Pinoccio: Mesh All The (Internet Of) Things

PinnThere’s a problem with products geared towards building the Internet of Things. Everyone building hardware needs investors, and thus some way to monetize their platform. This means all your data is pushed to ‘the cloud’, i.e. a server you don’t own. This is obviously not ideal for the Hackaday crowd. Yes, IoT can be done with a few cheap radios and a hacked router, but then you don’t get all the cool features of a real Things project – mesh networking and a well designed network. Pinoccio is the first Thing we’ve seen that puts a proper mesh network together with a server you can own. The Pinoccio team were kind enough to let us drop in while we were in Rock City last weekend, and we were able to get the scoop on these tiny boards from [Sally] and [Eric], along with a really cool demo of what they can do.

The hardware on the Pinoccio is basically an Arduino Mega with a LiPo battery and an 802.15.4 radio provided by an ATmega256RFR2. The base board – technically called a ‘field scout’ – can be equipped with a WiFi backpack that serves as a bridge for the WiFi network. It’s a pretty clever solution to putting a whole lot of Things on a network, without having all the Things directly connected to the Internet.

Programming these scouts can be done through Arduino, of course, but the folks at Pinoccio also came up with something called ScoutScript that allows you to send commands directly to any or all of the scouts on the mesh network. There’s a neat web-based GUI called HQ that allows you to command, control, and query all the little nodules remotely as well.

In the video below, [Sally] goes over the basic functions of the hardware and what it’s capable of. [Eric] was in Reno when we visited, but he was kind enough to get on a video chat and show off what a network of Pinoccios are capable of by emblazoning their web page with Hackaday logos whenever he presses a button.

Comments

  1. Hooray for private videos!!

  2. $197 for a starter kit? Wtf?

    • Tom says:

      And about $60 per node. WAY to expensive to be the basis for a real IoT. Call me back when the price has dropped to a tenth of that.

    • tekkieneet says:

      Right now the closest tech at that price point are those Chinese Bluetooth modules that for nodes. May be a few cheapo router with bluetooth hacked on as server/repeater for some kind of mesh & redundancy network.

  3. uC says:

    There are a lot of small IoT hubs coming out recently. I’m a fan (ie backer) of the McThing on kickstarter (Bluetooth LE sensor nodes, with a Bluetooth/Wifi bridge as the router).

    The real key to these IoT things will be freeing them from the Cloud. I want to run my own damn servers thanks. Even if they are on a VPS instance somewhere out there.

  4. Scott says:

    Similar but different to the Thread announcement (http://www.threadgroup.org/) today?

  5. Very interesting topic.

    I’ve always wanted to build an automated system that could act like a quasi-mesh network. For example: Someone could design a piece of software that uses a quasi-AI (artificial intelligence) interface that constantly listens for open WI-FI hotspots (or AP’s or ADHOCs) while driving around town. It would essentially keep you online everywhere you go by automatically logging into open hotspots, testing for local authentication, if so then proceeding with said authentication by figuring out what is being asked for, then accepting TOS (terms of service) agreement. And its able to offer random bogus authentication email and password logins too those systems that ask for that – like at public libraries.

    It verifies success by being able to get to your favorite target always up webserver of your choosing. If unavailable or blocked then you know something is wrong and the hot-spot is dumped and given a very low priority.

    When total LOS (loss of signal) happens it goes for another strongest hot-spot ad-infinitum or gives you a SOL (sh*t out of luck) notification – like when going into a vast desert or the open ocean. It also checks to make sure it hasn’t accidently fallen into a hacker’s wi-fi trap like a “honeypot” or something (must have firewall up and no incoming TCP/UDP packets – and AVS running for port 80 inspired Trojan exploits).

    An email engine could be built to hold the transmission of sent emails until a legitimate hot-spot is secured even if it takes hours or days to do so. When you web surf, it will also tell you to standby for valid connection rather than giving you a code 500 browser screen. It would know you have no wi-fi-connection rather than assume that the remote server was down. The system would notify you when successful connection was made and emails were sent.

    The most standard SSID would be “linksys” “default” “router” etc. Then there are Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Star Bucks, Subways, municipal networks, public libraries, etc. This thing would be smart enough to avoid LOCKED systems and difficult to spell SSIDs. But it could look for ANY SSID that is not locked but would give it low priority over a better standard SSID that’s stronger SNR ratio.

    No human interaction, all AI work in background. You’d never have to pay for a ISP or 3g/4g network ever again. Same goes for being IP-tracked by “them” too. When they find your ISP via the IP you’re using via that hot-spot’s DHCP, they will only get the owner of the hot-spot not you. Maybe your MAC address but that does not help identify you, at first.

    I know there’s software out there that does this kinda’ sorta’ – but it is not soup-to-nuts like the one I’m suggesting here. Those usually require human intervention. This might make for a cool HaD THP project? I’m not qualified nor motivated to do it.

    Maybe someone else is.

    • AP² says:

      I already have something close to that, since our largest ISP here in Portugal put a Fonera router on each client’s home. My tablet recognizes the SSID (they’re always the same) and using an app that implements WISPr, it auto-logins. K9-mail then detects the connection and syncs with my IMAP server.

      The problem with the plan is security – you never know who’s running the AP, and lots of sites and apps use plain HTTP, which can be hijacked, downloads could have trojans injected, etc. You’d need to use a VPN to remain safe, and then there goes the privacy/untraceability.

  6. Ty Tower says:

    I think that’s the smartest crispest web page design I have seen in 40 years.
    Its not full of meaningless bullshit and it conveys the message in an efficient and entertaining way . Well done to the page designer.

    It has shown me what the IoT is and wants to be . I agree the price is a shocker and I will think about that a bit however you get 2 units in that starter kit and Arduino was in the 50 to 70 bracket when it started so I hope they get some orders and get a good start.

    The script is beautiful. clean functional and easy to follow and well documented . I’ll be subscribing and spending a lot more time exploring this site and products
    Very well done !

    • Ty Tower says:

      Oh and calling it a backpack as opposed to shield is great. The Scout idea is good too but the Guides might get jealous

    • Thanks for the kind words Ty!

      This is Jake, from Pinoccio. I’m actually the sleepy-looking guy in the end of the video.

      I really appreciate you taking a second to get past the sticker shock – just like you said, you get 2 Scouts, and remember that the batteries are included, and the charging circuit and fuel gauge are built in (stuff that you often have to buy separately).

      We didn’t want you to have to buy 2 Arduino Megas, 2 XBee modules (or similar radios), 2 lipo batteries, 2 battery chargers, and a Wifi shield, (plus writing the firmware and API that makes it all work together) just to get *started* hacking on mesh networks.

      Thanks again, and let us know if you have any questions. I’m jake@pinocc.io

    • Nitish K.S. says:

      40 years ago there weren’t that many web pages around.

  7. shpok says:

    Internet of Turds. After all those NSA-leaks one must be crazy to connect anything non essential to the Internet.

  8. How about loosing the LiPo batteries and re-engineering in wireless energy transmission? Or if any of the units plug into anything why can’t they also plug into a energy bus like a Ethernet cable with power bus line?

    BTW who is the target audience for this technology?

  9. marcus says:

    good idea …

  10. Jon says:

    I am more interested in pushing mesh capability to laptops, PC, cell phones and tablets. Any one know of any good ones? Something that can run on top of linux would be nice.

  11. enkiv2 says:

    Is there a protocol spec around for this? I don’t see one on their website.

    I’m all for a less expensive (and less locked-in) IoT, but what that really means is a protocol spec for general purpose RPC that’s simple enough that somebody can implement the whole stack on a low-end AVR, tie one or two pins as antennas, and have enough cycles to do interesting things (on top of having necessary features like authentication) — and more importantly, somebody needs to write up that spec really clearly and do public domain /permissively licensed reference implementations for a handful of platforms.

    Unless I’ve just been taken in by poor web design, the pinnochio isn’t this at all (but instead yet another totally proprietary IoT system that happens to be unassociated with existing big players).

    It ain’t open hardware if it just happens to have arduino guts on the board — it ain’t open hardware unless you can clone it without reverse engineering.

    • gopinoccio says:

      Today Pinoccio uses Lightweight Mesh, which is a public protocol that does really simple mesh routing/auto-discovery over the 802.15.4. Atmel authored the protocol, but it’s licensed under a pretty open BSD 3+1 clause license. The full source is available, and you can tweak to your heart’s content. http://www.atmel.com/tools/lightweight_mesh.aspx

      As you may know, 802.15.4 is a very public and open specification, and Pinoccio’s radio has this protocol built into it at the hardware level–so it’s not a proprietary protocol either.

      On the WiFi side, we just use a simple TCP socket with bi-directional JSON. We also publish a basic server you can run on your own: https://www.npmjs.org/package/pinoccio-server

      Or load up MQTT, CoAP, Zigbee, RF4CE, or whatever networking stack you want onto this if you don’t like the default. We’re also discussing moving over to Telehash for Pinoccio as well, and this has a well-outlined protocol specification: telehash.org

      And of course, the hardware is fully open-source as well, under the CERN OHLv1.1 license. Of course, this includes not only schematics, but board files and the BOM as well, for you to make your own.

      Agreed that there are a lot of moving parts here, but I’d have to disagree with you that Pinoccio is not open hardware.

      Lastly, if you’re looking for an open spec that can run on 802.15.4, perhaps you saw mention of yesterday’s announcement of Thread? Maybe that’s what you’re looking for? http://www.threadgroup.org/

  12. Duwogg says:

    All I see in the internet of things is a huge mess of 160,793,846,869,327,261 protocols, none of which like each other, only an handful of which will talk to each other, some of them will knock the others out, damn! Is this my family reunion?! And so you buy a router that has to have 160,793,846,869,327,261 different radios in it, and all of the ones on the market thus far have just as many caveats and limitations that make them not worth the time or money. And for what!? so my coffee maker can tweet i’ve had my 50th cup-o-joe today? REALLY?

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