Sunday, November 30, 2014

IoT Comes of Age

Over the past couple of years Internet of Things (IoT) has been one of the key buzzwords in the IT industry. The idea is simple, with more and more devices connected to the Internet there's opportunity to connect machines with people and Enterprises and gather and analyse huge quantities of data. General Electric (GE) is probably one of the larger organisations who is a thought leader in this area with their Industrial Internet concept.

If Cisco's mobile data traffic forecasts are anything to believe, then IoT is just at the cusp of exponential growth.

One of the key challenges of realising an IoT solution is the limitations of wireless network technologies, including 3/4G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee etc. In particular demands on power and limits in range.

Until now that is.

A number of Semiconductor manufacturers, including TI and Amtel, have now begun to develop Sub 1-GHz RF MCUs (Micro-Controller Unit) with very low power requirements. These devices now open up interesting applications, particular in the field of remote sensing and mesh networks.

To give you an idea how capable these new RF MCUs are, take a look at the video below from TI, demonstrating a battery powered sensor sending data at ~1.2kbps over 25km!

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This technology is not just the preserve of large companies or Electronics Engineers. If you have a Raspberry Pi (and to be honest, who hasn't), then you can get in on this Sub 1-Ghz revolution with a RasWIK - a Raspberry Pi Wireless Inventors Kit for just £49.99 from a UK company called Ciseco.

This kit is based upon the TI CC 1100 RF MCU, but Ciseco have made the challenge of writing your own over-the-air protocol, by developing their own firmware layer they call LLAP - Lightweight Logical Application Protocol.

The kit bundles a XRF Transceiver for your PI, and an XRF enabled Arduino UNO R3 with a bunch of sensors and LEDs to get you building your IoT platform.

I have had this kit for 6 months now. Within a week of this arriving in the post, I had a wireless home temperature monitoring solution sending data to the Internet.

This Sub 1-GHz RF technology, in my opinion, is the leap that IoT has been waiting for. This opens up the opportunity to build very low cost RF sensor networks that can run on Coin-Cell batteries for, potentially, years before requiring new batteries.

Now, what to do with all that data? That's for another post.

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