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XBee-PRO 900HP Creates a Mesh Network With the Power to Save Lives

When you’re at work, how do you typically get in touch with your family if you need to contact them?

You most likely call or send a text message from your cell phone. For the most part, you have your phone on you, and you know they have their phone on them and are accessible.

What if, instead, your family is the Texas State Guard and you’re managing a natural disaster? Your soldiers are out in the field providing relief and support–how do you get in touch? How do you keep track of their location? Certainly amidst the noise, weather conditions, working environment, and limited cell coverage there aren’t too many options.

Damon Williams has experienced this issue firsthand as a Sergeant for the Texas State Guard.

“For the longest time I wasn’t able to monitor where my soldiers actually were. There was no way to know exactly where they were located.”

By day, Damon is a senior firmware engineer at Molex. Using his technical background, he set out to solve the issue he faced while serving his community: how can a soldier’s location easily be communicated from the field?

Damon entered Molex’s Innovation Challenge, an internal competition where employees compete against one another in a bid for the next great Molex innovation.

A typical entrant in the Molex Innovation Challenge creates a presentation and some design mock ups. Having personal stake in the game, Damon turned his idea into a reality. As a long-time maker, Damon knew the XBee product line well and realized the XBee-PRO 900HP would enable him to use mesh networking. He developed a working prototype of 30 personal GPS trackers.

“This is something I believe in. I have soldiers in the field. This is something that we’re constantly up against. For example, right now my bags are packed and in my truck. We’re on alert because of the flooding in Texas.”

An individual carries one of the small trackers. Their exact location can be seen in real time from the command center through video using a Google Maps overlay where pins represent the trackers.

TXSG_DPS

Damon says that this system wouldn’t be possible without the XBee-PRO 900HP. “In addition to using mesh networking for reliability, I went with the 900 for the range. Our packet sizes are very small, so we have real quick blips for data transmission.”

The XBee-PRO 900HP allowed for:

  • Mesh networking instead of cellular
  • Ease of integration
  • Ability for the system to go into sleep mode to conserve power
  • Small packet delivery
  • Accelerated system design speed
  • Integration of all of the modules together
    • Maestro GPS module
    • Bluetooth transceiver
    • Microchip controller

gumPowered by two AAA batteries, the trackers can run for four days (96 hours) with updates every 90 seconds–or for up to two weeks with hourly updates. The trackers are as small as a couple packs of gum.

Although the prototype didn’t take first place in the Innovation Challenge, Damon has implemented the system for his own team and others. He has personally funded and built 130 trackers that are out in the world today. The trackers are used by The National Guard and search and rescue teams including the City of Austin.

“Anytime someone goes down range they have a tracker on. I have a laptop that hooks up to a panel of video screens, and I have a satellite image. There’s a dot and name for every soldier. Commanders love it because they always know where their soldiers are,” Damon explained. “We had a soldier injure himself at night last year, because we knew where he was we could get help in a few minutes versus searching for hours.”

The system also works great for volunteers and first responders. He hopes it will catch on in other applications like firefighting, search and rescue and wide area damage assessment.

Koch Industries now Molex’s parent company, has also expressed interest in funding the project under its innovation division.

Today, with help from the XBee-PRO 900HP, Damon always has eyes on his family. He hopes that others will be able to do the same. For a complete look at the system check out the website: pointsgps.com.

This isn’t the first time the XBee has been used to save lives. Draganfly, a drone used by public safety agencies, selected the XBee-PRO 900HP too. After K-9 units were unable to locate a family lost in the woods while hiking, an infrared-equipped Draganflyer X4-ES unit was sent out to locate the family. Five units were purchased by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Nova Scotia and now respond to emergency response calls, crime investigations, traffic scene reconstruction and search and rescue operations. Draganfly is the first recorded civilian small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) to be credited with saving a life.

XBee Tech Tip: Using Remote AT Commands to Toggle an IO on a Remote XBee

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This Tech Tip is brought to you by Digi Applications Engineer Mark Grierson.

Using API mode it is possible to send commands from a transmitting radio to a receiving radio. This allows for module parameter registers on a remote device to be queried or set.

One useful application of this feature is to toggle an IO on a remote radio from a high to a low state. In this manner the radios can be used as a wireless relay to control a wide variety of remote devices.

Overview

In this tutorial we will be using XCTU to create and send 2 distinct API frames. One frame will toggle the remote radio’s IO high, and the other will toggle the remote radio’s IO low. You could easily program a micro or other piece of hardware to issue these commands.

Setup

To perform this tutorial you will require the following materials:

  • 2 – XBee 802.15.4 RF modules.
  • 2 – Interface boards (USB or RS232) *the use of DEV boards (XBIB-U-DEV or XBIB-R-DEV) will allow the use of onboard LEDs to observe output
  • 1 – PC with XCTU software installed. Click here to download.
  • Serial or USB cables to connect interface boards to the PC

Procedure

Select one radio to operate as your Base and one to operate as your Remote.

Both radios are programmed with the default settings with the following exceptions. API is enabled on the Base radio (AP=1), D4=4 on the remote radio

In this example my radios have the following factory set 64 bit addresses:

Base:

SH=0013A200

SL=403199EB

AP=1

Remote:

SH=0013A200

SL=4055F498

D4=4

Connect the base radio to the PC and launch XCTU. Connect the radio to XCTU by clicking on the Add Devices icon and selecting the appropriate com port and settings and clicking finish.

The Radio will now be listed on the left side of XCTU as in the following screenshot.

Open the Console mode of XCTU by clicking on the Console icon.

Open the serial connection with the base radio by selecting the Connect icon.   The image will change to the connected status.

The Console should indicate that it is opn as an API Console.   If it is showing that it is an AT console, return to the module settings tab and ensure API is enabled (AP=1)

In the Send a single frame section open the “Add a frame” dialog box by clicking on the  .  Rename your frame name to Low, then click on the Packet generator icon  to open the packet generator.

We will now use the built in API frames generator to create two remote AT command (type 0x17) frames paying close attention to the structure of this frame as outlined in the API section of the Product manual. One frame will set the remote radios Digital output High and the other will set it Low.

Select “0x17 – Remote AT Command” as the frame type and then set the 64 bit address to the SH and SL of the remote module.  Set the AT command to ASCII D4 and the Parameter value to HEX 04 as in the following screenshot.

*Please note that the command D4 (bytes 17 and 18) is issued as 44 and 34. 34 is the hex equivalent of the ASCII character 4. The parameter value setting for D4 (byte 19) is issued as 04 and 05. This is the hex equivalent of decimal 4 and 5 respectively.

Click OK and the frame contents will appear in the Add API frame to the list dialog box as follows:

Click on Add frame.

Repeat the procedure for your set high frame changing the parameter value to 0x05 and create a second frame with a frame name of High

Click on Add frame.

Your API console should now look something like this:

Here are the frames configured for the address of my radios. Your packets will contain the address of your remote radio and the checksum will be different.

Note: I have chosen to toggle DIO4 as it is connected to LED 3 on the XBIB-DEV board and allows easy viewing of the toggle process without the use of a voltmeter or scope.

Command to set DIO4 high:

7E 00 10 17 01 00 13 A2 00 40 55 F4 98 FF FE 02 44 34 05 95

Command to set DIO4 Low:

7E 00 10 17 01 00 13 A2 00 40 55 F4 98 FF FE 02 44 34 04 96

You can now send the commands to the base radio which will in turn send remote commands to the remote radio to set its digital output D4 (Pin 11). Do this by highlighting the appropriate frame (high or Low) and clicking on “Send selected frame.”

The LED associated with the D4 pin should go off and on as you send these two frames. You may also verify the state by connecting a multi-meter to Pin 11 of the module to check its voltage state as it is toggled from High to low. The pin should read about 3.3v when high and about 0 volts when low.

You can also view and parse the frames and their corresponding response packets in the Frame log section of the display. A status of 0x00 (OK) indicates that the frame was sent successfully and acknowledged by the remote module.

If you do not receive a response frame please check your API packet for accuracy.

Note: This article is written using the XBee 802.15.4 radios but the concepts are applicable to all of the XBee radio lineup that offer API mode.

XCTU 6.2 – Linux Support and More

If you’ve opened up XCTU recently you may have noticed a prompt to update. Among many performance upgrades, version 6.2 of XCTU has a variety of new features and most importantly we now support Linux!Linux

Here are the release notes for XCTU 6.2:

Serial Console Tool
The Serial Console tool has been included within the Tools drop-down menu of the main toolbar. This tool allows you to interact with your radio modules without having to discover and add them to the list of radio modules.

  • Added a control in the consoles toolbar to see and manage the serial port flow control lines.
  • Added a new recording feature to XCTU consoles that allows you to record all the sent and received data in a log file with CSV format.
  • Status icon of consoles tabs now changes depending on the status of the console to display the following actions: connected, disconnected, sending and receiving data.

API Console frames filter 
Added a new frames filtering option in the API console in order to filter the frames of the table. This allows you to filter down to specific packet types and even look at packets being sent or received from a specific device on your XBee network.

Firmware Release Notes Viewer
Included a new feature that allows users to explore and read the Release Notes of the released XBee firmwares
in all the firmware list controls.

Documentation Updated With More Graphics and Video
We’ve also done a massive overhaul of our documentation which includes step-by-step walkthroughs of each feature as well as some videos like this one on updating firmware:


With XCTU documentation being moved to an online system we can guarantee up to date information and facilitate its access outside XCTU. Additionally, a PDF copy has been included in the tool, so you can access the documentation while working without an internet connection. Click here to access the new resource.

Download
If you haven’t already updated from within XCTU, or you’re a Linux user that has patiently waited for XCTU, just click here to download the software to your computer. Have fun!

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.

From 3D Mapping to Data Collection: XBee Gets Drones Off the Ground

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The commercial drone industry is still relatively young, but over the next decade, the civilian and commercial drone market is expected to more than double. Just this year, the FAA proposed legislation creating a process to allow the use of commercial drones in the US. These new rules would make the U.S. one of the most drone-friendly regions for commercial purposes. That Amazon Prime delivery via drone may be closer to reality than you think.

With multiple applications for drone technology like agriculture, public safety, photography, and a variety of industrial uses, a number of companies are emerging to capture these growing markets. In addition to the many commercial drone opportunities, researchers and makers are also turning to drones as the technology falls in price and becomes more affordable for small operations. Here are a few interesting companies and projects using XBee technology in their drones.

Draganflyx4esup_options_photo1
Draganfly is a unique XBee user. Their claim to fame? The first human life saved by a drone. They specialize in public safety applications as well as industrial inspection by providing tools for high resolution imagery and precision 3D mapping. They even offer customers with flight training courses — very important when you’re a flying a valuable piece of equipment hundreds of feet in the air.

Earlier this year, they announced a new application designed specifically for precision agriculture. The drone is equipped with a camera that simultaneously captures five discrete spectral bands, which provides useful data for monitoring crops and environmental health. The image generated can help farmers identify areas invaded by pests or becoming overgrown with weeds. Click here to read more about Draganfly.

PlexiDrone
PlexiDronePlexiDrone, developed by DreamQii Robotics, is a drone platform for aerial photography. Initially developed for use in the film industry, but the company expects to expand into industrial applications as well. The company’s Indiegogo campaign raised over 2 million dollars — breaking the record for largest canadian crowd funded project.

The PlexiDrone is unique in that it can be controlled via an Android or iOS device rather than a specially designed controller – drastically reducing cost. The users smartphone/tablet controller communicates to a base station over Bluetooth and that base station connects to the drone over an XBee. XBee provides reliable long range wireless to the drone capturing video or photos from the sky. DreamQii also provides developers an entire development kit, so they can create their own custom drone application. Read more about PlexiDrone here.

Monitoring the Amazon Rainforest
We have also worked with quite a few students and makers implementing XBee into their drone designs. Last year a team of students from Peru built an entire monitoring system capable of creating an wildlife inventory of the rainforest. This is a unique drone application in that the drone is used as a vessel for data collection.

Screen-Shot-2014-12-12-at-2.37.27-PMThe network consists of multiple nodes containing a motion sensor and camera. Whenever a node detects motion, an image is captured and the file is stored locally. The drone is programmed to fly around to each of these takeout points. Once the drone captures the images it returns to the city for more in-depth processing. Another interesting aspect of this project is the team created their a custom Arduino board to maximize battery life. Click here to learn more about their project.

A Better Way to Build Your Next Project: Software Tools for XBee

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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. We’ve discovered and created quite a few that involve XBee over the last several years so we put some of our favorites in one place for you.connect-devices-to-the-cloud (1)

XBee Java Library
You may remember we released the XBee Java Library earlier this year. This library was created in-house at Digi, so our customers can get to market more quickly with their Java based applications, but we also wanted to share it with the rest of you XBee developers out there. Feel free to make your own contributions! Download the library on Github.

XBee Arduino Library
A few years ago, Andrew Rapp created this extremely useful library for projects involving Arduino and XBee wireless communication. The project supports both Series 1 (802.15.4) and Series 2 (ZigBee) XBee radios. Another fellow XBee’er, Boris, supplemented this library by writing a helpful blog post to help get you startedThe library is available here on Github.

XBee Internet Gateway – XIG
Initially created by Rob Faludi to easily connect XBee to the Internet, the XIG runs on Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers as well as ConnectPort Gateways. If you’re looking to integrate your XBee networks with online databases, web pages, social networks, or other online services this is the starting point for your IoT application. The XIG is available for download here.

Rob has also compiled a list of all XBee libraries living out on the Internet including Max MSP and Python. You can view that on Digi’s Examples site here.

Third Party Development Platforms

In addition to some of the tools we’ve created at Digi, there are a number of companies solely focused on creating development platforms for rapid prototyping and product creation.

 

macchina.io
macchina.io is an open source software toolkit for quickly building embedded applications for the Internet of Things that run on Linux-based devices like the Raspberry Pi and Beaglebone. macchina.io implements a web-enabled, modular and extensible JavaScript and C++ runtime environment to enable applications to talk to various sensors, devices, and cloud services. The first release of macchina.io even includes support for XBee ZigBee radios.

Temboo
Temboo is a platform that simplifies interactions between multiple APIs, so you don’t need to spend hours combing through programming details, but rather focus on creating your IoT application. You can easily generate code in multiple languages for tasks like posting to Twitter, creating Google Calendar events, or more advanced processes like monitoring urban noise levels.

Once the code is generated it can simply be copy and pasted into an IDE. Temboo’s library contains thousands of Choreos that handle API interactions, work with databases, perform code utility functions, and more. Check out this video that walks you through building an XBee tank monitoring demo with Temboo Choreos.

NVDrones
Have you wanted to create and program your own Drone? NVDrones has the tools you need to create your one-of-a-kind UAV. With support for common languages like Arduino, Java and Javascript, the platform gives developers the tools necessary to create their own drone applications. Their API ensures quick development so you can focus your efforts on creating a unique and valuable product. Visit their developers site to learn more about NVDrones.

Looking for More 
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!

Look What I Made: XBee Project Gallery Update

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We are always finding amazing XBee projects. From interactive musical landscapes to creating virtual reality - the imagination 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!

 

Thermo Mapping Device
This system makes creating a graphical representation of an object’s temperature possible. It’s comprised of three cameras placed around an object so the user can map out an object’s temperature in three dimensions. The graphic is displayed on an LCD display that is powered by Arduino.

Project Anywhere
Virtual reality is rapidly becoming more prevalent but many systems are too expensive for consumers. Project Anywhere is addressing this by using a smartphone as the primary interface, 3D printed parts, and other off-the-shelf components like Arduino. This drastically reduces the cost of the system — making it more accessible to consumers.

Felted Terrain
Felted Terrain is an interactive landscape that users can touch to generate sound. The installation uses fabric woven with conductive thread so a Lilypad with XBee can be woven into the design. As users touch parts of the landscape, XBee sends data to computer to create a tone based on where the user touched.

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.

Customer Showcase: Wireless Technologies Create Foundation for Disruptive Businesses

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Every day Digi works with customers around the world to deploy connected device solutions. Businesses across a variety of industries are realizing the value provided by internet connected assets. From the ability to monitor device health to delivering media relevant to a local audience, connected devices are modernizing business operations. Here are a few of the many companies we are proud to work with.

Monster Media
Digital Signage is a rapidly growing industry as 4G LTE becomes more prevalent and consumers expect a more interactive experience with signage and digital displays.  Monster Media is a leader in this relatively new industry. The company specializes in delivering dynamic and interactive media to high traffic venues like college campuses, conferences, sporting events, and much more.Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 12.47.38 PM

The team was in need of a quick and simple way to connect their digital displays to the Internet in order to provide relevant and fresh content out to the world. Cellular connectivity was an obvious solution due to its the ease of deployment. Wi-Fi is another popular solution for digital signage, but often adds complexity due to coordinating with local IT as well as taking on additional security-related risks. Cellular connectivity also makes mobile assets a non-issue since no cabling is required and zero dependence on other infrastructure. With these advantages in mind, Digi TransPort WR21s are now found inside each of Monster Media’s kiosk providing a secure and reliable cellular connection

In addition to a reliable connection for delivering content, Monster Media is able to use the Digi Remote Manger for updating device configurations and firmware from the company’s NOC.

US Water
US Water provides a variety of engineering services, equipment, and field services. To enhance their offering and further differentiate themselves from larger water treatment firms, the company wanted an advanced monitoring solution that could reduce operation costs and enable their field service team to focus on high value tasks.css-thumbnail-us-water

Utilizing XBee ZigBee Modules and cellular connected gateways, their remotely connected sites give U.S. Water an easy way to monitor customers’ usage of chemicals, tank levels, and additional insight into their supply chain. Digi also partnered with Verizon to create a data strategy that made sense for their business.

Clean Hand Safe Hands 
Washing hands is one of the simplest and easiest ways to reduce the spread of disease. According to the CDC, in 2011 there were 721,800 hospital-acquired infections. Clean Hands Safe Hands saw this as opportunity and created a wireless system to remind hospital employees to clean their hands.chsh-logo-300x118

The entire system is made possible by a combination of three wireless technologies: ZigBee, Bluetooth, and Cellular. Employees’ badge reels are Bluetooth-enabled so the hand sanitizer dispensers can record when hands are washed. The dispensers are all connected by a ZigBee mesh network and data is sent to a single cellular take out point via the XBee Gateway.

The XBee Gateway enables cloud connectivity, so hospitals can easily generate reports on their compliance and remotely monitor devices.

 To learn more about how Digi customers are changing their respective industries, visit our customer story page here.