Internet of Things – an IoT network for Reading

This has happened quicker than I expected! Having finished a big and wonderful project a week and a half ago I decided that one of the things I’d like to tinker with, see if I can get involved with… was the Internet of Things, or IoT as the cool kids say.

I found myself front of stage last night, giving a talk on IoT and launching a project to build a free to use wireless network across the Reading area so that people like us can connect our Things to the Internet.

Mark on stage at Reading Geek Night, 10 Nov
Getting excited at Reading Geek Night

The talk went really well – the audience was engaged and generous enough to let my enthusiasm trump my rather loose grasp of the specifics:

Audience member: “What bandwidth does it use?”

Me: “I’ve no idea – but it’s free and you don’t need a licence” …and what I hope is a winning smile to mask that I’m not entirely certain what bandwidth IS, let alone which one it uses!

Another audience member: “It uses 868MHz” …and then more useful detail on the actual rules – thanks Mike!

In a nutshell

The idea is to replicate what has already been done in Amsterdam. A group of people got together an built a LoraWAN wireless data network that spans the whole of Amsterdam. It cost them just €12k, and now anyone, any community group, any school, any entrepreneur can build and connect their IoT devices to the network for FREE.

In Amsterdam it is being used today to manage the Port of Amsterdam; locating your bicycle (and keeping it safe); sending owners an SMS alert if water is detected on their boat; monitoring office environments; and many other smaller initiatives.

Reading is a third of the area of Amsterdam, so we need fewer devices and the costs have come down.

This is an absolute no-brainer – we should build a network in Reading, right now – who’s with me? Sign up here

Things to connect to the Internet

If you have read a few articles on the IoT you may have noticed an escalation in the number of connected devices people are estimating will be connected to the Internet by 2020. I’ve seen figures range from 10 to 50 billion connected devices. I’ve no idea which number is more accurate – my guess is that nobody else really knows either, but we can probably all agree that there will be A LOT.

So what is a Thing? Generally when people are talking about Things, they mean some combination of sensor, actuator, maybe a microprocessor, wired up to a radio transceiver. Sensors measure things like temperature, moisture, pollution, light, motion. Actuators do something like open a garage, turn on a light, open a lock.

Here’s a Thing:

Photoresistor, XBee on a breadboard
My Thing – a light sensor connected to a radio transceiver

It’s a very simple thing – I made it myself, can you tell?! It needs a 3v DC power source, or a couple of AA batteries. It measures light through the sensor (a photoresistor) on the left, and uses the XBee radio transceiver to send the measurement to my laptop. My laptop is running a program which shows how light or dark the sensor is – and if it hits a threshold (too light or dark) then it sends a Tweet to let me know.

Here I am demonstrating it last night – it works!

Mark demonstrating the Thing at reading Geek Night
Shining a light on the sensor makes the circle on the screen glow brighter

If you are interested, a copy of the code is below. I wrote it using a language called Processing which I learned about on Monday, with the help of Codasign and a couple of tutorials on the Processing site.

This Thing uses ZigBee wireless technology which has a maximum range of 100m – fine for around the house or factory, but too limiting for a Smart City. LoraWAN technology is perfect – it has a maximum range of 15km – so realistically we would only need a handful of gateways to cover Reading.

Gateways to the Internet

A full IoT network looks something like this:

End nodes (sensors) connect to Gateways connected to Network Server connected to Apps
A LoraWAN network

A Things Network for Reading is the collection of Gateways located across the area. They look a bit like your WiFi box at home – rectangular, book sized, with an antenna poking up. …or at least they do if you buy a ready-made one for £400 or so. You can make your own for under £200 too – as ever there is an online tutorial.

…so the IoT adventures are just beginning. I’m off to Amsterdam to meet the guys over there in a couple of weeks. Please get in touch if you want to join in – living in Reading is not mandatory!

Links

My presentation slides (PDF)
Video of the presentation (to follow)
The Things Network Reading community site
The Things Network Amsterdam – this is TTN HQ and there is lots of info here
Loriot.io – great page all about LoraWAN end devices and gateways
Processing language – easy to learn, originally designed for creatives
My Processing code for the Thing above that tweets and glows (zipped files)

2 Comments

  1. Your talk last night was extremely inspiring, especially in terms of a grassroots, community-engagement approach to establishing an IoT here in Reading. The technology is really new and your excitement on the cusp of it is infectious… I have spent all day thinking about which devices I could create and connect to an IoT and how this technology could be placed in the hands of the people of Reading rather than distributed in a top-down manner from some kind of service provider (who would charge for it).

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