What does it take to be an IoT engineer? in IoT Engineering Posted February 12, 2019 ‘Straight-Up’ with the IoT. A new year has fired up at MEA and the troops have rested. I wish I could have rested, but with MEA closed over the Christmas-New Year period, I inevitably spent that down-time reading up on all those technologies I’d sidelined in my head amidst the daily blur. This year I got up to speed on the latest ultrasonic technologies for level sensing, just in case we set about marrying Myriota’s remote-area satellite IoT technology with tank level monitoring and sensing cattle movements. And it’s been hot ‘Down Under’, so the Christmas break also found me conducting a large-scale study in the MEA Test Garden on the impact of current-collapse in our IoT solar panels at temperatures above 40°C. To complicate things, the summer sun climbs high into the sky during the summer solstice, with shorter charging days for north-facing solar panels exacerbating solar-battery charging difficulties caused by radiant heat load. January and the return to work saw us hosing down last-minute alarms in our new Bluetooth-gypsum block IoT technology, destined for shipment to some remote tropical island off Australia’s north-east coast where the Green Turtles are breeding. Things that shouldn’t have gone wrong did go wrong. The ADCs and direct memory access functions in our MSP430 embedded controllers didn’t work as either the data sheet or Errata notes suggested they ought. Occasional data gaps were appearing in the logged record because measurements didn’t complete. We fixed this with a re-write using basic code and much cursing. Then the outdoor air temperature hit 46.9°C (116.4F) in the MEA Test Garden in Adelaide – with over 52°C inside the enclosures – and suddenly we had data spikes. That last-minute glitch was also hosed down and we entered production. With all that done, we got back to debugging our Myriota satellite IoT test system, which had stopped transmitting following a rain event. That too got sorted, teaching us yet again that one can’t be careless with enclosures even when hacking stuff together to test first principles. February rolled around and we dug deep into our back pockets for intellectual property – hardware and firmware – to lash the Myriota modem to our newly-developed smart gypsum block interface. Sometimes it’s good not to be a start-up, as there is no need to develop every darn thing from scratch before you can get down to business. Test beds evolve quickly. Six weeks into the New Year in the MEA Test Garden and we’re monitoring the soil moisture tension profile in the orchard and beaming data straight-up to those whizzing satellites that pass overhead twice-a-day. We’ve already learnt that we can send eight 20-byte packets by queuing them and letting the Myriota modem tackle the business of attempting multiple packet transmissions at each pass. This will stop-gap us against otherwise poor sampling rates until more satellites are launched. Once again we find ourselves under time pressure. Does this satellite IoT technology really work as expected? Can we reliably design product around it? Where are the pitfalls? Can we compress the data sufficiently to match the very small payload? How do we connect data across from the Myriota server to MEA's Green Brain in the cloud? Only squads of data – and time to collect it – can help us here, and we need all sorts of weather events to shake loose nasty gremlins that will surely bight us if they get through to production and our customer base. In the meantime, my Christmas sabbatical has fired my imagination and I’m spending the wee morning hours in my home lab testing new sensor ideas. There just never seems to be enough time in this IoT race!