Next up: Tiles

I started blogging bits and pieces about BLE – Bluetooth Low Energy – a few weeks ago. The research we’re doing right now will help us to connect little, battery-powered “tiles” (hence the name) to a hub that collects data from these sensors. This prototype is part of our vision for a connected retail space. We’ve now received a first CNC-milled hardware prototype for the housing, which is shown below.



We’ll now start connecting the bits and pieces. Our overall architecture consists of 3 parts:

  • the satellites –  tiles – contain LightBlue Beans – little arduino/BLE microcontrollers that run on batteries. The tiles also contain a single pressure sensor that is used to detect if a product is on top (or lifted up). The event data contains information about the tiles ID, the event (up/down) and the battery level. The mechanism we seem to support in the end will use BLE notifications that originate from the LightBlue Bean and will be received by the hub.
  • The hub is also still under development, but some early node.js code works nicely on my Mac already. The hub scans for the tiles, which send BLE advertisements, and connects to them. It receives the events via BLE notfications and will have to manage the tiles and pass on the events. The protocol we would like to use for the first time is CoAP in this case. It is essentially a binary version of HTTP, runs on UDP and is – as the name suggests – made for constrained applications. We’ve then successfully used ZMQ, MQTT and CoAP when it comes to IoT protocols.
  • The server will receive all CoAP messages from the tiles, process and persist (or at least keep) the data and allow users for the system – customers, store managers – to manage the tiles. We intend to print a QR code or attach an NFC tag to each of them. Once you touch the tiles with the NFC tag and have passed the OAuth2-based authorization, you can add the tile to your personal analytics view. The goal is to make it really reasy for a store manager to add these ‘sensor elements’ (tiles) to his anayltics view. Once a tile is claimed, the analytics data will not be accessible to anybody else than the person that claimed it.

So… yes, it’s still quite a long way to go.  I’ll try to update you once we make some progress. But let me know what feedback you have. Just tweet me or leave a comment directly on this blog.