Could a coin cell be enough?

JeeLabs - Tue, 28/07/2015 - 23:01

To state the obvious: small wireless sensor nodes should be small and wireless. Doh.

That means battery-powered. But batteries run out. So we also want these nodes to last a while. How long? Well, if every node lasts a year, and there are a bunch of them around the house, we’ll need to replace (or recharge) some battery somewhere several times a year.

Not good.

The easy way out is a fat battery: either a decent-capacity LiPo battery pack or say three AA cells in series to provide us with a 3.6 .. 4.5V supply (depending on battery type).

But large batteries can be ugly and distracting – even a single AA battery is large when placed in plain sight on a wall in the living room, for example.

So… how far could we go on a coin cell?

Let’s define the arena a bit first, there are many types of coin cells. The smallest ones of a few mm diameter for hearing aids have only a few dozen mAh of energy at most, which is not enough as you will see shortly. Here some coin cell examples, from Wikipedia:

The most common coin cell is the CR2032 – 20 mm diameter, 3.2 mm thick. It is listed here as having a capacity of about 200 mAh:

A really fat one is the CR2477 – 24 mm diameter, 7.7 mm thick – and has a whopping 1000 mAh of capacity. It’s far less common than the CR2032, though.

These coin cells supply about 3.0V, but that voltage varies: it can be up to 3.6V unloaded (i.e. when the µC is asleep), down to 2.0V when nearly discharged. This is usually fine with today’s µCs, but we need to be careful with all the other components, and if we’re doing analog stuff then these variations can in some cases really throw a wrench into our project.

Then there are the AAA and AA batteries of 1.2 .. 1.5V each, so we’ll need at least two and sometimes even three of them to make our circuits work across their lifetimes. An AAA cell of 10.5×44.5 mm has about 800..1200 mAh, whereas an AA cell of 14.5×50.5 mm has 1800..2700 mAh of energy. Note that this value doesn’t increase when placed in series!

CR2032

Let’s see how far we could get with a CR2032 coin cell powering a µC + radio + sensors:

  • one year is 365 x 24 – 8,760 hours
  • one CR2032 coin cell can supply 200 mAh of energy
  • it will last one year if we draw under 23 µA on average
  • it will last two years if we draw under 11 µA on average
  • it will last four years if we draw under 5 µA on average
  • it will last ten years if we draw under 2 µA on average

An LPC8xx in deep sleep mode with its low-power wake-up timer kept running will draw about 1.1 µA when properly set up. The RFM69 draws 0.1 µA in sleep mode. That leaves us roughly a 10 µA margin for all attached sensors if we want to achieve a 2-year battery life.

This is doable. Many simple sensors for temperature, humidity, and pressure can be made to consume no more than a few µA in sleep mode. Or if they consume too much, we could tie their power supply pin to an output pin on the µC and completely remove power from them. This requires an extra I/O pin, and we’ll probably need to wait a bit longer for the chip to be ready if we have to power it up every time. No big deal – usually.

A motion sensor based on passive infrared detection (PIR) draws 60..300 µA however, so that would severely reduce the battery lifetime. Turning it off is not an option, since these sensors need about a minute to stabilise before they can be used.

Note that even a 1 MΩ resistor has a non-negligible 3 µA of constant current consumption. With ultra low-power sensor nodes, every part of the circuit needs to be carefully designed! Sometimes, unexpected consequences can have a substantial impact on battery life, such as grease, dust, or dirt accumulating on an openly exposed PCB over the years…

Door switch

What about sensing the closure of a mechanical switch?

In that case, we can in fact put the µC into deep power down without running the wake-up timer, and let the wake-up pin bring it back to life. Now, power consumption will drop to a fraction of a microamp, and battery life of the coin cell can be increased to over a decade.

Alternately, we could use a contact-less solution, in the form of a Hall effect sensor and a small magnet. No wear, and probably easier to install and hide out of sight somewhere.

The Seiko S-5712 series, for example, draws 1..4 µA when operated at low duty cycle (measuring 5 times per second should be more than enough for a door/window sensor). Its output could be used to wake up the µC, just as with a mechanical switch. Now we’re in the 5 µA ballpark, i.e. about 4 years on a CR2032 coin cell. Quite usable!

It can pay off to carefully review all possible options – for example, if we were to instead use a reed relay as door sensor, we might well end up with the best of both worlds: total shut-off via mechanical switching, yet reliable contact-less activation via a small magnet.

What about the radio

The RFM69 draws from 15 to 45 mA when transmitting a packet. Yet I’m not including this in the above calculations, for good reason:

  • it’s only transmitting for a few milliseconds
  • … and probably less than once every few minutes, on average
  • this means its duty cycle can stay well under 0.001%
  • which translates to less than 0.5 µA – again: on average

Transmitting a short packet only every so often is virtually free in terms of energy requirements. It’s a hefty burst, but it simply doesn’t amount to much – literally!

Conclusion

Aiming for wireless sensor nodes which never need to listen to incoming RF packets, and only send out brief ones very rarely, we can see that a coin cell such as the common CR2032 will be able to support nodes for several years. Assuming that the design of both hardware and software was properly done, of course.

And if the CR2032 doesn’t cut it – there’s always the CR2477 option to help us further.

Categories: Community Blog posts

Forth on a DIP

JeeLabs - Tue, 21/07/2015 - 23:01

In a recent article, I mentioned the Forth language and the Mecrisp implementation, which includes a series of builds for ARM chips. As it turns out, the mecrisp-stellaris-... archive on the download page includes a ready-to-run build for the 28-pin DIP LPC1114 µC, which I happened to have lying around:

It doesn’t take much to get this chip powered and connected through a modified BUB (set to 3.3V!) so it can be flashed with the Mecrisp firmware. Once that is done, you end up with a pretty impressive Forth implementation, with half of flash memory free for user code.

First thing I tried was to connect to it and list out all the commands it knows – known as “words” in Forth parlance, and listed by entering “words” + return:

$ lpc21isp -termonly -control x /dev/tty.usbserial-AH01A0EG 115200 0 lpc21isp version 1.97 Terminal started (press Escape to abort) Mecrisp-Stellaris 2.1.3 with M0 core for LPC1114FN28 by Matthias Koch words words --- Mecrisp-Stellaris Core --- 2dup 2drop 2swap 2nip 2over 2tuck 2rot 2-rot 2>r 2r> 2r@ 2rdrop d2/ d2* dshr dshl dabs dnegate d- d+ s>d um* m* ud* udm* */ */mod u*/ u*/mod um/mod m/mod ud/mod d/mod d/ f* f/ 2! 2@ du< du> d< d> d0< d0= d<> d= sp@ sp! rp@ rp! dup drop ?dup swap nip over tuck rot -rot pick depth rdepth >r r> r@ rdrop rpick true false and bic or xor not clz shr shl ror rol rshift arshift lshift 0= 0<> 0< >= <= < > u>= u<= u< u> <> = min max umax umin move fill @ ! +! h@ h! h+! c@ c! c+! bis! bic! xor! bit@ hbis! hbic! hxor! hbit@ cbis! cbic! cxor! cbit@ cell+ cells flash-khz 16flash! eraseflash initflash hflash! flushflash + - 1- 1+ 2- 2+ negate abs u/mod /mod mod / * 2* 2/ even base binary decimal hex hook-emit hook-key hook-emit? hook-key? hook-pause emit key emit? key? pause serial-emit serial-key serial-emit? serial-key? cexpect accept tib >in current-source setsource source query compare cr bl space spaces [char] char ( \ ." c" s" count ctype type hex. h.s u.s .s words registerliteral, call, literal, create does> <builds ['] ' postpone inline, ret, exit recurse state ] [ : ; execute immediate inline compileonly 0-foldable 1-foldable 2-foldable 3-foldable 4-foldable 5-foldable 6-foldable 7-foldable constant 2constant smudge setflags align aligned align4, align16, h, , ><, string, allot compiletoram? compiletoram compiletoflash (create) variable 2variable nvariable buffer: dictionarystart dictionarynext skipstring find cjump, jump, here flashvar-here then else if repeat while until again begin k j i leave unloop +loop loop do ?do case ?of of endof endcase token parse digit number .digit hold hold< sign #> f#S f# #S # <# f. f.n ud. d. u. . evaluate interpret hook-quit quit eint? eint dint ipsr nop unhandled reset irq-systick irq-fault irq-collection irq-adc irq-i2c irq-uart --- Flash Dictionary --- ok.

That’s over 300 standard Forth words, including all the usual suspects (I’ve shortened the above to only show their names, as Mecrisp actually lists these words one per line).

Here’s a simple way of making it do something – adding 1 and 2 and printing the result:

  • type “1 2 + .” plus return, and it types ” 3 ok.” back at you

Let’s define a new “hello” word:

: hello ." Hello world!" ; ok.

We’ve extended the system! We can now type hello, and guess what comes out:

hello Hello world! ok. ----- + <CR>

Note the confusing output: we typed “hello” + a carriage return, and the system executed our definition of hello and printed the greeting right after it. Forth is highly interactive!

Here’s another definition, of a new word called “count-up”:

: count-up 0 do i . loop ; ok.

It takes one argument on the stack, so we can call it as follows:

5 count-up 0 1 2 3 4 ok.

Again, keep in mind that the ” 0 1 2 3 4 ok.” was printed out, not typed in. We’ve defined a loop which prints increasing numbers. But what if we forget to provide an argument?

count-up 0 1 2 [...] Stack underflow

Whoops. Not so good: stack underflow was properly detected, but not before the loop actually ran and printed out a bunch of numbers (how many depends on what value happened to be in memory). Luckily, a µC is easily reset!

Permanent code

This post isn’t meant to be an introduction to Mecrisp (or Forth), you’ll have to read other documentation for that. But one feature is worth exploring: the ability to interactively store code in flash memory and set up the system so it runs that code on power up. Here’s how:

compiletoflash ok. : count-up 0 do i . loop ; ok. : init 10 count-up ; ok.

In a nutshell: 1) we instruct the system to permanently add new definitions to its own flash memory from now on, 2) we define the count-up word as before, and 3) we (re-)define the special init word which Mecrisp Forth will automatically run for us when it starts up.

Let’s try it, we’ll reset the µC and see what it types out:

$ lpc21isp -termonly -control x /dev/tty.usbserial-AH01A0EG 115200 0 lpc21isp version 1.97 Terminal started (press Escape to abort) Mecrisp-Stellaris 2.1.3 with M0 core for LPC1114FN28 by Matthias Koch 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Bingo! Our new code has been saved in flash memory, and starts running the moment the LPC1114 chip comes out of reset. Note that we can get rid of it again with “eraseflash“.

As you can see, it would be possible to write a full-blown application in Mecrisp Forth and end up with a standalone µC chip which then works as instructed every time it powers up.

Speed

Forth code runs surprisingly fast. Here is a delay loop which does nothing:

: delay 0 do loop ; ok.

And this code:

10000000 delay ok.

… takes about 3.5 seconds before printing out the final “ok.” prompt. That’s some 3 million iterations per second. Not too shabby, if you consider that the LPC1114 runs at 12 MHz!

Categories: Community Blog posts

RFM69s, OOK, and antennas

JeeLabs - Tue, 14/07/2015 - 23:01

Recently, Frank @ SevenWatt has been doing a lot of very interesting work on getting the most out of the RFM69 wireless radio modules.

His main interest is in figuring out how to receive weak OOK signals from a variety of sensors in and around the house. So first, you’ll need to extract the OOK information – it turns out that there are several ways to do this, and when you get it right, the bit patterns that come out snap into very clear-cut 0/1 groups – which can then be decoded:

Another interesting bit of research went into comparing different boards and builds to see how the setups affect reception. The good news is that the RFM69 is fairly consistent (no extreme variations between different modules).

Then, with plenty of data collection skills and tools at hand, Frank has been investigating the effect of different antennas on reception quality – which is a combination of getting the strongest signal and the lowest “noise floor”, i.e. the level of background noise that every receiver has to deal with. Here are the different antenna setups being evaluated:

Last but not least, is an article about decoding packets from the ELV Cost Control with an RFM69 and some clever tricks. These units report power consumption every 5 seconds:

Each of these articles is worth a good read, and yes… the choice of antenna geometry, its build accuracy, the quality of cabling, and the distance to the µC … they all do matter!

Categories: Community Blog posts

How To Take Care Of Your Parrot

FairTradeElectronics - Fri, 10/07/2015 - 11:16

Parrots are birds that are kept by many people as pets. These birds are known to have impressed human beings for many centuries. Parrots were kept by many ancient people starting from kings, warlords, pirates and even the common people. The birds are admired because of their colorful feathers, their high levels of intelligence and their talking ability. There are very many types of parrots and different types have their own style and personality that is very peculiar from the rest. Different types of parrots love to eat certain types of food and they love to live in a different unique manner compared to other types. If you own a parrot you should take care of the bird wisely and maintain it very well to make it have an enjoyable life in your household. Some of the breeds of parrots include; The Colorful Macaw, The Comedic Cockatoo and The Majestic African Grey. You can make your parrot very happy, playful and healthy by purchasing the most perfect parrot cage for your parrot. Different types of parrots love to live in certain specific types of cages. The cage of your parrot should have a good space that will give the bird enough room to play and exercise-since parrots are birds that are playful and they love to have regular exercise. The cage should give room for your parrot to be able to stretch its wings; the cage should have enough space that will give the parrot enough room when feeding. The cage should also give the pilot enough space to play with its toys and also preen its feathers. Most of the parrot cages are manufactured with “play-top” that enables the parrot to play and others have an additional pullout tray beneath the parrot cage that enables you to collect the litter easily.

Some pet shops sell parrot cages that you will be required to assemble before putting your parrot in the cage. You will be supplied with a manual of how to assemble the cage. You will be required to assemble the “bottom stand” first and finish by putting the perches and the feeders into their position. For you to have a healthy parrot you will always be required to clean the parrot cage very well. You will be required to replace the cage liners daily, you will also be required to wipe away all the food-leftovers and the waste daily and you will also be required to wash the food and water dishes daily. You will also be required to thoroughly clean the perches and the toys at least once per week. A thorough cleaning should for the entire parrot cage should be done at least once in every month. Sometimes you will be required to dismantle the whole cage and wash every part very well then you will re-assemble the cage again.

Different types of parrot cages can be purchased in many stores and pet shops. You can also purchase the parrot cages from the online pet supermarkets.

You should take care of your parrot and maintain it very well for the bird to be always happy and attractive, you should feed it well, spray it, clean it and you will be assured of a very good pet.

Categories: Community Blog posts

Greasing the “make” cycle on Mac

JeeLabs - Tue, 07/07/2015 - 23:01

I’m regularly on the lookout for ways to optimise my software development workflow. Anything related to editing, building, testing, uploading – if I can shave off a little time, or better still, find a way to automate more and get tasks into my muscle memory, I’m game.

It may not be everyone’s favourite, but I keep coming back to vim as my editor of choice, or more specifically the GUI-aware MacVim (when I’m not working on some Linux system).

And some tasks need to be really fast. Simply Because I Do Them All The Time.

Such as running “make”.

So I have a keyboard shortcut in vim which saves all the changes and runs make in a shell window. For quite some time, I’ve used the Vim Tmux Navigator for this. But that’s not optimal: you need to have tmux running locally, you need to type in the session, window, and pane to send the make command to (once after every vim restart), and things … break at times (occasional long delays, wrong tmux pane, etc). Unreliable automation is awful.

Time to look for a better solution. Using as few “moving parts” as possible, because the more components take part in these custom automation tricks, the sooner they’ll break.

The following is what I came up with, and it works really well for me:

  • hitting “,m” (i.e. “<leader>m“) initiates a make, without leaving my vim context
  • there needs to be a “Terminal” app running, with a window named “⌘1″ open
  • it will receive this command line:  clear; date; make $MAKING

So all I have to do is leave that terminal window open – set to the proper directory. I can move around at will in vim or MacVim, run any number of them, and “,m” will run “make”.

By temporarily setting a value in the “MAKING” shell variable, I can alter the make target. This can be changed as needed, and I can also change the make directory as needed.

The magic incantation for vim is this one line, added to the ~/.vimrc config file:

nnoremap <leader>m :wa<cr>:silent !makeit<cr>

In my ~/bin/ directory, I have a shell script called “makeit” with the following contents:

exec osascript >/dev/null <<EOF tell application "Terminal" repeat with w in windows if name of w ends with "⌘1" then do script "clear; date; make $MAKING" in w end if end repeat end tell EOF

The looping is needed to always find the proper window. Note that the Terminal app must be configured to include the “⌘«N»” command shortcut in each window title.

This all works out of the box with no dependency on any app, tool, or utility – other than what is present in a vanilla Mac OSX installation. Should be easy to adapt to other editors.

It can also be used from the command line: just type “makeit”.

That’s all there is to it. A very simple and clean convention to remember and get used to!

Categories: Community Blog posts

Free signed SSL certificate for my blog

mharizanov - Sat, 04/07/2015 - 18:14

As soon as I blogged about IoT and security few weeks ago, my blog got hit by a massive DDoS attack combined with daily hack attempts via WordPress’ backend and SSH. I’m dealing with both issues pretty successfully for now, but this is a reminder to myself to step-up on security. I’ve since then switched hosting this blog to a $5/month VPS on DigitalOcean, really happy with the service so far.

As mentioned in my blog post on IoT security, one of the items to address is security of data in transit. My connected things use plain HTTP posts to an Emoncms instance running on my domain, meaning they are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. Probably the best way to handle this is to use a SSL certificate and handle HTTP over TLS (HTTPS). SSL certificates cost > $60 per year, it isn’t worth for a personal blog.

Fortunately startSSL.com offers completely free verified SSL certificates that you can use on your website. I followed DigitalOcean‘s instructions and ~15 minutes later I had it up and running:

 

Not bad, should have done that long ago.

P.S. If you sign up for Digital Ocean VPS via this link, you will get $10 credit and I’ll benefit some too.

 

 

 

  Page views: 79

Categories: Community Blog posts

Low-power mode :)

JeeLabs - Tue, 30/06/2015 - 23:01

First, an announcement:

Starting now, the JeeLabs Weblog is entering “low-power mode” for the summer period. What this means: one weblog post every Wednesday, but no additional articles.

While in low-power mode, I’ll continue to write about fun stuff, things I care about, bump into, and come up with – and maybe even some progress reports about some projects I’m working on. But no daily article episodes, and hence no new material for the Jee Book:

Speaking of which: The Jee Book has been updated with all the articles from the weblog for this year so far and has tripled in size as a result. Only very light editing has been applied at this point – but in case you want it all in a single convenient e-book, there ya go!

Have a great, inspiring, and relaxing summer! (cq winter, if you’re down under)

(For comments, visit the forum area)

Categories: Community Blog posts

Rediscover Your Music With the Sennheiser HD700 digital headphones

FairTradeElectronics - Sun, 28/06/2015 - 13:49

Music is only as good as the device you use to listen to it. There are a number of devices that allow you to experience music. One of these devices is the headphones. These are a pair of large electronic speakers that are mounted on a frame that goes over the skull and cups over the ears. There are many headphone brands in the world. Each one professes to make the highest quality headphones. Of them all none is more luxurious, flamboyant and downright effective like the Sennheiser HD700 dynamic stereo headphones.

Introducing Sennheiser

These are an ultra modern pair of headphones. They are open circumaural headphones. This means that the headphone cups have a ventilated back casing. The cups feature a mesh construction that is beautiful to look at and also allows for full, transparent sound. Due to this type of cup construction, these headphones are able to produce warm and balanced music. The Sennheiser headphones are chock full of technology. The speakers in the cups are fitted with ventilated magnets. Thus, when you are listening to music using these headphones, you do not experience distortion of the music by air flowing around the cups. In addition to that, the acoustic casing of these headphones is angled. As a result, they provide superb projection of the music and the notes sound natural.

Sennheiser made use of some advanced drivers in these headphones. Not only are they modern and chic, they can produce high pressure sound. These drivers also respond with a flat frequency. This means that your music has absolutely no distortions. To boost the convenience of using these headphones, Sennheiser made the connector cable of these headphones completely detachable. The cable is made up four wires of silver-plated copper. It is also completely free of oxygen. Thus, it can conduct the music from your devices better even when it is being played at a high frequency.

Technology meets design

The Sennheiser HD700 headphones are a beauty to look at. They have a space age mesh on the outer parts of the cups. The mesh is built to express the industrial processes that make these headphones a reality. The headband on these headphones is coated in silicone. In addition to that, the headband has a dual material yoke. This is aesthetically very pleasing. In addition to that, the cups on the headphones have a soft velour padding. This padding goes all around your ears. This makes the music you are listening to sound crystal clear. Despite the large cups and strong headband frame, these headphones are super light. This is due to the aerospace nature of the materials used to construct these headphones.

Convenient construction

Few headphones in the world are built with convenience in mind. First of all, the cable can be removed and stored separately. You can also upgrade it in case yours gets worn out. The cable actually has an indent in the rubber casing. This indent assists you to insert the cable in the headphone casing at the cups. The braided nature of the cable helps it to survive the wear and tear of day to day activities. Moreover, it shows that this is a pair of very high quality headphones. For

Categories: Community Blog posts

DDoS attack on my blog

mharizanov - Fri, 26/06/2015 - 19:58

An intensive Distributed Denial of Service attack is currently undergoing on my blog, with HTTP request rates hitting thousands per minute. It all started few days ago when I received a message from my hosting service provider stating that my blog’s shared hosting has massive CPU/Bandwidth usage. The folks offered a solution for me that was “upgrade to a higher plan so you can meet the DDoS traffic”.. I was speechless and had to take things under my control.

Looking at the stats, the attack start moment is also obvious:

During the peak of the attack my blog was mostly down.

Victims to DDoS often ask themselves the same questions, “why” and “why me”. Generally for this type of attacks the “why” boils down to these cases

  • blackmailing for money
  • blocking competition
  • attempting censorship
  • mischief

I can’t imagine my humble personal blog falls into any of the first three categories and believe it is someone just being playful.

The attack is on-going (as I write these lines) from numerous IP addresses all over the world, but fortunately for me it is being executed in a not very smart way, so I was able to pick up a trend and catch these via a smart updating .htaccess “deny from” rule. I can’t give out much details on the exact measures as the attacker could be reading this and adjust.

The result from this blocking is obvious from the above graphs and my blog is up again.

  Page views: 820

Categories: Community Blog posts

FTDI over WiFi: esp-bridge

JeeLabs - Tue, 23/06/2015 - 23:01

Time to try something different – this week, the JeeLabs blog and articles will be written by Thorsten von Eicken, as guest author. I’m very excited by the project he has created and will gladly step aside to let him introduce it all -jcw

Has it ever happened to you that you put together a nice JeeNode or Arduino project, test it all out on your bench, then mount it “in the field” and … it doesn’t quite work right? Or the next day it malfunctions? Well, to me it happens all the time. Or I want to add another feature to my greenhouse controller or my weather station but I don’t want to bring it back to my bench for a few days for a full rework and re-test. Instead I’d love to troubleshoot or tune the code remotely, sitting comfortably at home in the evening while my project is mounted somewhere out there.

My first attempt at solving this situation was to deploy a BeagleBone Black with a WiFi dongle and a serial cable (a RaspberryPi or Odroid could work just as well):

Essentially I turned a $55 BBB plus a little $10 WiFi dongle into a remote FTDI widget. In the first moment I was in heaven: it’s an inexpensive solution in the grand scheme of things and it worked great. But then I became addicted and one BBB was insufficient: I wanted to hook more than one remote JeeNode up! Well, suddenly the prospect of buying 3-4 such set-ups didn’t look so inexpensive anymore!

That’s when the esp8266 WiFi modules caught my eye at a cost under $5. Here is a WiFi module with a processor and a UART and, most importantly, an SDK (software development kit). The SDK suggested that I could implement the key functions to remotely watch debug output of a JeeNode as well as reprogram it, just like I was doing with the BBB. My mind started racing: what could I make it do? What would a complete hardware solution cost? How much power would it use? What is its WiFi range?

At that point I chatted with JC about my little project, which I called “esp-bridge”, and got a cautiously interested response with ingredients ranging from “sounds very cool!” to “it’s gonna use way too much power”. Not to be easily deterred I thought it would take me about a week to write some code. That was 4 months ago, and while I have a day job I have spent a lot of time on the esp-bridge project since. In the end, I hope you will benefit from all this because through this week’s episode of the JeeLabs blog you will indeed be able to complete the journey in one week! The plan for the week is as follows:

As the week develops (and beyond) I would love to hear your feedback and questions. The last post will be written just-in-time so I can try to answer anything that comes up before then. For general discussion, please use the esp-link thread on the ESP8266.com site or open a new thread in the same forum. If you download the software from GitHub to put your own esp-bridge together and run into bugs or mis-features please post to the GitHub issues tracker.

Quick clarifications about names: esp-bridge refers to the hardware & software gadget described in this blog series while esp-link is the name of the software itself.

(For comments, visit the forum area)

Categories: Community Blog posts

Ultimate guide to buying a water softener system

FairTradeElectronics - Sun, 21/06/2015 - 04:42

There are a good number of water softener manufacturing companies on the market; this can compromise quality. If there is anything that one should not get close to compromising is health. Drinking water should be clean, that is not debatable, treated with the appropriate softener moreover soft water will save you a lot in terms of the soap used to clean, heating elements like the kettle will not form layers and all water related chores will be smoother. This article will provide you a guide to buying the best softener for your water from the diverse water softener providing companies.

The first thing you need to know is how much you will spend on the services, www.watersoftenersnow.org says it doesn’t have to be expensive. You should not overpay for water softener service due to the desperateness of installing the best water softener. You need to understand the pricing so that you invest in an affordable system that in future, it can recoup the investment. Therefore, the key point is you understand the costs of various systems on the market.

How much do you need to efficiently and effectively run the system? An answer to this question provides you with an ability to know a system you can choose. The energy needed to run the system should not greatly on impact your budget. You can decide to venture into non-electrical systems if you realize that water and electrical bills will strain your budget. However, if you are comfortable with the bills then that should not be a pointer.

Size of the equipment is another pointer in the guide to purchasing a water softener system.you will need to take measurements of your compound. Water usage and plumbing measurements will help you realize if the system you are going to purchase is adequate. You should not purchase a system that will be ineffective. If you have a bigger compound with a lot of water utilizing processes then definitely you will suffocate your water needs.

How large is the space you are intending to install your system on? If you overestimate or underestimate your space, definitely you will suffer costs. You will stand higher chances of purchasing a suitable system when you provide as much information as you can. Do not buy something too large for your compound under the pressure of need of a larger system. You can save money by having the appropriate sized system.

Research! Research! Research! Key to getting the best company for the best water softener system is by researching among the available ones. First, it must be licensed, should be insured and bonded. Secondly, you can consider referrals from clients and finally read all reviews left by customers who have installed the systems. Those who have had the system for longer periods should be at a position to judge better.

Are you buying the equipment on you want your supplier to provide them? This is also a factor to consider. Plumber or dealer is inclusive in the instruments. Buying the equipment online translates to installing the equipment on your own. You choose a system after settling on a particular company. This should put you at a position to choose a water softening system that will serve you well.

Categories: Community Blog posts

Your Mercedes Dealer In Chelmsford

FairTradeElectronics - Sat, 20/06/2015 - 13:36

The Mercedes Benz of Chelmsford car dealership is a part of the Jardine Motors Group in the UK which trades under the brand name Lancaster. Jardine Motors Group UK has grown from a family-run car dealer to become a large car dealer representing 23 manufacturers all over Europe. It has 70 different locations dealing in different car brands including one in Chelmsford which specializes in Mercedes Benz retail. Other sites are found at Lakeside, Southend, Colchester, Ipswich and others. The Jardine Motor Group is one of the largest and prestigious automotive retail groups in the country. It is a reputable dealership that has kept a loyal client base and has become the first choice for customers. Mercedes Chelmsford deals in selling new and approved used Benz cars as well as their parts. It provides a friendly environment for its customers as well as offer impeccable care and services. The dealership is stocked excellently with cars ranging from stunning previously owned ones to the very latest releases of the brand. There are over 550 Approved Used Mercedes Benz gracing their extensive stock. The customer is given a variety of colour to choose from when going in to shop for a new car. To spice it all up, the dealer offers its clients unbelievably affordable prices with their flexible finance plans which opens up one’s accessibility to a wider choice of car models. The staff is not only friendly but also has expertise on the Mercedes Benz and are passionate about the brand. Their knowledge is vast and can match the client’s requirements comfortably. Mercedes Chelmsford also has a MyService waiting area complete with free Wi-Fi so that you are occupied and entertained while waiting for your car to get serviced at their site. There are also quality refreshments one can buy while waiting to have the client feeling comfortable. The Business Zone also has an enclosed workspace that clients can utilize when waiting. The Mercedes Benz of Chelmsford showroom is not hard to find. It is located on the White Hart Lane in Springfield Chelmsford on the roundabout opposite Sainsbury. The airy and bright showroom is easy to spot from the road with the forecourt for the new and the approved used Mercedes Benz cars. The location is convenient with close links to various other locations such as East London, Hatfield Peveral, Boreham, Witham, Woodham, Brentwood, Shenfield, Ingatestone, Broomfield among others. Stock delivery can be done across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to all of the UK whether for business use or personal use. Their Customer Service is also exceptional. Aftersales services are offered in full complement by their state of the art facilities to keep your Mercedes Benz in excellent condition. The expertly trained staff on the Mercedes Benz attend to your car only with Mercedes Genuine Parts so that you are assured that your car is in the best condition and being properly taken care of. Say goodbye to the hustle that comes with shopping for a good affordable car, whether new or a decent used Mercedes Benz and give Mercedes Chelmsford a call.

Categories: Community Blog posts

Tweeting silicon

mharizanov - Thu, 18/06/2015 - 19:25

Here is a fun project for I did couple days ago: a tweeting ESP8266. The typical approach when dealing with such task (and probably the better) is to use a proxy service like ThingSpeak’s ThingTweetPushingBox or by building proxy yourself with Node-RED or mqttwarn. It is much more fun though to perform a direct tweet from a microcontroller. Just think about the complexity of using TLS and oAuth along with Twitter’s API, all that done from a $5 Wi-Fi connected SoC..

Getting this done was pretty much straight forward except for the hmac-sha1 hashing of the oAuth base string. Turned out that the hmac-sha1 implementation in ESP8266’s SDK only supports keys of size less the block size (64 bytes), while Twitter needs much larger key for the signature. Wikipedia’s article on hmac-sha1 hashing explains the approach to that case and I was able to generate a correct hash with one additional SHA1 applied to the key to reduce it to 20 bytes.

if (length(key) > blocksize) then key = hash(key) // keys longer than blocksize are shortened end if

So my ESP8266 can now  tweet, I created a dedicated Twitter account for it named “Tweeting silicon” @tweetingsilicon

Code for the project is available on Github. Code is dirty, please contribute to improve it.

 

 

  Page views: 1060

Categories: Community Blog posts

Moving up a (few) level(s)

JeeLabs - Tue, 16/06/2015 - 23:01

All the posts and articles so far have been about staying “close to the silicon” on ARM µCs. Direct access to I/O registers to control and read out pins, and to activate the built-in hardware interfaces. It gets tedious after a while, and worst of all: very repetitive.

I’ve been coding for the LPC8xx chips in C/C++ with virtually no runtime library support. The reason was to expose all the raw stuff that happens as a µC starts up, very dumb, and needs to be told how to get a notion of time (SysTick), how to read/set/clear/toggle pins, how to sleep in various low-power modes, how to talk to the serial interface, yada, yada…

Figuring out how things work at the lowest level is a fascinating adventure. It’s no more than an indirect jump on reset, a run-time stack, and processing machine code – forever. But let’s not deal with these details all the time. Let’s think about sensors, conditions, decisions, actions – let’s define the behaviour of a system, not just deal with technicalities.

There are numerous ways to move up in abstraction level on embedded µCs. This week’s episode is about the bigger picture and the three broad categories of these approaches:

Warning: there are no conclusions at the end. I’m still exploring and evaluating. I’ve been on many long and winding roads already. I’m not too impressed by most of them. Treating a µC (any board) as the centre of a project feels wrong, particularly in the context of multi-node home monitoring and automation – which is still, after all, the focus of this weblog.

We really need to look at the bigger picture. How to evolve and manage the designs we create over a longer period of time. Old stuff needs to fit in, but it shouldn’t prevent us from finding a broader view. Adding and managing single nodes should not be the main focus.

(For comments, visit the forum area)

Categories: Community Blog posts

Some thoughts on security in terms of IoT

mharizanov - Tue, 16/06/2015 - 07:05


Connected devices and sensors are the fastest growing sources of data. Billions of records are being generated daily around the globe and data transported across networks to be consumed where needed. Security of data in transit or at still in that context (especially when it comes to sensitive personal data) is quite important.

Back in 2011 Fitbit portal exposed on the Internet thousands of records of intimate activities of their subscribers. How did that affect the company’s reputation and customer trust? Damage is done to the whole IoT industry, not just the company that allowed that to happen.

As customers we want our data encrypted during transport, stored safely and kept private. The collation of multiple points of data can quickly become personal information as events are reviewed in the context of location, time, recurrence, etc. The regular purchase of different food types, for example, may reveal religion or ongoing health concerns. Health records, location details, energy use patterns and so forth private data can easily be used to reconstruct in great detail one’s life. This data is therefore naturally of interest to many. Governments, insurance companies, marketing/advertising agencies and certainly criminals are after it.

Unauthorized access to data isn’t the only problem. Connected devices are designed to be remotely controllable. With surprisingly many consumers relying on default product security credentials, it is strikingly easy to gain control of connected appliances. Dynamic DNS services are a honeypot to those hunting for connected devices. One could easily end up with a spying thermostat or a fridge that sends spam or someone remotely controlling your smart home.

What makes it so hard to get security right? Design flaws, implementation flaws and mismanagement  are often the source of vulnerabilities. šSystems are “adequately secure” only relative to a perceived threat. šAbsence of obvious insecurities is not a good indication that a system is adequately secure. Users also have a good share in decreased security by not updating firmware, using poor passwords, inadequate fire-walling. “Security” through obscurity is very common and seems that folks still believe in it.

Overall security concerns are at the top of the list of barriers to the IoT adoption, with consumers awareness in this area on the rise. Any IoT business model must adequately address these concerns in order to be successful and sustainable.

  Page views: 1323

Categories: Community Blog posts

Code for the LPC8xx

JeeLabs - Tue, 09/06/2015 - 23:01

Putting a chip on a board, as with the Tinker Pico, is one thing. Getting it to do something is quite another matter. We’ll want to develop tons of software for it and upload the code.

The uploading bit has already been solved by using a modified FTDI board, with some exciting new options coming up in the next few months. How’s that for a teaser, eh?

This week’s episode is about the software side of things. Toolchains, runtimes, build tools, IDE’s, that sort of thing. Brought to you – as usual – in a series of daily bite-sized articles:

I’m having a hard time making up my mind on which path to choose as future code base. The curse of having too many choices, each with their own trade-offs and compromises.

(For comments, visit the forum area)

Categories: Community Blog posts

Temperature sensing with OpenEnergyMonitor

John Cantor - Tue, 09/06/2015 - 00:28
Temperature sensors for monitoring heat pumps





I have been using OpenEnergyMonitor.orgenergy monitors with heat pumps for a few years now and thought I should briefly share my experience.  This covers the practical side of temperature sensors, and is based on my experience.(If you just want advice about fitting temperatures sensors onto pipes, skip further down the page)
IntroductionThe sensors used in OpenEnergyMonitor.org modules are DS18b20. These are Maxim 1-wire digital sensors.

They actually have 3 connections;   0v, 5v and signal.   Since each sensor has its own unique i.d. code, multiple sensors are simply connected into the same 3 terminals on the monitor device. The great advantage of these digital sensors is that there are no errors due to cabling.  Phone extension cable can be good enough.  Thermistor sensors (variable resistance, as PT100) rely on a specific cable resistance and furthermore some sensors could ‘drift’ out of calibration.   A further advantage of digital sensors is that they do not in themselves generate heat. They can therefore be used in still air with good accuracy.If several sensors are strapped together (with an elastic band) and tested in a thermos flask over a few hours, most seem to read within 0.2 degrees C of each other.  If you have say 6 sensors, you can chose those that agree most for the most important sensing (e.g. flow and return).   Anyhow, these sensors are perfectly accurate enough for this type of monitoring, and there is comfort in knowing that if you are seeing 35.2C (for example) on a graph, then that sensor tip must be at 35.2 +/-, with a small error margin of say 0.15 degrees.  This is because the digital signal is generated inside the sensor.

What to measure on a heat pump?

Typical temperature measurement could include the following:Ground source
Water flow and water return from heat pump (hot side)
Ground collector glycol  inlet and outlet from heat pump (cold side) 
Outside (ambient) air temperature.  
Hot water cylinder temperature, and at least one room temperature.

Air source
Water flow and water return from heat pump (hot side)
Outside (ambient) air temperature and air-off (cooled air leaving heat pump) 
Hot water cylinder temperature, and at least one room temperature.

For either of the above there could be a buffer cylinder involved in the design, therefore the flow and return from buffer cylinder to emitter (e.g. underfloor or radiators) may need to be monitored.There may also be mixing valves (sometimes unnecessary mixing valves) on underfloor manifolds. These may also need monitoring.

For more detailed analysis, the refrigerant internals of the heat pump can be monitored. These may include discharge, suction and liquid temperatures.   This is however a little intrusive, and could affect the warranty. It may be necessary to discuss this with the system installers.
Measuring air and liquids 

Air

Measuring internal air temperature is relatively straight forward, but sensors must be positioned away from any source of heat or radiation source.  Sunlight and close-by appliances and even lighting can greatly affect readings.
The general rule for outside air measurement is to keep the sensor well away from sunshine, or areas that get sunshine.  The sensor can also drop below the air temperature if it can ‘see’ a clear sky.  A small polystyrene roof is a good shield protection from positive or ‘negative’ radiation (i.e. when radiation from sensor is greater than its surroundings).  It is also necessary to keep the sensor dry, unless you purposefully wish to cover it with a wet ‘sock’ to record Wet Bulb Temperature.  There is a lot of information available about this relating to weather stations.

Liquids

Most heat pump monitoring involves the temperature measurement of water and liquids flowing in the pipes.For very high accuracy results, as required by heat meter devices, an immersion pocket is required. (Heat Meters measure the difference between two sensors, so both must be very accurate)
The pocket usually involves a ‘tee’ fitting and a hollow pocket that is completely surrounded by the liquid. The sensor is inserted into the pocket.  
An easier and cheaper method is to fix the sensor to the outside of a metal pipe. This method is used in all heat pumps for their on-board sensing.Any sensor that is outside the liquid can be affected by the temperature of the surrounding air, but the error in the reading can be negligible if the sensor is mounted correctly.

There are various methods as follows- 1)  Sensor strapped to metal pipe or metal fitting
2) Sensor inserted in surface pocket (a pipe soldered to the pipe’s surface)


This shows 10mm pipes that have been soft-soldered to copper fittings. Due to the high conductivity of copper, the temperature of the inside of the small pipe is almost exactly the same as the temperature of the liquid inside the pipe. After insulating (lagging) this pipe, the accuracy of the sensor inserted inside the small pipe should be excellent.  Ideally the pocket internal diameter is close to the sensor diameter.  Conductive paste should be used before inserting the sensorIt is a good idea to fit several pockets like this in the right places during installation. Obviously the pipe must be empty. Many heat pump manufacturers solder pipes on the outside of water or refrigerant pipes so that their sensor probes can easily be inserted to give accurate measurement

Strapping a sensor to a pipe (or a pipe fitting)

 Whilst not as good as surrounding the sensor with a conductive copper pocket, it is possible to simply strap the sensor to a pipe.   Strapping using a copper strap (as used in refrigeration) , or copper wire, will give better results.
The following shows one simple method.






Copper or brass conduct heat well.  The temperature difference between the inside of the pipe and the outside is tiny, so always fit sensors onto metals.  Plastic pipes are poor thermal conductors, so the effect of surrounding air can affect the sensor temperature. Furthermore, if the pipe is changing in temperature, the sensor may ‘lag’in time behind. i.e. it will respond very slowly to temperature changes.  This may or may not be a problem.
This is not the best position for a sensor since there is 3mm of plastic between the liquid inside and the probe, however, the copper wire strap is making the best of a bad job.  Heat will conduct along the copper. There is a lot of copper in contact with the plastic, and this will conduct and will transfer heat to/from the ‘surrounded’ probe.  If this is insulated well on the outside, it may give good-enough results.  Time response may be a little slow, which is not necessarily bad.   Fitting the probe onto a metal fitting is probably a better bet.
Categories: Community Blog posts

Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) for ESP8266 SoC

mharizanov - Sat, 06/06/2015 - 09:26

With the IoT booming nowadays, the number of connected devices grows exponentially and so does the related software that drives them. There is no doubt that Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) is a highly desirable – if not required – feature for any embedded project/product both DIY or commercial. Being able to provide a remote firmware update is obviously very beneficial. The opportunity here is to enhance product functionality, operational features and provide fixes for particular issues.  Updating the firmware OTA may eliminate the need to bring a product into a service center for a repair. Although not every issue can be resolved with a firmware update, if one is available for a particular issue, it can save a lot of time and money.
I already have a large number of connected devices running at home and in case I need to do a firmware update, it is a nightmare. I have to disconnect the respective device from whatever project setup they are attached to re-program and then re-install.  Not all embedded systems have the possibility to allow FOTA due to the complexity and required connectivity, for example none of my RFM12B/RFM69CW related projects have that feature. While possible by installing additional SPI flash (see as example Moteino wireless upgrade), it isn’t a real self-updating node and still requires quite a lot of skill to achieve, and only within the range of the transceivers (not over the Internet).

The ESP8266 SoC with its WiFi connectivity is well positioned to meet that need (FOTA), my WiFi relay project would greatly benefit from it. To achieve this, the available 512KB (on most ESP8266 breakouts) on the SPI flash memory is partitioned into two, and we run code from one or the other partition. Upon FOTA, the currently not used partition gets flashed and system restarted into it:

ESP8266 FOTA memory layout 512KB SPI flash size

This solution limits the available user code to 236KB (256KB-4KB-16KB); For ESP-HTTPD based projects this would be just about the unmodified basic application. Obviously if you need to squeeze in more functionality, you’d need a larger SPI flash than 512KB. There are few off-the shelf ESP8266 breakout boards with > 512KB flash size; alternatively you could desolder and replace the SPI flash with a larger one.

Firmware update modes
I can identify two separate firmware update modes – externally pushed firmware file and another one that is initiated by the remote device on periodical or manual start basis.

Push firmware update

Push firmware update

 

Pull firmware update

Pull firmware update

Externally pushed firmware update would be when the device receives the firmware file over a HTTP POST request and flashes it, whereas in the self-initiated firmware update mode the device would periodically check central firmware repository for firmware update, pull the firmware and reflash itself. The later can be initiated on schedule, or manually by user (just like your computer checks for updates vs how you can manually force-check). The first method is more convenient for development mode, where the device is connected to the local network. I find it quite useful to focus on developing the code without having to manually place the node in firmware update mode, connect FTDI programmer, bring it out of firmware update mode etc. Also the speed when flashing over network connection is quite good, job gets done in roughly 10 seconds. @TVE has done great work on developing this approach with his esp-link project. Note the Makefile magic that makes all that possible.

For devices in production it makes more sense to run in the second firmware update mode, where we have them check for new firmware proactively. That also addresses connectivity issues compared to previous method as the device initiates the process from behind the firewall (no need for fixed IP address, or port forwarding for outside visibility).

That’s pretty easy to perform with SDK’s in-built functions, the following can get you going in this direction:

static void ICACHE_FLASH_ATTR ota_finished_callback(void *arg) { struct upgrade_server_info *update = arg; if (update->upgrade_flag == true) { os_printf("[OTA]success; rebooting!\n"); system_upgrade_reboot(); } else { os_printf("[OTA]failed!\n"); } os_free(update->pespconn); os_free(update->url); os_free(update); } static void ICACHE_FLASH_ATTR handleUpgrade(uint8_t serverVersion, const char *server_ip, uint16_t port, const char *path) { const char* file; uint8_t userBin = system_upgrade_userbin_check(); switch (userBin) { case UPGRADE_FW_BIN1: file = "user2.bin"; break; case UPGRADE_FW_BIN2: file = "user1.bin"; break; default: os_printf("[OTA]Invalid userbin number!\n"); return; } uint16_t version=1; if (serverVersion <= version) { os_printf("[OTA]No update. Server version:%d, local version %d\n", serverVersion, version); return; } os_printf("[OTA]Upgrade available version: %d\n", serverVersion); struct upgrade_server_info* update = (struct upgrade_server_info *)os_zalloc(sizeof(struct upgrade_server_info)); update->pespconn = (struct espconn *)os_zalloc(sizeof(struct espconn)); os_memcpy(update->ip, server_ip, 4); update->port = port; os_printf("[OTA]Server "IPSTR":%d. Path: %s%s\n", IP2STR(update->ip), update->port, path, file); update->check_cb = ota_finished_callback; update->check_times = 10000; update->url = (uint8 *)os_zalloc(512); os_sprintf((char*)update->url, "GET %s%s HTTP/1.1\r\n" "Host: "IPSTR":%d\r\n" "Connection: close\r\n" "\r\n", path, file, IP2STR(update->ip), update->port); if (system_upgrade_start(update) == false) { os_printf("[OTA]Could not start upgrade\n"); os_free(update->pespconn); os_free(update->url); os_free(update); } else { os_printf("[OTA]Upgrading...\n"); } }

Here are the the two methods in action:

Firmware update over the air

Security
In terms of security, well, it isn’t the most secure thing. Firmware gets downloaded/uploaded by unsecured HTTP channel and not much validation is performed to ensure the received file is what we think it is. I’m not sure what the overhead in terms of FLASH/RAM would be to enable SSL channel firmware upgrade. These concerns could be overcome by manually initiating an update (push or pull) and disabling the FOTA interfaces afterwards.

What could go wrong?
What can go wrong will go wrong eventually they say, so things must be handled properly. Interrupted download/upload, failed validation result in falling back to the previous firmware. The goal is obvious – to prevent a bricked device. While there is petty good protection against these, there is no protection against uploading buggy new firmware that bricks the device. Doing some testing, then some more testing and again testing before releasing new firmware should reduce the risk for that happening, and rolling it out in small portions also helps identifying a problem before many devices are affected.

Conclusion

I’m convinced the FOTA feature is a “must have” for any serious IoT project. I’m developing a FOTA capable (FOTA+ESPHTTPD+MQTT+SSL+FLASH CONFIG) platform that I will use for my future ESP8266 related projects.

 

  Page views: 85674

Categories: Community Blog posts

Take a Look at the Best rice cookers

FairTradeElectronics - Fri, 05/06/2015 - 11:22

Rice is a type of grain that we can cook and consume with a stew of our choice. It is very versatile and can be cooked in various ways. Today, there are appliances that can cook rice automatically. They save us time and are very convenient. Here are the best rice cookers in the market.

Aroma

The Aroma rice cooker is heralded as one of the best in the market. It is an affordable appliance that cooks your rice very quickly and makes it super delicious. It is simple to use and has a high capacity. The Aroma rice cookers come in 3 varieties. These are the 6 cup, 8 cup and 20 cup cookers. The 6 cup cooker costs $15 to $25, the 8 cup costs $25 to $35 and the 20 cup costs $30 to $100. All of them can easily steam food and are made of stainless steel. One major advantage of getting this Aroma rice cooker is that you can cook the rice and another dish in it at the same time. You can steam some meat while the rice cooks under it. It also makes use of digital technology. You can set it to activate itself and start cooking after a specific number of hours. Thus, you can load it with rice as you leave the house in the morning and when you get home you’ll find that it has already cooked for you.

Instant Pot

This is another type of rice cooker that is simply amazing to use. This rice cooker can make almost all types of rice for example Spanish rice. In addition to that, it can be programmed to cook your rice after a set number of hours. In addition to rice, this amazing cooker can prepare soups, beans, meat, poultry and stew. All these will get ready to eat in a very short amount of time. It has a capacity of 6 quarts. For only $135 to $235, the Instant Pot rice cooker is definitely one of the best available.

Cuckoo rice cooker

In terms of style and design, the cuckoo rice cooker bests its competitors by far. It has a round, ergonomic shape that is appealing to touch. Moreover, it is very capable in its ability to cook for you. It has a capacity of 6 cups. Its size is compact and it can easily be carried in luggage during trips. The cooker can easily and effectively cook brown and white rice. For an affordable price of $80 to $120, the Cuckoo rice cooker is a great choice of rice cooker.

Miracle rice cooker

Made of stainless steel and colored in pearl white, this rice cooker is one of the shoppers’ favorite. It costs from $70 to $90. In it, there is a high quality steamer for vegetables as well as a stainless steel bowl. It has a capacity of 8 cups of rice. You can easily cook the rice and steam your vegetables at the same time. This ability will save you a lot of time when preparing meals since you can do it all in one go. Thus, it is a multitasking rice cooker for a very affordable price.

Visit this site for more detailed rice cooker reviews: http://www.ricecookersportal.org/ and be quick cause those amazing deals don’t last forever!

Categories: Community Blog posts

Physical vs Virtual

mharizanov - Mon, 11/05/2015 - 19:01

The Raspberry Pi, a $35 credit card sized computer, is a popular choice for home automation projects. I am running few of those at home myself. But what is the true cost of these, is the advertised cost of $35 really all you spend?  Before you know it, you throw in  more bucks for a decent power supply, SD card, enclosure, a WiFi dongle and soon end up somewhere in the $70-$100 range for a headless configuration, that including VAT and associated shipping costs for the components required to get it running. Then a new model comes out and here you go again.. I now have couple of the early models retired in the drawer, collecting dust. How is that green (manufacture, shipping and then disposal of millions of units) or cost effective?  Thinking along these lines I decided to try Amazon’s Web Services, and more specifically the Elastic Cloud Computing EC2 service. The AWS free tier offers a great opportunity to test things out for one year then decide how to go forward. My interest is for a t2.micro instance, all-upfront 3 year payment costs $179. That makes 4-years (1yr free tier+3yr paid) of your own cloud virtual machine running Ubuntu for $3.72 a month. A good deal I say, and you have nothing to lose as you start with one year free trial before you decide.

What are advantages and disadvantages of moving your home automation to the cloud?

– It is obviously greener.  Imagine the pollution and resource use involved in manufacturing, shipping and eventually disposing of millions of these devices (5M as of Feb 2015).

– Scalability. Well if the t2.micro instance starts to be a constraint, few clicks can upgrade you to a more powerful version. Running low on storage? No problem, just add more storage space and you are good to go. Easy indeed. One of the main reasons for me upgrading was the increased amount of RAM or faster CPU available on the newer models of Raspberry Pi.

– Stability. We have all seen the SD card wear damage on the Raspberry Pi that occurs if you use the file system actively, and that has been a massive PITA. Can’t really have a DB running reliably without fearing data loss or doing some major trickery to reduce disk writes. Another thing is you never fear power outages, those are quite frequent where I live. Creating online backups is easy.

– Easy cloud deployment; Build and save AMIs then share those for others to use with few clicks. Want to have a Ubuntu VM running Apache+MySQL+PHP+emonCMS+mosquitto MQTT broker+Node-RED+openHAB? You can have one in 30 seconds, If I share a pre-configured AMI ID with you.

– Easy access. Many ISPs make it hard for clients to run web services from domestic IPs. Running your cloud VM with Elastic IP solves that problem

There are of course disadvantages as well such as

–  Cloud vs local hardware when Internet connection is down. Locally running machine can still handle the home automation, whereas cloud running VMs mean your home may be going wild.

– Locally connected peripherals like RFM2Pi board that routes wireless packets to the the respective gateway of choice can’t run on the cloud. Yet. A RFM12/RFM69 + ESP8266 bundle is fully feasible and will remove that shortcoming.

– Many people mention security when using cloud services, I believe this can be resolved with appropriate measures.

Overall I am not ready to go completely to the cloud for my home automation system. I am running a hybrid solution now with a (few) locally running Raspberry Pis handling the crucial mission critical home automation functions, then forwarding data over MQTT to the cloud based VM for storage, visualization, remote control.

Comments?

 

 

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