Well, first of all, Happy New Year! I hope 2014 will be a great year for everyone. There is a lot of stuff in the pipeline for the Android DRO project for the 2014, including a new version of the TouchDRO application, new MSP430 Launchpad controller firmware and better documentation among other things. Now that I’m back from the holiday vacation, I’m ready to start tackling my “to-do” list.
New Version of The Application
It’s been a while since the last version of the Touch DRO Android application. During that time I’ve been working on a number of new features and enhancements. There are still some things up in the air, but the following features will be likely included:
Support for a tachometer has been consistently in the top three most common feature requests. By itself a tachometer is only marginally useful but it will serve as a stepping stone for a number of new functions. The next version of the TouchDRO there will be an option to enable tachometer output, which will appear below the other axes on screen.
|By popular demand, TouchDRO will support RPM display|
Multiple Machine Support
A number of users (including myself) are using one tablet with multiple machines. This doesn’t pose any problems when the machines use the same scales mounted in the same directions, etc. Once you have different scales on different machines, though, the experience becomes rather suboptimal. In my case the lathe is equipped with a set of iGaging scales, while the mill’s DRO is now converted to glass scales. Every time I wanted to switch between the machines I needed to go to the settings and change the “counts per inch” to make the DRO work accurately. In the upcoming version I added a concept of “preference banks”, enabling a user to switch between up to 10 sets of preferences. I.e. you’d be able to have one set of values for a lathe, another for a mill, and switch between them by selecting the appropriate “bank” from a dropdown.
|The application supports up to 10 preference banks|
Configurable User Interface
So far the DRO application has been tailored for a mill. While it would work for a lathe, many of the user interface elements don’t work very well. For example, hole pattern/hole circle functions make no sense on a lathe; tool offset function is counter-intuitive; Z axis is seldom used and simply takes up space. On top of that, with the tachometer support many lathe-specific functions can be created. Rather than having a separate version of the application I decided to overhaul the way the UI is implemented and make it more flexible. There is a number of new settings that will let you control the appearance of the application. In addition to showing/hiding the Z, W and RPM outputs you will be able to specify the machine type, which will determine what function buttons are visible and how the points list and the workspace preview appear. Finally, there are now three different fonts you can select for the display: “classic” 7-segment LCD font, generic monospace font and the default system font.
|The user interface is much more configurable|
Enhancements and Tentative Features
The above features are [almost] done and I’ve been testing them in the garage for some time now. In addition, I’ve been working on a number of features that might need to wait till the next version. This includes things like tool library, feed rate display and a number of lathe-specific functions. In addition to the new features there is a number of performance improvements, enhancements to the way the user interface scales to different screen sizes, a few bug fixes, etc. Finally, the readout refresh rate is about four times faster, so with fast scales there should be no perceivable lag; for slower scales the lag will be less pronounced.
New Controller Firmware
My intent behind the “Universal” version of the MSP430 firmware was to support a mix of capacitive scales and quadrature encoders. I wasn’t able to finish it yet due to some technical issues with reliable auto-detection of quadrature protocol. As a short-term solution I released two distinct version of the firmware, one that only works with quadrature encoders and another for capacitive scales. Ideally, I’d like to have a single, truly universal version, so I’m going to continue working towards that goal. Additionally, I will try to add tachometer input as soon as possible, at least to the MPS430 Launchpad versions of the controller. If the time permits, I might add it to the Arduino sketch as well. On top of that want to add support for touch probe/edge detector.
According to the stats I get from the Play Store’s “Developer Console” there have been over 4700 downloads of the application and over 1000 people are actively using it. With that many users the number of emails I get per day is getting to be pretty large. I’m still trying my best to answer them in a timely manner but it’s getting to a point where I soon won’t be able to do that. Based on the patterns I’m seeing, many of the questions arise from the fact that there is no proper user guide and most of the information is scattered all over the blog. For the new version of the app I started recording some “how-to” videos and will intend to start working on a proper user guide.
Prefabricated Controller Board
Since a lot of the “target audience” for the Android DRO have little or no electronic assembly experience, I get a lot of emails from people asking if I could build a unit for them. My hope was that as the project grows more popular, someone would start offering a custom PCB or a kit. So far that hasn’t materialized, unfortunately. As the number of users keeps growing, I think it makes sense to design a custom PCB, so building a controller would be a bit easier. I haven’t thought it through completely, though. I doubt it will be economical for the users to order boards one-at-a-time. On the other hand I don’t want to go into the business of selling the boards (because I don’t want to run a perfectly good hobby). No matter what I will design the board and order a few test units and go from there.
The upcoming version of the application, new controller firmware and the documentation update will likely keep me busy for at least the first quarter. I know from experience that after the release I will get a ton of ideas for new features and enhancements from the community, so I doubt that I will run out of work. Overall, I’m hoping for an exciting year for the DRO project, so stay tuned.
Finally, special shout out to Arno Dabekaussen for his great contribution to the project that included a fix for a few bugs, a number of great ideas for the new version, and a version of MSP430 controller (that I will publish as soon as the time permits).