RAK is leading the way with an exciting new sensor processing and communication platform for IoT development. With the belief that IoT solutions should not be complicated, RAK strives for simplicity and effectiveness in all their products. This has been the guiding philosophy in the development of the Wisblock system for IoT connectivity.
The idea behind the Wisblock system is to work with an integrated system of open source and user friendly modules that incorporate sensors, processing and connectivity. In this post we will highlight some of the main features of the WisBlock system and explain why it is so compelling for IoT.
Table of Contents
At the heart of any IoT application is the sensor. RAK has taken a modular approach to the construction of the sensors making it easy to build and program your own depending on your requirements. Modules are designed to be easy to integrate with one another.
The WisBlock system is comprised of 3 main pillars or blocks. Each block includes modules to allow for flexibility. The blocks are comprised of:
- Base board that connect all the modules with one another
- A Micro Controller Unit (MCU) module
- Communication or IO modules, like industrial interfaces (RS485, 4-20mA, CAN bus, LIN bus), wireless communication (WiFi, cellular modems)
- Sensors which in turn consists of four slots.
The modularity of the Wisblock system enables flexibility. Users can mix and match modules depending on their application. For instance an MCU can be picked that’s appropriate to the task in addition to IO module depending on the required protocol.
This is an important part of IoT systems. There are many wireless standards to choose from – for example LoRa. WisBlock enables the implementation of Low Power Wide Area Network into your IoT solution.
Ease of use
WisBlock modules are well documented. RAK have provided detailed examples and quick start guides for each WisBlock module. Additionally there is a growing community of users to support the development of systems.
To get you up and running, RAK have provided ready to use applications like GNSS tracker, Soil Moisture Sensor, Weather and Environment Monitor. Users can get both the source code and ready to use, fully assembled WisBlock Solutions like the RAK10700.
Open source Hardware and Software
WisBlock modules are open source. This makes it easy to understand, develop for and extend functionality. With an open architecture, users can also develop their own modules and share with the growing community.
Applications for the WisBlock system are unlimited. From Agricultural monitoring to position tracking WisBlock can address a wide range of IoT applications. Let’s take a look at a real world application of the use of WisBlock system for agriculture application.
The picture shows an example of how modules can be connected together for the development of a solution for agriculture. It consists of three main components:
The RAK5005-O WisBlock Base module includes expansion connectors to facilitate the attachment of WisBlock modules. This module also includes USB connectivity, LEDs, buttons and IO interfaces.
Next is the Wisblock core communication module which is based on the LoRa standard and intended for long range connectivity with very low power consumption. The module comes in two variants supporting frequency range 779-923 MHz for Europe, North America and other regions and 433-470 MHz for China.
The third module in the chain is the RAK12035 Soil Moisture Sensor and the RAK12023 interface board. This sensor can be directly applied in the soil, connected to the WisBlock system. A ready to use library and tutorial makes it easy to measure soil moisture and soil temperature.
Another powerful feature of the WisBlock is the ability to combine multiple sensor and interface modules into one IoT sensor. For example an agricultural monitoring solution can consist of all of the following
- WisBlock Base Board RAK5005-O
- WisBlock Core Module (Occupies Core Slot) RAK4631
- Soil Moisture sensor (Occupies IO Slot) RAK12023/RAK12035
- GNSS module (Occupies two Sensor Slots) RAK12500
- RAK1906 / BME280 Environment sensor (Occupies one Sensor Slots)
This leaves one sensor slot free.
The firmware for such a solution could be based on the LPWAN-Soil-Moisture-Solution. Sub functions from RAK1906 Environmental sensor examples may be added to it.
Communicating with the WisBlock system is easy. Debug output and data can be accessed across the built-in USB interface incorporated into the WisBlock Base boards from any computer with a serial terminal application.
Sensor data or control commands can be transmitted using your choice of wireless communication methods. Depending on the capabilities of your WisBlock Core module, data can be sent and received. Here are some related WisBlock modules:
- RAK4631 – LoRa P2P, LoRaWAN, BLE
- RAK11200 – Bluetooth, WiFi and (with RAK13300 LoRa module) LoRa and LoRaWAN
- RAK11310 – LoRa P2P, LoRaWAN
Examples of how to send data over these wireless channels are included RAK’s open source examples and the quick start guides.
RAK’s Wisblock environment simplifies IoT development with ready to use building blocks. You can work within the RAK ecosystem and you won’t have to source and integrate third-party modules. Integrating modules from different vendors can be a daunting, time consuming task. Furthermore for a commercial application, ensuring that multiple module vendors will continue to produce and support products can be a daunting task.
With RAK’s open architecture and extensive documentation, interfacing to wireless systems is a breeze. For instance, devices built with WisBlock can send LoRaWAN packets to the Helium Console using Helium Miners that are within range. The only requirement is to setup the WisBlock device in the Helium Console. RAK have provided tutorials on how to go about this in the Documentation Center.
Practical Applications and Deployment
IoT systems are used to monitor various quantities whether they be GPS coordinates, temperature or pressure in a remote location.
Field deployment of a Wisblock system in the field requires careful consideration of a few different features and specifications:
RAK provides two outdoor enclosures that have mounting plates for WisBlock modules, the RAKBox-B2 (with solar panel) and the RAKBox-B3 (without solar panel). Both enclosures are IP65 and offer easy access to the USB connector of WisBlock for programming, debugging and recharging, if the solution is battery powered.
Operating Temperature Range
RAK hardware supports the industrial temperature range of -40C to +85C so you can deploy your solution and expect it to operate in harsh Canadian winters or in the extreme summer heat of the Saharan desert.
Depending on use case, battery life is an important consideration. Are you planning on leaving your sensor solution in the field unattended for several months? Or does your application require at most a week of continuous operation?
RAK has tested their solutions for battery life. This depends on several different factors including: what sensors are being used, communication technology and frequency of data transfer. Here are a few examples of what to expect:
- Environment Solution, using RAK4631, RAK1906, collecting environment data every 10 minutes and sending over LoRaWAN to a LoRaWAN server. This was run for 3 months with an 18650 battery (2200mAh). At the end of three months the battery level was at 75%.
- Soil Moisture Sensing using RAK4631, RAK12023/RAK12035, sending sensor data every 30 minutes, automatic recharge by a solar panel. This ran for months using a 1000mAh flat Ion battery, recharging to 100% every day.
- GNSS location tracker, using RAK4631, RAK12500, sending location data every 2 minutes (or every 1 minute when moving). This can run from a 3200mAh flat Ion battery for 10 days.
Application Development Support and Documentation
RAKprovides three different public channels where we support our customers in both software and hardware development:
- RAK Forum
- Discord: RAKStars
- Zendesk email support: email@example.com
RAK has recognized that customers might want to create their own or leverage the use of third party sensors. To facilitate this they have created a guide
Getting Started with WisBlock
For each WisBlock module, RAKwireless offers Quick Start Tutorials and example code in their Documentation Center and Github repos.
In addition to the simple examples, Rakwireless provides ready to use, open source solutions in their Github repos. For example the LPWAN-Soil-Moisture-Solution.
To write applications and program the modules RAKwireless have Board Support Packages (BSPs) available for ArduinoIDE and PlatformIO. WisBlock Core MCU modules can be added to Arduino IDE as any other Arduino BSP by simply adding the WisBlock board in the “Additional Boards Manager URLs” in the Arduino IDE settings. A tutorial for the installation can be found in the Knowledge Hub.
The Rakwireless Vision
RAK’s focus is on the Maker, Hobby and Education market. They provide easy to use and affordable modules to explore the world of LoRaWAN. But that’s not all. In addition to providing hardware building blocks, RAKwireless provides ready to use solutions that can go directly into commercial, industrial and agriculture applications.
In this post we have provided an overview of the RAKWireless WisBlock system for IoT development. With its unique open source and modular approach you are limited only by your imagination.