Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cloud9,, Cylon.js - all coming together

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am really happy I discovered Cylon.js and was able to make basic stuff working. This is all cool but I wanted to be able to interact with my robot over the net so I thought it's time to try the API plugins the framework offers. To make things more fun and learn more in the process, I decided to use for deployment: this way I can update the code and test changes without being close to my Raspberry Pi all the time. I know it is possible but never tried to have a git project with multiple remotes; this is the perfect time for me to learn how this works since works by pushing code to the resin remote but I also want to be able to push changes to github. And because I don't want to be tied to my local machine, I decided to use Cloud9 for this project and push the code from there directly to both resin and github - which works great as you'll see below. By the way, Cloud9 is similar with Codenvy but the support for node.js is better (at least from what I know at this time) and having access to the entire VM and the command line makes it awesome; it is like working on a local machine but a lot better since it is in the cloud and accessible via a browser from anywhere.

This post is not really about the code itself: it is a work in progress that can be seen in my repo; instead, this post is about all of the tools coming together with a special nod to

To start I read a lot of the Cylon.js docs and was able to put together a test robot without an actual device (using loopback instead) to which I plan to send commands using one of the API examples on the site; as a side note, the robot code only has generic commands like cmd1, cmd2 and so on instead of having commands like toggle and turnOn because this setup will let me change the actual code a command is executing while a client may never need to change. Going back to the API idea, I decided to start with the simplest API plugin (HTTP) even if there are no examples for it on the site. Unfortunately because I want to access my RasPi from outside my network, I don't know the IP (which will be assigned dynamically by resin) and the HTTP API needs to be configured with an IP; I am pretty sure there are solutions for this but instead of digging more, I decided to try the MQTT API which is tied only to a broker and doesn't need a definite IP. The client code is also very simple at this time but I hope it will evolve as I find some time; in the end though, I plan to issue the API commands via node-red which integrates very easily with MQTT.

It was very easy to start with Cloud9: I connected it to my github account, then created a new node.js workspace, there are plenty of docs on the site. And since Cloud9 gives access to the underlying OS, it was also easy to install libusb-dev (needed for Digispark as mentioned in my previous post) and also install all the node modules I need to start with; here are the commands for reference (last module is only needed for the client and I used the --save option so all the modules are registered automatically in package.json):

sudo apt-get install libusb-dev
npm install cylon cylon-digispark cylon-api-mqtt mqtt --save

Next thing was to add as a secondary remote which was pretty easy:

git remote add resin

Then all works as normal, git add/commit/push. The only special thing I needed to do was figure out how to install libusb-dev in the resin image. After some search on the web, I found out I can add a "preinstall" script to package.json. This was easy but it took me quite a while to figure out how to install this library because the only one found by apt-get was libusb-0.1-4 and not libusb-dev which I needed. After a lot of fiddling, I asked in the forum and the answer was quite simple: add apt-get update before the apt-get libusb-dev, as seen in the current package.json. A new push to the resin remote built the image without errors this time. Great!

The coolest thing is that when I built this image my Pi was offline but as soon as I plugged it in hours later, the new image was updated automatically - I know this is documented but it was so neat to see it working. This is so awesome! The team really thought of everything and I can't say how happy I am to be using their service. The small complaints I had in my original post are really minor, is really a great way to update your Pi code remotely. Again, big thanks to the entire team!

Hopefully now that all pieces are in place, I will find some time to write a robot that actually does something, and command it via MQTT from node-red. Soon...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cylon.js - an amazing robot and IoT framework

A few days ago on a blog I follow I noticed an article about the release of Cylon.js 1.0. Never before heard about Cylon.js but the article sounded very interesting, mentioning robots and IoT, javascript and also support for 35 platforms so I decided to check it out. I am really happy I did, I have to say from the start that it is an amazing framework with a great design and tons of supported platforms and drivers, to make it really useful for tons of things: not just robots as the name implies but basically anything related to physical computing and the Internet of Things. It makes it incredibly easy to command robots and devices, and the API plugins it already comes with (http, mqtt and make it really easy to connect and interact with these devices online. Really great!

Like I said, there are tons of platforms supported (basically anything I can think of is already supported) but since I happened to have a Digispark with an RGB LED shield handy since I last played with it and node-red, I decided to give it a try. It would have been easier probably to start with an Arduino to avoid a few hiccups but in the end I am very happy I gave it a try because it worked really well.

The Digispark documentation is really good but since I ran in a couple stumbling blocks on my Linux Mint machine (quickly clarified on the IRC chat by a very helpful user) I decided to quickly document the steps here, maybe they'll help somebody some day.

As mentioned in the Ubuntu section of the Digispark docs, first thing to do is install the cylon-digispark npm module. Next commands use "gort" and while this may not be an issue for anybody else, it was for me; I am not familiar with it and apt-get didn't find it so I stumbled a bit with the next step. However, when I asked about it on the chat channel I got a reply right away, saying I need to download it from here. Same user also mentioned that after I install it, I should run

gort digispark set-udev-rules

which was a great pointer because the docs where not very clear about what to run next (this one or upload) so this helped me a lot. Next command in the docs though is

gort digispark upload

which didn't work for me no matter what I tried. In the end I looked at the output of the command and decided to try instead

gort digispark install

and this worked right away. Then cd to the examples dir in the cylon-digispark module and first example I tried, blink, worked like a breeze. After trying most of the examples all I can say is that Cylon.js is indeed awesome and in the end pretty easy with just a couple stopping points, mostly due to my lack of Linux experience, I'm sure.

A big thank you to the Hybrid Group team behind this great project!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Codenvy and Heroku integration: simply beautiful!

Reading through the Codenvy docs I noticed Heroku being mentioned in the Paas Deployment section and since I deployed a Java app there a while back, I decided to give it a try. The most interesting idea was the fact that I can copy the app directly from Heroku to Codenvy with just a couple steps, as described in this page; the really cool thing is that I deployed this app a long time ago and I don't even have my source code anymore - I know I can clone the app at any time to get it back but doing it this way, I can have the app ready for more development, no need to setup the project again locally in Eclipse. The steps I mentioned were:
  • create an SSH connection betweek Codenvy and Heroku: just generate a new key for Heroku, copy it and manually save it to my Heroku account;
  • import the existing application: copy its Git URL, then in the Codenvy workspace, File > Import from Location and paste this URL.
That's it: it can't be easier than this! What's even better is that having imported the app, all project Git history and settings are saved, so there is no need to add Heroku as Git remote – it is already there.

After I imported the app I tried to run it on Codenvy using the Jetty + Java runner but it didn't work. In the end this issue wasn't a problem with Codenvy but with the pom.xml in my project; I am just mentioning here in case someone else will run into this issue.

When trying to run the app I noticed the runner was creating an application.jar which was deployed under /home/user/jetty9/webapps/ROOT which is the correct location; but a jar is not a webapp and indeed invoking my servlet in the browser didn't work. After trying a lot of things and changing project settings, I took a better look at the pom.xml file and noticed packaging was set to jar; changed it to war and this time the webapp was deployed correctly and it worked right away like magic. The main problem seems to be the fact that I created my app originally using the heroku-cli tools which created a pom.xml file with packaging=jar; things have now changed and the new pom.xml file used by default (as seen in this repo) doesn't specify packaging anymore. I know this should mean the default of "jar" is used, but it makes a big difference on Codenvy: no packaging specified makes the webapp deploy correctly on Codenvy (also, it deploys correctly on Heroku as I later tried). So if you have an older Java app created from the Heroku template, remove the packaging directive and it will all work.

After all this was fixed, deploying the modified app to Heroku was a breeze: just git add/commit/push. I then started the app on Heroku and it worked great. Love it! Thanks again to the Codenvy team for all the awesome work they do!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Weaved: the perfect tool to access my remote Raspberry Pi

I already mentioned Weaved in passing in a previous post but the latest version is so awesome that I thought it deserves its own article. As noted in my update to that post, after updating to 1.2.8, I was able to setup a TCP service on port 1880 (node-red default editor port), connect to it and from the first try node-red editor worked as expected. I am so happy I didn't give up and I tried again.

And today I had another chance to see the amazing power of Weaved: I had my Raspberry Pi A (so no wired connection available, only a wifi dongle) with me at work, plugged it in and it connected right away to the guest wireless network. At least, I thought it connected because I've done this before and it worked without issues. But the app on my phone I normally use to find IPs, Fing, was not able to see it at all. I know that since last time I connected this Pi to the guest wireless the settings have been changed: not sure how, I have no network skills but I know most services are now blocked (I assume the discovery service Fing uses, if there is anything like this, is blocked as well). Almost gave up but then I remembered I had the SSH service from Weaved installed on the SD card so I decided to give it a try: logged in to my account and indeed the Pi was reported online; got the connect info and putty connected right away (also, the My Devices list showed the real IP so I was able to check that indeed it was an IP that was not showing in the Fing scan results). How awesome is this: a device not visible and not accessible even by another device on the same network, was accessed through Weaved without issues! Really amazing!

As far as Weaved pricing goes, the last info I've seen which is supposed to be valid after the beta program will end was something like this (these terms may change since they are not published on the website right now):
- Personal plan - FREE: 2 devices, up to 5 services, 300 generic notifications/month, mobile apps (iOS already out, Android in beta), no Pro features;
- Maker plan - $25/year: 5 devices, unlimited services, 1500 custom notifications/month, mobile apps, Pro features (longer connection times, device sharing, more storage);
- Maker Pro plan - $99/year: 25 devices, unlimited services, unlimited custom notifications, mobile apps and libraries, Pro features.

The free plan is enough for me personally but if I will decide to upgrade it really won't be an issue to pay a bit over $2 a month for all the added features. There are IoT related services out there charging way more for a lot less.

Weaved does more than just allow connections to remote Raspberry Pis (and recently, BeagleBones and even Intel Edison boards), just read some of the articles on their blog and you'll see what I mean. But for me and probably others as well, Weaved is going to be the main way of accessing a Raspberry Pi remotely, which is amazing in itself.

I hope all this will convince anyone who reads this to give Weaved a try. As for me I owe huge thanks to the Weaved team for all their great work!