Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nanode RF - what it's all about

Since 2005 there has been a huge growth in popularity of small microcontroller boards amongst the hobby-tech community.

This growth has largely been fuelled by the open source Arduino - a simple board, originally produced to help teach students about physical computing. There is an excellent article from Wired Magazine documenting the meteoric rise of this product and the team behind it.

The Arduino hardware is little more than a low cost microcontroller, on a credit card sized pcb, with the necessary support circuits around it to allow it to be programmed from a laptop via a USB cable. There is nothing really innovative in this - but it is the software package that is downloaded from the web and supports Arduino that is the real power of this little processor.

The Arduino IDE (integrated design environment) is a set of open source software tools which allow you to easily write new programs to run on the microcontroller - and perfform a variety of tasks - such as sense the analogue world, generate pretty displays from LEDs or control model toys and robots. In fact the uses for Arduino are virtually unbounded - and a huge wealth of new applications are being generated by the Arduino enthusiasts around the world.

The wonderful thing about open source hardware is that it has the momentum of a community behind it - and from the original Arduino, there have been hundreds of spin-off products, all based on the basic Arduino design implementation and software - and as Arduino evolves, so do all the products following it.

Nanode RF is one such product based on the Arduino design. It shares the same choice of microcontroller, and so is software compatible with the Arduino IDE - but it adds a few more features which greatly increases the functional capabilities.

1. It adds an ethernet interface allowing Nanode to connect to the internet and send and receive data to and from the web.

2. It has an on-board wireless transceiver, which allows it to communicate at distances of several tens of metres with other gadgets fitted with a compatible wireless transceiver.

3. It has a serial port which connects to a laptop through a programming cable which allows new programs to be written to the device

4. It has extra memory in the form of RAM and a removable microSD card

5. A real time clock chip ensures that tasks can be scheduled to happen at specific times and dates.

Primarily, Nanode RF can act as a bridge between the internet and remote wireless devices - perhaps best illustrated with an example.

I have a greenhouse in my garden about 50m from the house, and I wish to monitor the temperature, sunlight intensity, soil moisture and CO2 levels to make sure I have the best growing conditions for my tomato plants. If necesary, I wish to open or close the roof vent, or draw some blinds or activate an automatic watering system - to keep the growing conditions optimum. And moreover - I want to do these things, remotely from my office - about 30 miles away, or indeed from anywhere in the world.

Within the greenhouse we have one device fitted with temperature, humidity, soil moisture light and CO2 sensors - plus some actuators or relays to start and stop the pump of the watering system and open and close the vent and roof-blinds. This specialised version of Nanode is called the remote node. It may be one of several similar devices all of which are monitoring things around the home and garden. A weather-station might be another suitable application, or domestic energy monitoring, or the control and monitoring of your solar heating panels and central heating system for the winter months. These tasks are all within the capabilities of Nanode RF.

So each remote node can send and receive data wirelessly to a central basestation. Think of this as being like a portable DECT handset which can communicate with a fixed basestation which is plugged into the telephone line.

However with Nanode RF we are not commmunicating speech - but simple short packets of data pertaining to whatever is being monitored. These are conveyed back to the Nanode RF basestation, which has an internet connection. TheNanode RF can then transfer this data to web based applications that can be accessed anywhere through a web browser - on a laptop, smartphone or whatever.

Data can travel in either direction - so if you want to remotely start your automatic watering system, a click on a browser button initiates a command which is passed to the Nanode RF basestation. It then broadcasts a message to the remote node and that starts up the irrigation system.

Remote nodes may also send data to one another - rather like using the intercom function on a DECT handset. Some nodes may be fitted with liquid crystal graphic displays - so that they can locally display information that is being generated, or even data that has been sourced elsewhere and conveyed via the web and a wireless link. One such display has been produced by Open Energy Monitor - and is used to display domestic energy consumption.


arteq said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
arteq said...

Where I find shematics of NanodeRF ?