Tag Archives: MIT Technology Review

SigFox plans Silicon Valley IoT cellular network

Writing for MIT’s Technology Review, Tom Simonite confirms that SigFox plans on building a cellular network for the rapidly growing Internet of Things (IoT) in San Francisco later this year. 

According to SigFox, the wireless network is intended to make it cheap and practical to link anything to the Internet, including smoke detectors, dog collars, bicycle locks and water pipes.

“If you want to get to billions of connections like that, you require a completely new type of network,” Luke D’Arcy, director of SigFox’s operations in the US, told the publication.

As Simonite notes, the Silicon Valley network is slated to leverage the unlicensed 915-megahertz spectrum band typical used by cordless phones.

“Objects connected to SigFox’s network can operate at very low power but will be able to transmit at only 100 bits per second—slower by a factor of 1,000 than the networks that serve smartphones. But that could be enough for many applications,” he explains. 

”A SigFox base station can serve a radius of tens of kilometers in the countryside and five kilometers in urban areas. To connect to the network, a device will need a $1 or $2 wireless chip that’s compatible, and customers will pay about $1 in service charges per year per device.”

It should be noted that French startup SigFox recently showcased its Atmel-powered global cellular connectivity solution for the IoT at the Atmel booth during Embedded World 2014 in Nuremberg, Germany.

According to company rep Jacques Husser, SigFox-ready devices connect to the Internet without any geographically dependent connectivity costs or location-specific network configuration. The worldwide connectivity solution is managed through the Sigfox Network Operator partnership program, effectively linking local ecosystems to the global network.

That is why, says Husser, the phrase “one network, a billion dreams” has become the company’s slogan. 

Indeed, SigFox utilizes UNB (Ultra Narrow Band) radio technology to connect devices to its global network. The use of UNB is key to providing a scalable, high-capacity network, with very low energy consumption, while maintaining a simple and easy to rollout star-based cell infrastructure.

 The network operates in the globally available ISM bands (license-free frequency bands) and co-exists in these frequencies with other radio technologies – without any risk of collisions or capacity problems.

SigFox currently uses the most popular European ISM band on 868MHz (as defined by ETSI and CEPT), along with 902MHz in the USA (as defined by the FCC), depending on specific regional regulations.

SigFox secures communications in a number of ways, including anti-replay, message scrambling and sequencing. Perhaps most importantly, only the device vendors understand the actual data exchanged between the device and the IT systems. Simply put, Sigfox acts as a transport channel, pushing the data towards the customer’s IT system.

Interested in learning more about Sigfox? You can check out the official company website here.

This drone is powered by an Arduino and smartphone

Researchers at the Vienna University of Technology are using a Samsung Galaxy S II smartphone paired with an [Atmel based] Arduino board as the brains behind a small, inexpensive drone dubbed the SmartCopter.

Annette Mossel, a graduate student behind the project, told Rachel Metz of the MIT Technology Review that the ‘copter is envisioned as an inexpensive, autonomous, unmanned aerial vehicle capable of surveying disaster zones. Indeed, harnessing a smartphone as the processing unit cuts costs and makes it easier to update the drone’s software. Excluding the phone, the copter cost approximately 300 euros ($412) to build.

“We wanted to keep the costs low and build our ‘copter based on open hardware approaches,” Mossel told the publication. “We don’t think, ‘Okay, in a year we will make a company and turn it into a product. But I think it’s pretty possible for all of us who are working on it.”

According to Mossel, one of the biggest challenges the researchers faced was determining how the drone could navigate without activating using the phone’s built-in GPS, as the technology is only accurate to within 26 feet.

“The group’s first prototype solved this challenge in a fairly low-tech way: by detecting paper markers that had been set up in the area the drone needed to track,” Metz explained. “An app on the smartphone tells the drone to lift itself to a predetermined height, from which it starts looking for the markers. Each time it finds a new marker, it is added to the drone’s map.”

The software is currently capable of determining the drone’s position by analyzing markers and evaluating sensory input from the smartphone’s accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer. If there are no new markers to be found, the drone hovers and awaits new instructions from a remote laptop monitoring its flight. The drone can also be programmed to land in a specific spot once its job is completed.

So what else does Mossel envision for the SmartCopter? A wide range of use cases, including inspecting the condition of walls and ceilings, analyzing open rooms in churches and museums, as well as helping shoppers navigate malls.

Interested in learning more about the SmartCopter? You can check out the project’s official page here.