Extra user interfaces

I’ve been looking for an easy way to add some extra user interfaces to my Domotica system, particularly for upstairs. Now that we have a bunch of Radiator Thermostats and Roller shutters both up- and downstairs, the wish for some extra User Interfaces (bedrooms, office etcetera) increased the last couple of weeks. Yes, the Radiator Thermostats can also be operated manually, but that’s not always that convenient; I want something more flexible and versatile.

Should I buy a tablet and put it on the wall? Neh, too pricy and therefore not expandable enough – we would be bankrupt before I could finish this project ;-).

Or is it better to create a User Interface for the smartphones? Useless for this particular ‘problem’, cause we all have the habit of leaving our smartphones downstairs – no one has the urge to Tweet or call while in bed (yet…). Besides that, guests in our house should also be able to lower a roller shutter without too much hassle.

What I’d like to have is something small & simple, touch-driven, communicating wirelessly, with an easily adjustable User Interface without having to change the code too often and, if possible, suitable to take in your hands.

For that I bought this Touch Shield to tinker with during the next weeks. There are some nice videos that demonstrate what you can do with these Touch shields and they look well enough to give it a try. This particular shield can be used with the Adafruit library, which takes care of the low level stuff and provides functions for stuff like drawing lines, circles, rectangles and text on the screen – with an SD card it should even be possible to draw 24-bit BMP files – well, let that be be step 2 for now.

While this Touch Shield is on its way, I started thinking of how to make this Touch Shield cooperate with my Domotica system. As I said, I don’t want to change the sketch when I want to add another menu option or button or anything else that comes to my mind; the ‘definition’ of the screens, menus, buttons should not be defined in the sketch, but somewhere else. Preferably somewhere on the network in a file; another good option could be stored on a SD card.

This file should contain everything that can be regarded as being subject to change when multiple Touch Shields are going to be used throughout the house: menu options, shapes, buttons, colors, text, actions; so the basic idea is: 1 sketch which can handle multiple User Interface definitions, designed for a specific location/room. So I definitely need some sort of User Interface Markup language for that, like XAML is.  But the markup language to be used should also be really ultra-light-weight, cause we’re still dealing with an Arduino here, where RAM is limited and every bit of overhead leads to problems, very quickly. I mean, you could define a button like this:

<Button Background="Red" Foreground="Green" Content="Light on" Action="C02 ON"/>

but that will consume more memory than

B;BRED;FGREEN;TLight On;AC02 ON

So maybe I’ll create my own Markup ‘language’; we’ll see.

The way in which an action will be communicated with my Domotica system will be something comparable to how our Ethernet Doorbell communicates with the system; for example, when the touch of a button should result in a light going on or off, I can just let the Arduino send a string (the Action property in the examples above) to my system and it will take care of the rest.

Big plans, which also bring a lot of new challenges – and I’m sure, a lot of fun!

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4 Responses to Extra user interfaces

  1. Eric VDB says:

    Robert,

    maybe you should look at one of these boards as they have much more memory, are reasonably priced and can be programmed in C# (and now with NetMF 4.2 also in VB.Net)
    Fez Cerb40: http://www.ghielectronics.com/catalog/product/353
    Fez Panda II: http://www.ghielectronics.com/catalog/product/256
    Fez Mini: http://www.ghielectronics.com/catalog/product/134

  2. Eric VDB says:

    Yes, I have 3 Panda’s, 1 Rhino, 1 Cobra and a CanXtra box. I’m also aware of NetDuino, but the Fez board are much better supported. I use the Cobra as the main controller, and receives data wireless from both arduino and panda nodes. To put it in a few words: I’m a very happy customer. 😉

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