Friday, December 9, 2016

sensorfw & Qt is not just UI framework! or Without sensors, there's no IoT

Like it says on the Intel IoT developer site, "Without sensors, there's no IoT".

Because I am the maintainer of QtSensors, I like to inquire about  people's use of sensors and if they use QtSensors. Over the years, I have heard quite often something like, 'Qt is thought of as a UI framework'. *sigh*
But Qt is more than just a UI framework and it's use is not dependent on widgets or declarative wizardry. It is used in quite a few middleware components without UI elements. One of those middleware frameworks is Sensor Framework.

Sensor framework is a daemon that uses a plugin system written using Qt for reading various sensors such as accelerometer or light sensors. It was originally developed by Nokia for Harmattan and ran on the N9. It was also used in MeeGo and later included in the Mer Project and on Jolla phones and the ill fated tablet. So it has been released onto a few commercial products.

We looked at it when I was working at Nokia on the project that I still cannot name, but we had decided we would come up with our own solution. Looking back, this was the wrong decision, we should have taken the already proven sensor framework and ran with that. Why? Because it existed and works.

I started maintaining it when I was a privateer (contractor) developer for Jolla. No one else had touched it for some time so I grabbed the few not yet merged bug fixes and added support for libhybris/android libhardware adaptors.

Sensor Framework has support for multiple clients with down sampling for different data rates. It uses dbus for control lines (to start and stop, etc) but sends data through a socket. It also has a working backend in QtSensors.

I noticed that Ubuntu's Unity does nothing to respond when I put this into "tablet mode". I have to manually open the virtual keyboard among other things.

So I thought I could use sensorfw on my Dell 2 in 1. It's one of those converged laptop/tablet devices. It has a few sensors - accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and lid sensors. One problem... sensorfw does not support lid sensors, or a few other sensors that are around today in IoT (which I will add a bit later). Lid "sensor" might be a bit of a misnomer, as they could be switches but I'd like to think it is more like a hal effect sensor that uses magnets. In any case there are event nodes to use.

First one I chose is to add the lid sensor - to detect when this machine is put into tablet mode, so the UI can better deal with it.

I also noticed that this kernel has support for iio sensor interface for the accel and gyro. Sensorfw only supports sysfs, evdev and hybris interfaces, so I also wanted to add support for that.

I worked on adding iio support first. Well... really just wrote a sensor adaptor plugin. My plugin supports accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer, which this device seems to have. I will expand this to support other sensors later, as well as clean it up a bit.

Thanks to QtSensors sensor framework backend, I can make a UI app change with the orientation and lid changes. Better yet, I can create a game that uses accelerometer data like a marble maze game. Or I can upload the data to one of those Node.js data visualization web apps.

And since sensor framework is opensource, others can as well.