Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Running From an External Hard Drive

The SD card of the Raspberry Pi is required for booting.  While you may not be able to boot from an external hard drive, moving the root partition there will significantly speed up the Raspberry Pi.  There are many uses where this configuration particularly useful.  File servers and media servers are good examples.  I use a system like this for a MySQL database server.

There are a number of variations to the process, but basically, the steps are:
o  Install OS on SD Card and boot 
o  Plug in external hard drive
o  Partition and Format hard drive
o  Copy system to hard drive
o  Mount the new system and modify configuration to use the hard drive

I decided not to re-invent the wheel.  The following instructions are just my variations on the instructions provided by Rattus here: 

Note about the sudo command:  All of the following must be done as root.  You must put sudo before each of the commands.  Or, you can follow the (not recommended, bad practice) habit I have and just enter sudo bash to run a shell as root and skip saying sudo all the time.

Load SD Card with Raspbian in the usual way. Update the system software and firmware with the following three commands. This can take quite a while to complete.
apt-get update
apt-get upgrade

List the partitions This should show only the /boot and / partitions on the SD card.
fdisk –l

Plug external hard drive into USB and list the partitions again. This should show another HD probably at /dev/sda

Modify the partition table for the external drive.
fdisk /dev/sda
Delete partitions by entering “d” and then the number of the partition to delete. Delete all the partitions. Entering “p” will list the partitions.

At this point, you have a few options.
    a) Create a single partition and move the root there. This will leave the swap file on the SD card.
    b) Create a root partition that fills most of the drive and a small swap partition.
    c) Create a partition for the OS, a small swap partition, and a large partition for application data.

I am using the third option.  The following instructions are fairly easy to change to use one of the other options.  While still in the fdisk program, do these steps.

- Create the root partition:  I made mine 16GB.  Enter “n” to create a partition, “p” to select primary partition and then “1” to select partition number one.  Select the default start sector.  Enter +16G to specify the size.  
- Create the swap partition:  Enter “n” to create a partition, “p” to select primary partition and then “2” to select partition number two.  Select the default start sector.  Enter +2G to specify the size.  Enter “t” to set the type of a partition.  Enter “2” and then “82” to make this one a swap partition.
- Create the data partition:  Enter “n” to create a partition, “p” to select primary partition and then “3” to select partition number three.  Select the default start sector and default end sector to fill up the rest of the disk.  
- Enter “p” to list the partitions and verify things are like you expect.
- Enter “w” to write the new partition table and exit.

Create (format) the data partition with an EXTv4 file system. This command takes a few minutes to finish. There is no need to format the first partition since we are going to do a raw copy of an existing file system over it anyway.
mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda3

Initialize the swap partition
mkswap /dev/sda2

Mount the new root partition.
mount /dev/sda1 /mnt

Use rsync to clone the root partition from the sdcard to the new partition on your hard disk, Note the exclude of /mnt. This takes a while.
rsync -avz --exclude '/mnt' / /mnt

Change the mount configuration file on the new root.
vi /mnt/etc/fstab

Change the root device /dev/mmcblk0p2 to be /dev/sda1

Add /dev/sda2 as a swap partition by adding this line.
/dev/sda2 none swap sw 0 0

Finally, stop the system from using the swap file that it normally uses.
rm /mnt/etc/rc?.d/*dphys-swapfile

And delete the old swap file.
rm /mnt/var/swap

Use your editor of choice (I use vi) to modify the boot configuration to use the new root partition. First make a backup copy.
cp /boot/cmdline.txt /boot/cmdline.orig
vi /boot/cmdline.txt
Change /dev/mmcblk0p2 to be /dev/sda1

Now the system is ready to reboot. It should come up normally with the external hard drive mounted as root.

If the system fails, use another machine to copy /boot/cmdline.orig to /boot/cmdline.txt and then reboot again.
One problem that some people have run into is controllers that take too long to complete the USB discovery. This can be compensated for by adding delays in the /boot/cmdline.txt file with the bootdelay and rootdelay options.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pulse Width Motor Control

My last project had me digging through old robotics parts to find an H-Bridge Motor Controller.  I found one that had several TTL chips on the circuit as well and it reminded me of a trick some of you may find useful.

First, lets define pulse width modulation (PWM.)  It refers to the duty cycle (how long the line is high vs how long it is low) of a pulse stream.

A duty cycle of 50% looks like this:

A duty cycle of 25% looks like this:

And 75% looks like this:

What use is this for controlling motors?  If you have ever tried controlling a motor by simply turning it on and off, you quickly realize how little control you have.  Your robot goes from stopped to zooming at full speed with nothing in between.  If, however, you use PWM to power your motor, then it will be on at full power very briefly and then off, repeatedly.  With PWM you can provide much finer motor control and have your robot move at whatever speed you like.  The higher the duty cycle of the pulse stream, the more power your motor will output.

There are several ways to produce PWM signals from the Raspberry Pi.  The simplest is to turn a GPIO pin on and off in a loop with delays controlling the pulse width.  This is very CPU intensive and not always consistent.  You can use libraries or device drivers to produce PWM from the GPIO that will be consistent and will use virtually no CPU.  Or, you can use external hardware to produce PWM.

Here is how I have done it in the past. (I haven't built a robot using a Pi yet, but did it with simpler microcontrollers years ago.)  Use six GPIO pins:

  • Enable (motor is on or off)
  • Direction (forward or reverse)
  • Power 0
  • Power 1
  • Power 2
  • Power 3

The four power bits control the duty cycle of a pulse stream and allow 16 different power levels.  Below is a block diagram of the circuit I used to do this.
I used a 555 chip for the pulse generator, a 74161 counter, and a 7485 comparator.  Other chips can be used to achieve similar results.  I built my own H bridge circuit back then, but I recommend checking out some of the motor controller chips available now, such as the SN754410 chip.

Gotta Know When to Fold 'em

For the past few months, I have burned up a lot of hobby time trying to build an interface to control the Orbit 58874 sprinkler control valve.  These simply connect in-line with standard water hose connectors and cost about $20.  However, they turned out to be quite complicated to control.

The valve connects with two wires.  Sending a 24V pulse in one polarity will cause the valve to latch open.  Sending it in the reserse polarity will cause it to latch closed.  At least in theory.  And, as a wise professor once told me:  "In theory, practice and theory are the same.  But in practice, they sure as hell aren't."

I had a 24V power supply, but it was a little too powerful.  If you leave the valve powered for more than a second, you can burn out the solenoid coil.  After melting one of my H-Bridge motor controllers, burning out several valves, and losing a couple of months, this project was officially no longer fun.

Fortunately, someone else has already gotten this working.  If you are interested in this, check out http://rayshobby.net/ where you can find interfaces to these valves for Raspberry Pi and Arduino.  I may just break down and buy his OpenSprinklerPi interface.

But now it's time to throw in the towel and move on to other projects.

UPDATE:  I was mistaken about the OpenSprinklerPi.  It will only support standard valves.  That's easy - apply voltage and they turn on.  Stop and they turn off.

So I have returned to this and will be building an entirely new interface board for the sprinklers.  It will probably include an H-Bridge to control output polarity and relays for each sprinkler.