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How to move binary data into a PC?

Discussion in 'Electronic Design' started by Virgil Smith, Apr 18, 2006.

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  1. Virgil Smith

    Virgil Smith Guest

    Can anybody give me advice on capturing a raw binary data stream into a PC?

    I'm working on a project to develop an instrumentation receiver for
    signal strength from a number of remote transmitters. The front end (tuner,
    mixer, digitizer, etc.) is working pretty well, but the next step is giving
    me trouble. I will be shifting out data from an A/D converter, and need to
    get it into a PC somehow, time tag each sample, store records in a logging
    file and every few days read the accumulated stuff out from a host computer
    (FTP or Telnet over the Internet, I'm thinking). There will be several of
    these data-gathering stations operating unattended, spread out over several
    miles. Data files should be no more than a few Mbytes.

    I thought this would be straightforward, but I can't come up with a simple
    to handle the PC interface. Is it really so difficult to do this, or am I
    missing something? I hope it's the latter, and somebody here can point me in
    the right direction.

    I'm more a hardware guy than a programmer, so I'm looking for something

    Thanks for any advice.

  2. Leon

    Leon Guest

    A suitable MCU interfaced to the PC via RS-232?

  3. Tim Wescott

    Tim Wescott Guest

    That was my suggestion. Best bet would be to format it in ASCII,
    perhaps in a comma-delimited format that could be directly imported into
    Excel or compatible programs.

    This would be easy to do with just about any micro controller -- a PIC
    or an 8051 would be the most likely choices.


    Tim Wescott
    Wescott Design Services

    Posting from Google? See
  4. Virgil Smith

    Virgil Smith Guest

    Right. I was thinking along those lines myself. The real sticky part
    for me is how to manipulate the bytes in the PC environment. What software
    packages do people use to organize RS-232 inputs into records, files, etc.
    complete with time tags? Power Basic, C and Python have all been suggested
    to me, but none with any conviction.

    Also (secondary consideration), I was wondering if it's wise to rely on
    conventional serial and/or parallel ports to be around in several years.
    I would like this project to have a fairly long life, and I can foresee
    to replace components (like laptop computers) as time goes by. Other, less
    knowledgeable folks may be running things eventually.

  5. Luhan

    Luhan Guest

    I don't know what else you may expect to be around. RS-232 serial
    ASCII is about the most common computer connection that has ever been
    around. It has been used, as far as I know, by about every computer
    company in history. Although some (laptop) computers today come
    without COM ports, you can always get some plug-in card to provide it.

  6. Nico Coesel

    Nico Coesel Guest

    Depending on your budget, you may consider a digital I/O card which is
    connected to the A/D converter directly. These cards are available in
    several varieties (USB, PCI, PCMCIA). These cards usually come with
    their own API which is (usually) easy to deal with.

    I think this is the shortest route. You'll have the data inside the PC
    without having to develop another 'in between' device and debugging a
    PC application is much easier than software in a microcontroller.
  7. Leon

    Leon Guest

    It's not difficult to write some software in C or any other suitable
    programming language that reads data from the PC serial port and
    outputs it to a file, with time/date stamps. I'd do it from DOS with a
    program written in gcc.

  8. Sjouke Burry

    Sjouke Burry Guest

    Could you link them to a wifi wireless network?
    dumping data directly to the remote shared harddisk?
    You might have to ask a LINUX guru ,because the
    number of open shares in XP might be limited.
    The range ,when using directional arials might
    be several miles.(according to a thread a few days
  9. Virgil Smith

    Virgil Smith Guest

    Interesting idea, but in this case we're talking about several tens of
    miles, and in one
    case, maybe 100.

  10. scada

    scada Guest

    csv (comma separated value) files can be imported into excel, these are just
    ascii comma delimited files. A vb written program can pick the data from
    your serial port and place it into the excel spreadsheet. If you need graphs
    larger than excel's limited 64K, have a look at for around $30
    it's a great deal - i've been using it for all my data acquisitions for
    several years now. As far as the fate of serial ports, I have the same
    concerns. there are several serial to USB dongles out there that claim to be
    "virtual" serial ports on the pc. I plan to look into Microchips PIC, they
    have USB & USART's built in. Good luck...
  11. [brevity clip]
    With 100% conviction I'd suggest that PowerBasic. Suspect the needed time
    stamped log file program would take a whopping 10 lines or so.
    I'd stick with RS232. It has a massive, diverse user base (=money to be
    made)hence will receive continued support. In the meanwhile other comms
    fluff will no doubt come and go.
  12. Guest

    csv (comma separated value) files can be imported into excel, these are just
    I read that some of these rs232-usb dongles don't adhere to standards properly
    in way that makes them troublesome.
    Otoh, with PIC one can run the show oneself ;)
  13. Guest

    Distance: 10-100 miles
    Amount: few MBytes/week?

    Can you tell what kind of link you will have?, IP connectivity with ethernet
    interface. Phone lines?, Packet radio?

    The units could get by with some simple mcu.

    As for getting the data into a pc. You could utilise 'perl'. Which isn't
    pretty but will mangle the data in almost any way you like.

    RS232 is also quite feature safe.

    What kind of data is collected ..?
  14. Hi Virgil,
    buy a USB-cellphon cable (I use the Samsung E700). Cut the Plug and use the
    cables directly to power my µC from USB and habe a UART with 3V3 Level. What
    do we need more? Yes a 5V to 3V3 LDO and a few caps.

  15. Virgil Smith

    Virgil Smith Guest

    I've heard a lot of good things about Powerbasic, and I may go that way.
    It's inexpensive, seems
    well-established and has all the capability I need for this job. Something
    one could base a project
    on with some confidence!

  16. Virgil Smith

    Virgil Smith Guest

    Yes. I was thinking of one of the Microchip PIC family with USB capability.
    But if the budget
    can take it, I can just use a commercial data acq module for each site.
    DataIO, Dataq, Onset
    and others all make units that should do.
    Haven't used Perl, but I've heard about it for years. What's it like? Isn't
    it basically a scripting language?
    Field strength measurements multiplexed over 3-5 channels. Sample rate will
    be about 1/minute, with
    10-bit precision.
  17. Guest

    Distance: 10-100 miles
    Amount: few MBytes/week?
    Connectivity: IP/ethernet
    Why usb when your datapipe is ip/ethernet in the end? it would only add a cost
    of 20 EUR to do the usb->ether.

    Tuner -> Mixer -> A/D -> Mcu -> NIC-Ethernet -> Magnetics

    Mcu: AVR, PIC
    Nic: RTL8019 (Asfair realtek have some nic that does 8-bit)
    And you need "magnetics" aswell.

    Another option is a mobilephone + mcu. As most mobiles talk serial in some
    way or another. (ex SE CDU-11 datacable is a rs232-usb adapter in reality
    It's a mix between shellscript and C languagewise. But it's nice because it
    allows you to glue together programs. And let's you concentrate on your
    goal. Provided the task is relative small.
    Sound like some weather, possible thunder science ;)

    I looked into thunder detectors when I worried it would blow up something ;)

    (2x aerial -> amplifier -> soundcard or real 200 kHz adc, then triangulation :)
  18. RS-232, by far, is the easiest way to go on a PC, and frankly, you
    really don't have any alternatives.

    USB is not what people often think - you can't just whip up some code
    to talk to a USB port on a PC. The plug and play facility is
    misleading - to talk to a raw USB port requires considerable skill in
    driver-level development, because, techncially, USB hardware requires
    device drivers to present an interface inside the kernel, upon which
    other device drivers ride, and finally, the kernel presents a
    user-level interface that you can program against using your favorite
    language such as C or BASIC. So if the USB device is a digital camera,
    the interface that at the user coding level will see something that
    expects to behave like a digital camera. If you just want to send
    bytes back and forth as you would for RS-232, forget it, you will
    suffer, unless you are using a configuration that mimics an RS-232
    serial port, but at that point you might as well use a real serial
    port. (This is slightly not true but...).

    So with RS-232, I would do this:

    * Connect modems on each remote module's serial port. Connect modem to
    central computers serial port. Since distance is so far, use
    conventional external modems with POTS. If distance were shorter, you
    could use cold cable with no dial tone and it would still work.

    * Pick your favorite compiler. Microsft has done a stellar job in
    creating these free compilers: My favorite is C/C++. You
    probably want the one for BASIC.

    Here's steps in C. There wiill be direct analogs in BASIC, because all
    the BASIC API's in Windows do is simply call the underlying system
    API's (which are written in C).

    * On central computer, Open serial port- CreateFile()

    * Set format for transfer 9600-115,200, 8, N, 1, (don't remember

    * Dial out ATDT+1 617 555-1212 pause to allow connnection -

    * Open a data file - CreateFile() again

    * Read byte or bytes from port - ReadFile()

    * Call system function to get time for each record - GetSystemTime()

    * Write collected record with time stamp into data file - WriteFile()

    * After finished, close data file - CloseHandle().

    * Close serial port - CloseHandlle() again

    Store records in format of your choice, like CSV, etc. Note that there
    is no "magic" to formats. Pretty pictures won't automatically jump up
    on the screen just from choosing a format. Human beings must give
    semantics and detailed instructions on what to do with the data before
    anything fancy happens.

    Use Hyperterminal to test your embedded module before you write your
    central-PC application by typing commands directly from Hyperterminal,
    through cable, to the module (which means u will need ASCII command

    -Le Chaud Lapin-
  19. Virgil Smith

    Virgil Smith Guest

    This is a very enlightening discussion and I thank you for the pithy project
    I hadn't thought how useful Hyperterminal might be as a debugging tool,
    until you
    mentioned it. Good one!

    My job will be done once I get everything into a standard file format (CSV,
    Somebody else will worry about making the pretty pictures for reports and

    My regards to everyone who has chimed in here. I appreciate the help.

  20. Nico Coesel

    Nico Coesel Guest

    I recommend to stay away from PIC processors. Been there, will never
    go there again. Too cumbersome to program and way too sensitive to
    static discharge.

    A TI MSP430F149 uC and a CP2102 USB tot serial chip (from Silabs) make
    a nice and simple combo.

    The adavantage of the MSP430 series is that you don't need a
    programmer to program them. They can be programmed directly using the
    serial port. Software can be written in C using a GCC compiler (look
    for mspgcc).
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