One of the greatest aspects of Soracom hosting the Cellular IoT Challenge on hackster.io this year was seeing all of the innovative and inspiring solutions the contestants created through cellular IoT connectivity. We were blown away by the level of creativity and innovation these projects exhibited, and were excited by the prospect of cellular connectivity powering a new era of impactful products and solutions.
One notable and potentially life-saving submission was The Canary by Jared Wolff, a portable air quality monitor that measures dust and any other potentially harmful particulates that are — often times unknowingly — inhaled by people, especially those working in construction and renovation. This sensor is not only compact and durable, but also has real-time updates with both an in-person and remote alert system to let you and off-site employees know if the air quality becomes a concern. The Canary was awarded 1st Place in the Most Innovative category of Soracom’s Hackster.io Cellular IoT Challenge!
Starting with the hardware of the air quality monitor, the “brains” behind this entire product came from a Particle Boron, which is a powerful LTE CAT-M1 enabled development board that can essentially act as either a standalone cellular device or LTE-enabled gateway for Particle Mesh networks. The Boron is connected to an air quality sensor board, a dust sensor from Honeywell, and an Adafruit GPS breakout board which enables it to check the air quality and upload its measurements to the web regularly. Since many job sites do not have WiFi or Bluetooth for connectivity, cellular enables the air quality sensor to transmit data even in remote locations. Removing dependency on WiFi or Bluetooth is hugely valuable because it extends the usefulness of The Canary to areas beyond where a WiFi or Bluetooth connection exists, allowing managers on- or off-site to monitor the safety of their workers by having access to real-time environmental conditions of their workers.
The Canary is highly efficient in limiting unnecessary data usage, which saves battery life and reduces overall data costs. The device starts in an unconnected state and only requires cellular usage when actively transmitting data, drastically improving operational efficiency.
One great feature of Soracom’s intuitive user console is the ability to quickly and easily visualize device or sensor data. Users can collect and obtain a basic visual of their data in a matter of minutes through SORACOM Harvest, where they can view their data in the form of graphs, tables, and maps without having to go through the trouble of setting up a database or server. SORACOM Lagoon, on the other hand, is intertwined with Grafana and allows users to visualize and analyze their data in a more complex, aesthetic, and detailed format. Additionally, SORACOM Lagoon has a cross-network SIM authentication which allows users to receive real-time alerts through a multitude of channels including Slack, Webhook, and email. In this case, The Canary utilized both SORACOM Harvest and SORACOM Lagoon for real-time notification and data visualization purposes.
“The Soracom platform is a powerful tool for anyone that wants to bring their connected products to market. The difference with Soracom (vs major Telcos) was like night and day. I went from spending hours provisioning lines to getting multiple provisioned within minutes,” said our Most Innovative winner, Jared Wolff. He continued, “Not only do they offer traditional cellular service, but also advanced services like data aggregation, data visualization, and VPN tunnels from devices right to your servers. Once you’re online, they make it super easy to integrate your data in one place. Want to visualize it? No problem. Want your AWS service to consume it? They enable that too. Both with just a few clicks.”
The overarching goal of Soracom’s Cellular IoT Challenge was for contestants to come up with creative and innovative applications of cellular connectivity all whilst considering cost, scalability, security, and device management. One aspect of Jared’s project write-up that won points with the judges was how he addressed these more complicated topics. Jared specifically considered three Soracom products that he would incorporate into his project: SORACOM Inventory, SORACOM Gate, and SORACOM Krypton. SORACOM Inventory allows users to monitor and manage their connected devices from a remote location, enabling The Canary to be scalable and easy to manage in the future. This not only includes monitoring power usage and signal strength, but also lets users execute commands such as restarting or stopping devices or processes, updating firmware, or other specific actions based on the device readings. SORACOM Gate provides a closed network infrastructure for communication between devices and servers, which provides devices like Jared’s with enhanced security. By connecting hosts and devices in the same Layer 2 Subnet, the hosts and devices can then communicate using private IP addresses without NAT or firewall restrictions. Finally, whereas other IoT device provisioning must be performed when manufactured, SORACOM Krypton provides on-demand provisioning of IoT devices based on SIM authentication, which increases flexibility and saves both time and money.
Though The Canary was created with construction and renovation sites in mind, the utility and application of this solution has the potential to help many others as well. Consider parents monitoring an infant’s room, homeowners monitoring their rental properties, doctors monitoring their critical patients’ hospital room air quality, or supervisors monitoring their workers’ safety — an air quality monitor powered by cellular connectivity would be extremely beneficial in multiple applications of IoT. This submission did a great job of utilizing many of Soracom’s products, demonstrating the value of cellular connectivity, and documenting the entire experience with a thorough write-up. It is definitely deserving of first prize in the Most Innovative category!