IoT with Arduino Yun and YaaS

Arduino Yun IoT

The Arduino Yun hooked up to an LDR light sensor

Inspired by Georg’s post about connecting the ESP8266 to the upcoming hybris as a Service (YaaS), I thought it would be great to connect an Arduino microcontroller to the YaaS platform to showcase an Internet of Things (IoT) scenario. To keep this proof of concept (PoC) small, I decided that fetching an OAuth2 token and posting a sensor value to the YaaS Document Repository would be a good start.

The Arduino however does not have any out of the box capability to send data to the Cloud. There are many modules (or shields) which are able to connect the Arduino to the Internet, including Ethernet, WIFI or using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) through a gateway. Due to the Arduino computing and memory constraints, almost all of those connection options cannot levarage security layers such as HTTPS or TLS. The hybris YaaS platform though requires data to be sent using HTTPS which does not leave a lot of options for secure IoT with the Arduino.

While looking into different options I saw that we had an Arduino Yun lying around in the office and so I decided to use it for the PoC. The Arduino Yun is a hybrid microcontroller board which includes a full-blown Linux System-on-a-Chip (SoC) as well as the same AVR chip found on an Arduino Leonardo. The Arduino IDE includes a Bridge library which lets the Arduino microcontroller talk to the Linux SoC over a USART serial connection.

Instead of implementing an Ethernet and/or WIFI driver plus TCP/IP and HTTP for the limited AVR microcontroller, the Arduino team created a lightweight wrapper for the CURL command line HTTP client which is called over a serial bridge on the Linux SoC.

Unfortunately, this library currently implements HTTP and not its secure variant HTTPS nor sending POST requests. In order to make web service calls to YaaS, I had to implement my own little wrapper around CURL for fetching YaaS tokens and for sending secure POST requests to the YaaS Document Repository.

The sensor that I am using is an LDR (Light Dependent Resistor) which is connected to the Arduino’s Analog-Digital-Converter (ADC) port A0 using a voltage divider circuit. The circuit was set up on a breadboard and connected to the Arduino Yun.

arduino_ide_screenshot

YaaS client library in the Arduino IDE

I am using the Arduino String library to construct the JSON strings for the HTTPS request bodies. The Arduino Yun YaaS library I created only implements the following features: requestToken(), securePostRequest() and a super simple jsonStringLookup() to parse the token from the JSON response. Packing this functionality into 32kb of program memory and 2kb or RAM of an Arduino was a real challenge. When running out of RAM on the microcontroller, things will just stop working without any warning. The Arduino IDE only offers serial messages for debugging.

arduino_serial_screenshot

Successfully requested OAuth2 token and uploaded a sensor value to the YaaS document repository

In the process of writing the YaaS HTTPS library, I realized that doing requests by wrapping CURL requests does not provide a great level of flexibility when it comes to error handling and retries of requests. There are also some drawbacks to having a Linux SoC on the same microcontroller board: the difficulty of battery operation due to its power requirements or keeping a full-blown Linux system maintained and secure over time.

With my Arduino Yun PoC I have proven that it is possible to connect an Arduino to our new microservices based cloud platform YaaS. I learned that doing HTTPS requests on an 8-bit microcontroller is only feasible if you are using a more powerful gateway such as the Linux SoC included in the Arduino Yun. As a next step, it would be great to be able visualize the sensor data which I am pushing to the document repository. That’s a story for another blog post though.

Max, what are you soldering there?

“Ouch! (his fingers obviously…hihihi…) I’m just building a prototype board to connect the TV screens in the labs space to a logical control system which we can then use for IoT purposes. And to connect this we need a special adapter, that’s what I’m just soldering.

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“How does that work? Not the soldering, the system.”

“It’s basically just a serial adapter which uses an Ethernet connector instead of a normal RS232 connector. And because we need something like this for a Raspberry Pi and we don’t want to stack three adapters in a row, we’re building it on a circuit board ourselves.”

“Tell us a bit more about why you’re doing this.”

“Our existing video solution in the labs space isn’t really satisfying with the function it provides. We want to have a video system that allows us to control all the time which video is playing so that we can use the system to display events generated by other IoT prototypes, e.g. Funky Retail. If a customer’s presence is detected,Funky Retail would normally just light up and a video would play. And this is all static, right? Meaning, the Raspberry Pi that is built into the Funky Retail System would then play a video. And what we could do is use this event ‘customer presence’ to trigger some action on any of the screens in the labs space. It doesn’t nee to be a simple video, it could be anything. Things like: you walk over from one screen to the next and the video follows you with the right seek position in the video itself.”

“How exactly did you solve the problem you had connecting to the TVs?”

“That’s what I’m doing right now. The thing is, each TV needs two connections. One is HDMI, which is no problem, and the other is a serial connection which we can use to control the screens we already have in the labs space. We could use some other technology to control the TVs, but the ones we have don’t support this technology. It’s called HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) and it only exists in consumer TV screens, but we have professional screens. That’s why we need to use the professional controlling option which is a serial connection. So we need two cables to each screen. And what I’m soldering right now is the adapter for a Raspberry Pi to control each screen. And this is done via an Ethernet cable. What happens is, each Raspberry Pi will have an HDMI connection to a screen and a serial connection. Then we’ll have one controlling Raspberry Pi for each screen.”

“And at the end we can control the screens from wherever we want through the internet?”

“Yes, that’s the point. The Raspberry Pis will then connect to a central broker system which is basically just a server on AWS. … Damn, too short! (I think I might be distracting Max here a bit…)
So, I’m just solving the hardware problems right now. The stories or the applications we can build based on this are much more interesting than the hardware. This will be included into other prototypes as an output source. We have a lot of input sources in our IoT prototypes, e.g. pick up events, presence event, etc., but most of our output events are flashing lights and web UIs. If what I’m building here works, we could utilise any TV screen that is totally independent from our other prototypes as an output. That’s the idea and we’ll have the applications pretty soon. The easiest one is just to replace the static environment for Funky Retail, which already plays a video when you pick something up, and uncouple the playback of the video from the controlling Raspberry Pi of Funky Retail. This totally makes sense.”

Thanks Max, hopefully we can celebrate the success soon! And be careful with that soldering iron…

Andreas, no Lego this time?

The last time I asked Andreas what on earth he was doing, his desk was full of Lego. Quite a valid question in that case. The result of this work is called Augmented Commerce.

This time things look a little more ‘conservative’…

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…but still: “Andreas, what technology are you just working on?”

“I’m working with some old friends of hybris labs: a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino. And of course we have the usual suspects like Neopixel rings and so on…  But this time we’re also trying to connect to YaaS.”

“Ok, now what connects to what? What does what and why?”

“The Raspberry Pi does the talking to the YaaS platform, taking control of the whole process. And the Arduino is responsible for the hardware stuff, like LED’s and proximity sensor. This time we’re also using a coin slot which is kind of new. Basically, we’re trying to enable the customer to pay on the YaaS platform with coins.”

“So, we’re building a smart vending machine…”

“I wouldn’t call it that, because it can be more. The idea is that you can connect anything to what we’re building here. We’re not providing a complete vending machine, but only the YaaS-connection. You have your front end through which you can pay and interact with this device, but it’s only the interface of YaaS. What you connect it to in the end is up to you.”

“Apart from lights flashing when I throw in a coin, what else happens? There’s something going on with NFC or RFID, right?”

“At the moment it’s RFID (developer language for: ‘I’ve got no idea if this is going to work. It could be anything at the end. RFID, NFC, telepathy…’). The idea was that somehow you have to authenticate yourself to access your YaaS account. We wanted to do this with RFID, at least that’s the plan for the moment (for translation see above). So, you go up to the machine and through the proximity sensor it notices you’re approaching. It greets you and says ‘Hello, please swipe your card, NFC tag, RFID token, whatever… (Ok, now I’m being a bit mean. To be fair, the things Andreas builds usually work really well. There is a reason his second name is Brain.) Once it knows who you are, you can order the product of your choice. Then you are asked to please pay. You can either throw in coins, or you use the credit you already have on your YaaS account, or you pay by Bitcoin.”

“So, you can either pay physically or digitally via your account. But when you overpay with coins you don’t get any change back, right?”

“That’s the idea, because it simplifies our device. We only take money and don’t return any…”

“Makes sense, sounds good.”

“…yes. What you overpay goes directly to your YaaS account and you can use it the next time.”

Thanks Andreas, we’re curious to see the finished prototype.

Intro to IoT with the ESP8266 microcontroller board

Today we want to give you an introduction to a new module that has gotten a lot of attention in the IoT community lately. It doesn’t have a sexy name like the Particle Cores, Espruinos, LightBlue Beans and all the others out there. The name is simply ESP8266. Anyone exploring IoT components these days has probably run into one of the ESP8266 modules.
The first time I came across this little module was in August 2014 on the hackaday blog . Back then it seemed to be more of a cheap alternative to existing WiFi modules for Arduinos with a price tag of under $5, compared to the Arduino WiFi shields that run around $40. The SDK for the SoC of this module was not very mature and most of the documentation was available in Chinese language only. The only usable firmware supported AT commands.
But luckily a lot has changed since then. There are now more than 12 different variations of the ESP8266 available, multiple Firmwares, many projects are using it and it’s becoming more and more popular every day. With this post we want to give an overview on this.

 

Available module variants

ESP-01

ESP-01

  • Dimensions: 14.3mm x 24.8mm
  • PCB antenna
  • GPIO0/2/16
  • Very common module

 

ESP-02

ESP-02

  • Dimensions: 14.2mm x 14.7mm
  • U-FL connector
  • GPIO0/2/15
ESP-03

ESP-03

  • Dimensions: 17.4mm x 12.2mm
  • Ceramic antenna
  • GPIO0/2/12/13/14/15/16
  • Very common module
ESP-04

ESP-04

  • Dimensions: 14.7mm x 12.1mm
  • No antenna
  • GPIO0/2/12/13/14/15/16
ESP-05

ESP-05

  • Dimensions: 14.2mm x 14.2mm
  • U-FL connector
  • No GPIO
ESP-06

ESP-06

  • Dimensions: 14.2mm x 14.7mm
  • No antenna
  • GPIO0/2/12/13/14/15/16
  • Metal shield claims FCC
ESP-07

ESP-07

  • Dimensions: 22mm x 16mm
  • Ceramic Antenna & U-FL connector
  • GPIO0/2/4/5/12/13/14/15/16
  • Metal shield claims FCC

 

ESP-08

ESP-08

  • Dimensions: 17mm x 16mm
  • No antenna
  • GPIO0/2/12/13/14/15/16
  • Metal shield claims FCC
ESP-09

ESP-09

  • Dimensions: 10mm x 10mm
  • No antenna
  • GPIO0/2/12/13/14/1

 

ESP-10

ESP-10

  • Dimensions: 14.2mm x 10mm
  • No antenna
  • No GPIO
ESP-11

ESP-11

  • Dimensions: 19.3mm x 13mm
  • Ceramic antenna
  • GPIO0/1
ESP-12

ESP-12

  • Dimensions: 24mm x 16mm
  • PCB antenna
  • ADC + GPIO0/2/4/5/12/13/14/15/16
  • Very common module
  • Metal shield claims FCC

Here are some modules we rarely see being used, but we want to mention them here for completion.

WROOM-01

WROOM-01

  • GPIO0/2/4/5/12/13/14/15/16
WROOM-02 / ESP-13

WROOM-02 / ESP-13

  • GPIO0/2/4/5/12/13/14/15/16

 

ESP8266 ESP-12 wiring

In our exploration of the ESP8266 we have mostly focused on the ESP-12. We had a bunch of ESP-01 and ESP-12 available that we got off of AliExpress, but ESP-12 was mainly chosen because it has more GPIO pins.
The wiring for flashing a new firmware is pretty straight forward. In addition to connecting the VCC and GND you need to pull up the CH_PD and GPIO02 and pull down the pins GPIO0 and GPIO15. After running into unstable behavior of the module, we decided to add a dedicated power supply to have a constant current. The last missing part to flashing a new firmware is an FTDI USB-serial adapter. Connect the TX to RX, RX to TX and the GND. We don’t need the VCC since we already have a power supply. With the wiring as shown below, we should be ready to get our firmware on the ESP8266.

Wiring of ESP8266 ESP-12

Wiring of ESP8266 ESP-12

 

Available Firmwares

Espressif’s Official Firmware

The official firmware from Espressif gives you the best performance and control of your implementations with more memory available for code than the others below. There are many projects using this firmware, the most popular is probably esp_mqtt. The downside with this firmware though, is that you have set up a full toolchain on your development machine which can take some time. Even though some of the libraries were not open sourced there are very frequent releases at the moment. This helped us to get the ESP8266 connected to the hybris-as-a-Service offering over HTTPS as the older firmwares have a broken SSL library.

NodeMCU

The NodeMCU firmware was initially released at the end of 2014 and allows you to write your application code in Lua. This firmware is also very popular and allows quick prototyping. Unfortunately the NodeMCU is based on an older version of the official firmware. Due to memory restrictions this base can’t easily be upgraded as the remaining memory for custom code would be too low to do any serious coding. This also means that the recent fixes made to the SSL libraries etc. are not available in NodeMCU.

Frankenstein

This Firmware, as the name suggests, consists mostly of different bits and pieces that are publicly available. It is meant mainly as an alternative to an AT Firmware and has a limited control of GPIOs.

Sming

An open source and native firmware that allows you to work with GPIO in Arduino style. Comes with great built-in modules but is also compatible with Arduino libraries. But unfortunately based on an older version of the official firmware.

 

Other firmware projects in progress

Micro Python Port for ESP8266

  • highly experimental
  • Python REPL over UART0
  • Garbage collector

Espruino Port for ESP8266

  • Port of Espruino JavaScript engine
  • Slow progress

 

Toolchain set up on Mac OS X Yosemite

As mentioned above we would need to set up the toolchain in order to be able to compile the firmware and flash the ESP8266. In the following walk-through we’ll assume you have the drivers installed for the FTDI USB serial adapter. In most cases it should be pretty straight forward.

 

Essentials

First we need to install some essential tools that we would need to build the toolchain. We are mostly using homebrew to install additional software but you will also find same packages on MacPorts.

 

Toolchain and SDK

In the next step we need to create a case-sensitive filesystem, clone the sep-open-sdk repository and build it.

Once we have a successful build we need to add the toolchain path to our environment. Edit your profile with

and add this at the bottom

Don’t forget to reload your terminal

 

Flashtool

The last missing piece for the setup is a tool for flashing the compiled firmware onto the ESP8266. We’ve used ESPTool in most cases. It’s using a Python library PySerial that you can install with pip.

For the ESPTool itself you can simply git clone the repository and

 

First build

To verify that we set up the toolchain correctly we can compile a sample project. As I mentioned above, esp_mqtt is a very popular project. So let’s just compile that.

Now we can compile our own projects, too. It would be cool to integrate the toolchain into an IDE. We would have code highlighting, code completion and would also be able to build and flash the firmware in one single tool.

 

Eclipse set up

Download Eclipse IDE for C/C++ Developers and install it. Once done, you can import the esp_mqtt project into Eclipse as shown on the screens below.

To allow building and flashing of the firmware we can simply add the make targets (all, clean, flash) on the rights as shown here.

One last important part is still missing. We need to add the PATH variable to Eclipse to help it find the toolchain. Add in the Preferences under C/C++ → Build→ Environment a PATH variable with Value /esptools/esp-open-sdk/xtensa-lx106-elf/bin and we should be ready to develop our application.

 

First request to YaaS

We had successfully used MQTT with the ESP8266, but the upcoming hybris-as-a-Service platform yaaS is following the micro services architecture and is all RESTful Webservices over SSL. As mentioned earlier the SSL libraries were broken in earlier versions of the SDK. The latest official SDK though has proper SSL support. We got the ESP8266 to talk to yaaS with the sample code from Espressif. Just configure the WiFi SSID and password in the user_set_station_config function. Replace at the top the NET_DOMAIN and TLSHEAD with your server address and HTTP request.

Compile and flash the firmware onto the ESP8266. Restart the ESP8266 module to let it run your custom code that we flashed.

There it is! The ESP8266 got it’s first token from yaaS!

Moto – "It’s so simple, even Nick can run it…”

Thanks Lars… Have you finished playing with Minecraft?…

So, what is Moto? Moto is the fourth prototype of our IoT series and again we’re shifting the focus of what we want demonstrate. When we built the Smart Wine Shelf, we concentrated on the customer experience. With Funky Retail we focused more on the analytics. Tiles was a step closer towards exploring the technological aspects around mobility. And now finally, with Moto we’re diving even further into the IoT technology and the possibilities it leverages to permanently reconfigure the prototypes functions.

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The ‘active’ physical components of a Moto are a distance sensor, a turning platform, and a LED-ring. Moto connects to an Android app via BLE and uses the device as data hub. The components and their actions can be connected in any way that seems sensible, by the means of a programming tool called ‘Node-RED’. And exactly this the essence of Moto. ‘Node-RED’ allows users without special expertise in coding and programming (like Nick…) to configure an IoT-based system. The actual Moto and the actions taking place merely serve as an example. These actions are displayed in a web page UI through which they also can be triggered.

We’re deliberately not telling a specific business story around this prototype. Basically it’s a bit of plug & play for IoT.

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Read the more techy posts on Moto here!