon understand why…

Our octocopter went through a lot of trouble:

  • When we passed on battery, motors were twice as powerful as on sector, and even though we lowed them a lot, it finally crashed on the ceiling. That was of course not a real test environment (indoor flights are not the exact purpose of a copter), and that is exactly the reason why this accident occurred. It turned out that we just had to change a propeller and our copter was back on tracks.
  • Since yesterday evening, Copterix tends not to start properly. We thought first it was because of the motors card security, which turns off every motors in case of a brutal startup, but it was late tonight we finally discovered with our teacher that it was just a bad contact between a part of this card and the rest of it on the i2c bus, and we finally fixed it.

Afterwards, we performed a Radio Frequency test and it went really well: we think we will be able to control the thrust, roll and pitch by remote control after a few callibration.

Finally, we started our web site ! We plan to add a lot of content about our project during next week, keep on checking !

RoseWheel: first ride

Tuesday evening, after nearly two days of fine-tuning our testing procedures and security measures, we finally did the first tests on our own vehicle. In order to make sure we didn’t damage the equipment (nor hurt somebody), we followed a simple and strict protocol:

1. First of all, we checked that we could control manually the motors via our interpreter;

2. Then, we verified that the limitations we applied to the variation of the voltage of each motor were adequate (as mentioned in a previous post, an abrupt increase or decrease on the voltage could severely damage the motors);

3. Finally, we determined a maximum speed that seemed reasonable, so that we could stop the vehicle manually should the worst happen.

After this initial procedure, we could start the actual tests of our system. After some iterations of tuning the coefficients of our controller, we realized that it was actually much easier to equilibrate the vehicle with a human being on top of it than without any load, since:

(i) the person enhances the performance of the control system by balancing his/her weight in a way that maximizes stability;

(ii) the presence of the human being makes the test conditions closer to the physical model we used to compute and simulate the parameters.

After several adjustments, we were able to take our first ride on the RoseWheel -- with basic steering capabilities via the integrated potentiometer implemented as a plus.

Nevertheless, by wednesday morning we had not yet found a way of balancing the RoseWheel alone -- a must for our next major goal, remote control. Then, we realized that the chassis we used had a very interesting property: by tilting it to a specific angle, we could align the center of gravity of the steering bar with the axis of the wheels, reaching a metastable equilibrium. We used this fact to offset the error variable of our PID controller, and that proved to be very effective, since we obtained as a result a pretty good stability. But all this comes at a price: since we now have two different equilibrium positions, we must use the safety button located on the chassis to determine if we are carrying a person or not; nothing too difficult to implement, though.

On the other hand, the PID coefficients may be trickier to master. We are still working on them to solve the issues we are having, notably oscillations and vibrations that sometimes occur. To help us with the debugging, we set up a solution to plot angle, angular velocity, and output voltage command for each one of the motors. Our next actions on this front will be to use all these data to better tune Kp, Ki and Kd, so as to have a more responsive and stable control algorithm.

Meanwhile, we started to move on to our next goals: we began to study the Bluetooth controller, and are already able to compile and run a « hello world » Android application. Next steps include implementing drivers for our distance sensors to implement obstacle detection.

To summarize all our work, we prepared a special video showing some of the most interesting (and/or funny) demos we made so far. Enjoy!


[CASPER] Http setup interface

Today, we have been looking for the simplest way of giving a http control interface to our project. We found that the C library Microhttpd was matching our needs.

It’s a library which will allow us to create a very simple http server on the BeagleBoard. This way a user will be able to get registered into Casper’s « Database ». Eventually, through this interface, he will be able to give his name, a new Lua script or his various logins/passwords to access his mails and so on…

Besides, we made some changes in Casper’s prototype. We made a « box » in wood which contains the motors and supports Casper itself, so it’s easier to move it.


RoseWheel: tests preparation

This week we tried to put together our developments and make them interact with each other. It includes sensors communication, kalman filter, control feedback, motors control, CAN communication protocol. We were dogged by bad luck as we realized the heatsink of our mainboard was too big to fit in the Zzaag… A few millimeters required us to order for a new one with a more suitable shape. Fortunately Alexis and Samuel helped us to find a new one. Because of that we were not able to validate the following « feedback control tuning » PSSC for Saturday as planned. Adviced by Samuel we also decided to postpone the « encoders drivers » PSSC as it wasn’t really in our first order priorities.


We tried to make profit of this situation and decided to prepare everything for the first tests. Alexis helped us defining our tests procedure to be as safe as possible for both hardware and people. Motors need special attention as they can be broken with unsuitable commands. Because of the wheels and the weight of the chassis they have a really high inertia. Asking them sharply to reverse their direction of rotation when they are rotating fast can seriously damage them and the H-bridges. If we damage them we wouldn’t be able to order new ones before the end of the course, it would be fatal for our project. Therefore we need at first to make some testing at low speed so as to define the maximum acceptable speed at which we can run the motors before they get damaged. To this extent we need an interpreter running on the mainboard and communicating using RS232 to be able to give motors various commands and define this maximum speed. Then we need to limit our commands to this maximum speed using software limitations. Finally the interpreter should be able to change the feedback control values for our testing to be more flexible. We implemented such an interpreter and made a video. The motors commands in the video are given between 0 and 1000 such as:

  • ml0 = 0%:  max negative speed
  • ml500 = 50%: stop
  • ml1000 = 100%: max positive speed


Before trying the Zzaag motors we do some testings on other DC motors with less inertia that we cannot damage as easily as the Zzaag’s ones. Putting all the pieces together we were able to shoot a video which shows the motors reacting appropriately to the inclination of the sensorboard. As for the Kalman filter, we implemented a lighter version than the one of RoseWheel as it works best when tested on the real system. This version was only able to track the gyroscope drift and correct it. As far as we could see during the testing, it did it well. Concerning the PID, we tried to test the version that we are going to use in the RoseWheel but it still needs to be improved during the next tests.


Tomorrow we will be able to work on the Zzaag motors using our safe procedure and the tools developped. We look forward to it as it is a major step further for our project…

Copterix: First flight

Today, I finalized the emission of the commands for the motors, from the Gumstix to the STM32 and their reception (check the validity of the packet and if it’s valid, update the commands sent to the motors).

Then, with Samuel, we added 0MQ exchanges on the Gumstix between Kalman and the PID and between the PID and the UART.

On the Gumstix, the program that handles the UART has two threads. One receives data from the sensors from the STM32 and sends it -thanks to 0MQ- to the program computing Kalman. The other one, receives the commands of the motors from the PID and sends them to the STM32.


Copterix IHM

Copterix's IHM

We also attached the PCBs on the copter:

PCB's on copter

We configured Kalman with the new axes and the offset of roll and pitch angles.


Finally, we all tested the PID. The algorithm seems okay, however, we’ll have to set each coefficient properly.

We’re trying  to control roll and pitch angles with a low thrust (in order to prevent any accident). Then, we’ll add a control on Z thanks to the Sharp sensor.

Copterix: motors control, 1st test

Sensors and effectors

For now, we configured all sensors and effectors:

  • The Sharp, the distance sensor, works in 1-5m range and we get values with 3cm precision
  • Inertial Measurement Unit (gyros, accelerometers and magnetometers return correct values)
  • Radio Frequency (remote control, see video)
  • Motors (see video)

Here is a small video where we directly control motors’ speed with remote control:


We now have a reliable communication between our PCB and the Gumstix, thanks to Samuel Tardieu’s help.
We mostly use ZeroMQ to share data between our processes and even between our computers !


Kalman is quite smoothly, works as well on PC as on Gumstix, and we are now optimizing each operation. The actual filter is fast enough for real-time execution (we spend a lot more time to wait after data than to actually process it), but we want the filter to use less processor working time in order to execute other heavy tasks, like Lucas and Kanade (video tracking algorithm).
We do now have a way to get by Wifi only the Kalman’s results in order to display them on a PC using OpenGL as you could have seen it on our previous videos.

Next step

We are now up to test for the first time real servomechanism PID on our Copterix !

RoseWheel motor control: 1st step

We got the board that controls the motors yesterday evening so we started to test if our H-bridge driver works as expected, here is an example of our tests:

It looks good for the moment so the next step is to implement a control of the violent speed changes…