Category Archives: Ayrstone Products

Posts about Ayrstone Products

AyrMesh Field Hub – Solar powered to extend the network

frontWe have been asked multiple times how to extend the AyrMesh network beyond the availability of plug-in power. The key, of course, is solar panels and/or wind turbines, along with batteriessemi-front_closed to hold the power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

Tycon Power has solved this problem for us by developing an integrated system just for the AyrMesh products: Hub, Receiver, or Bridge radio. The product to use is their RPPL-1212-36-30 unit. You can buy it directly from Tycon at their store site. This system with the 30 Watt solar panel will work in most of the country that receives an average of 3.5 hours per day or more – the red and dark orange bands on the standard insolation map. For areas in the light orange or yellow areas on that map, you will need to add a second 30W solar panel (with mounting bracket) or a wind turbine to keep the batteries charged.batteries

Tycon also makes larger systems for multiple devices. The RPST-1212-100-70 system will provide power for two or three devices – for instance, a Bridge radio and a Hub or two “back to back” bridge radios.

As with the smaller system, if you get less than an average of 3.5 hours of sunlight per day, you’ll need to augment the power generation of that system with an extra 70W solar panel (and mounting bracket) or the wind turbine.

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Higher is better

What does it take to set this up? Two things: very rudimentary wiring skills to connect the batteries and the solar panel with the solar controller, and the ability to set up a strong mast or tower. In our tests, we used a 7′ tall free-standing pole, but, for practical use, you’ll want a much taller pole or tower, embedded into the soil with concrete. You need, of course, to get the radios up as high as practical, but at least 25 feet above any obstacles for maximum range. This may require the use of a pole with guy lines or even a tower.

semi-front_openThe system provides Power over Ethernet (PoE) for the radios, just like the power supplies that come with the AyrMesh products. The mechanical considerations (attaching the solar panel and battery pack to the pole or tower) is extremely simple, using either U-bolts or hose clamps.  Using this to extend your network out into your fields will enable you to use the AyrMesh Cab Hub to automatically move data off your in-cab computers and have WiFi coverage in your cab wherever you are on the farm.

If you have any questions about this, of course, please feel free to comment on this post or get in touch with us at [email protected].whole

Ayrstone in the RoyseLaw AgTech Incubator

RoyseLaw_AgTech-012For the last few months, we have been fortunate enough to be part of the RoyseLaw AgTech Incubator. Our involvement in the incubator many benefits, including access to top people in California business and agriculture as well as the Silicon Valley venture capital community. We expect our involvement to result in many benefits to us as we move forward.

royseThe most important reason we wanted to be part of the incubator, however, was to associate ourselves with some of the most interesting up-and-coming companies in agricultural technology. I would encourage you to check them out to see where “Ag-Tech” is going today.

One other benefit of the incubator is that we are part of the second annual Silicon Valley AgTech Conference on May 11. If you are interested in the future of agricultural technology and you’re going to be in Northern California, please attend the conference. There will be AgTech companies (like Ayrstone), investors, growers, and others with an interest in agriculture and technology.

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Long Range WiFi: two approaches

AyrMesh HubWe didn’t invent the idea of putting WiFi on farms and ranches, although I think we’ve done a lot to popularize it. And it’s not really WiFi that’s important, it’s just having a farmwide network that you can connect to and move data with.

When we started, we realized there were two ways we could build out the farm wireless network, and that we’d need to support both ways. However, we had to start somewhere, and we knew that the best short-term “proof of concept” was using the mesh network approach: a bunch of high-power WiFi Access Points that are connected to the Internet and talk to each other using a meshing protocol. That’s what gave rise to the AyrMesh Hub.

Because the Hubs can be up to 2.5 miles apart, it allows you to extend your network out quite a ways from your home place, and that’s useful for a lot of people. It also allows you to “get in the game” for a minimal investment – a few hundred bucks for a Hub and a little time putting it up high and out in the clear gets you WiFi across your farmyard and out into your fields. Then you can extend the network from there with additional Hubs.

However, sometimes you just want to connect someplace into your network, and you don’t need to have WiFi. For those cases, a different approach is optimal: point-to-point microwave links, also known as “bridges.”

AyrMesh BridgeA bridge can use WiFi or a WiFi-like signal to connect two locations and pass data between them. Typically they are “Layer 2” devices, meaning that they work just like a long, wireless Ethernet cable. You plug one radio into your network (typically your router) and then plug the other radio into whatever you want to put on your network (a computer, IP camera, WiFi access point, etc.), and everything works just like it was plugged into your router.

The AyrMesh Bridge uses microwave radios that use the 5.8 GHz. band (used for 802.11 WiFi “a,” “dual-band n,” and “ac”), but they use a special “narrow-band” microwave signal that increases the range, reduces the effects of interference, and makes the signal invisible to WiFi “sniffers.”

Of course, if you are just connecting some distant device or devices into your network, you can also use an AyrMesh Hub and an AyrMesh Receiver. It will actually work the same way; the differences are:

  • The AyrMesh Bridge is just a wireless Ethernet cable that doesn’t provide a wireless signal usable by anything else. The AyrMesh Hub provides WiFi that other devices can use.
  • The AyrMesh Bridge is a “1-to-1” system, but you can have several Receivers talking to one Hub.
  • The Receiver can be up to 2 miles from the Hub, but the Bridge radios can be up to 5 miles apart.

It’s not necessarily an “either/or” thing. Several AyrMesh users are using the AyrMesh Bridge to reposition their Gateway Hub to the top of large structures (e.g. grain legs) to give the Hubs maximum range. A couple of people are using their Hubs for WiFi but providing connectivity to other buildings using Bridges (with the Hub and the Bridge radio mounted next to each other on top of the house or office). And you can use a Bridge connected to a Remote Hub to connect a device several miles away from the Hub.

There are a lot of folks out there selling wireless bridges – we think the AyrMesh Bridge is the best for one important reason: it’s the easiest to set up and use. No configuration is needed: you just connect both radios in the Bridge to your router. They download your configuration from AyrMesh.com and then all you have to do is mount them outside pointing at each other.

Introducing the AyrMesh Bridge

AyrMesh BridgeToday we are pleased to announce the availability of the AyrMesh Bridge.

The AyrMesh Bridge is a simple, wireless, point-to-point bridge. It serves a single purpose – to connect a distant device to your local network – a 5-mile long wireless Ethernet cable.

Wireless bridges have been around for a long time, and we had initially rejected the idea of adding a wireless bridge to the AyrMesh product line. If you have the Hubs and Receivers, why do you need a Bridge?

AyrMesh Bridge mounted

Testing in California

However, several customers have come to us in the last year with the same problem: their Gateway Hubs are on top of their homes or offices, but they would be better placed on top of a grain leg or another building with a better “view” of the surrounding fields.

In these cases, it would be possible to use one Hub near their routers to feed a Hub on the high location, but that would limit the ultimate range of the AyrMesh network (because we recommend only using up to three “hops” across Hubs).

The truth is that there are a lot of places the AyrMesh Bridge can be used:

  • Connecting an isolated outbuilding to your network (if you don’t want or need WiFi – if you want or need outdoor WiFi, of course, the Hub and a Receiver is a better solution)
  • Connecting a non-WiFi device that is more than 2 miles from a Hub or Receiver
  • Any other situation where you think “I wish I had an Ethernet cable that long.”

We are using a special radio signal for the AyrMesh Bridge to maximize the range. It is a narrow-band 5 GHz. signal, which is hidden and fully encrypted. Although it uses the 5 GHz WiFi band, it does not register with any WiFi equipment because it is a narrow-band signal. This minimizes interference with 5 GHz. WiFi  signals, but does not completely eliminate it. If you are using 5 GHz WiFi equipment (802.11a, ac, or dual-band n), you’ll want to use different channels for your AyrMesh Bridge than your WiFi equipment.

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Contents of the AyrMesh Bridge package

The AyrMesh Bridge comes complete with two radios (one for each end of the Bridge), power supplies, and 10′ Ethernet cables. Like all Ayrstone AyrMesh products, each radio is initialized by plugging it into your router until it shows up on AyrMesh.com, then it can be installed.

Like all AyrMesh devices, the Bridge radios are controlled by AyrMesh.com, ayrmeshas shown here. There is only one control for the Bridge – the 5 GHz. channel can be set to 149 (the default), 153, 157 (as shown here), 161, or 165. Note that these are distinct channels; unlike the 2.4 GHz. WiFi channels they do not overlap.

The AyrMesh Bridge is the simplest way to connect a device to your network at a considerable distance. Please contact us if you have any questions or comments about it.

 

 

IP Cameras on the Farm: Part 1

Security_camMany people start building an AyrMesh network on their property to provide Internet access across their acreage. However, having an Internet Protocol (IP) network across your property gives you the opportunity to connect devices on the property to help you be more productive, more efficient, safer, and happier.

When I ask people what else they’d like to do with their AyrMesh Network, the first thing that usually comes up is cameras – the ability to see their property remotely.

There are two distinct reasons for putting cameras on your property: the first is what I call “situational awareness” – being able to bring up a view of some part of your farm any time you want. The second is for security – automatically monitoring some view of your property and alerting you when something happens.

pigletsIf you have animals on the farm, you probably worry about them – especially if your livelihood is tied up in them. One of the most common uses for cameras on the farm is to be able to check on the animals, whether it’s just so the kids can see the horses when you’re away or if you need to check on farrowing sows, calving cows, or foaling mares to protect your investment.

drivewayA lot of people also just want to be able to view some part of the property, like the driveway or the kid’s play area, so they can know what’s going on any time. Sometimes these cameras may be dual-purpose, serving both a security function and for situational awareness.

tablet-with-drivewayPutting a camera on your property gives you a “view” – you get the IP address of the camera from your router and you can bring up that view from anywhere on your property. Then you can do what’s called a “port forward” on your router to make your camera viewable from the Internet, wherever you may be. For instance, I always forward port 9001 to a camera in my living room. I can look at my public IP address on AyrMesh.com and find that it’s 99.100.101.102 (it’s not, but let’s pretend…), so I just need to point a browser to http://99.100.101.102:9001 and log into my camera (note: you HAVE to have a good, strong password on your camera).

Next we’ll talk a little about the different kinds of IP cameras and the tradeoffs and compromises you can make – see part 2 here.

RAM mounts for the AyrMesh Cab Hub

RAM-in-tractor-1 (NOTE: all the pictures in this post can be clicked to see at full-size).

One of the questions we get from time to time is, “What’s the best way to mount the Cab Hub in the cab?”

It’s important to be able to mount the Hub high, because the cable to the magmount antenna is relatively short, and it’s important to be able to mount it securely so it’s not banging around inside the cab. The Hub is not designed for vibration and shock, so it is also useful to isolate the Hub from the cab somewhat.RAM mount in tractor

Our friends at RAM Mounting Systems, Inc. offered to help. I’m a big fan of RAM mounts, and I eagerly accepted their offer to help out. I have a RAM mount in my truck with their “X-Grip” mount for my smartphone and a suction cup. I tried mounting the Hub in it, and it did work, but it did not hold the Hub as firmly as I’d like.

The folks at RAM asked one question: “Is it affected by strong magnetic fields?” When I told them it was not, they said, “then let’s try a magnetic mount.” I told him I had a suction cup base in the truck but I didn’t want to use that in a tractor, so he sent me a “Tough-Claw” to attach to the rack in a tractor. But he also sent me a beefier suction cup for use in the truck and elsewhere.

They sent me a package consisting of the following items:

RAM_mount_NHI was able to test this setup on a number of different vehicles. I went to Coastal Tractor in Salinas and they gave me the use of a New Holland T-9 4WD tractor. It was extremely easy to mount the Hub on the tractor’s rack, as shown on the left. The pieces were very simple to assemble and attach to the tubing on the tractor. Here’s a closeup of the mount:RAM-mount-close-1Antenna on T9

As you can see, it’s attached with nice, large wingnuts. It was not loose and did not slip, but the rubber in the Tough-Grip and the articulation balls on the mount mean that little vibration would be transmitted to the Hub.

I put the Cab Hub Antenna on top of the tractor and plugged it into the utility power plug in the cab, and the installation was complete – it took about 10 minutes (because I had to get out and climb the other side of the tractor to install the antenna).power_plug_tractor

While I was there, I also tried mounting it successfully on an open-cab tractor they had, and put the antenna on the ROPS cage.antenna_on_ROPS

I had not brought along any zip-ties so I could secure the antenna cable to the ROPS, but the power cord plugged easily into the utility plug under the dashboard.mounted_open_tractor2

One of the most intriguing uses I have seen for the AyrMesh Cab Hub is actually for use on an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV), so I  went over to GPSports to take a look at what would be involved. They had one in the service bay they said I could mess with, so I mounted the Hub on it.RAM-mount-ATC2 RAM-mount-ATC1The Tough-Grip was again easy to use on the tubing – the only problem was that there was no place to put the antenna where it would be high, because this ATV had no roll bar. In the parking lot, however, they had some “side-by-side” models, so I made sure the magnetic antenna worked on the roll cage.

My final test was back in the truck – I traded the Tough-Grip for the suction cup and attached the mount to the back window of my “extended cab” pickup. It has been on there for several days now, and has not yet moved. RAM-mount-suction-truck3RAM-mount-suction-truck2

 

 

The bottom line on all this is that a small investment in RAM mounts can make mounting your AyrMesh Cab Hub VERY easy in any Vehicle.

Once again, Ayrstone would like to thank the good folks at RAM Mounting systems, Coastal Tractor, and GPSports.

Bringing WiFi into your Cab – the new AyrMesh Cab Hub

crowded_cabThere’s a lot of data being collected by monitors in the cabs of tractors, sprayers, and combines, and getting that data someplace it can be used can be critical to your operation. Today we are introducing a way to connect your tractors, sprayers, combines, and trucks to your AyrMesh Network: the AyrMesh Cab Hub.

The AyrMesh Cab Hub is a combination of three things: our trusty, patent-pending AyrMesh Hub2n, a cable that allows the Hub to be powered from a normal 12 volt utility “cigarette lighter” plug, and an external magnetic-mount antenna to get the Hub’s antenna outside and up in the clear.assembled-2_small

When it is all set up, the AyrMesh Hub2n rides inside the cab of your vehicle, protected from shock and vibration, but mounted where you can see the “signal lights” if you need to. The cable is plugged into one of the 12v utility outlets, and the antenna is put on a ferrous surface on top of the cab. The Hub connects to the other Hubs in your AyrMesh network, giving you WiFi connectivity in your cab.cig_lighter_sm

Antenna on roofHub_mounted_smThe most valuable data on the farm, and some of the hardest data to move to where it can be effectively used, are the data trapped in the monitors on your machines: as-seeded, as-applied, and harvest data. Getting that data out has been laborious (moving Compact Flash cards) or expensive and uncertain (using cellular links), so we’re trying to make it easier with the AyrMesh Cab Hub.

By using the AyrMesh Cab Hub, you’ll have a strong WiFi signal in your Cab whenever you’re in range of one of your other AyrMesh Hubs – up to 2.5 miles away. This means you can use your smartphone, tablet, or laptop from the cab of your tractor, sprayer, combine, or truck. It also makes it easy to transfer data from your WiFi-equipped in-cab monitors, like an AgLeader monitor with their AgFinity adapter, using your AyrMesh network. If your equipment doesn’t currently have WiFi, talk to your dealer about it – vendors are rolling out new products all the time.

If your monitor supports WiFi data transfer, you can use your AyrMesh network to transfer data from your monitor without having to rely on expensive and unreliable cellular links.

Please let us know what you think of this new product from Ayrstone Productivity!

Why AyrMesh.com?

ayrmeshThis is one of the questions we get in Ayrstone support from time to time: why do I HAVE to use AyrMesh.com? Why isn’t there just a setup menu on the device?

My answer is simple: if you’re using a single Hub, then it doesn’t much matter:  you have to set the configuration on the device or you have to set the configuration on AyrMesh.com. About the same amount of effort.

But, if you’re using more than one AyrMesh device – Hubs or Receivers – on your network, using AyrMesh.com saves you time, because all your devices automatically configure themselves from AyrMesh.com. Furthermore, because they check into AyrMesh.com every few minutes, you can always check there to make sure your AyrMesh devices are working properly.

Our entire goal in creating the AyrMesh System was to make it so easy that anyone could set it up and use it, and you’d spend as little time as possible fiddling with your network and as much time as possible enjoying its benefits. AyrMesh.com is an important part of that value

A little technical talk about WiFi

Adam Gittins has published another terrific post on his Precision Ag Explained blog about problems he ran into getting his AyrMesh network up and running.

It reminds me that WiFi isn’t entirely straightforward, and some explanations of the vagaries are in order.

As Adam points out, interference is potentially a huge problem on WiFi. One problem is that the 2.4 GHz. WiFi band was partitioned out into 11 channels (in the U.S. and Canada), but most of those channels actually OVERLAP each other. There are only THREE DISTINCT CHANNELS: 1, 6, and 11 – all the other channels overlap at least one of these three (and each other). For a good explanation with graphics, I always recommend Wikipedia.

As he points out, if you have your “indoor” WiFi and your “outdoor” WiFi on the same channel, they’ll interfere with each other, reducing the range and bandwidth of both. Even if they are less than five channels apart this will happen to some degree. The AyrMesh network always comes by default on channel 6, so you can either change your home router’s channel to 1 or 11, or change the AyrMesh channel using your account on AyrMesh.com.

InSSIDer

InSSIDer – courtesy of MetaGeek

We use and recommend a couple of tools to help discover WiFi interference. InSSIDer for Home is a free program that run on Windows, Mac, or Android, and shows all of the WiFi Access Points in range of the computer and a pretty good estimate of the signal strength of those Access Points. (NOTE: It has recently been pointed out that getting InSSIDer for Home from the Mac App Store actually costs $4.99)

WiFi Analyzer

WiFi Analyzer for Android, Courtesy of farproc

WiFi Analyzer is another free app that runs on Android. It’s a little simpler and quicker than InSSIDer, and has become my “go-to” solution for taking a “quick look around” on my phone.

It’s worth noting that there is no analogous app for the iPhone because Apple doesn’t allow direct access to the WiFi card. However, there are similar apps available if your iPhone is jailbroken.

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Chanalyzer Spectrum Analysis, courtesy of Metageek

Just to make it a bit more interesting, however, I have to point out one more fact: WiFi is far from being the only thing using the 2.4 GHz radio band. Cordless phones, baby monitors, wireless surveillance cameras, certain radars, and microwave ovens all use the same spectrum, so they can all potentially interfere with your WiFi. This is, in fact, precisely why Metageek gives away InSSIDer – they sell tools called “Spectrum Analyzers” – their “Wi-Spy” Spectrum Analyzers are excellent and relatively inexpensive. They can show not just WiFi interference, but all the interference in the 2.4 GHz. band. They even offer a very nice “Wi-Spy mini” bundled with their “InSSIDer for Office” product for only $199.

You probably won’t need a spectrum analyzer for your AyrMesh network. Out in the country there’s very little interference, and it takes a while to learn how to use a spectrum analyzer effectively, even with Metageek’s excellent software.

However, getting a copy of InSSIDer and/or WiFi Analyzer is something I recommend to everyone who’s curious about their local WiFi environment.

New Ayrstone Product: the AyrMesh Hub2n

AyrMesh HubToday is the second most exciting day of Ayrstone’s existence – second only to the day we started. The introduction of the Hub2n marks a new era in wireless farm networking – even though the white plastic case is exactly the same as the old Hub, and the electronics inside are fairly similar, the software running on those electronics make it truly revolutionary.

The most important and exciting thing about the new Hub2n is that it introduces the concept of the “transparent mesh.” This means that you can build out your AyrMesh network across your farm or other rural business or homestead, but all the devices attached to the Hubs and Receivers in your network get their IP addresses from the router your AyrMesh Gateway Hub2n is attached to. This means that building and managing your AyrMesh Network is no more difficult than building a home network with your home router. In particular:

  1. Devices attached to your AyrMesh network will be in the same IP subnet as your router. If your router, for instance, is configured to create a private network with addresses of the form 192.168.1.x, then everything on your AyrMesh network will have IP addresses in that same form.
  2. All devices on your network will appear in the DHCP table or client table of your router.
  3. You can port forward from your router to any device in your network, whether it’s plugged directly into your router or miles away connected via WiFi to an AyrMesh Hub.

Hub_outdoorsThis means that, using the new Hub2n, you can easily build a farm-wide network that can be used for:

  • Internet access – even in places with no cellular signal
  • A reliable, high-bandwidth local-area network for remote sensors like cameras, thermometers, and weather stations, and
  • A high-speed, internet-accessible network to control devices like web-controlled relays and thermostats.

With the new Hub2n available, the revolution in Wireless Farm Networking can really pick up steam! Now there’s no reason not to have a farm-wide network to gather information and start automating operations on your farm.