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SX Create: Experts Discuss How to Start Building a Hardware Business at SXSW

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SX Create is doing amazing work in Austin by fostering a community of makers, hackers, and DIYers. Just this last weekend, SX Create held a number of talks and meetups covering everything from 3D printing, to drones, to biohacking. Digi’s very own Chief Innovator, Rob Faludi, was fortunate enough to participate in the festivities by sharing the stage with the likes of Sparkfun’s CEO Nathan Seidle and Silicon Labs’ Peter Vancorenland.

The event, “Making to Manufacturing“, brought together tech experts to share their triumphs and failures and offer words of wisdom to fellow makers. They focused on common hurdles entrepreneurs must overcome while taking their hardware creation to production. The conversation revolved around answering questions like the best way to prototype, what tools to use, and even how to select partners and where to manufacture. Everything from how to handle QA, to pricing, to developing a sales team was covered.

SXSWCreate

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Closing
With over 145 attendees, it was standing room only and was the most attended event at SX Create! Special thanks to Silicon Labs for hosting the event and gathering a great cast of speakers. Check out this blog post of theirs to see to see more photos and tweets as well as the questions and answers from the session!

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Cellular Connections You Never Knew Existed

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You drive into a gas station and notice the LED sign that reads how high the Powerball® is this week. You pull up to the pump and make a mental note to buy a ticket. As you wait for your tank to fill, the screen on top of the pump shares today’s weather and a few specials you can find inside. Then, you walk into the gas station to buy that lottery ticket. The lottery register greets your purchase, and you’re ready to move on with your day—hopefully with the winning ticket in your pocket.

During your time at the gas station did you ever consider how many wireless connections were at work? Probably not.

When you do think of wireless connections, it’s likely Wi-Fi hotspots or smartphone payment tools like Square that come to mind. However, there are many little-known and less visible ways that retailers and service providers use 4G LTE connections to make operations work. From digital signs to lottery terminals, wireless connections help make our world go around in ways you may have never imagined. They’re all working to create an experience for you as a customer and a return for merchants and manufacturers. Let’s dive deeper into a few applications where invisible wireless “workers” are impacting your retail environment.

Lottery TerminalsScreen Shot 2014-07-15 at 10.20.07 AM

Tucked behind the counter at your local convenience store, you’ll find that signature register or lottery terminal. You might just think of this as the machine that prints your easy-pick, but if the terminal gets disconnected the vendor is on the hook for much more than your ticket alone. It’s up to the store to ensure the machine is up and running at all times, so no revenue is lost. In fact, the damage can add up to more than all of the numbers on your ticket combined. For that reason, many of these terminals are connected to a datacenter with both a satellite and a 3G or 4G LTE connection.

Although the vast majority of lottery revenue is returned to players in prize money, the remainder pays for the operation of the lottery—including paying the retailer for hosting the lottery terminal. More importantly, the lottery also contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to state budgets. In 2012 in the state of Minnesota alone, $124M was contributed to funds such as environment and natural resources, game and fish, metropolitan parks and trails, zoos and infrastructure. The State Gaming Commission authorizes one vendor to operate their entire statewide lottery. In exchange for that level of access, the commission holds the gaming contractor accountable to maintain a high service level. If terminals aren’t able to communicate, the gaming contractor can be held accountable for damages of $20 per minute or more—per terminal.

Tire Air Vendingairtire

Hopefully, it’s your lucky day and you have a winning ticket in your pocket, but in the case that your day started out rough and your dealing with a flat tire, you can pull up next to an air-pump kiosk. Don’t have change? No problem. Swipe your credit card and the transaction is sent over a cellular connection.

While the connection makes payment collection more convenient for you, there’s a lot more at stake than meets the eye. In the past, technicians had to phisically visit every single machine to empty the coin bin– whether it was full or not. Not, a cellular connection enables the machine to report back how full the coin bin is, along with the health of the machine. This saves the manufacturer millions of dollars in employee and transportation costs, and it ensures all machines are up and running properly creating even more revenue– not to mention better customer service for the retail operations that host these machines.

In many cases, manufacturers experience a loss between money collection and revenue that makes it back to the business. In one example, receipt reconciliation loss was $11M per year. In the first year, a connection improved that loss by 80%, providing a bottom line impact of $8.8M. Lack of pick-up optimization (sending someone to collect the money after the machine is already too full to accept more coins) created an annual loss of $5.5M; that was improved by 50% and impacted the bottom line by almost $3M. Downtime, which caused the most significant loss at $12M per year, was improved by 30%. With numbers like these, an air vendor could easily double the value of the system in one year alone.

Charging Stations & Digital Signs

Have you ever charged your mobile phone while enjoying a cup of coffee at Starbucks? If you have, you know that finding a free plug in a packed coffee house can be hard. These charging stations can be even more valuable at the airport —we’ve all fought for that prime spot in the flight gate waiting area. Now, Monster Media has created a digital experience to accompany the convenience. You’ll see a digital ad while your phone or laptop is being charged. That content is delivered by a 4G LTE connection—the same type of connection that can also deliver information to the display screen on a gas pump.

Wireless charging stations are a huge value-add to customers, and in Starbucks’ case they encourage people to stick around longer—which leads to more coffee sold. For advertisers, this value can be paired with their message—a message that might even be specific to your currently location. Similarly, at the gas pump, customers have the convenience of catching the news or relevant information while pumping gas, and gas stations are able to advertise deals to lure customers into the store to make purchases.

Bottle Recycling Machine

For some of us, returning bottles is a well-known past-time. But for many states, reverse vending machines are becoming common-place. In either case, the system enables consumers to recycle, make money and keep neighborhoods clean. Recycling is so popular today that machines can fill up fast, which causes downtime. How does the vendor know when the machine is full? A cellular connection to HQ. recycling-logo

rePLANET added a cloud connection to their recycling center solution. Without a wireless connection to the machine, a technician would have to drive hours, costing the company hundreds of dollars. Now, with a wireless VPN connection, the machine reports its capacity remotely. The technician’s PC can be remotely controlled with the cellular connection to get updates and new configurations. The new method costs less than 20% of the cost of drive time and shipping and takes about 10% of the total time previously required to correct problems.

So, the next time you pull up to a gas station or visit a store, take a closer look at the digital sign, lottery terminal, air pumps and bottle recycling machines—you won’t be able to see the wireless connection, but you can be sure that it’s working for you and for the stakeholders who put it there. Those wireless connections are making your life easier and more interactive, and driving revenue and extreme savings for organizations all around the world.

Want to learn more about how businesses are using cellular technology? Check out this story to see how Tel-O-Fun is using cellular connections to handle bike rental payments in Tel Aviv.

Digi Visits Nuremberg for Embedded World 2015

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Wow, what a week at Embedded World! With so much happening and so many of our parters in attendance, Embedded World is easily one of our favorite events of the year. This year we showcased what’s new with XBee by giving multiple hands-on workshops with the recently released XBee ZigBee Cloud Kit. These short demonstrations gave users a chance to see how quickly you can create an IoT prototype, including a working application, with the new development kit.

As another piece of our booth, we had Owlet’s full street lighting solution on display. Owlet enables cities to retrofit their existing street lighting infrastructure into an intelligent system with XBee and sensors. You’ll see a snapshot of the demo in the scrolling pictures below! The ConnectCore 6 was also in full-force as we included it in a public transit demo to show how ConnectCore 6 can handle everything from location tracking to driving multiple HD displays.

Thank you to everyone that stopped by for a chat. We are looking forward to next year!

 

As always, check out the Digi events page for more info about where you can find Digi in the coming months. To learn more about the XBee ZigBee Cloud Kit, click here. If you are interested in the ConnectCore 6 visit here for more information.

XBee’s First Hip-Hop Performance

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Adam W Dessa ProjectAdam Wolf, an engineer at Wireless Design Services by day, electronics maker and creator by night, received a request to build a light show for an upcoming Doomtree concert. Dessa, a singer and rapper in Doomtree, wanted to create something ‘beautiful and spooky’– the main source of inspiration being a scene from the Little Mermaid. The hope was to create glowing lights in the singers’ mouths and on their clothing that could dim and brighten with the music.

First order of business was to a find a way to get the singers’ mouths to glow.

As you might expect, the mouth isn’t the greatest environment for a circuit, so some clever engineering was required. The circuit had to be enclosed in mouth-safe plastic to ensure any saliva wouldn’t close the circuit.

For control of the lights, Adam used magnets as a way to regulate voltage, so each singer is able to turn the mouthpiece on by bringing a magnet up to her face.  A lot work went into this little device, it even required a trip to the dentist to create a well-fitting mouth piece!

The lights on each of the singers’ sternums is where XBee comes in. Each LED module was connected to a MOSFET, which was connected to the PWM pin on an XBee Series 1.  This setup allowed Doomtree’s light guy, Arlo, to control the lights’ voltage over a wireless link. Above is a picture of the control interface. By adjusting the knob on the top of the control box Arlo is able to adjust the brightness of the lights to match the music.

Below is a short clip of the LED lights in action.

Look What I Made: XBee Project Gallery Update

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We are always finding amazing XBee projects. From wireless robots, to interactive art installations, to wearable musical instruments–the creativity of XBee makers is endless. We have some new additions to the XBee Project Gallery and wanted to share them with you. Let us know your favorite!

 

Omniwheel Robot
Catalina Computing took an omniwheeled robot project featured in Make Magazine and replaced its radios with XBees. What resulted is a bot which is controllable from Raspberry Pis, Beagle Bones, Macs, with the ability to easily add an almost unlimited amount of sensors and actuators.

PacMan in Super Bowl Ad
The project consisted of a life-size maze that was built to scale of the original video game. The four ghosts wore light up costumes and rollerblades to give the effect of floating through the maze. XBee connects the ghosts’ costumes to a central base-station, so remote commands can be sent to control the LEDs.

SoMo – Wearables turned into Instruments
SOMO is a custom designed circuit board based on the Arduino Leonardo. It includes an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer and the XBee Series 2. Signals are sent over XBee to a computer, which processes the sound in Max MSP and Ableton.

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.

Connecting with our Global Partners: Digi IoT Conference 2015

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We just wrapped up our annual European IoT Partner Conference in Cannes and want to thank everyone that was able to attend. We had a great time connecting with our partners and customers and look forward to the year ahead of us. This event gives as an invaluable opportunity to meet with our partners and learn more about the market and how we can improve as a company.

Throughout the week there were presentations from Digi’s leadership team sharing our goals and plans for our various product lines and the company as a whole. Additionally, Machina Research’s Matty Hatton, spoke about some of the key developments his firm is seeing in the connected technology industry. We also heard from our customers like GTech, Rmoni, and Emtest as they shared how they’re changing their businesses with IoT technology.Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 10.31.15 AM


This yearly gathering also allows us to recognize the success of our many partners across the EMEA region. These are the companies honored as our top channel partners of the year.

We want to thank everyone that was able to attend and make the event a success. We are looking forward to what the next year holds. Check out Digi events page for more info on where  you can find Digi in the coming months.

How Real Was Bud Light’s Life-Size Pac-Man Game? The Technology Talks

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One of the most buzzworthy commercials of Super Bowl XLIX was Bud Light’s Real Life Pac-Man spot for the #UpForWhatever campaign. The advertisement features a life-sized Pac-Man game where a seemingly unaware contender, Riley Smith, is challenged to munch pellets while being chased by ghosts Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.

Here’s the commercial in case you missed it:

The Twitterverse thought that it was awesome and most people wanted to try the game out for themselves.

Real life Pac-Man! A million high fives to the first bar to make that a regular thing in their establishment.” –@mattlindner

Can real life Pac-Man be a thing with permanent game sets around the world?” –@DishNation

New life goal: be in real life Pac-Man.” –@NatalieAlynLind

We have failed as a society if human Pac-Man isn’t a real thing in the next 2-3 years” –@fsmikey

Then, there were others who were too skeptical to fully enjoy the spot:

Hey ad agencies, stop pretending it’s real. Anyway, sick ad. Bud Light” –@MathieuLcz

So, how real was real life Pac-Man? Is it be a game that you could really try in the future? Bud Light states that Smith’s participation was 100% organic. They say it was a live event, a real person, a real game board, all captured in real time. While we’ll leave Smith’s participation and the authenticity of the event up for debate, we can tell you that the game board itself was absolutely real. Bud Light and partners utilized Internet of Things technology to bridge digital and physical worlds and bring the Pac-Man game we all know and love to life.

Here’s How

Rick Galinson and Legacy Effects of Los Angeles, the same shop that provided Jurassic Park, Iron Man and Terminator effects designed the ghosts for the interactive game board.

Each roller-skating ghost costume is lit with about 4,000 LEDs, animated by a tiny open-source computer, the Parallax Propeller QuickStart Board, that communicates using Digi International’s tiny radio module, an XBee-PRO 802.15.4. The remote operator uses a laptop and another XBee module to send commands for the ghost’s flashing sequences.

“With the pressure of over 100 million viewers and a multi-million dollar campaign resting on these electronics, the Propeller chip from Parallax coupled with an XBEE PRO from Digi was an easy choice,” Galinson, SPFX Designer, said. “They performed flawlessly, are easy to implement and will remain my controller and communication products of choice for years to come.”

The technical details of the project had to be as straightforward as possible given short deadlines. Rob Faludi, Digi International’s Chief Innovator and author of Building Wireless Sensor Networks explains, “XBee radios are popular with artists and industrialists alike. They simplify radio communications between devices and the Internet, so critical projects can meet their deadlines without requiring extensive engineering efforts. There’s certainly no postponing the Super Bowl, so XBees were a great choice to ensure this project came off without a hitch.”

A total of five ghost costumes were produced with one serving as a backup. It took about twelve people to assemble the costumes in time for the commercial. Be sure to get a close look at their eyes, which exhibit the original video game character and move with the roller-skating ghost’s movement. Jon McPhalen’s Spin/ASM WS2812 driver figured prominently as a key source code object for this project.

Here’s a behind the scenes look at the game and event coming together:

“It’s now easier than ever with IoT technology to create mesmerizing digital experiences in the physical world. We’re not only seeing this in entertainment with Bud Light’s Pac-Man game, but also commercially with connected solutions for energy systems, transportation monitoring, medical care and even municipal street lighting, Faludi said. “XBees can be a power-up for almost any connected device project.”

So, to answer a question that may be burning in many fan’s minds: yes, it’s totally possible that you too could be running from Blinky the ghost in real life (IRL). Maybe coming to a bar near you? We’re not sure. But one thing we’re positive about is our digital and physical worlds will continue to come together to create these incredible dream-like experiences; both for fun and entertainment and for solving real-world problems.

XBee Tech Tip: How to conduct an XBee range test

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Have you ever wanted to test the strength of connections in your XBee network? Within the XBee configuration software, XCTU, you can perform a range test. This will tell you the amount of packets received and the RSSI values at the local and remote nodes. This video will take you through the steps necessary to perform a range test.

You can download XCTU at this link: http://www.digi.com/xctu

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