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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.




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.


ConnectPort TS 16 MEI Webinar Q&A

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As a follow-up to our webinar on the ConnectPort TS 16 MEI, we’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions that were submitted during the session. If you are looking to view the original webinar, you can access it here.

Does the device support TCP sockets or RealPort?
The ConnectPort TS family supports RealPort and Device Initiated RealPort connections as well as direct socket connections to the serial ports using TCP socket, UDP socket, SSH, TLS/SSL and RFC 2217.  This is configurable per serial port.

In the case of TCP and UDP socket connections, how do you identify each serial device?  

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 10.56.37 AM

Would you load the RealPort in the Guest Instance for VMware environments?
Yes, RealPort is installed in the Guest Instance, the method of loading it and using it is the same as it would be in a conventional server running the same OS.  There are no special instructions required to use RealPort in a virtualized server like VMware.

Driver Installation instructions are included in the Quick Start Guide:

What serial cables can be used with the ConnectPort TS 16 and 16 MEI?
The ConnectPort TS family uses the same pinout as the PortServer TS family. Cabling information for the products is on the product support page and a list of commonly used cables is available at:


Where can I get the RealPort driver and are there any costs for using it?
There is no cost for using the driver. It can be loaded on multiple machines and there is no license key required to install it.

RealPort Driver is available at: http://www.digi.com/realport

What power supply is used and does it support international voltage?
The ConnectPort TS 16 has an internal power supply that supports 100-240VAC 50/60 Hz.

The ConnectPort TS 8 has an external power supply that supports 110-240VAC at 50/60Hz.

Visit the ConnectPort TS 16 MEI product page to learn more.

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.


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.


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.


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.

Look What I Made: XBee Project Gallery Update

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Wireless Keytar
This project enables musicians to wireless transmit MIDI data to a computer to get processed by an audio enginer such as Max MSP.  The project enables a musician to create music without the hassle of plugging in and re-discovering the Keytar, while also tapping into the powerful processing capabilities of music software.

All-Terrain Rover
This all-terrain vehicle is able to navigate over difficult environments with a complex servo system. And, like many robots, this rover uses XBee for wireless control, but the creator took the project one step further by equipping the robot with sensors. Additionally, a camera relays a live video feed into the a graphical interface running on the user’s computer.

BeeChecker enables beekeepers to maintain and remotely monitor the health of their beehives. The system is comprised of two devices-one located in the hive and one out of the hive. The device measures the weight of the hive and the frequencies that the bees emit-which can indicate various behaviors of the bees within the hive. The sensor outside the hive measures humidity, temperature, and GPS location to map out the placement of each hive.

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.

XBees Soar into Space on NASA Rocket

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Rob Faludi, Digi’s Chief Innovator, was onsite for the launch of the first XBee network into space. The successful test of the wireless sensor network took place at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The launch is part of NASA’s effort to determine the effectiveness of Exo-Brake technology and introduce wireless technology into their designs. As this was the first XBee network to reach space, we had to capture it on video.

Learn more about the experiment and see photos in these related posts:

Digi Wireless Design Services & XBee Help Turn Soccer into a Smart Sport

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It’s the final minute of a soccer match and the score is tied. Your team has the ball and the choice to play it safe or make a strategic charge to win the game here and now.

What do you do?

Seattle Sport Sciences, Inc. found themselves in a similar situation with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) conference just one week away, and only an idea for their next great product.

Seattle Sport Sciences originally made its name in the soccer world with the invention of the SideKick Techne Pro™ training machine, which brings cutting-edge technology to the pitch by launching soccer balls at players to work on a range of skills like goalkeeping and chest passes—all the way up to flying headers and bicycle kicks. The SideKick training machine allows players to perfect these skills through repetition. The coach loads a ball into the SideKick one at a time, and a player can practice one skill, or work through various skills sequentially.


But, as great technology companies and great coaches alike understand, there’s always room for improvement. Whether in production or on the pitch, it’s not about being where the ball is, it’s about being where the ball is headed.

The idea for the next groundbreaking product was a new product line that automatically launches soccer balls at various targets. This gives the coach the freedom to observe from anywhere and allows players to work on lateral movement, reflex and coordination at the same time.

Remember, this was only a concept, and the NCSAA Conference was seven days away. But Seattle Sport Sciences wanted to do more than simply talk about a cool idea—they wanted to show a live demo.

That’s when Digi Wireless Design Services (WDS) and Seattle Sport Sciences formed a dream team.

Adam Wolf, a Wireless Design Services firmware engineer, was the first to bring up the idea of having something ready for NSCAA.

“I spent 30 years in software development before starting this company. I am rarely impressed by engineering achievements, but this was one for the books. It was actually one week to the day—Wednesday to Wednesday. Digi did not over promise, and I understood and accepted the risks of failure in deciding to go forward,” explained Jeff Alger, CEO, Seattle Sports Sciences. “Communications were terrific, consistently good judgment under pressure throughout, and objectives clearly over-achieved. Clara and Adam even met with us at 11:30 at night at our airport hotel to hand off the prototypes. We were on a plane the next morning and showing those prototypes to coaches that same evening in Philadelphia. It made for a tremendous difference in our conversations with attendees about our future directions to be able to point to and interact with those prototypes.”

“We started the conversation with Digi looking longer-term, assuming sadly that NSCAA was already lost to us, then they pulled it out of the dust bin and made it happen.”

In addition to getting a prototype to the event in less than a week, the system itself needed to be usable by an audience whose main focus and time is spent on the development of talent, not on tinkering with hi-tech gadgets. These are coaches, not techies.

“It should be as easy to deploy as throwing cones on the field,” said one Seattle Sport Sciences team member.

The revolutionary auxiliary control and automation system, which is now a product, not just a prototype, is called ISOTechne™. ISOTechne uses computer control to repeatedly and automatically fire soccer balls to the player.

The new machine is equipped with a set of wireless, hockey puck sized sensors that are distributed in the field. The wireless pucks that are able to handle a wet, muddy outdoor environment connect wirelessly using Digi XBee modules.

Lights give the coach or person setting up the system a signal as to where to put each “puck” on the field. Once deployed, the pucks communicate wirelessly with a master unit and are used for training and assessing players. Pucks signal to the base when and determine where to fire balls. The lights also signal to players where to go next. Prox detectors in the pucks record how close the player gets to the puck and how fast. WDS wrote a program for communication to and from the pucks, the master unit and the ball machine using XBee modules.

For the first time ever, coaches can now objectively compare players’ performance under nearly identical conditions.

Here’s where you can read more about Seattle Sport Sciences and see many more customer stories.

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