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Diary of a Trainee Electronics Engineer: May 2017

Preparing for the IoTUK Boost workshop, learning about LoRaWAN & visit to The Houses of Parliament.

EW BrightSparks

This year for the very first time Electronics Weekly teamed up with RS Components to launch a new programme highlighting the brightest and most talented young electronic engineers in the UK. Earlier in the year I found out that I had been nominated and I was invited down to a prestigious event at The Houses of Parliament, where the winners ceremony for the EW BrightSparks class of 2017 was hosted at the beginning of the month!

I couldn’t be more flattered to have won one of these fantastic awards and to get to visit one of the most iconic buildings in the world as part of it.

Throughout the day we had the chance to mingle with all the other winners and even have a tour round the Houses of Parliament. It was fantastic to get the opportunity to meet and chat with the other young engineers who were winners and hear about what they had achieved so far in their careers. Hearing about others achievements was incredibly inspiring and also makes me want to encourage more people get into a career in engineering, and hopefully helping to bridge the gender gap in the process!

The EW BrightSparks class of 2017 Trophy, designed by Saar Drimer.

Project Throwbacks

During May I had the chance to work with two projects which are particularly close to home, the first of which throws me back to when I very first started out in my career and the second of which combines my love of electronics and medicine. Unfortunately, at this moment in time I can’t say too much more about these upcoming posts but be sure to keep an eye out to see if you can spot what they might be.

The Internet of Things

Whilst preparing for the IoTUK Boost workshop at the end of May, I had the opportunity to spend time in the mechanical workshop, preparing the development kits for this, which included laser cutting and assembling an acrylic case for one of the boards.

What is the IotUK Boost?

The IoTUK Boost is a Government funded — through IoTUK and the Digital Catapult — programme, with six partners selected to help lead the development of IoT enabled services and applications for UK small and medium sized enterprises and entrepreneurs.

AB Open are one of the six partners selected to deliver the programme and lead the roll out of Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) test beds across the UK. In addition to AB Open, the other five winners of the programme selected to build experimentation test beds for businesses and entrepreneurs to develop IoT products and services are:

  • Advanced Digital Innovation (UK) Ltd
  • Cambridge Wireless
  • High Tech Bristol and Bath CIC (HBB)
  • Sensor City Liverpool
  • Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre

LPWAN, LoRa, LoRaWAN?

I’ve heard my colleagues speak a lot about LoRaWAN in the past, however, up until now I haven’t worked with this and nor have I fully understood what it is.

It took a little reading, but after the initial confusion I think I have a basic understanding of the relationships between LPWAN, LoRa and LoRaWAN.

LPWAN is a type of wireless telecommunication wide area network, which is designed to allow long range communications at a low bit rate among ‘things’ (connected objects, e.g. sensors) which typically operate on a battery. What distinguishes LPWAN from a wireless WAN is the low bit rate and intended use.

There are a number of competing standards and vendors in the LPWAN space, the most prominent of which include: LoRa based and Ultra Narrow Band (UNB), as well as a few others. For the IoTUK Boost AB Open is using a LoRa based system. LoRa is a proprietary, chirp spread spectrum (CSS) radio modulation technology for LPWAN used by LoRaWAN, Haystack Technologies, and Symphony Link.

On top of this physical layer (LoRa) a number of protocols are competing for notice, one of which is LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) — an open LPWAN data link standard maintained by the LoRa Alliance and which several organisations are using to offer network services. For the purposes of this programme, The Things Network was chosen. This is a free and open-source LoRaWAN network provider built and supported by a worldwide community.

What’s in the Workshop Kits?

Workshop kits were provided to each SME participating and these included:

  • SmartEverything LION board
  • Adafruit 1.8” TFT Display
  • Pycom LoPy
  • Pycom LoPy Expansion Board
  • Arduino Uno Workshop Development Kit
  • All relevant power supplies
  • Micro USB cable

With the LoRaWAN development kit you’ve got almost everything you need to get started working with LPWAN. The SmartEverything LION can be connected to a gateway as one of its ‘things’ and if there isn’t an existing gateway available, the LoPy can be configured as a nano gateway.

The workshop used the Things Calderdale wiki to provide directions on how to get started. These include setting up the software and installing all the relevant libraries required, as well as examples to get you started.

The first example involves taking readings from a DS18B20 temperature sensor and sending this via the network using uplink. Here we are sending readings from the temperature sensor up to the network, hence the name uplink.

Another example included uses downlink. This is the exact opposite and involves sending data from the network down to a thing. As you can in the second example, downlink is being used to control the illumination of an on-board LED on the SmartEverything LION board.

Downlink can also be used with the TFT display and here we can send messages to display to the screen.

Overall I really enjoyed attending the workshop. As I mentioned earlier I’ve overheard colleagues discussing LoRaWAN so much in the past, but never actually understood what it was or how it worked, so to have an understanding of this and be able to use uplink and downlink I feel like I’ve gained a lot from this.

I’m really looking forward to learning more about LPWAN, connecting various sensors to the network and making more use of uplink and downlink capabilities.

Trainee Electronics Engineer, currently studying towards my degree in Electronic Engineering at the University of Hudderfsield. Completed my HND in Electrical & Electronic Engineering from Bradford College 2017. Love to try new things and build interesting projects!

8 Jun 2017, 10:33