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Posted 1 Nov 2016

VB Gamepad to Control an Arduino Remote Tractor

, 1 Nov 2016
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A beginner/hobbyist project that uses Visual Basic to send gamepad data via a Bluetooth connection to control an Arduino remote tractor is presented.

Intro

A beginner/hobbyist project that uses Visual Basic to send gamepad data via a Bluetooth connection to control an Arduino remote tractor is presented.

Background

Robotics projects have become popular in STEM classes in many schools as well as for the hobbyist. This project makes use of both Arduino and Visual Basic code to control an Arduino-style Orion starter robot tractor (Makeblock ; www.makeblock.com). The Orion board is an Arduino clone. It is highly suitable for beginners as it substitutes RJ-25 connections for jumper wires and has its own libraries to take advantage of those connections. The various analog and digital ports are color coded for ease of use. The VB portion of the project controls a gamepad and transmits joystick output to the Arduino/Orion controller via Bluetooth. The Arduino code provides for execution of the joystick instructions and echoes the instructions back to the VB program for confirmation.

Objectives

  1. Gamepad integration in a VB.NET program
  2. Bluetooth communication from the VB program to a remote Arduino module
  3. Arduino control of the tractor
  4. Easy to follow, heavily commented code

The Code

Joystick control can be accomplished by one of two methods. A commonly expected method uses one joystick, obtaining directions using X and Y inputs and translating them into various directional vectors.

However, since our remote robot is a tractor, a simpler, but more realistic approach was taken with each joystick on the game pad controlling its own tread on the tractor. This is a historically accurate method of steerage.

The gamepad is exposed via the Winmm.dll. This is an older 32 bit library, but good for our purposes here. The next version will take advantage of DirectX gamepad interfaces.

First, the structure of the gamepad is defined (https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd757112.aspx):

<StructLayout(LayoutKind.Sequential)>
    Public Structure JOYINFOEX
        Public dwSize As Integer  'size of this structure, in bytes
        Public dwFlags As Integer ' how many items are in the structure; &HFF is all (0-255);  
        Public dwXpos As Integer
        Public dwYpos As Integer
        Public dwZpos As Integer
        Public dwTpos As Integer
        Public dwUpos As Integer
        Public dwVpos As Integer
        Public dwButtons As Integer
        Public dwButtonNumber As Integer
        Public dwPOV As Integer
    End Structure

The joystick is created and a timer is added to poll the joystick for changes:

Public Joypos1 As JOYINFOEX
Joypos1.dwSize = 64    ' Need size of structure for JoyGetPosEx() to work;          Joypos1.dwFlags = &HFF ' get all data from joystick
Timer1.Enabled = False ' init Timer1 False until serial port open

The timer event polls the joystick, specifically looking for the Y and T axes which will determine the Left and Right Track’s directional information. This data is then processed and sent to the Arduino/Orion. Since the joystick data is sent in integers 0 to 65536, an offset to make "0" the "midpoint" is used. The position of the joystick is then processed to yield up, neutral and down for forward, stop and reverse, which will be passed to the Arduino. The -32 to 32 scale is arbitrary here but will be used in the development of the single joystick vector in a later iteration of the project.

Private Sub Timer1_Tick(sender As Object, e As EventArgs) Handles Timer1.Tick
        joyGetPosEx(0, Joypos1)
        'Up to six axes supported
        lblYaxis.Text = "Y =   " & (Joypos1.dwYpos.ToString - 32767)  
        lblTaxis.Text = "T = " & (Joypos1.dwTpos.ToString - 32767) 
Dim intJoyConvY As Integer
        intJoyConvY = CInt(Math.Round(Joypos1.dwYpos))

        If intJoyConvY > -1 Then
            If intJoyConvY <= 20000 Then
                intJoyConvY = -32
            End If
        End If

        If intJoyConvY > 20000 Then
            If intJoyConvY <= 40000 Then
                intJoyConvY = 0
            End If
        End If

        If intJoyConvY > 40000 Then
            intJoyConvY = 32
        End If
Dim intJoyConvT As Integer
        intJoyConvT = CInt(Math.Round(Joypos1.dwTpos))

Still within the Timer event, both gamepad axes are polled and parsed into individual motor commands, ready to be sent to the Arduino:

Dim RMotor As Integer
   Dim strCmd As String = ""
Dim LMotor As Integer

   LMotor = intJoyConvY
   RMotor = intJoyConvT

   If LMotor = 32 And RMotor = 32 Then
       charCmd = "F" '
       strCmd = "forward"
   End If

   If LMotor = -32 And RMotor = -32 Then
       charCmd = "B"
       strCmd = "backward"
   End If

Finally, the parsed command is sent to the Arduino via Bluetooth. The gamepad is polled every 250 ms (adjustable for performance) and only changes in data are sent to avoid overwhelming communications.

Try
            If charCmd <> charOldCmd Then
                rtbMonitor.Text = ""     'clear the text
                SerialPort1.Write(charCmd)
                rtbMonitor.Text = charCmd & vbCrLf
                charOldCmd = charCmd

            Else
                rtbMonitor.Text = rtbMonitor.Text & "No Changes" & vbCrLf
            End If

        Catch ex As Exception
            MessageBox.Show(ex.Message & " Open Port Before Proceeding")
        End Try

    End Sub

Bluetooth communication is via a serial port. The Windows Device Manager Ports section will identify the correct port. A Try Catch construction is used to catch errors. The output sent to the Arduino and feedback from the Arduino are both captured in textboxes in the VB program interface.

Arduino/Orion Coding

Ease of use makes the Makeblock Orion perfect for a beginner. The Makeblock libraries are incorporated into the Arduino program. Arduino is coded in "C" and is in two parts. The "Setup" holds variables, included libraries and Makeblock specific references. Arduino code would substitute PIN locations for these references. For those wishing to convert to ArduinoUno, identify the analog ports of the motors and the location of the Bluetooth device and write outputs to them. The Bluetooth (serial port) is opened at Orion’s default 115200 baud.

/*Includes */
#include <MeOrion.h>  /*inherits MeDCMotor.h and MeBluetooth.h;  both open source GPL V 2 */
#include <Wire.h>
#include <SoftwareSerial.h>
/* These are Makeblock specific*/
MeDCMotor leftMotor(M1);
MeDCMotor rightMotor(M2);
MeBluetooth bluetooth(PORT_3);
/*Variables*/
int leftSpeed = 130; //left motor speed;  adjust to specific motor 0 to 255 depending on voltage req'd for motors
int rightSpeed = 130; //right motor speed
double turnSpeed = 0.6; // reduced speed of inner track for turns but be sure voltage (analog output 0-255) is high enough to run motor

The "Loop" portion of the code is what "runs" the Arduino. The code tests for the functioning of the Bluetooth connection, calls the readBluetooth() function and passes the input char to a Switch/Break construct, each Switch calling its respective function to move the tractor. Various turns are accomplished by mismatch of track speeds and directions. Two additional buttons are captured (not shown) to respectively increase and decrease the two speed variables.

void loop() {  
  if (bluetooth.available()){   
    char cmd = readBlueTooth();    
    bluetooth.println(cmd);
    
    switch(cmd){                
      case 'F':
      forward();
      bluetooth.print(cmd);
      break;
      
      case 'B':
      backward();
      bluetooth.print(cmd);
      break;  

case 'r':       /*lower case r to show minor change*/
      toRight();
      bluetooth.print(cmd);
      break;
     
      case 'L':
      spinLeft();
      bluetooth.print(cmd);
      break;

/*Bluetooth read function*/
char readBlueTooth(){
  char btInput;
  btInput = (char) bluetooth.read();
  return btInput;
}

/*Motor functions*/
/*For Arduino board:  write these functions */
/*to analog pins that control motor functions*/

void forward(){
  rightMotor.run(rightSpeed);
  leftMotor.run(leftSpeed);
}

void backward(){
  leftMotor.run(-leftSpeed);
  rightMotor.run(-rightSpeed);
}

void toRight(){
  leftMotor.run(leftSpeed);
  rightMotor.run(rightSpeed*turnSpeed);
}

/* spin Left*/
void spinLeft(){
  rightMotor.run(rightSpeed*turnSpeed);
  leftMotor.run(-leftSpeed*turnSpeed);
}

Future plans include single joystick mode of control with the use of DirectX to read the gamepad data, along with a more detailed view of the mathematics of a joystick. Voice recognition for control of the Arduino and incorporation of a visual display into the VB program, for true remote operation are also contemplated.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Sleeper 11888211
United States United States
Sleeper is a hobbyist whose formal programming education is limited to one Beginning Fortran class sometime in the mid-20th Century. He invites comments and useful pointers but fully expects to keep his day job.

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