TCP based API/Abstraction Layer for communicating with Firmata based firmware
Last updated 3 days ago by zhiquanyeo .
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A TCP based API for interaction with Firmata based firmware (and also other kinds of robots!)

Getting Started

Install Drivethru using npm:

As a dependency in your project: npm install --save @bbfrc/drivethru

Or globally (to make use of the default server application): npm install -g @bbfrc/drivethru


drivethru is an abstraction layer, sitting between physical hardware and clients that want to interact with said hardware. It is composed of 2 parts, the Robot Controller and the Protocol Server. Together, these allow a client (using the correct protocol) to control actuators and read sensors over a TCP connection.

Robot Controller

The Robot Controller talks to physical hardware over a serial connection, using the Firmata protocol. The RobotControllerBase class provides an abstract class that exposes/documents most of the functionality of a Robot Controller. In this package, a concrete RobotController class has been implemented that communicates with Firmata based firware over serial. A DebugRobotController has also been implemented that simply logs all requests sent to it.


The DebugRobotController is set up to echo all operations performed on it, as well as generate an alternating true/false signal on digital port 0. This can be used to exercise hardware interface clients.

Protocol Server

On the other side of this layer site the Protocol Server. This is a TCP server that takes in commands from remote clients and emits appropriate events. The commands are implemented as FlatBuffers, with the definitions located in the schemas/flatbuffers/ directory of this repository.

FlatBuffers Messages

All messages that the Protocol Server deals with are defined in the drivethru.fbs file in the schemas/flatbuffers/ directory. This file contains all message types, as well as a wrapping Envelope type that is used to tell endpoints what kind of message is being sent.

Packet Structure

Since FlatBuffers messages do not include packetization (they are just raw byte buffers that encode a given message type), we cannot simply send them directly over the wire. Thus, prior to transmission, the message buffer is wrapped in a packet. The structure of this packet is as follows:

Byte Value
0 0xDE
1 0xBE
2 Payload Length (MSB)
3 Payload Length (LSB)
4... Payload

Each packet consists of a 2 byte header 0xDEBE, followed by 2 bytes indicating the length of the payload (in big-endian), and the payload. All clients that interact with the hardware interface need to follow the packet structure outlined above.

Package Contents and Applications

The drivethru package can be used both as a dependency in your application, as well as a standalone server application for the most common use case.

Use as a dependency

First, run npm install --save @bbfrc/drivethru to add this as a dependency to your project.

The package exposes several objects of interest:

  • RobotControllerBase: An abstract class that represents an interface to robot hardware. All robot controllers that are used in drivethru should extend from this
  • FirmataRobotController: An implementation of RobotControllerBase that communicates with a Firmata based robot, connected over serial.
  • DebugRobotController: An implementation of RobotControllerBase that prints out values that it is sent. It also toggles digital port 0 between high/low once a second.
  • DrivethruServer: Server module that handles TCP FlatBuffers communication with clients and passes messages to/from a provided RobotControllerBase object. This takes care of all network communication, leaving you free to focus on building out custom RobotControllerBase classes.

Additionally, the package also exposes the underlying types used for communication. You can find type definitions of these in the protocol-types.ts file in this repository.

To use the DrivethruServer, first instantiate a subclass of RobotControllerBase, and then hand it into the constructor of the server. E.g.:

const server = new DrivethruServer(myAwesomeRobotController);

This will instantiate a new DrivethruServer that will communicate with your robot. You can also optionally pass in a configuration object to specify which port to use. If none is provided, it defaults to 9001. E.g.:

const server = new DrivethruServer(myAwesomeRobotController, { port: 9999 });

Once the server is instantiated, you can start it by doing: server.startP(). The startP() function will ensure that all the components are up and running, and starts the TCP server on your specified port. The function also returns a Promise that will resolve once everything is up and running.


Immediately after cloning this repo, do:

cd <where/you/cloned/the/repo>
mkdir dist
npm install
npm run gen-proto
npm run gen-flatbuf
npm run build

This will set up the output directory, install dependencies, generate the protobuf files and run an initial build

Running Example

The astar-kitchen-sink example can be run using npm run kitchensink -- SERIAL_PORT_HERE, where SERIAL_PORT_HERE is the serial port the controller is connected to.


To run the drivethru program, use npm run start -- -s SERIAL_PORT_HERE.

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