Frequently Asked Questions
- What kind of sensors can I use with Owl Platform?
Nearly any type of wireless sensor. Generally speaking, Owl Platform is a layered, hardware-neutral architecture for managing WSN data. For Owl Platform Online, we currently only support Pipsqueak sensors, but in our research lab we've worked with Berkeley Motes, WiFi (802.11) laptops and phones, and couple of other more obscure research platforms.
- Can you actually get 10 years on a battery?
Yes. Through a combination of novel wireless technology, very efficient programming, and low-power sensing techniques, our Pipsqueak sensors use incredibly little power. To estimate lifetimes, we measure the power consumption of sensing and transmitting, calculate the total power needed to run for an hour or a day, and then calculate how many days of operation we can get from a battery.
To be completely honest, our calculations actually predict much longer lifetimes, but we're trying to stay conservative and not disappoint anyone!
- What types of events can your sensors detect?
Currently, we are planning to commercialize 3 types of sensors: a magnetic open/close sensor similar to those used by home security systems, ambient light level (bright/dim/dark), and standing water/flood. All three of these also report ambient temperature. We have other types of sensors planned or as ongoing research, but they're not yet ready for prime time, sorry!
Owl Platform Online
- What exactly is Owl Platform Online?
Owl Platform Online is a service that provides timely notifications to you or your family when important events are detected. It uses our Pipsqueak sensors to detect significant events like a leak in your basement or a door left open, and then sends you a customized notification as soon as it happens. Our biggest focus is on ease of use—effectively a set-and-forget model for sensing. Unless something happens that you want to be notified about, you should never even know they're working.
- What makes Owl Platform Online different from other sensor websites?
A lot of other sensors and their services are focused on giving you access to your data. This is perfect for people like hobbyists, programmers, and the DIY crowd. We also think this important (since our engineers are those people), but our service is focused making the sensors work for the rest of us. We try to make the sensors invisible until they're needed.
- How secure is my data?
At present, the wireless sensors do not encrypt any of their data, and this information is sent unencrypted over the Internet to our servers. Once it reaches our servers, we take every possible precaution to protect your data. However, our services are in Beta, so there may be a few bugs to work out here and there.
That being said, we're planning new features for the future to improve security: encrypted sensor data, authenticated/encrypted base station communication, and encrypted storage of your data on our servers. We don't have these in place yet, but we have them on our To-Do list and are working toward them.
- How reliable are the Pipsqueak sensors?
Pretty darn reliable, but it does depend on the circumstances. They key is to reduce obstructions like walls, metallic objects between the sensor and base station. We've done academic studies and measurements and the reliability of the sensors themselves, sending data to the base station, is anywhere from 99.9% (with just a handful of sensors) down to 60% (with hundreds). In most cases for home users, however, once you've tested your sensor in its desired location and the signal is above 10%, it should be able to report any events it detects.
Here are a few things (but not all) that we know can cause problems:
- Large metallic surfaces (steel, copper, lead). These things can bounce, block, and otherwise wreak havoc with radio signals. Best to be avoided when possible.
- Significant amounts of water. We've tested our water sensors under a few inches of water (they float), but if you try to put one in your pool, the signal will probably be much weaker than outside.
- Walls, doors, furniture. These things cause interference (especially walls), and the more of them between the sensor and the base station, the more likely the signal will be poor.
- People. A sensor worn as a necklace works much better than one in your pocket. Even better is to keep them a few inches away from your body if possible.
Please do not use this service for life or death situations. We work hard to make our system as reliable as we can, but there are still reasons why notifications could fail or sensors might not relay information on time.
- Is your software open source?
The Owl Platform protocols, libraries, some solvers and components are open source and available on GitHub. These make-up the backbone of the Owl Platform sensor network architecture and will remain free and open source forever. We use and rely on these components to build and improve Owl Platform Online and other products we develop.
The Owl Platform Online software, some other solvers, sensor firmware, and some applications are closed source (proprietary). While most users benefit from this software (running in the background or on the tags), the source is not made available.
- Can I use your software to run my own wireless sensors?
You certainly can, and that's how we started building it. Over the last several years, we've worked hard to build a wireless sensor platform (Owl Platform) that fits our current and future needs. So far, we've been very successful and have been able to do everything we've wanted with it. We love to see people innovate with our software and would encourage you to play with it if you enjoy hacking and programming. If you need some advice or support, contact us and we may be able to help.