Abstract the Sensor Pro Board (the “SensorPro”) is an electronic circuit board that allows nxt users to efficiently and easily use sensors that are not offered by Lego with their ftc robot. It consists of a HiTechnic SuperPro Prototype Board


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NameAbstract the Sensor Pro Board (the “SensorPro”) is an electronic circuit board that allows nxt users to efficiently and easily use sensors that are not offered by Lego with their ftc robot. It consists of a HiTechnic SuperPro Prototype Board
A typeAbstract



The SensorPro

An Electronics Educational Project for FTC

Written February 2015





By:

Michael Huang, Westlake High School, Austin, TX




Sponsors:

Westlake High School Robotics

Advanced Circuits

ChapResearch

ABSTRACT


The Sensor Pro Board (the “SensorPro”) is an electronic circuit board that allows NXT users to efficiently and easily use sensors that are not offered by Lego with their FTC robot. It consists of a HiTechnic SuperPro Prototype Board1, an Arduino Nano, a built-in gyro sensor, and pins that allow for additional sensor attachment.

Before the SensorPro, FTC teams had to either use existing sensors or use the HiTechnic board to create interfaces for new or custom sensors. While many teams used the HiTechnic board, one of its major drawbacks was the lack of I2C interface to modern sensors. The goal of this project was to allow I2C-based sensors to be used easily while allowing non-I2C sensors to still be used with the HiTechnic board.

This document provides a description of the SensorPro circuit, and the considerations during its development. It also provides an overview of the software developed for the SensorPro and the reasoning behind it. Links to component sources and board software is provided at the end.

The HiTechnic board is functional and was attached to the 9048 PhiloBot’s robot. The robot gets all of its angle measurements from the Sensor Pro gyro sensor, and uses some additional sonar sensors to detect distance, and for this year’s game, the center goal position.

INTRODUCTION


FTC rules only allow Lego certified sensors to be connected directly to NXT brick. However, there are great advantages to use other kinds of sensors and devices:

  • It is better to use smart sensors like InvenSense MPU6050, which are often more powerful yet less expensive than a Lego Certified sensors like the HT Gyroscope.

  • The NXT only has four ports for motor controllers, servo controllers, and sensors, which usually leaves two ports at the most for sensors, or a max of two sensors (each Lego sensor requires one port). There are times when it is useful to have more than two sensors from which to collect data.

  • The HiTechnic sensor multiplexer can expand from one port to four ports, but only uses Lego sensors, and costs about $50.

  • Many teams have used the HiTechnic SuperPro Prototyping board to attach analog sensors, simple digital sensors, LEDs, and other components and sensors. The HiTechnic board connects directly to a Lego NXT sensor port, providing access to numerous sensors through one NXT port. However, the HiTechnic board only provides rudimentary interface capabilities to sensors. There are no advanced communication ports such as I2C exposed, so smart sensors or devices, or even Lego certified sensors that use I2C ports, are not directly and easily supported.

This project endeavored to create a custom printed circuit board (PCB) that integrates the HiTechnic board a control processor to provide an easy-to-use I2C interface for advanced sensors. The board also integrates a gyro sensor as an example of an advanced sensor.

Major Components


The SensorPro PCB integrates the following major off-the-shelf components to provide its functionality.



The SuperPro has a port to connect directly to the NXT through an NXT cable. In order to use modern sensors, FTC rules require that a team uses the HiTechnic SuperPro board as an interface between external sensors and the NXT. The SuperPro is also programmable, however FTC rules do not allow teams to use this function, explaining the decision to use the Arduino for data processing.

Arduino Nano

The SensorPro requires control processing to implement the I2C signals for the attached sensor, translating those signals to digital input for the HiTechnic board. The Arduino platform was chosen for this function because, it has a strong programming IDE, it consumes very little power, and it has been used in the past by others with the GY512. The “Nano” form-factor was chosen to be easily integrated into the PCB.






The GY521 breakout board contains the MPU6050 gyro sensor that can detect angles in pitch, roll, and yaw (three dimensions), as well as acceleration. The GY512 was chosen because, unlike the Lego gyro sensor, the MPU is constantly calibrating using its accelerometer, reducing angle drift significantly.


HC-SR04(Sonar Sensor)- When the trigger pin is set to high for more than 10us, an initial sonar pulse is emitted. After the pulse bounces of the closest object and returns to the sonar sensor, the echo pin is set high for a time equal to the total travel time of the pulse. The hc-sr04 was chosen because it has a much more accurate and larger range than the HT sonar sensor.





I2C

RD

Data

8

Gyro Sensorhttp://tap.dj/wp-content/themes/tapdj/images/list-icons/gyro-icon.png
nxt


HiTechnic board

Arduino Nano
Design


Figure – Architectural Diagram

4

Error

Sonar Sensorhttps://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/467558077890191360/zlqkvzl1_normal.jpeg
When the NXT requests data from the sensors from the HiTechnic Board, an automatically triggered strobe pin on the board sends a request to the interrupt pin on the Arduino. The Arduino then returns the sensor data.in an interrupt handler. Each sensor continuously sends its data in a way that is unique to the sensor the gyro sends interrupts, Arduino controls the sonar in the process shown above. Each communication session between the Arduino, the HiTechnic board, and the NXT transfers a number of sensor data bytes and a parity byte at the end. The parity byte is the exclusive or of all data bytes; an error during data transfer is detected when the parity byte calculated on the NXT does not match the parity byte received from the Arduino. If the Error condition is met, another strobe signal is sent to the Arduino to reset communications. Since the NXT can only read on byte at a time from the HiTechnic Board, the speed of the data transfer is limited to 2ms per byte. Finally, the HiTechnic Board received 9v from an external 9 volt battery, while Arduino and assorted sensors operated on 5 volts.

Printed Circuit Board



Figure – PCB schematic

.


Figure - PCB Layout
The PCB design is very simple due to the fact that we used modules. We created vias for pins of the Arduino Nano (in the middle), HiTechnic Board (on the left) and GY-521 (at the lower right). Also, 4 analog pins (ADC0-3) and IC2 pins (SCL, SDA) are exposed as headers (upper right corner) so that we can plug in other analog sensors or IC2 sensors as needed (in 9048’s case, an extra set of sonar sensors).


Figure - PCB Layout
To simplify the layout, we arranged the HiTechnic board and Arduino Nano in such a way that most of the connection lines are parallel without crossing each other. In this way, we kept most of the connections on the top layer. Only a few lines (VCC, A0, and AD0) are on the bottom layer. This was not optimized for space, which we may need to do for production. One of our mentors aided in the manufacture of one prototype version shown in the picture above at home by an etching method. We tested and verified that it worked well, then looked for professional manufacturing. We contacted Advanced Circuits, a PCB manufacturing company. They sponsor us, and manufactured our board at no cost.



Figure 4- Finished Board


Software Overview


Figure 5 - Software Architecture

Overview

As shown in Figure 5, our software can be characterized by its layered design. Each box in the diagram represents separate building blocks in the overall structure. Each block has defined interfaces for modules above its layer. At the highest level, RobotC modules on the NXT communicate through the hardware and firmware to the Arduino sketch on the Arduino Nano. We didn’t re-program the HiTechnic board, preferring to use it with its default configuration.

NXT Software - Drivers


All NXT software was written in RobotC, using the default libraries. We also started with the default HiTechnic SuperPro driver software, but modified it.

  • SuperPro - This module is a modified SuperPro driver to enable the strobe signal, since the standard drive code does not enable the strobe. It manages the communication between the NXT and the HiTechnic board at the byte level, providing APIs setStrobe() and ReadIO() for upper layers module to enable strobe, and read a byte respectively.

  • SuperSensors - This module handles the data communication protocol. It runs a loop to read data frames (defined in Figure 6) from the HiTechnic board, checks the parity byte for each frame, and re-syncs communication in case of a parity mismatch. It also provides APIs for upper layer modules to read the heading, and sonar detected distances.



Figure 6 - NXT/Arduino Data Frames

NXT Software – User Programs


The user programs served to illustrate and test the drivers that we created the SensorPro. Each of these user programs were used during the “autonomous” period of competition.

  • WestCoaster - This module manages our west coast drive system, controlling robot movement. It provides high level commands such as moveStraightWithMPU(), turnWithMPU() for our autonomous programs.

  • Center Goal - This module contains methods that involve the sonar sensor, such as to determine goal position.

  • Ramp - This module uses methods from WestCoaster and defines some of its own to score ball in autonomous. It is the code that executes our ramp autonomous strategy.

  • Parking Lot -This module uses methods from WestCoaster and Center Goal to determine the goal position, and maneuver to knock down the kickstand. This is the execution code for the parking lot autonomous.

Arduino “Sketch” Software


The Arduino sketch programming model is similar to RobotC in that both are C-like languages, and both have a main loop. Arduino differs in that it is much more flexible and has a community that has already developed libraries for a wide variety of sensors. These libraries were instrumental to the SensorPro, as we used them to quickly integrate the sensors into our existing code.

We used an MPU6050 example from the I2CDevLib to run the initial tests for the gyro sensor. After the wiring was verified, we modified the example code to fit our needs. The main modifications are the following:

  • As mentioned earlier, the HiTechnic board RD pin is wired to the Arduino D2 digital pin, which is the Arduino’s external interrupt 0. We attached an interrupt routine to the interrupt 0, in which we simply set a flag (nxtIsReading) to indicate the NXT’s reading request.

  • The MPU6050 also has an interrupt pin to indicate data that is ready for transfer. We wired this interrupt to the Arduino pin D3 (external interrupt 1). Similar to the interrupt 0, the interrupt routine for this pin also sets up a flag (mpuInterrupt) to indicate that the MPU data is ready for reading.

  • In the main loop, the two interrupt flags are checked; if nxtIsReading is set, a subroutine is called to send data through the parallel bus to the NXT in the form of a data frame (see diagram below). For the case when mpuInterrupt is set, the sample code is re-used to read the data from the MPU and store it in holding arrays.

One thing to note here is that interrupt routines are very fast, and all data processing happens in the main loop. Therefore, data synchronization for multithreading is not needed. Also, the interrupt 0 has a higher priority than the interrupt 1. Because of this, the NXT’s request is always handled as a higher priority.

When the HC-SR04 sonar sensor was added, a library, called NewPing Lib provided example code that was used to test the sensors and their wiring. Then, like before, part of the example code is integrated with the existing program that handled the MPU and NXT readings. The main touch points in this case are as following:

  • Interrupts were needed again to detect the rising and falling edges of the “Echo” signal (see above) from the sonar sensors. The NewPing lib had a beta version with support for interrupts, which was not turned on. Minimal modifications were made to the lib and tested to enable this feature. The results indicated that it worked as expected.

  • As all the external interrupt pins were used for MPU and NXT, we had to use software interrupts called pin change interrupts. For this, we found another library called PinChangeInt. We simply modified some of the NewPing beta code to call the APIs defined by PinChangeInt. It worked as expected.



Results


The SensorPro currently functions as expected on our robot, providing data from the gyro and sonar sensors to the LEGO NXT. The NXT uses the data from the gyro to move straight by correcting any angular drift while the robot is moving straight, as well as by controlling turning accurately. Using the sonar sensor data, the NXT can determine the center field structure orientation and decide which path to take to knock down the kickstand. Without the board, our autonomous program would not be able to function as well.

The custom board also accommodates greater wiring flexibilities for our robot. We were able to leave more ports open for motors and servos (only one port was needed for all sensors). The cables used to wire the industrial sensors to the board do not have the commercial length limits the NXT cables had.

The total cost for the board is around $75 (including $50 for The HiTechnic board), much less than the $193 that HiTechnic multiplexer, sonars, and gyro set would cost.

Future Plans


A major vision for the SensorPro board is to become a product that other FTC teams could use as well to bring cheaper and more efficient sensors onto the FTC playing field. In order for this to happen, the SensorPro board should be further generalized, allowing for a wider range of custom sensors to be used. Also, an easy interface for custom sensors should be developed, and a public library of code should be made accessible for quick installation and coding on the NXT (or other Robot controllers).

However, as next year FTC is making major control system changes (no more NXT), the future for this version of the board is uncertain. The elimination of the HiTechnic board and the NXT in our board would greatly increase the rate of data transfer, as the NXT can only read one byte at a time from the HiTechnic board. However, the board’s role may already be taken with FTC’s introduction of the Advanced Sensor Module - the replacement for the HiTechnic board. Ultimately, further research into next year’s control components will be needed to know for certain the future of the SensorPro board. Regardless, the basic concept of aggregating sensor data on a hub separate from the main Robot controller may still be a valuable idea worth exploring.

References and Sponsors


HiTechnic SuperPro Prototype Board: https://www.hitechnic.com/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=SPR2010
Arduino Nano: http://www.arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoBoardNano
GY512 Breakout Board and MPU 6050 (Gyro Sensor): http://playground.arduino.cc/Main/MPU-6050
HC-SR04 (Sonar Sensor): http://www.elecfreaks.com/store/download/HC-SR04.pdf
Chap Research: chapresearch.com

Chap Research is a student lead organization that teaches students entrepreneurial, technical, and leadership skills not offered in school. I was fortunate have the resources and environment that Chap Research provided.
Advanced Circuits PCB: http://www.4pcb.com/

We are fortunate to have Advanced Circuits to manufacture the boards for free. We greatly appreciate their support.
WESTA: http://westaaustin.org
SensorPro lib: https://github.com/WestlakeFTC/PhiLobots/tree/test2/arduino/mpu_fast1
Sensor Pro Schematic: https://github.com/WestlakeFTC/PhiLobots/tree/test2/electronics/imu
I2C Device Library: https://github.com/jrowberg/i2cdevlib
NewPing lib: https://code.google.com/p/arduino-new-ping/
PinChangeInt lib: https://github.com/GreyGnome/PinChangeInt

1 The SuperPro Prototype Board, manufactured by HiTechnic, provides an interface to the Lego NXT controller for the addition of custom sensors. Throughout this document it will be referred to as the “HiTechnic board.”

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