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[OoB] Moving webcam with joystick and servos (Arduino/SharpDX/WinForms)

Time for the third episode of "Out of Boredom" series :) There was a Sonar project and something about shooting paintballs... This time you will learn how to use Arduino and .NET 4.5 to receive input from joystick and use it to control servos that move a webcam horizontally and vertically!

  • Here you can see a video of the project outcome: Vimeo
  • This repository contains all the code: GitHub

Controlling servos with joystick... Click to enlarge...

How it works? Short version: joystick (in my case Logitech Extreme 3D Pro) is connected to laptop with Windows 7 via USB. Desktop application (.NET 4.5/WinForms) uses SharpDX library (managed DirectX API) to pull position information from joystick. This info is presented in numerical and graphical way on UI (C# 5.0 async helps here). Joy position is then translated into desired pan&tilt servo angles and that data is sent to Arduino Uno through serial port. Arduino receives the data, and thanks to its Servo library, commands servos to move... 

Longer description is split into 2 parts. The first describes desktop app, the second shows Arduino sketch...

 

1. Desktop application

ServoJoy WinForms application... Click to enlarge...

Main task of the program is to read joystick position. This is easy thanks to SharpDX 2.6.2.0 library that wraps DirectX API so it can be conveniently operated with C#. SharpDX and SharpDX.DirectInput NuGet packages are used in the app. This is the class that contains all the code necessary to monitor joystick movements:

using SharpDX.DirectInput;
using System;
using System.Linq;
using System.Threading;

namespace ServoJoyApp
{
    public class JoystickMonitor
    {
        private string _joystickName;

        public JoystickMonitor(string joystickName)
        {
            _joystickName = joystickName;
        }

        public void PollJoystick(IProgress<JoystickUpdate> progress, CancellationToken cancellationToken)
        {
            var directInput = new DirectInput();
            
            DeviceInstance device = directInput.GetDevices(DeviceType.Joystick, DeviceEnumerationFlags.AttachedOnly)
                                        .SingleOrDefault(x => x.ProductName == _joystickName);

            if (device == null)
            {
                throw new Exception(string.Format("No joystick with \"{0}\" name found!", _joystickName));
            }
            
            var joystick = new Joystick(directInput, device.InstanceGuid);
            
            joystick.Properties.BufferSize = 128;
            joystick.Acquire();

            while (!cancellationToken.IsCancellationRequested)
            {
                joystick.Poll();
                JoystickUpdate[] states = joystick.GetBufferedData();
                
                foreach (var state in states)
                {
                    progress.Report(state);                    
                }
            }
        }
    }
}

DirectInput class lets us obtain access to joystick. Its GetDevices method is used to look for an attached joystick with particular name. If such device is found, object of Joystick class gets created. Joystick class has Poll method that fills a buffer containing information about joysticks states. State info comes in a form of JoystickUpdate structure. Such structure can be used to determine what button was pushed or what is the current position in y-axis for example.

Here's an example of reading current joystick position on x-axis:

if (state.Offset == JoystickOffset.X)
{
      int xAxisPosition = state.Value;
}

Position is kept in Value property but before using it you have to check what that value means. This can be done by comparing Offset property to desired JoystickOffset enum value. See the docs of JoystickOffset to see what kind of values you can read.

PollJoystick method presented earlier has fallowing signature:

public void PollJoystick(IProgress<JoystickUpdate> progress, CancellationToken cancellationToken)

IProgress generic interface was introduced in .NET 4.5 to allow methods to report task progress. PollJoystick method uses it to notify the rest of the program about changes in joystick state. This is done by progress.Report(state) call. The second parameter (with CancellationToken type) lets as stop joystick polling any time we want. PollJoystick method does it when IsCancellationRequested property of CancellationToken structure is set to true. Is it necessary to use this async-related stuff to poll joystick data? No - it's possible to put joystick polling loop directly in button event handler but then all the work will be executed in UI thread and it will make application unresponsive! Here's how you can run joystick monitoring in modern C#:

private async void btnJoystickMonitorStart_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    try
    {
        btnJoystickMonitorStart.Enabled = false;
        btnJoystickMonitorStop.Enabled = true;

        var joystickMonitor = new JoystickMonitor(txtJoystickName.Text.Trim());

        _joystickMonitorCancellation = new CancellationTokenSource();
        var progress = new Progress<JoystickUpdate>(s => ProcessJoystickUpdate(s));
        await Task.Run(() => joystickMonitor.PollJoystick(progress, _joystickMonitorCancellation.Token), _joystickMonitorCancellation.Token);
    }
    catch (Exception ex)
    {
        MessageBox.Show(ex.Message, "Oh no :(", MessageBoxButtons.OK, MessageBoxIcon.Error);
    }
}

Notice that button even handler is marked with async keyword. Before PollJoystick task is started a new cancellation token is created and ProcessJoystickUpdate is set as a handler for asynchronous task progress notifications. When this setup is done joystick monitoring task is started with await Task.Run call...

This is a part of code responsible for handling joystick state changes:

private void ProcessJoystickUpdate(JoystickUpdate state)
{
    if (state.Offset == JoystickOffset.X)
    {
        int xAxisPercent = GetAxisValuePercentage(XAxisMax, state.Value);
        pnlXAxisPercent.Width = (int)xAxisPercent;
        lblXAxisPercent.Text = xAxisPercent + "%";
        lblXAxisValue.Text = state.Value.ToString();

        if (rbPanOnXAxis.Checked)
        {
            _panServoPosition = MapAxisValueToPanServoPosition(state.Value, XAxisMax);         
            lblPanServoPosition.Text = _panServoPosition.ToString();
        }
    }
	
	// ... more ...

As you can see JoysticUpdate structure is used to determine current position in x-axis. UI elements are updated and desired servo position is calculated... If you've looked carefully you might be wondering why if (rbPanOnXAxis.Checked) exists. This is done because the app lets its users decide whether pan (horizontal movement) servo should be bound to x-axis (right-left stick movement) or to zRotation-axis (controlled by twisting wrist on joystick - not all joysticks have this feature).

private byte MapAxisValueToPanServoPosition(double axisValue, double axisMax)
{            
    byte servoValue = (byte)Math.Round((axisValue / axisMax) * (PanServoMax - PanServoMin) + PanServoMin);
    return chkPanInvert.Checked ? (byte)(PanServoMax - servoValue) : servoValue;
}

Values of my joystick position are reported in 0 to 65535 range but only numbers from 0 to 180 are meaningful for servos I've used. That's why method MapAxisValueToPanServoPosition presented above was created...

Ok, so we are done with detecting joystick movements! Now we need to send desired servo position to Arduino. Fortunately this is really simple thanks to SerialPort component that you can use in WinForms programs. Just drag this component from toolbox and use code as below to control connection with Arduino (spArduino is the name I've given to SerialPort component):

private void btnArduinoConnectionToggle_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    try
    {
        if (spArduino.IsOpen)
        {
            spArduino.Close();

            btnArduinoConnectionToggle.Text = "Connect";
        }
        else
        {
            spArduino.BaudRate = (int)nudBaudRate.Value;
            spArduino.PortName = txtPortName.Text;

            spArduino.Open();
            btnArduinoConnectionToggle.Text = "Disconnect";
        }
    }
    catch (Exception ex)
    {
        MessageBox.Show(ex.Message, "Oh no :(", MessageBoxButtons.OK, MessageBoxIcon.Error);
    }
}

In my case Arduino is accessible via COM3 port and baud rate of 9600 is sufficient. That's right - despite the fact that the device is connected to PC with USB cable it is accessible via COM port.

Sending servo position to Arduino is really easy:

private void tmServoPosition_Tick(object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    if (spArduino.IsOpen)
    {
        spArduino.Write(new byte[] { _panServoPosition, _tiltServoPosition, SerialPackagesSeparator }, 0, 3);
    }
}

spArduino.Write call is used to send an array of three bytes to Arduino. Two values are for requested servo potions and the last one is used to separate the pairs so servo controlling program can always distinguish between pan and tilt values. Writing over serial port is executed inside Tick method of Timer component. This time I didn't bothered with manual creation of background task. I just dragged Timer component and adjusted its Enabled and Interval properties to make the app communicate with Arduino every 10 milliseconds...

 

2. Arduino sketch

We've discussed an program that can detect joystick movements and send servo position requests over serial port. Now time for a piece of microcontroller software that can actually force servos to move. This is the whole code:

#include <Servo.h>  

const byte setupReadyLedPin = 8;
const byte panServoPin = 10;
const byte tiltServoPin = 12;
const byte separator = 255;

Servo panServo; 
Servo tiltServo; 

void setup() {  
    pinMode(setupReadyLedPin, OUTPUT);
         
    panServo.attach(panServoPin);   
    tiltServo.attach(tiltServoPin);   
    
    Serial.begin(9600); // Open connection with PC
    
    digitalWrite(setupReadyLedPin, HIGH);
}

void loop() {      
    if (Serial.available() > 2) {            
        byte panAngle = Serial.read();
        byte tiltAngle = Serial.read();
        byte thirdByte = Serial.read();
         
        if (panAngle != separator && tiltAngle != separator && thirdByte == separator) {         
            // Moving servos
            panServo.write(panAngle);
            tiltServo.write(tiltAngle);
        }
    }       
}

Yup, it's that easy! Servo library is included to allow for panServo and tiltServo objects to be created. These objects (of type Servo) make it possible to command servos to move into desired positions. This is done by calling write method with desired angle, like this:

panServo.write(panAngle);

Before it can be done however, servos have to be assigned to Arduino's output pins. This is achieved by calls to attach method seen in setup function. Digital servos are controlled by duration of ON pulse calculated in 20ms intervals, 1.5ms ON pulse should command a servo to move to the middle... But Servo library does all the heavy lifting for you so you don't have to create proper control signals manually. All you need to do is connect 3 cables each servo has. The servos I own use brown cable for ground, red for plus and orange for control signal. Sonar project used single micro servo so the only power supply needed was the one included in USB. This time two servos are utilized so you should add external power supply. I've connected 1A AC/DC power adapter through a plug that is included on Arduino Uno board and the servos worked really well. Arduino has a built-in fuse that protects USB port from overcurrent (it's a resettable fuse that doesn't allow current bigger than 500mA)...

Communication with .NET application is implemented with Serial class. First, in setup function, a connection is established with Serial.begin(9600) call. Then inside a loop Serial.available method is used to check if packet with servo positions request has arrived from PC. If so, pan&tilt servo angles are read and servos are ordered to move.

 

This is all that is necessary to control two servos with joystick connected to a computer :) In my project I've used DGServo S3003 servos with pan&tilt bracket to move A4tech PK-910H webcam and I'm really happy with the results! While watching the clip you may think that camera is moving to much compared to joystick movements. Keep in mind however, that servos move in 180 degrees but my joystick operates in smaller range. This is why small stick movement results in big camera swing. Despite that, I was able to control servos position with 1-degree precision quite easily... 

Update 2015-01-11: Click here to see a video of my recent project that has pan and tilt servos used to build gun turret!