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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 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.

 

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.

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
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:

A Better Way to Build Your Next Project: XBee Hardware Tools

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The open source movement and strong maker community has led to the creation of a number platforms that give developers a quick and efficient way to create a proof of concept, prototype, or even a final product. Here a few especially handy hardware platforms for developing XBee projects that we think you might find helpful.

Waspmote
The Waspmote is a sensor mote that gives developers a simple way to create wireless sensor networks connected over XBee. The mote supports all the same network topologies as XBee, so it is possible to create complex mesh networks as well as simple point to point communications. In addition to network flexibility, the motes primary feature is reduced power consumption, which makes it ideal for sensors running on battery.waspmote_mote_runner_24 (1)

What makes the Waspmote especially awesome is the fact that Libelium has developed their own sensor boards that plug directly into the Waspmote–eliminating the need to solder anything or dust off your box of breadboards and jumper wires. They have industry specific sensors boards that are equipped with the sensors needed for a specific applications like Smart Water, Agriculture, Smart Cities, among many others. Visit the Libelium home page to learn more about the Waspmote.

Arduino FIO
The Arduino FIO board was created by Shigeru Kobayashi and SparkFun Electronics in an effort to simplify the process of making a wireless Arduino project. With connections for a LiPo battery and an XBee socket right on board, the board has everything you need to create anything from a lightning sensor to a programmable swarm of robots.

arduino fioPerhaps the most useful feature of the FIO board is the ability to upload sketches wirelessly. Gone are the days of completely tearing down your project so that you can plug it into your computer! Check out this information guide for information on programming Arduino over XBee.

Apitronics
Apitronics is an open platform that enables farmers to collect sensor data via connected sensors deployed throughout farms, greenhouses, and gardens. The data is collected from remote nodes placed around the farm and is aggregated at a central hub. The data can be accessed at a local web page and helps farmers monitor environmental conditions, which allows them to make more informed management decisions.apitronics

With less than 10% of farms using sensors today, the goal is to give small and mid-sized farmers the tools necessary to gather quantitative data–reducing waste and maximizing crop yields. But this platform isn’t just for those with a farming day job, this can be used to monitor your backyard gardens as well! Visit Apitronics website to learn more about their open source agricultural efforts.

duinoPRO
Taking your prototype to production is an issue many start-ups and design teams struggle with. As Arduino has become nearly synonymous with the word prototype, engineers are increasingly in need of an efficient way to turn their Arduino based prototype into a scalable product. DuinoPRO is aimed at the lean start-up community or anyone looking to leverage the highly supported Arduino platform to create a prototype they plan to scale to relatively large volumes in a surface mount facility.

duinoproMaybe we Missed Your Favorite?
Did we miss one of your favorite XBee development tools? Never fear. Just leave a comment below or let us know on Twitter at @XBeeWireless and we will add it to the post!

NVdrones Gives Developers a Platform to Quickly Create Drone Applications

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NVDronesThe core idea for creating the XBee was to create a module for wireless communications that gives our customers the option to choose the best wireless technology for the job. Whether you need long-range communication spanning many miles using the 900MHz band or mesh networking with ZigBee or more data throughput using Wi-Fi. The XBee enables us to offer our customers wireless flexibility to meet their needs.

NVDrones is helping developers integrate XBee for wireless communication in drone designs. The team aims to give software developers all the necessary tools to create drone applications.

They created a board that is plug-n-play compatible with top drone platforms and an XBee socket that allows developers to simply plug in their XBee of choice (check out the image below). By default, they offer the XBee PRO 900MHz, which is ideal for drone applications considering it’s substantial LOS range — enabling autonomous drones. This autonomous operation is controlled by the apps created with the hardware and easy-to-use SDKs.

NVDrones

With library support for Arduino, Android, and Javascript, their platform was meant to be user-friendly for all developers no matter their background — even those with limited or no hardware experience. If you have an itch to start creating a drone application, but lack experience, this is a great starting point.

You can check out their developer website at developers.NVdrones.com. They’ve just launched and are taking pre-orders now.

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