Monthly Archives: February 2013

Reconfiguring the Kinect

Having finished restructuring my code I decided to try the whole unit out, only to find that I had been developing my code using a Kinect for Windows, however the Kinect that had been soldered to the Roomba is a Kinect for XBox.

Thankfully the OpenNI drivers support both (if anything the Kinect for XBox is better supported), however I had some trouble making it work with my code (or indeed the provided samples). After much searching I replaced the camera configuration XML file that I had been using. Another buycbdproducts I had not realised is that the Kinect has two powered-on modes, one – a standby mode – where the front green light flashes but it does not respond to queries, and another where it is fully on. As far as I can tell these modes are indistinguishable. The way that the Kinect is wired to the Roomba means that when the Roomba is charging only enough power for the Kinect to enter the first standby mode is provided.

Once I had figured this out and recompiled with the new configuration XML the camera worked perfectly and was identical to the Kinect for Windows one. The results are shown below:

The first depth view (coloured) from the Kinect mounted on the Roomba.

The first depth view (coloured) from the Kinect mounted on the Roomba.


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Controlling the iRobot Create

I have spent the week working on accessing the iRobot Create’s interface and integrating this functionality with the rest of my code.

The iRobot Create is controllable via the Create Open Interface, a specification for which can be found here. This is simply a series of commands that can be sent via the serial connection to the device. In my opinion this is a great way of doing it and avoids the hassle of configuring and learning a complicated library. It does however mean that I had to create code myself to do the functions that I wanted (e.g. driving the motors and reading off distance measurements), something I first prototyped in Python to check it worked before moving to C++ so it could be integrated with the rest of my project.

This gave me a good chance to restructure my code from a very arrangement where I had all the Pandaboard’s code in a single, messy file, and all the code for the host computer in another file, with a fair amount of duplicated code. I restructured the code to split the components into different files for: the computer vision, the serial interface, the networking interface and the robotic controls. I then created a separate, much reduced, file to be run on the host computer which makes use of the same networking components. The compilation is then controlled by a single Makefile which will build the correct versions for each machine.

The new structure took me several days to implement and iron out the bugs, but it is significantly better and more object-oriented approach than I used previously and will definitely save me time in the long run.
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Wireless Setup on the Pandaboard

Having given the Pandaboard a battery pack the only wire that remained connected to it was the Ethernet cable. I had hoped that simply switching to using WiFi, something that the Pandaboard has built-in, would be an easy task, however I could not have been more wrong.

Firstly it took me almost a day to get the WiFi working on the Pandaboard, I tried a large number of guides all asking you to install and do different things but to no avail. The guide I finally used which worked was the one available here, for which there is a video available via a link at the top of the section. A useful resource for configuring the /etc/network/interfaces file (which I sadly found after working it out myself) can be found here. I should also point out that I have to perform an additional restart of the network interface via the command:

sudo /etc/init.d/networking restart

I’m not sure why this is, however I had spent far longer than I wanted to setting it up so I decided to just accept it and added the line to the end of the /etc/rc.local file which is automatically run on start up.

I then needed to install git on my laptop, which had been running Ubuntu 10.11, however as it has been discontinued the repositories were unavailable. I therefore decided to upgrade to Ubuntu 12.10, though after many hours of research I found that my Laptop’s WiFi card (a Broadcom BCM4311) was unsupported and none of the numerous fixes listed worked. I then downgraded to 12.04 but had the same problem (again after many hours messing around). I worked my way back through the versions until I eventually settled on Ubuntu 10.04 (a Long Term Support release), which worked. This whole process took over 2 days.

A final caveat is that Ubuntu 10.04 does not support Ad Hoc networks secured with anything other than WEP, something that I was unable to get the Pandaboard to connect to after several attempts. My solution was to use an old smartphone as a Wireless Hotspot (secured with WPA2) and connect to it from both the laptop and Pandaboard. As this assigns different addresses each time you connect to it so I wrote a short script to run on the Pandaboard each time it boots up to locate the laptop and save its address. I also synchronise the system clock with the Laptop’s as, since I disconnect the battery pack when not in use, it does not stay up to date.

I now have everything working, and I intend to have as little to do with Linux’s wireless networking in the future as possible.

Powering the Pandaboard using Batteries

As my project uses the Pandaboard as a controller for a robotic system it is necessary that it be fully battery-powered. The Kinect is supplied with power directly from the Roomba’s battery, which, with the iRobot Create, is easily accessible via an output in the cargo bay which can provide 12V battery power.

The Pandaboard however runs on a 5V supply and, as it’s not designed to be run on batteries, can take very high current peaks (e.g. when the CPU is under heavy load). The Roomba’s output does not supply the required current for this, and would likely not supply a stable enough supply either.

I therefore needed a separate battery for the Pandaboard, for which I bought a 10,000 mAh, 5V 3A  USB Battery Pack (designed for charging phones when away from a power source) for £26 from Amazon. As a standard USB port cannot supply the required current it was also necessary to buy a USB-A to mini USB-B Y-Cable (designed for supplying power to external hard drives) for £2 from Amazon. This allows the power to be drawn from both the ports the battery has, up to a maximum of 3A (according to the battery’s specification), well in excess of what the Pandaboard will need.

The Pandaboard with external battery supply, connected via a Y-Cable.

The Pandaboard with external battery supply, connected via a Y-Cable.

The resulting setup can be seen in the picture above. I have not tested the full life of the battery, but it has lasted 5 hours without going below 50%.
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