Friday, April 29, 2011

SnowdonBuild 2 - Six Days in the Hills

Take six techie developers and put them in a remote Welsh farmhouse for almost a week, with laptops, broadband and piles of hardware to play about with.

Add in a mix of communaly cooked wholesome food, a few crates of ale, and the Snowdonian landscape on their doorstep - and what do you get? SnowdonBuild 2 of course!

The next few blog posts will show you.

As a recap:

SnowdonBuild 1 was over the August Bank Holiday of 2010. It involved local lads Trystan Lea and Glyn Hudson, joined by Suneil Tagore from Cardiff and myself.

This year with the incredibly generous Easter/Royal Wedding break, it was decide to repeat the event - over 6 days, with a couple of new recruits, Sam Carlisle and Matt Gaffen, who came up with me from the London area.

The Mission

The aim of Snowdonbuild 2 was to produce a web-based open energy monitoring system, using low cost wireless and wired sensors and adapt it to monitor and control renewable energy systems such as solar PV and solar thermal.

Trystan, Glyn and Suneil had already developed a system based on Arduino for their openenergymonitor project, and one of the aims of the build session was to further this development to incorporate some new hardware and to improve the web based monitoring.

We have used JeeNodes, Nanodes and Arduinos as the starting point of the hardware. Much of the preliminary work was getting these similar platforms to be compatible from a hardware perspective. This has involved a small change to the Nanode circuitry to make the selection of the ethernet controller compatible with that of JeeNodes. As a side point, the JeeNode ethernet implementation uses clever interaction between ethernet controller and wireless module, allowing them to share the microcontroller interrupt line.

OpenEnergyMonitor is an open source energy monitoring system originally based on Arduino hardware. Approximately 2 years into the project it has become apparent that the Arduino is not the ideal candidate and two new hardware platforms have been developed to better match the requirements of energy monitoring sensor networks.

The first of these is Glyn Hudson's EmonTX, which is a small, battery powered wireless sensor node, based on Arduino and Jeenodes but with the addition of connectors which allow the direct connection of current transformers (CTs), pulse counters and one-wire temperature sensors. With EmonTX, it is very easy to set up a wireless electricity monitoring system.

The second new piece of hardware was my Nanode board. This is essentially an Arduino look-alike which is network connected. At its simplest it provides a simple gateway to the internet for low cost sensor devices. It can be used with a mix of wired and wireless devices to provide the basis of remote sensing, monitoring and control projects.

Over the next few days we would develop extensions to the existing systems and try out new ideas and code - as well as have a relaxing week in the Snowdon hills.

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