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Flowstone on a HTPC experiment

Discuss robotics applications using FlowStone here

Flowstone on a HTPC experiment

Postby fixstuff555 » Wed Aug 24, 2011 4:30 am

Hi Folks,

I recently tested something this weekend that may be of interest to some using Flowstone. I have been seeing low priced Zotac ID40 brand HTPC's at a local electronics store near me (Fry's Electronics), and was curious to see how well they work with Flowstone.

Here is the Zotac ID40 link:

The ID40's specs are pretty nice, so I wanted to set up the PC to work with Flowstone. My intention, is to build more or less a test platform for a bunch of products that I am really excited about. One of the nice things about the Zotac is the fact that it is mainly designed as a media PC - that will really help. Flowstone, should work really well on this PC. It has good sound and video, a built-in 802.11 WIFI, a built in SD card reader, and has a pretty serious dual core Intel, memory, and hard drive. As a programming platform for Flowstone, I found that it was a bit too slow, BUT with an Flowstone executable running, its was pretty darn fast and smooth. Bootup of Windows and the executable in the start-up folder was right at a little over a minute.

I found a nice tank track robot base from a local robot component supplier at This will keep me from spending too much time on the mechanics and more on the controls and software, which is what I'm most interested in. Plus it looks pretty cool. :D

I plan on using a Propeller C3 board running Hanno's 12blocks IDE. I'm a really big fan of Parallax's 8-core microcontroller, and 12Blocks makes a quick and simple way of using it without having to dig in and learn SPIN (Props native language), and is very useful to actually learn SPIN with. 12Blocks has it's roots in MIT's Scratch language, and was written by one of the top Prop guys in the world. One of the many things I like about 12blocks is the blindingly easy way of utilizing all 8 cores in a prop in parallel, using state machine constructs - which is pretty darn cool, along with so much other stuff. Maybe when the Prop2 comes out, I can find a home for it as well...

Finally, I really like Phidgets. I wasn't enthused at first looking at them. coming from my background with the Prop, but you have to hand it to the folks at Phidgets. When it comes to interfacing I/O to Flowstone, the Phidgets are REALLY good. I really like how well designed and built Phidgets and all of the various flavors offered are, and with Flowstone making using them dirt simple to use, makes getting standard I/O into Flowstone really easy. I hope I can make something as nice for my interface to the Prop via 12blocks.

Overall, I want to design a robot test platform that brings together these different hardware and programming environments. Flowstone and Phidgets for the high end OpenCV-style vision capabilities and basic I/O, and the Prop (or Props) running 12 Blocks for fast prototyping of custom, component level I/O.

What I am to build will hopefully look something like this:

1) Tractor base for HTPC, servos, batteries, I/O circuitry etc. (Traxster II)
2) Zotac HTPC with Windows XP sp3 (yes 7 would work to, or Embedded..)
3) Propeller C3 board with 12Blocks for custom I/O (Ultrasonic PING sensors, Gyroscope, inclinometers, etc)
4) Flowstone for HTPC local control, and Flowstone for user GUI control from Netbook or laptop via realVNC.
5) Phidgets for the bulk of basic I/O, including the SBC for expansion of more (Thanks to DSP Robotics for adding that!)

I got the Zotac ID40 working with Flowstone this weekend, and it worked great. I have attached a PDF of my step-by-step procedure for setting up the HTPC how I wanted it, up to the point of testing a couple Flowstone EXE's on it with a couple Phidget modules to look at latency and such over realVNC's window. I was mighty impressed to say the least, so I thought others here may be interested in my setup. I will be posting pictures soon of some of this hardware in action, along with the Flowstone code (of course :). Hopefully I won't be too long in doing so with my work load right now. Here is the setup guide:
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Posts: 151
Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2010 3:24 pm

Re: Flowstone on a HTPC experiment

Postby DSP » Thu Sep 01, 2011 11:28 am

Cool, I've used Zotac mini ITX boards before with FS and Windows Embedded.

One cool thing you can do is to stop Windows loading by setting the Windows SHELL as your FS app.

To do this you need to edit the registry and change the Windows Shell from Explorer,exe to YourFSapp.exe (Including the path).

eg. Run regedit


HKLM/Software/Microsoft/WindowsNT/CurrentVersion/WinLogon/Shell = Explorer.exe

Change to : C:\MyPath\YourFSapp.exe

This way you PC will boot directly into your FS program, no windows, no task bar, no Ctrl-Alt-Del!! etc.

One word of waning while testing make a button in your FS app to load the explorer.exe, just in case you need to get out and change the registry back etc.

Another trick is to put you FS app in a USB stick and use the path for that, this was if you screw things up you can put explorer.exe on the stick and rename it to you FS app. and recover.
Posts: 150
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 10:55 pm

Re: Flowstone on a HTPC experiment

Postby fixstuff555 » Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:46 pm

Thats super. I had seen the reply by Embedded on this post

That mentioned that, which made sense, but I hadn't done before. I found this googling for shell replacements:

I like your suggestion even better about the USB key. This way, I can use an "explorer" key to get back into regular windows. Overall, after a month or so of playing around with the Zotac HTPC, I've been pretty impressed. I will try this as soon as I can. Thanks for the advice!
Posts: 151
Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2010 3:24 pm

Re: Flowstone on a HTPC experiment

Postby fixstuff555 » Sat Sep 17, 2011 1:31 am

Well, I tried both methods, and they both work.

Method 1 is basically editing one registry key, and is simpler, but less powerful.



Changed Explorer.exe -----> E:\flowstoneapp.exe

Flowstoneapp.exe allows me to use the same registry key setup, and just have different keys for different apps without going into registry. That works. I had two keys, one with the app, and one with explorer.exe.

Method 2 is more powerful, but slightly more complicated (and my preference :)

Part 1:

1st key
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\IniFileMapping\system.ini\boot\Shell

default value:
SYS:Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon

changed to:
USR:Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon

Part 2:
2nd key
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\Shell
default value:

No change

Part 3:
3rd key
HKEY_Current_User\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon
Default is missing shell key
add key:


Even though a bit more complicated, Method 2 will default to the standard explorer if no USB key is plugged in. If plugged in, then the Flowstoneapp.exe on the USB key will run instead of explorer.

As a side note, I could still CTRL-ALT-DEL and run a new task in task manager, namely explorer.exe (on my desktop) if I ran into trouble.

Continuing on...
Posts: 151
Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2010 3:24 pm

Re: Flowstone on a HTPC experiment

Postby DSP » Sat Oct 01, 2011 3:17 pm

I like it!
Posts: 150
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 10:55 pm

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