Hackaday Prize Entry: Disaster Recovery WiFi

The Meshpoint project originated in Croatia during the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, when [Valent Turkovic] and other volunteers noticed that first responders, including NGOs like Greenpeace and the Red Cross, often struggled to set up communications in the field. They came to the conclusion that they couldn’t rely on the normal communications infrastructure because it was either damaged or overloaded.

The solution is a net of open source, autonomous WiFi mesh routers, scalable from a single team to serving thousands of people. Responders who won’t have time for a difficult login process, should find setup as easy as signing in to a social media site.

The physical nodes would consist of a router robust for up to 150 connections, all run by an ESP8266 and protected by a weatherproof enclosure. They would feature 6-8 hour battery lives with recharging via solar/wind, AC from wall current or generators, or simply DC car batteries.

You can learn more about the project or download their code from GitHub.

Hands-On: New AND!XOR Unofficial DEF CON Badge

In just two weeks, we’ll be flooding into the casinos of Las Vegas for DEF CON. By far our favorite part is the unofficial hardware badges which make their way to the con each year. The AND!XOR team has put together an incredible offering this year with what I’m calling the “Bender on a Bender” badge. They sent us two of them, so let’s jump right in and see what this badge is all about.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Community Mesh Network

While the Internet of Things is here to stay, and will kill us all, there are a few places left on the planet that will remain unscathed during the robot uprising. These underserved communities still have a need for communications and networking, leading [hlew] to create a Community Engagement Mesh Network as an entry for The Hackaday Prize.

While there are many, many options available for DIY networking solutions out there today, [hlew] is leaning on some work done by some of [Bruce Land]’s students at Cornell. This project used simple and cheap nRF24 radio modules for a true mesh network with multi-node communication, dynamic route discovery, and dynamic route reconfiguration.

The CEMN will rely on this network to provide communications to underserved communities. The primary goal of this network is to broadcast information like crop reports and health advisories, but it can also be used for peer to peer communications between individuals.

PIC Mesh, Accessible Distributed Networking

Wireless networks have been reduced to a component, for most of us. We fit a device, maybe an ESP8266 module or similar, and as if by magic a network exists. The underlying technology has been abstracted into the firmware of the device, and we never encounter it directly. This is no bad thing, because using wireless communication without having to worry about its mechanics gives us the freedom to get on with the rest of our work.

It is however interesting once in a while to take a look at the operation of a real wireless network, and [Alex Wong], [Brian Clark], and [Raghava Kumar] have given us a project with the opportunity to do just that. Their PIC Mesh university project is a distributed wireless mesh network using 2.4GHz NRF24L01 transceiver modules and PIC32 microcontrollers. They have it configured for demonstration purposes with a home automation system at the application layer, however it could be applied to many other applications.

The real value in this project is in its comprehensive but easy to read write-up of the kind you’d expect from a university project. The front page linked above has an overview of how the mesh works, but there are also pages taking us through the hardware, the networking software layer, and the home automation application layer. If you have ever wanted to understand a simple mesh networking system, this is a good place to start.

We’ve covered quite a few mesh networks over the years, but sadly we can only link you to a few of them. We’ve had a mesh network using the Raspberry Pi, Project Byzantium’s “ad-hoc wireless mesh networking for the zombie apocalypse“, and a 1000-node Xbee network for testing purposes.

Ten Mile Raspberry Pi WiFi (with a Catch)

How would you like to have a WiFi connection that covers 10 miles? Or how about an even wider network made up of a mesh of multiple nodes? It is possible, but there is a catch: you probably need a ham radio license to do it (at least, you do in the United States).

What makes it possible is the realization that conventional WiFi channels 1-6 are inside an existing US ham band. That means (if you are a ham) you can elect to use FCC part 97 rules instead of part 15 that governs WiFi routers. That means you can use more power and–even more importantly–better antennas to get greater range.

Traditionally, hams have used custom firmware for Netgear routers or Ubiquiti hardware. However, [WZ0W] recently posted his experience using Raspberry Pi boards as mesh nodes. The code (which also works with some other single board computers) is available on GitHub (with details on the project blog). [WZ0W] points out that, unlike using a consumer router, using a Pi provides a reasonably powerful computer for hosting services as well as hosting the network.

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Quick Network Bridge Gets Off-grid Home Back Online

Off-grid living isn’t for everyone, but it has gotten easier in recent years. Cheap solar panels and wind turbines let you generate your own power, and there are plenty of strategies to deal with fuel, water and sanitation. But the one thing many folks find hard to do without – high-speed internet access – has few options for the really remote homestead. [tlankford01] wants to fix that and is working on an open-source mesh network to provide high-speed internet access to off-grid communities.

But first he had to deal with a major problem. With high-speed access provided by a Clearwire wireless network, streaming content to his two flat-screen TVs wasn’t a problem. At least until Sprint bought Clearwire and shut down the service in early November. Another ISP covered his area, but his house lies in a depression out of line of sight of their tower. So he rigged up a bridge between the WiMAX network and his lab. The bridge sits on a hill in sight of the ISP’s tower 3.5 miles away. Solar panels, a charge controller and deep-cycle batteries power everything, and a wireless link down the hill rounds out the build.

This is obviously a temporary solution, and probably wouldn’t last long in winter weather. But it’s working for now, and more importantly it’s acting as proof of concept for a larger mesh system [tlankford01] has in mind. There are plenty of details on what that would look like on his project page (linked above), and it’s worth a look too if you’re interested in off-grid connectivity.

Wired Hive Counts Bees, Keeps Them Cozy

The world has a bee problem. Honey bees are a major pollinator for all sorts of tasty crops, but an estimated one-third of all colonies in the US have vanished since 2006. These mass disappearances are collectively known as Colony Collapse Disorder, and everything from pesticides to global warming to a new bee virus has been blamed for bees going MIA. Regardless of the cause, keeping the bees that do remain alive and pollinating is important work, and an intelligent bee hive could go a long way toward that goal.

Normally, bee hives are a black – err, white –  box, where the bees go about their business without revealing much about it. While bees are amazing animals with an incredibly rich social structure that allows them to, for instance, team together to ventilate a too-warm hive with their wings, or gang up on invading predators, they have their limits, and knowing what’s going on in the hive helps the beekeeper to maintain an optimal environment. [Miguel’s] system, which appears to still be in the prototyping phase, aims to provide the beekeeper with data on temperature and humidity within each hive. GPS tagging allows the beekeeper to track where a hive is, which is important since hives are moved around as various crops begin to flower. The system can even keep track of the comings and goings of bees using photoelectric sensors; while [Miguel] doesn’t go into detail, we imagine that aspect working something like this bee counter we featured a few years back. And being from Portugal, [Miguel] has incorporated cork into the design of the hive, a sustainable material available locally and offering great thermal properties.

Sounds like [Miguel] is onto something here. The bees need all the help they can get, and anything that improves their husbandry will go a long way toward keeping the world fed. We’ll be watching to see where [Miguel] takes this system.