Designing a Wireless Device that Lives Forever

Running on Rays of Light and Off-the-Shelf Hardware

We have previously looked at how to make a wireless device live for years on one tiny coin cell battery. This time we up the game and make it live forever, using solar power and off-the-shelf hardware.

We build a prototype of our device and go through the technical details involved in designing for solar power. We use off-the-shelf hardware running the latest version of the Thingsquare ultra low-power software. Light does not provide a lot of power, so we need software that can make the most of it.

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Everybody needs a big red button in their life.

Today we build a wireless, battery-powered, big red button that can be placed anywhere in the office or home. To make sure the button always is available and ready to be pressed, the button periodically reports its health so that we can monitor it remotely.

But this example goes way beyond simply being a big red button. It is an instance of a more general class of devices: a passive General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO) device that can be used for any kind of digital input device, such as an industrial sensor or a digital switch.

Because we use sub-GHz radio technology, we can expect to get kilometers of range in an out-door setting and hundreds of meters of indoor range. If this range is not enough, just add mesh routers to extend the network even further.

When the button is pushed, we immediately get a notification on our phone – and see where the button was pushed on the map.

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A wireless mesh network is a network where the nodes in the network help other nodes achieve coverage and connectivity by forwarding messages on behalf of others.

Street lighting systems is an example of where a wireless mesh network is needed. A single-hop network would not provide enough coverage, so the lights help each other to reach out.

A wireless IPv6 mesh network in the wild.

The picture above shows an installation of a Thingsquare IPv6 mesh in the wild. (Although our system is known to be able to run on really, tiny devices operated by a single coin-cell battery, this particular installation does not use those low-power mechanisms as street lights have access to power.)

The big challenge with such a large wireless network is to understand what is going on – and how to develop the software that makes them tick.

In this article we look into how we develop such large-scale systems at Thingsquare and the tools we use. We push the envelope with a 100-hop network, which is larger than what we typically would see in real-world installations.

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We have just released version 3.2.6 of our wireless firmware! Tap the Update Firwmare button to update your devices. SDK subscribers can download the code from the developer console.

New feature in this version is audial feedback for wireless connectivity on the Sensortag: press the button to hear if the sensor is in wireless range!

Full changelog below.

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About Us

Stockholm, Sweden

Founded in 2012 by a team with a passion for connecting the world

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