Moving forward in the series on currently-available Internet-of-Things systems, LX Group will now explore ‘ThingSpeak’, another addition to the IoT marketplace.
Considered to be one of the first openly-available IoT platforms, ThingSpeak operates on its own free server platform, or can be run on one’s own personal servers; since the entire system is open-source, it’s easier to work with and customise.
Similar to other IoT systems, ThingSpeak gives devices the opportunity to interact with a server for simple tasks such as data collection and analysis, or integration with one’s own custom APIs for specific purposes. The open-source advantage minimises start-up costs to almost zero; being hardware agnostic, ThingSpeak gives the design team many hardware options.
ThingSpeak does not require special base units or proprietary devices to be purchased. It will work as long as the hardware is connected to the Internet and can send and receive HTTP requests. For rapid prototyping, examples are given using many platforms including netduino, Arduino, mbed, and even the competitive Twine hardware. This offers a variety of MCU platforms from Atmel and ARM Cortex providers to work with; since these development platforms are either open-source or inexpensive, the team can be up and running in a short period of time.
Even creating one’s own devices can be quite inexpensive – a simple device based on an Atmel AVR and Ethernet interface can be manufactured for less than $20 in volume, and doesn’t require any software licensing expenses. To save on hardware costs, it could be preferable to have various sensors in a group communicate back to one connected device via inexpensive Nordic NRF24L01 wireless transceivers, with the connected device gathering the data into the required fields for transmission back to ThingSpeak.
The open-source nature of ThingSpeak ensures working with the existing server software or creating one’s own APIs isn’t a challenge. Interaction is easy with simple HTTP requests to send and receive data, which has a useful form. Each data transmission is stored in a ThingSpeak ‘channel’, with each channel allowing storage and transmission of eight fields with 255 alphanumeric characters each, plus four fields for location (description, latitude, longitude and elevation – ideal for GPS), a status update field and time/date stamp. Data sent over the channels can be public or private with access via one’s own devices and software finalising the security.
Once sent to the server, this data can be downloaded for further analysis or monitoring using various HTTP-enabled entities including a simple web page, mobile application or a connected device. Various triggers can be created to generate alerts for different parameters, and can be sent using email, Twitter, or other connected services such as an SMS gateway. After being in operation for almost three years, the platform has matured to a reliable service that has exposed many developers to its way of doing things, increasing the availability of support and documentation.
The ThingSpeak system offers the organisation a low barrier to the Internet of Things. Creating a proof-of-concept device or prototype hardware interface can be done with existing or inexpensive parts, and the use of ThingSpeak’s free server can make an idea become reality in a short period of time.
Companies interested in moving forward with their own system based on the ThingSpeak can tap into LX Group’s wealth of experience. As a partner, LX Group will discuss and understand the client’s requirements and goals, and help them navigate the various hardware and other options available to help solve their problems.
LX Group is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia specialising in embedded systems design and wireless technologies.