Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Low Power Electronics


arcHUB

Tonight I was at the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner. We recently learned that the the  arcHUB Smart Cities device was a finalist for the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science. This award was presented tonight.

 Clean Up 2017

Clean Up 2017

The arcHUB Smart Cities device measures multiple data types that are useful for the management of Smart Cities including particulates, gases, micro-climate, pedestrian traffic, water level and supports a host of other sensor types.

Agilent Award 2017 Announced

Agilent Award 2017 Announced

The Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science presented during the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner.

arcHUB - Agilent Award Presentation

arcHUB – Agilent Award Presentation

The arcHUB Smart Cities device was runner up with the University of Newcastle winning the award.

arcHUB - Agilent Award Certificate

arcHUB – Agilent Award Certificate

Above we have Brian Oldland and Richard Dluzniak of The Active Reactor Company with Ray Keefe of Successful Endeavours at the CleanUp 2017 conference awards dinner with the award certificate as runner up for the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science 2017.

arcHUB - Agilent Award For Innovation In Analytical Science 2017 for Australia

arcHUB – Agilent Award For Innovation In Analytical Science 2017 for Australia

The arcHUB Smart Cities sensor suite is an excellent example of a designed in Australia, Made in Australia product with massive potential for environmental and Smart Cities monitoring throughout the world.

Agilent

Agilent

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science

We are pleased to announce that our client, The Active Reactor Company, are finalists in the Agilent Award for Innovation in Analytical Science 2017 this coming Tuesday 12 September 2017.

Agilent

Agilent

This is for the arcHUB Smart Cities device that measures multiple data types that are useful for the management of Smart Cities. The initial data set is:

  • wind speed (external anemometer attached)
  • sunlight level
  • night light level (street light monitoring etc)
  • temperature
  • PM2.5 particulate levels
  • PM10 particulate levels
  • Gases – CO, H2S, SO2, NO2, H2S
  • Humidity
  • People counting (PIR based anonymous counting)
  • Soil moisture levels (external probe)

It is also the HUB and coordinator of a Sensor Area Network that can include modules that can measure any of the above as well as:

  • vibration
  • shock
  • movement
  • water level
  • GPS location
  • USB charger current (for usage analysis)
  • counting any device or system that has a pulse output
  • analog voltage measurements (AC and DC)

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

The arcHUB is solar powered and includes a cellular modem to allow reporting back to a web service. It is designed to mount to a pole using straps but can easily be mounted to a wall or any other typical structure. A typical scenario is measurements every 15 minutes (except people or pulse counting which are continuous) and uploading to the web service every hour.

With the release of CAT-M1 services across Australia by Telstra, we are expecting migrate to this communications standard because it will reduce power consumption by at least a factor of 4 which will further improve battery life.

We are looking forward to the awards outcome on Tuesday night and wish The Active Reactor Company all the best.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Powering Telemetry

A big issue in the world of the Internet of Things, or IoT as it is abbreviated, is how to get power to remote devices. And this splits up into 2 separate but definitely related problems:

  • the power source
  • the power consumption

Obviously, if the power consumption is high, the power source has to be capable of providing a lot more power. We looked at this in our IoT – Remote Telemetry Case Study. So let’s tackle that one first.

And the focus for this article is remote devices using Solar Charging. Before we look at that specifically, let’s understand the problem.

Power Consumption

There are multiple ways to reduce power consumption. These were covered already in Reducing Power Consumption and Reduce Power While Awake with examples given in Sleep Saves Energy.

Low Power Sleep Mode

Low Power Sleep Mode

The short version of this is that you have to do 2 things at the same time:

  • reduce the average power that is consumed all the time
  • reduce the energy required to process an event

The first of these is also known as Quiescent Power Consumption. This is the power consumed just running the system when it is doing nothing, or close to it. At a minimum, the Power Supply has to deliver this amount of power just to make sure that we could react to an event, should it occur. And I can hear you thinking that it is hard to get this low enough and still have a responsive system.

Correct! But you have to have at least this amount of power or Game Over!

Which is where the second part comes in. You also need some power to respond to events. These can be something you need to log, or reports you need to post. If you are uploading to a web service using cellular communications, the peak power consumption can be very high. So you have to minimise this time.

We would normally model both of these and work out a power budget based on the worst case scenario model. Excel is a suitable tool for doing simple modelling of this as well as scenario modelling.

But I can hear you thinking “why worst case“? Answer: “Because you want it to always work, not just work on average“!

Telemetry

Telemetry means measurement at a distance or remote measurement. So you are measuring something at location A, and want to know the value of the measurement at location B. This implies the 2 locations are not close enough together that this is a trivial problem to solve.

In our world, Telemetry can mean anywhere on earth, though our customers are usually in Australia. In NASA’s world, (maybe world is the wrong term for them) it can be anywhere in the solar system. Voyager 1 is currently more than 18 billion Kilometers away and has been active for 40 years.

Artist's concept of Voyager in flight

Artist’s concept of Voyager in flight

The challenge for low power consumption, is how to get the measurement from location A back to location B?

Solar Charging

The NASA solution is simple. Near sun facilities are Solar Powered, and the rest use some form of nuclear power. Since no-one will ever let us nuclear power any Telemetry device, and I’m Okay with that, and we are near enough to see some sun, we will follow that option instead. And besides which, we can do it in our office and not a heavily shielded facility.

So lets recap on what we know about solar charging:

  • ignoring the energy cost of making a solar panel, the energy cost is free after that
  • there is a maintenance cost which includes cleaning panels
  • provided the construction is robust, they are a long life product
  • you have to do Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) to harvest the most energy or minimise the panel size

And to get more power from a solar panel, you have to:

  • have more sun
  • have a better angle to the sun (cosine reduction)
  • have a better MPPT
  • handle lower voltages
  • use the right silicon

Not all Solar Panels are equal. If you want you panel to work in a mostly shady place then you might also want to use mono-crystalline Silicon solar cells because they are efficient and can continue to convert even low levels of light. In recent developments the efficiency of conversion had passed 25% as reported in Efficiency of Silicon Solar Cells Climbs and some of the stacked cell technologies are past 40% efficiency.

compact solar cell

compact solar cell

And then you have to harvest that energy. Which is where new devices like the SPV1050 come in. Experiments in our office showed that we can charge a Lithium Polymer battery from the internal lighting. And it is a buck boost converter meaning that it can charge the battery in full sunlight (reducing voltage) and also moonlight (increasing voltage) and the device costs less that $2 in 1K pieces.

I only have on criticism. The super low quiescent current LDOs would have been more useful if they were fully independent because this would have taken another item off the Bill of Materials.

Primary Cells

The other option for Telemetry is using Primary Cells. These are not rechargeable and so must last the life of the product. We currently deploy Cellular based Telemetry modules that can run for up to 10 years from a Lithium Primary Cell or 5 years from Alkaline Primary Cells. This is ideal for Smart City style projects where the devices might be moved as they fulfill their current purpose. A good example of this is people metering or pedestrian counting where a council may want to know how much use an area is getting. Once that is understood, the Telemetry module can be redeployed and since it isn’t connected to mains power you don’t need an electrician to do that. Or they could be used to understand the level of demand of public transport services in real time so you can adjust capacity on the fly.

So there are options and as technologies like NB-IoT and CAT-M1 come online the power budget for cellular communications continues to fall. We covered this in Cellular IoT Communications. And as of last month, Telstra turned on CAT-M1 across the 4GX network.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Smart Cities

This follows on from our look at Smart Cities and the technology mix being considered for how you implement them. For this post we will look at the development of a Smart City Telemetry sensor suite and the ICT communications that go with it. This is also a classic IoT case study.

I also want to point out that a Smart World will only happen if we have Smart Regions, Smart Countries, Smart States or Territories, Smart Cities and Smart Neighbourhoods.

arcHUB

My thanks go to The Active Reactor Company for giving me permission to share their story about the development of the arcHUB Telemetry sensor suite which is aimed at the Smart Cities programs as well as being more widely deployable.

arcHub Telemetry Module

arcHub Telemetry Module Logo

A few days ago I had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Mulino who is the State Member for Eastern Victoria. The picture below comes from his visit to our office in Narre Warren. The original post he made along with my explanation is here. I’m giving a more detailed explanation below including some history.

Ray Keefe - arcHUB - Daniel Mulino

Ray Keefe – arcHUB – Daniel Mulino

For those wondering about the device I am holding, it is an arcHUB Smart Cities Telemetry module aimed at Smart Cities projects and environmental monitoring where you don’t have access to, or want the cost of, connecting up mains power. This is designed for The Active Reactor Company and is already involved in 1 Smart Cities deployment and multiple trials of low cost sensor modules by councils and government agencies in 3 states. I can’t yet provide specific details on those as they are covered by non-disclosure agreements.

To understand how we got here, it helps to know the history.

The Active Reactor Company make a product called The Active Reactor. It improves both the efficiency and the life of arc lamps such as low pressure sodium street lights, high pressure Sodium  and metal halide lamps.

The Active Reactor

The Active Reactor

With the advent of LED street lighting their current product is not needed for new installations and so they wanted to secure the future of the business. So a great example of addressing an issue that will arise in the future so you are ready for it rather than just reacting to it once it happens.

Initially the new product was aimed at monitoring LED street lights. One of the big issues with LED lighting is that the LEDs either fail over time or they fade and lose brightness. Or a mixture of both. The fading is a result thermal diffusion in the semiconductor substrate. When they fall by more than 30% then you have to address that as they no longer comply with legal standards for lighting levels. The other catch is that the claimed life of 10+ years isn’t yet proven and so it is expected that there will be many lights that fail early or fade early or both.

Of course, once you have a communicating device that can monitor one thing and report it, it can also monitor other things and report them as well. Plus there were issues with being allowed to monitor the light. And where would the power come? Their inquiries with authorities responsible for the poles would not give permission to tap the power in the pole or light.

So this set us the follow set of constraints to work within:

  • must be battery operated
  • easy to install
  • low cost to make and also run
  • communicate using the cheapest data transport
  • monitor the LED light at night and keep track of the brightness trend
  • send an alert when it is persistently out of specification
  • field life to match the street light (10+ years)

As The Active Reactor Company talked to target users (initially the same people who buy their current product) and got an idea of what they wanted, a very different picture emerged. The people who cared about LED street lighting, also cared about micro climates, and soil moisture levels, and air quality, and foot traffic, and …

So that lead to a change of direction and a look at what else was required. The result is a device aimed at the Smart Cities market that also suits a wide range of other end customers and has the following features you won’t find combined together in conventional devices:

  • battery operated (either solar charged or primary cells)
  • minimum 2 year battery life for standard AA cell alkaline batteries
  • 10+ day running time if solar charging is lost
  • up to 20 days on board non-volatile storage
  • compact form factor
  • multiple sensor types per node (up to 20)
  • sensor area network to minimise data costs
  • over the air firmware upgrades
  • over the air configuration updates
  • variable sample rates and upload timing
  • still has to be low cost to make and also run
  • easy to install

So here is the range of sensors already trialed:

  • wind speed (external anemometer attached)
  • sunlight level
  • night light level (street light monitoring etc)
  • temperature
  • PM2.5 particulate levels
  • PM10 particulate levels
  • Gasses – CO, H2S, SO2, NO2, H2S
  • Humidity
  • People counting (PIR based anonymous counting)
  • Soil moisture levels (external probe)

It is also the HUB and coordinator of a Sensor Area Network that can include modules that can measure any of the above as well as:

  • vibration
  • shock
  • movement
  • water level
  • GPS location
  • USB charger current (for usage analysis)
  • counting any device or system that has a pulse output
  • analog voltage measurements (AC and DC)
arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

arcHUB trial at Fitzroy Gardens

The arcHUB is solar powered and includes a cellular modem to allow reporting back to a web service. It is designed to mount to a pole using straps but can easily be mounted to a wall or any other typical structure. A typical scenario is measurements every 15 minutes (except people or pulse counting which are continuous) and uploading to the web service every hour.

With the release of CAT-M1 services across Australia by Telstra, we are expecting migrate to this communications standard because it will reduce power consumption by at least a factor of 4 which will further improve battery life.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

The arcHUB Peripheral Modules connect via 915MHz ISM Band communications and use standard AA batteries. They can run for between 2 and 5 years depending on what sensors are attached and how often they are read and reported. If you used primary lithium cells then you can expect life beyond 10 years.

The arcHUB Peripheral Modules are also capable of stand alone operation with the addition of an internally fitted cellular modem so you can have a portable people counter module that can be easily moved to a new location and doesn’t require an electrician to install it.

And pretty exciting to also announce that this is not only a designed in Australia product range, but it is also a made in Australia product range.

Again, my thanks to The Active Reactor Company for permission to share this story and if you want to know more, leave a comment and I will put you in touch with them.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Smart Cities

Smart City is a blending of current and emerging technologies being employed to allow a city to better manage its assets and deliver value to its residents. It is an emerging concept and still very much in exploration. The 2 core technology areas being investigated as the primary value creators are ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and the IoT (Internet of Things).

Smart City

Smart City

What isn’t fully understood is the relationships between any or all of the list below:

  • what is worth measuring?
  • how to measure it (what sensor, what platform)?
  • how often?
  • in what detail?
  • to learn what from?
  • how quickly to transport the reading?
  • how much will it cost to transport the data?
  • via what technologies?
  • stored how?
  • accessed how?
  • analysed how?

Quite a big list.

Did you know there is a Smart Cities Plan for Australia? I only recently found out. And if you read through it there are more questions than answers. Which I think is the right balance given where we are positioned in trying to understand what is possible versus what is useful.

Smart Cities Plan

Smart Cities Plan

There are some obvious areas already being tackled by ICT systems. These include:

  • transport logistics (road, rail, freight, air, sea)
  • public transport
  • utility services (gas, water, electricity, waste)
  • weather prediction
  • environmental monitoring

And there are a range of trials underway to try and understand what using a broader sensor mix and more widely deployed sensors might do to improve amenity, even if they aren’t all very high quality sensors. Again the questions come back to:

  • what sensors?
  • how many and where?
  • how accurate?
  • how much do they and their platform cost?
  • measured how often?
  • at what latency?
  • what to do with the data?
Smart Cities Segments

Smart Cities Segments

IoT Challenges

Although the Internet of Things (IoT) has a huge promise to live up to, there is a still a lot of confusion over how to go about it. This breaks up into 3 distinct areas.

IoT Hardware

The first is the IoT Hardware device that is deployed to the field. These come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, power profiles and capabilities. So we are seeing everything from full computing platform devices (Windows, Linux, Other) deployed as well as tiny resource constrained platforms such as Sensor Node devices. Examples of the later are Wimoto Motes and our own FLEXIO Telemetry devices which are OS-less Sensor Nodes.

The trade offs are between:

  • power consumption
  • power supply
  • always online versus post on a schedule or by exception
  • cost (device, data, installation, maintenance)
  • size
  • open standard versus proprietary
  • upgrade capable (over the air OTA firmware or software capability)
  • security

As of a month ago, the KPMG IoT Innovation Network reported there are 450 different IoT platforms available. And most don’t talk to each other. Many lock you in. Many only work with their specific hardware. So picking a hardware platform is only part of the challenge. And new products appear every week.

IoT Innovation Network

IoT Innovation Network

IoT Communications

The second area of challenge is the communications. Everyone is trying to get away from Cellular IoT Communications because the Telecommunications Companies pricing model has traditionally been higher than they want to pay, and because the power required means you need a much higher power budget. So there has been a push to find other options which has opened the way for players like LoRa and sigfox.

However the CAT-M1 and NB-IoT Telecommunications Standards mean that the pendulum could easily go back the other way. CAT-M1 reduces the data rate (no streaming video needed for most IoT devices) and changes the modulation scheme so you get a better range at a much lower power consumption. And unlike sigfox, you aren’t severely constrained on how much data you can move or how often. CAT-M1 has just gone live in Australia on the Telstra network and we are about to do our first trials.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

NB-IoT doesn’t yet have an official availability date but we aren’t too concerned about that. NB-IoT is really aimed at the smart meter market and similar devices which have low amounts of data and upload it infrequently. So a water meter running off battery for 10+ years is an example of what it is targeting. We will find CAT-M1 a lot more useful. And the modules that support CAT-M1 currently also support NB-IoT so we are designing now and can make the decision later.

IoT Back End

The third area of challenge is the back end. Pick the wrong data service and storage provider and you could find you don’t own your own data and you have to pay every time you want a report on it. And you can’t get at it to port it to another system. And if the volume of data grows the cost can grow even faster as many offer a low entry point but the pricing get expensive quickly once you exceed the first threshold.

Because of this there is an strongly emerging preference for open systems or for systems that do allow you to push and pull data as it suits you.

So our strategy to date has been to provide our own intermediate web service and then republish the data in the required format to suit the end user / client. The result is the best of both worlds. We can deploy resource constrained field devices which are low power and low cost, then communicate with high security and high cost platforms using the intermediate service to do the heavy lifting. And we don’t try and imprison the data and trap the client.

The service is called Telemetry Host and was a finalist for IT Application of the Year in Australia in 2015 at the Endeavour Awards. And again for the PACE Zenith Awards in both 2015 and 2016.

Telemetry Host

Telemetry Host

This isn’t the only approach and so we also create devices and incorporate protocols that allow them to directly connect to other systems. This includes porting our core IP to other URLs which are then owned by our clients. So far we haven’t found that one single approach suits every scenario.

Smart City

You can’t be smart if you don’t know anything. And this is certainly true for Smart Cities. To be a Smart City requires Sensors and Telemetry. But the jury is still out on how much and what kind.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In AustraliaRay Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

LPWAN = Low Power Wide Area Network

LPWAN is typically thought about as cellular data networks but that involves a contradiction since cellular and low power are inherently in conflict with each other. For instance, a standard 3G or 4G cellular modem will have a peak current draw of up to 2A during transmission and needs to be carefully power managed if running from batteries. This has meant that a 10 year operating life from a primary cell battery either needs a huge primary cell or very infrequent communications. So what are the alternatives?

In IoT Versus M2M we looked at how the real benefit of IoT (Internet of Things) is that rather than a single Machine to Machine link being established, there are now multiple devices connected via shared web services and their combined data is being used to create extra value, and particularly if Big Data analytics is added to the mix.

SigFox Logo

SigFox Logo

LoRa Alliance

LoRa Alliance

There is also a lot of potential disruption in this. LoRa and SigFox are both looking to provide lower cost networks to replace dependency on cellular network operators for coverage and also address the power consumption problem. There is an excellent comparison of these 2 systems in SigFox versus LoRa. And both are trying to disrupt existing cellular network providers. An overall view at available at NB-IoT versus LoRa versus SigFox.

NB-IoT

Which introduces Narrow Band IoT or NB-IoT as it is now commonly abbreviated to. Just to continue the confusion of acronyms, it is also called CAT-NB and CAT-NB1. There is a detailed view of this technology and its likely long term adoption at NB-Iot is dead – Long live NB-IoT.

The summary is that NB-IoT is too late to market and requires too much equipment changeover to win the early adopter market, especially in the USA, but will win in the long term. In the interim there is a host of other options also being developed. The cellular network operators have realised, at least 5 years too late, that their business and technology models were both under attack simultaneously. This is a particularly dangerous form of disruption.

Hardware is now becoming available and China adoption of NB-IoT makes them the  main early adopter market.

 

Quectel BC95 NB-IoT Module

Quectel BC95 NB-IoT Module

u-blox SARA-N2 NB-IoT Module

u-blox SARA-N2 NB-IoT Module

Low Power Cellular

So if up until now, low power and cellular were not usually compatible concepts, what is changing to address that?

To reduce power consumption, you have to have one or more of the following:

  • reduce transmit power
  • increase receiver sensitivity
  • reduce transmit duration
  • increase transmit interval
  • reduce network registration time
  • reduce data rate

Some of these can be mutually exclusive. However the key elements that are working together is to reduce the data rate and use a modulation scheme that means the transmitter power can be reduced. LoRa does this very well and NB-IoT is looking to achieve a similar thing. There are trade-offs and the lower data rate for NB-IoT means it is best suited to very small packets. CAT-M1 will require less power for larger packets because the faster data rate means the transmit time is a lot shorter.

Low Cost Cellular

So we have looked at the power consumption angle. How about cost and business model. And there are 2 aspects to cost. There is the hardware cost and there is a the network operations cost. To reduce cost you have to do one or more of the following:

  • reduce silicon and software protocol stack complexity
  • high volume production allows economies of scale for hardware
  • increase the number of channels available in the network
  • increase the number of simultaneous connections in the network
  • reduce margins

Both SigFox and NB-IoT aim to make the end device hardware cost as low as possible. In the case of NB-IoT and CAT-M1 the channel bandwidth can be reduced and so the same bandwidth can support multiple devices instead of just one. The power level in the device transmitter is reduced by reducing the bandwidth and data rate. As an example, a CAT-M1 module has a peak transmitter current draw of 500mA which is a factor of 4 lower than CAT-1. So low cost and low power can go together very well.

The graph below shows how the various cellular standards relate to each other.

Cellular IoT standards and how they relate

Cellular IoT standards and how they relate

IoT Deployment Options

We have been using standard 3G/4G Cellular modems for our broadly distributed IoT offerings. As of the end of this month, we ship our first CAT-1 based offerings. These have the advantage of supporting both 4G with fall back to 3G. Although NB-IoT hardware is available now from both Quectel and u-blox, the networks in Australia don’t yet support it. And while NB-IoT is ideal for fixed location assets, we also do mobile systems so these need to be CAT-M1 once it is available.

CAT-M1 is expected to be available in Australia on the Telstra network around September 2017. I am also taking this as meaning that NB-IoT is 2018 or possibly even longer. So we plan to move to CAT-M1 as soon as it is available. The modules are expected to be available about the same time as the network upgrades.

Here are some CAT-1 and CAT-M1 offerings from Quectel and u-blox.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel EC21 CAT-1 Module

Quectel EC21 CAT-1 Module

The Quectel EC21 is what we are deploying in our units later this month.

u-blox LARA-R2 CAT-1 Module

u-blox LARA-R2 CAT-1 Module

 

u-blox SARA-R404M CAT-M1 Module

u-blox SARA-R404M CAT-M1 Module

IoT Network Upgrades

Ericsson have announced the roll out plans for the Telstra Network CAT-M1 capability.

And Telstra have announced their own Telstra IoT Network Plans.

This is the overall Telstra road map. Summary:
CAT-1 now
CAT-M1 by September
NB-IoT sometime after that but no dates yet

Other carriers will follow although Vodafone are well placed to introduce NB-IoT first as they have Software Defined Radio base stations from Huawei and so can roll it out as a software update.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Outdoor Positioning Systems

We have all become very used to the idea that a phone or car can know where it is using GPS or one of the equivalent satellite based positioning systems. And it gets better all the time. Modern chips can get you down to centimeters under ideal conditions.

But have also all had the experience when we go indoors and the position information disappears.

So is there a solution for that?

Indoor Positioning Systems

It turns out there is. Or at least, there a quite a few. They all have their drawbacks and most require you to add technology to the indoor area to get it working. Lets do a quick survey to see what Indoor Positioning Systems are out there.

GPS Repeaters

GPS Repeater

GPS Repeater

The first one is using GPS indoors. If you have a high enough roof you can put a GPS repeater on it and project the satellite reception into the building and suddenly GPS works inside the building. We use exactly this technique when needing to test a GPS device inside our building. See GPS Repeaters for one example product.

Radio Beacons

This covers a very wide range of technologies, of which Bluetooth Beacons are the current industry trend. And they can work either way. You can wear the beacon and the receiver track you and use your RSSI to calculate your position, or you have the receiver and monitor the beacons to achieve the same result.

Bluetooth Smart Beacon

Bluetooth Beacon

Increasingly these systems are being used for applications like tracking patients in hospitals and residents in retirement villages.

WPS WiFi Positioning System

You have a WiFi network, so you can use the network as a WiFi Positioning System or WPS. This is similar to the Radio Beacon system and uses the RSSI from your device to the WiFi Access Points.

Dead Reckoning

This uses Inertial Navigation components to keep track of your distance and direction from a known point. It is usually used in conjunction with another system such as GPS outdoors and Dead Reckoning in tunnels to keep an accurate estimate of a vehicles position on a map. And low cost MEMs based devices are now available to provide Inertial Navigation readings.

MEMS Accelerometer

MEMS Accelerometer

The weakness is the double integration of the signals leads to noise accumulation and the accuracy of the position estimate decreases over time.

IR Techniques

These vary a lot. From a sea of emitters overhead to give a location grid to emitters firing down row and aisles in warehouses and even corner emitters firing angle encoded signals picked up and decoded using sine rule mathematics.

IR Angle Emitter

IR Angle Emitter

The image above is a system we design in 2006 to do angle based IR location detection in GPS blind spots for container handling equipment. This was capable of locating equipment to within 0.5m.

Time of Flight

This allows you to more accurately work out the distance from the emitter to the receiver but requires very precise timing in both.

Magnet Field Monitoring

This is an obvious one, but most modern smart phones have a compass in them. The usually aren’t a very good compassand that can make this option not viable. However if you do have a good enough compass, you can use local disortions on the magnetic field due to steel structures in a building to estimate your location.

Indoor Position Conclusion

And of course, you can use a combination of the above to meet the specific requirement you have. As usual, the classic trade offs apply. These are:

  • accuracy
  • cost
  • size
  • battery life

For some addition insights check out 10 things you need to know about Indoor Positioning.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

IoT Security

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a pivotal component of the future and is driving initiatives from Smart Cities through Ubiquitous Computing and Augmented Reality. Of course the next step up from Smart Cities is a Smarter Planet. But we aren’t at Smart Cities yet.

An enabling technology like IoT can also have roadblocks to adoption. The principal ones being addressed now are:

  • power consumption
  • cost of goods
  • size
  • security

The biggest issue right now is IoT Security. Recent DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks have used IoT Devices as the attack launchers. They are being selected because many have weaker security than fully fledged computing devices.

DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service

DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service

In a recent article on IEEE Spectrum on the Path to IoT Security it is argued that IoT Manufacturers must take responsibility and not leave it up to end users. There is also a role of industry standards however no clear set of standards have yet been agreed. So although 2016 is the Year of IoT, with this being the single biggest category of product shipped, it is still very early days where things like IoT Security and IoT Interoperability are concerned.

IoT Security versus Software Security

This is not a new dilemma. Software Security is always important and it becomes increasingly important as Internet Communicating IoT Devices become more widespread. One apparent assumption underlying all this is that an IoT Device must be a fully IP Stack capable platform. That is not necessarily the case. In the video I shared about our Water Metering Remote Telemetry project one thing I didn’t mention is that the data stream is all driven from the IoT Device. There is nothing to log into. You can’t patch it with a Windows, Linux or other OS patch to override its function. It is not capable of being used in a DDoS attack because you can’t get to anything in it that can do that. So it is inherently secure against that form of risk.

Internet of Things Cconnectivity

Internet of Things Connectivity

However there are other risks. Nick Hunn has an insightful piece on Wireless Security for IoT where he argues that we are declaring security is present while having no evidence of proving it. That article is a little dated but the basic tenets still seem to apply. Just because a manufacturer or industry alliance states they have addressed security, it doesn’t make it automatically true.

So IoT Security is Software Security with the added component of protecting the physical hardware.

IoT Security in the Future

We still don’t have standards, so for now, individual device manufacturers and alliance members will need to ensure they have adequate security out of the box. The level of security required is determined by the importance of the data, either its security against unauthorised access, or its integrity against falsification. And at the asset level, its proof against either being disabled or used as an attack vector.

As an example, I am personally not so concerned if a hacker can find out how much electricity use my smart meter is reporting. Unless they get time of day usage and can correlate with other data sources to work out in advance when we aren’t home so they can rob us. My energy provider probably cares more about this data for all its customers coming into a competitors hands. Or maybe not. But I do care that I don’t get an outrageous bill because they were able to send fake data for my account to a server.

And energy grid managers care about usage data and Smart Meter appliance management being used to crash an entire electricity grid!

In the case of the Water Metering Remote Telemetry project I care that it remains online and working because otherwise someone will have to travel a long way to fix it. We have a facility in Gilgandra that is 892Km away as the crow flies. It will take a full day to get there and then another to back again. So I want it to be proof against some hacker disabling its communication ability. Since it has a physical antenna, I do care about that being hard to break. So some of these devices are put above normal reach and everything is inside a secure plastic case including the antenna. And our customer wants to know the reported water usage is correct. This means no missing data, and no incorrect data. They use the data to bill their customers.

One simple way to mess up data is a Replay Attack. If you can intercept and copy a data transmission, then you can play back that transmission any time you want to. You don’t even have to understand the content, the encryption, anything. Simply capture a HTTP POST or GET and replay it. Why does this matter? Because if the data transmitted is the volume of water used since the last report, then every time you play it back, you add to someone’s water bill. Or you distort the level of water the system believes is in a tank or reservoir. You can protect against these attacks in a number of ways but you have to consider the need to protect against them first of all.

There is a large volume of material on this topic. Here are some additional articles you might find useful for broadening your perspective on this topic:

I’m sure you won’t find it hard to search out a lot more articles. Just consider this. Once it has an Internet connection, any device can access anywhere in the world. And most firewalls protect against incoming attacks. A corrupted device on the inside can get out any time it wants to.

Internet of Things Global Reach

Internet of Things Global Reach

And if you want a really interesting view of what this could be like 10 years from now, I recommend reading Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge. Enjoy. And this isn’t my first reference to this book because I think it is fairly prescient in its exploration of a most probable future.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Wearables started when?

The buzz technology of the past 18 months has been Wearables which is short for Wearable Technology. So when exactly did Wearable Technology begin? Like most overnight successes, it started a long time ago. Below is an infographic from http://www.visualcapitalist.com/the-history-of-wearable-technology/ that is an excellent overview of the topic, with some notable exceptions I will address after you peruse it. I selected it because it covers right up to this moment.

Wearable Tech History Infographic

Wearable Tech History Infographic

They got eyeglasses right but missed the other most successful wearable device of all time, the wristwatch. The first true wristwatch was made for the Queen of Naples in 1810 although arm watches date back to 1571. Neither were widely used because the mechanisms were prone to jamming and sensitive to ingress and so needed to be protected. So pocket watches and pendant watches dominated the scene. It wasn’t until the 1880s that artillery officers found it awkward to hold the watch and do their aiming and started strapping them to their wrists. This gave them visibility of the time when they needed without occupying one of their hands. The trend took off and by the early 1900s watch designs were modified to suit attachment to the wrist via a strap using lugs on the case. The age of the wristwatch was upon us.

So by this period, eye glasses if you needed them, and wristwatches or pocket watches, were widely adopted.

Wearable Computing Devices

So when were the first Wearable Computing devices? If you paid careful attention to the infographic, you might have noticed the Abacus Ring. Dated in the early 1600s this was definitely a computing device, just not an electronic one. It was a great aid to merchants of the day.

Abacus Ring - 1600s

Abacus Ring – 1600s

The first wearable electronics computing device to be widely sold was the Casio Calculator Watch which was released in the mid-1970s. Take up of portable music players and headsets were a bigger trend kicked off by the Sony Walkman at the end of that same decade.

It wasn’t until Bluetooth headsets emerged in the early 2000s that we had another mass adoption of Wearable Technology followed by the explosion of MP3 players and Apple’s massively successful iPod range.

Sports trackers start emerging from 2006 but it isn’t until Fitbit finally got their product into production that they really take off from 2009 onward. Fitbit almost didn’t make it commercially because the technology was really hard to make work and even harder to make. Today they have 70% of the activity tracker market but there are a plenty of new players now they have proven the market potential.

And wearable computers got a huge lift with the Google Glass project kicking off in 2012. It raised a plethora of issues, not the least of which was privacy. Although the product was discontinued by Google in January 2015, it took the debate on augmented reality and its issues forward.

Google Glass Tear Down

Google Glass Tear Down

The Year of the Wearable

Which brings us to 2014: declared the “Year of the Wearable”. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear wrist communications device from late 2013 had finally eclipsed Dick Tracey and the wrist communicator of the 1930s cartoon series. The explosion of product offerings has continued into 2015 with the much anticipated Apple Watch now released. And a whole new host of communications support accessories. Another growth area is pet management. As the technology gets more accessible to smaller companies we can expect this to continue covering the full range of possible options including:

  • Augmented reality
  • Medical monitoring and health support
  • Activity and lifestyle management
  • Pet management
  • Home automation
  • Communications and communications support
  • Computing devices of all types

There really isn’t an end to where this can go. It is up to companies to deliver real value to end users in order to define the bounds of what makes commercial sense. The technology is still hard to do but as more products get to market, more companies learn the techniques needed to be successful at super low power worn devices and the whole application area continues to progress.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

State iAwards 2016

The state iAwards for 2016 are done and dusted and Skynanny has received a merit award, this time in the consumer product category. Here is a copy of the announcement.

VIC

Consumer – Merit Recipient

SKY NANNY – Nuguy Nominees Pty Ltd t/as SKY NANNY

SkyNanny is a child safety product built for parents by parents. It is a device worn by a child in his/her clothing which is paired to the parent’s mobile phone. Its more than just a location device. SkyNanny will prevent your child from going missing in the first place.

View the skynanny website

Now they are off to the National iAwards where the winners will be announced at a gala dinner on 1 September 2016.

Our congratulations go to Skynanny and also our thanks or having been involved in the development of such a useful product. In 2015 they were merit award recipients for the New Product category.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2016 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

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