User Guide for the PSLab Remote-Access Framework

The remote-lab framework of the pocket science lab has been designed to enable user to access their devices remotely via the internet. The pslab-remote repository includes an API server built with Python-Flask and a webapp that uses EmberJS. This post is a guide for users who wish to test the framework. A series of blog posts have been previously written which have explored and elaborated various aspect of the remote-lab such as designing the API server, remote execution of function strings, automatic deployment on various domains etc. In this post, we shall explore how to execute function strings, execute example scripts, and write a script ourselves.

A live demo is hosted at pslab-remote.surge.sh . The API server is hosted at pslab-stage.herokuapp.com, and an API reference which is being developed can be accessed at pslab-stage.herokuapp.com/apidocs . A screencast of the remote lab is also available

Create an account

Signing up at this point is very straightforward, and does not include any third party verification tools since the framework is under active development, and cannot be claimed to be ready for release yet.

Click on the sign-up button, and provide a username, email, and password. The e-mail will be used as the login-id, and needs to be unique.

Login to the remote lab

Use the email-id used for signing up, enter the password, and the app will redirect you to your new home-page, where you will be greeted with a similar screen.

Your home-page

On the home-page, you will find that the first section includes a text box for entering a function string, and an execute button. Here, you can enter any valid PSLab function such as `get_resistance()` , and click on the execute button in order to run the function on the PSLab device connected to the API server, and view the results. A detailed blog post on this process can be found here.

Since this is a new account, no saved scripts are present in the Your Scripts section. We will come to that shortly, but for now, there are some pre-written example scripts that will let you test them as well as view their source code in order to copy into your own collection, and modify them.

Click on the play icon next to `multimeter.py` in order to run the script. The eye icon to the right of the row enables you to view the source code, but this can also be done while the app is running. The multimeter app looks something like this, and you can click on the various buttons to try them out.

You may also click on the Source Code tab in order to view the source

Create and execute a small python script

We can now try to create a simple script of our own. Click on the `New Python Script` button in the top-bar to navigate to a page that will allow you to create and save your own scripts. We shall write a small 3-line code to print some sinusoidal coordinates, save it, and test it. Copy the following code for a sine wave with 30 points, and publish your script.

import numpy as np
x=np.linspace(0,2*np.pi,30)
print (x, np.sin(x))

Create a button widget and associate a callback to the get_voltage function

A small degree of object oriented capabilities have also been added, and the pslab-remote allows you to create button widgets and associate their targets with other widgets and labels.
The multimeter demo script uses this feature, and a single line of code suffices to demonstrate this feature.

button('Voltage on CH1 >',"get_voltage('CH1')","display_number")

You can copy the above line into a new script in order to try it out.

Associate a button’s callback to the capture routines, and set the target as a plot

The callback target for a button can be set to point to a plot. This is useful if the callback involves arrays such as those returned by the capture routines.

Example code to show a sine wave in a plot, and make button which will replace it with captured data from the oscilloscope:

import numpy as np
x=np.linspace(0,2*np.pi,30)
plt = plot(x, np.sin(x))
button('capture 1',"capture1('CH1',100,10)","update-plot",target=plt)
Figure: Demo animation from the plot_test example. Capture1 is connected to the plot shown.
Resources

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Creating an Elementary Oscilloscope in PSLab’s Remote Framework

The last couple of blog posts explained how we could put together the versatility of ember components, the visual appeal of jqplot, the flexibility of Python Flask, and the simplicity of Python itself in order to make simple scripts for PSLab that would could be run on a server by a remote client anywhere on the web. We have also seen how callbacks could be assigned to widgets created in these scripts in order to make object oriented applications. In this blog post, we shall see how to assign a capture method to a button, and update a plot with the received data. It will also demonstrate how to use ember-lodash to perform array manipulations.

Specifying the return data type in the callback success routine

For a more instructive write-up on assigning callbacks, please refer to these posts .

Whenever the callback assigned to a button is a function that returns an array of elements, and the target for the resultant data is a plot, the stacking order of the returned array must be specified in order to change its shape to suit the plotting library. The default return data from a capture routine (oscilloscope) is made up of separate arrays for X coordinate and Y coordinate values. Since JQplot requires [X,Y] pairs , we must specify a stacking order of ‘xy’ so that the application knows that it must convert them to pairs (using lodash/zip)  before passing the result to the plot widget. Similarly, different stacking orders for capture2, and capture4 must also be defined.

Creating an action that performs necessary array manipulations and plots the received data

It can be seen from the excerpt below, that if the onSuccess target for a callback is specified to be a plot in the actionDefinition object, then the stacking order is checked, and the returned data is modified accordingly

Relevant excerpt from controllers/user-home.js/runButtonAction

if (actionDefinition.success.type === 'update-plot') {
  if (actionDefinition.success.stacking === 'xy') {
    $.jqplot(actionDefinition.success.target, [zip(...resultValue)]).replot();
  } else if (actionDefinition.success.stacking === 'xyy') {
    $.jqplot(actionDefinition.success.target, [zip(...[resultValue[0], resultValue[1]]), zip(...[resultValue[0], resultValue[2]])]).replot();
  } else if (actionDefinition.success.stacking === 'xyyyy') {
    $.jqplot(actionDefinition.success.target, [zip(...[resultValue[0], resultValue[1]]), zip(...[resultValue[0], resultValue[2]]), zip(...[resultValue[0], resultValue[3]]), zip(...[resultValue[0], resultValue[4]])]).replot();
  } else {
    $.jqplot(actionDefinition.success.target, resultValue).replot();
  }
}

 

With the above framework in place, we can add a plot with the line plt = plot(x, np.sin(x)) , and associate a button with a capture routine that will update its contents with a single line of code: button(‘capture1’,”capture1(‘CH1’,100,10)”,”update-plot”,target=plt)

Final Result

The following script created on the pslab-remote platform makes three buttons and plots, and sets the buttons to invoke capture1, capture2, and capture4 respectively when clicked.

import numpy as np
x=np.linspace(0,2*np.pi,30)
plt = plot(x, np.sin(x))
button('capture 1',"capture1('CH1',100,10)","update-plot",target=plt)

plt2 = plot(x, np.sin(x))
button('capture 2',"capture2(50,10)","update-plot",target=plt2,stacking='xyy')

plt3 = plot(x, np.sin(x))
button('capture 4',"capture4(50,10)","update-plot",target=plt3,stacking='xyyyy')

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Including a Graph Component in the Remote Access Framework for PSLab

The remote-lab software of the pocket science lab enables users to access their devices remotely via the Internet. It includes an API server designed with Python Flask, and a web-app designed with EmberJS that allows users to access the API and carry out various tasks such as writing and executing Python scripts. In a series of blog posts, various aspects of this framework such as  remote execution of function strings, automatic deployment on various domains, creating and submitting python scripts which will be run on the remote server etc have already been explored.  This blog post deals with the inclusion of a graph component in the webapp that will be invoked when the user utilises the `plot` command in their scripts.

The JQPLOT library is being used for this purpose, and has been found to be quite lightweight and has a vast set of example code .

Task list for enabling the plotting feature
  • Add a plot method to the codeEvaluator module in the API server and allow access to it by adding it to the evalGlobals dictionary
  • Create an EmberJS component for handling plots
    • Create a named div in the template
    • Invoke the Jqplot initializer from the JS file and pass necessary arguments and data to the jqplot instance
  • Add a conditional statement to include the jqplot component whenever a plot subsection is present in the JSON object returned by the API server after executing a script
Adding a plot method to the API server

Thus far, in addition to the functions supported by the sciencelab.py instance of PSLab, users had access to print, print_, and button functions. We shall now add a plot function.

def plot(self,x,y,**kwargs):
self.generatedApp.append({"type":"plot","name":kwargs.get('name','myPlot'),"data":[np.array([x,y]).T.tolist()]})

 

The X,Y datasets provided by the user are stacked in pairs because jqplot requires [x,y] pairs . not separate datasets.

We also need to add this to evalGlobals, so we shall modify the __init__ routine slightly:

self.evalGlobals['plot']=self.plot
Building an Ember component for handling plots

First, well need to install jqplot:   bower install –save jqplot

And this must be followed by including the following files using app.import statements in ember-cli-build.js

  • bower_components/jqplot/jquery.jqplot.min.js
  • bower_components/jqplot/plugins/jqplot.cursor.js
  • bower_components/jqplot/plugins/jqplot.highlighter.js
  • bower_components/jqplot/plugins/jqplot.pointLabels.js
  • bower_components/jqplot/jquery.jqplot.min.css

In addition to the jqplot js and css files, we have also included a couple of plugins we shall use later.

Now we need to set up a new component : ember g component jqplot-graph

Our component will accept an object as an input argument. This object will contain the various configuration options for the plot

Add the following line in templates/components/jqplot-graph.hbs:

style="solid gray 1px;" id="{{data.name}}">

The JS file for this template must invoke the jqplot function in order to insert a complete plot into the previously defined <div> after it has been created. Therefore, the initialization routine must override the didInsertElement routine of the component.

components/jqplot-graph.js

import Ember from 'ember';

export default Ember.Component.extend({
  didInsertElement () {
    Ember.$.jqplot(this.data.name,this.data.data,{
        title: this.title,

        axes: {
          xaxis: {
            tickInterval: 1,
            rendererOptions: {
            minorTicks: 4
            }
          },
        },
        highlighter: {
          show: true, 
          showLabel: true, 

          tooltipAxes: 'xy',
          sizeAdjust: 9.5 , tooltipLocation : 'ne'
        },				  
        legend: {
          show: true,
          location: 'e',
          rendererOptions: {
            numberColumns: 1,
          }
        },
        cursor:{ 
          show: true,
          zoom:true, 
          showTooltip:false
          } 

    });
  }
});

Our component is now ready to be used , and we must make the necessary changes to user-home.hbs in order to include the plot component if the output JSON of a script executed on the server contains it.

The following excerpt from the results modal shows how the plot component can be inserted

{{#each codeResults as |element|}}
	{{#if (eq element.type 'text')}}
		{{element.value}}<br>
	{{/if}}
	{{#if (eq element.type 'plot')}}
		{{jqplot-graph data=element}}
	{{/if}}
{{/each}}            

Most of the other components such as buttons and spans have been removed for clarity. Note that the element object is passed to the jqplot-graph component as an argument so that the component may configure itself accordingly.

In conclusion, the following screencast shows what we have created. A simple plot command creates a fancy plot in the output which includes data point highlighting, and can be easily configured to do a lot more. In the next blog post we shall explore how to use this plot to create a persistent application such as an oscilloscope.

Resources:

 

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Designing A Virtual Laboratory With PSLab

What is a virtual laboratory

A virtual lab interface gives students remote access to equipment in laboratories via the Internet without having to be physically present near the equipment. The idea is that lab experiments can be made accessible to a larger audience which may not have the resources to set up the experiment at their place. Another use-case scenario is that the experiment setup must be placed at a specific location which may not be habitable.

The PSLab’s capabilities can be increased significantly by setting up a framework that allows remote data acquisition and control. It can then be deployed in various test and measurement scenarios such as an interactive environment monitoring station.

What resources will be needed for such a setup

The proposed virtual lab will be platform independent, and should be able to run in web-browsers. This necessitates the presence of a lightweight web-server software running on the hardware to which the PSLab is connected. The web-server must have a framework that must handle multiple connections, and allow control access to only authenticated users.

Proposed design for the backend

The backend framework must be able to handle the following tasks:

  • Communicate with the PSLab hardware attached to the server
  • Host lightweight web-pages with various visual aids
  • Support an authentication framework via a database that contains user credentials
  • Reply with JSON data after executing single commands on the PSLab
  • Execute remotely received python scripts, and relay the HTML formatted output. This should include plots

Proposed design for the frontend

  • Responsive, aesthetic layouts and widget styles.
  • Essential utilities such as Sign-up and Sign-in pages.
  • Embedded plots with basic zooming and panning facilities.
  • Embedded code-editor with syntax highlighting
  • WIdgets to submit the code to the server for execution, and subsequent display of received response.

A selection of tools that can assist with this project, and the purpose they will serve:

Backend

  • The Python communication library for the PSLab
  • FLASK: ‘Flask is a BSD Licensed microframework for Python based on Werkzeug, Jinja 2 and good intentions.’   . It can handle concurrent requests, and will be well suited to serve as our web server
  • MySQL: This is a database management utility that can be used to store user credentials, user scripts, queues etc
  • WerkZeug: The utilities to create and check password hashes are essential for exchanging passwords via the database
  • Json: For relaying measurement results to the client
  • Gunicorn + Nginx: Will be used when more scalable deployment is needed, and the built-in webserver of Flask is unable to handle the load.

Frontend

  • Bootstrap-css: For neatly formatted, responsive UIs
  • Jqplot: A versatile and expandable js based plotting library
  • Ace code editor: A browser based code editor with syntax highlighting, automatic indentation and other user-friendly features. Written in JS
  • Display documentation:  These can be generated server side from Markdown files using Jekyll. Several documentation files are already available from the pslab-desktop-apps, and can be reused after replacing the screenshot images only.

Flow Diagram

Recommended Reading

[1]: Tutorial series  for creating a web-app using python-flask and mysql. This tutorial will be extensively followed for creating the virtual-lab setup.

[2]: Introduction to the Virtual Labs initiative by the Govt of India

[3]: Virtual labs at IIT Kanpur

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