Penelope’s progress

I’ve done nothing on Penelope since my introductory post, but now I have reason to proceed:the new Raspberry Pi 3 B+ is already on its way courtesy of pimoroni combined with the new Garmin LiDAR-Lite v3HP and the new Raspian Stretch O/S.  Together these make the motivation I need though only in the background; my main focus is object avoidance with Hermione, and I hope to post on the first results imminently.  Oddly, what’s holding things back is hardware not software: construction of the obstacle.

“Penelope” or “Lucy”…

…as in the Amazon series “Lucifer”?  I’ll stick with Ms. Pitstop despite the colour scheme; Lucifer never shows up on Tuesdays.

Separated at birth?

Separated at birth?

She’s still pending the new version of the Garmin LIDAR-Lite v3HP – the lower-profile, higher-accuracy version of Hermione and Zoes’ height tracking LiDAR, She’s also waiting for a new PCB so she can have a buzzer, though that’s not holding her back in the same way.  She’ll intentionally not have a Scance Sweep as it’s very very expensive for a non-critical sensor.

My intent had been to make her lower profile, sleek and stealthy to enable longer flights per battery hence the shorter legs, and lower hat and the 13 x 4.4 CF props (compared to ‘H’ 12 x 4.4 Beechwoods). However her hat and feet prevent this – the feet are true lacrosse balls, so heavier than Hermione’s indoor ones, and her salad bowl top also seems heavier.  Overall then ‘H’ weighs in at 4.8kg all installed, and Penelope 4.7kg.  Thus the main benefit is likely she’ll be nippier due to slightly more power from the lighter, larger CF props combined with the raised centre of gravity.  And in fact, this raised CoG and lighter, larger props may well reduce the power needed – we shall see.

In the background, I am working on the “Pond Problem”: fusing GPS distance / direction with the other sensors.  Code’s nigh on complete but I’m yet to convince myself it will work well enough to test it immediately over the local gravel lakes.

Refinement time.

Sorry it’s been quiet; the weather’s been awful, so no videos to show.  Instead, I’ve been tinkering to ensure the code is as good as it can be prior to moving on to object avoidance / maze tracking.

Zoe is back to life once more to help with the “face the direction you’re flying” tweak testing as these don’t quite work yet.  She’s back as my first few attempts with ‘H’ kept breaking props.  First job for ‘Z’ was to have her run the same code as Hermione but with the autopilot moved back to inline to reduce the number of processes as possible for her single CPU Pi0W in comparison with Hermione’s 4 CPU 3B.


  • I’ve started running the code with ‘sudo python -O ./’ to enable optimisation.  This disable assertion checking, and hopefully other stuff for better performance.
  • I’ve tweaked the Butterworth parameters to track gravity changes faster as Zoe’s IMU is exposed to the cold winds and her accelerometer values rise rapidly.
  • I’ve refining the Garmin LiDAR-Lite V3 to cope with occasional ‘no reading’ triggered caused by no laser reflection detected; this does happen occasionally (and correctly) if she’s tilted and the surface bouncing the laser points the wrong way.
  • I’d also hoped to add a “data ready interrupt” to the LiDAR to reduce the number of I2C requests made; however, the interrupts still don’t happens despite trying all 12 config options. I think the problem is Garmin’s so I’m awaiting a response from them on whether this flaw is fixed in a new model to be launched in the next few weeks .  In the meantime, I only call the GLL I2C when there’s video results which need the GLL vertical height to convert the video pixel movements into horizontal movement in meters.

Having added and tested all the above sequentially, the net result was failure: less bad a failure than previously, but failure nonetheless; the video tracking lagged in order to avoid the IMU FIFO overflowing.  So in the end, I changed Zoe’s video resolution to 240 pixels² @ 10 fps (‘H’ is at 320 pixel² @ 10 fps, and she now can hover on the grass which means I can get on with the “face where you’re going” code.

I do think all the other changes listed are valid and useful, and as a result, I’ve updated the code on GitHub.

In passing, I had also been investigating whether the magnetometer could be used to back up pitch, roll and yaw angles long term, but that’s an abject failure; with the props on idle prior to takeoff, it works fine giving the orientation to feed to the GPS tracking process, but once airborne, the magnetometer values shift by ±40° and varies depending which way she’s going while facing in the same direction.

Finally found the fecking wobbles

I ‘think’ there are two factors: the colder temperature reduced the power of the LiPo; this then made the system a little less able to react to distance errors, causing it to rotate more to correct horizontal distance drift, and this in turn exposed a long term bug that completely failed to compensate for horizontal distance changes due to changes in pitch / roll angles (the code was there, but had a crass bug).

The cool LiPo has been fixed with a walkers / skiers pocket-warmer strapped firmly on top, keeping it lovely and cosy.

The crass video horizontal tracking error has been fix also.  As a result, GitHub has been updated, and naively once more I can continue working on the GPS tracking.

More on mapping

It’s been a frustrating week – despite lovely weather, lots broke, and once each was fixed, something else would break.  To top is all, an update to the latest version of Jessie yesterday locked the RPi as soon as I kicked off a passive flight.  I backed this ‘upgrade’ out as a result.  I now I have everything back and working, confirm by hover and 10m lateral flights this morning, although the latter aborted half-way through with an I2C error.  Underlying it all is power to the GLL and RPi 3B – I was seeing lots of brown-out LED flashes from the B3 and lots of I2C and GLL errors.  I’m consider swapping back to a 2B+ overclocked to 1.2GHz as a result.

In the meantime I have been looking at mapping in more detail as it’s complex and it needs breaking down into easy pieces.  Here’s the general idea:

Polystyrene block layout

Polystyrene block layout

Each polystyrene block is 2.5m long, 1.25m high and 10cm thick.  They are pinned together with screw-in camping tent pegs.  The plan is to

  • fly 10m  at 1m height without the ‘maze’, logging compass and GPS to check the results, in particular to see whether
    • GPS can be gently fused with RPi ground facing motion tracking to enhance lateral motion distance measurements
    • compass can be fused with IMU gyro yaw rate to enforce a better linear flight
  • fly 10m without the ‘maze’ again but with fused compass and GPS (assuming the above is OK)
  • add the ‘maze’ and fly in a straight 10m line from bottom to top again as a sanity check
  • add the Sweep and log it’s contents when doing the same 10m again
  • build the flight map in Excel based upon GPS, compass and sweep logs – the results should look like the map with the addition of what garden clutter lies beyond the end of each exit from the ‘maze’
  • add a new mapping process to do dynamically what has been done in Excel above
  • add object avoidance from Sweep and repeat – this is the hardest bit as it introduces dynamic updates to preconfigured flight plans
  • add ‘maze’ tracking code to reach a target GPS position, nominally the center of the ‘maze’ – this stage requires further thought to break it down further.

MPU-9250 vs. Garmin LiDAR Lite

I had hoped yesterday to get going with Sweep integration, with a sanity check flight beforehand just to ensure all is running well – I can’t afford to have crashes with sweep installed.

And sure enough, Hermione crashed.  In the middle of the climbing phase of the flight, she suddenly leapt into the air, and the protection code killed her at the point her height exceeded the flight plan height by 50cm.  At the speed she was climbing, she continued to rise to a couple more meters before crashing down into a shrub bed, luckily minimising damage to components I had spares for.

A second mandatory flight to collect diagnostics (and more crash damage) revealed a conflict over I2C by the IMU and ground facing LiDAR.  The LiDAR won, and the IMU started seeing gravity as just about 0g.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, and I’ve tried various guessed solutions to fix it.

Accelerometer vs. Garmin LiDAR Lite

Accelerometer vs. Garmin LiDAR Lite

The left graph is height: blue is Garmin and is right; orange is the target – what should be happening, and grey is double integrated acceleration which is a very close match to Garmin right  up to the point it  all goes very wrong.  Looking in more detail at the right graph shows the accelerometer results dropped just before 3.5s and about 0.5s before hover would have started.

This ain’t my code; best guess is an interaction over I2C of the LiDAR and IMU, and the IMU loses.  I’ve seen similar IMU damage before, and without more detail, my only option is to add a new one and try again.

£55.71 import duty* later…

and this is what UPS handed over to me in return.

Scanse Sweep 2D LiDAR tracker

Scanse Sweep 2D LiDAR tracker

First impressions are extremely good which bodes well for meeting my high requirements and expectations.  The box is sturdy, and the contents are not going to get damaged in transit; in addition to the Sweep itself, there’s

  • a custom UART / USB adaptor that’s small and slick
  • one USB A to micro-B for a PC connection – as cables like this go, this is probably the slickest looking I’ve seen – flat cable with very tidy connectors
  • one JST to bare wires to add your own connection – this is probably what I’ll be using to attach to the RPi UART ttyAMA0 as its the same wires that my Garmin LiDAR-Lite uses so I have spares
  • one cable I have no idea what it’s for – JST at one end clearly for the Sweep, but no idea what the other end’s for
  • a sticker, oddly requiring microwaving to make it sticky – I’ll be keeping this boxed!
  • a quick start guide.

I’m not in a rush to install it on Hermione; it’s too expensive to risk while I’m busy testing out the GPS, compass and yaw code – but I will put together a basic system, probably on my piPad.  That’ll let me check whether my double 2.4A battery bank is sufficient for both a B3 and the 0.5A the Sweep needs – I suspect this will be the first problem I’ll be having to fix; certainly, the raw Garmin LiDAR already runs off it only 2.4A feed due to power problems.

*I’m glad we are part of the EU and the free trade agreement means there is no import duty – oh no, wait, feck, argh – BREXIT! }:-{(>


The problem: the camera point of view is in the quad frame; the garmin point of view is in the earth frame.  They need to both be in the same frame to produce a vector that’s meaningful.  A pretty radical rewrite of this area last night resulted.  A test flight this morning sadly was pretty much the same as yesterday: a very stable hover, but shooting off right when she should have gone left.  More stats:



The top pair of accelerometer vs camera show pretty good alignment, right up to the point of 0.4m to the right.  I believe this is correct, but I wouldn’t put money on it yet!

The middle pair are accelerometer vs LiDAR height over time, which is excellent.

The bottom pair are the flight plans in earth and quad frames (the quad one is simply the earth one rotated from my to her POV) – this is where there’s clearly a problem – they should be the same but they are wrong once the flight rotates.  I can’t see an obvious bug in the code, which makes me suspect there’s an obvious bug in my understanding instead.

Hermione in wonderland.

Took her outside this morning, and the safety test without LiPo consistently threw I²C errors as yesterday.  I brought her straight indoors, still powered up, both her and my piPad and ran the same test; she worked perfectly. Curiouser and curiouser.

P.S. Shortly after writing the above, I had a eureka moment in the shower: I remembered reading LiPos don’t work well in the cold, and even the Mavic instructions suggest letting it run for a while before take off to let the battery chemistry warm out.  Next test then is to wrap both LiPos (batter bank and the main power) in bubble wrap, boot her up indoors, and then take her outside to fly.  I’ll report back here anon.

P.P.S. It worked!!!!! I wrapped both LiPos in some neoprene foam (normally used for scuba suits), set everything up and running the code and therefore the GLL and PWM to keep the LiPos warm indoors. After a couple of minutes, I lugged everything outside, and she did two flights without a glitch. Roll on spring / summer!

Doesn’t bode well

I’ve been tinkering with the existing PCB layout (shown below) to see if power supply changes fix the Garmin LiDAR Lite (GLL) I²C interference.

Hermione's closeup

Hermione’s closeup

I’ve basically removed the black cuboid 1.5A 5V switching power regulator using the space instead to add a 680uF electrolytic capacitor between 5V and ground near the GLL as specified in the docs.  I then powered her up directly via the PCB, rather than indirectly via the RPi micro USB 5V output GPIO pin.  I used a lab power supply which can handle up to 5A.

Hermione showed identical I²C errors with the GLL plugged in, even if not used.  The PSU showed only 0.45mA at boot, 0.5mA with Hermione’s code running passively, and about 0.6A while she was ‘flying’.  This strongly suggests the new PCB won’t solve the problem either.  I am running out of fingers to cross 🙁

The option of using the GLL PWM output is still open, but I’m not keen to swap over to using the pigpio library this requires as it uses a daemon process in the background, unlike RPi.GPIO and RPIO which both directly access the /dev/gpio devices.  I wonder how hard it would be to write my own PWM C library with python wrapper to epoll the GLL PWM pin?  It would require a new PCB revision as would pigpio so there’s a PITA there too.  For some reason, probably because this all just works on Zoe, I still want to keep banging my head to solve the I²C problems.