Skip to main content

Taking a Peak: Xtreme² Edition



 

If you have at any point found our eclectic collection of blogs strewn across our site mildly amusing or useful(!), please consider donating to Alzheimer's Research UK.

Here's the JustGiving fundraising page related to the significantly less technical (but more brutal) aspect of this endeavour.

Thanks!


This bizarre obsession of ours to track inherently inanimate objects (often purchased down at the local Morrisons) using satellites has been simmering under the blisteringly hot Raspberry Pi 4 surface for a while. It began with the epiphany that there was much fun to be had by attaching a GPS receiver to a Raspberry Pi in Beam Me Up, Rosie! before this pastime quickly escalated through an amalgamation of this discovery with our other passion that is more justifiable to our friends and family - the outdoors.

Starting with Taking a Peak, our exotic devices began to accompany us on our long treks, but still, very much as a silent observer to the going-ons in the (often freezing and drizzly) English countryside.  More vermin, than Garmin.


But with the arrival of two new blog series - I-O-Tea, and the ongoing I-O-Mr-T - these experiments began to spiral out of control.

All manners of additional sensors were thrown (sometimes, quite literally) at our overworked Raspberry Pis and ESP32 development boards.  They were tricked into communicating over longer distances, and LoRaWAN was inevitably introduced.  We also went through a dark phase in which we developed an unhealthy addiction to empty Flora margarine tubs.  Or was it actually the Flora?


Finally, we became acquainted with AWS IoT.

Now, this thing wasn't just a peculiar 3D printed box that got tossed around the smelly pit of the backpack.  It did other stuff.  Like update the device's current location in AWS IoT Core.  Store historical sensor readings in AWS Elasticsearch service for analysis using Kibana.  Be monitored for responsiveness using AWS IoT Events.  Our Flora tub was quickly becoming a seasoned navigator (of the AWS console).

...Yet there comes the inevitable time in every project's journey that it simply becomes yesterday's news.  It becomes stale like the half-eaten prawn sandwich that we forgot to remove from our rucksack after the last expedition.  Practically mouldy like the muck still attached to the underside of our walking boots.  In other words, it urgently needs a Peter Jackson-style sequel.  But most importantly, the project requires a hideously misspelt word and unnecessary mathematical operation insinuating unparalleled greatness appended to its title.

Yes, this is Taking a Peak: Xtreme² Edition.  The sequel that no-one requested, or needed.  Where we will carry around our semi-completed device(s) around the actual Brecon Beacons 10 Peaks Ultramarathon event.

10 peaks; 58 kilometres; 3000m of ascent; 24 hours

Cue the dramatically cropped photos we've taken of the route during our previous visits...





Unusually for us, we don't intend to use this post to document how the entire project hangs together, since it is a ragtag assortment of our many experiments to date.  But this PDF provides something of an overview.

...And this GitHub repository will (eventually) be updated to house the entire project.

In short, there is a Raspberry Pi Zero being carried around in a flimsily constructed 3D printed case with random up-cycled parts.  This device - affectionately called the Rosie IoT Brick, or rather provocatively RIoT Brick for short, allows our enthusiastic little ones to track our progress around the event when they are not busy doing other stuff on the tablet.  Like finding a way to bypass parental browser restrictions to watch Nickelodeon.


...And then there's the other tool of our trade: the slightly smaller trackers running MicroPython on ESP32 development boards.  These don't do much, except record current GPS coordinates and broadcast them out via LoRaWAN (The Things Network), and back to the Brick using nRF24L01+ 2.4 GHz radio.

All this data finally converges in AWS IoT, where we randomly pick services from the service catalogue like an intoxicated contestant participating in a dart match, in the hope of doing something useful and presentable with it.

Ultimately, of course, our family members are able to track and be notified of our progress through a whole host of AWS wizardry.






Well that's about it for now.

We have significantly more critical things to worry about... like packing far more important and undoubtedly useful gizmos, and making it around the course in one piece within the cut off times.  And - most challenging of all - convincing the little ones that they should keep their eyes on a hand-crafted, static website hosted on AWS S3 with Cognito, than an episode of Mia and Me.   Clearly - once we're at the starting position at 06:00 in the morning, all this DIY workmanship becomes secondary to conquering the result of billion years' worth of mother earth's Kanban boards, daily stand-ups and agile development.  The very original Peaks-as-a-Service (PaaS).

In other words, we'll promise to update this post with the outcome.  And commit updated code back into the GitHub repo.  But only after we admit defeat, or declare victory, against the best thing to come out of South Wales since sliced ridges, the Raspberry Pi.

The boast-mortem

Right. So what actually went down (or up!) in the hills?

...Now that the challenge is well and truly over, we're pleased to announce that not only did we survive the course, we completed it in a semi-respectable 18 hours.  And first of all, don't let the Unreal Engines and the Adobes of the world tell you otherwise through millions of polygons and pixels.  Billions of years of planet earth's continuous disintegration, touched up using nature's very own dusk to dawn filters, is always best experienced in the flesh.


But we've had just about enough of the beauty of the Brecon Beacons for now... what about the DIY tech, we hear you ask?  Did it all accomplish what it was supposed to accomplish?


Well, our brick took some initial damage while being transported in a rather congested boot of the car, squeezed somewhere in between a 2L bottle of water from Tesco and some seriously unclean hiking boots, and inevitably as a result, its aerial broke off.

But - thankfully for us - that was about the extent of the mishaps.

The aerial was only used by the nRF24L01 radio transceiver.  The remainder - the Raspberry Pi Zero, GPS receiver, sensors and occasional connectivity to the outside world - continued to work flawlessly throughout the journey.  And powered using a rather weighty 20,000mAh USB battery pack, the set-up comfortably lasted the 18 hours (and in truth could easily have done another 24, unlike our legs).  Toporational Acceptance Testing: Passed.


All in all, this allowed our family to closely track our progress and event conditions remotely using their favourite mobile device.  Apparently, for a subset of our family based out in Australia, tracking the whereabouts of a Raspberry Pi in the South Wales countryside made some riveting weekend excitement.


And - unamused by stinky mud puddles of cowpat encountered around the course - we created our very own with collected data.  A data reservoir, if we must.  Or as the ancient Welsh had the tradition of calling centralised repositories of enterprise data: Llyn Data.


All in all, a very satisfying conclusion to the entire endeavour.

Sure, this Raspberry Pi Zero deserves the medal, and a little time away from the overbearing USB battery pack that it was attached to throughout the journey.  But if anything, this has only strengthened our resolve to take these experiments a little further (perhaps, quite literally).

So watch the space, as they say.  That vast open space.  You are almost certain to encounter another Pi in the wild.

And, oh yes, this adventure was featured in a Raspberry Pi blog.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

LoRa-Wan Kenobi

In the regurgitated words of Michael Bublé: It's a new dawnIt's a new dayIt's a new Star Wars filmFor meAnd I'm (George Lucas, and I'm) feeling good.  Unfortunately for Canadian Mike, the Grammy that year was won by the novelty disco classic with the famous refrain: We love IoT, even in Planet Tatooine*.

*Not true.

Clearly, the Star Wars producers didn't sincerely mean the lastJedi the previous time around.  Return of the Jedi, released during the decade that spearheaded cultural renaissance 2.0 with the mullet and hair-metal, was less economic with the truth.  Either way, we're going to take inspiration from the impressive longevity of the money-spinning space-opera and reboot our franchise with some Jedi mind tricks.  Except this particular flick doesn't require an ever-growing cast of unrecognisable characters, unless ASCII or UTF counts.  In place of an ensemble gathering of Hollywood stars and starlets, we will be assembling together a…

Tea minus 30

We're fast approaching Christmas time.  And if robots were to make one simple observation about the human species during the Christmas festivities, it's that they watch a lot of TV.  A LOT.  Often, accompanied by an inappropriate amount of greenhouse gas-producing food.  Stuff you don't normally eat during the remainder of the year - for good reason.

And most so-called shows on TV are boring to robots like Rosie.  After all, why watch a minor subspecies of the human race - celebrities - stumble awkwardly around the dance floor, dressed like a faulty, sparking circuit board?  Such branch of entertainment doesn't require robots to engage any of their proud circuitry.  Their processors remain idle.  Memory under-utilised.

But if robots are to be part of people's homes (and blend in), they need to look at least a little interested in some of this irrational nonsense.  Nobody likes a party pooper.  A killjoy.  And this is where a certain subgenre of TV entertainment co…

Beam me up, Rosie!

How do you get from A to B?

You can't, as As and Bs are just letters in the alphabet. But if A is your house, and B is a meerkat village at your favourite safari park, you'd probably use a device equipped with GPS.  Not to be confused with UPS, who will deliver you your chosen meerkat through the post. And why on Earth would Rosie Patrol need one? Precisely, it's because she is on Earth that she needs one. Because our planet is rather big. Big enough to get lost in. And we don't want to lose our friendly plastic boxes on wheels. And maybe, eventually when she's clever enough, she'll go and defeat baddies on her own. And return home afterwards for a well deserved Earl Grey tea.

Besides, why wouldn't we want to add another three letter acronym to Rosie Patrol's repertoire?
All superheroes need:One Raspberry Pi 3, running Raspbian OSComputer from which you are connecting to the Raspberry Pi Probably the most important bit: a GPS receiver thingmy. …

Break an egg! You've got to be in it to win it.

What the 'egg? It turns out: parenting is actually quite hard.

Not least because you suddenly find yourself responsible for one, two, or - in our household - three little miniature versions of us that need to be kept well away from the soldering iron. Or the 3D printer. Or that marauding hexapod that you forgot to power off before you left for work in a hurry.  But to compound matters further, you find yourself well and truly ambushed - financially.  You are at all times being pressurised by dark forces beyond your control to make an investment, however dubious the return.

That's right.  Clearly, you will be considered an abject failure as a responsible adult if you don't purchase the latest, trendy parenting gizmo. That feeding bottle sterilising kit clinically proven to kill all known bacteria through the science of nuclear fission. Or that titanium alloy buggy guaranteed not to crumple in the event of a sudden collision with falling Soviet-era space debris.  Evidently,…

Raspberry bye, hello

Let us make this very clear from the onset of this exotic excursion.

This is not a case of Raspberry Bye. Our relationship with our favourite single-board computer hasn't at all soured. In fact, we've become wholly inseparable. There's been many months of undeniable fun that's been had with the venerable computer strangely named after an edible fruit. To the extent that our relationship requires a healthy break. And quite frankly, our Pis require a well earned summer holiday to do whatever it is that robots and computers do during their time off. Crash. Burn. Refuel (with questionable toxins). Not at all unlike their human counterparts. And ultimately, it would be nice if they could return to a brand new, adorable pet waiting for them at home, a likeable little companion that they can just get along with.

Well, we visited a pet shop, but couldn't find anything as small and smart as this adorable pup we stumbled up on while searching the Internet for a new, miniat…