High School Physics Practicals using PSLab Device

High school physics syllabus includes rather advanced concepts in the world of Physics; namely practicals related to sound, heat, light and electric. Almost all of these practicals are done in physics labs using conventional bulky equipments. Especially the practicals related to electrical and electronics. They use bulky oscilloscopes with complex controls and multimeter with so many controls. PSLab being a sophisticated device which integrates a whole science lab into a 2” by 2” small circuit, these practicals made easy and interesting.

There are several practicals required to be completed by a student before sitting for GCE (Advanced Level) examination. This blog post points out how to perform those experiments using PSLab device and several other tools required without having to use bulky instruments.

  • Calculating internal resistance and EMF of a dry cell

This experiment includes the above mentioned circuitry. Once the basic setup is completed using;

  • Dry cell
  • 10K variable resistor
  • 1K resistor
  • Switch/Jumper

Connect the CH1 pin and GND pin of PSLab across the dry cell and CH2 pin and GND across the Ammeter instead of the Ammeter. Once the pin connection is complete, plug the PSLab device to the computer and using the desktop application voltmeter, measure the voltage from CH1 and current from voltage value read from CH2 and the known resistance value of R. Record these data against step changes in the resistance of the variable resistor starting from a high value to a low value. Once there are sufficient data as much as 10 data set, using a graph paper draw the relation between current and voltage measured according to the equation given below.

E = V + Ir

V = -rI + E

This will produce a graph with a constant negative gradient. Gradient of the graph will produce the internal resistance of the dry cell.

  • I-V graphs for a semiconductor

This experiment will require;

  • Diode
  • 100 Ohms resistor

Conduct the experiment as follows once the circuit is set up. Increase the voltage provided by the PV1 pin of the PSLab by 100 mV per step and measure the voltage across diode using CH3 pin of PSLab device. Using that voltage and the supply voltage, calculate the current flowing through the resistor. Note down the readings as voltage to current pairs and plot them on a graph paper. The graph will produce the following results which is identical to common IV characteristics of a semiconductor.

Start A at zero and increase by 0.1V steps while measuring voltage and current across diode. (Image from Wikipedia)

Apart from this conventional experiment, PSLab provides an inbuilt experiment students and teachers can use. In the Electronics Experiments section, Diode IV characteristics experiment is configured in such a way that this experiment can be conducted very easily. The circuit configuration is the same and R value should be 1K. Once the step size is set to an appropriate resolution, START button will begin the experiment and provide with the final graph.

  • Transfer characteristics of a transistor

Set up the above mentioned circuitry on a breadboard and connect the appropriate pins of PSLab device as mentioned. In this experiment, student need to observe the increase in current/voltage across CH1 when PV2 is varying. We need to measure CH1 parameter value against PV2 voltage value and plot these two against to obtain the transfer characteristics of a BJT.

Apart from this conventional experiment, PSLab provides an inbuilt experiment to perform this lab exercise. Using “BJT Transfer Characteristics” experiment, students and teachers can easily obtain the characteristics curves by setting step sizes and voltage values to the required pins.

  • Ohm’s law

Configure the following circuit and connect PCS, CH1 and GND pins of PSLab into relevant positions. This experiment is to measure voltage across the resistor against the variation in current through the circuit. Increase current provided to the circuit using PCS pin and measure voltage using CH1 pin and plot against the current. The gradient will produce the resistor value.

In the electrical experiments section in PSLab application has a separate experiment to perform the Ohm’s Law experiment. Using this experiment, students can change the current values using the knob and record the voltage values related to that. Finally the plot can be generated which will be of a constant gradient.

  • Kirchhoff’s Laws
  • Voltage law

Kirchhoff’s Voltage law states that the directed sum of the voltage around any closed network is zero.

This law can be proved using the following circuit with the help of PSLab device. Connect the channel pins as per the diagram and measure voltages in the three channels. They will show a relationship as the directed sum of the combination will turn into a zero.

  • Current law

Kirchhoff’s current law states that at any node in a circuit, the sum of currents flowing into that node is equal to the sum of currents flowing out of that node; which is similar to the direct summation of currents in a node is zero.

Using the same circuit as above, measure the current flowing through each node using the voltage readings of the channels and known resistor values. Considering the sign of the current which is easily readable in PSLab desktop application, the summation will produce a zero.

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Making Custom Change Listeners in PSLab Android

In this post we are going to learn how to make custom change listeners. There are many use cases for custom change listeners like if you want to initiate some action when some variable’s value is changed. In PSLab android app, this was required during initialisation of PSLab hardware device, it takes about 3-4 seconds to initialise the device which includes reading calibration data from device and process it. So before starting the initialisation process, app notifies user with the message, “Initialising Wait …” and after initialisation is done, user is notified with the message “Initialisation Completed”.

There might be other ways to accomplish this but I found making a custom change listener for boolean and trigger notifying user action on change of boolean value to be most organised way to do it.

Another way I can think of is to pass the fragment reference to the class  constructor for which the object is to be made. And Views need to be made public for access from that object to change status after some work is done.

Let’s look at an example, we would change status in a fragment after some task in object instantiation is completed.

Implementation

Class with variable on which custom change listener is required:
Create a class and declare a variable for which you want to listen the value change to trigger some action. In this example we have created a InitializationVariable class and defined a boolean variable named initialised.

Define an interface inside the class and that’s where the trick lies. When you set/change the value of the variable through a function setVariable(boolean value) in this case, note that we are triggering the interface method too.

public class InitializationVariable {

   public boolean initialised = false;
   private onValueChangeListener valueChangeListener;

   public boolean isInitialised() {
       return initialised;
   }

   public void setVariable(boolean value) {
       initialised = value;
       if (valueChangeListener != null) valueChangeListener.onChange();
   }

   public onValueChangeListener getValueChangeListener() {
       return valueChangeListener;
   }

   public void setValueChangeListener(onValueChangeListener valueChangeListener) {
       this.valueChangeListener = valueChangeListener;
   }

   public interface onValueChangeListener {
       void onChange();
   }

}

Create an object of above class in activity/fragment:
Create an object to the class we just made and attach onValueChangeListener to it. This example shows how it’s used in PSLab Android, you can use it anywhere but remember to access view elements from a valid context.

public static InitializationVariable booleanVariable;
public class HomeFragment extends Fragment {

   @BindView(R.id.tv_initialisation_status)
   TextView tvInitializationStatus;

   public static InitializationVariable booleanVariable;// object whose value change is noted

   public static HomeFragment newInstance() {
       HomeFragment homeFragment = new HomeFragment();
       return homeFragment;
   }

   @Nullable
   @Override
   public View onCreateView(LayoutInflater inflater, @Nullable ViewGroup container, @Nullable Bundle savedInstanceState) {
       View view = inflater.inflate(R.layout.home_fragment, container, false);
       unbinder = ButterKnife.bind(this, view);
       return view;
   }

   @Override
   public void onViewCreated(View view, @Nullable Bundle savedInstanceState) {
       super.onViewCreated(view, savedInstanceState);

       booleanVariable.setValueChangeListener(new InitializationVariable.onValueChangeListener() {
           @Override
           public void onChange() {
               if (booleanVariable.isInitialised())
                   tvInitializationStatus.setText("Initialsation Completed");
               else
                   tvInitializationStatus.setText("Initialising Wait ...");
           }
       });
  }
}

Now whenever booleanVariable.setVariable(value) is called, it triggers the onValueChangeListener where you can manage the action you wanted to do on value change.
This is similar to how other listeners are implemented .You implement an interface and call those interface methods on some value change and classes which implement those interface have overridden methods which handle the action after change.

Hopefully this post gives you an insight about how change listeners are implemented.

Note: This post was specific to PSLab Android App, you can create custom change listener on any variable in any class and perform action on value of the variable getting changed.

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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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Integrating Stock Sensors with PSLab Android App

A sensor is a digital device (almost all the time an integrated circuit) which can receive data from outer environment and produce an electric signal proportional to that. This signal will be then processed by a microcontroller or a processor to provide useful functionalities. A mobile device running Android operating system usually has a few sensors built into it. The main purpose of these sensors is to provide user with better experience such as rotating the screen as he moves the device or turn off the screen when he is making a call to prevent unwanted screen touch events. PSLab Android application is capable of processing inputs received by different sensors plugged into it using the PSLab device and produce useful results. Developers are currently planning on integrating the stock sensors with the PSLab device so that the application can be used without the PSLab device.

This blog is about how to initiate a stock sensor available in the Android device and get readings from it. Sensor API provided by Google developers is really helpful in achieving this task. The process is consist of several steps. It is also important to note the fact that there are devices that support only a few sensors while some devices will support a lot of sensors. There are few basic sensors that are available in every device such as

  • “Accelerometer” – Measures acceleration along X, Y and Z axis
  • “Gyroscope” – Measures device rotation along X, Y and Z axis
  • “Light Sensor” – Measures illumination in Lux
  • “Proximity Sensor” – Measures distance to an obstacle from sensor

The implementing steps are as follows;

  1. Check availability of sensors

First step is to invoke the SensorManager from Android system services. This class has a method to list all the available sensors in the device.

SensorManager sensorManager;
sensorManager = (SensorManager) getSystemService(Context.SENSOR_SERVICE);
List<Sensor> sensors = sensorManager.getSensorList(Sensor.TYPE_ALL);

Once the list is populated, we can iterate through this to find out if the required sensors are available and obstruct displaying activities related to sensors that are not supported by the device.

for (Sensor sensor : sensors) {
   switch (sensor.getType()) {
       case Sensor.TYPE_ACCELEROMETER:
           break;
       case Sensor.TYPE_GYROSCOPE:
           break;
       ...
   }
}

  1. Read data from sensors

To read data sent from the sensor, one should implement the SensorEventListener interface. Under this interface, there are two method needs to be overridden.

public class StockSensors extends AppCompatActivity implements SensorEventListener {

    @Override
    public void onSensorChanged(SensorEvent sensorEvent) {

    }

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

    }
}

Out of these two methods, onSensorChanged() method should be addressed. This method provides a parameter SensorEvent which supports a method call getType() which returns an integer value representing the type of sensor produced the event.

@Override
public void onSensorChanged(SensorEvent sensorEvent) {
   switch (sensorEvent.sensor.getType()) {
       case Sensor.TYPE_ACCELEROMETER:
           break;
       case Sensor.TYPE_GYROSCOPE:
           break;
       ...
   }
}

Each available sensor should be registered under the SensorEventListener to make them available in onSensorChanged() method. The following code block illustrates how to modify the previous code to register each sensor easily with the listener.

for (Sensor sensor : sensors) {
   switch (sensor.getType()) {
       case Sensor.TYPE_ACCELEROMETER:
           sensorManager.registerListener(this, sensorManager.getDefaultSensor(Sensor.TYPE_ACCELEROMETER), SensorManager.SENSOR_DELAY_UI);
           break;
       case Sensor.TYPE_GYROSCOPE:
           sensorManager.registerListener(this, sensorManager.getDefaultSensor(Sensor.TYPE_GYROSCOPE), SensorManager.SENSOR_DELAY_UI);
           break;
   }
}

Depending on the readings we can provide user with numerical data or graphical data using graphs plotted using MPAndroidChart in PSLab Android application.

The following images illustrate how a similar implementation is available in Science Journal application developed by Google.

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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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Exporting Functions in PSLab Firmware

Computer programs consist of several hundreds line of code. Smaller programs contain around few hundreds while larger programs like PSLab firmware contains lines of code expanding over 2000 lines. The major drawback with a code with lots of lines is the difficulty to debug and hardship for a new developer to understand the code. As a solution modularization techniques can be used to have the long code broken down to small set of codes. In C programming this can be achieved using different .c files and relevant .h(header) files.

The task is tricky as the main code contains a lot of interrelated functions and variables. Lots of errors were encountered when the large code in pslab-firmware being modularized into application specific files. In a scenario like this, global variables or static variables were a much of a help.

Global Variables in C

A global variable in C is a variable whose scope spans wide across the entire program. Updation to the variable will be reflected everywhere it is used.

extern TYPE VARIABLE = VALUE;

Static Variables in C

This type of variables preserve their content regardless of the scope they are in.

static TYPE VARIABLE = VALUE;

Both the variables preserve their values but the memory usage is different depending on the implementation. This can be explained using a simple example.

Suppose a variable is required in different C files and it is defined in one of the header files as a local variable. The header file is then added to several other c files. When the program is compiled the compiler will create several copies of the same variable which will throw a compilation error as variable is already declared. In PSLab firmware, a variable or a method from one library has a higher probability of it being used in another one or many libraries.

This issue can be addressed in two different ways. They are by using static variables or global variables. Depending on the selection, the implementation is different.

The first implementation is using static variables. This type of variables at the time of compilation, create different copies of himself in different c files. Due to the fact that C language treats every C file as a separate program, if we include a header file with static variables in two c files, it will create two copies of the same variable. This will avoid the error messages with variables redeclared. Even though this fixes the issue in firmware, the memory allocation will be of a wastage. This is the first implementation used in PSLab firmware. The memory usage was very high due to duplicate variables taking much memory than they should take. This lead to the second implementation.

first_header.h

#ifndef FIRST_HEADER_H 
#define FIRST_HEADER_H 

static int var_1;

#endif 

/* FIRST_HEADER_H */

second_header.h

#ifndef SECOND_HEADER_H
#define SECOND_HEADER_H

static int var_1;

#endif    

/* SECOND_HEADER_H */

first_header.c

#include <stdio.h>
#include "first_header.h"
#include "second_header.h"

int main() {
    var_1 = 10;
    printf("%d", var_1);
}

The next implementation uses global variables. This type of variables need to be declared only in one header file and can be reused by declaring the header file in other c files. The global variables must be declared in a header file with the keyword extern and defined in the relevant c file once. Then it will be available throughout the application and no errors of variable redeclaration will occur while compiling. This became the final implementation for the PSLab-firmware to fix the compilation issues modularizing application specific C and header files.

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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.

References

Continue Reading Packing and Unpacking Data in PSLab Android App

Using Hierarchical Blocks in KiCAD to Collaborate in PSLab Hardware Development

The PSLab hardware project designed in KiCAD, an ECAD tool; doesn’t support collaborative features like Git providing for software projects. As explained in a previous blog post on techniques to help up with project collaboration, this blog post will demonstrate how two developers can work together on the same hardware project.

The difficulties arise as the whole project is in one big schematic file. Editing made by one developer will affect to the editing done by the other developers causing merge conflicts. KiCAD doesn’t compile nicely if the changes were fixed manually most of the cases.

The solution practiced in the pslab-hardware project is using hierarchical blocks. This blog post will use a KiCAD project with an oscillator implementation and a voltage regulator implementation just like the ones in pslab-hardware schematics. To avoid complications in understanding changes in a huge circuit, only these two modules will be implemented separately in the blog.

Initially the project will look like the following figure;

Sheet1 Sheet2

These two hierarchical blocks will be created as different .sch files in the project directory as follows;

Assume two different developers are working on these two different blocks. That is the key concept in collaborating hardware projects in KiCAD. As long as the outer connections (pins) don’t get changed, edits made to one block will have no effect on the other blocks.

Developer 1 decided that the existing power circuit is not efficient for the PSLab device. So he decided to change the circuit in Sheet 1. The circuit before and after modification is shown in the table below.

Sheet 1 (Before) Sheet 1 (After)

If we take a look at the git status now, it will be as follows;

From this it is noticeable that neither the main schematic file nor Developer2.sch hasn’t been touched by the edits made to Developer1.sch file. This avoids merge conflicts happening when all the developers are working on the same schematic file.

Resources :

Continue Reading Using Hierarchical Blocks in KiCAD to Collaborate in PSLab Hardware Development

How to Read PIC Data-Sheet and Add a New Functionality to PSLab Firmware

Reading data-sheets is not a fun task. Going through tens of hundreds of pages with numerical, mathematical and scientific data is not fun reading. This blog post attempts to simplify reading the available data-sheets related to PIC24 micro-controller used in the PSLab device to help reader with implementing a new feature in PSLab firmware.

There are many features available in the PSLab device, such as; UART, SPI, I2C, ADC and Basic I/O reading. The “basic” implementation techniques do not vary much from one feature to other. That being stated this blog will carry out the basic implementation techniques one should follow and basic knowledge on PIC micro-controller programming to save himself from the trouble going through the 500+ pages in PIC data-sheets.

PIC Basics:

Before go into implementation there are few facts one should know about PIC programming.

– In the micro-controller values are saved in a memory block known as Registers. The values saved in these registers are volatile as they are all set to 0 regardless the value they were assigned when the power is off.

– Micro-controller configurations are made by setting values to these registers. Even turning on and off a whole feature like UART in PSLab device can be done using setting 0 to UARTEN register bit.

– When it comes to I/O ports, there are two different types of registers called TRIS and LAT/PORT. By setting 1 to TRIS ports will make the relevant pin an input pin. Setting it to 0 will make it an output pin. Easy way to remember this is think 1 as I in input and 0 as O in output. In UART implementation of PSLab, pin RP40 is set as an input pin to receive the data stream and pin RP39 is set as an output pin to send the data stream out. These settings are made using TRIS port settings. PORT registers save the value received by the relevant input pin attached to it.


The above figure extracted from mikroe learning materials, illustrates different stages an I/O pin can handle. As an extra point, ANSEL register makes the pin support digital signals or analog signals as per user requirements.

– In PIC, some registers such as PORT, TRIS and registers with similar functionalities are combined together. To access the value of each individual register can be done using dot notation. Assume the program requires to access the 8th register in TRISB register set. Note that the registers are indexed from zero. This implies that the 8th register will have the index 8 in the register sub-set. The following syntax is used to access the register;

TRISBbits.TRISB7

 

The above points cover the basic knowledge one should have when developing firmware to PSLab device.

How to implement a feature like UART in PSLab firmware?

The first thing to know when implementing a new feature is that the developer needs to be familiar with the relevant hardware protocols. As an example, to implement UART; relevant protocol is RS232. If the feature is I2C; one should know about the I2C protocol.

Once the feature is familiar, next step is to refer the PIC data-sheet and resources on how to implement it in firmware. As for demonstrative purposes, this blog will continue with UART implementation.

Download the latest data-sheet from MicroChip official website and browse to the table of content. It consists of a set of features supported by the micro-controller implemented in the PSLab device. Find the entry related to the feature being implemented. In this case it will be Universal Asynchronous Receiver Transmitter (UART).

Each feature will contain a description following this format explaining what are the options it support and its constraints.

One must be aware of the fact that not every pin in the micro-controller can be used for any feature as he desires. The “PINOUT I/O DESCRIPTIONS” section in the data-sheet explains which pins are capable of the feature being implemented. According to these details, the pins should be initiated as Input/Output pins as well as Digital/Analog pins.

The next step is to refer to the control registers related to the feature. They are all mentioned in the data-sheet under the specific feature. There are some notations available in this section which resembles something like the following;

PDSEL<1:0>: Parity and Data Selection bits
11 = 9-bit data, no parity
10 = 8-bit data, odd parity
01 = 8-bit data, even parity
00 = 8-bit data, no parity

 

This represents a register with two bits. By setting either 11 or 10 or 01 or 00; different implementations can be achieved.

In PSLab firmware this is implemented as;

U1MODEbits.PDSEL = 0;

 

which implements UART feature with 8-bits stream having no parity bits for error correction.

In UART feature implemented in PSLab device, receiving bit stream is fetched by reading the register values in U1STAbits.URXDA and data is transmitted using U1TXREG. All these registers are mentioned in the control registers section in the feature.

Resources:

Continue Reading How to Read PIC Data-Sheet and Add a New Functionality to PSLab Firmware