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Prototype XBee and Other Wireless Projects with Tinylab

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You might remember our post about the XBee product turned Indiegogo superstar last year–Plexidrone. Well, there’s another XBee related Indiegogo campaign making headlines. Tinylab is a prototyping platform, developed by Bosphorus Mechatronics, simplifying IoT development with an all-in-one Arduino-based solution.

Tinylab reduces the need to stack multiple Arduino shields, pull out the breadboard and jumper wires, or hunt down that spare LTH sensor in your drawer. This flexible and extensive development board supports Arduino and other development environments, hosts 20 Digital I/O, and additional sensors come pre-attached. And, perhaps most exciting, is the support for a number of wireless technologies like XBee, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi with the ESP8266 chip as seen in the graphic below.

 

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The Indiegogo campaign got off to a great start and Bosphorus Mechatronics quickly exceeded their goal of $25,000. The crew is shipping development kits to their campaign supporters in May and one level of support will even earn contributors a development kit that includes XBee RF modules.

Also, to demonstrate the board’s capabilities, the team at Tinylab created an wireless lighting demo. The video is showing wireless control of a lightbulb with commands sent over XBee. Check out the video below.

If you are interested in learning more about the Tinylab prototyping platform, click here to visit the Indiegogo campaign and support! You can follow their updates on Twitter or visit the Bosphorus Mechatronics website here.

FogFinder Relies on Arduino and Digi 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 Digi 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 Digi 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 Digi 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 Digi 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.

To learn more about Digi XBee click 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.

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.

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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.

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:

All-Terrain Rover

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All Terrain RoverBy Deepankar Maithani

This all-terrain vehicle is able to navigate over difficult environments. A complex servo system allows the treads to actuate in order to climb stairs. Like many robots, this rover uses XBee for wireless control, but Deepankar took the project one step further by equipping the robot with sensors.

Onboard the robot are temperature and gas sensors. Additionally, there is a camera that relays a live video feed into the GUI running on the user’s computer. The GUI shows, in real-time, the sensors values and other information. Users can even illuminate the camera’s view by activating a set of LED lights. The robot also logs data during the trip such as RPMs and distance traveled. After the robots trip, a CSV file is generated for analysis.

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Click here to get more details about the project on Deepankar’s blog.

 

BeeChecker

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BeeChecker enables beekeepers to maintain and remotely monitor the health of their beehives. Bees are an essential piece to the ecosystem as they pollinate plants and produce goods we rely on daily.

BeeChecker is comprised of two devices–one located in the hive and one out of the hive. These devices run off Arduino and XBee to remotely transmit information about the conditions inside the hive. The device measures the weight of the hive, the different frequencies that bees emit —which can help to know if they are helping the queen. The sensor outside of the hive measures humidity, temperature, pollution, and GPS to map out the location of each hive.

The data collected from both sensor modules is transferred to a mobile app that gives the Beekeepers the information necessary to raise healthier bees.

Learn more about the project here.

Drone Telemetry System

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By Andrea Berto

Andrea created a custom mobile app that wirelessly communicates with an Arduino and XBee in order to control the drone’s flight patterns and gather additional telemetry data. This app then transmits GPS, accelerometer, and gyroscope data to a computer for analysis.

Take a closer look at the application developed and see the drone in flight below:

 

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