The Sensecap Helium miner

Sensecap is one of the Helium miner official hardware. This one has been made in collaboration with Seeed a big hardware maker and provider.

The production and distribution has started on July 2021 and that solution is really promising to help solving the shortage issues currently seen in the Helium market. As a reminder, Helium growth has been from 15.000 hotspots to 100,000 hotspot in less than 8 months. In a period of global shortage in semi-conductor market it is quite challenging for the hardware provider and the current estimates are about 200,000 – 400,000 back orders.

Sensecap coming batch of 10,000 and more units are really welcome, with the promise of selling produced only devices instead of pre-orders. It sounds like a good choice now days.

So let’s review the technical part of the Sensecap miner.

Sensecap box content

The content of the box contains the miner, a power supply using an USB-C connector to power the Raspberry Pi 4 and the indoor radio antenna.

The packaging quality is good, there is no big documentation as usual. You need to follow the Helium application wizard to make the installation. That’s basically easy, you can take a look to Rak Hotspot installation, it is going the same way.

The Sensecap helium miner

The above picture shows the content of the Sensecap helium miner. As you can see, it is going into a metalic box with a simple but smart design. Inside it, you have a Raspberry PI 4, holding a 64GB sdcard. This one is plugged on a dedicated HAT where you have a Seeed LoRaWan concentrator based on SX1302 solution.

Inside the Sensecap helium miner

All the components are well adjusted and screwed, that design is good quality with short RF path. The SDCard is a SanDisk (a good brand) but a standard edition. Usually the miners are using write intensive storage. On that point there is a risk but as the write level should be really lower with the validator deployment, the solution sounds like safe. That still my main point of attention with this miner. So let’s see how that point evolve in the next months.

As we have a Raspberry Pi 4 with a internal low performance WiFi antenna and the enclosure is made of metal you should not expect a good WiFi coverage and as usual I really recommend to use this hotspot connected to an Ethernet cable.

Secure element under the LoRaWAN concentrator

Under the LoRaWAN concentrator, you will find the Secure element containing the helium identity of the hotspot.

As you can see the hat design is simple. It receives the power supply, in a way this is giving a protection to raspberry Pi power supply.

This design a quite simple so easy to produce for a supplier like Seeed. It make me confident on their capacity to produce a lot of them with a good and stable quality.

SenseCap internal Fan

The most surprising part is the big heater on the raspberry Pi including a fan. Usually the helium hotspots are passive cooling. This version is active cooling with a fan. This is because of Raspberry Pi 4 warming a lot in use. Rak solution is using the enclosure for making a passive cooling and this is really smart. Sensecap has decided to use a fan and this is efficient.

In term of noise and durability it is not my favorite choice as the fan is noisy (because it is small) and after 2-3 year it should get some mechanical problems. Sensecap has indicated to me that they are going to tune the firmware to make is running only above a certain temperature to reduce the noise of it. This is something good to know. Currently the version I have was contently making noise.

With a price of $519, the solution is a bit above the other solutions with equivalent hardware components. That said, the price is really correct and the way they distribute it with a warranty of being delivered a few days after ordering is best of market currently.

As a conclusion, I really like this solution, they designed/produced it quickly and the result is really nice. My hotspot is working since 3 weeks from now and I did not had issues with it. So this is a good point.

Monitoring dashboard

The SenseCap miner dashboard (currently in beta-test) is really good. You can see all the technical information in it. It includes the blockchain height, this is really interesting during the synchronization period to watch the progress with a better trust than the Helium API.

The Sensecap dashboard

You can also check the miner health, temperature … To register your sensecap device into the dashboard, you need to have a QR code or the CPUID and MAC ETH. So you need to have the device in the hands. The best is to do it when opening the box, not after the final installation.

The only missing thing in this dashboard is the remote reboot capability. I hope to get it later.

Three months after

I’m really happy of my sensecap miner, the dashboard is really a differentiator and knowing the sync progress is really helpful.

After 3 month working, the miner suddenly stopped mining. The network let was not blinking anymore. It looks like the Pi is not booting anymore. So I confirm the sd-card I received in this first version is not able to work for the right time. The support quickly sent me the like to get a new image and being able to flash it on a new sd-card, that time I selected a high endurance version with 128GB to reduce the blockchain overflow period (30€).

to replacement is easy to do but you need to have your config.json file … from a dead sd-card you can’t retrieve it. The support will provide it to you but you lost some time so as a recommendation, you should save your config.json file until your sd-card die.

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