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Truly wireless setup without limitations - Raspberry Pi + Remote USB 3.0

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#1 gdsolz

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Posted 04 January 2020 - 04:26 PM

***Reposted from a topic in the DIY section but I was advised it was more appropriate to post here in the computer section***

 

Hi everyone,

 

This is my first post on the forum so be indulgent 

 

Coming from a IT background, I built my astrophotography rig over the past few months using every tools in my bag to make the whole process as simple as it can be without making huge compromises. My end-goal was to have a setup that I could leave in my backyard or at a remote site and let it run overnight without power or human intervention. To give you an idea of what my current rig consist of, here is a bullet list. Keep in mind that this is a "starter" rig, couln't fit a Losmandy in the budget over 6 months.

 

  • Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5-Pro
  • QHYCCD Polemaster
  • Williams Optics Z103 (4inch refractor)
  • Williams Optics 6AIII Field Flattener
  • Sony A7R3 Camera (I know, not the most appropriate camera but that's the one I had...)
  • Orion 60mm Guide Scope
  • Orion StarShoot Autoguider
  • Celestro LiPO battery tank

So, here is the issue that I wanted to adress. Using that setup, it requires a laptop or a computer of some fashion to:

  • Run the mount through EQmod/EQmac
  • Run PHD2
  • Run Polemaster software

Image acquisition
Obviously, that's not very convenient since that means bringing another huge power bank and cable for the laptop, a chair for me and a mini table for the laptop. This is when I remembered that the Raspberry Pi 4 comes with full USB 3.0 ports AND Wifi+Gigabit Ethernet. Since the Raspberry Pi can be powered by a few small batteries that fit in the case (Type 18650 batteries) I figured I had to buy the following:

Powered USB 3.0 Hub (With 7 USB 3.0 ports)
Small Talentcell 12v Battery to power the hub
Raspberry Pi 4 Battery HAT (It plugs itselt on top of the RPI)
That was great, the USB 3.0 Hub only used 1 port on the Pi and could run for 6-7 hours by itself. The Pi could run for around the same time using 2x18650 batteries. Now onto the fun part, there is a software called VirtualHere that run on Linux that can share usb devices over the same network (If I plug a USB key in the pi, the key shows up on my Windows 10 desktop as a normal USB key with full speed (Well, as fast as your network will handle it) This way, once I do the setup and polar alignement + focusing (An electronic focuser is on my upgrade list but that will easily integrate with that setup) I can leave the rig and do everything from my desktop (Slewing, alignement, autoguiding, image capture, etc.)

 

Everything works, but I'll have to 3D print some bracket to correcly mount it on the side of my scope. The current system of ZipTies + tape works....but it's ugly as sin.

 

I'm including a picture of the module, it's usually mounted on the side of my OTA, this way cable management is clean and tidy, no risk while slewing.

 

Let me know what do think of that way of using Raspberry Pi, I think it solves a lot a issues compared to something like the ASI Air or even the newer one that prevents you from using PHD or external guiding and is missing a couple of features. Using a Pi as a bridge, you have full control of all of your devices or whatever OS you choose (Mac/Windows/Linux)

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#2 iwannabswiss

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Posted 04 January 2020 - 07:12 PM

I think you have the right idea, and I look forward to seeing your build process.



#3 ccs_hello

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Posted 05 January 2020 - 08:54 AM

One thing that confuses me is that your design seems to be centered around mount-side computer (Rasp Pi based) where many serial control lines and USB cables stay at the near (mount) end.  That is understood.

 

What is unusual is the use of VirtualHere which is a "remote USB cabling backhaul" solution.  Can you elaborate it more?  Thanks!



#4 gdsolz

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Posted 05 January 2020 - 12:32 PM

One thing that confuses me is that your design seems to be centered around mount-side computer (Rasp Pi based) where many serial control lines and USB cables stay at the near (mount) end.  That is understood.

 

What is unusual is the use of VirtualHere which is a "remote USB cabling backhaul" solution.  Can you elaborate it more?  Thanks!

Sure, VirtualHere does the job of sending a usb device or hub to another computer on the network. The Raspberry Pi becomes a usb server. That way, if I leave my rig in my backyard, I can control everything from my desktop that's inside my house. I then run all my software from my desktop instead of remoting to the PI. All the drivers are installed on the desktop, so even in the event that I want to integrate another piece of equipement, I'm not limited by the availability of drivers for linux. I'm waiting for a few 3D bracket to print to secure the whole thing and a wooden part was made to hold the main section.

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#5 hcf

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Posted 05 January 2020 - 12:43 PM

Interesting project. The only thing I would be concerned about is the latency of USB over Wifi. Are you seeing the same quality of guiding with this setup as compared to a laptop at the mount?

 

Also, does VirtualHere allow you to prioritize some USB ports over others?


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#6 gdsolz

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Posted 05 January 2020 - 12:52 PM

Interesting project. The only thing I would be concerned about is the latency of USB over Wifi. Are you seeing the same quality of guiding with this setup as compared to a laptop at the mount?

 

Also, does VirtualHere allow you to prioritize some USB ports over others?

So far I haven't seen any difference in the guiding quality. However, thanks for raising this question, I'll have to run a few test and A/B tests to make sure that PHD works 100% the same compared to a direct USB connection. As far as I know, there is no priorisation of ports with VirtualHere.

 

The Wifi network must be strong enough to not introduce any additional lag, I'm averaging ~3-4ms on my end.


Edited by gdsolz, 05 January 2020 - 12:53 PM.

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#7 ccs_hello

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Posted 05 January 2020 - 01:45 PM

Sure, VirtualHere does the job of sending a usb device or hub to another computer on the network. The Raspberry Pi becomes a usb server. That way, if I leave my rig in my backyard, I can control everything from my desktop that's inside my house. I then run all my software from my desktop instead of remoting to the PI. All the drivers are installed on the desktop, so even in the event that I want to integrate another piece of equipement, I'm not limited by the availability of drivers for linux. I'm waiting for a few 3D bracket to print to secure the whole thing and a wooden part was made to hold the main section.

Ahhh, got it.

You are using the Pi as the "USB device server" in combination with VirtualHere software, similar with some commercial solutions (e.g., icron ranger family of products.)

 

I think it is worthwhile to conduct some benchmark testing, especially when at least two USB 2 isochronous astroimagers in tow. 

<-- this is probably the hardest test

(recent USB 3 imagers have built-in transfer buffer and thus are using bulk-transfer mode instead)


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#8 davidparks

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Posted 07 January 2020 - 09:34 PM

I tried a similar approach using VirtualHere on two Windows PC’s (not a Pi)  and a couple other similar “USB over Network/WiFi” solutions, about a year ago.  At that time, I could not find any product, including VirtualHere that could handle the resolution of either my ASI294, or even the ASI224.  If memory serves, the best I could get was using ROI with something like 200x200 maximum.

 

This is quite interesting if you are, or can, get full resolution image capturing.


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#9 gdsolz

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Posted 07 January 2020 - 10:43 PM

I tried a similar approach using VirtualHere on two Windows PC’s (not a Pi)  and a couple other similar “USB over Network/WiFi” solutions, about a year ago.  At that time, I could not find any product, including VirtualHere that could handle the resolution of either my ASI294, or even the ASI224.  If memory serves, the best I could get was using ROI with something like 200x200 maximum.

 

This is quite interesting if you are, or can, get full resolution image capturing.

So far so good, I can get pictures from my Sony A7r3 that has a 42mp sensor to transfer RAW+Jpeg over USB3.0 through VirtualHere. I think any usb 3.0 cameras should work fine.


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#10 Euripides

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Posted 08 January 2020 - 01:29 AM

I’ve lost it somewhere in the middle.. The setup is designed to work automatically for example for an overnight session, correct? Which is the way that you will control it wirelessly? Just through your local WiFi?

I am really interesting in something similar but I found it extremely difficult to control it.


RPI, software & planetary imaging
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Edited by Euripides, 08 January 2020 - 01:30 AM.


#11 gdsolz

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Posted 08 January 2020 - 06:48 PM

I’ve lost it somewhere in the middle.. The setup is designed to work automatically for example for an overnight session, correct? Which is the way that you will control it wirelessly? Just through your local WiFi?

I am really interesting in something similar but I found it extremely difficult to control it.


RPI, software & planetary imaging
https://r.tapatalk.c...link_source=app


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Yes, it's for an overnigh session. Everything goes through wifi and all the software is on my desktop. The Raspberry Pi only acts a bridge.


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#12 ReneF

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Posted 08 January 2020 - 08:46 PM

Great ideas here.  I am setting up a Pi-4 also.  I had asked for an ASAIR for Christmas, but they were out of stock.  Now I changed my mind and want to build my own from scratch on a Pi-4.  I have a Pi-3 I have played with and like it, and know Linux distros fairly well.  I do not have an end-to-end plan yet as gdsolz nicely detailed at the start of this thread. He is way ahead of me.  I want to get the Pi related hardware, and then install the Astroberry Server, and start to try out all the software that goes with that.  From that point I will see how to go forward from that point, mounting it, more USB 3.0 ports etc. So I would appreciate feedback on just the Pi related hardware I might need.  I have selected the P-4 4GB version.  Then I am speculating that heavy and nearly continuous loads will likely generate a lot of heat. So I also am considering the aluminum metal heatsink case with active cooling. This is were I am stuck. I would guess that this case would preclude many accessories such as Pi-hats, or even the small GPS board that plugs into the IO strip. I do not know if I need these since I have a U-blok USB GPS that can be made to work with a Pi-4. BUT, what I do not know without looking at every Pi add on accessory known to man is this. What Pi-4 specific additional boards might I want for a dedicated astrophotography device?  Listing and then reviewing those would let me rule in or out the aluminum metal heatsink case, so I can buy the hardware and get started with the Astroberry Server.  So, suggestions on the ideal Pi-4 hardware setup and accessories/boards/hats would be appreciated so I can place the hardware order and move on to software issues.



#13 Euripides

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Posted 09 January 2020 - 01:29 AM

Yes, it's for an overnigh session. Everything goes through wifi and all the software is on my desktop. The Raspberry Pi only acts a bridge.

Oh, ok I see, thank you for clearing this out for me.

So our projects are opposite. I want to run my server on the field but to control it from my couch.



#14 psandelle

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Posted 09 January 2020 - 12:16 PM

If this works, we should make a sticky of this, as there's at least one thread posted a month where someone is asking about "wireless USB" and everyone says there are no wireless USB hubs that work (no doubt, true), but this, though it's set up as a wireless usb hub, isn't. It just acts that way. I'm going to see how it works for you. I'd love to see some throughput tests for camera downloads. I'm curious how fast compared to wired.

 

Paul



#15 Noah4x4

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Posted 09 January 2020 - 03:53 PM

I echo the concern expressed by David Parks (post #8), but if works, welcome this innovation, and would value more information.  I am slightly confused. Are we saying image data processing is done at the scope and merely viewing and control remotely (from indoors)? Or are we transferring camera data to be processed remotely (indoors)? What resolution for viewing? I am running/viewing wirelessly in full 4K UHD and understand the ROI limitation mentioned by David where low budget computing power is employed. But is the Pi providing only a WiFi bridge? If so, that is genius!

 

I would like to see this solution proven with a large sensor high resolution CMOS camera such as Atik Horizon or ZWO ASI600/ASI294 using (say) SharpCap to justify the claim of "truly wireless without limitations". However, using the high resolution Sony A7Riii is impressive. But a bit more depth of evaluation is perhaps desirable.....

 

The described set up should work fine with SINGLE frame long exposure Astrophotography where data flow is modest. But many of us embrace short exposure, multiple frame, stacking solutions that overcome various problems with inferior mounts, field rotation, light pollution and other challenges, whilst also offering 'near live' observing. Imaging is secondary for some. SharpCap software has become the de facto standard for ZWO owners. However this process is more data intensive.  I would like to see the OP test his system with SharpCap or similar multiple frame stacking software. Can it handle typical MS-Windows (stacking) software solutions, or is this only working with proprietory Sony single exposure software? Or is remote control perhaps limited to merely alignment, scope control and plate solving and no viewing? It's how the camera and view monitoring activity works that intrigues me having long struggled with 4K UHD ( but all now resolved).

 

There are numerous threads in the EAA Forum where various low budget mini-computer 'wireless' set-ups are described that will work fine with modest cameras (or single exposure), but choke on bigger more data hungry beasts when stacking. The trend amongst sensor manufacturers is upward. My own journey to find wireless success saw me repeatedly upgrading computing power, battery power, wireless power and spending ££££'s because I had initially underestimated these factors.

 

Ultimately, I use two (£450) i5 Intel NUCs with Iris plus graphics to get the computing power that my 16 megapixel Horizon requires for EAA, controlling one NUC from the other by Windows Remote Desktop over a 5ghz MESH WiFi network. Regular (home) dual band WiFi proved problematic, notably from interference between 2.4ghz channel and USB3, also weak signal/range. Only recently have 5 ghz MESH devices (Orbi, Ubiquiti, BT whole home) emerged to fully resolve this. Even so, I suffered from some 'lag' until I disabled RemoteFX compression via Group Profiles in Win 10 Pro. I also had to use very short USB3 cables as powered hubs proved unreliable. Then found I needed two high quality Li-Po batteries as the camera alone pulled 2 amps. Eventually, I achieved WiFi stability and an end to end 4k UHD experience, but it was a long journey. 

 

Evidently, single exposure astrophotography can be done with this solution (the Sony has impressive resolution). But perhaps the OP could now attempt this with (say) SharpCap (or Sony's equivalent if it has one?) and update us? If it works, this could be a major leap forward in cost savings. It is certainly  a solution worthy of deeper evaluation. If the Pi does provide only a WiFi bridge, it could be a stupendous advance!


Edited by Noah4x4, 09 January 2020 - 04:14 PM.


#16 gdsolz

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Posted 09 January 2020 - 07:03 PM

I'm stacking frames don't worry smile.gif I usually stack with ~100 to 300 3min subs.

The image acquisition is through my desktop, my computer therefore "thinks" the camera is actually connected via a physical port. Nothing is done on the Raspberry Pi outside of the VirtualHere server application.

 

I made some benchmark test using a old USB key that I had on hand. I will most likely need to upgrade my router, that test was done through an AirPort express on the 2.4ghz band. (the old version) Even then, I can get read speeds up to ~30MB/s  (~240mbps) so that should be plenty enough bandwith for cameras like the ZWO ASI600.

 

While I would like to use SGP, my camera is currently not supported by the software, I'll probably borrow my friend's 5Dm3 to run tests to make sure SGP works.

 

If all goes well, I should receive my 3D printed parts tommorow, it's going to make a massive difference for my cable management.

 

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#17 psandelle

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Posted 09 January 2020 - 07:16 PM

That’s pretty good speed for an old router.

 

Paul



#18 Noah4x4

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 02:55 AM

This could indeed be genius!

 

If the Raspberry Pi acts as only a WiFi USB bridge, and everything is processed on an indoor laptop, then.... if a Celestron scope, I envisage set up and alignment could also be automated from indoors using Starsense/CPWI software to enhance this still further. 

 

Unless I am mistaken, the benefit is that you don't need a high powered, hence, expensive computer handling processing at the scope, nor are you dependent on a remote desktop package. You still need a quality WiFi network, but new MESH technology should resolve that.  Have you patented this, as surely somebody entreprenurial will be rushing this into production?

 

THE big drawback with USB is maximum cable length. I gave up with powered USB hubs and active cables as distance was a problem.  It then took me two years to fully perfect my WiFi (as described in my earlier post) and success depended on 5ghz channel, MESH technology etc. Using a Pi as a USB WiFi hub is Brilliant! 



#19 Noah4x4

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 05:23 AM

Now getting my head around this, sorry about my earlier ramble. The Virtualhere website is most helpful. But could provide a bit more information to newcomers to Raspberry Pi. See https://www.virtualhere.com/home.

 

It also appears that you can use this technique with (suitable) stick/mini PC computer or even Android. Makes this even more interesting as EAA enthusiasts are more likely to own these given previous versions of Pi didn't have enough ooomph. .But I have a few more questions for gdsolz (OP).....

 

With my current twin computer Remote Desktop solution I switch on computer A (at scope) that handles all of the processing, then power up my connected devices (Camera, Focuser Controller, Scope) and retire into my indoor mission control. Then I switch on Computer B (and it's monitor). I then select Remote Desktop on B and I have full control over A. Computer A runs 'headless' (no monitor) whilst B is largely a dumb terminal and display device. Works really well. Using CPWI/Starsense I can even remotely (over WiFi) perform alignment etc. Previous versions of Pi (or stick computers) were not powerful enough for my large sensor high resolution CMOS camera, and I had to overcome higher computing, battery and WiFi requirements. Hence, I ended up with a NUC (not cheap).

 

Gdsolz, you have suggested you do a lot more at the scope before retiring (alignment etc). Is it possible for the Pi to run 'headless'? Can it be set to autorun Virtualhere on boot up and you just walk away? 

 

Sorry for asking what might seem like a dumb question to any experienced Pi user, but I have no experience of the Pi's operating system. The most difficult challenge I had with my existing MS-Windows remote WiFi remote system was resolving this step, so a bit of guidance about how to set up the Pi operating system and Virtualhere software on the Pi would be helpful to any Pi newbies like me.

 

Whilst I already have a perfectly functioning system (using twin Intel NUCs/RDP), what potentially attracts me to this Pi solution is that the Pi is smaller/lighter than the NUC. If it works just as well, I could then sell one NUC (or more likely use it for another purpose) and reduce carry weight. 

 

I have spent more time on finding innovative ways to attach devices to my scope than almost anything else. Running Starsense,  Camera, Motorised Focuser/Controller requires innovative cable management and having so many devices can cause weight/balance/carry issues. Mine also needs twin batteries (1 x 12v and 1 x 19v for i5 NUC which doesn't seem to like 12v).  I have attached devices to OTA, then tried a cradle slung above leg spreader and a freestanding 'toolbox'. All options seem cumbersome and cable wrap needs monitoring. I envisage that using the Pi merely as a WiFi server/bridge could make an EAA system far more compact and light, notably requiring only single 12v battery given it's 'HAT'; and then OTA fixing becomes more practical.

 

This could be a game changer for EAA enthusiasts. Well done sir! 


Edited by Noah4x4, 10 January 2020 - 05:29 AM.


#20 gdsolz

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 09:49 AM

Now getting my head around this, sorry about my earlier ramble. The Virtualhere website is most helpful. But could provide a bit more information to newcomers to Raspberry Pi. See https://www.virtualhere.com/home.

 

It also appears that you can use this technique with (suitable) stick/mini PC computer or even Android. Makes this even more interesting as EAA enthusiasts are more likely to own these given previous versions of Pi didn't have enough ooomph. .But I have a few more questions for gdsolz (OP).....

 

With my current twin computer Remote Desktop solution I switch on computer A (at scope) that handles all of the processing, then power up my connected devices (Camera, Focuser Controller, Scope) and retire into my indoor mission control. Then I switch on Computer B (and it's monitor). I then select Remote Desktop on B and I have full control over A. Computer A runs 'headless' (no monitor) whilst B is largely a dumb terminal and display device. Works really well. Using CPWI/Starsense I can even remotely (over WiFi) perform alignment etc. Previous versions of Pi (or stick computers) were not powerful enough for my large sensor high resolution CMOS camera, and I had to overcome higher computing, battery and WiFi requirements. Hence, I ended up with a NUC (not cheap).

 

Gdsolz, you have suggested you do a lot more at the scope before retiring (alignment etc). Is it possible for the Pi to run 'headless'? Can it be set to autorun Virtualhere on boot up and you just walk away? 

 

Sorry for asking what might seem like a dumb question to any experienced Pi user, but I have no experience of the Pi's operating system. The most difficult challenge I had with my existing MS-Windows remote WiFi remote system was resolving this step, so a bit of guidance about how to set up the Pi operating system and Virtualhere software on the Pi would be helpful to any Pi newbies like me.

 

Whilst I already have a perfectly functioning system (using twin Intel NUCs/RDP), what potentially attracts me to this Pi solution is that the Pi is smaller/lighter than the NUC. If it works just as well, I could then sell one NUC (or more likely use it for another purpose) and reduce carry weight. 

 

I have spent more time on finding innovative ways to attach devices to my scope than almost anything else. Running Starsense,  Camera, Motorised Focuser/Controller requires innovative cable management and having so many devices can cause weight/balance/carry issues. Mine also needs twin batteries (1 x 12v and 1 x 19v for i5 NUC which doesn't seem to like 12v).  I have attached devices to OTA, then tried a cradle slung above leg spreader and a freestanding 'toolbox'. All options seem cumbersome and cable wrap needs monitoring. I envisage that using the Pi merely as a WiFi server/bridge could make an EAA system far more compact and light, notably requiring only single 12v battery given it's 'HAT'; and then OTA fixing becomes more practical.

 

This could be a game changer for EAA enthusiasts. Well done sir! 

 

The Pi is running in headless mode, I added a bit of code to the boot sequence so that it starts VirtualHere automaticly and binds to a pre-determined IP adress on my network. I'm kinda cheating in the sense that I bring my Macbook and use a virtualhere client for polar alignement & focusing. The laptop is not physicly connected to anything nor has a power cable running since the polar alignement and focusing procedure takes about 5min maximum (Polemaster + Bathinov mask)

 

Reducing weight is indeed the nature of the beast.



#21 Noah4x4

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 02:00 PM

Adding special code to facilitate headless boot up is going to be far too challenging for most folk and cheating with Macbook confirms that there are limitations not present in the WiFi set ups that we are currently using. However, it looks interesting and reducing weight would be great. Keep us posted please

#22 mclewis1

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 04:25 PM

Auto startup of an app or service is a common capability that most folks add to their RPi setups. It's how most RPis actually end up working. It was the first thing (well after copying the SD card) I did with a RPi 2 I was fooling around with a few years ago (I added a VNC startup so I could remote connect from a laptop)  ... and I didn't know much about Linux commands (still don't really grin.gif ), I just followed some simple instructions.

 

These things aren't black boxes, you will need to learn a little Linux and maybe some scripting depending on what you want to do.  But with a little knowledge you can make them sing and dance and you won't have spent very much money.


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#23 Gyroman

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 05:34 PM

Very interested in this project.  I was considering building a stellarmate with a RasbPi 4 but will give this a try first as I really like the idea if it works.  I'm running an ASI294MC and ASI120MM for guiding.  


Edited by Gyroman, 10 January 2020 - 05:35 PM.


#24 gdsolz

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 06:51 PM

Had a bit to time to install the 3D printed parts I made. They are even stronger than expected. The parts were printed with a PRUSA mk3 using PLA at ~70% infill, with a thickness of 5mm. I also re-did the benchmark with a SSD to demonstrate the bandwith. Look's like for big files, reading speed is at around 49MB/s or 327Mbps. 

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#25 Gyroman

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 07:39 PM

I'm really hoping this is the golden ticket.  I've been using my setup remotely but only by using a 30' active repeater usb cable.  

 

This solution if successful will become adopted by many as it solves so many other issues.

 

I have the pi4 on order from Amazon which should arrive on Tuesday.  My setup varies but can have multiple usb devices running through my USB 3.0 hub.

 

EQ6-R Pro Mount via EQMOD

ZWO Electronic Filter Wheel

Celestron Electronic focuser

ZWO ASI294MC Pro for Imaging

ZWO ASI120MM for Guiding

 

I did some additional research and found there are several developers writing software for this solution.  Most are in the $150 range and for some that's an annual fee.  At $50, if VirtualHere works, its a bargain.

 

For testing I'll most likely install the single port, free version to see how it works.  I will go through each device and make sure they will each work individually.   If that all works, I'll buy the license and hopefully we'll have a new game in town.

 

I'll update with my progress.


  • psandelle likes this


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