camalie networks LLC

 

 


Founder's Blog By Mark Holler

3/22/16 The Spring crunch is well underway with orders for new systems and additions well underway. The newest customer is Robert Young Vineyards and their neighbor Justin Miller who just added a 7 node CS3 system next to their legacy eKo Pro system. They have been wirelessly monitoring frost and soil moisture for 8 years now.

1/31/16 Finished up assembly and testing of a two node system for Tyler Nelson at Nelson Family Vineyards. He's coming by tomorrow to pick it up and get some training.

1/30/16 After all my trashing of cellular gateways yesterday reality dropped me a reminder in the form of a 16 hr. PG&E power outage that an outdoor solar powered cellular gateway doesn't have a dependence on the power company. I also have one customer that operates off grid with their own generators which are offline during two switchovers per day. As a result their system can't upload during the power gaps and data is lost to my servers. However, this customer has an eKo Pro system which actually includes a web server in the vineyard which can run on battery backup for the hour long switchovers. As a result none of the data is being lost, just some of it isn't getting uploaded. Anyway, outdoor cellular gateways are better in this area but, at a cost of about $1000 up front plus the data plan fees. If your power service is not good cellular will have advantages for you.

1/29/16 Wine and Grape Symposium 2016 Attendance Report. The wireless monitoring startup of the week is SmartVineyards.net. Started up by Alan Campbell who has been looking for a good system for years finally decided to select Irrometer and rebrand their system for his product line. I recommend him if you happen to be in his support area. His cellular gateway costs $600 more than an ethernet gateway and requires a data plan like most. For that $600 you could affort to buy two, 2 mile hopping mesh nodes like Camalie Networks CS3-ZX to get your data stream to an ethernet connection. You would also save the cost of a cellular data plan.

Davis Instruments has finally addressed the issues I had with their product in 2003 which forced me to build my own system and start up Camalie Networks to get what I wanted. The missing features were lack of scalability to more than two stations (now they scale to 8) and no data push to the web, now they have a web service which stores and presents your data. They have even added a cellular uplink option but like Smart Vineyards' product it costs $800 plus $10-20 web service+data plan.

Other integrators are showing up like Western Weather and MeasureTek which use Cambell Scentific systems. Prices are very high though. A weather station equivalent to a $820 Davis weather station costs $3023. It does have good one hop range of 5 miles if true. Davis wireless range is only 1000 ft. My contact at UC Davis who has used both says the Davis anemometer bearings actually last longer than the Campbell Scientific weather station's bearings. You don't need research precision instrumentation for irrigation management. To be fair these integrators provide more complex custom systems often with control capabilities and on call support.

Ranch Systems has a new less expensive cellular node packaged in an inverted filter canister for $895 which has an internal solar panel. This is a major step forward for them but it is still not competitive with the group of products now available with node costs in the $300-$500 range including Irrometer, Davis, Spectrum, and Camalie Networks. This is one more data point that indicates cellular is not the best solution for wireless monitoring. I can't help pointing out that the other major limitation of cellular nodes is that you can't put them where you don't have cellular coverage. Some large company most interested in providing coverage for consumers determines where you can and can't put nodes. Wireless mesh networks don't have this limitation. You can always get to any location you want by placing enough relay nodes.

I learned that McCrometer bought the old Adcon product line and is using it now. This product is an antique. StageCoach Vineyards abandoned their last adcon station several years back in favor of a wirless mesh system at 1/5 the cost. The message here is that you need to shop around. There is currently a huge variance in the features and pricing of these systems. A little research can get you alot more bang for your buck.

It's clear to me that growers would like to have plug and play wireless devices for their operations. I want to be able to buy nodes from any of a number of vendors and have them all work and relay data via a single standard wireless network. Nodes would be differentiated more by the sensors and actuators they support than by the networking they use. One good wireless mesh network could support all of most farms' needs. We don't need 20 different wireless networks. Toward this end I did an informal survey of various vendors about the idea of creating a wireless standard for farms like the WiFarm concept I mention earlier in this blog. I got a mixed response from most of the wireless vendors but, they almost all would like to be in the loop on any standardization effort. Integrators and folks doing analytics on farm data were very strongly in favor of it like the growers. I plan to push this forward and try to get a WiFarm working group started. Please contact me if you would like to participate. mholler@pacbell.net.

1/24/16 A perspective has been rolling around in my head since an interview with Andrew Adams of Wines and Vines last week which I want to share. It's a subtle perception problem that Wireless Agricultural Monitoring and Control Systems, (WAMCS) have. There is a tendancy to think of them as just some technology or device to get soil moisture data and do better irrigations. There is nothing wrong with this narrow, outcome focused view of the technology. After all its the attainment of the goal that justifies the expense. However, this view is short sighted in that it misses a other benefits that such a system can provide.

An alternative perspective is that such a system is core IT infrastructure that will be used for many different purposes within the growing operation. The analogy that comes to mind is that it is like the Local Area Network (LAN) that every business office has. One can think of the WAMCS as a Farm Area Network (FAN). Let's look at the analogy a little closer and see what's different about a FAN from a LAN.

First of all the FAN has to cover a much larger area than a LAN and as a result has to use a longer range wireless technology than WiFi. The wireless technology should also be lower power to operate on solar energy from small inexpensive solar cells or batteries. The wireless can be lower bandwidth than WiFi because it is generally communicating with simple devices like sensors and valves rather than human beings sitting at laptops watching movies and surfing the web.

The wireless technology for a FAN needs to be different. WiFi won't cut it because of its high power, short range and no mesh. What about cellular? It has the range. However, it also uses a lot of power and more significantly you can't own the access point or control its coverage. There is a third party that controls it and they are a very large company without much sensitivity to an individual customer's needs. Cellular won't cut it either. It is a reasonable short term solution that is available and works in many cases but, its not the best ultimate solution. It's suboptimal for the end user. Placing a cellular gateway outdoors requires a large 5-30 watt solar power supply and a large weatherproof enclosure which makes it cost generally $1000 more than a simple ethernet gateway placed indoors.

So what would be the optimal solution? It seems to me it should be just like WiFi only longer range and lower power. It should be capable of getting to ANY location on a growing operation which may require circumnavigating obstacles like hills and trees. This can only be done with a mesh network technology.

Fortunately there are now several solutions out there that come very close to this and more are under development. Unfortunately they are all proprietary solutions and don't interoperate. Hence the need for a standard. This is a significant business opportunity but, compared to the "Internet of Consumer Things" it is a niche market. Chip vendors focused on IOT recognize the importance of mesh but, don't consider long range RF a requirement and as a result most of the wireless mesh chip solutions don't put out enough RF power for the needs of growers. Digi's 900MHz HP radios are an exception. Vendors of this kind of Low Power, Low Bandwidth wireless mesh radio + microcontroller are :

Company Product FCC certified Modules Self Organizing Mesh Single Hop LOS Range
Digi International 900HP 900MHz Yes Yes, Digimesh 2 miles
Atmel w/power amp. No   2 miles
Texas Instruments   No    
Linear Technology formerly Dust No   1/4 mile
Intel Edison WiFi No   200 ft.

These companies are focused on a much larger opportunity than just agriculture. They are seeking to support as wide a range of "Internet of Things" applications as possible most of which like wearables don't require long range. Digi is an exception which along with their FCC certification is the reason that Camalie Networks has chosen their technology. FCC certified radio modules are important for the FAN because most FAN devices will be relatively low volume compared to consumer WiFi devices and the $50-100K FCC certification process is prohibitive for small scale companies like Camalie Networks.

There is one very important thing that WiFi has that Digimesh doesn't have which is standardization. Digimesh is a proprietary technology that other vendors cannot use. WiFi is a standard which enables many WiFi devices made by different companies to work together. A FAN solution like this is needed to enable nodes from different vendors to all work on the same FAN and be able to interact with one another.

Camalie Networks provides an open source gateway analogous to a WiFi access point, call it a Digimesh access point, which is capable of receiving from and sending packets to nodes from any vendor which uses Digimesh radios and http packet payload format. This is a step in the right direction but, a wireless standard like Bluetooth is still needed for radio interoperability.

The place we want to get to is where we can buy a wireless router that has both WiFi and WiFarm and there are as many WiFarm device vendors as their are WiFi device vendors. I believe this will happen eventually. There is standards activity in this area one of which is the 6LowPAN initiative however, it is focused on short range radios for wearables(PAN= Personal Area Network). We need a 6LoWFAN standard. I'm predicting it's just a matter of time. In the meantime we have to endure the proliferation of a lot of proprietary solutions and hope we pick one that lasts longer than the others or best becomes the standard. My bet is on Digimesh but, its anything but a sure thing. I don't think they even realize the opportunity or they would be pushing a standard. The standard is likely to be some something analogous to WiFi with modification of IPV6 for IEEE 802.11.15.4 radios.

1/22/15 My Presentation at the Agricultural Water Conservation Program went well and resulted in three inquiries one of which has already resulted in an order and two others scheduled visits. It was definitely worthwhile. Larry Williams was his usual fountain of irrigation knowledge and Jacob Moreno did a good job of presenting the Irrometer wireless offerings. Irrometer appears to be using Zigbee networking which has differentiated relay and end nodes and only 800 ft. range. Their price is right though and they have web service of the data online now.

I was doing a search on camalie networks and found a link to a presentation I did 10 years ago which convinced Crossbow Technology to build the eKo Pro product. Those systems are almost all still in the field sending data 8 years later, however the technology has moved on. Hard to believe its been that long. At that time I predicted it would take 15 years for this technology to become widely used. I think its right on track based on all the new players I am seeing in the last couple years.

I believe Wireless Agricultural Monitoring and Control is one of the most valuable "Internet of Things" applications. Most are toy widgets that don't provide much net value or just create chaos. After my Nest thermostat turned on the heater in the middle of the summer I put it back in manual mode.

1/1/16 DEVELOPMENT FOCUS is two pronged. On the server side I am working on a map with user movable node icons. Node naming is now working again on Camalie Networks Server 7 along with alerts and the grapher which is where the prototype development is being done.

On node functionality the focus is back on making a camera node work. Seeed Studio's Camera Shield with high performance image processing support including motion detection and JPG compression looks like the best platform although it is only VGA resolution and requires quite a bit of 5V power. Plan B is to use an LSY201 camera with 4 wire serial interface. Camera has to be turned off after taking a picture and transferring data to SD card to save power. It will then take 3-6 hours to transfer the JPEG image 100 Bytes at a time over the XBee link with 2-4 minute sleep intervals. I belive 2-4 images per day should be sufficient to capture vine morphology changes like bud break, bloom and veraison.

12/31/15 SERVICE CALL to Green and Red Vineyards. eKo Node 9 sending weather station data was down. Replaced batteries and reoriented node higher for better solar panel exposure and radio transmission. Back online. Added one Watermark soil moisture sensor at 6" depth on that node. Node 14 still intermittent.

12/30/15 I will be presenting at the "Agricultural Water Conservation Program: Soil Moisture Monitoring for Growers" seminar on January 20, 2016 along with Dr. Larry Williams from UCDavis and others.

12/21/15 INITIAL POST. I am retiring from growing other people's grapes at the end of this year which will free up the time to do this blog and better focus on Camalie Networks. I have been doing a blog covering the activities of Pulido Vineyard Management over the last 5 years which chronicles my activities as irrigator for that company and the 5 vineyards it manages. This is where I learned first hand how to use wireless monitoring and control to maximum benefit. The learning during this period has directly impacted the feature set and design of the Camalie System 3 product. The time has come to focus on sharing this learning and the CS3 tool with others facing grape growing with limited water.

The purpose of this blog is to keep Camalie Networks' Customers up to date about progress and plans at Camalie Networks. I will also share stories from the field and customer experiences with the technology. Interesting ways of applying the technology are always emerging from the users. I'll try to be a little entertaining while I'm at it and include some interesting pictures.

Send Comments to  mholler@pacbell.net If they have any plausible value to other readers including entertainment value I'll post them here. Please do contribute.

   

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