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Raspberry flavored Scantron pie

Intro

This project is influenced by idea of controlling proprietary Scantron machine(s) without using original Scantron software. We have an old Scantron (used once every year to scan approximately 400 sheets during the event of High School Math Tournament that we organize at GSW) connected to an old PC, running under control of Windows 98... that is dreaming about retirement. The outdated proprietary software refused to run on any modern platform, so we decided to keep the machine and retire the original software.

Our Scantron utilizes RS-232 interface to connect to the PC so we sniffed and reverse engineered proprietary protocol. We then decided to use Raspberry Pi running NodeJS application to mimic the protocol so the machine would be tricked to "talk" to RasPi while thinking that it "talks" to the proprietary controller.

We went even further and created a Scantron simulator that pretends to be a Scantron machine "scanning" certain number (set by a configuration parameter) of forms every time when you activate it. Of course instead of scanning forms it generates random scan data but does so with respect to form definitions sent from the Scantron controller. In other words, having our Scantron simulator plugged into that old Windows 98 PC could trick the proprietary software so it think that it "talks" to the genuine Scantron machine. The simulator runs off of the built-in serial interface (the one that is used for serial console by default, i.e. /dev/ttyAMA0) soldered on the RasPi board at the main 40-pin connector. We use GND, Tx, and Rx pins on the connector to plug the TTL side of a USB Serial to TTL converter while plugging the USB side of the converter into one of the available USB ports on the RasPi. Such configuration allows us to use one RasPi board to run both Scantron controller and Scantron simulator. Moreover, having both the Scantron machine (via USB to Serial adapter) and our simulator plugged into RasPi allows us to choose one of them as the source of scanned data.

The Goal

This entire project is focused on the development of a full stack web application capable of running both sides (backend and frontend) off of the same RasPi computer equipped with a touchscreen. The touchscreen interface is used to interact with the frontend side of the application that translates user intent (select particular Scantron device, start/stop scanning, etc) to the backend side capable of directly controlling Scantron machine. All scanned data are sent by the backend back to the frontend for displaying and other handling.

Without network connectivity the application allows a user to start/stop the scanning process and display the scanned data. But having the RasPi connected to the Internet, the app can be configured to forward scanned data to a 3rd party application by means of web socket transport.

The Software Stack

The application implements a full stack web application methodology. The frontend side is written in VueJS framework and is bundled by Webpack. The backend side is implemented using Express framework running under control of NodeJS platform. The realtime communication between frontend and backend is implemented by utilizing Socket.io library. The low-level serial communication is implemented with the help of Node Serialport.

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Scantron controller running on RasPi3

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