Improving the coverage of the sensor radio network

The SMS gateway worked between the sensor RF network and the mobile phone network. However, it lacked sensitivity, occasionally struggling to get a signal 20 yards away.

Ciseco OpenKontrol Gateway on lid of device, with Dallas 1307 RTC implemented
Ciseco OpenKontrol Gateway on lid of device, with Dallas 1307 RTC implemented

I mounted the OKG board on the lid of the box and the SMS board in the base, unwittingly placing the sensor RF receiver between two ground planes. And a mobile phone signal source in a similar part of the radio spectrum. Which was probably not the best way to get good performance out of the LLAP sensor radio – screen it and then desensitise it with a strong nearby signal. Oops. Continue reading “Improving the coverage of the sensor radio network”

Humidity and Temperature sensor on Cosm IoT

The trouble with geese is that they are waterfowl, ie used to hatching near water, unlike chickens, so you tend to have to control the humidity of the incubator as well as the temperature. Humidity is terribly counterintuitive – unlike temperature humans have no real sense for it. So I was looking at how to make a humidity and temperature sensor.

Goslings. Like most animals, geese don’t look so mean when young

The problem starts with our cheap Chinese import incubator. There’s no real calibration on the temperature dial, and you know it’s a bad sign when the manual tells you ‘when your small poultry is ready’. I was really sceptical about how well this would stabilise the temperature. Quite unfairly as it happens. Continue reading “Humidity and Temperature sensor on Cosm IoT”

Bad by design SMJ RFC2SC remote controlled mains sockets – fix

Maplin flog these SMJ remote controlled mains sockets.

SMJ Electrical remote and socket

The first thing you need to know about remote controlled mains sockets is make sure you get one which has separate on/off buttons. These things are ratty by nature, and some are a toggle – press the button to switch on, press again to switch off. That’s fine in a light switch, where you get to see if the light is on or off, but dire in a remote switch. The whole point of a remote controlled switch is you can’t necessatily see the remote item. A toggle is worse that useless in that case 😉 That’s why this is my second purchase of this sort of thing, these are made by SMJ electrical. I was using this to switch on the coffee machine in the kitchen in the morning. As the expensice 12V battery ran down the reliability of this got worse and worse.

I measured the battery and it was down to 10V. Putting the remote on a bench power supply showed it drew 5mA on transmit, and getting a scanner onto the job showed the frequency was 433.855 MHz.

This  was a little bit off the advertised frequency of 433.92 MHz on the  SMJ RFC2SC label, but a 65kHz discrepancy isn’t too bad. This falls within the 433.050-434.790 MHz ISM band

SMJ RFC2SC label says 433.92 MHz

So the first thing is to pop the lid of the remote and see what gives

Internal view showing PCB

The RF sub-board is a separate assembly, presumably to deal with various different regions’ RF allocations. It’s a pretty nasty piece of work compared to the rest of the remote, hand-soldered by the looks of it.

SMJ Electrical remote RF board showing really shoddy workmanship

Of note was that the hot side of the antenna is at the top. I had allocated button 1 to the coffee machine socket, and to press this you tend to put your hand round the top of the remote. I determined that this detuned the signal – it was easy enough to hear on the scanner that putting a hand round the back to press button 1 shifted the tone of the signal, and this was confirmed with a scope that the waveform was distorted. So a good tip for using these is to use the 4 buttons rather than the 1 buttons!

The next step was to test the range with the socket, which was poor initially. It wasn’t particularly sensitive to supply voltage, but it wasn’t particularly sensitive full stop. The claimed range of 50m was ridiculous, I fitted a lamp to the socket and moved to the room next door, and communication was lost. I adjusted the trimmer capacitor of the remote (on the other side of the board) and range improved dramatically.

Frequency 433.845 MHz

This now measured 433.845 MHz, which is still acceptably in the ISM band. It’s now 75kHz off. In an ideal world I’d have moved both the socket and the remote closer to the original frequency, but this will do and it’s still in band. It’s still on the original battery – the transmitter frequency isn’t particularly sensitive to voltage down to about 8V, but it was so marginal originally that the lower power must have pushed it over the edge. And I get coffee in the morning 😉

Remote sensing and the Internet of Things

Wires. That’s the problem with remote sensing, at least it has been until recently. You needed wire to get the signal back to where you wanted to view it, and often to power your sensor too. That’s a grand PITA. The last time I looked at this, about a decade ago, you could get little RF modules running at around 433MHz but these presented the raw demodulated FM signal. Great for voice but you then needed a modem to wrap around the project. And some sort of protocol stack, possibly.

That exchanged the signal wiring problem for a sensor powering issue, and these radio modules were send or receive so everything would end up fire and forget.

I was chuffed to find there’s been a lot of movement in this field. A lot of it seems Arduino based and I selected PICs when getting into micros, so it is a new learning curve. In researching this I came across JeeLabs and Ciseco. The latter had some £12 bidirectional RF to serial cards, the XRF, which I expected to attach a PIC. However, they seeme ot also have used the microcontroller on the RF board to do some signal conditioning for a few sensors, including temperature via the Dallas 18B20 or a thermistor. Since temperature and battery voltage/contact status are some of the things I want to remote sense that saves me a load of programming grunt-work.

They have also documented a simple serial sensor protocol, LLAP, which fitted my needs. The Internet of Things is all very well but if you need a TCP/IP stack for each battery powered node you need a lot of processing power and electrical power, which is back to wiring again.

So I ordered four XRF boards, a couple of thermistor boards and a XBBO carrier board to interface to an FTDI cable to USB. Assembling the thermistor boards and the XBBO were easy enough, now it was time to test it all out and getting some readings. To do that you have to set your LLAP sensor device to some particular address. and this is where is started getting hard. You have to program them over the air, and you have 100ms to respond to the started command.

Ciseco XBBO board for LLAP devices

That’s great for security, but I don’t type that fast 🙂 Which is why I use this script to do that job.