Opening Local HTML Files in PSLab Android App

The PSLab Android App allows users to perform experiments using the PSLab device. The experience to perform an experiment should resemble the generic way to perform the experiment. So we associated an Experiment Doc file which the user can refer to while performing experiment. Just like a regular lab manual, the experiment doc contains the AIM, THEORY & FORMULAS, SCHEMATIC, OUTPUT, etc. In the PSLab Desktop App, since there was already a provision for using HTML docs and so I  avoided reinventing the wheel and used those html files as it is.

    

The problem we faced was how to open a bunch of HTML files with their corresponding CSS, JS files in Android’s webView.

There are two ways it can be done:

  • Host the experiment docs on a server and make a request from the android app for the specific experiment doc like Diode I-V, Zener I-V, etc.
  • Put the folder containing all html, CSS, js files in assets folder and request for the HTML doc files locally.

The PSLab developer team went with the second option as the availability of  Internet  is necessary for the performing experiment if we follow the first option and so to avoid this dependence on the Internet, we went with the second option and stored HTML docs locally in assets folder.

Implementation

  • Put the folder containing all the HTML, CSS, JS files in the assets folder in your android project. In this case the folder is DOC_HTML.

  • Define the WebView in xml and take the webView’s reference in your activity/fragment
    In xml
<WebView
   android:id="@+id/perform_experiment_wv"
   android:layout_width="match_parent"
   android:layout_height="match_parent" />

In activity/fragment

webView = (WebView) view.findViewById(R.id.perform_experiment_wv);
  • Load the url in webView in the format as shown below
webView.loadUrl("file:///android_asset/DOC_HTML/apps/" + htmlFile);

“file:///” acts as resource identifier, so file:///android_asset/ actually points to “pslab-android/app/src/main/assets/”.
From the assets directory, we can a provide route to any HTML file. Here I put all HTML files in apps folder and used the string variable “htmlFile” to point to the specific html file.

Similarly html files stored in the external storage can also be accessed but there are some cases you need to handle. For example,if external storage is mounted, you can’t request the html file from external storage.

To request html files from external storage, make sure that you have the following permission in your AndroidManifest.xml

<uses-permission android:name="android.permission.READ_EXTERNAL_STORAGE" />
String baseDir = Environment.getExternalStorageDirectory().getAbsolutePath();

Relative to baseDir you can specify the path from your html files, like

baseDir + “DOC_HTML/apps” + htmlFile

Conclusion

Putting HTML files in the assets folder and requesting it by webView’s loadURL() method is the best but there are various drawbacks of using this method like the increase in size of the apk. In our case, the normal apk size was 3MB but after adding the html doc folder it increased to 7MB. It increased by almost an additional size of the html folder added in assets. As it’s written, in the android’s project overview guide, the assets folder contains files that should be compiled into an .apk file as-is.

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Plotting Digital Logic Lines In PSLab Android App

The PSLab device offers the Logic Analyzer functionality. A Logic Analyzer is a laboratory instrument that can capture and display digital signals from a digital system or circuit. It is similar to what an oscilloscope is for analog signals and is used to study timing relationship between different logic lines. It plots the logic lines/timing diagram which tells us the information about the state of the Digital System at any instant of time. For example, in the image below we can study the states of digital signals from channels ID1, ID2, ID3 at different times and find parameters like the propagation delay. It’s also used to find errors in Integrated Circuits (ICs) and debug logic circuits.

How I plotted ideal logic lines using MPAndroid Chart library?

Conventional method of adding data points results in the plot as illustrated in the image below. By conventional method I mean basically adding Y-axis (logic state) values corresponding to X-axis values (timestamp).

Result with normal adding and plotting data-points

In the above plot, logic lines follow non-ideal behaviour i.e they take some time in changing their state from high to low. This non-ideal behaviour of these lines increases when the user zooms in graph to analyse timestamps.

Solution to how we can achieve ideal behaviour of logic lines:

A better solution is to make use of timestamps for generating logic lines i.e time instants at which logic made a transition from HIGH -> LOW or LOW -> HIGH. Lets try to figure out with an example:

Timestamps = { 1, 3, 5, 8, 12 } and initial state is HIGH ( i.e at t = 0, it’s HIGH ). This implies that at t = 1, transition from HIGH to LOW took place so at t = 0, it’s HIGH, t = 1 it’s both HIGH and LOW,  at t = 2 it’s LOW.
Now at t = 0 & t = 2, you can simple put y = 1 and 0 respectively. But how do you add data-point for t = 1. Trick is to see how transition is taking place, if it’s HIGH to LOW then add first 1 for t = 1 and then 0 for t = 1.
So the set of points look something like this:

( Y, X ) ( LOGIC , TIME ) -> ( 1, 0 ) ( 1, 1 ) ( 0, 1) ( 0, 2 ) ( 0, 3 ) ( 1, 3 )  ( 1, 4 ) …

Code snippet for adding coordinates in this fashion:

int[] time = timeStamps.get(j);
for (int i = 0; i < time.length; i++) {
   if (initialState) {
       // Transition from HIGH -> LOW
       tempInput.add(new Entry(time[i], 1));
       tempInput.add(new Entry(time[i], 0));
   } else {
       // Transition from LOW -> HIGH
       tempInput.add(new Entry(time[i], 0));
       tempInput.add(new Entry(time[i], 1));
   }

   // changing state variable
   initialState = !initialState;
}

After adding data-points in above mentioned way, we obtained ideal logic lines successfully as illustrated in the image given below

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Expandable ListView In PSLab Android App

In the PSLab Android App, we show a list of experiments for the user to perform or refer to while performing an experiment, using PSLab hardware device. A long list of experiments need to be subdivided into topics like Electronics, Electrical, School Level, Physics, etc. In turn, each category like Electronics, Electrical, etc can have a sub-list of experiments like:

  • Electronics
    • Diode I-V characteristics
    • Zener I-V characteristics
    • Transistor related experiments
  • Electrical
    • Transients RLC
    • Bode Plots
    • Ohm’s Law

This list can continue in similar fashion for other categories as well. We had to  display  this experiment list to the users with a good UX, and ExpandableListView seemed the most appropriate option.

ExpandableListView is a two-level listView. In the Group view an individual item can be expanded to show it’s children. The Items associated with ExpandableListView come from ExpandableListAdapter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Implementation of Experiments List Using ExpandableListView

First, the ExpandableListView was declared in the xml layout file inside some container like LinearLayout/RelativeLayout.

<LinearLayout xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
   android:layout_width="match_parent"
   android:layout_height="match_parent"
   android:orientation="vertical">
   <ExpandableListView
       android:id="@+id/saved_experiments_elv"
       android:layout_width="match_parent"
       android:layout_height="wrap_content"
       android:divider="@color/colorPrimaryDark"
       android:dividerHeight="2dp" />
</LinearLayout>

Then we populated the data onto the ExpandableListView, by making an adapter for ExpandableListView by extending BaseExpandableListAdapter and implementing its methods. We then passed a Context, List<String> and Map<String,List<String>> to the Adapter constructor.

Context: for inflating the layout

List<String>: contains titles of unexpanded list

Map<String,List<String>>: contains sub-list mapped with title string

public SavedExperimentAdapter(Context context,
                                 List<String> experimentGroupHeader,
                                 HashMap<String, List<String>> experimentList) {
       this.context = context;
       this.experimentHeader = experimentGroupHeader;
       this.experimentList = experimentList;
   }

In getGroupView() method, we inflate, set title and return group view i.e the main list that we see on clicking and the  sub-list is expanded. You can define your own layout in xml and inflate it. For PSLab Android, we used the default one provided by Android

 android.R.layout.simple_expandable_list_item_2
@Override
public View getGroupView(int groupPosition, boolean isExpanded, View convertView, ViewGroup parent) {
   String headerTitle = (String) getGroup(groupPosition);
   if (convertView == null) {
       LayoutInflater inflater = (LayoutInflater) this.context.getSystemService(Context.LAYOUT_INFLATER_SERVICE);
       convertView = inflater.inflate(android.R.layout.simple_expandable_list_item_2, null);
   }
   TextView tvExperimentListHeader = (TextView) convertView.findViewById(android.R.id.text1);
   tvExperimentListHeader.setTypeface(null, Typeface.BOLD);
   tvExperimentListHeader.setText(headerTitle);
   TextView tvTemp = (TextView) convertView.findViewById(android.R.id.text2);
   tvTemp.setText(experimentDescription.get(groupPosition));
   return convertView;
}

Similarly, in getChildView() method, we inflate, set data and return child view. We wanted simple TextView as sub-list item thus inflated the layout containing only TextView and setText by taking reference of textView from the inflated view.

@Override
public View getChildView(int groupPosition, int childPosition, boolean isLastChild, View convertView, ViewGroup parent) {
   String experimentName = (String) getChild(groupPosition, childPosition);
   if (convertView == null) {
       LayoutInflater inflater = (LayoutInflater) this.context.getSystemService(Context.LAYOUT_INFLATER_SERVICE);
       convertView = inflater.inflate(R.layout.experiment_list_item, null);
   }
   TextView tvExperimentTitle = (TextView) convertView.findViewById(R.id.exp_list_item);
   tvExperimentTitle.setText(experimentName);
   return convertView;
}

The complete code for the Adapter can be seen here.

After creating the adapter we proceeded similarly to the normal ListView. Take the reference for ExpandableListView by findViewById() or BindView if you are using ButterKnife and set the adapter as an instance of adapter created above.

@BindView(R.id.saved_experiments_elv)
ExpandableListView experimentExpandableList;
experimentAdapter = new SavedExperimentAdapter(context, headerList, map);
experimentExpandableList.setAdapter(experimentAdapter);
Source: PSLab Android

Roadmap

We are planning to divide the experiment sub-list into categories like

  • Electronics
    • Diode
      • Diode I-V
      • Zener I-V
      • Diode Clamping
      • Diode Clipping
    • BJT and FET
      • Transistor CB (Common Base)
      • Transistor CE (Common Emitter)
      • Transistor Amplifier
      • N-FET output characteristic
    • Op-Amps
  • Electrical

This is a bit more complex than it looks, I tried using an ExpandableListView as a child for a group item but ran into some errors. I will write a post as soon as this view hierarchy has been achieved.

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The Pocket Science Lab: Who Needs it, and Why

Science and technology share a symbiotic relationship. The degree of success of experimentation is largely dependent on the accuracy and flexibility of instrumentation tools at the disposal of the scientist, and the subsequent findings in fundamental sciences drive innovation in technology itself. In addition to this, knowledge must be free as in freedom. That is, all information towards constructing such tools and using them must be freely accessible for the next generation of citizen scientists. A common platform towards sharing results can also be considered in the path to building a better open knowledge network.

But before we get to scientists, we need to consider the talent pool in the student community that gave rise to successful scientists, and the potential talent pool that lost out on the opportunity to better contribute to society because of an inadequate support system. And this brings us to the Pocket Science Lab

How can PSLab help electronics engineers & students?

This device packs a variety of fundamental instruments into one handy package, with a Bill-of-materials that’s several orders of magnitude less than a distributed set of traditional instruments.

It does not claim to be as good as a Giga Samples Per second oscilloscope, or a 22-bit multimeter, but has the potential to offer a greater learning experience. Here’s how:

  • A fresh perspective to characterize the real world. The visualization tools that can be coded on an Android device/Desktop (3D surface plots, waterfall charts, thermal distributions etc ), are far more advanced than what one can expect from a reasonably priced oscilloscope. If the same needs to be achieved with an ordinary scope, a certain level of technical expertise is expected from the user who must interface the oscilloscope with a computer, and write their own acquisition & visualization app.
  • Reduce the entry barrier for advanced experiments.: All the tools are tightly integrated in a cost-effective package, and even the average undergrad student that has been instructed to walk on eggshells around a conventional scope, can now perform elaborate data acquisition tasks such as plotting the resonant frequency of a tuning fork as a function of the relative humidity/temperature. The companion app is being designed to offer varying levels of flexibility as demanded by the target audience.

  • Is there a doctor in the house? With the feature set available in the PSlab , most common electronic components can be easily studied , and will save hours while prototyping new designs.  Components such as resistors, capacitors, diodes, transistors, Op-amps, LEDs, buffers etc can be tested.

How can PSLab help science enthusiasts ?

Physicists, Chemists and biologists in the applied fields are mostly dependent on instrument vendors for their measurement gear. Lack of an electronic/technical background hinders their ability to improve the gear at their disposal, and this is why a gauss meter which is basically a magnetometer coupled with a crude display in an oversized box with an unnecessarily huge transformer can easily cost upwards of $150 . The PSLab does not ask the user to be an electronics/robotics expert , but helps them to get straight to the acquisition part. It takes care of the communication protocols, calibration requirements, and also handles visualization via attractive plots.

A physicist might not know what I2C is , but is more than qualified to interpret the data acquired from a physical sensor, and characterize its accuracy.

  • The magnetometer (HMC5883L) can be used to demonstrate the dependence of the axial magnetic field on distance from the center of a solenoid
  • The pressure,temperature sensor (BMP280) can be used to verify the gas laws, and verify thermodynamic phenomena against prevalent theories.

Similarly, a chemist can use an RGB sensor (TCS3200) to put the colour of a solution into numbers, and develop a colorimeter in the process. Colorimeters are quite handy for determining molality of coloured solutions., and commercial ones are rather expensive. What it also needs is a set of LEDs with known wavelengths, and most manufacturers offer proper characterisation information.

What does it mean for the hobbyist?

It is capable of greatly speeding up the troubleshooting process . It can also instantly characterize the expected data from various sensors so that the hobbyist can code accordingly. For example, ‘beyond what tilt threshold & velocity should my humanoid robot swing its arms forward in order to prevent a broken nose?’ . That’s not a question that can be easily answered by said hobbyist who is currently in the process of developing his/her own acquisition system.

How can we involve the community?

The PSLab features an experiment designer that speeds acquisition by providing spreadsheets, analytical tools, and visualisation options all in one place. An option for users to upload their new experiments/utilities to the cloud, and subject those to a peer-review process has been planned. Following which , these new experiments can be pumped back into the ecosystem which will find more uses for it, improve it, and so on.

For example , a user can combine the waveform generator with an analog multiplier IC, and develop a spectrum analyzer.

The case for self-reliance

The average undergraduate laboratory currently employs dedicated instruments for each experiment as prescribed by the curriculum. These instruments often only include the measurement tools essential to the experiment, and students merely repeat the procedure verbatim. That’s not experimentation, it’s rather just verification. PSLab offers a wide array of additional instruments that can be employed by the student to enhance the experiment with their own inputs.

For example, a commonly used diode IV curve-tracer kit usually has a couple of power supplies, a voltmeter, and an ammeter. But, if a student wishes to study the impact of temperature on the band gap, he will hard pressed for the additional tools, and software to combine the acquisition process. With the PSLab, however , he/she can pick from a variety of temperature sensors (LM35, BMP180, Si7021 .. ) depending on the requirement, and explore beyond the book. They are thus better prepared to enter research labs .

And in conclusion , this project has immense potential to help create the next generation of scientists, engineers and creators.

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Handling graph plots using MPAndroid chart in PSLab Android App

In PSLab Android App, we expose the Oscilloscope and Logic Analyzer functionality of PSLab hardware device. After reading data-points to plot, we need to show plot data on graphs for better understanding and visualisation. Sometimes we need to save graphs to show output/findings of the experiment. Hence we will be using MPAndroidChart library to plot and save graphs as it provides a nice and clean methods to do so.

First add MPAndroid Chart as dependency in your app build.gradle to include the library

dependencies {
 compile 'com.github.PhilJay:MPAndroidChart:v3.0.2'
}

For chart view in your layout file, there are many available options like Line Chart, Bar Chart, Pie Chart, etc. For this post I am going to use Line Chart.

Add LineChart in your layout file

<com.github.mikephil.charting.charts.LineChart
        android:id="@+id/lineChart"
        android:layout_width="match_parent"
        android:layout_height="match_parent" />

Take a reference to LineChart of layout file in your Activity/Fragment

LineChart lineChart = (LineChart) findViewById(R.id.chart);// Activity
LineChart lineChart = (LineChart) view.findViewById(R.id.chart);// Fragment

Now we add dataset to LineChart of layout file, I am going to add data for two curves sine and cosine function to plot sine and cosine wave on LineChart. We create two different LineDataSet one for the sine curve entries and other for the cosine curve entries.

List <Entry> sinEntries = new ArrayList<>(); // List to store data-points of sine curve 
List <Entry> cosEntries = new ArrayList<>(); // List to store data-points of cosine curve

// Obtaining data points by using Math.sin and Math.cos functions
for( float i = 0; i < 7f; i += 0.02f ){
sinEntries.add(new Entry(i,(float)Math.sin(i)));
cosEntries.add(new Entry(i,(float)Math.cos(i)));
}

List<ILineDataSet> dataSets = new ArrayList<>(); // for adding multiple plots

LineDataSet sinSet = new LineDataSet(sinEntries,"sin curve");
LineDataSet cosSet = new LineDataSet(cosEntries,"cos curve");

// Adding colors to different plots 
cosSet.setColor(Color.GREEN);
cosSet.setCircleColor(Color.GREEN);
sinSet.setColor(Color.BLUE);
sinSet.setCircleColor(Color.BLUE);

// Adding each plot data to a List
dataSets.add(sinSet);
dataSets.add(cosSet);

// Setting datapoints and invalidating chart to update with data points
lineChart.setData(new LineData(dataSets));
lineChart.invalidate();

After adding datasets to chart and invalidating it, chart is refreshed with the data points which were added in dataset.

After plotting graph output would look like the image below:

You can change the dataset and invalidate chart to update it with latest dataset.

To save graph plot, make sure you have permission to write to external storage, if not add it into your manifest file

<manifest ...>
    <uses-permission android:name="android.permission.WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE" />
    ...
</manifest>

To save the photo of chart into Gallery:

lineChart.saveToGallery("title");

To save a some specific location:

lineChart.saveToPath("title", "Location on SD Card");

If you want to do some resizing in chart or save two three charts in a single image, you can do so by taking out the Bitmaps and processing them to meet your requirements:

lineChart.getChartBitmap();

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Packing and Unpacking Data in PSLab Android App

In PSLab we communicate with PSLab Hardware device, to exchange data, i.e we give a command or instruction and it responses accordingly. So this giving and receiving is in terms of packed byte string. Thus, we need some solid knowledge to pack and unpack data. In python communication library, there is struct module available. In JAVA we can use NIO’s ByteBuffer or implement our own functions. In this blog post I discuss both methods.  

In Python we have struct module for packing data in byte strings. As different languages interpret data types differently like Java takes 4 bytes for int and C++ takes 2 bytes for int. To send and receive data properly, we pack data in a byte string and unpack on other side with it’s data type properties. In PSLab, we have to communicate with device for various applications like getting calibration data during power up time as raw data doesn’t make much sense until calibration is applied on it.

You also need to take care of order of sequence of bytes like there are generally two types of order in which a sequence of bytes are stored in memory location:

  • Big – Endian: In which MSB is stored first.

    Source: Wikipedia
  • Little – Endian: In which LSB is stored first.

    Source: Wikipedia

In Python

The standard sizes and format characters of particular data type can be seen in the image below.

Format C Type Python Type Standard
x Pad byte No value
c char string of length 1 1
b signed char integer 1
B unsigned char integer 1
? _Bool bool 1
h short integer 2
H unsigned short integer 2
i int integer 4
I unsigned int integer 4
l long integer 4
L unsigned long integer 4
q long long integer 8
Q unsigned long long integer 8
f float float 4
d double float 8
s char[] string
p char[] string
P void* integer

Source: Python Docs

For Packing data

import struct
struct.Struct(“B”).pack(254)   # Output ->  b’\xfe’
a = struct.Struct(“I”).pack(2544)   # Output -> b’\xf0\t\x00\x00′

Now a is the byte string that has packed value as 2544, this can be send to some device byte by byte and reconstructed on receiving side by knowing how many bytes does the data type received contains.

For Unpacking data

import struct
struct.unpack(“I”,a)  # Output -> (2544,)

In JAVA

For Packing data

Suppose you have to pack an integer, in java int takes 32 bits (4 bytes)

Using JAVA’s NIO’s ByteBuffer

byte[] bytes = ByteBuffer.allocate(4).putInt(2544).array();

If you want hardcore method to see what exactly is happening, use

byte[] intToByteArray(int value){
 return new byte[]{
     (byte)value >>> 24,
     (byte)value >>> 16,
     (byte)value >>> 8,
     (byte)value
  };
}

“>>>” is used for unsigned shifting, you can use according to your requirements.

After you have your byte array, you can easily create a string out of it and transmit.

For Unpacking data

Using JAVA’s NIO’s ByteBuffer

int fromByteArray(byte[] bytes){
int a = ByteBuffer.wrap(bytes).getInt();
return a;
}

It assumes that byte array is stored as Big Endian, if bytes in byte array is stored as Little Endian, add order() after wrap()

int fromByteArray(byte[] bytes){
int a = ByteBuffer.wrap(bytes).order(ByteOrder.LITTLE_ENDIAN).getInt();
return a;
}

Note: Make sure the bytes array that you provide has same number of bytes as that of the data type that you are trying to unpack. For example: if you want int, bytes array should have 4 bytes as int type in JAVA has 4 bytes. If you want short, bytes array should have 2 bytes as short type in JAVA has 2 bytes.

To visualise underlying implementation, see

int from byteArray(byte[] bytes){
return bytes[0] << 24 | bytes[1] << 16 | bytes[2] << 8 | bytes[3];
}

In all above implementation big-endian order was assumed, you can modify function if you are using little-endian or some other sequence.

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Communication by pySerial python module in PSLab

In the PSLab Desktop App we use Python for communication between the PC and PSLab device. The PSLab device is connected to PC via USB cable. The power for the hardware device is provided by the host through USB which in this case is a PC. We need well structured methods to establish communication between PC and PSLab device and this is where pySerial module comes in. We will discuss how to communicate efficiently from PC to a device like PSLab itself using pySerial module.

How to read and write data back to PSLab device?

pySerial is a python module which is used to communicate serially with microcontroller devices like Arduino, RaspBerry Pi, PSLab (Pocket Science Lab), etc. Serial data transfer is easier using this module, you just need to open a port and obtain serial object, which provides useful and powerful functionality. Users can send string (which is an array of bytes) or any other data type all data types can be expressed as byte string using struct module in python, read a specific number of bytes or read till some specific character like ‘\n’ is encountered. We are using this module to create custom read and write functions.

How to Install pySerial and obtain serial object for communication?

You can install pySerial using pip by following command

pip install pyserial

Once it’s installed we can now import it in our python script for use.

Obtain Serial Object

In Linux

>>> import serial
>>> ser = serial.Serial(‘/dev/ttyUSB0’)

In Windows

>>> ser = serial.Serial()
>>> ser.baudrate = 19200
>>> ser.port = ‘COM1’

Or

>>> ser = serial.Serial(‘COM1’, 19200)

You can specify other properties like timeout, stopbits, etc to Serial constructor.

Complete list of parameters is available here. Now this “ser” is an object of Serial class that provides all the functionalities through its interface. In PSLab we obtain a serial object and implement custom methods to handle communication which isn’t directly provided by pySerial, for example if we need to implement a function to get the version of the PSLab device connected. Inside the version read function we need to send some bytes to the device in order to obtain the version string from device as a byte response.

What goes under the hood?

We send some sequence of bytes to PSLab device, every sequence of bytes corresponds to a unique function which is already written in device’s firmware. Device recognises the function and responses accordingly.

Let’s look at code to understand it better.

ser.write(struct.Struct(‘B’).pack(11))  #  Sends 11 as byte string
ser.write(struct.Struct(‘B’).pack(5))   #  Sends 5 as bytes string
x = ser.readline()                      #  Reads bytes until ‘\n’ is encountered   

To understand packing and unpacking using struct module, you can have a read at my other blog post Packing And Unpacking Data in JAVA in which I discussed packing and unpacking of data as byte strings and touched a bit on How it’s done in Python.  

You can specify how many bytes you want to read like shown in code below, which is showing and example for 100 bytes :

x = ser.read(100)

After your communication is complete you can simply close the port by:

ser.close()

Based on these basic interface methods more complex functions can be written to handle your specific needs. More details one how to implement custom methods is available at python-communication-library of PSLab which uses pySerial for communication between Client and PSLab device.

An example of custom read function is suppose I want to write a function to read an int from the device. int is of 2 bytes as firmware is written in C, so we read 2 bytes from device and unpack them in client side i.e on PC. For more such custom functions refer packet_handler.py of PSLab python communication library.

def getInt(self):
      “””
      reads two bytes from the serial port and
      returns an integer after combining them
      “””
      ss = ser.read(2)  # reading 2 bytes from serial object
      try:
          if len(ss) == 2:
              return CP.ShortInt.unpack(ss)[0]  # unpacking bytes to make int
      except Exception as ex:
          self.raiseException(ex, “Communication Error , Function : get_Int”)

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Environment Monitoring with PSLab

In this post, we shall explore the working principle and output signals of particulate matter sensors, and explore how the PSLab can be used as a data acquisition device for these.

Working Principle

A commonly used technique employed by particulate matter sensors is to study the diffraction of light by dust particles, and estimate the concentration based on a parameter termed the ‘occupancy factor’. The following image illustrates how the most elementary particle sensors work using a photogate, and a small heating element to ensure continuous air flow by convection.

Occupancy Rate

Each time a dust particle of aerodynamic diameters 2.5um passes through the lit area, a phenomenon called Mie scattering which defines scattering of an electromagnetic plane wave by a homogenous sphere of diameter comparable to the wavelength of incident light, results in a photo-signal to be detected by the photosensor.  In more accurate dust sensors, a single wavelength source with a high quality factor such as a laser is used instead of LEDs which typically have broader spectra.

The signal output from the photosensor is in the form of intermittent digital pulses whenever a particle is detected. The occupancy ratio can be determined by measuring the sum total of time when a positive signal was output from the sensor to the total averaging time. The readings can be taken over a fairly long amount of time such as 30 seconds in order to get a more accurate representation of the occupancy ratio.

Using the Logic analyzer to capture and interpret signals

The PSLab has a built-in logic analyzer that can acquire data signals up to 67 seconds long at its highest sampling rate, and this period is more than sufficient to record and interpret a dataset from a dust sensor. An inexpensive dust sensor, DSM501A was chosen for the readings, and the following results were obtained

Dust sensor readings from an indoor, climate controlled environment. After the 100 second mark, the windows were opened to expose the sensor to the outdoor environment.

A short averaging time has resulted in large fluctuations in the readings, and therefore it is important to maintain longer averaging times for stable measurements.

Recording data with a python script instead of the app

The output of the dust sensor must be connected to ID1 of the PSLab, and both devices must share a common ground which is a prerequisite for exchange of DC signals. All that is required is to start the logic analyzer in single channel mode, wait for a specified averging time, and interpret the acquired data

Record_dust_sensor.py

from PSL import sciencelab   #import the required library
import time
import numpy as np
I = sciencelab.connect()           #Create the instance
I.start_one_channel_LA(channel='ID1',channel_mode=1,trigger_mode=0)  #record all level changes
time.sleep(30)   #Wait for 30 seconds while the PSLab gathers data from the dust sensor
a,_,_,_,e =I.get_LA_initial_states()      #read the status of the logic analyzer
raw_data =I.fetch_long_data_from_LA(a,1)  #fetch number of samples available in chan #1
I.dchans[0].load_data(e,raw_data)  
stamps =I.dchans[0].timestamps    #Obtain a copy of the timestamps
if len(stamps)>2:   #If more than two timestamps are available (At least one dust particle was detected
		if not self.I.dchans[0].initial_state:   #Ensure the starting position of timestamps
			stamps = stamps[1:] - stamps[0]   # is in the LOW state
	diff = np.diff(stamps)   #create an array of individual time gaps between successive level changes


	lows = diff[::2]      #Array of time durations when a particle was not present
	highs = diff[1::2]    #Array of time durations when a particle was present
	low_occupancy = 100*sum(lows)/stamps[-1] #Occupancy ratio
print (low_occupancy) # datasheets of individual dust sensors also provide a mathematical
                      #equation to interpret the occupancy ratio as concentration of
				#particulate matter

Further Reading, and application notes:

[1] LED based  dust Sensor application note

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Creating Multiple Device Compatible Layouts in PSLab Android

The developer’s goal is that PSLab Android App as an app should run smoothly on all the variety of Android devices out in the market. There are two aspects of it – the app should be able to support maximum number of Android versions possible which is related to the core software part and the other being the app should be able to generate the same user experience on all sizes of screens. This post focuses on the later.

There are a whole range of android devices available in the market right from 4 inch mobile phones to 12 inch tablets and the range in the screen sizes is quite large. So, the challenge in front of app designers is to make the app compatible with the maximum  number of devices without doing any specific tweaks related to a particular resolution range. Android has its mechanism of scaling the app as per the screen size and it does a good job almost all the time, however, still there are cases where android fails to scale up or scale down the app leading to distorted layout of the app.

This blog discusses some of the tricks that needs to be kept in mind while designing layouts that work independent of screen sizes.

Avoid using absolute dimensions

It is one of the most common things to keep in mind before starting any UI design. Use of absolute dimensions like px, inch etc. must be avoided every time as they are fixed in size and don’t scale up or scale down while screen sizes are changed. Instead relative dimensions like dp should be used which depend on the resolution and scale up or scale down. ( It’s a fair assumption that bigger screens will have better resolution compared to the smaller ones although exceptions do exist) .

Ensure the use of correct layout/View group

Since, android provides a variety of layouts like Linearlayout, Constrainedlayout, Relativelayout, Tablelayout and view groups like ScrollView, RecyclerView, ListView etc. it is often confusing to know which layout/viewgroup should be used. The following list gives a rough idea of when to use a particular layout or view group.

  • Linearlayout – Mostly used for simple designs when the elements are stacked in ordered horizontal/vertical fashion and it needs explicit declaration of orientation.
  • Relativelayout – Mostly used when the elements need to defined relative to the parent or the neighbouring elements. Since, the elements are relative, there is no need to define the orientation.
  • Constraintlayout – It has all the features of Relativelayout and in addition a feature of adding constraints to the child elements or neighbouring elements.
  • Tablelayout – Tablelayout is helpful to when all the views/widgets are arranged in an ordered fashion.

All the above layouts can be used interchangeably most of the times, however, certain cases make some more favourable than others like when than views/ widgets are not present in an organised manner, it is better to stick to Linearlayout or Relativelayout.

  • ListView – Used when the views/ widgets in a screen are repeated, so using a listview ensures that the volume of the code is reduced and all the repetitive views are identical in nature.
  • RecyclerView – More of an improved version of ListView. It is recommended to use this view over ListView. Additionally this view group supports features like swipe to refresh.
  • ScrollView – Used when the UI screen cannot fit within the given screen space. ScrollView supports one direct child layout. So, to implement a scrollview, all the views must be under a particular layout and then masked by scrollview.

Choosing the correct layout or view group would help to create a better UI.

Use of layout_weight

Ensuring the layout width assigned in XML file covers the entire width on the screen. For ensuring this, one possible solution is to use layout_weight instead of layout_width.

Example –

<TextView
   android:id="@+id/tv_control_read9"
   android:layout_width="0dp"
   android:layout_weight="1"
   android:layout_height="30dp"
   android:layout_marginTop="10dp"
/>

 

In order to use layout_weight, layout_width must be set to 0 else it would interfere with the width and as layout_width is a compulsory parameter it cannot be omitted. Layout weight can be any number and the space is allocated to each view in proportion to the weights assigned. Since it does not involve numerical dimensions, the distribution would be uniform for all types of screens. The result is clearly evident here. The same UI in different screen sizes is displayed below.

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Fig: Screenshot taken on a 6” phone and on a 4” phone. Although the screen area of 4” phone is 44% that of the 6” phone, the UIs are identically the same.

Create different layout directories for different resolutions

  • Creating different layouts for different screen sizes ensures that the limitations of smaller screen sizes are taken care of and the advantages offered by bigger screen sizes are put to the best use.
  • The Android documentation here mentions the conventions to be followed while designing.
  • Although over the years, android has become better at auto-adjusting layouts for different screen sizes. However, if the no. of views and widgets are high, auto-adjusting does not work well as in case of PSLab and it is better to create different sets of layouts.
  • As evident from the picture of the 8” tablet, although the auto-adjusted layout is manageable, the layout looks stretched and does not utilize the entire screen space, so it a better UI can be made by creating a dedicated layout directory for bigger screens.

Additional resources

 

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Using Sensors with PSLab Android App

The PSLab Android App as of now supports quite a few sensors. Sensors are an essential part of many science experiments and therefore PSLab has a feature to support plug & play sensors. The list of sensors supported by PSLab can be found here.

  • AD7718 – 24-bit 10-channel Low voltage Low power Sigma Delta ADC
  • AD9833 – Low Power Programmable Waveform generator
  • ADS1115 – Low Power 16 bit ADC
  • BH1750 – Light Intensity sensor
  • BMP180 – Digital Pressure Sensor
  • HMC5883L – 3-axis digital magnetometer
  • MF522 – RFID Reader
  • MLX90614 – Infrared thermometer
  • MPU6050 – Accelerometer & gyroscope
  • MPU925x – Accelerometer & gyroscope
  • SHT21 – Humidity sensor
  • SSD1306 – Control for LED matrix
  • Sx1276 – Low Power Long range Transceiver
  • TSL2561 – Digital Luminosity Sensor

All the sensors except Sx1276 communicate using the I2C protocol whereas the Sx1276 uses the SPI protocol for communication. There is a dedicated set of ports on the PSLab board for the communication under the label I2C with the ports named 3.3V, GND, SCL & SDA.

blog_post_7_1

Fig; PSLab board sketch

Any I2C sensor has ports named 3.3V/VCC, GND, SCL, SDA at least along with some other ports in some sensors. The connections are as follows:

  1. 3.3V on PSLab – 3.3V/VCC on sensor
  2. GND on PSLab – GND on sensor
  3. SCL on PSLab – SCL on sensor
  4. SDA on PSLab – SDA on sensor

The diagram here shows the connections

For using the sensors with the Android App, there is a dedicated I2C library written in communication in Java for the communication. Each sensor has its own specific set of functionalities and therefore has its own library file. However, all these sensors share some common features like each one of them has a getRaw method which fetches the raw sensor data. For getting the data from a sensor, the sensor is initially connected to the PSLab board.

The following piece of code is responsible for detecting any devices that are connected to the PSLab board through the I2C bus. Each sensor has it’s own unique address and can be identified using it. So, the AutoScan function returns the addresses of all the connected sensors and the sensors can be uniquely identified using those addresses.

public ArrayList<Integer> scan(Integer frequency) throws IOException {
	if (frequency == null) frequency = 100000;
	config(frequency);
	ArrayList<Integer> addresses = new ArrayList<>();
	for (int i = 0; i < 128; i++) {
		int x = start(i, 0);
		if ((x & 1) == 0) {
			addresses.add(i);
		}
		stop();
	}
	return addresses;
}

 

As per the addresses fetched, the sensor library corresponding to that particular sensor can be imported and the getRaw method can be called. The getRaw method will return the raw sensor data. For example here is the getRaw method of ADS1115.

public int[] getRaw() throws IOException, InterruptedException {
	String chan = typeSelection.get(channel);
	if (channel.contains("UNI"))
		return new int[]{(int) readADCSingleEnded(Integer.parseInt(chan))};
	else if (channel.contains("DIF"))
		return new int[]{readADCDifferential(chan)};
	return new int[0];
}

Here the raw data is returned in the form of voltages in mV.

Similarly, the other sensors return some values like luminosity sensor TSL2561 returns values of luminosity in Lux, the accelerometer & gyroscope MPU6050 returns the angles of the 3-axes.

In order to initiate the process of getting raw data from the sensor in Sensor Activity, the object for the sensor is created and the method of getRaw is called. The following is the implementation for ADS1115. The rest of the sensors also have an implementation similar to this. There are try-catch statements in the code to handle some of the exceptions thrown during process of method calls.

ADS1115 ADS1115 = null;
try {
	ADS1115 = new ADS1115(i2c);
} catch (IOException | InterruptedException e) {
	e.printStackTrace();
}

int[] dataADS1115 = null;
String datadispADS1115 = null;
try {
	if (ADS1115 != null) {
		dataADS1115 = ADS1115.getRaw();
	}
} catch (IOException | InterruptedException e) {
	e.printStackTrace();
}

if (dataADS1115 != null) {
	for(int i = 0; i < dataADS1115.length; i++)
		datadispADS1115 += String.valueOf(dataADS1115[i]);
	}

tvSensorGetRaw.setText(datadispADS1115);

 

Additional Resources

  1. Sensor implementation in PSLab Python repository – https://github.com/fossasia/pslab-python/tree/development/PSL/SENSORS
  2. Using the sensors with Arduino in case you have worked with Arduino before – The basic connections are same as PSLab http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-MPU-6050-Getting-It-to-Work/
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