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.

References

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Analyzing Sensor Data on PSLab

PSLab Android App and Desktop app have the functionality of reading data from the sensors. The raw sensor data received is in the form of a long string and needs to parsed to understand what the data actually conveys.

The sensor data is unique in terms of volume of data sent, the units of measurement of the data etc., however none of this is reflected in the raw data. The blog describes how the sensor data received by the Android/Desktop app is parsed, interpreted and finally presented to the user for viewing.

The image below displays the raw data sent by the sensors

blog_post_9_2

Fig: Raw Sensor data displayed below the Get Raw button

  • In order to understand the data sent from the sensor, we need to understand what the sensor does.
    • For example, HMC5883L is a 3-axis magnetometer and it returns the value of the magnetic field in the x, y & z axes in the order of nanoTeslas.
    • Similarly, the DAC of PSLab – MCP4728 can also be used like other sensors, it returns the values of channels in millivolts.
    • The sensor MPU6050 being 3-axes accelerometer & gyroscope which returns the values of acceleration & angular momentum of the x, y & z axes in their SI units respectively.
  • Each sensor has a sensitivity value. The sensitivity of the sensor can be modified to adjust the accuracy of the data received. For PSLab, the data returned is a float number with each data point having 4 bytes of memory with the highest sensitivity. Although sensitivity is not a reliable indicator of the accuracy of the data. Each value received has a lot of trailing values after the decimal and it is evident that no sensor can possibly achieve accuracy that high, so the data after 2-3 decimal places is garbage and not taken into consideration.
  • Some sensors are configurable up to a great extent like MPU6050 where limits can also be set on the range of data, volume of data sent etc. whereas some are not configurable and are just meant for sending the data at regular intervals.
  • In order to parse the above data, if the sensor returns a single value, then the data is ready to be used. However, in most cases like above where the sensors return multiple values, the data stream can be divided into equal parts since each value occupies equal space and each value can be stored in different variables.
  • The stored data has to be presented to the user in a better understandable format where it is clear that what each value represents. For example, in case of the 3 axes sensors, the data of each axis must be distinctly represented to the user.

Shown below are the mock-ups of the sensor UIs in which each value has been distinctly represented.

         

Fig: Mock-ups for the sensor UIs (a) – HMC5883L (b) – MPU6050

Each UI has a card to display those values. These values are updated in real time and there are additional options to plot the data received in real time and in some cases also configure the sensor. In addition to that there are features for data logging where the data is recorded for a given time interval specified by the user and on completion of recording, calculations like the mean, standard deviation etc. are presented to the user.

Additional Resources

  1. Analyzing sensor data using Arduino, similar to method for PSLab – http://tronixstuff.com/2014/01/21/online-data-analysis-arduino-plotly/
  2. YouTube video to understand analysis of data from MPU6050 in Arduino – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taZHl4Mr-Pk
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Establishing Communication between PSLab and an Android Device using the USB Host API

In this post, we are going to learn how to establish communication between the PSLab USB device and a connected Android device. We will implement our own custom read & write methods by using functions provided by USB Host API of Android SDK.

At first we need to enable communication to PSLab device by connecting it to Android Phone by an On-The Go (OTG) cable. We are communicating via the USB Host API of Android.

About Android USB

Android supports USB peripherals through two modes:

  • Android Accessory: In this mode external USB device acts as host.
  • Android Host: In this mode Android Device acts as host and powers the external device.
Source : Android Developers Docs

Obtaining Permission to access USB device

When a USB device is connected to Android device, you need to obtain permissions to access the USB device. You have two ways, I have used intent-filter method to obtain permission in PSLab project, but you can also use the approach to implement a broadcast receiver.

Option 1:

Add a intent filter in the activity which would handle that connected USB device. This is an implicit way to obtain permission.

<activity ...>
...
    <intent-filter>
        <action android:name="android.hardware.usb.action.USB_DEVICE_ATTACHED" />
    </intent-filter>
    <meta-data android:name="android.hardware.usb.action.USB_DEVICE_ATTACHED"
        android:resource="@xml/device_filter" />
</activity>

And add device details like your vendor ID and product ID in device_filter.xml

<resources>

    <usb-device vendor-id="1240" product-id="223" />

</resources>

Now when you connect your USB device, permission dialog like below would pop up:

Option 2:

  • If you want to obtain permission explicitly, first create broadcastreceiver which would be broadcasted which you call requestPermission().

    private static final String ACTION_USB_PERMISSION =
        "com.android.example.USB_PERMISSION";
    private final BroadcastReceiver mUsbReceiver = new BroadcastReceiver() {
        public void onReceive(Context context, Intent intent) {
            String action = intent.getAction();
            if (ACTION_USB_PERMISSION.equals(action)) {
                synchronized (this) {
                    UsbDevice device = (UsbDevice)intent.getParcelableExtra(UsbManager.EXTRA_DEVICE);
    
                    if (intent.getBooleanExtra(UsbManager.EXTRA_PERMISSION_GRANTED, false)) {
                        if(device != null){
                       }
                    }
                    else {
                        Log.d(TAG, "permission denied for device " + device);
                    }
                }
            }
        }
    };

    Register this broadcastreceiver in your onCreate method of your activity.

    UsbManager mUsbManager = (UsbManager) getSystemService(Context.USB_SERVICE);
    private static final String ACTION_USB_PERMISSION =
        "com.android.example.USB_PERMISSION";
    ...
    mPermissionIntent = PendingIntent.getBroadcast(this, 0, new Intent(ACTION_USB_PERMISSION), 0);
    IntentFilter filter = new IntentFilter(ACTION_USB_PERMISSION);
    registerReceiver(mUsbReceiver, filter);

    And call requestPermission method to show a dialog for permission

    UsbDevice device;
    ...
    mUsbManager.requestPermission(device, mPermissionIntent);

    Now when you open your App permission dialog like shown below would pop up:

Obtain Read & Write Endpoints

Now that you have permission to communicate with a USB device connected. Next step is to obtain read and write Endpoints to read and write to USB device by using bulkTransfer() function.

The definition of bulkTransfer() methods is

int bulkTransfer (UsbEndpoint endpoint, 
                byte[] buffer, 
                int length, 
                int timeout)

endpoint : Usb Endpoint ( the endpoint for this transaction )

buffer : byte ( buffer for data to send or receive )

length : int ( length of data to send/receive )

timeout : int ( in milliseconds, 0 is infinite )

For code to obtain read, write Endpoint through Data Interface of USB device. Open() method of PSLab can be referenced.

There are two ways for communication :

  • Synchronous
  • Asynchronous

In PSLab, we use synchronous communication using bulkTransfer() method. Create a USB device connection object

mConnection = mUsbManager.openDevice(mUsbDevice);

As bulkTransfer methods are exposed by USB connection object. Using these you can implement your read & write functions to meet your project’s requirements. Or use bulkTransfer() directly to read & write data.

For example:

mConnection.bulkTransfer(mReadEndpoint, mReadBuffer, bytesToRead, timeoutMillis)

So this covers the required for obtaining permission to access USB device and basics of how you can read data from and write data to USB device.

Also if this project interest you, feel free to contribute or raise any issue. PSLab-Android.

Resources

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