Posts tagged with "hardware"
I attended the San Francisco Bay area recently to help welcome makers from around the globe to Maker Faire 2017.
This stalwort of all things maker is an inevitable blast. If you’ve ever been victim of maker’s block, this event will unstick you, and if you’ve ever been tempted to think that you were the most creative person on earth, this event will offer appropriate humility.
Here are the top 5 things I came across that I can’t wait to research, order, make, and talk about…
I know it seems like cheating to pick the Microsoft booth for this list since I work there, but hey, it’s my blog. And I think I would have picked it anyway, because the impact of the booth was awesome. The folks at Maker Faire seemed to agree too and showed it with two ribbons.
One of the showcased products at the booth was Microsoft Make Code.
Make Code is a new in-browser IDE from Microsoft that makes IoT development with a select few partner hardware boards about as simple as you can imagine. If you own a supported board (which we were giving away all weekend), check out these getting started steps…
- browse to makecode.com
- plug the device in to your USB port
We had everyone from 5 to 95 walking through a tutorial to write their first IoT app, and it was brilliant to see so many lights turn on - on the boards and in the minds of the new IoT hackers that were being made.
While I’m on the subject of awesome Microsoft displays, you can’t beat the Intelligent Kiosk app for Windows 10 that does a phenomenal job of showing of Microsoft Cognitive Services. This app take a picture every few seconds and runs it through Microsoft’s Cognitive Services API. It does things like associate your face with a dog breed, guess your age and gender, or try to determine your emotion. The results are comical.
You can download the app yourself too. There was hardly a single moment the entire 3-day weekend that there wasn’t a full crowd around each of two Intelligent Kiosk displays making silly faces and laughing out loud.
Maslow (maslowcnc.com) is essentially an inexpensive and entirely open project for building a drawbot with a router. You’ve seen the drawbots before I’m guessing where two motors suspend a pen-wielding carriage on a steeply angled drawing surface. Drawings from the computer are translated into data that drives the motors and extends or retracts the pen to end up drawing a picture.
The Maslow is like that except that instead of a pen, it’s a router spinning at tens of thousands of RPM with a razor-sharp bit at the end. Yeah! Additionally, the plunge of the router is controlled, so you can program the depth of cut.
Check this out…
The net result is the ability to extract whatever 2D shapes you want from a large piece of plywood.
The interesting things about Maslow from my POV are…
- It’s cheap. You can get kits for under $500 to put the entire thing together
- It’s compact. Since it’s upright, you can fit it in a tight space.
- It’s open. You can extend or adapt the project to your needs.
Similar to the Maslow CNC router I already mentioned, the Goliath CNC project cuts things out for you, except instead of suspending a carriage it has you leave your workpiece flat and drives around it on a robot.
It’s like this…
Sometime ago I looked into the Shaper Origin and got excited about the ability to cut things out of stock of whatever size. Traditional CNC routers constrain you to a fixed size for your work piece. The impressive thing about both the Maslow and the Goliath as compared to the Origin is that not only do you get the infinite working area, but you don’t have to directly attend the cut. I wouldn’t leave the room, mind you, but the operator’s role is reduced from router-weilder to router-sitter, and that’s a bit of a relief.
I don’t know which - if any - of these machines will rise to earn the title of most useful in the long run, but they are all super good ideas and I’m excited to see evolve.
I’m big on 3D design, but I’ve yet to purchase my own 3D printer. This is partly due to the fact that I have access to some in nearby maker spaces.
If I were to purchase a printer today, though, I think I’d get one from Monoprice. Their MP Select Mini 3D Printer V2 is only $219, and their new Mini Delta 3D is available (for only 5 more days!) on Indiegogo for only $169!
You can count on problems with a printer at these price points, but then, you can pretty much count on problems with 3D printers at most price points. It’s hard to make a system reliable when there are so many variables.
The Monoprice’s printers are quite popular would seem to indicate ready availability of replacement parts to either buy or print.
Monoprice represented at the faire this year and showed off both their classic Mini as well as the new delta, and it’s great to see both in action.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that have huge impact - like PLY90.
PLY90 is an aluminum bracket that holds plywood together at a 90 degree angle. Simple. But the projects you can make from something like this are endless. Here are a few I liked…
See more designs that take advantage of the PLY90 bracket at plyproducts.com/collections/projects.
Bruce Gee of Waterworks was fascinating to listen to as evidenced by the constant crowd of folks standing around asking questions and busily writing down what he shared about his hydroponics experience. Bruce has a way of making hydroponics sound easy.
Bruce used simple and inexpensive lumber and PVC pipe to create an A-shaped structure for running water over the roots of plants, and that was pretty much the end of the story. Most hydroponics systems I’ve seen incorporate lighting and control systems that certainly add to crop growth, but also to overall complexity and threaten to to intimidate your average home farmer.
If you have never been to a Maker Faire, I beg you go to makerfaire.com and find one near you. We are all creators. You are too.
So what’s your next creation?!
There are two types of gateways in the IoT (Internet of Things) world.
The first is a field gateway. It’s called such because it resides in the “field” - that is it’s on location and not in the cloud. It’s in the factory or on the robot for instance. Microsoft has an open source codebase for field gateways called the Azure IoT Gateway SDK you can start with.
The second is a cloud gateway, and obviously that one is in the cloud. Microsoft has a codebase for one common cloud gateway function - protocol adaptation available at Azure IoT Protocol Gateway.
Both of these entities exist as a point of communication through which you direct your IoT traffic messages for various reasons.
You’ll also hear the term edge to refer to devices and gateways in the field. The edge is the part of an IoT solution that’s touching the actual things. In the internet of cows, it’s the device hanging on the cow’s collar. In an airliner, it’s all the stuff on the plane itself (which I realize is a confusing scenario since technically those devices may also be in a cloud).
Some possible reasons gateways exist are…
you need to filter the data. It may be that qualifying data deserves the trip to the cloud, but the rest just needs to be archived to local mass storage or even completely ignored.
you need to aggregate the data. Your messages may be too granular, and what you really want to send to the cloud is a moving average, a batch of each 1000 messages, a batch of messages every hour, or something else.
you need to react to your data quickly. It doesn’t usually take that long to get to the cloud and back, but then again “long” is relative. If you’re trying to apply the brakes in a vehicle every millisecond counts.
you need to control costs. You can use filtering or aggregation to massage your messages before going to the cloud to reduce your costs, but there may be some other business logic you van apply to the same end.
you have some cross cutting concerns such as message logging, authorization, or security that a gateway can facilitate or enforce.
you need some additional capabilities. Devices that are not IP capable and able to encrypt messages are dependent on a field gateway to get any messages to the cloud. Devices that are able to speak securely to the cloud but are not for some reason capable to using one of the standard IoT protocols (HTTP, AMQP, or MQTT) require either a field gateway or a cloud gateway (such as Azure IoT Protocol Gateway).
What kind of hardware might you end up using for a gateway? Well, the possibilities are very broad. It could be anything from a Raspberry Pi to a very expensive, dedicated gateway system.
Also, Azure maintains a big catalog of certified hardware including gateways that might be the most helpful resource.
There’s certainly a lot more about gateways to know, but I’ll leave this here now in case it helps you out.
I’ve been hacking on the Raspberry Pi of late and wanted to share out some of the more interesting learnings.
I think people that love technology love understanding how things work. When I was a kid I took apart the family phone because I was compelled to see what was inside that made it tick. My brother didn’t care. If it made phone calls, he was fine with it. I had to understand.
Likewise, I knew that I could use a Node library and change the GPIO pin levels on my Raspberry Pi, but I wanted to understand how that worked.
In case you’re not familiar, GPIO stands for General Purpose Input/Output and is the feature of modern IoT boards that allows us to controls things like lights and read data from sensors. It’s a bank of pins that you can raise high (usually to something like 3.3V) or low (0V) to cause some electronic behavior to occur.
On an Intel Edison (another awesome IoT board), the platform developers decided to provide a C library with mappings to Node and Python. On the default Edison image, they provided a global node module that a developer could include in his project to access pins. The module, by the way, is called libmraa.
On a Raspberry Pi, it works differently. Instead of a code library, a Pi running Raspbian uses the Linux file system.
When you’re sitting at the terminal of your pi (either hooked up to a monitor and keyboard or ssh’ed in), try…
You’ll be taken to the base of the file system that they chose to give us for accessing GPIO.
The first thing to note is that this area is restricted to the root user. Bummer? Not quite. There’s a way around it.
The system has a function called exporting and unexporting. Yes, I know that unexport is not a real word, but alas I’m not the one that made this stuff up, and besides, who said Linux commands had to make sense?
To access a pin, you have to first export that pin. To later disallow access to that pin, you unexport it.
I had a hard time finding good documentation on this, but then I stumbled upon this znix.com page that describes it quite well. By the way, this page references “the kernel documentation,” but when I hit that link here’s what I get…
Now keep in mind that to follow these instructions you have to be root. You cannot simply sudo these commands. There is an alternative called gpio-admin that I’ll talk about in a second. If you want to just become root to do it this way, you do…
If you get an error when you do that, you may need to first set a password for root using
To export then, you do this…
And the pin number is the pin name - not the header number. So pin GPIO4 is on pin 7 on an RP2, and to export this you use the number 4.
When you do that, a virtual directory is created inside of
gpio4, and that directory contains virtual files such as
active_low. These files don’t act like normal files, by the way. When you change the text inside one of these files, it actually does something - like perhaps the voltage level on a GPIO pin changes. Likewise, if a hardware sensor causes the voltage level on a pin to change, the content of one of these virtual files is going to change. So this becomes the means by which we communicate in both directions with our GPIO pins.
The easiest way, then, to read the value of the
/sys/class/gpio/gpio4/value file is…
To write to the same file, you have to first make sure that it’s an
out pin. That is, you have to make sure the pin is configured as an output pin. To do that, you change the virtual
directionfile. Like this…
That’s a fancy (and quick) way to edit the contents of the file to have a new value of “out”. You could just use
nanoto edit the file, but using
echo and the direction operator (
>) is quicker.
Once you have configured your pin as an output, you can change the value using…
Now that I’ve described the setting of the direction and the value, you should know that there’s a shortcut for doing both of those in one motion…
There’s more you can do including edge control and logic inversion, but I’m going to keep this post simple and let you read about that on the znix.com page.
Now, although it’s fun and satisfying to understand how this is implemented, and it might be fun to manipulate the pins using this method, you’ll most likely want to use a language library to control your pins in your app. Just know that the Python and Node libraries that change value are actually just wrappers around these file system calls.
When you call the
write() method in this library, it’s just calling the file system.
So there you have it. I hope you feel a little smarter.
Getting a Raspberry Pi online is really easy if you have an HDMI monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
Subsequently getting an SSH connection to your pi is easy if you have a home router with internet access that you’re both (your PC and your pi) connected to.
But let’s say you’re on an airplane and you pull your Raspberry Pi out of its box and you want to get set up. We call that provisioning. How would you do that?
I’ll propose my method.
First, you need to plug your pi into your PC using an ethernet cable. If you’re a technologist of old like I am, you may be rummaging through your stash for a crossover cable at this point. It turns out that’s not necessary though. I was pretty interested to discover that modern networking hardware has auto-detection that is able to determine that you have a network adapter plugged directly into another network adapter and crosses it over for you. This means I only have to carry one ethernet cable in my go bag. Nice.
If you put a new OS image on your pi and boot it up, it already detects and supports the ethernet NIC, so it should get connected and get an IP automatically.
Here comes the seemingly difficult part. How do you determine what the IP address of your pi is if you don’t have a screen?
The great thing is that the pi will tell you if you know how to listen.
The means by which you listen is called mDNS. mDNS (Multicast DNS) resolves host names to IP addresses within small networks that do not have a local name server. You may also hear mDNS called zero configuration and Apple implemented it and felt compelled (as they tend to) to rename it - they call it Bonjour.
This service is included by default on the Raspberry Pi’s base build of Raspbian, and what it means is that out of the box, the pi is broadcasting its IP address.
To access it, however, you also need mDNS installed on your system. The easiest way I am aware of to do this is to download and install Apple’s Bonjour Print Services for Windows. I’m not certain, but I believe if you have a Mac this service is already there.
Once you have mDNS capability, you simply…
The name raspberrypi is there because that’s the default hostname of a Raspberry Pi. I like to change the hostname of my devices so I can distinguish one from another, but out of the box, your pi will be called raspberrypi. The
.local is there because that’s the way mDNS works. And finally, the -4 is an argument that specifically requests the IPv4 address.
If everything works as expected you’ll see something like…
Again, my pi has been renamed to
cfpi1, but yours should be called
raspberrypi if it’s new.
My system uses 192.168.1.X addresses for my wireless adapter and 169.254.X.X for my ethernet adapter.
So that’s the information I needed. I can now SSH to the device using…
I could just use
ssh firstname.lastname@example.org to remote to it, but I’ve found that continuing to force this local name resolution comes with a little time cost, so it’s sometimes significantly faster to hit the IP address directly. I only use the mDNS to discover the IP and then I use the IP after that.
Provisioning a Raspberry Pi usually includes a number of system configuration steps too. You need to connect it to wireless, set the locale and keyboard language, and maybe turn on services like the camera. If you’re used to doing this through the Raspbian Configuration in XWindows, fear not. You can also do this from the command line using…
Most everything you need is in there.
You may also be wanting to tell your pi about your wifi router so it’s able to connect to via wireless the next time you boot up. For that, check out my post at codefoster.com/pi-wifi. Actually, if you’re playing a lot with the Raspberry Pi, you might want to visit codefoster.com/pi and see all of the posts I’ve written on the device.
I hate hooking a monitor up to my Raspberry Pi. It feels wrong. It feels like I should be able to do everything from the command line, and the fact is I can.
If you’re pulling your Raspberry Pi out of the box and are interested in bootstrapping without a monitor, check out my other post on Easy and Offline Connection to your Raspberry Pi.
Afterward, you may want to set up your wifi access - that is, you want to tell your pi about the wireless access points at your home, your coffee shop, or whatever.
Doing that from the command line is pretty easy, so this will be short.
You’re going to be using a utility on Raspbian called
wpa_cli. This handles wireless configuration and writes its configuration into
/etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf. You could even just edit that file directly, but now we’re talking crazy talk. Actually, I do that sometimes, but whatever.
…to see what the current status is. If you get
Failed to connect to non-global ctrl_ifname: (null) error: No such file or directory, that’s just a ridiculously cryptic error message that means you don’t have a wifi dongle. Why they couldn’t just say “you don’t have a wifi dongle” I don’t know, but whatever.
If you do have a wifi dongle, you’ll instead see something like…
Yay! You have a wireless adapter, which means you likely have a wifi dongle plugged into a USB port. It says here that the current state is
INACTIVE. That’s because you’re not connected to any access points.
To do so, you need to run scan, but at this point, you may want to enter the wpa_cli interactive mode. That means that you don’t have to keep prefixing your commands with wpa_cli, but can instead just type the commands. To enter interactive mode, just do…
To get out at any time just type
Now do a scan using…
It’s funny, because it appears that nothing happened, but it did. Use…
…to see what it found.
This scanning step is not necessary, by the way, there’s a good chance you already know the name (SSID) of your access point, and in that case you don’t need to do this.
Next you create a new network using…
You’ll get an integer in return. If it’s your first network, you’ll get a 0. That’s the ID of the new network you just created, and you’ll use it on these subsequent commands.
To configure your network do this…
Something I read online said that as soon as you enter this, it would start connecting, but I had to also do this to get it to connect…
Now there’s one more thing. If you’re like me, you don’t just connect to a single AP. I connect from home, my mifi, my local coffee shop, from work, etc. I want my pi to be able to connect from any and all of those networks.
Adding more networks is as easy as following the instructions above multiple times, but you want to set one more network property - the priority. The priority property takes an integer value and higher numbers are higher priority. That means that if I have network1 (priority 1) and network2 (priority 2), and when my pi boots it sees both of those networks, it’s going to choose to connect to network2 first because it has the higher priority.
Okay, that does it.
If you want to see everything I’ve written about the Raspberry Pi, check out codefoster.com/pi
I beat my head against a wall for a long time wondering why I wasn’t able to do basic GPIO on a Raspberry Pi using Node. Even after a fresh image and install, I was getting cryptic node error messages when I ran my basic blinky app.
Lucky for me (and perhaps you) I got to the bottom of it and am going to document it here for posterity. Let’s go.
The head beating happened at a hackathon I recently attended with some colleagues.
The task was simple - turn on an LED. It’s so simple that it’s become the “hello world” app of the IoT world. There’s zero reason in the world why this task should take more than 10 minutes. And yet I was stumped.
After a fresh image of Raspbian, an install of NVM, and then a subsequent installation of Node.js 6.2.2, I wrote a blink app using a variety of modules. I used
onoff, and finally
johnny-five and the
None of these strategies were successful. Ugh. Node worked fine, but any of the libraries that accessed the GPIO were failing.
I was getting an obscure error about an
undefined symbol: node_module_register. No amount of searching was bringing me any help until I found this GitHub issue where nodesocket (thanks, nodesocket!) mentioned that he had the same issue and it was caused by an NVM install of Node and an accidental, residual version of node still living in /usr/local/bin. In fact, that was exactly what was happening for me. It was a subtle issue. Running node -v returned my v6.2.2. Running which node returned my NVM version. But somewhere in the build process of the GPIO modules, the old version (v0.10) of node from the /usr/local/bin folder was being used.
There are two resolutions to this problem. You can kill the old version of node by deleting the linked file using
sudo rm /usr/local/bin/node and then create a new one pointing to your NVM node. I decided, however, to deactive NVM…
…and then follow these instructions (from here) to install a single version node…
I like using NVM on my dev machine, but it’s logical and simpler to use a single, static version of Node on the pi itself.
EDIT (2016-12-14): Since writing this, I discovered the awesomeness of nvs. Check it out for yourself.
And that did it. I had blinky working in under 3 minutes and considering I get quite obsessive about unresolved issues like this, I had a massive weight lifted.
BTW, through this process I also learned about how the GPIO works at the lowest level on the pi, and I blogged about that at codefoster.com/pi-basicgpio.
I’ve been doing a lot of hacking on the Raspberry Pi, and I’ve written a few articles on the topic. I’ve assembled all of my posts here for easy access.
- Accidental Old Version of Node on the Raspberry Pi - I beat my head against a wall for a long time wondering why I wasn’t able to do basic GPIO on a Raspberry Pi using Node. Even after a fresh image and install, I was getting cryptic node error messages when I ran my basic blinky app.Lucky for me (and perhaps you) I got to the bottom of it and am going to document it here for posterity.
- The Most Basic Way to Access GPIO on a Raspberry Pi - I’m always looking for the lowest level understanding, because I hate not knowing how things work. On a Raspberry Pi, I’m able to write a Node app that changes GPIO, but how does that work? Turns out it’s pretty interesting. I’ll show you.
- Easy and Offline Connection to your Raspberry Pi - Getting a Raspberry Pi online is really easy if you have an HDMI monitor, keyboard, and mouse, but what about if you want to get connected to your Pi while you’re, say, flying on a plane?
- Wifi on the Command Line on a Raspberry Pi - How to configure wireless connections on your Raspberry Pi from the command line.
My wife and I have acquired a coach RV, parked it on our property, remodeled the interior, and done most of the work of listing it on Airbnb.
I was looking to allow guests that stay in the space to use wireless internet for free, but I am not interested in giving them credentials to just jump onto my network.
The solution, I knew, was a bridge - essentially a device with two wireless NICs and the ability to communicate between them for you. I hadn’t hooked up a bridge before, and I expected it was going to be hard. I expect most things to be hard and am seldom disappointed. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I do expect most things to be hard, but I’m still quite often disappointed.
I talked with my colleague @KennySpade about it and I liked his answer - “I think this little device I have in my hand will do the trick. I’ll send it to you. It was only $12.”
The device Kenny was referring to is a TP-LINK WR702N Nano Router.
I was wrong in believing that a device like this would contain a single wireless NIC and would thus be capable of speaking to a single wireless device. In fact, when configured for “bridge mode” the device is able to be configured such that it communicates with my home network, but then itself broadcasts a second network with a new SSID and credentials.
The three primary reasons I wanted to go this route (rim shot) are…
- It feels right for the RV to have its own wireless network. I can’t explain it. It just feels right.
- It provides the security of keeping guests on a separate physical network.
- It allows me at some point in the future to travel around with this rig all the time allowing all of its occupants to a) communicate with each other on a network and b) get internet access when we stop somewhere when I simply tell the TP-LINK what the SSID is. We stop at a coffee shop, I point the TP-LINK to the coffee shop’s wifi, and voila all of the inhabitants of the RV instantly have internet access.
I’m quite tickled with this solution.
I’m going to keep much of my latest project under wraps for now, but I need your help designing one piece of it.
I’m looking to create a device that is small and light and will dispense one piece of candy at a time programmatically.
Here are the requirements…
- Light - no more than 1oz
- One at a time - it needs to dispense a piece of candy one at a time. If I have to constrain it to hold only round candy of a set size, then so be it, but ideally it would hold candy of varying size and shape. Ideally it will hold Runts bananas.
- It has to operate on a 3.7V power supply
- It has to be an electro-mechanical assembly that I can control with an IoT device (an easy req to fulfill I think)
- It should hold some reasonable number of candy pieces - say at least 10.
So far I’ve thought of the following…
- An Archimedes screw that “pumps” candy up from the bottom of a hopper (like this)
- A wheel that sits horizontal and on each incremental rotation lets one candy piece at a time fall into a hole in the top and lets another fall out a hole at the bottom
- A screw that sits on a horizontal axis that is loaded with candy pieces (one per screw rotation… not in a hopper) and pushes one piece out at a time when rotated 360 degrees. A bit like snack vending machines.
If you can come up with any other brilliant ideas, I’d be glad to hear them.
Thanks in advance.
…is just slick. That’s all. There’s no interop’ing, no dll loading, no service calls. WinRT just delivers it to my front door and doesn’t even make me sign.
Recently, I went looking for how to enumerate the devices currently recognized by the system and found it to be quite nice and thought I’d share.
With a ListView and a WinJS.Binding.List in place and with the two hooked together, we’re ready to just fetch our device information and push it into the List. I’ll just lay out all the JS code at once and then explain. Perhaps it will be self-explanatory.
If you follow me much, you likely know that my code tends to be rather dense. I like using the horizontal space that God (and Visual Studio) gave me instead of wearing out my enter key and your scroll wheel. So there are a few things going on in this relatively short snippet.
First, I’m calling into Windows.Devices.Enumeration.DeviceInformation and calling findAllAsync(). That will asynchronously return all of the devices found on the system.
.done() is how we proceed with the results of an asynchronous call in case you haven’t seen that before, and we have a chance to capture the async payload (in this case a bunch of devices) by specifying a devices paramter.
Next, I’m calling a few array functions.
The filter function takes a lambda function and in this case I’m only concerned with devices that have a name and are enabled.
The distinct function is my own. If you want the code for that one, leave me a comment. It reduces the array to only those with unique entries, and it gives you an opportunity to specify what you mean by “unique$rdquo;. In this case, I’m saying that two devices are distinct if their name values are distinct.
Then I do a fancy forEach on the array. Notice how all of these array functions themselves return arrays making it convenient to chain functions together. The forEach function simply calls the provided function on each of the items in the list. No more (or far fewer at least) awkward for iterations. Yay!
In this forEach function, I’m doing another async call - this time to retrieve the Windows 8-style, super fancy glyph graphic to represent the device (hint: you can also call getThumbnailAsync() to get a boring, old-style, full color, supposedly realistic icon for each device.
When the call returns, I create an anonymous object shaped like the data that my template is expecting and push it into my WinJS.Binding.List. Just like that.
A little bit of CSS work later we have something that looks like this…
If you have any questions, just leave a comment and I’ll approve and respond as soon as I can.
Happy device enumerating!