Category Archives: Maker

Internet of Things? Not as it is marketed

Prototype of an IoT project based on ArduinoAs I’m trying to prototype some sensors which I will then use around my home to monitor events and perhaps also react on them, I’ve been a bit more looking at the Internet of Things (aka IoT) trend. So here is my opinion on IoT in regards to personal home automation.

And to start franckly, I think the use of IoT for home automation is idiotic. It is my view that current companies in this field understood IoT as being online, in the cloud, whereas I thought it was about to be based on network standards (such as those used on the internet) for improved interoperability. Why is it needed to make it “internet” connected (collected)? It really does not need to be on the internet, IoT just needs the local network access and standard communication stack!

I think the monitoring elements, the storage of this data, the analysis and control systems, and the actuators should all be local, in house. If an actuator needs data from the Internet or in the end calling an internet service it’s still possible even if it stays local. There is absolutely no advantage to have all this in a “cloud”, this is only to the benefits of ad agency and other agencies which can use your data to better “monitor” you!

And having an IoT brings many challenges: data transmission, congestion, storage, latency, security, privacy, etc. some of those are mentioned in this article I found on Twitter today. But this article is also oriented towards other usage for IoT than in the house. (Note that if you’re used to build M&C – Monitoring and Control – systems, you will not be surprised by this article content, these are classical challenges in M&C domain).

From my perspective and when used within a house, my decentralized approach to IoT (without cloud or external internet services) is not subject (to the same extent) to most of the challenges presented in this article.

I also think that data retention for a house is really limited (e.g. only the latest status for a window/door open state sensor; maybe up to a week/month of data from a temperature sensor; etc.) so storage of data is not challenging.

Latency is also not such a problem. Only few actuators in a home would require immediate response (e.g. so called “smart lock”). For other sensors the reporting of new data could be cyclic (with long update cycles such as once every 15 minutes) or on change (with big thresholds) because latency is of such lower priority.

Raspberry Pi 2 box with Logo (a raspberry)I therefore think a device as simple as a Raspberry Pi 2 is perfectly suited to be the core element of a Home Automation system. It has enough processing power, storage capacity, interfaces capabilities to be the host of all the gathering of monitored data, their processing and analysis, and of all actuators. And it can easily use internet services (if need be) thanks to its network interface.

If one day I find the need to have access to my home automation system, it will be simply done from my mobile via VPN or router configuration.

As a conclusion you can find consolidated here my opinion regarding IoT and Home Automation:

  • On premise: the data should not leave the house, processing and controlling should be done at home;
  • No Cloud: this is the corollary to my previous point. The data belong to us and shall be kept private. Pushing them to the cloud add complexity, risks with no benefits;
  • Open standards: communication and interoperability are paramount for the success of IoT. Adding a new IoT device should be easy; and
  • Short data lifespan: no need to keep tracks of IoT data for long periods. Most of it is interesting only the moment it changes and then can be forgotten.

The Best Companion to my Raspberry Pi

I got recently a companion for my Raspberry Pi.

A photo of a Arduino Uno R3

An Arduino Uno R3 – The 1 € coin is given for size comparison.

My goal is to use it to prototype something I want to make: a small network of temperature and humidity sensors running for months on batteries.

Why? First because I can (I need to learn a lot first regarding electronic or microcontrollers, but I’m sure I can). Second because we have add a few problems with humidity in our basement and I want to be able to have a better idea when this is happening to find a proper solution. My idea would be to correlate the measurements to others done externally and which would include more environmental data (e.g. pressure and amount of rain) and if possible with some events (e.g. gutters are overflowing water).

I already started the prototyping based on a tutorial from Adafruit – a Wifi Weather Station. The results works well as one could expect. So I validated my first part: yes I can do some basic electronic and microcontroller programming, the Raspberry Pi is doing the web server side.

My Prototype Environmental Sensor (WiFi based) v0.1

My Prototype Environmental Sensor (WiFi based) v0.1

A Simple Monitoring Web App (from Adafruit tutorial)

A Simple Monitoring Web App (from Adafruit tutorial)

The next step is reprogramming the microcontroller to push data periodically using plain UDP and either a Graphite, Statsd or Fluentd syntax. This would be pushed to a multicast address which my Raspberry Pi would listen to, it would run the Graphite/Statsd/Fluentd stack (I’m going to start with Graphite alone and see how good it is). I want to keep historical data of at least one month, perhaps even a bit more and to be able to visualise the data in real time.

Once this is done, then I want to get rid of the WiFi module and use a transceiver in the 433 or 868 MHz band (I’m in Europe). The Raspberry Pi will be the gateway between this radio-protocol and the more standard computer network stack. So I would need to adapt whatever I had chosen for stack on my Raspberry Pi to be able to cope with the new type of input. Either I contribute to a project if it is well architectured, or I build a bridge interface.

Final step of the prototyping will be to go low power. I’ve already approximately calculated how long I could run on 2 AA rechargeable batteries with the latest Arduino prototype and my “guestimates” is that it won’t last more than a week (probably less). So far from ideal. The solution is to build your own “Arduino”, meaning taking the microcontroller only (plus a few required components for it to run) and the needed components for the sensor. It seems that the power draw from the battery in this case would be sub mA. So I should be able to run many months on a 2 AA batteries :-)