RS232 Telemetry Viewer

While developing my balancing robot I needed to visualize certain variables. Being able to monitor angles, velocities and feedback loop factors made it easier to tune the control loop and verify the correct functioning of my sensors. I wrote the program in Java, utilizing the Swing and RXTX libraries.

Current values for each data point are shown with the sliders and text labels. Clicking on a data point will bring up a new window that shows the history of that data point in the form of a line graph. Multiple line graph windows can be used to track the history of several items at once.

The source code can be downloaded as a zip file, or accessed through my RS232 Telemetry Viewer repository on GitHub. To run the code you will need to install the RXTX library.

The code is split into eight classes: Main, Database, TelemetryGUI, ConfigurationLoader, SerialConfigPanel, SerialPortListener, BallPanel and LineGraph. The TelemetryGUI class has two inner classes: TelemetryGroup and TelemetryItem.

Main simply creates an instance of the Database and TelemetryGUI classes.

Database is used to store the history of values for each data point.

TelemetryGUI configures the main window and creates an instance of the ConfigurationLoader to read the configuration text file and make the corresponding panels. A BallPanel is used to visualize the robot's pitch and yaw angles. A SerialConfigPanel shows the available serial ports and baud rates, and allows the user to establish a connection with the selected port.

SerialPortListener is used to spawn a new thread that monitors the RS232 link, interprets incoming text, and populates the database with new values.

LineGraph is a window that shows the recent history of an item in the form of a constantly updating line graph.

Here's a video clip of me testing an early version of this program with my robot back in December 2013:

Balancing Robot Firmware

I'm releasing the firmware for my balancing robot into the public domain. Use it however you wish. The code is rather specific to my choice in microcontroller and sensors, but it might still be helpful to those working on their own robots.

Most of the work takes place in two files: main.c and isrs.c.

The main() function does all of the initialization work, then enters an infinite loop that constantly streams telemetry data out via RS232.

The interrupt service routines in isrs.c are where all of the “real work” is done. That's where the new values from all sensors are read, steering and throttle commands are received from the CC2500-based 2.4GHz transmitter, and the motor PWM values are adjusted based on a PID control loop.

I have amassed a small collection of reusable code while working on various projects with the STM32F0 microcontroller. This collection of code is not polished enough for sharing, but since it was used in this project I am including it anyway. It's in the /f0lib/ directory and should be used with caution. Be sure to read the function implementations before reusing the code in your own projects. The code in /f0lib/ was only written with my particular use cases in mind.

The firmware can be downloaded as a zip file, or accessed through my Balancing Robot repository on GitHub. Have fun!

Video clips and more photos are in my previous post from May 18th.

Using the RXTX Java Library

There are several libraries for Java that add support for serial ports, and a few months ago I settled on the RXTX library. Recently their web site disappeared and looking back at the code releases it became apparent that development halted a couple years ago. A few groups are still maintaining packages for the library, and people still use it, so I'll post my installation and helloworld notes. has a mirror of the old RXTX web site:


A Linux installation is trivial since RXTX is in the package repositories:

$ sudo apt-get install librxtx-java

An OS X installation is not so easy. Binaries are available from the official RXTX web site, but they are outdated and not compatible with modern versions of OS X. Compiling from source isn't hard, but there are a few changes that must be made along the way. Assuming you already have Java installed, you'll need to install libtool via Homebrew because the stock libtool supplied by Apple won't work.

Install Homebrew, then install libtool:

$ ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL" $ brew install libtool

Download the RXTX 2.2pre2 source and extract the archive. Then edit the configure file, modifying the JAVAINCLUDEDIR line:

Before: JAVAINCLUDEDIR=$JPATH/../../../Headers After: JAVAINCLUDEDIR=/System/Library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework/Versions/A/Headers

(Make sure the path is valid. It may be different if you installed a different version or distribution of Java than I did.)

Run the configure script:

$ ./configure

Assuming that completed successfully, edit the LIBTOOLC line in the Makefile:


Compile and copy the resulting files into place:

$ make $ cp RXTXcomm.jar /Library/Java/Extensions/ $ cp i386-apple-darwin13.0.0/librxtxSerial.jnilib /Library/Java/Extensions/

Simple Example

The official RXTX wiki has some good examples. Below is an adaption I made with the explicit goal of being short and to the point. See the official examples for better error handling and other use cases.

The following class has two methods: Use getSerialPorts() to get a List<String> of detected serial ports. Then call establishConnection() to make a connection and create the input/output streams. For example, calling establishConnection("/dev/ttyUSB0", 9600); would connect to /dev/ttyUSB0 with a 9600 8N1 configuration. I also setup a Scanner to make it trivial to parse incoming data.

import*; import*; import java.util.ArrayList; import java.util.Enumeration; import java.util.List; import java.util.Scanner; public class SerialTest { private SerialPort rs232; private OutputStream rs232ostream; private InputStream rs232istream; private Scanner rs232scanner; public List getSerialPorts() { List list = new ArrayList(); @SuppressWarnings("unchecked") Enumeration ports = CommPortIdentifier.getPortIdentifiers(); while(ports.hasMoreElements()) { CommPortIdentifier port = ports.nextElement(); if(port.getPortType() == CommPortIdentifier.PORT_SERIAL) list.add(port.getName()); } return list; } public Boolean establishConnection(String port, int baudRate) { try { rs232 = (SerialPort) CommPortIdentifier.getPortIdentifier(port).open("Test App", 2000); // app name, timeout rs232.setSerialPortParams(baudRate, SerialPort.DATABITS_8, SerialPort.STOPBITS_1, SerialPort.PARITY_NONE); rs232ostream = rs232.getOutputStream(); rs232istream = rs232.getInputStream(); rs232scanner = new Scanner(rs232istream); System.out.println("Connected to " + port + " at " + baudRate + " baud."); return true; } catch (Exception e) { System.err.println("Error setting up serial communications with port " + port + "."); System.err.println(e.getClass().toString()); return false; } } // add code that makes use of the input or output streams after calling establishConnection() }
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