WiFithing – Open source Energia IoT platform with rapid deployment option

WiFithing, a UK based start-up, has launched on Kickstarter a new complete IoT platform based on TI MSP430 MCU’s and radios. I have read through their details and I love what they have done, so here are some of the details. Make up your own mind! If you like it, head over to the WiFiThing Kickstarter page.

WiFithing is based on a master and slave system, with the master having a Wi-Fi (CC3100) transceiver and an ISM (868/915 MHz) transceiver (CC1101), powered by an MSPFR5969. Each master can control up to 8 slaves, each of which is based on the CC430F5137 combined processor and transceiver. There is no limit on the number of masters that can be deployed. The slaves are based on the PanStamp NRG2. Masters and slaves are shipped in neat enclosures, ready for use.

You can wire both masters and slaves directly to sensors, relay boards, switches and other devices. At CES, WiFithing showed a home-made, hand held breathalyser which reported alcohol levels to a smartphone. Out of the box, without any wiring, you can read the inbuilt temperature sensors and control up to 10 Orvibo S20 Smart Sockets and up to four groups of FHT8v wireless radiator valves for lighting and heating control.

The benefits of using slaves, are that they:

  • are physically small enough to fit in quite small sensors/controllers,
  • can achieve 12 months plus battery lives whilst still, for example reporting back temperatures every 5 minutes.
  • have great range, like up to 100 metres out of doors
  • are low cost

The masters and slaves are shipped fully tested and flashed with the WiFithing open source firmware. This firmware is essentially an operating system which comprises some 60 in built functions. This allows the devices to be programmed over the air from the WiFithing web app.

The web app allows users to select from a range of 50 or so “Simple set-up” options such as “Control smart socket using daily timer and thermostat on slave”. A couple of clicks to select which slave and what locations and resource (such as Kitchen Heating) and then click “Publish”. This will then send the program in the form of a number of tables in a very compact byte stream to the master and onto the slave.

If users wish to build a more specialised application, the web app provides an advanced set-up page which gives users the power to create much more complex apps, by choosing functions and setting parameters, but still using drop-downs rather than writing code. By way of demonstrations, WiFithing also showed at Showstoppers/CES, how the system could implement a weather station which reported rainfall, wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity and pressure to the web site.

Once users have published their settings, they can then navigate to their main menu on their PC/smartphone and they will see that their personalised web site has been built for them automatically, giving them full control.

WiFithing do propose to charge a hosting fee for the use of their web app of $18 per annum (unlimited masters and slaves for each house/site). If users would prefer to use their own web site (and not pay the hosting fee), then WiFithing provides the code and protocol information necessary to set up their own. Alternatively, if users wish to build their own desktop or web app, but still use the WiFithing security and data infrastructure, then they can use the WiFithing secure API.

In addition to allowing set-up over the air, WiFithing allows automatic firmware updates over the air to both masters and slaves. And by setting a flag, users can send their own firmware to their devices.

WiFithing boasts a range of other features, which makes this a very complete platform:

  • Full SSL and AES encryption (masters and slaves are registered securely by using a QR scanner on their smartphone)
  • A range of low power modes, and automatic signal strength adjustment to preserve battery life
  • Full web site data logging and alerts, all set up by dropdowns
  • Multiple houses/sites. For example, a sensor in London could trigger an alarm in San Francisco
  • Comprehensive diagnostics (signal strength, battery life, time of last communication and logging)
  • An open source device and API emulator for debugging master/web communications (c#)
  • Comms are initiated by a configurable UDP tick from the master (with TCP back-up), so secure and no need to make holes in your firewall
  • Using the FR5969/CC3100 combination gives the users the benefit of TI’s FRAM technology (and the device will hold its settings and firmware even if power is lost)
  • Coin cell battery to maintain clock in event of power failure
  • Access to web server on device, for control in the event of internet connection failure (to be implemented)

Edward Forwood, Co-founder of WiFithing, said to us “We developed something that we want to use ourselves. Our goal was to allow non-technical users to set up a range of useful applications in minutes, whilst allowing experts to save a huge amount of time in setting up the comms and security infrastructure, allowing them to spend that time on developing really interesting applications”.

WiFithing tell me that they are keen for their platform to be adopted by, and improved by the Energia community. They have set up a forum with a number of example projects, and hope that others will add to them. The code will be on Github when they have finished documentation.