DiffBot Base Package - Low Level Approach

Having explained the two components of the base controller in DiffBot Base, the low-level firmware is implemented first, followed by the high-level hardware, detailed in the next section.

Implementing the low-level base controller for Remo

The low-level base controller is implemented on the Teensy microcontroller using PlatformIO. The programming language in PlatformIO is the same as Arduino (based on Wiring) and it is available as a plugin for the Visual Studio Code editor. On the development PC, we can flash the robot firmware to the board with this plugin. We will get the firmware code from the diffbot_base ROS package, located in the scripts/base_controller subfolder. Opening this folder in Visual Studio Code will recognize it as a PlatformIO workspace because it contains the platformio.ini file. This file defines the required dependencies and makes it straightforward to flash the firmware to the Teensy board after compilation. Inside this file, the used libraries are listed:

 1 2 3 lib_deps = frankjoshua/Rosserial Arduino Library@^0.9.1 adafruit/Adafruit Motor Shield V2 Library@^1.0.11 Wire 

As you can see, the firmware depends on rosserial, the Adafruit Motor Shield V2 library, and Wire, an I2C library. PlatformIO allows using custom libraries defined in the local ./lib folder, which are developed in this section.

The firmware is used to read from encoders and ultrasonic and IMU sensors, and receive wheel velocity commands from the high-level hardware_interface::RobotHW class, discussed in the next section. The following code snippets are part of the low-level base controller’s main.cpp file and show the used libraries, found in diffbot_base/scripts/base_controller, in the lib and src folders. src contains main.cpp consisting of the setup() and loop() functions, common to every Arduino sketch and starts off by including the following headers:

 1 2 #include #include "diffbot_base_config.h" 

Besides the ros header file, it includes definitions specific to Remo, which are defined in the diffbot_base_config.h header. It contains constant parameter values such as the following:

• Encoder pins: Defines to which pins on the Teensy microcontroller the Hall effect sensors are connected.
• Motor I2C address and pins: The Adafruit motor driver can drive four DC motors. Due to cable management, motor terminals M3 and M4 are used for the left and right motors, respectively.
• PID: The tuned constants for both PID controllers of base_controller.
• PWM_MAX and PWM_MIN: The minimum and maximum possible PWM values that can be sent to the motor driver.
• Update rates: Defines how often functions of base_controller are executed. For example, the control portion of the low-level base controller code reads encoder values and writes motor commands at a specific rate.

After including Remo-specific definitions, next follows the custom libraries in the lib folder:

 1 2 3 4 cpp #include "base_controller.h" #include "adafruit_feather_wing/adafruit_feather_wing.h"  

These include directives and the libraries that get included with them are introduced next:

• base_controller: Defines the BaseController template class, defined in the base_controller.h header, and acts as the main class to manage the two motors, including each motor’s encoder, and communicate with the high-level hardware interface.
• motor_controller_intf: This library is indirectly included with adafruit_feather_wing.h and defines an abstract base class, named MotorControllerIntf. It is a generic interface used to operate a single motor using arbitrary motor drivers. It is meant to be implemented by other specific motor controller subclasses and therefore avoids changing code in classes that know the MotorControllerIntf interface and call its setSpeed(int value) method, such as done by BaseController. The only requirement for this to work is for a subclass to inherit from this MotorControllerIntf interface and implement the setSpeed(int value) class method.
• adafruit_feather_wing: This library, in the motor_controllers folder, implements the MotorControllerIntf abstract interface class and defines a concrete motor controller. For Remo, the motor controller is defined in the AdafruitMotorController class. This class has access to the motor driver board and serves to operate the speed of a single motor, which is why two instances are created in the main.cpp file.
• encoder: This library is used in the BaseController class and is based on Encoder.h from https://www.pjrc.com/teensy/td_libs_Encoder.html that allows reading encoder tick counts from quadrature encoders, like the DG01D-E motors consist of. The encoder library also provides a method jointState() to directly obtain the joint state, which is returned by this method in the JointState struct, that consists of the measured angular position (rad) and angular velocity (rad/s) of the wheel joints:

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 diffbot::JointState diffbot::Encoder::jointState() { long encoder_ticks = encoder.read(); ros::Time current_time = nh_.now(); ros::Duration dt = current_time - prev_update_time_; double dts = dt.toSec(); double delta_ticks = encoder_ticks - prev_encoder_ticks_; double delta_angle = ticksToAngle(delta_ticks); joint_state_.angular_position_ += delta_angle; joint_state_.angular_velocity_ = delta_angle / dts; prev_update_time_ = current_time; prev_encoder_ticks_ = encoder_ticks; return joint_state_; } 
• pid: Defines a PID controller to compute PWM signals based on the velocity error between measured and commanded angular wheel joint velocities. For more infos about PIDs and the tuning sections refer to PID Controllers

With these libraries, we look at the main.cpp file. Inside it exists only a few global variables to keep the code organized and make it possible to test the individual components that get included. The main code is explained next:

1. First, we define the global ROS node handle, which is referenced in other classes, such as BaseController, where it is needed to publish, subscribe, or get the current time, using ros::NodeHandle::now(), to keep track of the update rates:

 1 ros::NodeHandle nh; 
2. For convenience and to keep the code organized, we declare that we want to use the diffbot namespace, where the libraries of the base controller are declared:

 1 using namespace diffbot; 
3. Next, we define two concrete motor controllers of type AdafruitMotorController found in the motor_controllers library:

 1 2 AdafruitMotorController motor_controller_right = AdafruitMotorController(3); AdafruitMotorController motor_controller_left = AdafruitMotorController(4); 

This class inherits from the abstract base class MotorControllerIntf, explained above. It knows how to connect to the Adafruit motor driver using its open source Adafruit_MotorShield library (https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-stepper-dc-motor-featherwing/library-reference) and how to get a C++ pointer to one of its DC motors (getMotor(motor_num)). Depending on the integer input value to AdafruitMotorController::setSpeed(int value), the DC motor is commanded to rotate in a certain direction and at a specified speed. For Remo, the range is between –255 and 255, specified by the PWM_MAX and PWM_MIN identifiers.

4. The next class that is defined globally inside main is BaseController, which incorporates most of the main logic of this low-level base controller:

 1 BaseController base_controller(nh, &motor_controller_left, &motor_controller_right); 

As you can see, it is a template class that accepts different kinds of motor controllers (TMotorController, which equals AdafruitMotorController in the case of Remo) that operate on different motor drivers (TMotorDriver, which equals Adafruit_MotorShield), using the MotorControllerIntf interface as explained previously. The BaseController constructor takes a reference to the globally defined ROS node handle and the two motor controllers to let it set the commanded speeds computed through two separate PID controllers, one for each wheel.

In addition to setting up pointers to the motor controllers, the BaseController class initializes two instances of type diffbot::Encoder. Its measured joint state, returned from diffbot::Encoder::jointState(), is used together with the commanded wheel joint velocities in the diffbot::PID controllers to compute the velocity error and output an appropriate PWM signal for the motors.

After defining the global instances, the firmware’s setup() function is discussed next. The low-level BaseController class communicates with the high-level interface DiffBotHWInterface using ROS publishers and subscribers. These are set up in the Basecontroller::setup() method, which is called in the setup() function of main.cpp. In addition to that, the BaseController::init() method is here to read parameters stored on the ROS parameter server, such as the wheel radius and distance between the wheels. Beside initializing BaseController, the communication frequency of the motor driver is configured:

 1 2 3 4 5 6 void setup() { base_controller.setup(); base_controller.init(); motor_controller_left.begin(); motor_controller_right.begin(); } 

The begin(uint16_t freq) method of the motor controllers has to be called explicitly in the main setup() function because MotorControllerIntf doesn't provide a begin() or setup() method in its interface. This is a design choice that, when added, would make the MotorControllerIntf less generic.

After the setup() function follows the loop() function, to read from sensors and write to actuators, which happens at specific rates, defined in the diffbot_base_config.h header. The bookkeeping of when these read/write functionalities occurred is kept in the BaseController class inside its lastUpdateRates struct. Reading from the encoders and writing motor commands happens in the same code block as the control rate:

 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 void loop() { ros::Duration command_dt = nh.now() - base_controller.lastUpdateTime().control; if (command_dt.toSec() >= ros::Duration(1.0 / base_controller.publishRate().control_, 0).toSec()) { base_controller.read(); base_controller.write(); base_controller.lastUpdateTime().control = nh.now(); } 

The following steps in this code block happen continuously at the control rate:

1. Encoder sensor values are read through the BaseController::read() method and the data is published inside this method for the high-level DiffbotHWInterface class, on the measured_joint_states topic of message type sensor_msgs::JointState.
2. The BaseController class subscribes to DiffBotHWInterface from which it receives the commanded wheel joint velocities (topic wheel_cmd_velocities, type diffbot_msgs::WheelsCmdStamped) inside the BaseController::commandCallback(const diffbot_msgs::WheelsCmdStamped&) callback method. In BaseController::read(), the PID is called to compute the motor PWM signals from the velocity error and the motor speeds are set with the two motor controllers.
3. To keep calling this method at the desired control rate, the lastUpdateTime().control variable is updated with the current time.

After the control loop update block, if an IMU is used, its data could be read at the imu rate and published for a node that fuses the data with the encoder odometry to obtain more precise odometry. Finally, in the main loop(), all the callbacks waiting in the ROS callback queue are processed with a call to nh.spinOnce().

MThis describes the low-level base controller. For more details and the complete library code, please refer to the diffbot_base/scripts/base_controller package.

In the following section, the diffbot::DiffBotHWInterface class is described.

ROS Control high-level hardware interface for a differential drive robot

The ros_control meta package contains the hardware interface class hardware_interface::RobotHW, which needs to be implemented to leverage many available controllers from the ros_controllers meta package. First, we’ll look at the diffbot_base node that instantiates and uses the hardware interface:

1. The diffbot_base node includes the diffbot_hw_interface.h header, as well as the controller_manager, defined in controller_manager.h, to create the control loop (read, update, write):

 1 2 3 #include #include #include 
2. Inside the main function of this diffbot_base node, we define the ROS node handle, the hardware interface (diffbot_base::DiffBotHWInterface), and pass it to the controller_manager, so that it has access to its resources:

 1 2 3 ros::NodeHandle nh; diffbot_base::DiffBotHWInterface diffBot(nh); controller_manager::ControllerManager cm(&diffBot); 
3. Next, set up a separate thread that will be used to service ROS callbacks. This runs the ROS loop in a separate thread as service callbacks can block the control loop:

 1 2 ros::AsyncSpinner spinner(1); spinner.start(); 
4. Then define at which rate the control loop of the high-level hardware interface should run. For Remo, we choose 10 Hz:

 1 2 ros::Time prev_time = ros::Time::now(); ros::Rate rate(10.0); rate.sleep(); // 10 Hz rate 
5. Inside the blocking while loop of the diffbot_base node, we do basic bookkeeping to get the system time to compute the control period:

 1 2 3 4 5 while (ros::ok()) { const ros::Time time = ros::Time::now(); const ros::Duration period = time - prev_time; prev_time = time; ... 
6. Next, we execute the control loop steps: read, update, and write. The read() method is here to get sensor values, while write() writes commands that were computed by diff_drive_controller during the update() step:

 1 2 3 4 5  ... diffBot.read(time, period); cm.update(time, period); diffBot.write(time, period); ... 
7. These steps keep getting repeated with the specified rate using rate.sleep().

After having defined the code that runs the main control loop of the diffbot_base node, we’ll take a look at the implementation of diffbot::DiffBotHWInterface, which is a child class of hardware_interface::RobotHW. With it, we register the hardware and implement the read() and write() methods, used above in the control loop.

The constructor of the diffbot::DiffBotHWInterface class is used to get parameters from the parameter server, such as the diff_drive_controller configuration from the diffbot_control package. Inside the constructor, the wheel command publisher and measured joint state subscriber are initialized. Another publisher is pub_reset_encoders_, which is used in the isReceivingMeasuredJointStates method to reset the encoder ticks to zero after receiving measured joint states from the low-level base controller.

After constructing DiffBotHWInterface, we create instances of JointStateHandles classes (used only for reading) and JointHandle classes (used for read, and write access) for each controllable joint and register them with the JointStateInterface and VelocityJointInterface interfaces, respectively. This enables the controller_manager to manage access for joint resources of multiple controllers. Remo uses DiffDriveController and JointStateController:

 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 for (unsigned int i = 0; i < num_joints_; i++) { hardware_interface::JointStateHandle joint_state_handle(joint_names_[i], &joint_positions_[i], &joint_velocities_[i], &joint_efforts_[i]); joint_state_interface_.registerHandle(joint_state_handle); hardware_interface::JointHandle joint_handle(joint_state_handle, &joint_velocity_commands_[i]); velocity_joint_interface_.registerHandle(joint_handle); } 

The last step that is needed to initialize the hardware resources is to register the JointStateInterface and the VelocityJointInterface interfaces with the robot hardware interface itself, thereby grouping the interfaces together to represent Remo robot in software:

 1 2 registerInterface(&joint_state_interface_); registerInterface(&velocity_joint_interface_); 

Now that the hardware joint resources are registered and the controller manager knows about them, it’s possible to call the read() and write() methods of the hardware interface. The controller manager update happens in between the read and write steps. Remo subscribes to the measured_joint_states topic, published by the low-level base controller. The received messages on this topic are stored in the measured_joint_states_ array of type diffbot_base::JointState using the measuredJointStateCallback method, and are relevant in the read() method:

1. The read() method is here to update the measured joint values with the current sensor readings from the encoders – angular positions (rad) and velocities (rad/s):

 1 2 3 4 5 void DiffBotHWInterface::read() { for (std::size_t i = 0; i < num_joints_; ++i) { joint_positions[i] = measured_joint_states[i].angular_position; joint_velocity[i] = measured_joint_states[i].angular_velocity; } 
2. The final step of the control loop is to call the write() method of the DiffBotHWInterface class to publish the angular wheel velocity commands of each joint, computed by diff_drive_controller:

 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 void DiffBotHWInterface::write() { diffbot_msgs::WheelsCmdStamped wheel_cmd_msg; for (int i = 0; i < NUM_JOINTS; ++i) { wheel_cmd_msg.wheels_cmd.angular_velocities.joint.push_back(joint_velocity_commands_[i]); } pub_wheel_cmd_velocities_.publish(wheel_cmd_msg); } 

In this method, it would be possible to correct for steering offsets due to model imperfections and slight differences in the wheel radii. See gain / trim model.

This concludes the important parts of the DiffBotHWInterface class and enables Remo to satisfy the requirements to work with the ROS Navigation Stack. In the next section, we’ll look at how to bring up the robot hardware and how the started nodes interact with each other.