BARANI Design Technology has contacted me to test their weather station product MeteoHelix IoT pro. This is a Sigfox weather station but they also have LoRaWan versions. It is also the first personal weather station class product to meet the World Meteorological Organizations (WMO) measurement accuracy guidelines. So it can be used by scientific and professionals according to its designer. Thanks to LPWAn technologies, it can be deployed anywhere. No power / communication constraints.
I like this kind of product because they are really interesting use cases for LPWAn technologies and useful for agricultural environment. I see a part of my family working in the agricultural domain taking some manual notes about rain daily taken at one point. In 2019 it’s so easy to get graph from a cloud platform and have multiple device for the multiple fields you work on. Sounds like a revolution but it have a price 600€ including communication !
The weather station have a top side and a bottom side. On the top we have a solar panel and on the bottom we have an access to the circuit and sensors. From the bottom side you can check if the weather station is ON or OFF by checking if you see a RED LED blinking shortly every 5 seconds.
The plastic enclosure is optimized to freshen the air and correctly obtain the expected measures. This is the way the weather station accuracy meets the WMO expectations.
The MeteoHelix IoT pro station is solar powered. The solar panel on top of the weather station is providing the power for measuring and communicating. It is also measure the solar radiations level.
The weather station have an internal battery allowing it the work properly during night and winter period.
You will have to make sure the solar panel stays clean to maintain a correct radiation measurement and you need to install the station in a place where nothing around can hide the sky.
The weather station is ready to go. If you have a rain meter, you need to connect the cable to this sensor. The configuration depends on the model you have but basically it works any rain gauge having with Normally Open connector. A BARANI Design Technology rain gauge should be available soon.
There are 3 given options for rain gauge ; the one I had in test is the 200 cm² one. During the installation phase the precision will be requested. You need to note it.
Let’s come back to the rain gauge connector. For the model I had and according to the rain gauge documentation. The two wires coming from the weather station have to be connected to the pin 3 & 4 shown on the following picture.
The next step is to switch the weather station on. As previously seen, on the bottom of the MeteoHelix device you have a led blinking every 5 seconds once ON. If you do not see it, you need to power it on. For turning the station on you need to use a magnet. This magnet is part of the black plastic tool provided with the weather station. You need to apply if for a couple of seconds near the white head on the bottom side of the station. The led will blink.
You need to be careful: the black plastic tool have two side and the one with the magnet is not the one having the white filter form but the other one where you can read magnet on it. So if you are not able to start the weather station with the tool, it could be because you are using that tool on the wrong side.
In my point of view, the documentation for the installation should be improved. Actually you need to merge information coming from different source to install it. It should, also, be translated in the different languages: agricultural environment is not fluent in english as much as I know.
The allmeteo.com web site gives access to the weather station’s data. From this website you can have an access to all the weather station data. As much as I’ve seen you can register to it even if you haven’t acquired any of the products. This is pretty cool.
The number of weather station is actually low as the product is new and not yet largely distributed. Sharing your weather information with the community is great. It sounds like a really good idea to have this feature on a such product.
For each of the MeteoHelix device you can access a specific dashboard where you can see the sensor’s measures details. The dashboard is proposing a forecast on a 24h windows. The forecast comes from World Weather Online service. I actually have no idea of the forecast quality. The forecast is on a 24h windows after the first day of data. (before the first 12hours the widget is relevant with a bug placing NOW on the left side)
Under this dashboard you can access a larger graphic covering historical periods where you can easily plot what you want to see. By double-clicking on the main graph you can add a custom event as a later reminder.
The dashboard is easy to use. Data are also easy to export in a CSV format. You can also batch the CSV export to an external FTP.
All the web interface is in English, you have no setting to switch in another language. Regarding the targeted user (farmers) I really recommend to manage internationalization quickly.
The global design is modern and well done. The software is updated on regular basis and new features are coming on monthly basis. It’s cool.
Communication & Service
The MeteoHelix IoT pro station is an autonomous system: it gets its energy from sun and communicates directly thanks to the LPWAn networks. There is a LoRaWan version and a Sigfox version. You can’t switch from one to the other as we will see later. They are two different hardware.
I received the Sigfox version for the test. The weather station is communicating every 10 minutes. This is the maximum frequency allowed to respect the European regulation. It seems the backend application do not managed the Sigfox duplicates and the the radio quality you can see in the weather station summary (picture) is just not relevant. It depends on the Sigfox base station firstly reporting the message only.
The Sigfox communication is setup by BARANI Design Technology so the weather station comes with an activated Sigfox subscription. It works for a year, then you can renew the subscription for 12€ or use your own subscription.
The web application allows to setup a personal Sigfox subscription and some screens helps you to configure your callback on the Sigfox backend but I did no saw an automation for making it.
These option makes the product really open, even if you do not want to use the allMeteo software solution or if it stops working. If you want to use your own subscription to Sigfox you can request for the PAC information. It would be great to directly get it from the website in a near future.
You can access, the details of of the messages format on this page, so you can easily decode it to manage your own weather station.
I did not test the LoRaWan version but the LoRAWan Application key was printed on the documentation. It seems this is just for the first prototypes. As a reminder for device maker using the same APP Key for all the weather stations mean security issue. This key is the one use for encryption and authentication, so it means you can decrypt any of the weather station or you can send noise data as if you were any of the station. The weather data are not really sensitive but its a good indicator of designed security consideration. According to BARANI Design Technology, the app key will be something you configure in the commercial product.
What’s in the device ?
No user have to disable the product as I did. I did it to understand and quickly talk about the technology inside as it is the purpose of this blog.
The device is mostly a plastic enclosure. Once you have removed it you access to the sensor itself: the back tube on the picture. You can see the two wires coming from the solar panel.
On the bottom you can see the start of the white “filter”. This is where all the sensors are. it protects the sensors letting the environmental information being captured.
Once the last enclosure open we can access the electronic circuit. This circuit has been tropicalize for a better protection against external environment.
A MCU from Texas Instrument, MSP 430 run the device. This is a 16b MCU with ultra-low-consumption features. On the right side you can see the sensor board.
On the other side of the circuit you can see the battery. It is a Lithium Ion NCR18650B. They are storing, usually, 3000 to 3400mAh. This technology supports -20°C to +60°C. With a such battery the device will support a long winter period for sure. This type of technology supports 1000 cycles. I do not exactly know how they are managing the battery charging cycles to optimize the battery life.
The circuit is specific for Sigfox transmission. We see on this picture the Wisol module (OnSemi chip). The footprint do not allow to swap it with a RCZ2 version. They have different board for the different RCZ. This module choice is market standard even if I would have replaced the TI and communication module by a Murata chip to have a single hardware for Sigfox, LoRa and able to work worldwide. That said, I’m not sure the module was available where they did start the design.
The antenna is scaring me a bit as I always had bad experiences with such small SMD antenna. Currently this is just a feeling as I had no way to see the radio signal on Sigfox network to make a comparison. We can see the matching network between the antenna and the module. I assume if they tuned it, they have taking care of the radio quality. BARANI Design Technology answered me they are working on optimizing the radio. Working on different antennas. The one I have actually works well in the zone I am (well covered).
Meteo Helix Pro seems to be a good product for who want to get weather details from a field out of short range radio signal. The price is higher than classical non professional weather station but the station is autonomous in term of energy and communication and meats the WMO accuracy expectations. It means you can install it anywhere in Europe and get the data from your computer or cell-phone Internet in real time. It means you have professional class accuracy measures. You can have historical access and share you weather information with neighborhood.
Different product are coming to complete your weather stations: MeteoWind to measure wind and get benefit of Sigfox / LoRaWan.
In my point of view it’s a cool product. The next step is to install it in a farm and see if the farmer will use it on regular basis… that’s the goal isn’t it ?