Functional Robots With Wisp

by Andrew Stewart
published April 2, 2014

Wisp is a really cool project for compiling a subset of Clojure syntax to JavaScript, without having to go through all the hoops that ClojureScript forces you through.

Wisp also compiles to plain JavaScript, without setting up a number of data structures and language idioms the way ClojureScript or other [lang]-to-JS compilers sometimes do. This lets you write Clojure with a fairly good idea of how it’ll map to the resulting JavaScript.

For an example, I decided to convert the Cylon.JS cat toy example to it, just to get a feel for the process.

The example robot I’m converting hooks up to a Digispark with a couple servos and a Leap Motion. The robot uses hand positions picked up by the Leap Motion to control the servos. Simple enough.

It’s pretty straight-forward JavaScript, so it shouldn’t be too hard to convert. Now let’s write an analogue in Clojure.

(def Cylon (require "cylon"))

; We're re-writing how the -> special form works here to allow for method
; chaining later on.
(defmacro ->
  [& operations]
   (fn [form operation]
     (cons (first operation)
           (cons form (rest operation))))
   (first operations)
   (rest operations)))

(def robot {
  connections [
    { :name "digispark" :adaptor "digispark" }
    { :name "leapmotion" :adaptor "leapmotion" :port "" }]

  devices [
    { :name "servo1" :driver "servo" :pin 0 :connection "digispark" }
    { :name "servo2" :driver "servo" :pin 1 :connection "digispark" }
    { :name "leapmotion" :driver "leapmotion" :connection "leapmotion" }]

  work (fn [my]
    (let [x 90
          z 90]
        (fn [hand]
          ; wisp gives us this set! form to let us change variables,
          ; and also using the redefined -> macro we wrote earlier
          (set! x (-> hand.palmX (.fromScale -300 300) (.toScale 30 150)))
          (set! y (-> hand.palmY (.fromScale -300 300) (.toScale 30 150)))))

        (fn []
          (my.servo1.angle x)
          (my.servo2.angle z)
            "Current Angle:"

(.start (Cylon.Robot robot))

It still looks a fair bit like the original example, but it’s clear we’re not in Kansas anymore. We even had to write a macro to get method chaining working properly, but that’s another cool thing: we wrote a macro, and it works.

The wisp binary has a couple modes; it can run files directly (wisp robot.wisp), or will print a compiled version of code passed to STDIN.

Running this with cat robot.wisp | wisp > robot.js, we get a fairly decent approximation of the original, which even comes with a generated sourcemap to help with debugging.

var Cylon = exports.Cylon = require('cylon');
void 0;
var robot = exports.robot = {
        connections: [
                'name': 'digispark',
                'adaptor': 'digispark'
                'name': 'leapmotion',
                'adaptor': 'leapmotion',
                'port': ''
        devices: [
                'name': 'servo1',
                'driver': 'servo',
                'pin': 0,
                'connection': 'digispark'
                'name': 'servo2',
                'driver': 'servo',
                'pin': 1,
                'connection': 'digispark'
                'name': 'leapmotion',
                'driver': 'leapmotion',
                'connection': 'leapmotion'
        work: function (my) {
            return function () {
                var xø1 = 90;
                var zø1 = 90;
                my.leapmotion.on('hand', function (hand) {
                    xø1 = hand.palmX.fromScale(-300, 300).toScale(30, 150);
                    return zø1 = hand.palmY.fromScale(-300, 300).toScale(30, 150);
                return every(100, function () {
                    return console.log('Current Angle:', my.servo1.currentAngle(), ',', my.servo2.currentAngle());
// [source map removed for formatting reasons]

I don’t know if it’s something I’d use in day-to-day yet, but Wisp seems like a really cool project for trying out some functional programming ideas in JavaScript.

I also think this could be a great learning tool for people who want to learn Clojure without getting a full JVM set up. It’s easy enough to setup (installs through NPM), and generates clear results in a familiar language, allowing users to clearly see what their Clojure source is doing.