Own radio protocols

About this post

In the last articles I have explained how to control radio modules and radio sockets with the Arduino or other microcontrollers by means of suitable libraries. But does 433 MHz radio work without a library? Is it complicated to develop your own (simple) radio protocol? When you pay attention to a few things, it’s not very difficult and it’s also a lot of fun. I will present two concepts. I use simple 433 MHz transmitter and receiver modules as in the previous posts. Please do not forget to attach antennas to the modules. I probably don’t have to recreate a connection scheme for the Arduino: GND is connected with GND, VCC with 5 V and the data pin of the module is used as per the instructions in the respective sketch. For the transmitter side I used an Arduino Nano, on the receiver side a UNO. 

Suitable modules for own radio protocols
Simple “one-way” modules for 433 MHz

Speed is required

Before I start, I might have to explain few things about “C”. Radio technology is so fast that the speed needed at which a pin status (HIGH or LOW) can be queried becomes quite relevant. Normally you use the digitalRead command, here e.g. to query the pin 5:

pinStatus = digitalRead(5);

The “C” spelling is synonymous, much faster, but also much more cryptic:

pinStatus = PIND & (1<<PD5);

I will perhaps go into more detail on the subject of ‘C’ in another post because there are also many other occasions where the ‘C’ spelling makes sense. Here I will only briefly explain what that means. “PD5” is a predefined constant with a value of 5 and stands for pin 5 on the PORTD of the ATmega328. This pin happens to be the digital pin 5 on Arduino. For example, the pin “PB5″ is Digitalpin 13 on Arduino. “1<<PD5” is a binary operation and means: shift the one five digits to the left. So, the 1 (00000001), is turned into 00100000. 

PIND is the status register of the PORTD. If all pins are “LOW” the value of the PIND register is “00000000”. If only PD5 is “HIGH”, it is “00100000”. “&” is a binary “AND”. It compares bitwise the values on both sides. If both are the same, the result is TRUE and 1, respectively. If both are unequal, the result is FALSE or 0. And thus both of the above commands lead to the same result. 

The following sketch shows that the spelling in “C” is much faster. I have queried the status of pin 5 with both commands 100000 times and measured the time required in milliseconds. Here is the sketch and the result:

unsigned long numberOfReads = 100000;
unsigned long startTime = 0;
unsigned long readTimeLength = 0;
bool pinStatus;

void setup() {
  Serial.begin(9600); 
  pinMode(5,INPUT); 
}

void loop() {
  startTime = millis();
  for(unsigned long i=0; i<numberOfReads; i++){
    pinStatus = digitalRead(5);
  }
  readTimeLength = millis() - startTime;
  Serial.print("digitalRead: ");
  Serial.print(readTimeLength);
  Serial.print(" ms ");
  Serial.print(" / ");
  delay(1000);
  
  startTime = millis();
  for(unsigned long i=0; i<numberOfReads; i++){
    pinStatus = (PIND & (1<<PD5));
  }
  readTimeLength = millis() - startTime;
  Serial.print("PIND Abfrage: "); 
  Serial.print(readTimeLength);
  Serial.println(" ms");
  delay(5000);
}

 

For radio protocols, digitalRead is a little slow

Thus, the “C” command is about eight times faster. Per single query, the result is 3.45 microseconds compared to 0.44 microseconds.

Lots of noise in the air

Actually, it sounds simple at first: On the transmitter side, a “HIGH” on the data pin leads to the sending of a signal. This creates a “HIGH” on the receiver side on the data pin and this can be evaluated in terms of time period. We are therefore not using modulation methods here. Simple, but works. 

The following sketch for the receiver side captures signals and measures their duration at pin 5. To measure times, most people like to use the “millis()” or “micros()” command. Another method for measuring very short periods of time has proven its worth. In a loop, the condition for the measurement is queried. As long as the cancellation condition is not met, the sketch waits for a short time (resolution) in the loop and then a counter is incremented. In the end, counter times resolution provides the duration. 

const int resolution = 5;
unsigned int counter; 

void setup(){
  Serial.begin(9600);
  DDRD = 0x00; // Arduino Pins D0 - D7 as input, "C" spelling
  PORTD = 0x00; // Arduino Pins D0 - D7 are LOW, "C" spelling
 }

void loop(){
  counter = 0;
  while(!(PIND & (1<<PD5))){/* Wait for High*/}
  while((PIND & (1<<PD5))){ /* Count High */
    delayMicroseconds(resolution);
    counter++;
  }
  Serial.print(counter);
  Serial.print(", "); 
}

If you let the sketch run without having a transmitter switched on, you are amazed how many signals are detected anyway. But how can you find your “real” signal in this “soup”? 

“Basic noise”

The principle

You can mark a signal as a “real” signal by placing it in a clearly identifiable start and end signal (kind of ID) . In my first test signal these are very “HIGH” continuous signals of 10000 µs. In between there are the “HIGH” information signals of 400, 600, 800,….., 2000 µs. These are separated by “LOW” phases of 600 µs

Own radio protocols - An example

The sketch looks like this and I don’t think I need any further explanation:

int txPin = 10; /* Transmitter Data Pin */
const int lowLength = 600; /* constant Low Phase */
 
void setup(){ 
  pinMode(txPin, OUTPUT); 
}
 
void loop(){
  unsigned int mcs;
  startSequence(); /*Send the startsequence*/
  for(int i=0; i<9; i++){ /* Send nine signals; High: 400, 600, .... */
    digitalWrite(txPin, HIGH);
    mcs = i*200 + 400;
    delayMicroseconds(mcs);
    digitalWrite(txPin,LOW);
    delayMicroseconds(lowLength); 
  }
  endSequence(); /* Send the end sequence */
  delay(5000);
}

void startSequence(){
  digitalWrite(txPin, HIGH);
  delayMicroseconds(10000);
  digitalWrite(txPin, LOW);
  delayMicroseconds(lowLength);
}

void endSequence(){
  digitalWrite(txPin, HIGH);
  delayMicroseconds(10000);
  digitalWrite(txPin, LOW); 
}

Let’s move on to receiversketch. At first the receiver is waiting for a valid start signal. If this is given, i.e. if a defined length is exceeded, the information signals are analyzed, i.e. the lengths of the “HIGH” and “LOW” phases are measured alternately. These values are stored in a two-dimensional array “signalLength” as “lowCounter” and “highCounter”. The length of the signals is then low- or highCounter x Resolution (here: 20 µs). If “highCounter” exceeds a defined value, it is the end signal. The sequence is thus fully transmitted and will be displayed on the serial monitor. 

int resolution = 20;

void setup(){
  Serial.begin(9600);
  DDRD = 0x00; // Arduino Pins D0 - D7 as input
  PORTD = 0x00; // Arduino Pins D0 - D7 set LOW
}

void loop(){
  waitForSignal();
}

void waitForSignal(){
  while(!(PIND & (1<<PD5))){/*Wait for valid signal*/}
  if(startSequence()){ // Is the signal a valid start sequence? */
    analyseSignal(); /* if yes, analyse the signal */
  }
}
  
void analyseSignal(){
  int signalCounter = 0; /* counter for High/Low signal pairs */
  int lowCounter = 0; /* Low signal length = lowCounter * resolution; */
  int highCounter = 0; /* High signal length = highCounter * resolution; */
  int signalLength[15][2]; /* store the signals in a two-dimensional array */
  bool msgCompleted = false;

  while(!msgCompleted){ /* while the message is not completed */
    lowCounter = 0;
    highCounter = 0; 
    
    while(!(PIND & (1<<PD5))){ /* Wait for HIGH, measure the length of the low signal */
      delayMicroseconds(resolution);
      lowCounter++;
    }
    while(PIND & (1<<PD5)){ /* Wait for LOW, analyse the HIGH signal */
      delayMicroseconds(resolution);
      highCounter++;
    }
    if(highCounter < 200){ /* a Low/High pair has been received */ 
    signalLength[signalCounter][0] = lowCounter;
    signalLength[signalCounter][1] = highCounter;
    signalCounter++;
  }
  else if(highCounter < 5000){ /* end of message received, the if is redundant */
    msgCompleted = true;
    }
  }
  /* Following is the output */
  Serial.println("low / high");
  for(int i=0; i<signalCounter; i++){
    Serial.print(signalLength[i][0]);
    Serial.print(" / ");
    Serial.println(signalLength[i][1]);
  }
  Serial.println("--------");
  delay(2000);
}

bool startSequence(){
  int counter = 0;
  while(PIND & (1<<PD5)){
    delayMicroseconds(resolution);
    counter++;
  }
  if(counter >400){ /* the start signal has been received */
    return true;
  }
  else{
    return false;
  }
}
The test signal on the receiver side

And, behold, you get beautiful distinct signals. Since the resolution is 20 µs and the “LOW” signals are 600 µs long, the lowCounter should be 30. Strictly speaking, 29, as he counts starting at zero. So we measure about 100’s too much. And what is too much with the “LOW” signals is missing from the “HIGH” signals. Probably the receiver modules need a certain amount of time to set the data pin to “HIGH” when receiving a signal. In any case, you get a good impression from this at which speeds you can transfer data. 

Protocol 1 – bitwise transmission

The basic idea

Now that we have seen that information can be coded by signal length, it is now time to develop our own radio protocols. In the first example, we transfer bits that are defined by the “HIGH” phase length. A “0” is a 600 µs signal and a “1” is a 1200 µs signal. In between there are fixed “LOW” signals of 600 µs. Assuming that zeros and ones occur equally often, the average signal length is 1500 microns, i.e. a transmission rate of “legendary” 0.666 kbit/s. Through the basic experiment above, we have seen that even much shorter signals can still be clearly distinguished. So here’s still a lot of room for increasing the speed. 

The transmittersketch

I have defined the information to be transmitted as a string. At first, you can easily break down a string into its individual characters: yourstring [ites Zeichen] . To break down the characters into their 8 bits, I use a binary operation in the “sendeByte” function, which you should understand if you have followed my explanations above. In essencet: the byte is gradually moved to the right. Then the logical “AND” checks whether the first bit is “1” or “0”. Accordingly, a short or long “HIGH” is sent in the sendeSignal() function. I have shortened the end signal to 5000 µs.

int txPin = 10; /* Transmitter Data Pin */

void setup() {
  pinMode(txPin, OUTPUT);
  Serial.begin(9600);
}

void loop() {
  String msgString = "Hallo Welt, wie geht es dir heute?"; // Hello world, how are you today?
  sendeString(msgString);
  delay(5000);
}

void sendeString(String msg) {
  int len = msg.length();
  initMsg(); /* Send the initial signal */
  for (int i = 0; i < len; i++) { /* send bytewise */
    sendeByte(byte(msg[i]));
  }
  closeMsg();
}

void sendeByte(byte msgByte) { /*send bitwise */
  bool msgBit = 0;
  for (int i = 7; i >= 0; i--) { /* "Extraction" of the bits */
    msgBit = (msgByte >> i) & 1; 
    sendeSignal(msgBit);
  }
}

void sendeSignal(bool sendBit) {
  digitalWrite(txPin, HIGH);
  if (sendBit == false) {
    delayMicroseconds(600);
  }
  else {
    delayMicroseconds(1200);
  }
  digitalWrite(txPin, LOW);
  delayMicroseconds(1000);
}

void initMsg() { /* Initialise */
  digitalWrite(txPin, HIGH);
  delayMicroseconds(10000);
  digitalWrite(txPin, LOW);
  delayMicroseconds(600);
}

void closeMsg() { /*end signal */
  digitalWrite(txPin, HIGH);
  delayMicroseconds(5000);
  digitalWrite(txPin, LOW);
  delayMicroseconds(600);
}

The receiver sketch

The Receiversketch is very similar to the Receiversketch for the test signal.  First, a valid start signal is waited for, then the length of the following signals l are measured and interpreted as bits. The bits are combined into bytes via binary operations, the bytes are converted into characters and the string is reassembled from them. Since only whole bytes can be transferred, there should be no bit left at the end. And if so, then something has gone wrong and an error flag is set.  

int resolution = 20;
int error = 0; /* error flag */

void setup(){
  Serial.begin(9600);
  DDRD = 0x00;
  PORTD = 0x00; 
  Serial.println("Warte auf Signal...");
}

void loop(){
  listenToSignal();
}


void listenToSignal(){
  int lowPulse = 0;
  int highPulse = 0;
  byte bitNo = 0;
  byte incomingByte = 0;
  String msg = "";
  int msgLen = 0;
  bool msgCompleted = false;
  error=0;
  
  while(!(PIND & (1<<PD5))){/*Wait*/}
  if(startSequence()){
       
    while(!msgCompleted){
      lowPulse = 0;
      highPulse = 0;
      
      while(!(PIND & (1<<PD5))){
        delayMicroseconds(resolution);
        lowPulse++;
      }
      while(PIND & (1<<PD5)){
        delayMicroseconds(resolution);
        highPulse++;
      }
      if(highPulse < 45){
        incomingByte = (incomingByte << 1);
      }
      else if(highPulse < 70){
        incomingByte = (incomingByte << 1) + 1; 
      }
      else if(highPulse >= 150){
        msgCompleted = true;
        if(bitNo!=0){
          error = 1; 
        }
      }
      if(bitNo<7){
        bitNo++;
      }
      else{
        msg = msg + char(incomingByte);
        bitNo = 0;
        msgLen++;
        incomingByte = 0;
      }
    }
    if((!error)&&(msg.length()!=0)){
      Serial.println(msg);
    }
 //   else{
 //    Serial.println("error");
 //   }
   }
}

bool startSequence(){
  int counter = 0;
  while(PIND & (1<<PD5)){
    delayMicroseconds(resolution);
    counter++;
  }
  if(counter > 300){
    return true;
  }
  else{
    return false;
  }
}

And look – it works!

Own radio protocols - that is received.

Protocol 2 – Transfer numbers digitwise

The basic idea

First of all: This idea for a separate radio protocol comes from my first days in the Arduino world. The transmission speed can be increased considerably – maybe you want to work this around. I just want to show the principle. I use this method in my self-built radio grill thermometer and the transmission works extremely reliably. 

So, the idea is simple: a number is broken down into digits and the digits are encoded by the signal length (here in the millisecond range). Due to the very long signal times, you don’t need “C” code. In order to be able to transmit zeros, each signal gets an offset. Instead of the 0, a 1 is transferred, instead of the 2 a 3, etc. On the receiver side, this is re-calculated. 

Since the signals are extremely long, they stand out clearly from the background noise. A starter signal is therefore not required. 

The transmitter side

I send three specified digits in advance as a kind of security code. If this is not received, the signal is invalid. Apart from this, the sketch should be self-explanatory. 

int txPin = 10; /* Transmitter Data Pin */
byte ziffer[10];
unsigned long number = 79631956; /* zu sendende Zahl */
int digits;
 
void setup(){ 
  Serial.begin(9600);
  pinMode(txPin, OUTPUT); 
  zerlegeZahl(number, digits); /* break down number into an array of digits */
  Serial.println(digits);
  for(int i=digits; i>=0; i--){
   Serial.print(ziffer[i]); 
  }
}
 
void loop(){
  
  sendNumber();
  digitalWrite(txPin, LOW);
  delay(5000);
}
 
void sendNumber(){
 //"safety code / ID": 214
  sendeSignal(2);
  sendeSignal(1);
  sendeSignal(4);
  for(int i=0; i<digits; i++){
    sendeSignal(ziffer[i]);
  }
}

void sendeSignal(byte laenge){
  digitalWrite(txPin, HIGH);
  delay((laenge+1)*2); /* The signal length is (digit + 1) times 2, i.e. maximum 20 ms */
  digitalWrite(txPin, LOW);
  delay(5);
}

void zerlegeZahl(unsigned long zahl, int& laenge){
  laenge = 0;
  while(zahl>0){
    ziffer[laenge]=zahl%10;
    zahl=zahl/10;
    if(zahl >= 0) laenge++;
  }
}

The receiver sketch

First, I attached the data pin of the receiver to the analog pin A0. A signal is interpreted as a “HIGH” signal when a minimum voltage is reached at the data pin. The factor for converting the signal length into the digits was determined empirically. The big do… while loop checks if there is a cancellation condition. This could be an overall timeout or if the allowed time between two signals is exceeded, which is considered to be the end of the signal transmission. Signals that are too short are discarded as noise. At the end, the security code is calculated and the transmitted number is reconstructed from the sequence of digits. 

int rxPin = A0; /* Receiver Data Pin aattached to analog pin 0 */
const float calcFactor = 12.5; /* factor for signal length to digit calculation */

void setup(){
  Serial.begin(9600);
  Serial.println("Los geht's...."); // Here we go
}

void loop(){
  listenForNumber();
}

void listenForNumber(){
  int maxDigit=-1; /* number of digits */
  unsigned long number=0; 
  int digit[20];
  unsigned long listenBeginTime;
  unsigned long maxListenTime = 60000;
  unsigned long lastSignalTime = 0;
  const int maxBetweenSignalTime = 150;
  for(int i=0; i<3; i++) digit[i]=0;
  int threshold = 300; // an analogRead value higher than 300 is considered to be a signal
  unsigned int counter; // Counter for 50 microsecond units; 50 microseconds is the resolution
  bool firstSignal = true;
  bool messageCompleted = false;
  bool noSignal; 
  
  listenBeginTime=millis();
  noSignal = false;
  do{
    counter = 0;
    while(analogRead(rxPin)<threshold){
      if((millis()-listenBeginTime) > maxListenTime){ /* abort due to. exceedance of maximum time */
        noSignal = true;
        break; 
      }
      if(!firstSignal && ((millis()-lastSignalTime) > maxBetweenSignalTime)){
        messageCompleted = true; /* after 150 ms without signal the transmission is considered to be complete */
        break;
      }
    }
    while(analogRead(rxPin)>threshold){ // measure the signal length
      delayMicroseconds(50);
      counter++;
    }
    if(counter>9){ // only if the signal length exceeds a threshold it is no noise
      firstSignal = false; 
      lastSignalTime=millis();
      maxDigit++;
      digit[maxDigit]=((int)round(counter/calcFactor));
    }
    
  }while(!messageCompleted || noSignal);

  /* extract the security code */
  if((digit[0]==3&&digit[1]==2&&digit[2]==5)&&(messageCompleted==true)){
    unsigned long pot=1;
    for(int i=3; i<=(maxDigit); i++){ 
      number += (digit[i]-1)*pot;
      pot = pot*10;
    }
  Serial.println(number);
  }
}
Own radio protocols: Result of Protocol No. 2
This transfer method also works fine

As I said, the transfer is slow but extremely stable. I packed it in a library. It has in contrast to the code above, the restriction that it is limited to six digits. You can download the library with examples here and improve it at will.

Well, that was very long. But I hope it has given you some ideas. Have fun when you develop your own radio protocols! As always, I am looking forward to receiving feedback.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.