Boron/Xenon in the woods on Solar

Reading through @Rftop & @RWB discussion on Solar and Boron

My application is creating a mesh network motion detection grid on my property. I live on 10 acres, far outside of town, and often have deer, coyotes, etc. moving through the woods. Because these are under tree canopy, I’m still evaluating solar solutions.

The discussion referenced mentions 12V SLA, but having 5 Xenons with Boron gateway seems very intrusive on the landscape. I was considering the Voltaic systems 6v 6w version of the solar panel @Rftop said he uses.

The cost is up there, but I’ll need charging in shade.

Thoughts? I’d like to gather any experience from others before I start spending $60 on a panel to test.

Since your coverage area is 10 acres, my first thought would be Point-to-Point communication to a centrally located Boron, verses a Mesh running 24/7 with minimal Solar Energy available for charging.

Sleeping Xenons where the motion sensor wakes them, and each one signals the Boron directly (P2P) using a lower frequency to penetrate the tree canopy better (a off-board serial RF radio).
A 433 MHz RF Transmitter/Receiver for ~ $5 each might be a good starting point for the add-on radio.
Many other RF options are available, but generally lower frequency = better for this type of application.

Since the Xenons and Radios are sleeping 99+% of the time, you could do this with (2xAA) primary batteries, and forget the Solar recharging (except for the Boron of course).
As mentioned before, I prefer the Energizer L91.

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Wow - GREAT info. Given your approach, is there a limit to how many xenons can use one boron? I have this mesh set up with just 2 xenons at the moment in the house, getting sensors set, each unit publishing motion with location: zone 01-01 for example. For now, I’m also publishing batt voltage to judge batt life, realizing there’s no sleep included yet. Just getting a feel. I want to track {animal} across a zone, from zone to zone, etc. Next step is to log. Each location would let me chart the paths they are taking, exit/entry, etc. Baby steps as I learn the code and the “electrical engineering” stuff I am a total newb at.

So - I like the idea of a single boron and less solar - lower cost. If I’m using a P2P, can you point me to some tutorials on how that might set up? It may not be as complicated as it seems, but I’m wanting to be sure I can still publish/subscribe for some of the location. The P2P seems like it would interrupt that.

There is currently no limit on how many Xenons you can add to the MESH network.

Sleep Modes are working on the Gen3 devices now so you can use them.

Ideally your going to need external bluetooth antennas to get better range than just using the built in antennas.

If your going to try to have the Xenons sleep and not use solar then you will not be able to rely on the MESH networking to extend your range and will need to rely on direct communication between the Boron and the Xenons using external antennas for best range.

I think you should be able to do Direct communication between the Boron and the Xenon with antennas as long as the Boron is as close to the woods and as line of sight as possible with good antenna placement.

The only thing that may be an issue is if the MESH reliability. I haven’t tested the reliably with the latest firmware but on the previous versions I would lose Xenon connectivity when the Boron would lose cellular signal and reconnect automatically. That was with Xenons that were powered 24/7, if your Xenons are sleeping and then waking up and reconnecting then this may no be a issue since they attempt a new connection on wake up.

I would try the Boron and Xenon combo before buying a bunch of RF radios and different microcontrollers since if it does work it will be a lot easier to code and work with since you will be working in the Particle ecosystem and will just need to use Mesh.Publish commands which makes things easier than trying to work with XBee radios their more complicated code structure.

@RWB - thanks for chiming in. Following the exchange between you and @Rftop at all times is fun, if not also requiring re-reading some paragraphs!

Borons are running 1.1.0, Xenons are 1.1.1.

Some additional info on range needed - the zones cover about 480 ft North to south. The woods are clear of underbrush to a large extent, so LOS should only be an issue in certain parts. I did want to leave some habitat for the smaller animals to hide in. For the indoor tests, they have stayed connected on separate ends/corners of the house. I did purchase the Particle antennas when I purchased the xenons. Are these the ones you indicate?

I’ll test connect() & disconnect() to interrupt/restore Boron cellular connectivity to see if 1.1.1 Xenons will reconnect. I guess the other question is is there info on wake -> connect -> publish time if sleeping? Another feature is I want to implement is to get a text as well without having to watch my console. I plan to start/stop texts with a function if possible. Have just created a ThinkSpeak account to learn about webhooks, etc. So I hope to log/plot, too.


In the scenario that I mentioned, you wouldn’t be using the MESH network for Particle, so no limit.
But there are many different ways to accomplish your goals.
I think about P2P when large distances are involved for low duty projects when power/recharge is critical.

Underneath trees is a challenging environment, for both power and RF communications :grin:
This is not the application where any MESH network shines…hence why I leaned towards Point-to-Point.

Use the latest 1.3.0 firmware for the latest features and updates.

Yes, the antennas that come with the Argon are the same used for Mesh and Bluetooth. Put those on and set the Boron on the Back Porch and put a Xenon with antenna out where you want them and run the Latest Marco Polo Mesh Test code and see what kind of range you end up getting.

If that works then your good and if range is a issue you can consider directional antennas for the Xenons or worst case look into other RF platforms where your the coding gets a little more complicated than a simple Mesh Publish.

Realizing we’re covering 2 scenarios, so far, each zone was planned to be a star-shape with the Boron in the middle covering about 50’ radius. So the power definitely a challenge. I was originally asking about the 6v/6w version to see if it might still gather enough, but wanted to be sure I don’t over-volt or over-amp the USB port, and that it will charge effectively. From there, I’m really interested in the comment that MESH would not “shine”. If it’s simpler and can reconnect - kind of self-heal - that’s one aspect. Reliability does not have to be bullet proof, but better is, well, “better” :grinning:

Solar can work considering the Xenons only consume 15mA when sitting idle but the big question is can you get the solar panels into a position to where they see a most of the days peak sun.

I think I really mis-stated range… In the image, 4 zones, North to South, cover that 480’ TOTAL. So each is a bit over 100’.

In the web IDE, it says “default” is now 1.2.1. 1.3.0 - how stable are the RC’s? I’ll check the range as advised, though. Thanks for the tip.

@RWB The short answer - no. There is a pretty complete canopy. Just have the canopy raised to about 6’-7’ so as I stand, I can look around the woods.

You can put some sort of metal reflectors behind the antennas to try to direct all the energy into the direction of the Boron.

This really works well for drones. I had a DJI Drone that I could fly 3 miles using directional antennas but no where near that was possible with omni directional antennas.

I think the range is possible With your line of sight setup if attention is paid the the Antenna setup to optimize RF performance considering you in the country with minimal obstructions.

Solar is not an option then so sleeping Xenons running in batteries are the ticket.

I have code working on a Boron where the sleep is consuming 1.1mA which is what you want if you want a sensor to trigger it to wake up. Waking up like this should also keep you from the MESH reconnection issues I was having during testing.

I have not tested sleeping current on the Xenon but I’m assuming it’s also 1mA.

@RWB / @Rftop - taking a break to test some, and move some xenons around. Will be checking in with new questions, I’m sure. Thanks, folks. You guys rock.

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Well it may be worth trying a Xenon Mesh. Do you have a 6V Solar Panel ? Just to see how much energy you can harvest under the canopy…

If each Xenon can reach the Boron directly (without hops), you could sleep and not require the Mesh Service.

I don’t have the solar panel yet. And now I’m getting the “without hops” vs Mesh… lack of knowledge to catch the difference of Xenon’s hopping (mesh) vs direct to Boron. I still need to be more precise on terminology, and will as I gain the experience.

I don’t have the solar panel yet. And now I’m getting the “without hops” vs Mesh… lack of knowledge to catch the difference of Xenon’s hopping (mesh) vs direct to Boron. I still need to be more precise on terminology, and will as I gain the experience.

I searched around and found this for the Marco Polo test code

Some “light” reading… :wink:

The Marco Polo code is super simple to use.

Just load the Marco code on the Boron:

And the Polo code on the Xenon’s:

Then look at the Particle Console Log to see the published events by the Boron over cellular. You can change the publish interval in the Marco code at the top of the sketch to keep from burning through your cellular data if your worried about that. You can also see the data output over the Boron serial terminal if you want to comment out the Publish event on the Boron to keep it from using any Cellular data during the testing.

You can also plug in a USB to the Xenon and read the data being spit out of that over serial UART.

The Marco Polo code is great for testing the MESH performance and reliability over time.

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Solar: full sun vs. shade

Same setup at each trap - the device “Northern-Rous” is installed in “open woodland forest”. The other 3 traps are in behind the dunes on the beach - so they get full sun.

My Borons don’t sleep - I need to be able to trigger the traps as soon as I’m happy that all my hogs are inside.

Here is a few pictures of the trap under the canopy.

10W panel - 12v regulator - 10Ah battery - Boron driving a single relay and an INA219 current sensor (for power management) - directional ant. for the Boron.

Here’s “Little-sandhills” - it’s in a clearing so it gets full sun.

The charging isn’t ideal - you can see I’m not hitting float on the unit under the trees. I’ll need to swap batteries in the unit under the canopy every 6 months and give the battery a mains-charge to extend its life.

I know you were talking about 6v and not 12v (I need 12v for the car-door locking actuator which drops the gate) but I’m guessing the principal will be the same.

Hope this helps.


@PeteTheRanger - thanks, it always helps… It goes back to my original question of a higher watt (so higher amp) panel. The idea of no solar except on the boron might be acceptable (might have to be), if I can still read voltage so I don’t let the batts on xenons die. Looking over my zones again (took a walk through the woods), I think I can find 2-3 hours of sun in a couple spots for the borons in a couple gaps in trees.