Towards a better city with SkopjePulse and IoT

Exploring IoT and creating an Environmental Sustainable Development platform with SkopjePulse

As part of our efforts to take a deep dive in the Internet of Things (IoT) world, we implemented and launched, an Environmental Sustainable Development solution based on our own IoT platform.

Skopje has been struggling with several environmental problems in the last few years, like occasional flooding, excessive noise, traffic congestions and especially air pollution, which gets worse every winter. Besides some measuring done by official government sensor stations, none of these issues are handled properly. We at Netcetera believe that by using technology and leveraging the recent trends like IoT, data analysis and machine learning, a lot more insights can be gained and some of the problems can be solved. Having this in mind in addition to our wish to gain more expertise inside Netcetera in these fields, we started with the idea of implementing SkopjePulse.

SkopjePulse is an IoT platform and an Envornmental Sustainable Development solution. It gathers all the environmental data provided by a LoRaWAN sensor installation and other third-party sources, visualizes the generated information, and applies statistics and learning methods like correlation extraction and time-series prediction. The final goal of SkopjePulse is to serve as a monitoring portal, a credible source for tackling city environmental issues and an early warning system.

SkopjePulse air quality view
SkopjePulse Dashboard

One key goal in the project is to involve the community. Besides just being the consumer of the final solution, they can also participate. All the data collected by the SkopjePulse network and other sources, are treated as open data and can be consumed via an API. Everyone can use the data, make their own solutions, or even integrate them with the core SkopjePulse system.

LoRaWAN as key IoT enabler

One of the reasons for the rapid ascension of IoT is the advancement in the communication protocols. In this field, LoRaWAN opened up a broad new spectrum of possibilities, allowing low powered devices to communicate at great distances. The entire infrastructure is non-invasive, runs on open frequencies and is completely end-to-end secure.

In Skopje, we installed three LoRaWAN gateways and connected them to the global community driven IoT network - TheThingsNetwork (TTN). The Skopje community of the TheThingsNetwork is up and running and we are the core partner. Our plan is to expand the network even more to cover the entire city and to spread to some other cities as well.

TheThingsNetwork provides a complete LoRaWAN infrastructure which handles the entire communication, routing, security and data delivery at the end. One of its core principles is is being open, free to use and community driven, meaning that everyone can extend it and everyone can use it. Due of this, we are already in the process of collaborating with the local universities, other companies and communities, and trying to make the technology more popular or more used.

An interview about SkopjePulse in an AWS video of the serie "This is my architecture"

Whole-stack solution

TTN provides the LoRaWAN infrastructure and hands us the data, while we had to fill in all the other puzzle pieces.

The core of the system is the Netcetera IoT Platform. Comprised of several pieces, it brings connectivity of the various data sources, scalable data storage, data analytics, interactive visualizations and finally, the significance of all the data collected. Some of the notable features are:

  • constructed as a set of containerized building blocks, easily scalable, efficient and robust
  • Apache Cassandra as data storage, ready for massive data handling and distribution
  • multiple interfaces for data collection and dispatching: HTTP(s), CoAP, MQTT.
  • adapters for different LoRaWAN providers, such as TheThingsnetwork and Swisscom
  • building blocks for easy integration with third party data sources
  • complete web interface for device administration, user management, logging, system status and usage
  • data analytics plugins for easy statistics, extracting correlations and time-series prediction
  • interactive visualizations

SkopjePulse is a super set of features and frontend, built on top of the platform.

The other major pieces of the solution are the actual devices. For the initial needs, we focused on getting environmental data for ambient particulate matter in the air (PM2.5 and PM10), temperature, humidity and relative noise. In order to achieve this, we made a small batch of custom devices, as we embarked on a new challenge for us: hardware and industrial design with embedded development.

The latest sensor on tour in Zürich for the MakeZurich hackaton in February 2017

The devices we made, are comprised of easy to get components and use the Microchip RN2483 as LoRaWAN module. To bring everything together, we designed a custom PCB from which we had several pieces manufactured in a professional facility and implemented the embedded code with the help of some open-source libraries. Last but not least, all the devices are packed in custom stylish 3D printed enclosures, ready for wall mount.

Rough start but a bright future

Currently SkopjePulse is live but still an early beta phase with some missing features. Our current focus is to activate more sensors throughout the city and expand the network. The road up to here was rough, having in mind all the new emerging technologies and the still developing standards, libraries, practices and communities around the world. There were a lot of experiments, both successes and failures, a lot of new stuff to learn and the occasional hardware dirty-work. We had the chance to be one of the first companies in the area to implement a complete LoRaWAN IoT solution and we are happy that it is a success.

SkopjePulse is intended to be an evolving platform, as we hope to get great reception from the community, ideas for improvement and new features, and of course, actual results, to make Skopje a better place to live.

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