Working with Instruments

Getting Started

Instrumental tries to make it easy to find and open all the instruments available to your computer. This is primarily accomplished using list_instruments() and instrument():

>>> from instrumental import instrument, list_instruments
>>> paramsets = list_instruments()
>>> paramsets
[<ParamSet[TSI_Camera] serial='05478' number=0>,
 <ParamSet[K10CR1] serial='55000247'>
 <ParamSet[NIDAQ] model='USB-6221 (BNC)' name='Dev1'>]

You can then use the output of list_instruments() to open the instrument you want:

>>> daq = instrument(paramsets[2])
>>> daq
< at 0xb61...>

Or you can enter the parameters directly:

>>> instrument(ni_daq_name='Dev1')
< at 0xb61...>

If you’re going to be using an instrument repeatedly, save it for later:

>>> daq.save_instrument('myDAQ')

Then you can simply open it by name:

>>> daq = instrument('myDAQ')

Using Units

pint units are used heavily by Instrumental, so you should familiarize yourself with them. Many methods only accept unitful quantities, as a way to add clarity and prevent errors. In most cases you can use a string as shorthand and it will be converted automatically:

>>> daq.ao1.write('3.14 V')

If you need to create your own quantities directly, you can use the u and Q_ objects provided by Instrumental:

>>> from instrumental import u, Q_

u is a pint.UnitRegistry, while Q_ is a shorhand for the registry’s Quantity class. There are several ways you can use them:

>>> u.m                       # Access units as attributes
>>> 3 * u.s
<Quantity(3, 'second')>

>>> u('2.54 inches')          # Parse a string into a quantity using u()
<Quantity(2.54, 'inch')>

>>> Q('852 nm')               # ...or Q_()
<Quantity(852, 'nanometer')>

>>> Q(32.89, 'MHz')           # Specify magnitude and units separately
<Quantity(32.89, 'megahertz')>

pint also supports many physical constants (e.g. )

Note that it can be tricky to create offset units—e.g. by Q_('20 degC')— because pint treats this as a multiplication and will raise an OffsetUnitCalculusError. You can get around this by separating the magnitude and units, e.g. Q_(20, 'degC'). Note that Facets as well as the check_units and unit_mag decorators can properly parse strings like '20 degC'.

Advanced Usage

An Even Quicker Way

Here’s a shortcut for opening an instrument that means you don’t have to assign the instrument list to a variable, or even know how to count—just use part of the instrument’s string:

>>> list_instruments()
[<ParamSet[TSI_Camera] serial='05478' number=0>,
 <ParamSet[K10CR1] serial='55000247'>
 <ParamSet[NIDAQ] model='USB-6221 (BNC)' name='Dev1'>]
>>> instrument('TSI')  # Opens the TSI_Camera
>>> instrument('NIDAQ')  # Opens the NIDAQ

This will work as long as the string you use isn’t saved as an instrument alias. If you use a string that matches multiple instruments, it just picks the first in the list.

Filtering Results

If you’re only interested in a specific driver or category of instrument, you can use the module argument to filter your results. This will also speed up the search for the instruments:

>>> list_instruments(module='cameras')
[<ParamSet[TSI_Camera] serial='05478' number=0>]
>>> list_instruments(module='cameras.tsi')
[<ParamSet[TSI_Camera] serial='05478' number=0>]

list_instruments() checks if module is a substring of each driver module’s name. Only modules whose names match are queried for available instruments.

Remote Instruments

You can even control instruments that are attached to a remote computer:

>>> list_instruments(server='')

This lists only the instruments located on the remote machine, not any local ones.

The remote PC must be running as an Instrumental server (and its firewall configured to allow inbound connections on this port). To do this, run the script tools/ that comes packaged with Instrumental. The client needs to specify the server’s IP address (or hostname), and port number (if differs from the default of 28265). Alternatively, you may save an alias for this server in the [servers] section of you instrumental.conf file (see Saved Instruments for more information about instrumental.conf). Then you can list the remote instruments like this:

>>> list_instruments(server='myServer')

You can then open your instrument using instrument() as usual, but now you’ll get a RemoteInstrument, which you can control just like a regular Instrument.

How Does it All Work?

Listing Instruments

What exactly is list_instruments() doing? Basically it walks through all the driver modules, trying to import them one by one. If import fails (perhaps the DLL isn’t available because the user doesn’t have this instrument), that module is skipped. Each module is responsible for returning a list of its available instruments, e.g. the module returns a list of all the NI DAQs that are accessible. list_instruments() combines all these instruments into one big list and returns it.

There’s an unfortunate side-effect of this: if a module fails to import due to a bug, the exception is caught and ignored, so you don’t get a helpful traceback. To diagnose issues with a driver module, you can import the module directly:

>>> import

or enable logging before calling list_instruments():

>>> from instrumental.log import log_to_screen
>>> log_to_screen()

list_instruments() doesn’t open instruments directly, but instead returns a list of dict-like ParamSet objects that contain info about how to open each instrument. For example, for our DAQ:

>>> dict(paramsets[2])
{'classname': 'NIDAQ',
 'model': 'USB-6221 (BNC)',
 'module': '',
 'name': 'Dev1',
 'serial': 20229473L}

We could also open it with keyword arguments:

>>> instrument(name='Dev1')
< at 0xb69...>

or a dictionary:

>>> instrument({'name': 'Dev1'})
< at 0xb69...>

Behind the scenes, instrument() uses the keywords to figure out what type of instrument you’re talking about, and what class should be instantiated. If you don’t give it much information to use, it may take awhile scanning through the available instruments. You can speed this up by providing the model and/or classname:

>>> instrument(module='', classname='NIDAQ', name='Dev1')
< at 0xb69...>

In addition, a convenient shorthand exists for specifying the module (or category of module) when you pass a parameter. For example:

>>> instrument(ni_daq_name='Dev1')
< at 0xb69...>

only looks at instrument types in the module that have a name parameter. These special parameter names support the format <module>_<category>_<parameter>, <module>_<parameter>, and <category>_<parameter>. The parameter name is split by underscores, then used to filter which modules are checked. Note that each segment can be abbreviated, so e.g. cam_serial will match all drivers in the cameras category having a serial parameter (this works because ‘cam’ is a substring of ‘cameras’).

Saved Instruments

Opening instruments using list_instruments() is really helpful when you’re messing around in the shell and don’t quite know what info you need yet, or you’re checking what devices are available to you. But if you’ve found your device and want to write a script that reuses it constantly, it’s convenient (and more efficient) to have it saved under an alias, which you can do easily with save_instrument() as we showed above.

When you do this, the instrument’s info gets saved in your instrumental.conf config file. To find where the file is located on your system, run:

>>> from instrumental.conf import user_conf_dir
>>> user_conf_dir

To save your instrument manually, you can add its parameters to the [instruments] section of instrumental.conf. For our DAQ, that would look like:

# NI-DAQ device
myDAQ = {'module': '', 'classname': 'NIDAQ', 'name': 'Dev1'}

This gives our DAQ the alias myDAQ, which can then be used to open it easily:

>>> instrument('myDAQ')
< at 0xb71...>

The default version of instrumental.conf also provides some commented-out example entries to help make things clear.