As you may have seen here and here, miniNodes recently got invited to participate at ArmTechCon, inside Arm’s own “Innovation Pavilion” in the Expo Hall. Because our core business of hosting tiny Arm Servers isn’t that exciting to show off, especially at the biggest Arm ecosystem event of the year, we partnered with Robert Wolff and the awesome team at 96Boards to come up with something a bit more intriguing. 🙂
After some back and forth, we landed on a solar powered, connected, mobile developer and edge computing platform. The idea was to build a self-contained and self-powered box that could be taken out and used in geographically isolated areas, that could still have connectivity back to a central cloud provider. The actual use cases could vary dramatically, but the common theme is that there is a lack of infrastructure, electricity, or wifi in the targeted region. The box would be powered by solar panels for this iteration, but could also accept other renewable sources such as wind, hydroelectric via a waterwheel or impeller, geothermal, or more.
So, as one potential use case, we envisioned using the box in remote villages or locales that don’t have the typical infrastructure needed to teach development, AI, machine learning, edge computing, remote code or container deployment, or other advanced computer science topics.
The end goal is to provide everything as open source, with a Bill of Materials and instructions for anyone to replicate the build, using readily available, off-the-shelf parts with no customization necessary. For the demo unit though, the project hasn’t made it quite that far yet. For this prototype, the box consisted of a foldable solar panel array, that was hooked up to a charge controller, which then fed a battery pack. The battery pack was run over to an inverter, so that we could power multiple standard devices. The first device to be powered was a 96Boards Dragonboard, that had a small LCD attached for graphical output, and had a 4G LTE cellular mezzanine which provided data to the Dragonboard. This, as long as there is cell service, the Dragonboard has connectivity to the internet! At that point, we had effectively built a solar powered, self sustaining compute workstation that could connect to the internet nearly anywhere!
However, because we were just doing a proof of concept, we thought it would be fun to go even one step further! Next, we setup sharing on the Dragonboard’s cellular connection, and ran an ethernet cable out from the Dragonboard over to a Raspberry Pi 3 Compute Module. This Pi was running a service from Microsoft called Azure IoT Edge, which is a product that allows you to remotely push containers and code to an IoT device, or receive data and telemetry back from a device out in the wild. Thus, as long as there is adequate sunlight (or another renewable source of power) and cell coverage, the box can be remotely monitored and even updated from anywhere. Or, thanks to its LCD and USB keyboard, it can be used as a workstation in places where infrastructure is lacking.
Another potential use case for the platform could be as an environmental monitoring solution. When equipped with a gyroscope, the box could detect movements from events such as a rock slide, avalanche, mud slide, volcanic activity, etc. Any anomoly can be reported back to the central servers immediately for analysis.
When equipped with a camera, the box could also visually monitor the environment, and detect changes in imagery such as a smoke plume for early forest fire detection, wildlife movement, vehicles approaching locations where there should not be any, or more.
Finally, because of the device’s Raspberry Pi Compute Module carrier board, the box has the ability to run targeted workloads of its own, for extreme edge computing. The workloads can be updated, changed, and monitored remotely, again due to the Dragonboard’s cellular connectivity to the Microsoft Azure IoT Edge platform.
ArmTechCon was a big success, and it’s incredible what can be built using Arm technology. Be sure to check back for status updates as the solar compute box undergoes future development and iterations!