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  • Christopher Hunt

Our gateway project

I’m so excited to write our very first blog and discuss the gateway product that we’re building.

First of all, here’s a picture of the Onion Omega2S+ chip that we’re building our gateway product around. A picture is worth a thousand words!

So that’s my finger pointing at the Omega2S+ System on a Module (SOM) that we’ll be using. That chip is a cost-effective embeddable processor that runs the Linux operating system. It is tiny and, importantly for us, its power-consumption is also tiny. Being efficient on power is a big goal for us and yields practical benefits, including the ability to keep our circuit board cool as well as being good for the planet of course. My co-founder, Arnold deVos, will be writing more about the finer points of our hardware in a future post.

But why another gateway? Surely there are enough gateway products out there… and what does a gateway mean to us exactly?

Let’s start with the latter point. The gateway is a means for our edge-based devices to connect to the outside world. That’s it! Being at the edge for us means being located at the switchboard for Electric Vehicle chargers, being in the middle of a farmer's paddock miles away from anything and backhauling data on to a 5G network, or even residing in Antarctica and backhauling the soil moisture data via satellite. The first two cases are our present reality with Antarctica, the Moon and Mars being in our sights. I mean, why not? Quite honestly, if we can survive well on Australian farms with off-the-shelf hardware, we can literally have this gateway run anywhere! We’ve learnt a lot given the years of experience from running our associated technologies on remote Australian farms. I can tell you that the bottom line when it comes to edge computing is about being concerned about power consumption.

So, keep the power low. This starts with hardware but it doesn’t end there. The choices you make in terms of the software you use and how you put that together are critical. We want to produce the most energy efficient gateways for the problem spaces that we address. Doing so will enable these gateways to run literally anywhere as their power needs can be met conservatively. This presents a strong reason to create our own gateway and is harmonious with our vision of bringing hardware and software together.

To frame our current situation, the gateways we currently use for agriculture scenarios consume sub-10W of power, which is a problem given the larger size and the expense of the batteries and solar panels we need. We are aiming for sub-1W - perhaps even a tenth of that given more control of our operating environment in the future. Right now though, we’ve chosen an embedded Linux known as OpenWRT, given its maturity in networking capability.

The “first cab off the rank” is our “gateway-01” project that will provide a reference circuit board and a configuration of OpenWRT that hosts a small set of software services. These services will be used to operate and manage Electric Vehicle chargers connected via a simple RS-485 network. We have a contract to supply these to a UK client of ours and they will be rolled out, hopefully, in very early 2023. We’ve also designed the hardware and implemented the firmware of the Electric Vehicle chargers for our client and they are now being manufactured. In case you didn’t know, the UK now requires all new homes to have an Electric Vehicle chargers… it’s big.

The gateway-01 board will be an Omega2S+ with 128MiB memory and 32MB of storage. It’ll run two services that shouldn’t occupy no more than 5MiB of memory in total. That's right, no typos! The device will run cool and be energy efficient.

We’re on the edge! ;-)

Christopher Hunt, co-founder, Cuprous.

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