Control Your Robot With Node.js - Raspberry PI and Arduino

March 28, 2014

Control Your Robot With Node.js - Raspberry PI and Arduino

Advancements in Javascript, node.js, have simplified communication between robot and user. Using two choice nodejs libraries, and johnny-five, you can quickly put together a system to control a robot using a web browser.

Physical Components We Used

Warning: the Raspberry Pi does not have much power regulation. Improper power connections can burn it out.

Third Party Libraries

Node Server

To start with, we need to set up a Node.js server to facilitate communication between the web browser and Arduino. We're also going to use Express.js as a supporting web framework.

First step is to create a new server.js file and type in preliminary code for a node server.

// Initialize express and server
var express = require('express')
var app = express()
  , server = require('http').createServer(app);

// Access server through port 80

// Set '/public' as the static folder. Any files there will be directly sent to the viewer
app.use(express.static(__dirname + '/public'));

// Set index.html as the base file
app.get('/', function (req, res) {
  res.sendfile(__dirname + '/index.html');

Then, create a index.html in the same folder and put in some basic HTML code. Start up the node server with node server.js and visit the address using a web browser. You should see the contents of index.html.

In some cases, only administrators can run code that uses low ports (ie: 80). So sudo node server.js might be necessary instead. is a way to provide real time cross-browser communication. We'll use this to forward user actions in the browser to the Arduino. In the same server.js, add code for some basic functionality:

// Link to the previously created server
var io = require('').listen(server);

// When someone has connected to me...
io.sockets.on('connection', function (socket) {
  // Send out a message (only to the one who connected)
  socket.emit('robot connected', { data: 'Connected' });

  // When I've received 'robot command' message from this connection...
  socket.on('robot command', function (data) {

Now, when server.js is running, someone can use a client to connect and send data in real-time.

Web Browser

index.html needs to be set up to act as a client so a web browser can be used to send commands to the node server.

<!--Add two buttons a user can click-->
<button type="button" id="turn-left">Turn Left</button>
<button type="button" id="turn-right">Turn Right</button>

<!--Using JQuery for button events-->
<script src="js/jquery.min.js"></script>
<! library-->
<script src="/"></script>
  $(document).ready(function() {
    // Connect to the node.js server. Change the IP address to the actual node server location.
    var socket = io.connect('http://localhost');
    // When I've received 'robot connected' message from the server...
    socket.on('robot connected', function (data) {
      // Send out a message to the server
      socket.emit('robot command', { command: 'nothing' });

    // When the html buttons are clicked...
    $('#turn-left').click(function() {
      socket.emit('robot command', { command: turn-left });
    $('#turn-right').click(function() {
      socket.emit('robot command', { command: turn-right });
</script> automatically generates the Javascript file required by the web browser, so you don't need to place this in the public folder. In our project on github, we use Bootstrap and JQuery to boost the functionality of our web page. The Javascript libraries are placed in a public -> js folder.


Johnny-five is an Arduino framework for easier robot control. We'll use the library to translate received commands into Arduino commands. In server.js:

var five = require("johnny-five")
    , board, servo;

// Global storage for Arduino Servos
var arduinoServos = {};

// Initialize connection to Arduino (will crash if none is attached)
board = new five.Board();

// When the connection is ready...
board.on("ready", function() {
  // Add a steering servo
  arduinoServos = {
    steering: new five.Servo({
      pin: 9,             // Send signal through Arduino Pin #9
      range: [0, 180],    // Servo value ranges: 0-180 (Check motors for actual range)
      type: "standard",   // Default "standard". "continuous" for cont. rotation servos
      startAt: 90,        // if you would like the servo to immediately move to degree
      center: false       // If true moves servo to center of range instead of starAt
  steering = arduinoServos.steering;

  // Inject the `servo` hardware into context; allows direct command line access
    s: arduinoServos

//... In the section: socket.on('robot command', function (data)...
// Update Arduino motor values if the received command is a 'turn-left' or 'turn-right'
var command = data.command;
if (command == 'turn-left') {;

    s: arduinoServos
else if (command == 'turn-right') {;

    s: arduinoServos

Remember to install "StandardFirmata" on the Arduino, so it can properly interpret Johnny-five from node.js.

Running the Application


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The Github repository for our RC Car Controller

Discussion, links, and tweets

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