Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Android phone as weather station

The previous post was about a low-cost Bluetooth Low Energy sensor (really, one sensor unit that includes the BLE-enabled microcontroller too costs less than 15 USD and that's just a single prototype, economies of scale come on top of that) and its accompanying Android app that allows obtaining sensor reading manually. That's not bad but manually reading data is sort of inconvenient. If you want to know, what the temperature and humidity was in the dawn, you have to be awake in that early hour. Personally, I prefer to sleep then so I decided to automate the whole process.

Click here to download the sources of the Android application. The content of the archive is the app/src/main subtree of an Android Studio project. In addition to extracting the sources into the app/src/main subtree, update app/build.gradle like this:

dependencies {
    compile fileTree(dir: 'libs', include: ['*.jar'])
    testCompile 'junit:junit:4.12'
    compile 'com.jjoe64:graphview:4.0.1'

The project depends on Jonas Gehring's GraphView project, hence this new dependency.

So what can we expect from this new app? In case of the app that came with the sensor in the previous post, you started a manual scan and if the sensor was in range, you got the humidity/temperature data. The new app scans and stores data in the background. Once it is started, it sets up a periodic timer (default timeout is 1 hour but can be changed in the settings menu) and when the timer fires, it makes a scan. If it finds a BLE node whose advertisement fits our criteria (e.g. it advertises services with the UUID I allocated) then it extracts the measurement data from the advertisement message and stores it in a database on the device. This variant does not yet upload the data to a server, that may come later. However, it can visualize the measurements on simple graphs, hence the dependency on GraphView. Like this:

Let's see the interesting bits of this app.

First and foremost, it is an interesting feature of this application that the BLE layer is used in such a way that reading the sensor is not an extra cost for the sensor. As the measurement data is embedded into the advertisement packets that the device broadcasts anyway, it does not matter if 1 or 1000 phones read and store data. So this sort of sensor network can grow into an entire ecosystem - the more phone users install and use the app, the more precisely the measured quantity will be available once the phones upload their catch to the server.

If you observe, how the data is stored (, you can recognize an important shortcut that I made: the database structure depends on the sensor being used. This provider depends on the fact that DHT-22 (the actual measurement device) provides temperature and humidity data in the same reading. A different sensor (like the Bosch BME280 sensors sitting in my drawer waiting for their turn) will require a new provider and also a modification of the visualization part. So there's significant development potential in making the app more flexible when it comes to adding a new sensor type.

The actual sampling of the service happens in BLESensorGWService using the AlarmManager to trigger the scan. Now getting the device awake if it was just sleeping is not a simple business. Observe in the list below, that even though there's always an hourly reading, there's a significant variation when the reading happens.

In case of our weather reading, it was not a problem but some sensors may have more variable data. A large number of devices reading and uploading would solve the problem of reading time variations.

GraphMeasurementActivity is the activity that depends on Jonas Gehring's GraphView.  The graphs are very simple so if you have another favourite graph view component, just replace it there.

So we are at the point that we added sensors to our Android device using Bluetooth Low Energy and created an application that samples them producing nice weather-related data series. The next step will be the integration of a cloud-based data analysis. I am still thinking, which one to go for.

And finally, the picture of the sensor, in its "weather-resistant" box.


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