Adding LoRa Long Range Radio To Smartphones And Connected Devices

Would you add another radio to your smartphone? No, not another WiFi or cellular radio; a smartphone already has that. I’m talking about something that provides connectivity through ISM bands, either 433 or 915 MHz. This can be used where you don’t have cell phone coverage, and it has a longer range than WiFi. This is the idea behind Skrypt, a messaging system that allows you to send off-the-grid messages.

Skrypt is an ESP32-based hardware modem that can communicate with a smartphone, or any other device for that matter, over Bluetooth or USB. Inside, there are two modules, an ESP32 WROOM module that provides the Bluetooth, WiFi, USB connectivity, and all of the important software configuration and web-based GUI. The LoRa module is the ubiquitous RFM95W that’s ready to drop into any circuit. Other than that, the entire circuit is just a battery and some power management ICs.

While LoRa is certinaly not the protocol you would use for forwarding pics up to Instagram, it is a remarkable protocol for short messages carried over a long range. That’s exactly what you want when you’re out of range of cell phone towers — those pics can wait, but you might really want to send a few words to your friends. That’s invaluable, and LoRa makes a lot of sense in that case.

Long-Range RFID With Feedback

Not long ago, we published an article about researchers adding sensor data to passive RFID tags, and a comment from a reader turned our heads to a consumer/maker version which anyone can start using right away (PDF). If you’re catching up, passive RFID technology is behind the key fobs and stickers which don’t need power, just proximity to the reader’s antenna. This is a much “hackier” version that works with discrete signals instead of analog ones. It will not however require writing a new library and programming new tags from the ground up just for the user to get started, so there is that trade-off. Sparkfun offers a UHF reader which can simultaneously monitor 25 of the UHF tags shown in this paper.

To construct one of these enhanced tags, the antenna trace is broken and then routed through a switching device such as a glass-break sensor, temperature limit switch, doorbell, or light sensor. Whenever continuity is restored the tag will happily send back its pre-programmed data, and the reader will acknowledge that somewhere one of the tags is seeing some activity. Nothing says this could not be applied to inexpensive RFID readers should you just want a temperature warning for your gecko terrarium or light sensor to your greenhouse‘s sealed controller.

Thank you, [Mike Massen], for your tip on RFID Doing More Than ID.

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Long-Range RFID Leaflets

Pick a card, any card. [Andrew Quitmeyer] and [Madeline Schwartzman] make sure that any card you pick will match their NYC art installation. “Replantment” is an interactive art installation which invites guests to view full-size leaf molds casts from around the world.

A receipt file with leaf images is kept out of range in this art installation. When a viewer selects one, and carries it to the viewing area, an RFID reader tells an Arduino which tag has been detected. Solid-state relays control two recycled clothing conveyors draped with clear curtains. The simple units used to be back-and-forth control but through dead-reckoning, they can present any leaf mold cast front-and-center.

Clothing conveyors from the last century weren’t this smart before, and it begs the question about inventory automation in small businesses or businesses with limited space.

We haven’t seen much long-range RFID, probably because of cost. Ordinary tags have been read at a distance with this portable reader though, and NFC has been transmitted across a room, sort of.

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Long Range Wireless Internet

While most of you reading this have broadband in your home, there are still vast areas with little access to the Internet. Ham radio operator [emmynet] found himself in just such a situation recently, and needed to get a wireless connection over 1 km from his home. WiFi wouldn’t get the job done, so he turned to a 433 MHz serial link instead. (Alternate link)

[emmynet] used an inexpensive telemetry kit that operates in a frequency that travels long distances much more easily than WiFi can travel. The key here isn’t in the hardware, however, but in the software. He went old-school, implemending peer-to-peer TCP/IP connection using SLIP — serial line Internet protocol. All of the commands to set up the link are available on his project page. With higher gain antennas than came with the telemetry kit, a range much greater than 1 km could be achieved as well.

[Editor’s note: This is how we all got Internet, over phone lines, back in the early Nineties. Also, you kids get off my lawn! But also, seriously, SLIP is a good tool to have in your toolbox, especially for low-power devices where WiFi would burn up your batteries.]

While it didn’t suit [emmynet]’s needs, it is possible to achieve extremely long range with WiFi itself. However this generally requires directional antennas with very high gain and might not be as reliable as a lower-frequency connection. On the other hand, a WiFi link will (in theory) get a greater throughput, so it all depends on what your needs are. Also, be aware that using these frequencies outside of their intended use might require an amateur radio license.

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