Tag Archives: XBee

Turning foggy air into a reliable water source


FogFinder is a system that generates a new renewable water source for communities, and relies on Arduino and XBee to get the job done. 


Alright, so it may not be possible to create water out of thin air. However, with a bit of engineering, scientists in Chile are turning foggy air into a reliable water source for nearby residents. The process is almost entirely natural: the sun desalinates the water, the winds push the water to a higher elevation, and gravity allows the collected water to flow back down to the village.

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Using large fog collectors, which consist of mesh mounted on a rigid structure, to capture impacting fog water droplets from the air and tapping into the natural processes mentioned above, fog collection could be an economical way to gather and distribute clean water.

The fog collectors are typically installed on hillsides and remote areas where fog is abundant. These installations are especially common in arid climates in Chile where rain runs scarce. As fog passes through, the droplets impact the mesh fibers and collect in a trough below. One of the real challenges and opportunities for innovation lies in determining where to install these collectors, how to orient them, and understanding how efficient they are at collecting water from the air.

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While at the Universidad de los Andes in Santiago Chile, Richard LeBoeuf, Associate Professor at Tarleton State University, and Juan de Dios Rivera, of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, developed a new type of sensor called the “Liquid Water Flux Probe” to measure the availability of water at current and potential fog collector sites. The sensor measures the liquid water content and speed of the fog and can be used to understand the optimal location and orientation for each of the collectors.

The sensor is part of a larger system called FogFinder, which Richard LeBoeuf developed in collaboration with Juan Pablo Vargas and Jorge Gómez at the Universidad de los Andes. Together they designed and engineered the solution, which includes wireless networking.

With the primary challenge of measuring fog liquid water flux out of the way, the team needed to design a device capable of being deployed in extremely remote environments and easily retrieve sensor data. Since there is no power source to plug into out in the desert, the options are either solar or wind power. Due to their simplicity, a separate solar power system, comprised of a solar panel, battery, and charge controller, is used in conjunction with the FogFinder unit.

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To facilitate the collection and transmission of sensor data, the team chose to build the foundation of FogFinder with Arduino and XBee. Both components offered a fast and easy way to get started prototyping the design. Each sensor node is comprised of an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) and XBee module, and the team even designed and built custom boards to regulate voltage, interface the sensors and store data on a microSD card.

The node gathers data on liquid water flux, humidity, temperature, flow-rate from fog collectors, pressure, wind speed, as well as wind direction.

The team settled on using XBee for local wireless communication since it provided greater range and required less power than Bluetooth. The ZigBee protocol also offers the flexibility to create a mesh network and configuration settings to conserve power-saving valuable battery life. With external antennas and mountain top to mountain top placement of each radio, they have achieved a reliable 1 km link.

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Once the data is collected, it’s sent to a remote server over a cellular network. Using a BeagleBone SBC and a cellular modem, data is taken from the local XBee ZigBee network and can be accessed on a remote computer. This information is then analyzed to assess the performance of the fog collector.

What’s next for FogFinder? As the team wraps up the prototyping stage, they’ll be conducting calibration in a wind tunnel to prepare for field tests.  Once the testing phase is complete, the team will work to deploy them as part of a pilot program and start connecting more Chilean residents to a clean source of water.

Those wishing to learn more about the project can follow along here.

Measuring the heartbeat of wetlands with Arduino and XBee


A team of National Geographic explorers are connecting the Okavango Delta to the Internet of Things.


Drones capable of detecting illegal logging in the Amazon Rainforest. Sensor networks to help research the dwindling honeybee population. Smart solar-powered waste collection. This is all happening today thanks to the Internet of Things. Joining that growing list of applications is the latest project from a group of National Geographic explorers. Over the summer, the researchers are taking a 1,000-mile journey down Africa’s Okavango River in an effort to collect environmental data, discover new species and measure the heartbeat of one of the most remote wetlands in the world. How, you ask? With the help of Arduino, Raspberry Pi and the XBee ZigBee network.

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Located in Botswana, the Okavango Delta is one of the last pristine wetland wildernesses in the world. Although it is protected as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the water supply further upstream in Angola and Namibia is still susceptible to human interference. And so, National Geographic’s Okavango Expedition assembled a team of scientists and engineers to gather data along the river so that conservation efforts can be more effective, raise awareness and ensure that this remote wildlife sanctuary can be enjoyed for generations to come.

Since the delta itself stretches a vast 5,800-square-miles, the researchers needed to find a way to efficiently gather data across the entire area. Being such a remote location presented a few challenges, which required additional considerations like weatherproof equipment, power sources, and more importantly, how to network the sensors.

In order to accomplish this, the expedition’s lead technologist Shah Selbe created a wireless sensor network to significantly reduce the amount of manual labor required by the team to accumulate the environmental data. Now, they no longer have to use pH strips or manually check sensor readings, then record it by hand onto paper. Instead, the wireless network automates this processing by accurately collating the information.

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“Shah took us from little strips and pieces of paper – writing down the water quality as we go down – to environmental sensor platforms. We’re going to be measuring the literal heartbeat of that wilderness in real-time for the world to see,” says Steve Boyes, National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

At the heart of each network lies a Raspberry Pi running a Python script. This central hub processes the data generated from multiple remote nodes and acts as a Wi-Fi gateway. The data is then directly uploaded to the web server using JSON. In some particularly remote areas, Arduino nodes are employed to relay data using the Twilio API over a cellular network. These nodes are comprised of an Arduino, multiple sensors and an XBee module, which makes it possible to connect over long distances. For power, the remote nodes rely on a solar panel and a 6600 mAH battery.

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An assortment of sensors are being deployed throughout the delta, with hopes of garnering various water quality data like pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity and conductivity. The team is also seeking to better understand flood dynamics by monitoring flow rate, water level and turbidity. On the surface, sensors measure air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and in the future the researchers plan to add sensors to detect radiation and other air pollutants. Aside from all that, they are even streaming GPS location, research observations, wildlife sightings, photos and more in real-time on their website.

As the XBee crew reveals, this is merely the first phase of the project. Continuously monitoring the delta will enable the National Geographic explorers to detect even the most minute changes in water quality. The project will also be open source, so the conservation effort can reach and preserve as many marine habitats as possible.

“Instead of connected toasters and thermostats, we can have connected forests and wetlands,” Selbe explains.

Intrigued? You can read more about the project on Digi’s original post here, or check out Selbe’s own writeup.

[Images: Shah Selbe, Digi]

NASA uses Arduino and XBee to test de-orbitting technology


“That’s one small step for XBee, one giant leap for wireless.”


As you may know, NASA successfully launched the Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket carrying two space technology demonstration projects back on July 7th. The spacecraft conveyed the Radial Core Heat Spreader from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, along with the SOAREX-8 Exo-Brake Flight Test from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

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What you may not know is that, aboard the rocket, was an Arduino and a few XBees. Researchers had been exploring the use of Exo-Brake technology, an exo-atmospheric passive braking device that could eventually enable small samples to be returned fairly rapidly from an orbital platform, like the International Space Station. Accomplishing this requires exploiting the exosphere by deploying a drogue parachute with an area of about 10-square-feet per 2.2-pounds of satellite.

“We were able to send commands and receive data to and from the satellite via the onboard modem using only a laptop and email account. This capability may greatly benefit the entire nanosatellite community.” Marcus Murbach of NASA’s Ames Research Center recently explained.

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As part of the program to determine potential applications of wireless technologies in space, NASA selected the combination of XBee ZigBee modules, an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) and an Iridium module to create a network to reliably gather critical data. The XBee was employed to collect the sensor data including temperature, air pressure and three-axis acceleration parameters, while the Arduino was tasked with managing communications between the local XBee wireless network and the long-range Iridium satellite uplink.

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“Wireless sensor technology allows measuring important parameters such as aerodynamic pressure and temperature at the apex of the Exo-Brake during re-entry. It is very difficult to instrument a deployable parachute like the Exo-Brake, and wireless sensor modules provide the means for this type of measurement where it is difficult to run wires,” added NASA computer engineer Rick Alena.

Seeing as this was the XBee network’s first trip to space, its team had to capture the moment on video. The folks at Digi have been kind enough to share it, so you can watch it below! Those wishing to learn more about the Exo-Brake can do so here.

Maker creates an installation that reacts to his Tourette’s Syndrome


One Maker built an elaborate installation comprised of plywood, plastic and Arduino that reacts to his Tourette’s Syndrome.


For many, art can be an excellent way to express themselves. Some would even say their inspiration comes from within. Putting quite the literal spin on that adage is Andrew Frueh, who has used his latest art project to share his Tourette’s Syndrome with the world. With the help of 3D printing and Arduino, the Maker has designed an interactive installation out of plywood and plastic components that reacts to his sudden movements.

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Tourette’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary motions and vocalizations called tics, something that Frueh experiences all too often. This is the premise behind his project called Echo of Motionwhich explores how human gestures are recorded and translated into actions within a system, and how one’s interaction affects the behavior of that system.

“Digital technology allows us to extend our sense of self beyond the limits of our physical body and to manifest our desires virtually. But as we take position to control the interface, we execute our gestures like a puppet for the enjoyment of the system. And it is our interaction that gives the system meaning. Without our puppet input, the system is alone,” Frueh writes.

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The project consists of two parts: a person and a complex mechanical machine comprised of wood dowels, laser-cut plywood, a ball-chain, some gear motors, cables, 3D-printed parts, and various nuts and bolts. The structure is actuated by a control box lying on the floor, which contains an Arduino board and an XBee wireless radio that communicates with a corresponding Arduino-radio combination worn by the individual.

The board adorned to the chest utilizes data from four accelerometers embedded within the person’s clothing — one for each limb. As the participant stands inside the installation, his or her sudden movements are interpreted by the wearable chip and relayed to the device on the floor. This enables the machine to accurately mimic the tics.

Intrigued? Head over to the Maker’s official page here, or watch the impressive project in action below.

This Arduino-compatible board makes it easy to automate your home


This versatile, AVR-based board allows users to easily program their own home automation systems.


Though the number of smart home devices continue to rise, a number of consumers still remain a bit hesitant in shelling out the big bucks to automate their homes. Instead, many Makers have already begun to devise connected in-house gadgets using easy-to-use platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. With this in mind, one Miami-based startup has launched a Kickstarter campaign for an ATmega328P based board that looks to help streamline the process for Makers looking to install home automations of their own using the Arduino IDE.

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Created by the GarageLab team, the aptly-named Automation Board packs a wide range of features including relay triggering, Wi-Fi, Internet connectivity, various sensors, as well as RS-485 communication. The extremely versatile platform is entirely compatible with the Arduino Uno, and offers all of the necessary resources one would require to create a smart home system.

With its power source soldered onto the unit itself, the device is charged from the electrical grid with voltages between 100 to 240VAC and 50-60Hz, making it adaptable to any grid around the globe. It also has four relays to trigger alarms, electronic locks, fans, lamps or any other compatible load.

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Knowing all too well that connecting sensors can be a tedious task for Makers, the Automation Board was designed to expedite the process. Meaning, the pins that are ready to link to a sensor can be either digital or analog, and include 5V and ground. This lets users attach several kinds of sensors, ranging from an IR sensor to create communication with a TV remote or motion to trigger an alarm.

Similar to the incredibly popular Arduino platform, the Automation Board offers tremendous expandability through the use of shields. What’s more, the platform allows for RS-485 connection, ideal for applications in industrial automation systems or in settings with electromagnetic interference. It should be pointed out that users will be able to utilize spcific programs to integrate with existing professionals systems as well.

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Through its dedicated headers for XBee modules, Makers will be able to connect as many Automation Boards as they wish to a network. Beyond that, they can wirelessly communicate with a PC via a simple XBee Dongle USB, or even access their automation system over the web using a SparkFun WiFly module.

“In order to make your system even more versatile, we’ve created this ‘Sidekick’ board as a very interesting accessory. It’s compact and can be powered directly from the electrical grid as it has connectors for XBee and 2 relays,” the GarageLab crew writes. “This board can be controlled by signals sent from an Automation Board, allowing it to trigger distant loads through a wireless network. You will be able to use as many ‘Sidekicks’ as you wish, triggering several charges in a same wireless installation.”

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Are you thinking of using an Arduino to automate your home? Hurry over to the Automation Board’s Kickstarter campaign, where the GarageLab team is currently seeking $3,000. Delivery is expected to begin in August 2015.

Build your own K-9 robotic companion


Relive the days of Doctor Who by creating your own K-9 replica with Arduino, XBee and SparkFun.


For those who may not be familiar with Doctor Who, K-9 was the name of the steadfast companion in the long-running British science fiction TV series. In these stories, the robotic dog proved useful for the powerful laser weapon concealed in his nose, his encyclopedic knowledge, his vast computer intelligence, among many other things. In fact, the character still holds a special place in the hearts of the show’s rabid fan base, just ask Maker “MrBithead942.”

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“I’ve been a Whovian for many years and the 4th Doctor (Tom Baker) will always be my favorite. There are many reasons including his playful quirkiness, colorful scarf, his fondness for Jelly Babies, but definitely K-9, his robot dog companion,” the Maker writes. “30+ years later, I finally built up the courage and skills (and funds) to try to build a replica K-9 for my own and I’m really happy with the results!”

In total, MrBithead942’s project took just about four months to build entirely from scratch. The replica’s shell is comprised of the a light, bendable and easy-to-machine plastic HPDE, which required a custom plastic bender to get the angles just right. The rest of the body was made up of various custom laser-cut parts.

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K-9’s frame consists of an aluminum channel, which houses several electronic components including an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) and an XBee shield tasked with handling the remote voice, eye sensors, a few RGB LED strips, and in true Doctor Who fashion, a laser on its nose. An additional Arduino is also paired with an Adafruit motor shield to control the linear actuator for the neck movement, while a Raspberry Pi drives its built-in LCD screen.

Beyond that, the Maker’s very own robotic dog is radio controlled, made possible through the use of a SparkFun Fio (ATmega32U4) attached to another XBee, a 16×2 LCD, a 1000mAH rechargeable LiPo battery, and a few other components to help keep the robot on its wireless leash. Meanwhile, an Adafruit Class D Amp circuit was used to boost the signal of an embedded MP3 module for voice playback.

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Aside from just remote-controlled movements, the DIY canine sidekick features triggered playback of 12 different voices and sound clips from the original TV series, glowing red eyes, a movable head and power switches along its back.

Intrigued? Relive your Doctor Who days by checking out the entire project here, or watching it in action below.

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Orbis is a steampunk-inspired kinetic sculpture


Maker meshes wood and electronics to create an innovative piece of artwork.


Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen a number of impressive installations that fused both traditional art and modern-day technology in pretty slick ways. Added to that growing list is Orbis, the brainchild of Long Island-based Maker Guido Bonelli, who many of you may recall from last year’s Kickstarter campaign for his Arduino debugging tool, Dr.Duino.

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The concept for the wooden kinetic and lighting sculpture all began after Bonelli was commissioned by a client to find some truly unique artwork that would serve as the focal piece of their home. Upon conducting a search for a dynamic piece to adorn his own walls, the Maker realized that there wasn’t anything available today that truly met either his or his client’s needs. And so the idea of Orbis was conceived, coalescing a classic wooden look with electronics in a simple yet extremely imaginative manner.

The installation, which mounts to the wall like any other form of art, will surely capture the attention of anyone in the room as it spins to life and emits a series of bright, color-chaning lights. In addition, the client requested a separate control box that would allow visitors to interact with the kinetic sculpture themselves. The steampunk-like installation is powered through some custom firmware and a pair of independent Arduino Mega 2560 boards (ATmega2560) — one lies underneath Orbis itself, the other housed in the control box that communicates via a pair of Xbee modules. The device is also equipped with several potentiometers, which let a user do things like control its LEDs and the speed of the motor.

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In order to create the unique kinetic sculpture and control box, custom 3D models were meticulously developed and tested. Once the client approved of the initial design, the relevant files were emailed to a laser wood cutting service, with each piece subsequently hand stained and carefully assembled.

Orbis is capable of displaying nearly 16 million various colors, and features six distinct control modes of operation which are selected via a rotary phone dial. Two of the operation modes enable the user to take direct control over the installation.

Fascinated? You’ll not only want to watch it in action below, but may want to head over to its official page here.