The technological singularity is the point at which the rapid advancement in technological infrastructure will become so fast that predicting the future is impossible. Maybe we haven’t reached the singularity yet, but we do know that Internet of Things is one of the greatest breakthroughs leading us to the singularity. In this article we will discuss 3 IoT cases and how they impacted environmental monitoring.
But, what is IoT?
IoT can be defined as a network of interconnected devices, vehicles, animals and other physical things. The third wave of the internet is the process in which more things will be connected to the internet than people.
Remember we are using the word “things” because the internet is the new literacy of our generation, so everything will have to be connected to the internet in order to be as efficient as possible.
All Internet of Things devices includes 4 main elements:
The device needs to either collect data or cause an action on its environment.
The data is collected by a computing unit rather than the sensor itself. It also controls the power and communication of the device
The device needs to communicate with the internet. There are many protocols for sending and receiving data that often utilise a modem for connectivity.
Energy is needed for the device to operate which can either be harvested from the environment, stored in a battery, or provided by the electricity grid.
One of the profound applications of the IoT is in the ability to track objects, so we created a special device called the cattle tracker to track any domesticated or wild animal.
How does it even work?
Cattle trackers help a herder, farmer, or ranger know the exact geographical location of an animal when they need it. It is a highly portable device, equipped with a powerful 32-bit microcontroller and LoRaWAN based communication.
This board uses a u-blox Eva 8m GPS module, to track the animal’s location within seconds and to conserve power it can stay in sleep mode while the animal is stationary. Meanwhile, an RGB LED light always shows the status of the board through the waterproof casing of the tracker so that the user can check if it is functioning correctly while in the field. In order to connect with other monitoring devices, the cow tracker has a Bluetooth Low Energy modem on board as well.
But, what problem does it solve?
One of the main problems that many cattle trackers had until recently was the need to constantly charge them by manually plugging them into charging stations.
While this may seem simple, it’s probably the hardest process to consistently maintain. Having to monitor the battery level of the tracker continuously and constantly ensuring that it is charged at the right time is a heck of a job.
To solve this problem, we designed the tracker to contain a 0.5W solar panel that harvests energy from sunlight. Also, the tracker uses an integrated LiPo battery that holds the charge for longer periods of time and is guaranteed to charge whenever the solar panel is exposed to sunlight.
How can you see the location?
SODAQ’s tracker uses Bluetooth, LoRa technology, an 868/915 MHZ antenna, and GPS for effective geolocation and communication. The person or system monitoring the animal is henceforth able to track wherever the animal goes.
More specifically, the GPS tracking system is connected to the internet over LoRa to share its own location. The device owner is, therefore, able to locate with an internet enabled device, the exact geographical location of his/her cattle.
But we aren’t done…
Probably the last and one of the most useful features of the SODAQ cattle tracker is its robust housing with a counterweight that ensures the device stays waterproof and endures all weather conditions. The ability to withstand harsh climatic conditions like heavy rains, hot sun and frictional contact with hard objects makes this tracker very durable and easy to maintain.
SODAQ air quality sensor’s main purpose is to test and determine air purity. In the case air is not pure, it indicates which gases are present as well as the present density of pollution particles. This is one of the more efficient and effective ways of knowing whether the air is clean and what gases might be present.
But how does SODAQ use it?
The sensor is also being used to track the cleanest bicycle routes in different cities in the Netherlands.
In this project, the air sensor was used for monitoring the air quality around the province of Utrecht.
Some of the sensors used for this project were temperature, pressure and humidity sensors, as well as the presence of gaseous substances. However, the main feature of the project was that it could detect the particulate matter (PM) in the air, which indicates how polluted the air is. Particulate matter is defined as the sum of all solid and liquid particles suspended in the air, some of which are hazardous.
For this reason, the province of Utrecht wants to know the particulate level matters throughout the whole region. The SODAQ board that is used to process and communicate the sensor data, is the SARA AFF R410M which uses NB-IoT for connectivity. Through the GPS tracking capabilities, it collects data that is presented in an open data format and displayed as a map of air quality and the best bike routes for the Utrecht Province.
In another project, SODAQ used air quality sensors to monitor the presence of gaseous substances and particulate matter in homes. By measuring high levels of pollution from wooden cookstoves in less developed countries, an NGO showed that their effective cooking systems would be beneficial to the health of the affected civilians.
What kind of features does the Air Quality Monitoring Device have?
Low power consumption: The devices work on 3.3V and with a 1200mAh battery can function for 8-bicycle hours before needing to be recharged.
High sensitivity and accuracy: As it is a low-cost device, the accuracy is slightly lower than highly expensive professional monitoring equipment. However, the most accurate sensors have been used in this device, making SODAQ’s air quality monitoring device highly sensitive to any change in air quality.
As the particulate matter (PM) sensor is ‘active’, it uses a fan system to constantly pull new air samples into the sensor and this has the same effect for the other sensors, which are located just in front of the PM sensor. For this reason, the device quickly returns to a neutral state for monitoring. Additionally, the humidity sensor can be used to calibrate the PM sensor and to eliminate the influence of water vapour on inaccurate PM measurements.
The average accuracy for the sensors module are ±2 RH (for humidity), ±0.3C (for temperature) and similarly low margin of error. The sensors are read using an I2C serial bus and can work up to 1 MHz speed.
On the board, there is an integrated GPS and by using NB-IoT the location of the bike and the related air quality measurements are sent over the mobile network to the internet.
The IoT-enabled garbage monitoring system is a device that alerts a municipality or other relevant authorities when a public garbage bin is full and should be emptied. With this, it reduces the government’s dependency on manpower as it automatically monitors and sends feedback when an action needs to be taken on the garbage system.
How does it transmit information?
This garbage monitoring system integrates with other APIs and systems like AllthingsTalk to enable humans to analyze and understand data sent from the system. Let’s start by understanding what all these things are before understanding the entire system.
The garbage monitoring project carried out by SODAQ involves ultrasonic sensors that measure the garbage level and an ATMEL SAM D21 32-bit microcontroller that processes the data. The data is sent to the internet using LoRaWAN connectivity, which is enabled by the SODAQ ONE.
On the internet, a platform such as AllThingsTalk can visualize the data. In this specific application, a custom dashboard was developed for monitoring the garbage bins, and through gamification, civilians were motivated to throw away their trash. A smartphone-based game that gave the user points whenever they threw away trash worked as an educational tool for children in Hilversum, the town where SODAQ is based.
By integrating with the custom-made dashboard, AllThingsTalk enables the user to understand and visualize data before deciding how to process it. Sensor data can be sent to AllThingsTalk by using devices based on Arduino, SODAQ, BeagleBone, or other hardware. The sensor and microcontroller, in this case, send data by using the modem for LoRa, for which AllThingsTalk have built a connector to their platform.
While there are many elements, each is user-friendly, open source and well documented so it is possible to easily replicate it.
A simple example…
To understand how this simple SODAQ public dustbin sensor works, take an example of a dustbin in any town. Imagining that it has this sensor built in, the system will always be sending data to the managing department to constantly show the garbage level. Provided they are monitoring the entire process through an interface, they will wait until it’s full to receive an alert and then order the emptying process to be done. With this, they will have saved time and resources in managing their town.
After emptying the garbage, the sensor sees that the distance away from the nearest object is the same distance as the preconfigured bottom of the garbage bin, resetting the bin to ‘empty’ in the dashboard. For the users who prefer to monitor the dustbins without accessing the internet, the entire system can further be integrated with an IoT-Enabled Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) to display the entire fluctuation on a small screen. This is especially useful if the garbage container is large and underground.
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