Arduino, iTead Studio USB Host shield, and libraries…

Thanks to my day job, I got my first exposure to Arduino (as well as other similar devices, like the $4.30 TI 430 Launchpad). From time to time, I will post little tidbits of things I have learned.

This is one of those times. (I post this mostly so it will end up in Google search results and maybe save someone the time I wasted trying to figure this out on my own ;-)

There is a USB Host Shield sold by iTead Studio in China. Their product retails for $24.00 (currently $21.60) and it allows the Arduino to act as a “host” and read from other USB devices such as mice, keyboards, etc.

For those unfamiliar with how USB works, there are two types of USB things… USB “device” mode is for something you would plug to a computer so the computer could use it. A printer or thumb drive supports USB device mode. The computer acts as the host, so it has a USB host port. In the 90s, when I was working for Microware, we were bringing USB support to our OS-9 embedded operating system, but initially were only doing device mode. This would let a gadget running OS-9 hook up to a PC so it could talk to it. It did not let you hook up USB devices to OS-9 (though later, this support was added for flash drives and such).

But I digress.

Why would one want a USB host shield when the Arduino already has a USB port? The USB Host shield’s USB port is a “host” port, and is different than the USB “device” port found on the Arduino. The USB port on most Arduinos is just a serial device for loading programs and input/output. It makes the Arduino appear as a serial “device” to the “host” PC. There are some boards, like the Teensy 2.0 and Arduino Leonardo, that do have USB ports than can switch between device and host mode to act be seen as a USB HID (human interface device) such as a keyboard, mouse or joystick.

As part of my expansion of the iCade joystick experiment, I wanted to get a USB Host shield that would let the Arduino read a standard USB joystick (like the $14 arcade controllers found on Amazon) and then convert that in to iCade USB keyboard messages which would be sent out a the Arduino’s built-in port, configured to appear as a USB HID keyboard. This would require an Arduino that can act as a USB HID device (Leonardo), The joystick would plug in to the USB Host shield, then the USB port of the Arduino would go to the iPad.

As mentioned, the Arduino Leonardo provides USB HID support, similar to the Teensy 2.0 I previously experimented with. Unfortunately, the iTead USB Host shield will not work with the Leonardo due to some pins being moved around. The iTead Host Shield communicates over SPI, which is a communication protocol standard. The Arduino UNO has the SPI pins mixed in with the normal digital pins, but the Leonardo moves the SPI pins to a separate small header block (2×3, if I recall) located at the center edge of the board. Thus, the Leonardo does not connect those pins to the iTead Shield.

There is a Circuits at Home USB Host shield that does have this connection, so it should work with the Leonardo. This will be discussed at a later time. For now, my Arduino UNO can hook up to the iTead shield for testing and creating the program that would ultimately need to run on a Leonardo. (Or, for a few dollars and some time, there seems to be a project that lets you hook a USB port to the Arduino and use a special library that allows it to send keyboard commands.)

For now, I will just share a few things I wondered and learned…

Arduino programs are called “sketches” and they are very C-like. The ones I see have are files that use the extension .ino.

There are also Libraries that appear to be written as C or C++ files, ending with typical .c, .h, and .cpp extensions. The iTead Studio USB Host shield came with a .zip file of a USB implementation like this, but absolutely no documentation on what to do with it.

I was not sure how to compile C code, and casual searches didn’t prove helpful. The IDE refused to open a .c file, but would let you drag-and-drop one in to the editor. Building it didn’t work.

I was able to find a more current version of the USB Host library on github.com, but still didn’t know what to do with it.

Last night, after reading a reference on how to add a Library to the Arduino, I apparently figured it out. It seems all I had to do was drag the USB Host source directory in to the “library” folder of the Arduino IDE. (On a Mac, it was in ~/Documents/Arduino/library). Once I did this, I could open the included USB example sketches (.pde extension, for some reason) and build them… There were some minor problems along the way, like having to remove any spaces or special characters from the library folder name (how quaint), and then some conflicts with having the iTead library files installed (I ended up removing them), but the end result was building the test USB code and getting to try it out on an Arduino UNO using the iTead shield.

Wow. That was easy.

To be continued…

2 thoughts on “Arduino, iTead Studio USB Host shield, and libraries…

  1. Pingback: Arduino USB joystick to iCade converter | Appleause

  2. Pingback: Arduino USB joystick to iCade converter | Sub-Etha Software

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