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Australian Researchers Improve IEQ with ZigBee Based Sensor System

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As the cost of energy rises and environmental concerns move us toward new sources of energy, how do we ensure we make the most out of every watt? There are a number of companies and organizations emerging to address this truly global issue.

University of Sydney Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) researchers Tom and Alex Parkinson, built SAMBA to help solve the balancing act between comfort and reducing energy consumption. SAMBA is a platform comprised of remote sensors deployed throughout commercial office environments and a web interface for data visualization. The system collects data points — enabling building managers to improve IEQ and save costs.

The platform is made possible by wireless technologies like ZigBee mesh networking and cellular data communications. Additionally, recent advancements in sensor technology have made it possible to create sensor nodes capable of measuring a variety of parameters, while maintaining a small form factor and remaining affordable.

 

How SAMBA Works
Within each node you’ll find sensors to monitor thermal comfort, acoustics, lighting, and indoor air quality. Processing at each node is handled by an ATmega328 chip running an Arduino sketch. A cool feature of the node is a flash memory chip. This helps prevent any data loss in case there’s a network failure by allowing data to be stored locally. Once the data is collected it hops from XBee to XBee until it reaches the central hub. Data is sent from each node at an interval of once every 5 minutes.

The central hub/cellular gateway is currently a Raspberry Pi with a cellular module. The gateway does some minor processing before sending data over the cellular network to SAMBA’s server. Due to the mesh networking capabilities of the sensor nodes, it is possible to just have one central hub per building. This makes the solution extremely cost efficient. As the team works to take this to production and scale their operation, they’re evaluating replacing the Raspberry Pi with the XBee Gateway.

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Click to Watch Video 

Why ZigBee
The development team chose to use ZigBee for a multiple reasons. For one, the mesh networking capability makes the deployment of nodes more flexible and, in many cases, only one central hub is needed per building. Another factor was the development tools at their disposal like the open source Arduino library for the XBee ZigBee Radios. You can access that library here. This library helped them to cut down development time significantly.

The SAMBA crew is already getting some nice recognition throughout Australia. Just last week, Green Cities included them on their list of Weapons of Mass Creation! To learn more about the University of Sydney’s Indoor Air Quality Lab, click here visit their site.

Digi Employee Hackathon: One Hack to Rule Them All

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The hackathon tradition lives on at Digi and this competition may have been the best one yet– we say that every time, don’t we? Anyways, at this most recent hackathon, we had projects that included hardware modifications, data analytics, software design, and UI enhancements.

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The challenge to our competing teams was to prototype a useful improvement to a Digi product such as–

  • Changing a hardware design to improve user experience.
  • Designing a software change to Device Cloud or The Social Machine.
  • Improving the design of a configuration tool like XCTU or create a new one.
  • Making a prototype for a brand new hardware, software or service product.
  • Creating some other useful improvement of their choosing.

Hackathons give employees an outlet to work on a project or idea they’ve been kicking around for a while, but haven’t had the time to see through. It’s also a chance for participants to work with others outside of their everyday team. And, we had some nice cash and non-cash prizes. Nacho flavored lip balm may or may not have been included among our ‘nice’ prizes.

Here’s a quick look at what each team built.xbee_gateway_v2 (1)

Pimp My Web UI 
Team Members: Mike Wadsten, Travis Lubbers, and Russel Shurts.

No, Xzibit, did not make an appearance at our hackathon to create a redesigned and responsive web UI for the XBee Gateway. But Mike, Travis, and Russell were all up to the challenge. They took our existing web UI for the XBee Gateway and gave it a bit of a refresh. Mike had done some work a few months ago on an updated design and the team used this as a starting point for their project.

With the team’s UI refresh, users are more easily able to modify the configuration of their XBee Gateway from a desktop, tablet, or smartphone! The new dashboard is pictured to the right.

Team Device Cloud Analytics
Team Members: Chris Popp and Greg Bestland

The goal of this hack is to enhance Device Cloud with the ability for customers (and administrators) to run custom queries over their data right in the Cloud.

In the prototype, a user is able to have some of their data saved in a way that allows queries against their data set as a whole rather than having to retrieve all the raw data or only rollups of a single stream.  By looking at their entire data set, the user can start to answer more complex questions without having to pull all of the data into their own systems. Spark-logo-192x100px

In order to make these advanced queries possible, the team used the Apache Spark engine. Now, they are able to answer questions like “What is the average temperature in Group ‘X’?” or “How often is my tank level below my set threshold?” This opens up a whole window of possibilities for Device Cloud as an analytics engine. These features will be considered for inclusion in a future DeviceCloud release.

Code Name Marco Polo
Team Members: Ryan Bezdicek and Sandy Haapala

Marco Polo is the code name for a replacement to Device Cloud’s current API Explorer. What is the API Explorer? It’s a terrific feature within Device Cloud that gives users the ability to run any web service request. This enhancement code named, Marco Polo, has a number of improvements and new features that make it easier to work with and a collaborative experience between Device Cloud users.
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One enhancement is a way for users to save their most frequent calls. This eliminates the need to remember complex command sets and adds quick access to their most frequently used web service calls. Admins also have the ability to add, edit, and remove examples on the fly.  Future enhancements will include being able to share saved examples with other users on the cloud platform, authentication improvements and setup of local of the API Explorer for offline use. The team is looking into incorporating this for a future Device Cloud version.

C’Mon Move it
Team Members: Zach Schneider and Dan Harrison

Team ‘C’Mon Move it!’ had the brilliant idea of improving XBee‘s PWM capabilities by extending them; initially with a serial hack and later within the XBee firmware. Currently the pulse width modulation (analog) output on an XBee is fixed at 15.6 KHz with a 50% duty cycle. For many motors in SCADA applications, this will not do. They typically require more robust PWM capabilities, such as 200-3000 Hz with 20-80% duty cycle.

So Dan and Zach forged on and created a new PWM library for XBee. The library is written in Python and runs on an XBee gateway making clever use of the UART serial output to directly drive motors. The PWM now reaches speeds between 600 Hz and 4 KHz at any duty cycle between 10%-90% in increments of 10%.

To demo this new PWM library they built a linear actuator to control the height of a shelf. Using an H-bridge driver board, they are able to adjust the height of the shelf wirelessly. If direct control of motors interests you, be sure to comment or drop us a line.

Wrap Up
After the teams presented and demoed their projects the judges congregated for what was a difficult decision. It was very tough to pick a winner, any one of the projects would have made a fine champion. After a number of recounts and tiebreakers the judges made their final decision. Team DC Analytics won first place with Pimp My Web UI in an extremely close second!

If any of these hacks are something you would like us to include in future software or firmware releases, let us know in the comments section below!

 

Let Your Imagination Run Wireless with the XBee ZigBee Cloud Kit: Your Idea Deserves a Prototype

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Automated homes, drones, interactive art installations– XBee can be found nearly anywhere. And, more and more devices are using XBee to connect to the cloud. Connecting a device to the Internet should be simple, that’s why we built the XBee ZigBee Cloud Kit. XBee_Dev_Board_w_XBeeWith an XBee ZB module and an XBee Gateway, it’s easy to connect your robot, vehicle, sensors, or anything else to the Internet.

Maybe you want to build a mesh network to monitor the health of your garden or perhaps, you have a top secret idea for your business, but you’re unsure where to start. Here are a few examples to help familiarize yourself with the XBee ZigBee Cloud Kit and go from idea to prototype and transform your imagination into reality:

3 Simple XBee ZigBee Cloud Kit Examples

Potentiometer
Potentiometer’s are ubiquitous when it comes to building with electronics and they make great starting point when familiarizing yourself with new technology. Here, we’ll connect this analog input to the cloud, so you can view the values on your Heroku-hosted dashboard. Potentiometers can be used for setting a level, determining an angle or just as a simple user interface adjustment. Nicknamed “pots,” these components are variable resistors. With a simple twist you can alter the amount of voltage that flows out through their center pin.

Push Button
Want to control the light in your room from where you’re sitting? If you answered yes, this example is a great place to start with the XBee ZigBee Cloud Kit. Remote control of a button is perfect for projects that require user input, or anyplace you need to detect a change in device state. One you’ve built your circuit, you’ll be able to view the status of the button and control it from your web interface.photo (17)

Temperature 
Temperature monitoring is another great starting point with analog sensing. In this example we use everyone’s favorite temperature sensor, the TMP36 low-voltage linear sensor, which is included with your kit. After you’ve built this simple circuit, you can view the temperature on the dashboard.

Let’s Get Started
These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about what is possible with this new XBee kit. You can find all of these examples and more here, and check out the XBee Gallery to find what others have built with XBee.

Interested in getting an XBee ZigBee Cloud Kit? Head over here.

Digi Helps Wildlife Research Institute Study Bear Hibernation with Remote Monitoring Solution

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The business of connecting machines may seem as far from nature as you can get. But, this remote monitoring system is a great reminder that machines are incredible tools we can use to learn more about the things we care about– in this case, bears.

Digi developed a remote monitoring solution for the Wildlife Research Institute (WRI) that allows the Institute to monitor bears in their dens during hibernation. One particular bear, Lily, has hibernated deep in the Minnesota woods where there is no access to landline Internet service. To establish a camera uplink to Lily’s remote den, WRI is using the Digi TransPort WR21 wireless router which provides a high-speed Internet connection over Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network.

“We are allowing the Wildlife Research Institute to gain valuable insights into the activity of bears during hibernation by establishing a 4G connection in the wilderness,” said Joel Young, senior vice president of research and development and CTO of Digi International. “We have connected hundreds of thousands of remote devices throughout the world, and this application is a great example of how technology can be used to take control of widely-deployed assets.”

Using the video uplink, researchers could see how Lily prepared for birth during hibernation and how she reacted to the cubs just after birth. A second camera was also installed outside of Lily’s den that records activity near the den during warmer months.

Digi also helped the WRI connect scales that detect when a bear is present in the den. When the bear steps on the scale, weight is recorded and the sensors trigger the camera to begin recording. 

“It’s incredible that with a small amount of money and effort, these low-tech devices have been made smart just by adding connectivity,” said Jim Stroner, a research program volunteer and special products development manager with Digi International. “This application is a great example of how connected devices can impact society, and we are extremely pleased to be a part of this exciting and valuable research.”

Jim’s photo of Lily even won the 2013 Winter Nature Photo Contest and was featured on Science Friday. You can see all of Jim’s photos on his website, StronerWildlife.com.

You can also read Verizon’s post on the system here.

Now, we ask you– if you could remotely monitor anything what would it be?