Receiving BT Mailboxes from EV3 by an AI2 App

Recently, on the MINDSTORMS Facebook group, the question was posed about is it possible to receive Bluetooth mailbox messages in an AI2 app from an EV3. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I’d written AI2 code to send BT messages to an EV3, but hadn’t focused on receiving messages. This was the spur to actually get this code written.

It wasn’t too tricky. Receiving the message was simple, but parsing it was the harder part. The format of a message from the EV3, as covered in my update to BT messaging is:

MLenL, MLenH, 0x01, 0x00, 0x81, 0x9E, NLen, NameBytes, 0x00, TLenL, TLenH, TextBytes, 0x00

This is received as a string of bytes, so has to be parsed as a list. Add in that there doesn’t appear to be a chr(x) type function in AI2 to convert from a number to its equivalent ASCII character, I have to do some array/list lookups. Thankfully I had that code in place for sending to the EV3.

Code

I’ve got the code to a position that it can hopefully be used for other purposes. I’m releasing what I’ve done so far as a baseline for others to work from. To make the code, linked below, work do the following:

  1. Run the EV3 code first.
  2. Start the AI2 app.
  3. Long-press the BT button. This will bring up a settings box.
  4. Enter the App device’s Bluetooth name in the settings. This will be stored, and sent to the EV3. This is so that the EV3 knows where to send its messages to. This must be the same name as shown in the BT connections list on the EV3.
  5. Press “Connect EV3”. This will give the list of BT devices known the the Android device. Choose the correct EV3.
  6. Once the App is connected to the EV3, the EV3 will say “detected”.
  7. Pressing the top, middle, or bottom buttons on the EV3 will send a BT message to the App.
  8. The App will then display the message name in the top text box, and the message text contents in the bottom box.

The code only handles text message. I have no plans to develop code to handle numbers or booleans. The EV3 code will coerce those data types to strings if sent as a text message. AI2 will coerce strings to numbers if they look correct, so if the EV3 needs to send a number, simply send it as a string, and the AI2 App will still do the Right Thing™.

Images and Code

AI2 Code Image

The AI2 code and Ev3 code may be obtained from:

The code is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

EV3 Text Plotting

Okay, so I’ve been rather quiet on the blogging front for a few weeks – that’s because I’ve been working on getting my Plott3r to write out text:

ASCII Text

Here’s a video of it taken a little while ago (prior to some of the improvements I’ve made):

This has been rather a journey of discovery. I’ve blogged previously about getting a bluetooth message to the EV3 and how I needed to work out a font.

Font

The font itself didn’t prove to be that tricky to work out; it’s mainly been planned out on 5mm graph paper and simply converted into coordinates. I’ve tried to have it write the letters as a Left->Right writer would, so starting on the left side of each character and probably ending on the right. This way moving the the next letter doesn’t involve a lot of travelling.

Backlash Correction

One thing my Plott3r has, is an effort to manage backlash. Since the paper and pen change direction regularly I have a system that pre-moves the paper/pen a little prior to any change in direction. One thing I hadn’t realised before is that if I want to move a really small amount I could overshoot where I wanted to be just in my backlash correction. This would cause some oscillation around the correct location in some cases. For example, look at the centre of the spiral below:

Backlash over-compensation

The centre of the spiral is crooked due to the pen “seeking” around the correct location. My solution to this was to measure where I was before the backlash correction, and after. If I had overshot, then I did not move that particular axis. The results of this improvement on the spiral are below:

Overshoot corrected backlash

Android App

I wanted to be able to send a message from a spare Android phone to the EV3. Here’s where App Inventor 2 came in. I had to learn how it worked, along with learning its Scratch-like language, and implementing some fundamental routines, such as storing an IEE754 float. The current instance of the application looks like:

EV3 Messenger

The user can simply choose between 3 text sizes, and then write their message and press “Print”. The BT button is used to set up the Bluetooth connection and the name of the sending device; this is needed so that the EV3 can acknowledge message it receives. I found that if I didn’t ACK the messages there was a race condition whereby I’d get duplicate values with the second “overwriting” what the first should have been. The core code of the messaging app is below:

AI2 Core Code

At the start of the block you can see it send its name, and towards the end of the block it waiting for a bluetooth message. It doesn’t care about the contents of the message, simply that it got one. The EV3G side of the code is as below:

EV3G Messenger

What’s not shown is the plotting code as that’s quite complex. It keeps a tally of the location of the last plotted character and works out if the next one will fit; performing <cr><nl> if needed. The font is variable width, and has a small amount of “kerning”, so that letters such as ‘j’ and ‘q’ can overlap the inter-character space.

Letter Sizes

I originally was only going to have one letter size, but this would allow for only around 11 characters per line, which isn’t a lot. Shrinking the letters will result in more artefacts, which I’ll come on to later, but I think it has a certain “hand writing” charm:

Three letter sizes

Artefacts

There are a few artefacts that I’ve tried and tried to remove. I now think I’m simply fighting with the simple fact that it’s made from LEGO bricks and I can only realistically get a certain level of accuracy in the way I’ve built it. The main artefact left is as below:

Artefacts on 0, G, Q et al

If you look at the top and bottom of the 0 (zero), G and Q, there are small overshoots on one side of the diagonal. I think this is down to using Tank Move and the Y axis motor overshooting the target before moving back a little – a result of the internal PID controller.

Signing Off

I’ll be showing this off again at Bricktastic this year, hence all this work. I’m pleased that, due to my desire to plot text, that the backlash control is better. I figured that I’d have the Plott3r do one more thing. It now “signs” its plots with the URL to this blog 🙂

Signing off

I now need to put this to bed for a bit whilst I check that all the other models still work. Then I need to get back on with my Loom – I need to do a little bit of programming for that ready for it to be shown off too.

My First BT Message !

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 22.07.58

The code above may not look much, but I’m very pleased with it 🙂 I’ve been working with MIT’s App Inventor 2 in an effort to build an app that can send text (in some form) to the EV3 for further processing – that code has managed it!

I’d extended the EV3  tilt-to-drive tutorial from the AI2 site to add in an extra button, that when pressed runs that code. It’s fixed at the moment but it encapsulates (little endian) 0x0018, 0x0001, 0x81, 0x9e, 0x5, beep\0, 0x0006, Beep!\0. All this info has been derived from the LEGO® Communications Developer Kit docs.

To test this I had a simple program, as below, running on the brick:

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 22.16.40

Press the button on the app, and the EV3 beeps – superb!

It also shows an interesting behaviour which I may well exploit in an upcoming model – I had one program running on the EV3, solely to beep, but was still able to drive the bot from my phone. Being able to externally control an EV3 whilst it is running its own program has a lot of merit.