The BBC News interviewed me live, explaining the Digi technology behind YesYesNo’s Connecting Light art installation for London Festival 2012’s Cultural Olympiad. We’re on the edge of a craggy cliff about halfway along the installation of 400 huge interactive weather balloons that are illuminated in different colors by text messages sent from people around the world. I’m explaining how Programmable XBees and the iDigi Device Cloud make that possible. And although you don’t see them in the live shot, we are entirely surrounded by sheep:
Here’s how the Connecting Light system is created from Digi equipment for the 73-mile-long installation of 400 giant illuminated balloons on Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. The huge network will go live tonight for an crowd expected to bring traffic along the 80-mile World Heritage site to a crawl as thousands of spectators flock to the interactive event. Connecting Light is a perfect example of a large-scale system for centrally controlling remote devices—the same advanced infrastructure that hospitals use to monitor patient ventilators, infusion pumps or dialysis machines, and that forward-thinking power utilities use to network their entire grid.
The technology required for Connecting Light was assembled by Digi Professional Services—my same colleagues who network dynamic message signs along highways, smart thermostats for utility networks and positive train control systems for railroads. Putting all these different devices online is arguably the next big revolution for the Internet. Organizations are starting to demand visibility to their remote assets along with centralized control for everything out in the field as their competitors begin benefitting from the systems currently being put in place. It’s an exciting time to be involved with this stuff!
The diagram above shows how Programmable XBees, ConnectPort GSM mobile routers and the iDigi Device Cloud all work together to form a reliable backbone behind a breathtaking artwork that spans England’s coasts.It is also available as a PDF.
This week I’m heading to Newcastle upon Tyne in the U.K. for Connecting Light, 400 giant illuminated balloons that will cross England coast to coast along Hadrian’s Wall, a 2000-year-old Roman barrier. This will be my first exposure to 73-mile-long art! The interactive installation was networked with help from me and Digi using Programmable XBees and the venerable iDigi Device Cloud. Connecting Light was conceived and built by my friends at the YesYesNo collective, including artists Zach Lieberman and Molmol Kuo. You can see it in person in the U.K., or watch it online the evenings of August 31 and September 1st.
This video shows them testing it few weeks ago, along the New York City waterfront:
You want your project noticed? Nobody can ignore a hyperactive cymbal-playing chimp that creates a cacophony of sound when triggered over the Internet. Inspired as always by Tom Igoe’s Making Things Talk, we hooked this toy terror up to an XBee radio, creating a wireless alarm that grabs the ear as well as the eye and the heart. From the project instructions on the Digi Examples site:
By pairing an XBee with your percussive primate, you create an unmistakable alarm that gets immediate attention. It’s a first-rate way to present alerts that cannot be ignored. Web server down? Customer service queue climbing beyond your comfort? Kids ignoring their chores? This easy hack will put a monkey on their back, and he won’t let go until the warning is heeded!
Check out the ape alert in action in its video below:
We’ve given you a number of XBee Examples—coins, words, lamps, buttons scents and dials. Here’s one that’s just about numbers. A 7-Segment Numeric Display connected to an XBee radio can show any digit or letter from zero to Z. Now your project can count, spell and impress. Here’s how we put it on the site:
The XBee directly drives a simple numeric display, and that’s often all a project needs. With a simple 7-segment numeric display you can showhow many, how much, which one or when with precision. It’s a snap to display numbers wirelessly with an XBee radio.
Now you can create a counter that shows how far away Friday is, display your current Amazon or Yelp ratings, show the current flight landing at O’Hare or keep an eye on the temperature in your restaurant’s walk-in freezer.
Check out this video to see if any number is special to me:
If it plugs into the wall you can turn it on and off with an XBee radio. Switch lights and appliances on or off wirelessly, even over the Internet! Matt Richardson shows you the ropes in the latest XBee Example: Control of AC Devices. He writes:
Hobby electronics projects usually work at low voltages and with direct current. But what if you want to control your lamps, TVs, or blenders, which operate at higher voltage with alternating current? Situations like this call for a relay, which let you use low current to open and close circuits on high voltage devices. Using the 3.3 volt digital output of the XBee connected to a relay, we can wirelessly control high voltage AC devices.
His example uses the popular PowerSwitch Tail or you can also use a Digi Smart Plug in much the same way. Either method creates worldwide controls for interior lighting, office devices, country homes or commercial equipment. Switch off your lights after your leave for the night or fire up your regional warehouse’s backup air conditioners to save your inventory. If it sounds interesting you could start building a prototype today!
By pairing the XBee with a scent dispenser, you can create ambient alerts that notify a whole area without making any noise or needing anyone to look at them! This is a terrific way to present information that builds over time. Not meeting your corporate power-saving goals today? A whiff of pine can remind your co-workers to think green. Are sales spiking? Perhaps the smell of cinnamon warns your workforce that the website is getting slow. Or maybe surf’s up at the beach and a the fragrance of ocean breeze pervading your home could change your afternoon plans. It’s a whole new way to interact with information!
Words are how humans communicate. An inexpensive LCD text display can be the most economical way to make your project talk to people, and it’s easy to make a wireless one with an XBee radio.
Build this example using an LCD with a serial backpack, like this one from Adafruit, or this one from Sparkfun for inexpensive wireless text output. It’s the fastest way for your project to gain human communications!
Now you can create a Twitter display for your office door, prototype a quiz game toy that teaches math, or add interactive instructions to your automated greenhouse watering system. This LCD-enabled XBee is a great way to make the things you make talk to people!
Join a joystick to your XBee radio for a terrific way to add movement to your projects, sending anything you like in different directions. You can achieve full wireless control of household robots, industrial equipment, safety cameras…even stratosphere-seeking weather balloons. Set about inventing a new class of cat toys or create a new way to interact with museum exhibits. Maybe you’d like to make an interactive lawn sprinkler that waters your name in the grass? Here’s a terrific way to control it! This tutorial walks you through the easy way to connect an Adafruit Small Arcade Joystick to your XBee.
The video below shows the joystick connected to a group of four wireless LEDs. You might want to try controlling stepper motors to create directional movement, orchestrating water pumps into a casino-style fountain or harvesting crops from the comfort of your porch swing. Start building one today!
Want to impress your date? Make a muscle measuring love meter! Or perhaps you’re a business genius and prefer to quantify your cash. Either way, you’ve got to have a panel meter to indicate your achievements. The latest tutorial from Digi’s XBee Examples & Guides shows all the steps for creating a wireless readout. You’ll push your project’s needle towards “11.” It’s also great for giving your device a retro feel. More on that from the site:
As the world of technology becomes increasingly digital, the nostalgia for older analog technology grows. The panel meter is a great piece of analog technology that can be easily integrated into your projects. And thanks to the XBee 802.15.4 radio’s digital to analog converter, you can make a wireless panel meter with only a few components.
This video demonstrates the panel meter in operation, using a light sensor to control its movements. You could also monitor remote radiation, track the temperature in refrigerated trucks or keep an eye on your favorite stock by connecting it to the Internet with the XIG. Go ahed, make yourself a meter!