How to pass data between fragments of an Activity in Android app

This blog demonstrates how to pass values of a variable between two fragments of a single activity. The blog will mainly include the demonstration of passing values between fragments while using BottomSheet Navigation as done in PSLab Android application.

This blog contains the work done by me in the Lux Meter instrument of the PSLab Android app of passing data from LuxMeterConfiguration fragment to LuxMeterData fragment as shown in the featured image to set the high limit for the pointer and to set the update period of the Lux Sensor. The blog will solve the difficult task of communication between two fragments of a single activity. For passing data between multiple fragments of different activities, refer to [1].

How to pass data between fragments?

In this blog, I will pass data from Fragment 2 to Fragment 1 only. But vice versa or passing data from both the fragments can also be made using the same given approach.

  • First, make a static method in Fragment 1 which can set the parameters i.e. the value of the variables as soon as the fragment is inflated as follow
public static void setParameters(int one, int two, int three) {
        Fragment1.firstValue = one;
        Fragment1.secondValue = two;
        Fragment1.thirdValue = three;
    }
  • Now, there is one point to mark that Fragment 1 will be inflated only when Fragment 2 gets destroyed. Else, other than default inflation of Fragment 1, there is no way Fragment 1 can be inflated after navigating to Fragment 2.
  • So, override the OnDestroy() method of Fragment 2 and use the setParameters() method to set the value of variables from Fragment 2 to be used in Fragment 1.
@Override
    public void onDestroyView() {
        super.onDestroyView();
        highValue = getValueFromText(highLimit, 0, highLimitMax);
        updatePeriodValue = getValueFromText(updatePeriod, updatePeriodMin, updatePeriodMax + 100);
        Fragment1.setParameters(selectedSensor, highValue, updatePeriodValue);
    }

Here, the highValue, updatePeriodValue and selectedSensor are the variables being used in the Lux Meter fragment in PSLab Android app. But they can be replaced by the necessary variables as per the app.

So, in this way, we can pass data between the fragments of the same Activity in an Android application. Above demonstration can be extended in passing values between multiple fragments of the same Activity by creating different methods in different fragments.

Resources

  1. Blog on how to pass data between fragments of different/same activities: https://www.journaldev.com/14207/android-passing-data-between-fragments

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Prevent Android Activity from Operating while using Bottom Sheet in PSLab App

This blog demonstrates how to prevent the Android Activity in the background from operating while the Bottom Sheet is up in the foreground. The demonstration will be purely from the work I have done under PR #1355 in PSLab Android repository.

Why prevent the Activity from operating?

When using Bottom Sheet in Android, it is preferable to dim the screen behind the Bottom Sheet to provide a good user experience. But the dimming of the screen is itself an indication that the screen won’t work. Also, if the Bottom Sheet is open and while sliding it, if, by mistake, any button in the background of the bottom sheet gets pressed, then if the function related to that button starts executing then it can create a bad user experience.

For example, in PSLab Android app, in Accelerometer instrument, there are record/pause and delete buttons in the toolbar as shown in figure 1. Now, if the bottom sheet is opened and while closing it if the delete button is by mistake pressed by the user, then whole recorded data gets deleted. Thus, it’s a good practice to prevent the background Activity from operating while Bottom Sheet is opened.

Figure 1. Accelerometer Instrument in PSLab Android app

How to prevent the Activity from operating?

In this demonstration, I will use the method followed by PSLab Android app in creating a Bottom Sheet and making the background dim using a View widget. A step by step guide on how to make a Bottom Sheet as in PSLab Android app can be found in [1] and [2].

Strategy

The strategy used in solving this problem is setting an OnClickListener to the View that is used to dim the background and close the Bottom Sheet (if open) and hide the View as soon as the method is called. The View is again made visible when an upward slide gesture is made to open the Bottom Sheet.

Follow the below steps to get the desired results:

  • First, in OnCreate() method, set the OnTouchListener to the view.
view.setOnClickListener(new View.OnClickListener() {
@Override
public void onClick(View v) {
                              if(bottomSheetBehavior.getState()==BottomSheetBehavior.STATE_EXPANDED)
                    bottomSheetBehavior.setState(BottomSheetBehavior.STATE_HIDDEN);
tvShadow.setVisibility(View.GONE);
      }
});
  • Now, override the OnSlide() method of the GestureDetector class and add the following code to it.
@Override
public void onSlide(@NonNull View bottomSheet, float slideOffset) {
    Float value = (float) MathUtils.map((double) slideOffset, 0.0, 1.0, 0.0, 0.8);
    view.setVisibility(View.VISIBLE);
    view.setAlpha(value);
   }

So, now test the Bottom Sheet and you will find that the Bottom Sheet will get closed as soon as the click is made outside it if it is opened. The demonstration of the working of the above code is shown in figure 2.

Figure 2. Demonstration of preventing the background Activity from operating while Bottom Sheet is up

Resources

  1. http://thetechnocafe.com/make-bottom-sheet-android/: Blog on how to make a Bottom Sheet in Android

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How to use Mobile Sensors as Instruments in PSLab Android App

This blog demonstrates how to use built-in mobile sensors in an Android application. This blog will mainly feature my work done in PSLab Android repository of making a Compass and Accelerometer instrument using built-in mobile sensors.

How to access built-in mobile sensors?

Android provides an abstract class called SensorManager which is able to communicate with the hardware i.e. here the sensors in the mobile. But the SensorManager can’t provide continuous data fetched by the sensor. For this, Android provides an interface known as SensorEventListener which receives notifications from SensorManager whenever there is a new sensor data.

How to implement the functionality of sensors in Android app?

Following is a step by step process on how to add support for different sensors in an Android app

  • First, make a new class which extends SensorEventListener and override the default methods.
public class SensorActivity extends Activity implements SensorEventListener {

     public SensorActivity() {
        // Default Constructor      
     }

     @Override
     public void onAccuracyChanged(Sensor sensor, int accuracy) {
     }

     @Override
     public void onSensorChanged(SensorEvent event) {
     }
 }

Here, the SensorActivity() is the default constructor of the class and the onAccuracyChanged() and onSensorChanged() methods will be explained soon.

  • Now declare the SensorManager and use the sensor needed in the app.
private final SensorManager mSensorManager;
private final Sensor mAccelerometer;

     public SensorActivity() {
         mSensorManager = (SensorManager)getSystemService(SENSOR_SERVICE);
         mAccelerometer =        mSensorManager.getDefaultSensor(Sensor.TYPE_ACCELEROMETER);
     }

Here, I have used Sensor.TYPE_ACCELEROMETER to use the built-in Accelerometer in the device. Some of the other options available are:

  1. TYPE_LIGHT – To measure ambient light
  2. TYPE_MAGNETOMETER – To measure magnetic field along different axis
  3. TYPE_GYROSCOPE – To measure movements (sudden changes) in any particular direction

The list of all available sensors in Android can be found in [1].

  • It is necessary to disable the sensors especially when the activity is paused. Failing to do so can drain the battery in just a few hours.

NOTE: The system will not disable sensors automatically when the screen turns off.

So, to save the battery and make the app efficient, we can use the registerListener method to notify the SensorManager to start fetching data from sensor and unregisterListener to notify it to stop.

@Override
protected void onResume() {
         super.onResume();
         mSensorManager.registerListener(this, mAccelerometer, SensorManager.SENSOR_DELAY_NORMAL);
     }

@Override
     protected void onPause() {
         super.onPause();
         mSensorManager.unregisterListener(this);
     }


The onResume() method activates when the app is resumed from a paused state and the onPause() method is called when the app is paused i.e. some other app draws over the current app.

  • Now coming back to onAccuracyChanged() and onSensorChanged() methods, the onAccuracyChanged() method is used to set the accuracy of a sensor. For example, while using GeoLocation sensor, sometimes the position of the mobile isn’t very accurate and so we can define the accuracy level in this method so that the fetched data is used for calculations only if it is in the provided range. And the onSensorChanged() method is the main method where all the data is processed as soon as the new data is notified.

To get the latest value from the sensor, we can use

@Override
public void onSensorChanged(SensorEvent event) {
   data = Float.valueOf(event.values[0]);
   unRegisterListener();
}

Here, the event is an instance of the SensorEvent class which provides the updated data fetched from the sensor. Event.values is used to get the values for any of the three axis including the bias in their values. Following is the list of the index for which we can get a necessary value

values[0] = x_uncalib without bias compensation
values[1] = y_uncalib without bias compensation
values[2] = z_uncalib without bias compensation
values[3] = estimated x_bias
values[4] = estimated y_bias 
values[5] = estimated z_bias

So, in this way, we can add support for any built-in mobile sensor in our Android application.

Resources

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How to Add Icons or Menus into the PSLab Android App Toolbar

This blog demonstrates how to add different icons like help, play, pause, etc. and/or menu bar in the toolbar of an Android app along with setting their visibilities on the toolbar i.e. to display the icons only when space is available else to add them in the menu. The topic will be mainly explained by taking the example of menus and icons added to the PSLab app.

How to add a menu in a toolbar?

Following are the steps to add a menu or an icon in the toolbar widget of the Android app

  • First, add toolbar widget to the main layout file as follows
<android.support.v7.widget.Toolbar
   android:id="@+id/compass_toolbar"
   android:layout_width="match_parent"
   android:layout_height="?attr/actionBarSize"
   android:background="?attr/colorPrimary"
   app:popupTheme="@style/AppTheme.PopupOverlay"
   app:title="@string/compass" />

Here, popupTheme is the theme that activates when inflating the toolbar. Usually, it is kept similar to the default theme of the toolbar.

  • Now as the toolbar is ready, we can make the menu that needs to be inflated on the toolbar. For making a menu, make a folder named menu in the resources folder. Now, add a menu resource file in it by giving a proper name and then add the following code
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<menu xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
   xmlns:app="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res-auto">
   <item
       android:id="@+id/compass_help_icon"
       android:icon="@drawable/compass_help_icon"
       android:title="@string/show_axis_help"
       app:showAsAction="always" />
</menu>

A detailed explanation of the above code is as follows:

  1. The <menu>…</menu> covers all the items in the menu. There can be sub-menu and also sub-sub-menu too. To make a sub-menu, use <menu>…</menu> inside the main menu.
  2. The <item> tag inside the menu defines a specific item to be included in the menu. The icon attribute of an item is used to show the icon on the toolbar. The title attribute of an item is used to show the text inside the menu if space isn’t available to show the icon on the toolbar. The showAsAction attribute is used to define the method of an item i.e. how the item should be visible to the user. Following are some of the values that showAsAction attribute can take:
    • always – It is used to show the icon of the item on the toolbar everytime
    • never – It is used to show the item as a text in the menu everytime the activity is opened
    • ifRoom – It is used to show the icon on the toolbar if there is enough space else the item is included in the menu

NOTE: Always give IDs to menu items as they are used to distinctly identify the item in the java code.

Figure 1. Example of menu and icons in toolbar in PSLab app

As shown in figure 1, the first two icons have always value in their showAsAction attribute whereas other items have never values in their showAsAction attribute.

  • Now the layout and the menu are ready to be inflated from the Java code. First, the toolbar needs to be set up from the Java code. So find the toolbar with its id and then write the following line in the code.
setSupportActionBar(mToolbar);
  • Now the toolbar is ready and so the menu can be inflated on it. So, override the following method to inflate the menu
@Override
public boolean onCreateOptionsMenu(Menu menu) {
   MenuInflater inflater = getMenuInflater();
   inflater.inflate(R.menu.activity_compass_help_menu, menu);
   return true;
}

Here, the getMenuInflater() method is used to inflate the menu on the toolbar.

  • Now override the onCreateOptionsMenu() method to do the predefined task of selecting the icon or the item from the menu.
@Override
public boolean onOptionsItemSelected(MenuItem item) {
   switch (item.getItemId()) {
       case R.id.compass_help_icon:
           // Do something
           break;
       default:
           break;
   }
   return true;
}

So, in this way a menu can be made so that the number of items delivered to the user can be increased by using the minimum space possible.

Resources

  1. https://developer.android.com/guide/topics/ui/menus – Android Developers guide on how to make a menu in Android
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Working with Shared Preferences in PSLab App

This blog demonstrates how to work with Shared Preferences in an Android app. The blog includes a detailed explanation about what are the methods available to store data in Android and where to use Shared Preferences (a type of data storage method) to save extra memory usage and work efficiently. After the detailed explanation is a step by step guide on how to use Shared Preferences in any Android app by taking an example of one used in PSLab Android app under PR #1236

What are methods available in Android for data storage ?

Android provides a variety of methods to store data some of which are

  1. Shared Preferences
  2. Internal Storage
  3. External Storage
  4. SQLite Database

A very brief description of the above four data storage method would be

  • Shared Preference – Used to store key-data pair for a given app
  • Internal Storage – Used to store any type of data such as pictures, videos, etc. which can be used only within the app
  • External Storage – Used to store any type of data such as audio, video, etc. which can be shared between different apps or different systems
  • SQLite database – It is also a type of Internal Storage method but with a different programming language in use which is SQL

Where to use different data storage methods?

Following are some of the  distinct cases where the above-mentioned data storing methods can be differentiated

  • Shared Preference – Shared Preference should be used when a very small amount of data i.e. key-value pair data is to be stored. An example of it would be storing the state of a widget when an app is closed and restoring the state when the app is opened again.
  • Internal Storage – Internal storage should be used while storing data such as text files, audio, video, photographs, etc. but occupying a very less device memory space. So, internal storage should be used when a limited amount of data needs to be stored for app execution.
  • External Storage – External storage should be used when data to be stored is very large and as a result, Internal storage can’t be used. External Storage can also write data on external memories like SD Card, etc.

How to use Shared Preferences in an Android app?

Following is a step by step guide on how Shared Preferences were used in PSLab Android app

  • First, declare a variable using final and static keyword so as to make its value permanent because it will be used to differentiate current activity/fragment data from other activity/fragment data in a common folder of Shared Preference.
private static final String FRAG_CONFIG = "LuxMeterConfig";
  • Now, we can make Shared Preferences for current activity/fragment by using the code:

When in Activity:

final SharedPreferences settings = getSharedPreferences(FRAG_CONFIG, Context.MODE_PRIVATE);

When in fragment:

final SharedPreferences settings = getActivity().getSharedPreferences(FRAG_CONFIG, Context.MODE_PRIVATE);

Here Context.MODE_PRIVATE is a context through which we define our Shared Preference i.e. for the current context it means that the above made Shared Preference can only be used inside the current activity/fragment. A detailed description of other modes available can be found in [1].

  • Now, Shared Preference for current activity/fragment is ready for use and so now, we can add as many numbers of the key-value pair as we want by using the following code
settings.getInt("HighValue", 2000);

Here, “HighValue” is the key whereas 2000 is the value. The above method is used to give a default value when a pair is created.

  • Now to edit the value of any before-made pair, we can use the Editor method available in the Shared Preference class to edit the default value.
SharedPreferences.Editor editor = settings.edit();
editor.putInt("HighValue", 5000);
editor.apply();

Here, the editor is an instance of edit() method available in Shared Preference class. After changing the default value of the key, we can use apply() method to apply the changes to the default key-value pair.

Where to find the Shared Preference folder on the target device?

To find the Shared Preference folder for any Android application, do the following steps:

  • Connect the target device (device on which app is installed) to the system running Android Studio.
  • Now click on the “Device File Explorer” button in Android Studio as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. Device File Explorer button in Android Studio

  • Now after clicking the button, a list of folders would pop up as shown in figure 2.

Figure 2. Screenshot of Android Studio showing list of folders on the device

  • Now follow the given path, and you can see the desired folder
/data/data/YOUR_PACKAGE_NAME/shared_prefs/YOUR_PACKAGE_NAME_preferences.xml

So, in this way, the Shared Preferences can be used for data storage in any Android application.

Resources

  1. https://www.androidauthority.com/how-to-store-data-locally-in-android-app-717190/ – Documentation on different modes available to define the context of Shared Preference
  2. https://stackoverflow.com/questions/6146106/where-are-shared-preferences-stored – StackOverflow Q/A for where the Shared Preferences are stored on the target device

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Markdown Support for Experiment Docs in PSLab Android

The PSLab Android App and the PSLab Desktop App come with built-in experiments which include the experiment setups as well as the experiment docs. The experiment docs for PSLab have been written in the Markdown format. So, the markdown support had to be enabled in the PSLab Android App.

There are numerous markdown file renderers for android. The most popular among them is MarkdownView (https://github.com/falnatsheh/MarkdownView) which is an  open-source service.

This blog covers how to enable the support for markdown in apps and use to generate elegant documentation.

Enabling MarkdownView

MarkdownView can be enabled by simply adding a dependency in the build.gradle file

compile 'us.feras.mdv:markdownview:1.1.0'

 

Creating the layout file

The layout file for supporting a markdown file is fairly simple. The inclusion of the above dependency simplifies the things. The view holder for markdown is created and an id is assigned to it.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<LinearLayout
   xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
   xmlns:app="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res-auto"
   android:orientation="vertical"
   android:layout_width="match_parent"
   android:layout_height="match_parent">

   <br.tiagohm.markdownview.MarkdownView
       android:layout_width="match_parent"
       app:escapeHtml="false"
       android:layout_height="match_parent"
       android:id="@+id/perform_experiment_md" />
</LinearLayout>

 

Loading the markdown file

In order to load the markdown file, a MarkdownView object is created. Since, in the PSLab Android app, markdown files which form the documentation part are a part of the experiments. So, the files are displayed in the documentation fragment of the experiments.

private String mdFile;
private MarkdownView mMarkdownView;

public static ExperimentDocFragment newInstance(String mdFile) {
   ExperimentDocFragment experimentDocFragment = new ExperimentDocFragment();
   experimentDocFragment.mdFile = mdFile;
   return experimentDocFragment;
}

 

The MarkdownView object created is assigned to markdown viewholder of the relevant layout file. Here, the layout file was named experiment_doc_md and the view holder was assigned the id perform_experiment_md. The markdown files were stored in the assets directory of the app and the files were loaded from the there.

public View onCreateView(LayoutInflater inflater, @Nullable ViewGroup container, @Nullable Bundle savedInstanceState) {
   View view = inflater.inflate(R.layout.experiment_doc_md, container, false);
   mMarkdownView = (MarkdownView) view.findViewById(R.id.perform_experiment_md);
   mMarkdownView.loadMarkdownFromAsset("capacitance.md");
   return view;
}

 

The available methods in markdown view are

  • loadMarkdown – loads directly from the content in the string 

mMarkdownView.loadMarkdown("**MarkdownView**");

 

  • loadMarkdownFromAsset – loads markdown files located in the assets directory of the app

mMarkdownView.loadMarkdownFromAsset("markdown1.md");

 

  • loadMarkdownFromFile – loads markdown from a file stored in the app not present in the assets directory

mMarkdownView.loadMarkdownFromFile(new File());

 

  • loadMarkdownFromUrl – loads markdown from the specified URL (requires internet connection, as file is loaded from the web)

mMarkdownView.loadMarkdownFromUrl("url");

 

Important points for consideration

  • Avoid using elements of GitHub Flavoured Markdown (GFM) as it is not fully supported. It is better to stick to the traditional markdown style.
  • While adding images in the markdown files, avoid using specific dimensions as the images may not load properly in some cases due to the wide variety of screen sizes in android devices.
  • It is better to store the Markdown files to be loaded in the assets directory of the app and load it from there instead of the other methods mentioned above.

References

  1. A comprehensive markdown tutorial to learn markdown scripting https://www.markdowntutorial.com/
  2. MarkdownView repository on Github by tiagohm https://github.com/tiagohm/MarkdownView
  3. Learn more about Github Flavoured Markdown (GFM) https://guides.github.com/features/mastering-markdown/
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Automatic Signing and Publishing of Android Apps from Travis

As I discussed about preparing the apps in Play Store for automatic deployment and Google App Signing in previous blogs, in this blog, I’ll talk about how to use Travis Ci to automatically sign and publish the apps using fastlane, as well as how to upload sensitive information like signing keys and publishing JSON to the Open Source repository. This method will be used to publish the following Android Apps:

Current Project Structure

The example project I have used to set up the process has the following structure:

It’s a normal Android Project with some .travis.yml and some additional bash scripts in scripts folder. The update-apk.sh file is standard app build and repo push file found in FOSSASIA projects. The process used to develop it is documented in previous blogs. First, we’ll see how to upload our keys to the repo after encrypting them.

Encrypting keys using Travis

Travis provides a very nice documentation on encrypting files containing sensitive information, but a crucial information is buried below the page. As you’d normally want to upload two things to the repo – the app signing key, and API JSON file for release manager API of Google Play for Fastlane, you can’t do it separately by using standard file encryption command for travis as it will override the previous encrypted file’s secret. In order to do so, you need to create a tarball of all the files that need to be encrypted and encrypt that tar instead. Along with this, before you need to use the file, you’ll have to decrypt in in the travis build and also uncompress it for use.

So, first install Travis CLI tool and login using travis login (You should have right access to the repo and Travis CI in order to encrypt the files for it)

Then add the signing key and fastlane json in the scripts folder. Let’s assume the names of the files are key.jks and fastlane.json

Then, go to scripts folder and run this command to create a tar of these files:

tar cvf secrets.tar fastlane.json key.jks

 

secrets.tar will be created in the folder. Now, run this command to encrypt the file

travis encrypt-file secrets.tar

 

A new file secrets.tar.enc will be created in the folder. Now delete the original files and secrets tar so they do not get added to the repo by mistake. The output log will show the the command for decryption of the file to be added to the .travis.yml file.

Decrypting keys using Travis

But if we add it there, the keys will be decrypted for each commit on each branch. We want it to happen only for master branch as we only require publishing from that branch. So, we’ll create a bash script prep-key.sh for the task with following content

#!/bin/sh
set -e

export DEPLOY_BRANCH=${DEPLOY_BRANCH:-master}

if [ "$TRAVIS_PULL_REQUEST" != "false" -o "$TRAVIS_REPO_SLUG" != "iamareebjamal/android-test-fastlane" -o "$TRAVIS_BRANCH" != "$DEPLOY_BRANCH" ]; then
    echo "We decrypt key only for pushes to the master branch and not PRs. So, skip."
    exit 0
fi

openssl aes-256-cbc -K $encrypted_4dd7_key -iv $encrypted_4dd7_iv -in ./scripts/secrets.tar.enc -out ./scripts/secrets.tar -d
tar xvf ./scripts/secrets.tar -C scripts/

 

Of course, you’ll have to change the commands and arguments according to your need and repo. Specially, the decryption command keys ID

The script checks if the repo and branch are correct, and the commit is not of a PR, then decrypts the file and extracts them in appropriate directory

Before signing the app, you’ll need to store the keystore password, alias and key password in Travis Environment Variables. Once you have done that, you can proceed to signing the app. I’ll assume the variable names to be $STORE_PASS, $ALIAS and $KEY_PASS respectively

Signing App

Now, come to the part in upload-apk.sh script where you have the unsigned release app built. Let’s assume its name is app-release-unsigned.apk.Then run this command to sign it

cp app-release-unsigned.apk app-release-unaligned.apk
jarsigner -verbose -tsa http://timestamp.comodoca.com/rfc3161 -sigalg SHA1withRSA -digestalg SHA1 -keystore ../scripts/key.jks -storepass $STORE_PASS -keypass $KEY_PASS app-release-unaligned.apk $ALIAS

 

Then run this command to zipalign the app

${ANDROID_HOME}/build-tools/25.0.2/zipalign -v -p 4 app-release-unaligned.apk app-release.apk

 

Remember that the build tools version should be the same as the one specified in .travis.yml

This will create an apk named app-release.apk

Publishing App

This is the easiest step. First install fastlane using this command

gem install fastlane

 

Then run this command to publish the app to alpha channel on Play Store

fastlane supply --apk app-release.apk --track alpha --json_key ../scripts/fastlane.json --package_name com.iamareebjamal.fastlane

 

You can always configure the arguments according to your need. Also notice that you have to provide the package name for Fastlane to know which app to update. This can also be stored as an environment variable.

This is all for this blog, you can read more about travis CLI, fastlane features and signing process in these links below:

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Controlling Motors using PSLab Device

PSLab device is capable of building up a complete science lab almost anywhere. While the privilege is mostly taken by high school students and teachers to perform scientific experiments, electronic hobbyists can greatly be influenced from the device. One of the usages is to test and debug sensors and other electronic components before actually using them in their projects. In this blog it will be explained how hobbyist motors are made functional with the use of the PSLab device.

There are four types of motors generally used by hobbyists in their DIY(Do-It-Yourself) projects. They are;

  • DC Gear Motor
  • DC Brushless Motor
  • Servo Motor
  • Stepper Motor

DC motors do not require much of a control as their internal structure is simply a magnet and a shaft which was made rotatable around the magnetic field. The following image from slideshare illustrates the cross section of a motor. These motors require high currents and PSLab device as it is powered from a USB port from a PC or a mobile phone, cannot provide such high current. Hence these type of motors are not recommended to use with the device as there is a very high probability it might burn something.

In the current context, we are concerned about stepper motors and servo motors. They cannot be powered up using direct currents to them. Inside these motors, the structure is different and they require a set of controlled signals to function. The following diagram from electronics-tutorials illustrates the feedback loop inside a servo motor. A servo motor is functional using a PWM wave. Depending on the duty cycle, the rotational angle will be determined. PSLab device is capable of generating four different square waves at any duty cycle varying from 0% to 100%. This gives us freedom to acquire any angle we desire from a servo motor. The experiment “Servo Motors” implement the following method where it accepts four angles.

public void servo4(double angle1, double angle2, double angle3, double angle4)

The experiment supports control of four different servo motors at independant angles. Most of the servos available in the market support only 180 degree rotation where some servos can rotate indefinitely. In such a case, the servo will rotate one cycle and reach its initial position.

The last type of motor is stepper motor. As the name says it, this motor can produce steps. Inside of the motor, there are four coils and and five wires coming out of the motor body connecting these coils. The illustration from Wikipedia shows how four steps are acquired by powering up the respective coil in order. This powering up process needs to be controlled and hard to do manually. Using PSLab device experiment “Stepper Motor”, a user can acquire any number of steps just by entering the step value in the text box. The implementation consists of a set of method calls;

scienceLab.stepForward(steps, 100);

scienceLab.stepBackward(steps, 100);

A delay of 100 milliseconds is provided so that there is enough time to produce a step. Otherwise the shaft will not experience enough resultant force to move and will remain in the same position.

These two experiments are possible with PSLab because the amount of current drawn is quite small which can be delivered through a general USB port. It is worth mentioning that as industry grade servo and stepper motors may draw high current as they were built to interact with heavy loads, they are not suitable for this type of experiments.

Resources:

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Filling Audio Buffer to Generate Waves in the PSLab Android App

The PSLab Android App works as an oscilloscope and a wave generator using the audio jack of the Android device. The implementation of the oscilloscope in the Android device using the in-built mic has been discussed in the blog post “Using the Audio Jack to make an Oscilloscope in the PSLab Android App” and the same has been discussed in the context of wave generator in the blog post “Implement Wave Generation Functionality in the PSLab Android App”. This post is a continuation of the post related to the implementation of wave generation functionality in the PSLab Android App. In this post, the subject matter of discussion is the way to fill the audio buffer so that the resulting wave generated is either a Sine Wave, a Square Wave or a Sawtooth Wave. The resultant audio buffer would be played using the AudioTrack API of Android to generate the corresponding wave. The waves we are trying to generate are periodic waves.

Periodic Wave: A wave whose displacement has a periodic variation with respect to time or distance, or both.

Thus, the problem reduces to generating a pulse which will constitute a single time period of the wave. Suppose we want to generate a sine wave; if we generate a continuous stream of pulses as illustrated in the image below, we would get a continuous sine wave. This is the main concept that we shall try to implement using code.

Initialise AudioTrack Object

AudioTrack object is initialised using the following parameters:

  • STREAM TYPE: Type of stream like STREAM_SYSTEM, STREAM_MUSIC, STREAM_RING, etc. For wave generation purposes we are using stream music. Every stream has its own maximum and minimum volume level.  
  • SAMPLING RATE: It is the rate at which the source samples the audio signal.
  • BUFFER SIZE IN BYTES: Total size of the internal buffer in bytes from where the audio data is read for playback.
  • MODES: There are two modes-
    • MODE_STATIC: Audio data is transferred from Java to the native layer only once before the audio starts playing.
    • MODE_STREAM: Audio data is streamed from Java to the native layer as audio is being played.

getMinBufferSize() returns the estimated minimum buffer size required for an AudioTrack object to be created in the MODE_STREAM mode.

minTrackBufferSize = AudioTrack.getMinBufferSize(SAMPLING_RATE, AudioFormat.CHANNEL_OUT_MONO, AudioFormat.ENCODING_PCM_16BIT);
audioTrack = new AudioTrack(
       AudioManager.STREAM_MUSIC,
       SAMPLING_RATE,
       AudioFormat.CHANNEL_OUT_MONO,
       AudioFormat.ENCODING_PCM_16BIT,
       minTrackBufferSize,
       AudioTrack.MODE_STREAM);

Fill Audio Buffer to Generate Sine Wave

Depending on the values in the audio buffer, the wave is generated by the AudioTrack object. Therefore, to generate a specific kind of wave, we need to fill the audio buffer with some specific values. The values are governed by the wave equation of the signal that we want to generate.

public short[] createBuffer(int frequency) {
   short[] buffer = new short[minTrackBufferSize];
   double f = frequency;
   double q = 0;
   double level = 16384;
   final double K = 2.0 * Math.PI / SAMPLING_RATE;

   for (int i = 0; i < minTrackBufferSize; i++) {
         f += (frequency - f) / 4096.0;
         q += (q < Math.PI) ? f * K : (f * K) - (2.0 * Math.PI);
         buffer[i] = (short) Math.round(Math.sin(q));
   }
   return buffer;
}

Fill Audio Buffer to Generate Square Wave

To generate a square wave, let’s assume the time period to be t units. So, we need the amplitude to be equal to A for t/2 units and -A for the next t/2 units. Repeating this pulse continuously, we will get a square wave.

buffer[i] = (short) ((q > 0.0) ? 1 : -1);

Fill Audio Buffer to Generate Sawtooth Wave

Ramp signals increases linearly with time. A Ramp pulse has been illustrated in the image below:

We need repeated ramp pulses to generate a continuous sawtooth wave.

buffer[i] = (short) Math.round((q / Math.PI));

Finally, when the audio buffer is generated, write it to the audio sink for playback using write() method exposed by the AudioTrack object.

audioTrack.write(buffer, 0, buffer.length);

Resources

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Electrical Experiments with PSLab

PSLab has the capability to perform a variety of experiments. The PSLab Android App and the PSLab Desktop App have built-in support for over 70 experiments which are commonly performed by students. In addition to that, it can be used in other experiments conveniently. This blog post is in continuation with the previous two posts regarding performing experiments (links in the reference) and this blog deals with another category of experiments that can be performed using PSLab.

The blog lists experiments which mainly involve the basic circuit elements like resistors, capacitors and inductors. These experiments involve the study of R-C, L-R, L-C and L-C-R circuits. These circuits have properties which make them important in real life applications and this blog attempts to give a rough picture of their importance.

Ohm’s Law, Capacitive Reactance and Inductive Reactance

These experiments involve the study of each of the basic circuit element individually. The current and voltage characteristics of each of the elements is studied.

The definitions of the above are:

Ohm’s Law – This is a law familiar to most. It relates the voltage and current of a purely resistive circuit stating that the voltage and current are proportional to each other and their ratio is a constant called the resistance. In this case, the current and voltage are in the same phase.

Capacitive Reactance – Across a capacitor in an AC circuit, the current and voltage are not in the same phase and the current leads the voltage. For a purely capacitive circuit, this difference is 90o.

Inductive Reactance –  Across an inductor in an AC circuit, the current and voltage are not in the same phase and the current lags behind the voltage. For a purely inductive circuit, this difference is 90o.

The reactance is given for capacitor and inductor is given by 1/wC and wL respectively, where C & L are the values of capacitance and inductance respectively and w is the frequency of the AC signal.

The circuit for the setup is shown below. We need to observe the plot of the input waveform and the plot of the voltage across individual elements to observe the phase shift.

  1. Connect CH1 & GND across the input terminals and CH2 & GND across the terminals of any of the elements.
  2. An external signal can be used or can be generated using the PSLab. Use the PSLab to generate a sinusoidal signal of frequency 1000 Hz. by connecting the ends of PV1 in the circuit.
  3. Observe the waveforms. In case of the resistor, there should be no observable phase lag between the two. In case of the capacitor and inductor, there will be an observable phase difference of 90o.
  4. For the capacitive and inductive circuits, just replace the resistor in the above circuit with capacitor/inductor.

RC Circuits

Drawing their names from their respective calculus functions, the integrator produces a voltage output proportional to the product (multiplication) of the input voltage and time; and the differentiator (not to be confused with differential) produces a voltage output proportional to the input voltage’s rate of change.

RC Integrator circuit

For constructing the RC integrator circuit, connect the circuit as shown in the diagram.

  • Construction of the integrator circuit is fairly simple once the differentiator circuit is done.
  • Interchange the positions of the capacitor and resistor in the above circuit and the circuit for the integrator is complete.
  • Observe the output waveform. Plot both the CH1 and CH2 data simultaneously to compare the waveforms.

RC Differentiator circuit

For constructing the RC differentiator circuit, connect the circuit as shown in the diagram.

  • The values of resistance and capacitance used here are 10k ohm and 0.01uF.
  • Connect the CH1 and GND pins of the board with the input side marked as Vi. Ensure that GND is connected to the GND of the circuit.
  • Similarly, connect CH2 and GND with the corresponding ends of the output side marked as Vo.
  • PSLab can also be used for supplying the input to the circuit. Connect the ends of W1 and GND across Vi. W1 can be used to generate a square wave of 10V peak to peak voltage with a frequency of 500 Hz.
  • Observe the output waveform. Plot both the CH1 and CH2 data simultaneously to compare the waveforms.

RL Circuits

RL Integrator Circuit.

For constructing the RL integrator circuit, connect the circuit as shown in the diagram.

  • Construction of the integrator circuit is fairly simple once the differentiator circuit is done.
  • Interchange the positions of the inductor and resistor in the above circuit and the circuit for the integrator is complete.
  • Observe the output waveform. Plot both the CH1 and CH2 data simultaneously to compare the waveforms.

RL Differentiator Circuit

For constructing the RL differentiator circuit, connect the circuit as shown in the diagram.

  • The values of resistance and inductance used here are 470 ohm and 10mH.
  • Connect the CH1 and GND pins of the board with the input side marked as Vi. Ensure that GND is connected to the GND of the circuit.
  • Similarly, connect CH2 and GND with the corresponding ends of the output side marked as Vo.
  • PSLab can also be used for supplying the input to the circuit. Connect the ends of W1 and GND across Vi. W1 can be used to generate a square wave of 2V peak to peak voltage with a frequency of 5000 Hz.
  • Observe the output waveform. Plot both the CH1 and CH2 data simultaneously to compare the waveforms.

Frequency Response

Frequency Response of an electric or electronics circuit allows us to see exactly how the output gain (known as the magnitude response) and the phase (known as the phase response) changes at a particular single frequency, or over a whole range of different frequencies from 0Hz, (d.c.) to many thousands of megahertz, (MHz) depending upon the design characteristics of the circuit.

Frequency response of a circuit can be studied using different tools like Bode plots, phase plots etc. However, this blog would limit to using simple RC and RL circuits as they can be easily visualised using an oscilloscope.

RC Circuits

  • For observing the frequency response of RC circuits, the circuit can be constructed as shown below.
  • The values of resistance and capacitance used here are 10k ohm and 0.01uF.
  • Connect the CH1 and GND pins of the board with the input side marked as Vi. Ensure that GND is connected to the GND of the circuit.
  • Similarly, connect CH2 and GND with the corresponding ends of the output side marked as Vo.
  • PSLab can also be used for supplying the input to the circuit. Connect the ends of W1 and GND across Vi. W1 can be used to generate a square wave of 10V peak to peak voltage with a frequencies ranging from 100 Hz to 5000 Hz.
  • Switch to the X-Y mode of the oscilloscope and observe the waveform formed.

RL Circuits

  • For observing the frequency response of RL circuits, the circuit can be constructed as shown below.
  • The values of resistance and inductance used here are 470 ohm and 10mH.
  • Connect the CH1 and GND pins of the board with the input side marked as Vi. Ensure that GND is connected to the GND of the circuit.
  • Similarly, connect CH2 and GND with the corresponding ends of the output side marked as Vo.
  • Note: PSLab in this case cannot be used as an AC source as the maximum frequency of waveforms produced by PSLab is limited to 5kHz. However, this experiment would also need frequencies much higher than 5 Hz i.e upto 50 kHz. So, a dedicated function generator is needed. However, the oscilloscope would work just fine.
  • Switch to the X-Y mode of the oscilloscope and observe the waveform formed.

References:

  1. The previous blog on experiments using PSLab focusing in electronics https://blog.fossasia.org/electronics-experiments-with-pslab/
  2. The previous blog on experiments using PSLab involving some general experiments https://blog.fossasia.org/fascinating-experiments-with-pslab/
  3. Read more about differentiators and integrators and their uses https://www.allaboutcircuits.com/textbook/semiconductors/chpt-8/differentiator-integrator-circuits/

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