Reading data from a DXL360 digital level onto your computer

There are some digital levels on the market that are really nice tools to have for a variety of purposes. I grabbed a DXL360 and am really happy with it so far. When I wanted to do an angle vs. time calibration measurement of my Barn Door Startracker over 10s of minutes, I really wanted to get the data from the level into a computer so I could plot and process it a bit.

The level has a USB port but the manual suggests that an optional attachment is required to get it into a computer, at least for this model. However, the manual also states that data comes out of it in RS232 format. I bet I could read that data with some more generic equipment that I have sitting around. And it turned out to be easy. This post shows how I did it.

First, I cut a USB cable in half to tap into the level. As a check, I hooked the data lines up to my oscilloscope. I was greeted with a binary bitstream that changed pleasantly as I rotated the level. Looks promising.

Next, I just plugged the data cables into my extraordinarily useful Adafruit FT232H breakout board, which is basically a universal attachment for these kinds of things. I love this chip. In this case I just plugged the TX line (white in my cable) to the UART RX line on the chip (D1) and GND to GND.

To test it, I just followed Adafruit’s instructions to open up a screen session on my (linux) laptop. I was immediately greeted with and ASCII stream of data in a meaningful format. The FT232H starts up in its UART serial mode by default which is exactly what I needed for this device. Yay: this is an easy project.

Since I didn’t need any advanced features of this chip for this project, I didn’t need to use the Adafruit library or anything. I just wrote a bit of Python 3 code to parse the data:

This code creates a generator that you iterate over very simply for whatever application you need. For my calibration stuff, the plotting code looks like this:


That just reads some data and then plots it, like this:Sweeeeeet.

Coupling a computer to this level really makes it an even more awesome and useful instrument.

Update: I open-sourced this software as part of the startracker project on github.

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