Faludi Speaks on Embedded.fm

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Elicia White

Elicia White

I spent a fun hour the other day talking with Elicia White on her podcast, Embedded.fm: The Show for People Who Love Gadgets. We chatted about XBees, ZigBee, my book, sensors, data science and more. I had just come from visiting NASA, so I even got to explain a bit about how they are putting XBees in Space.

Elicia is an embedded systems consultant at Logical Elegance. She wrote the book Making Embedded Systems for O’Reilly, works at PARC and interviews like a pro. The episode is called: “Make us All Into Sherlock Holmes.”

Have a listen:

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XBees in Space

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xbee-in-spaceNASA’s Ames Research Center is putting the first ZigBee radio network into space! XBee radios will form a prototype telemetry system on a NASA Soarex sounding rocket launching this coming January, 2015.

The NASA sounding rocket will journey into space around 200 miles above the earth, run experiments and then return ballistically into the Atlantic Ocean. The on-spacecraft ZigBee network will be used to monitor a new parachute-like exo-brake that will be deployed for testing hypersonic braking in the thin upper-atmosphere. Exo-brakes are being tested for returning samples from Earth orbit, and for slowing landers on other planets like Mars where the atmosphere is much thinner than Earth’s.

soarex-7_launch

Soarex launch

A three-node XBee ZigBee network will be used to monitor the exo-brake performance so that no wires need to be added to the device. The nodes will monitor six different acceleration parameters as well as overall temperature and air pressure. Future wireless networks may be used to monitoring the spacecraft structure itself. This network can also be made available to other experiments on the same flight to route their telemetry to an Iridium radio that transmits all the data via satellite back to Earth. This last link is essential because the sounding rocket will not be recovered intact. Like Laika the Soviet Space Dog, NASA’s XBees are taking a one way trip for the benefit of science.

Wireless networks on spacecraft are a new idea. Traditionally all onboard connections use physical cabling. This adds weight, complexity and the need for extra fuel. Because aerospace is a necessarily conservative endeavor, new technologies are typically introduced slowly. Therefore rather than just taking everything wireless all at once, ZigBee is being tested first on missions where the higher risk of new tech is acceptable. After successful trials the systems should be proven enough to go into a hardening process before being incorporated into more critical projects where risks must be kept to a minimum.

Arduino-XBee-NASA

XBee Arduino prototypesc

Modern NASA programs are mandated to avoid the expense of creating custom hardware when viable alternatives are available commercially. Experimental systems like wireless networks for spacecraft are also started on shoestring budgets, often assisted by student engineers. Therefore everything on this ZigBee project is being prototyped using off-the-shelf maker components such as Arduino boards, adapter shields from SparkFun Electronics and XBee ZB radio modules from Digi International. XBee was selected because it is easy to incorporate with Arduino, well-documented and readily commercially available.

Soarex-Payload-Area

Soarex payload bays

The system is being designed with a little help from my Building Wireless Sensor Networks book, and a lot of expertise from the NASA team. If this first test goes well, the next version will be more customized and could include the Programmable XBee or even the XBee Plus Arduino board that I’ve been prototyping over the last few months.

The project team at NASA includes Richard Alena and Thom Stone, who have written papers including ”Fault tolerance in ZigBee networks” and “ZigBee – A Smart, Viable, Wireless Architecture for Spacecraft Avionics.”

 

Here’s video from a prior launch of the Soarex rocket that will carry XBee radios where no XBee has gone before:

Toward a Theory of Clothing

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journal.pone.0102772.g001There are a multitude of unsolved mysteries left for science to tackle. We don’t know where life came from or whether it exists elsewhere in the universe. We’re not even sure what most of the universe is made of. But all the more amazing to me are how many everyday phenomenon are not fully understood. We don’t know why we sleep. We don’t entirely know what moves the continents. We don’t even understand our own clothing. It’s true. What you’re wearing right now, we don’t know why you chose it, cannot predict what you will wear tomorrow, or even explain exactly what you are accomplishing by wearing it. Science lacks any ”Theory of Clothing.”

That doesnt mean we’re totally in the dark. We know that we use clothing to regulate body temperature. It seems obvious that it’s involved in social signaling, otherwise we’d fully relinquish our duds in warm weather. But good luck finding a textbook that explains how that social signaling works, why we often dress at odds with temperature regulation or the empirically derived purpose of neckties. An astronomer can easily tell you what phase the moon will be in on July 24th, 2097, but nobody can accurately predict what your sister will wear tomorrow. That’s kind of fantastic.

And it’s not like a theory of clothing is esoteric. The world apparel market is worth some $1.7 trillion yearly and about 75 million people are involved in making those clothes(ref). Shouldn’t we know why they do that? And wouldn’t it be handy for a trillion dollar industry to have some method for forecasting demand? Because right now it’s partially done by designers looking at rocks in their pockets. We can do better.

Here’s an article that takes an opening stab at the problem. Kurt Gray, Peter Schmitt, Nina Strohminger and Karim S. Kassam’s recently published “The Science of Style: In Fashion, Colors Should Match Only Moderately.” If you don’t like reading scientific articles, it’s pretty well digested on Slate.

The article’s findings—that clothing should match, but not too much—include equations and a graph. This is fantastic not because graphs and equations are themselves fantastic (though they are), but because someone is finally asking structured questions about what all this fabric is doing around our bodies. And asking in a way that tries to make predictions. Because these styles must mean something, and something pretty important considering we’re spending 1.7 trillion dollars to drape them around us. “Wearables” are all the rage with tech writers and venture capitalists, but how can we make great wearables until we know what and why we wear things in the first place? A theory of clothing could do that.

Is anyone else in science studying clothes? I’d love to hear about it.

New LilyPad XBee

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LilyPad XBee radioThe LilyPad XBee sew-in wearable radio created by myself and Kate Hartman just got an update to add a reset button and improve its manufacturability. This board can be paired with LilyPad wearable sensors, custom built sensors and a variety of output devices to create a complete wireless wearable system. Available from Sparkfun for just $14.95 with discounts available for larger quantities. Get yours today!

 

LilyPad XBee frontLilyPad XBee sideLilyPad XBee back

 

 

Botanicalls on Smithsonian Channel’s Amazing Plants

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Botanicalls was recently featured in the Smithsonian Channel’s “Amazing Plants” documentary. There’s even beauty shots of the Arduino and XBee radio components!

Also here’s the segment, filmed all the way back in 2007:

Botanicalls Smithsonian Channel Amazing Plants

Digi Employee Hackathon: XBee Wi-Fi Visits Logroño

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logrono-lie-detect-robFor the latest Digi Hackathon, I headed overseas to hold our first ever creative construction event at Digi’s office in Logroño, Spain. Using XBee WiFi Cloud Kits, the four teams hacked away for what was the most competitive session yet. In a matter of hours, each team had to quickly brainstorm, build, and present their cloud-connected projects. Their results were terrific.

Projects included:

  • The Garbage M.A.N.: Smart garbage containers monitoring for smart cities
  • Germinator Plus: An automated system for remote greenhouse seed germination monitoring.
  • Lie-Detect-o-Meter: A mobile battery-operated wristband lie detector for public questioning.
  • The Smart Plug-Y-Play: A power consumption monitor and remote control for computers and other electrical appliances.

Read more and see pictures on the Digi blog.

Digi Employee Hackathon: XBee Wi-Fi Cloud Kit

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Hack10

Last week, we held a Digi Employee Hackathon to put the new XBee Wi-Fi Cloud Kit to the test. This is one of several ways we are working on designing outstanding user experiences for new Digi products. With the kits, the teams were able to build projects that connected with the cloud right away. One team member reported, “I got from the box to the cloud in under 20 minutes.” Using the kit’s dashboard, new widgets were  developed to whimsically represent data being collected by Device Cloud. Rain, food safety and even child development were addressed by our project teams.

I’m looking forward to doing more of these internal hackathons in the coming year. They’re fun!

Read more about this hackathon on the Digi Blog.

Digi Tracks Shuttles for 100,000 at Dreamforce

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ConnectedShuttles

 

We just connected 100,000 Dreamforce conference attendees with 60 shuttle busses, tracking them over hundreds of miles of San Francisco area routes. And it worked perfectly! Digi’s Etherios division teamed up with the Dreamforce folks to provide attendees with real-time information on the status and location of the shuttle buses they use to get around to different event locations and to Bay Area hotels. It’s a great example of the Internet of Things coming to life and creating real-world value for a business and its customers.
Attendees used the Dreamforce Mobile Application to quickly map where their next bus was along with arrival and departure timesThe Etherios Cloud Connector running on an Android platform acquired GPS location data from each shuttle. Next, Verizon Wireless sponsored mobile connectivity to Device Cloud, which then used the Social Machine from the Salesforce App Exchange to gateway the Connected Shuttles, their data, reporting, alarms, processes and resolutions into Salesforce. Mapbox provided all the wonderful maps.
100,000 attendees tracked the 60 coaches, displayed their routes, stops, movement, arrivals and departures over the course of the entire event. In addition we streamed all the data to the Dreamforce Transportation Command Center for dispatch and assignment, along with proactive monitoring of the system’s battery levels, charge states, whether any shuttle was off-route, the spacing between them and so forth.

Etherios and the Connected Shuttles were promoted in the Dreamforce Live recorded series:

Some results…
  • Every attendee knew where every shuttle was, all the time
  • Informed attendees were happier customers, helping Salesforce demonstrate their commitment to being a customer company
  • Any issues with the transportation system could be addressed prior to customer impact
  • The event managers and transportation providers could keep an eye on quality of services and performance
  • Dreamforce and Salesforce maintained situational awareness over the entire system
  • And 100,000 people got where they wanted to go!

Here’s screenshots of the application and some photos from the event:

Faludi on NOVA Next “To Automate Everything”

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NOVA-next-logoI’m quoted this week on the NOVA web site in a well-done NOVA-next summary piece by Alison Bruzek’s about the Internet of Things. It’s called “To Automate Everything, Solve These Three Challenges“:

…Connected devices are just beginning to slip into homes, from smart thermostats to apps that unlock your door without a key…as the internet of things is poised to remake our homes and offices, it’s facing perhaps its most critical test: adoption by the average consumer. The intelligent future promised by entrepreneurs won’t catch on if those devices can’t connect to each other automatically, lack intuitive programmability, or aren’t appealing designed. If they fail at any one of these, automating our homes may be more trouble than its worth.

nova-next-lamps-image

I argue that this intelligent future won’t arrive as some brave new world of scary robots, descending on us en masse. And you certainly won’t bring it all home in one bag.

The best, easiest-to-use smart objects will likely look no different than devices we use today, Faludi points out. “A big chunk of this will just be baked into things that we buy,” he says. “You won’t buy an ‘internet of things.’

Read more of the article online on the NOVA web site .

Maker Faire: XBee Wi-Fi Cloud Kit Wins Editor’s Choice

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IMG_4249

The new XBee Wi-Fi Cloud Kit won an Editor’s Choice award at Maker Faire NYC! My team at Digi International has been hard at work all summer bringing together this modular kit to help users  create XBee Wi-Fi connected devices for the Internet of Things. There’s a development board with all kinds of input and output components plus modular widgets to make building online web interfaces for seeing data and controlling devices a snap. The kit gets online right out of the box, and contains additional loose components to help you create your own circuits and wire them to the web. Look for an XBee Wi-Fi Cloud Kit release in November.

We also showed off the beta of Digi’s XCTU configuration tool and presented “Make it Awesome: How to Internet-Enable Your Project.” Here’s some more photos from our fabulous weekend at Maker Faire NYC:

IMG_4218 IMG_4221 IMG_4229

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2013-09-22 12.01.04 2013-09-21-11.10.05 IMG_4249