Rolling Your Own Long-Range IoT Sensor Network

Homebrew wireless sensors are nothing new around these parts: grab an ESP8266, hang a BME280 from the I2C pins, and you’re just a few lines of code away from joining the Internet of Things on your own terms. Builds like this are so cheap and easy that they make an excellent first project for folks looking to get into the electronics game, but what if you’re looking for something a bit more bespoke?

In that case, you could follow in the footsteps of [Discreet Mayor] and put together a custom modular architecture for long-range wireless sensors. The core of the system is a breakout board for the Texas Instruments SimpleLink CC1312 wireless MCU which features a simple 2×11 header connector. This allows the module to either be plugged into a larger board or have a small sensor PCB attached directly to it.

Rather than using WiFi or requiring some existing radio infrastructure, the boards automatically create a private network using the IEEE 802.15.4 standard at a range of up to 600 meters. A dedicated receiver isn’t necessary, to pull data off the network, one of the CC1312 boards simply gets connected to a computer through a simple FT232 adapter.

[Discreet Mayor] has already created a number of projects that use these custom radios for communication, from a pool monitoring system to a temperature sensor for the BBQ. That portable battery operated devices are able to use this common communications backbone just as well as mains powered static devices is a testament to the work that went into the firmware to make it as robust and efficient as possible.

Like the idea of long-range private networks, but less enthusiastic about having to come up with your own hardware? Not to worry. Over the summer, Espressif announced that they’re working on an ESP32 variant that includes support for IEEE 802.15.4. Just as soon as this chip shortage is over, we might even get to see the thing.

A Better Battery Arduino

We’ve seen [Johan]’s AA-battery-sized Arduino/battery crossover before, but soon (we hope!) there will be a new version with more MIPS in the same unique form factor! The original Aarduino adhered to classic Arduino part choices and was designed to run as the third “cell” in a 3 cell battery holder to relay temperature readings via a HopeRF RFM69CW. But as [Johan] noticed, it turns out that ARM development tools are cheap now. In some cases very cheap and very open source. So why not update an outstanding design to something with a little more horsepower?

The Aarduino Zero uses the same big PTH battery terminals and follows the same pattern as the original design; the user sticks it in a battery holder for power and it uses an RFM69CW for wireless communication. But now the core is an STM32L052, a neat low power Cortex-M0+ with a little EEPROM onboard. [Johan] has also added a medium size serial flash to facilitate offline data logging or OTA firmware update. Plus there’s a slick new test fixture to go along with it all.

So how do you get one? Well… that’s the rub. It looks like when this was originally posted at the end of 2017 [Johan] was planning to launch a Crowd Supply campaign that hasn’t quite materialized yet. Until that launches the software sources for the Zero are available, and there are always the sources from the original Aarduino to check out.

Measuring Tire Pressure By Cutting A Hole In An Inner Tube

RFID tags are really very primitive pieces of technology. Yes, they harvest energy from an RFID reader and are able to communicate a few bits of data, but for a long time these tags have been unable to provide useful data beyond a simple ID number. [CaptMcAllister] found a new RFID sensor platform from TI and managed to make a wireless pressure sensor that fits in the inner tube of his bike.

The sensor [Capt] is using comes from TI’s RF430 series that include a few neat sensors that don’t require batteries, but are still able to communicate sensor data to a cell phone or other RFID reader. With a pressure sensor, this tiny microcontroller can receive power from an RFID reader and send it back to a phone app, all without wires.

[CaptMcAllister] cut open an inner tube for his bike, epoxied his PCB to a patch, and sealed everything back up again. After a quick test for leaks, [Capt] found the data coming from the sensor was extraordinarily accurate, and should hold up well enough to be used in his bike.