iCub-main
The PeriodicThread Class

In this tutorial we show how to write a control loop using threads.

Before you read this tutorial you should at least get accustomed with motor interfaces as described in Getting accustomed with motor interfaces (material in Basic Image Processing might also be useful).

Introduction

Often, you want to perform different tasks in parallel or with a given periodicity. Modern operating system provides support for writing threads. Threads are functions that are executed by the CPU in parallel. The use of threads is recommended in machines with multiple cores.

YARP supports threads with two main classes: yarp::os::Thread and yarp::os::PeriodicThread.

In this tutorial we show how to use the yarp::os::PeriodicThread class to write a control loop with a certain periodicity.

Writing your own thread

To write a thread you have to derive a new class from yarp::os::PeriodicThread. In doing so you can to explicitly call the PeriodicThread constructor and pass to it the periodicity of the thread (in seconds).

class ControlThread: public yarp::os::PeriodicThread
{
public:
ControlThread(double period):PeriodicThread(period)
{...}
};

We add three methods to the class: run(), threadInit() and threadRelease(). The run() function will be called periodically every "period" seconds. threadInit() is called once when the thread starts (before run is executed). Finally the thread executes threadRelease() when closing.

We would like to write a thread that periodically check the encoders and alternates two velocity commands. This thread will control for example the head of the robot. We need a PolyDriver to store the robot device (see Getting accustomed with motor interfaces), and an instance of IEncoders and IVelocityControl.

PolyDriver dd;
IVelocityControl *ivel;
IEncoders *iencs;

We also prepare two vectors of to store the encoders and one to store the commands we will send to the controller. A counter will allow us to alternate between two commands.

Vector encoders;
Vector commands;
int count;

Now we can implement the bool threadInit() function. First we will create an instance of the polydriver and configure it to connect to the head.

bool threadInit()
{
/* initialize here variables */
printf("ControlThread:starting\n");
Property options;
options.put("device", "remote_controlboard");
options.put("local", "/local/head");
/* substitute icubSim with icub for use with the real robot */
options.put("remote", "/icubSim/head");
dd.open(options);

at this point we have to check that the device is valid and really offers the interfaces we need:

dd.view(iencs);
dd.view(ivel);
if ( (!iencs) || (!ivel) )
return false;

Note: it is important to return false if something does not go as expected in the initialization. This will prevent the thread from running.

Now we can get the number of joints, resize the vectors and initialize the acceleration of the motors:

int joints;
iencs->getAxes(&joints);
encoders.resize(joints);
commands.resize(joints);
commands=10000;
ivel->setRefAccelerations(commands.data());
count=0;
return true;
} /* the function threadInit() finishes here */

It is now time to implement the run function. This function is the thread's body, and perform the real control task:

void run()
{
/* reads encoders */
iencs->getEncoders(encoders.data());
count++;
/* alternates two commands */
if (count%2)
commands=5;
else
commands=-5;
ivel->velocityMove(commands.data());
/* print something at each iteration so we see when the thread runs */
printf(".");
}

When the thread will quit, we have to make sure that we stop the head and release used resources. We put this code in threadRelease():

void threadRelease()
{
printf("ControlThread:stopping the robot\n");
ivel->stop();
dd.close();
printf("Done, goodbye from ControlThread\n");
}

Running the thread

Now that we have implemented our thread we can run it. This can be done easily in a few steps:

Create an instance of the thread, we use here 4s of period:

ControlThread myThread(4.0);

Start the thread:

myThread.start();

The thread is created and start to execute initThread(); if the latter returns true, the thread executes run() periodically. In the meanwhile the main thread can perform other operations. In this example we do not do anything smarter than just sitting idle for 10 seconds:

bool done=false;
double startTime=Time::now();
const int SOME_TIME=10;
while(!done)
{
if ((Time::now()-startTime)>SOME_TIME)
done=true;
}

To stop the thread we call:

myThread.stop();

stop() blocks and waits that the thread performs the last run() function, and threadRelease(), after which we can safely return.

Full working code of this tutorial is available here: src/periodicThread/tutorial_periodic_thread.cpp