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FogFinder Relies on Arduino and XBee to Tap into New Water Source

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No, it’s not possible to create water out of thin air. But, with a bit of engineering, scientists in Chile are turning foggy air into a reliable water source for nearby residents. The process is almost entirely natural–the sun desalinates the water, the winds push the water to a higher elevation, and gravity allows the collected water to flow back down to the village.

Using large fog collectors, which consist of mesh mounted on a rigid structure, to capture impacting fog water droplets from the air and tapping into the natural processes mentioned above, fog collection could be an economical way to gather and distribute clean water.

The fog collectors are typically installed on hillsides and remote areas where fog is abundant. These installations are especially common in arid climates in Chile where rain runs scarce. As fog passes through, the droplets impact the mesh fibers and collect in a trough below. One of the real challenges and opportunities for innovation lies in determining where to install these collectors, how to orient them, and understanding how efficient they are at collecting water from the air.IMG_0420

While at the Universidad de los Andes in Santiago Chile, Richard LeBoeuf, Associate Professor at Tarleton State University, and Juan de Dios Rivera, of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, developed a new type of sensor called the “Liquid Water Flux Probe” to measure the availability of water at current and potential fog collector sites. The sensor measures the liquid water content and speed of the fog and can be used to understand the optimal location and orientation for each of the collectors.

The sensor is part of a larger system called FogFinder, which Richard LeBoeuf developed in collaboration with Juan Pablo Vargas and Jorge Gómez at the Universidad de los Andes. Together they designed and engineered the FogFinder system, which includes wireless networking.

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With the primary challenge of measuring fog liquid water flux out of the way, the team needed to design a device capable of being deployed in extremely remote environments and easily retrieve sensor data. Since there is no power source to plug into out in the desert, the options are either solar or wind power. Due to their simplicity, a separate solar power system, comprised of a solar panel, battery, and charge controller, is used in conjunction with the FogFinder unit.

To facilitate the collection and transmission of sensor data, the team chose to build the foundation of FogFinder with Arduino and XBee. Both components offered a fast and easy way to get started prototyping the design. Each sensor node is comprised of an Arduino Mega and XBee module, and the team even designed and built custom boards to regulate voltage, interface the sensors and store data on a micro-SD card.

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The node collects data on the following parameters:

  • Liquid water flux
  • Humidity
  • Temperature
  • Flow-rate from fog collectors
  • Pressure
  • Wind speed
  • Wind direction

The team settled on using XBee for local wireless communication since it provided greater range and required less power than Bluetooth. The ZigBee protocol also offers the flexibility to create a mesh network and configuration settings to conserve power-saving valuable battery life. With external antennas and mountain top to mountain top placement of each radio, they have achieved a reliable 1 km link.

Once the data is collected, it’s sent to a remote server over a cellular network. Using a BeagleBone SBC and a cellular modem, data is taken from the local XBee ZigBee network and can be accessed on a remote computer. This data is then analyzed to assess the performance of the fog collector.

What’s next for FogFinder? As the team wraps up the prototyping stage, they’ll be conducting calibration in a wind tunnel to prepare for field tests.  Once the testing phase is complete, the team will work to deploy them as part of a pilot program and start connecting more Chilean residents to a clean source of water.

You can read more about the FogFinder project in the following articles:

The FogFinder project has received support from the Universidad de los Andes through its Fondo de Ayuda de Investigación, Andes Iron – Dominga, and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

 

Introducing XCTU 6.3

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A new version of everyone’s favorite XBee configuration software, XCTU, is here! Among a few small updates like a refreshed look and feel, UI enhancements, and minor bug fixes, the XBee team has introduced three brand new features to the software. Here’s a look at what you’ll find in XCTU 6.3.


Command Line Interface Support
New to XCTU is Command Line Interface (CLI) Support. Now, users can execute the application in CLI mode without the graphic interface. This is primarily useful for scripting and automation purposes when managing large scale XBee deployments. The following features are supported within CLI mode:

  • List ports – A list of serial and USB ports can be retrieved in
    command line mode.xctu_welcome
  • Update firmware – Firmware of any radio device can be updated in this
    mode.
  • Load profile – Now it is possible to load profiles to connected
    devices through the CLI of XCTU.

Spectrum Analyzer
From within the XCTU interface, users can test and measure the spectrum of the radio’s band. The analysis displays average, maximum, and minimum values of each channel. This is helpful to determine which channel to set your XBee radios to and troubleshoot network issues.

Throughput Tool
With the Throughput Tool users can measure the maximum transfer ratio from one radio module to another within the same network. The tool provides three session modes and several payload configuration options to test different combinations and understand the performance of your wireless network.

Download
If you haven’t already updated from within XCTU, just click here to download the software to your computer. Have fun and if you have questions feel free to tweet us at @XBeeWireless.

XBee Tech Tip: Using the XCTU Spectrum Analyzer Tool

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XCTU 6.3 features a brand new Spectrum Analyzer tool. This makes it possible to measure and test the spectrum using only an XBee radio. The tool generates a report of the noise level for each channel within the radio’s frequency band. With these data points, XBee users can select the optimal channel for their XBee network and troubleshoot network issues.

In this XBee Tech Tip, we’ll take a look at how to run the Spectrum Analyzer tool. Below is a quick screencast that takes you through adding the XBee device to XCTU to running a spectrum analysis and sorting through the data points collected. The video is followed with more information on the tool such as configuring the test and analyzing the network noise levels.

To get started, first access the tool by selecting it from the Tools drop down menu.

Device selection
The first section of the tool contains the device selection control populated with the devices that you have added to XCTU. Select the radio module you want to use to perform the analysis.

Analysis Configuration
The analysis configuration panel is located next to the device selection control. This section allows you to configure the spectrum analysis process:
This is the list of available settings:Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 8.57.25 AM

  • Sampling interval (ms): Determines the time to wait in milliseconds before reading a new noise level sample of the RF channels.
  • Number of samples: Check this option to configure the number of samples to read in the spectrum analysis session.
  • Loop infinitely: Check this option to read samples infinitely until the spectrum analysis session is stopped manually.

When you have configured all the options, click Start Spectrum Analysis button to start reading samples and measure the noise level of each RF channel. You can manually stop the analysis at any time by pressing the same button, now displaying the text Stop Spectrum Analysis.

Data Presentation
When an analysis is started, the chart and channels list are filled with all the RF channels supported by the selected device. Note: the list of supported channels may vary depending on the device type and device region.

Channel Chart
This chart represents the noise level of all the RF channels. Each channel displays 1 bar with the current noise level and two tick marks representing the maximum noise level (green) and the minimum one (red).

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 4.20.16 PM

A blue line is also added to the chart indicating the average noise level of all channels. The spectrum analysis refreshes the noise levels of each channel continuously until the analysis ends or it is stopped.

Along the bottom of the chart, users can filter to hide or display the bars, the max and min noise values and the average noise level line.

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 4.20.32 PM

Once the spectrum analysis reaches the specified number of samples or is stopped, you can click on each channel to get specific values (seen above). This control displays the current noise level of a channel as well as its average, maximum and minimum noise level.

The Spectrum Analyzer feature supports Digi radios with the following protocols:

  • ZigBee (S2C Modules)
  • 802.15.4
  • DigiMesh
  • XTend Legacy
  • XTend DigiMesh
  • Digi Point

What do you want to learn next?
We hope you found this tutorial helpful! Let us know what you’d like to learn in the next XBee Tech Tip: http://bit.ly/xbeetechtip

Look What I Made: XBee Project Gallery Update

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Farm Safety Wearable
The sweep auger motor plugs directly into an outlet on the receiving box. This receiving box and transmitter each have an XBee wireless transceiver inside. When the remote control is powered on, the first LED lights up. When the safety cord is connected, the second LED lights up. At this point, the sweep auger is off.

Connected Greenhouse
Using an Intel IoT Gateway, the wireless systems turns daily farming data into a more meaningful decision-making. Sensors for temperature, humidity, pH, and luminosity in the greenhouse pass the data to the local Galileo gateway. Galileo transmits data using XBee to an Atom processor-based gateway, and then uploads all the information to the cloud system.

Wireless Boat
This RC boat uses XBee for wireless control. The controller is fashioned from an old Air Hogs controller. An Arduino Pro mini is connected to the XBee, analog stick for steering, LEDs, and triggers buttons.

Do you have an XBee project you would like featured in the XBee Project Gallery? You can submit your own or someone else’s project here.

Makers Turn to XBee for Wireless Projects at World Maker Faire 2015

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Another year. Another Maker Faire. And more wireless XBee projects! The Digi team was on the ground at this year’s World Maker Faire in New York and found some impressive XBee projects during the weekend. Here’s a quick recap of the event.

Telemetry for Land and Air
The first XBee project found at Maker Faire was created by Kerron Manwaring. Starting out as just a hobbyist, his passion for electronics drew him to a career in engineering. He was showing off a rover and drone powered by microcontrollers.  As you can see in the pictures below, both of the land and air vehicles had XBee onboard, which he used for sending telemetry.

 

Tobor – The Giant Robotic Arm
The next project we came across was Tobor, a 12-foot haptic robotic arm. The arm has haptic ability, which means it can be controlled by a glove using movement sensors and motors.  When the user wearing the glove moves his or her hand, Tobor responds by mimicking that movement. How was XBee involved? Commands from the glove telling the arm how to move are sent wirelessly over XBee.

 

Digi Connections at Maker Faire 
Digi Internship Alumni Jonathan Young showed off his automatic drum machine as well as the Sentry Gun he built using the experience he had over two summers at Digi. Also, Chief Innovator Rob Faludi posed for his annual photo with young maker Quinn of Qtechknow. Quinn has been mentioned in several previous blog posts, he’s been using XBees for at least four years now! Learn more about what he’s up to at his website.

 

World Maker Faire NYC was as crowded as it’s ever been and we’re already looking forward to the next one. If you didn’t make it out this year,  you can click here to check out Maker Faire’s slideshow of highlights from the weekend.

Connecting Grove Sensors with XBee

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Grove modules are quickly growing in popularity due to each sensor and actuator having the same standardized connector — making it fast and easy to prototype a sensor project.

In the words of Seeed Studio, “Grove is a modulated, ready-to-use tool set. Much like Lego, it takes a building block approach to assembling electronics. Compared with the traditional, complicated learning method of using a breadboard and various electronic components to assemble a project, Grove simplifies and condenses the learning process significantly. The Grove system consists of a base shield and various modules with standardized connectors.”im121027001_2_1

What makes Grove devices so simple is that the connectors eliminate the need to break out the breadboard, resistors, jumper wires, etc.. The connection is a 4-pin interface that supports digital, analog, I2C signal through four wires with different colors.

  • Red is for VCC
  • Black is for GND,
  • Yellow is for signal
  • White is for others.

Since XBee is used frequently in wireless sensor networks, we included six Grove connectors on the new XBee Grove Development Board. You can use it to quickly evaluate XBee and Grove modules with a PC or microcontroller.

We have included two XBee Grove Adapter Boards in the Wireless Connectivity Kit. If you’re interested in how this might help you build wireless sensor networks, we have this graphic that offers an overview of the board and its connections.

 

grove_board_connectors

 

Visit Digi-Key to learn more about the Wireless Connectivity Kit. More information on the XBee Grove Development Board can be found here.

XBee Tech Tip: Digital IO Line Passing with XBee

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A unique feature of the XBee 802.15.4 modules is the ability to perform digital I/O line passing. Essentially, this feature enables the user to toggle the state of any DIO pin on a transmitting radio and have that same pin on one or more receiving radios toggle their state to match the change. This functionality is an easy way to wirelessly control relays or any other switched equipment.

Note: DIO line passing can only be done with XBee 802.15.4 modules.wck_logo

Components used in this tutorial:

  • Two XBee 802.15.4 radios
  • Two XBee Grove Development Boards
  • Two Micro USB cables

To get started with this example, configure the pin of the XBee where the button is connected as digital input, and configure the pin of the XBee where the LED is connected as digital output. You will also need to configure the first XBee to send a notification to the other XBee when the button changes state.

Let’s get started.

Here are the configuration settings that need to be written to the XBee modules. In this example, XBee A is the transmitting radio and XBee B is the receiving module (click image to enlarge):

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 9.29.24 AM

More of a visual learner? No worries. Follow along with this video as we write the parameters described above to both of our XBee radios.

Bonus Tip: Boost the reliability of the XBee connection by setting a sample rate on the transmitting XBee (Parameter: IR). If there happens to be interference while the data is being transmitted, it might not be received by XBee B. Setting a sample rate will ensure the change of state is communicated by the following sample rate packets.

Have the radios all set and ready to go? When the button connected to the the transmitting XBee is pressed, the LED of the receiver will light. Cue the drum roll….

If the application requires multiple receiver nodes, the change of state can be sent as a broadcast. To do this, modify the destination low address to “FFFF” on the transmitting radio. Note that this concept of DIO line passing is not specific to only pin 4, it can be applied to any DIO pin on the XBee 802.15.4 module.Wireless-Connectivity-Kit-DMG (1)

For this tutorial we used the new XBee Grove Development Board found in the Wireless Connectivity Kit. Visit Digi-Key to learn more about this new kit.

 

National Geographic Explorers Connect the Okavango Delta to the IoT

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Drones capable of detecting illegal logging in the Amazon Rainforest. Sensor networks to help research the dwindling honeybee population. Smart solar-powered waste collection. This is all happening today thanks to the Internet of Things. In addition to new technologies, the open-source movement has made it possible to share hardware designs, software and even data-making it easy for anyone to aid the global effort to preserve the ecosystems we depend on.

This summer, a team of National Geographic explorers are taking a 1,000 mile journey down the Okavango River in an effort to collect environmental data, discover new species and measure the heartbeat of one of the most remote wetlands in the world. And it’s all being done with Internet connected devices.

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Into the Okavango’s Mission
The Okavango Delta, located in Botswana, is one of the last pristine wetland wildernesses in the world. It’s protected as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, but farther upstream its water supply in Angola and Namibia is still susceptible to human interference.

National Geographic’s Okavango Expedition assembled a team of scientists and engineers to collect data along the Okavango River so that conservation efforts can be more effective, raise awareness and ensure that this remote wildlife sanctuary can be enjoyed for generations to come.

The delta itself stretches a vast 15,000 square kilometers, so the team of researchers needed to find a way to efficiently gather data across the entire area. Since this is such a remote location, additional considerations needed to be made like weatherproof equipment, power sources, and how to network the sensors.

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Connecting Across the Delta
Shah Selbe, the expedition’s lead technologist and conservation engineer at Conservify, created a wireless sensor network that significantly reduces the amount of manual labor required by the team to collect environmental data. Now, they no longer have to use pH strips or manually check sensor readings and record data onto paper. The wireless network completely automates the recording of data, collects more of it, and is more accurate.

Steve Boyes, National Geographic Emerging Explorer, put it best saying, “Shah took us from little strips and pieces of paper – writing down the water quality as we go down – to environmental sensor platforms… We’re going to be measuring the literal heartbeat of that wilderness in real time for the world to see.” 

Shah and team built a wireless sensor network using components you probably have sitting on your desk right now. A Raspberry Pi running a Python script is the center of each network. This central hub processes the data generated from multiple remote nodes and acts as a Wi-Fi gateway. Data is directly uploaded to the web server using JSON. In some especially remote locations, the remote Arduino nodes send data using the Twilio API over a cellular network.

Shah-Photos

Each of the nodes consist of an Arduino, XBee, and multiple sensors. The XBee ZigBee network makes it possible to connect over long distances since data packets can hop between neighboring nodes until they reach the central coordinator. For power, the remote nodes rely on a solar panel and a 6600 mAH battery.

There were a variety of sensor deployed throughout the delta. The main goal is to gather data related to water quality so sensors for water chemistry like pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity, and conductivity make up a bulk of the data collected. The team is also trying to better understand flood dynamics by monitoring flow rate, water level, and turbidity.

On the surface, sensors measure air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and in the future the team plans to add sensors to detect radiation and other air pollutants.

In addition to the environmental data collected by the sensors, the team is streaming GPS location, research observations, wildlife sightings, photos, and more in real-time on their website.

Rolling out the wireless sensor network and collecting data is just phase 1 of the project. All of the data will be made available to the public through the website’s API. Continuously monitoring the delta will enable the team to detect even the smallest changes in water quality. The design and code used in the project will also be open sourced so the conservation effort can reach and preserve as many marine habitats as possible.

Stay connected to ‘Into the Okavango’ at the following links:

Over the next few years, the team plans to build out the network by adding sensors to the headwaters and other locations across the delta to gain an even more comprehensive understanding of the river and its surrounding environment.

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