6.808 - Lab 2


Lab 2: Getting Data From Anthills

Assigned: 2022-02-22
Due: 2022-03-02

The goal of this lab is to implement code in the Anteater app to scan for a nearby Anthill, connect to it, and stream temperature and humidity readings from it. We have provided you with all of the code to show sensor readings in a table in the UI, but you will need to implement all of the networking code, and the code to extract sensor readings from packets sent by the Anthill.

Getting Started

Start by downloading the Anteater App Skeleton for Xcode 11+/iOS 13+. Uncompress this file to create a directory called "anteater-swift-blank". Open the anteater.xcodeproj file in this directory in XCode. You should be able to build and run the project in the simulator or your phone.

Known issue for Xcode 11+/iOS 13+: when you build and run the app in your iPhone for the first time and try to log in with any username, the app may crash. Simply build and run again. The app should skip the log-in screen without any error.

The Anteater code includes a skeleton class, SensorModel.swift that you will need to implement. The SensorModel class will implement BLEDelegate and initialize an instance of BLE to handle interaction with the device. In addition, to convey the status of a sensor connection, SensorModel will make calls into a delegate, which implements the SensorModelDelegate protocol defined in SensorModel.swift. The methods of the delegate are as follows:

func sensorModel(_ model: SensorModel, didChangeActiveHill hill: Hill?)
func sensorModel(_ model: SensorModel, didReceiveReadings readings: [Reading], forHill hill: Hill?)

These methods let the application know when a new sensor connects, or when some data is received.

The code also includes a complete implementation of the class HillsTableViewController, which creates an instance of SensorModel and sets itself as the delegate of that instance.

For iOS 13+, please make the following changes:

This lab is divided into two sections. In the first section, you will implement the code to scan for and connect to an anthill, and then in the second section you will implement the code to extract readings from packets sent by the anthill and deliver them to the app.

To test this lab, you will need to obtain an anthill node. Note that the bluetooth functions you will implement do not work properly on the iPhone simulator, so you will need to test on a real device. If you are working with a partner, please check out only one anthill as we have a limited number of them. Please do not throw the box away.

The anthill you receive will have a sensor and a USB Micro port. Code has already been pushed to each Arduino. To power the anthill, it will need to be powered over USB to your laptop, or to any other USB charger, as shown below:

The pins between the BLE node and sensor should be connected as follows:

Section 1: Connecting to an Anthill

The goal of this section is to successfully establish a connection with an anthill. In the next section you will extract data from packets sent by the anthill.

Before working on this section, you should familiarize yourself with the basics of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and the iOS APIs for accessing it. This Apple Document does a good job of summarizing these.

Each anthill acts as a BLE Peripheral. The connection protocol is not that complicated, but the code is somewhat messy as each step in the protocol is asynchronous; that is, you make a call to perform some BLE function, and some time later a callback is triggered in your application to indicate that the function has completed.

The basic sequence is as follows:

  1. Start scanning for anthills
  2. Once an anthill is discovered, connect to it
  3. Once you have connected, discover its services
  4. For each service, discover its characteristics
  5. For each characteristic, check if it is the sensor data characteristic; if it is, start listening for notifications to the state of the characteristic
  6. On each state update, process the received data to extract any sensor readings.

You will need to add several functions to SensorModel in order to implement BLEDelegate:

func ble(didUpdateState state: BLEState)
func ble(didDiscoverPeripheral peripheral: CBPeripheral)
func ble(didConnectToPeripheral peripheral: CBPeripheral)
func ble(didDisconnectFromPeripheral peripheral: CBPeripheral)
func ble(_ peripheral: CBPeripheral, didReceiveData data: Data?)

The SensorModel should inherit from BLEDelegate:

class SensorModel: BLEDelegate {
    // ...

Once you add the BLEDelegate part to indicate that, Xcode will suggest you to add protocol stubs. Press “Fix” in the red error box to add the five function signatures automatically, or you can add them manually too.

Task 1: Initialize Bluetooth, and Start Scanning for Anthills

Before you can scan for an anthill, you need to initialize a BLE object. A good place to do this is in the init method of SensorModel. Since you will need access this object repeatedly, you probably want to declare it as an instance variable of the class.

Keep in mind that after initializing the object, you will need to set its delegate to the current SensorModel object:

ble.delegate = self

Once you have created this object, the BLE will call ble(didUpdateState ...) to indicate the status of Bluetooth. You should check that the status is BLEState.poweredOn and if it is, initiate scanning for anthills.

To initiate scanning, call the startScanning method on the BLE instance.

Once scanning has started, you will receive a callback to the BLEDelegate method ble(didDiscoverPeripheral ...). You will need to define this method in SensorModel, as per the signature in the BLEDelegate protocol defined in BLE.swift.

To verify that this task is completed, use the debugger to confirm didUpdateState is called and that the status is BLEState.poweredOn. Also verify that when startScanning is called in the presence of an anthill, you receive a callback to didDiscoverPeripheral.

Task 2: Implement didDiscoverPeripheral

didDiscoverPeripheral will be called when a BLE Peripheral advertising the above characteristic comes into proximity of your phone. When this happens, you need to connect to device, and then scan for services and characteristics.

When didDiscoverPeripheral is called, you are given a handle to a CBPeripheral object. This is the peripheral you want to try to connect to (in this lab, you are going to connect to the first peripheral you discover, and stay connected to it until it moves out of range, rather than trying to prioritize connecting to certain anthills).

To connect to a peripheral, simply call connectToPeripheral. If the connection is successful, didConnectToPeripheral will be called. You will need to define didConnectToPeripheral, as per the signature in BLE.swift. Use the debugger to verify that this method is called correctly.

Task 3: Implement didConnectToPeripheral

Once you have connected to a peripheral, you will need to call the delegate method didChangeActiveHill. The method takes an instance of Hill, which is defined towards the top of SensorModel.swift (the name of the Hill should be set to peripheral.name). You should initialize a Hill and store it in the activeHill instance variable, as the delegate will expect the same Hill later for the didReceiveReadings delegate method. You will also need to store the CBPeripheral in an instance variable, as you will want to distinguish the peripheral corresponding to activeHill from other peripherals.

After connecting to a peripheral, the BLE instance will call the discoverServices function in the iOS BLE API; then, after services are discovered, the BLE instance will call didDiscoverCharacteristicsForService and handle updates to the sensor data characteristic. Finally, the BLE instance will request notifications for the sensor characteristic, and the iOS API will call didUpdateValueForCharacteristic on the BLE instance whenever a new packet of sensor data is available. The BLE instance will then call didReceiveData on the SensorModel.

To complete this task, verify that didReceiveData is being called, e.g., by setting breakpoints in this method in the debugger. If it is not called after about 30 seconds, see Troubleshooting.

Section 2: Extracting readings from an Anthill

When a connection is established, the Anthill begins streaming packets containing sensor data on the sensor data characteristic. You will need to extract sensor readings from this characteristic and post them to the application. (For the purposes of this lab, you do not explicitly request any data or send any commands to the anthill.)

The anthill sends a stream of ASCII characters, containing one of two types of messages: humidity readings and temperature readings. Each message begins with a single letter, and then has a custom payload. The messages are as follows:

Each call to didReceiveData should correspond to one BLE packet (humidity or temperature). Every two seconds, each anthill attempts read the humidity and temperature values from the sensor and send a pair of packets. However, because of loose connections or imperfect sensor, the packets may not be sent every two seconds.

Task 4: Implement didReceiveData

To complete this task, implement code to extract messages from the stream of packets delivered to didReceiveData.

Once you have extracted a sensor reading from the stream, create a Reading object from it (set type to either ReadingType.Temperature or ReadingType.Humidity, and sensorId to peripheral.name). You should add it to the activeHill’s readings array, which the UI will access to update its list of sensor readings. Call the delegate method didReceiveReadings, so that the delegate is notified of the new readings.

You might find these code snippets useful:

// convert a non-nil Data optional into a String
let str = String(data: data!, encoding: String.Encoding.ascii)!

// get a substring that excludes the first and last characters
let substring = str[str.index(after: str.startIndex)..<str.index(before: str.endIndex)]

// convert a Substring to a Double
let value = Double(substring)!

This task is complete when you can see sensor readings streaming into sensor reading display on the Anteater Readings screen, as shown below:

Known issue for Xcode 11+/iOS 13+: Tap to plot feature will cause the app to crash, so ignore that part

Task 5: Implement didDisconnectFromPeripheral

When the connected hill is powered off, didDisconnectFromPeripheral will be called. If the provided peripheral matches the one corresponding to the activeHill, you should reset activeHill to nil then call didChangeActiveHill with nil, so that the delegate is notified that there is no longer any connected hill. Lastly, initiate scanning to start scanning for new connections.

To verify, disconnect the anthill from power and check that the readings are no longer displayed. Then, connect the anthill to power and check that your phone automatically reconnects with the anthill and displays the new readings once the connection is established.


While it is unlikely to happen, if you suspect that no packets are being sent despite correct sensor connections, you can debug it by following the instructions below.

You should see a window that prints “HELLO WORLD” every two seconds and the temperature and humidity value pairs every time the packets are sent (reference). If your iPhone app fails to detect any packet after implementing it in Xcode and the Serial Monitor does not show the messages as described, please contact us to get a new board and sensor.

Submission and Checkoff Instructions

Write up your answers to the following items in a single PDF file and name it lab2_${mit_username}.pdf or lab2_${mit_username1}+${mit_username2}.pdf (e.g. lab2_mihirt.pdf or lab2_mihirt+bnagda.pdf). Send the PDF file to your private channel by Mar 2, 11:59 PM. If you work with a partner, you only have to submit once. You can get a checkoff during Office Hours within a week after the submission deadline, i.e. Mar 9, 11:59 PM. You do not need to submit your code, but we may ask to look at your code during the checkoff.

  1. Names and MIT emails (including your lab partner, if available)
  2. How does a central (your phone) discover a peripheral (an anthill)?
  3. What is the relationship between a peripheral, a service, and a characteristic? (Hint: review this Apple Document)
  4. Provide a screenshot for the Anteater app with sensor readings, similar to the example screenshot
  5. Estimated number of hours you spent on this lab per person
  6. Any comments/suggestions for the lab? Any questions you may have for the checkoff? (Optional)

A checkoff will require successfully displaying sensor readings on the Readings screen, as well as disconnecting from and reconnecting to an anthill (by powering it down and powering it back up.) The app should no longer display the readings if the anthill is powered off, and should automatically reconnect to the anthill once it is powered on again.