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Stian Eikeland

Developer, hacker, techno-foodie, diver, hobby-photographer. Does consultancy work from own company. Lives in Bergen, Norway.

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Boiling Sous-Vide Eggs using Clojure's Transducers

I love cooking, especially geeky molecular gastronomy cooking, you know, the type of cooking involving scientific knowledge, -equipment and ingredients like liquid nitrogen and similar. I already have a sous-vide setup, well, two actually (here is one of them: sousvide-o-mator), but I have none that run Clojure. So join me while I attempt to cook up some sous-vide eggs using the new transducers coming in Clojure 1.7. If you don't know what transducers are about, take a look here before you continue.

To cook sous-vide we need to keep the temperature at a given point over time. For eggs, around 65C is pretty good. To do this we use a PID-controller.

(defrecord Pid [set-point k-p k-i k-d error-sum error-last output-max output])

(defn make-pid
  "Create a new PID-controller.
   Requires: target temperature, kp, ki, kd gain.
   Optional: output-max=100 (error-sum=0, error-last=0, output=0)"
  [set-point k-p k-i k-d
   & {:keys [error-sum error-last output-max output]
      :or   {error-sum 0 error-last 0 output-max 100 output 0}}]
  (Pid. set-point k-p k-i k-d error-sum error-last output-max output))

(defn calculate-pid
  "Calculate next PID iteration"
  [{:keys [set-point error-last error-sum k-p k-i k-d output-max] :as pid} input]
  (let [error     (- set-point input)
        error-dv  (- error error-last)
        error-sum (+ error-sum error)
        output    (min output-max
                       (+ (* k-p error)
                          (* k-i error-sum)
                          (* k-d error-dv)))]
    (assoc pid :error-last error :error-sum error-sum :output output)))

Let's start by creating a record type for our PID-controller. The PID algorithm requires a few values: set-point - the target temperature, example: 65C for a perfect sous-vide egg. k-p - the proportional gain, k-i - the integral gain and k-d - the derivative gain. The proportinal gain is the most important part of the Algorithm, it controls how hard we push the pedal to the floor depending on the current error (distance to target-temperature). The integral factor looks at error over time. It's what tries to keep the output steady when we've reached our target. The derivative factor tries to counteract overshooting by looking at the error derivative (the change in error rate) - it dampens the other factors when we close on our target.

We also need to keep track of error-sum, the previous error - error-last, and we need a place to put the recommended output.

Next, we create make-pid - a constructing function, this simply sets a few default values if they're not provided.

Then we implement the PID algorithm as a function - calculate-pid. It accepts a PID-controller and the current input sample (ex: temperature). It returns the PID-controller record for the next iteration.

(defn pid-transducer [set-point k-p k-i k-d]
  (fn [xf]
    (let [pid (volatile! (make-pid set-point k-p k-i k-d))]
        ([] (xf))
        ([result] (xf result))
        ([result input]
           (vswap! pid (fn [p] (calculate-pid p input)))
           (xf result (:output @pid)))))))

We can then use this to create a "stateful" transducer for doing PID operations on an input (sequence, channel, stream, etc..). (Clarification from Alex Miller: The transducer isn't stateful, but the returning reducing function is, ofc - thanks!) Transducers look pretty weird (mostly because of their nested multi-arity lambdas), but they smell pretty nice, so I guess they're ok.

To help keep state in a transducer reducing function, clojure 1.7 introduces volatiles - volatiles work just like atoms - but with some limitations (rely on thread isolation for compound atomic swap! operations, etc). They are faster than atoms, but otherwise work just the same. If you're used to atoms, their use should be pretty self explanatory.

All values received by the transducer is given to the PID-controller. The PID-controller state is kept in a volatile, and updated for every iteration.

(into [] (pid-transducer 100 0.2 0.05 0)
      [0 1 3 6 10 20 31 45 61 81 91 98 100 105 110 120 110 100])
; [5.0 9.95 14.8 19.5 24.0 28.0 31.45 34.2 36.15 37.1 37.55 37.65 37.65 37.4 36.9 35.9 35.4 35.4]

Let's test it out by pretend we're trying to make something reach 100C, we give the PID-controller a fake sequence of measured temperatures over time, and transduce into a vector. The output describes how hard the PID-algorithm (with these settings) would have pushed on the throttle if the system responded like the input temperature sequence.

The great thing about transducers is that they're general implementations of operations over data, they really do not care how the data arrives or how it should be delivered. It works with data structures, streams, channels, and so on.

So, imagine that we have an electric kettle. We can read the temperature of this kettle and we can control the heating element. We receive temperatures on a channel, and can push instructions to the heating element on another channel. If we have this setup, then we can simply plug in our PID transducer in the middle, and everything should work!

;; Temperatures arrive via this channel
(def temperatures (chan))

;; This channel accepts temperatures, and supplies
;; PID outputs, trying to achieve a temperature of 65C
(def pid-output (chan 1 (pid-transducer 65 0.1 0.02 0.01)))

;; This channel is used to ask the kettle for the next
;; temperature sample (once our PID cycle is done.
(def fetch-next (chan))

;; We pipe temperatures into the pid-controller:
(pipe temperatures pid-output)

Next we create a few channels, one for temperatures, one for pid outputs, and one to ask for new temperature samples. We connect the temperatures to the pid channel.

(defn control-heater [pid-output fetch-next]
  (go-loop []
    (when-let [pid-time (<! pid-output)]
      (let [time-on  (int (* 300 pid-time))
            time-off (int (- 30000 time-on))]
        (when (< 0 time-on)
          (<! (timeout time-on))
        (<! (timeout time-off))
        (>! fetch-next :next)

(control-heater pid-output fetch-next)

The above function will wait for a value from the PID-controller, calculate how long (ms) the power needs to be on, and how long (ms) it needs to be off in the next cycle. It then turns the heater on, waits a bit, turns it off, waits a bit, and requests the next value.

(zmq-send! conn {:system "power"
                 :msgtype "command"
                 :location "kitchen-water"
                 :command "on"}

In my case, the heater-on! and heater-off! functions simply send a message to my zeromq based home automation system. I already have power control of my water kettle and my coffee cooker - so all that's required is simply a JSON-formatted message on a message bus. Another way to do this would for example be an arduino with a solid state relay. See intro, sensors and power for more details of my home automation setup.

;; Open serial port
(def port (serial/open "/dev/tty.usbserial" 115200))

;; Put values into the temperatures channel
(serial/on-value port (partial >!! temperatures))

;; Ask arduino for next temperature when we're ready for one..
(go-loop [_ (<! fetch-next)]
  (serial/write-str "next")
  (recur (<! fetch-next)))

The input temperatures are received over the serial port from an arduino with a DS18B20 temperature probe.

Start the system by running: (>!! fetch-next :next), allow the system to stabilize, drop in a couple of eggs and wait 45 minutes. You should be awarded with the most perfect creamy egg yolk you have ever tasted. I like mine on a piece of bread with avocado and a sprinkle of salt. Enjoy, now you're cooking with clojure!