Getting physical projects to talk to the Internet can be tricky. Students making Networked Objects have always had tons of choices, but each with a significant downside:
- Embedded Ethernet modules like the XPort and Wiznet Shields cost about $40 and tether your project to a thick cable.
- Embedded WiFi modules like the WiPort and MatchPort cost $70 – $120 and require extensive manual configuration each time they change networks
- Cell phone modules start at around $150 – $270, require intricate plug converters, a detailed setup and of course a SIM card and data services
- Bluetooth connections require an individually paired base station like a laptop or cell phone within less than 30 feet, and frequently don’t even stay in that pairing
Now each of these methods has an upside too. Ethernet is fast and reliable, WiFi easily found, cell modules can connect from anywhere and Bluetooth has a zippy data rate and a smart-looking logo. But I’ve always thought it would be great if you could just attach a microcontroller to a cheap radio and hit the Internet wirelessly with a simple URL. No thick cable, no tricky setup, no IP address management, no encryption configuration, no data plan and no pairing.
The ZigBee* Internet Gateway I’m developing at ITP aims to accomplish just that. Students link their radio to the Gateway, then simply print a URL to the serial port and wait for the results to come back from the Internet. Each radio costs as little as $19. Using Digi’s ConnectPort X2 as a base, I’m developing code in Python that processes these requests in a way that’s simple and open to everyone. This afternoon I installed a beta test unit for my Networked Objects class to try out. Right now it supports HTTP and HTTPS requests, with plans to expand to email, FTP and XBee I/O direct formats if there’s a demand for that. I’ve started a basic documentation page for the ITP community and will publish the Gateway code when it comes out of beta.
ITPers who are interested in testing should contact me.