TDTPy Documentation

Python interface for TDT equipment


  • Brad Buran (New York University; Oregon Health & Science University)
  • Eric Larson (University of Washington)
  • Decibel Therapeutics, Inc.


Work on TDTPy was supported by grant DC009237 from the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders.


If you use the server provided by TDTPy to communicate with your hardware your client code should be able to run on any platform including Unix, Linux and OSX). The server, however, requires the proprietary ActiveX drivers provided by TDT which only run on Windows.


Furthermore, TDTPy was as written as part of an initial progress towards a hardware abstraction layer. Your experiment code should not care whether you’re using Tucker Davis’ `System 3`_ hardware, National Instruments DAQ platform, a high-quality audio card, or some combination of different vendors’ hardware. A key goal of TDTPy is to begin progress towards an application programming interface (API) that can be implemented by Python wrappers around other hardware vendors’ libraries. By building experiment code on top of TDTPy (rather than directly on top of TDT’s ActiveX library), switching to another hardware platform should only require the following steps:

  • Identifying (or writing) a wrapper around the vendor’s library that supports the public API that TDTPy also supports.
  • Writing the underlying microcode (e.g. a LabVIEW VI if you are switching to National Instruments’ PXI) for the new hardware required to run the experiment.
  • Changing your code to import from your new wrapper rather than TDTPy.

We have already built two programs, Neurogen and NeuroBehavior, on top of TDTPy with an eye towards ensuring that we can switch to a different hardware platform if needed.

Key differences between TDTPy and OpenEx

Some people may note a number of similarities between the goals of the TDTPy and TDT’s OpenEx platform. Both platforms are designed to streamline the process of setting up and running experiments by providing high-level functionality.

  • TDTPy is open-source. OpenEx (despite the name) is not.
  • Both OpenEx and TDTPy facilitate handling of buffer reads and writes provided you follow certain conventions in setting up your RPvds circuit. OpenEx requires strict conventions (e.g. you must give your tag a four-letter name with a special prefix). TDTPy allows you to use whatever names you like.
  • Both TDTPy and OpenEx support running the hardware communication in a subprocess. However, OpenEx does not make the data immediately available. At best, there is a 10 second lag from the time the data is downloaded from the hardware to the time it is availabile to your script for plotting and analysis. TDTPy makes the downloaded data available immediately.
  • OpenEx integrates with other components produced by TDT (OpenController, OpenDeveloper, OpenWorkbench, etc.). TDTPy currently does not offer the functionality provided by these other components.
  • OpenEx requires the use of TDT’s proprietary data format (TTank). In addition to being a proprietary, binary format, TTank imposes certain constraints on how you can save your data to disk. In contrast, TDTPy allows you to handle saving the data (i.e. you can dump it to a HDF5, XML, ASCII, CSV or MAT container).
  • Integrating OpenEx with your custom scripts is somewhat of a hack. You must launch OpenEx then launch your script. TDTPy is part of your script.
  • TDTPy comes with robust error-checking that catches many common coding mistakes (e.g. attempting to access a non-existent tag on the device) and a test-suite you can use to ensure your hardware is performing to spec.


  • In the write-test-debug routine of developing RPvds circuits, it would be very useful to have a GUI that allows you to interactively monitor and manipulate tag values well as visualize and manipulate data in the RPvds buffers. We can leverage Enthought’s powerful Traits, TraitsGUI and Chaco packages for this purpose.
  • Support processing pipelines for uploaded and downloaded data. This would be especially useful when running TDTPy as a subprocess to offload much of the processing overhead to a second CPU.
  • Support streaming data from RPvds buffers to disk so the main process does not have to handle this step as well (requires a IO library that is thread/process safe).

Indices and tables