Spark 5G Lab
Tracking valuable assets in real time
Spark 5G Lab
UX and visual design
IOT hardware and software development
Spark has always been a champion of emerging technologies and a huge investor in New Zealand's networking infrastructure. They are currently working on the roll-out of the 5G mobile network that can reach a download speed of up to 10 Gigabits per second.
Once implemented, this new network will mark a major technological milestone for New Zealand and will bring massive benefit to businesses. Hence, we were very honoured when they approached us to work with them on an IOT proof of concept as part of the first cohort of projects to be showcased in their brand new 5G test lab.
Brooke Jackson and Andrew Leckie from Spark had a simple but powerful vision - to prove to enterprise customers that IOT is no longer something you only read about in tech blogs, it is here, right now and ready to be deployed in real world business scenarios. Suffice it to say, we shared the vision and became very excited at the prospect of jumping into a project that involved so many different engineering disciplines and most importantly, deliver something brand new to the current market.
From the get go we knew we had to create something fully interactive and real-time in order to highlight the speed and connectedness of IOT technology. It needed to capture the imagination of the visitors and demonstrate to them the direct benefits of what IOT can bring to their practical business scenarios. To achieve this, we honed down on the concepts with Spark and focused on building an experience around two simple narratives:
- A warehouse manager tracking the position of a high value asset and being alerted if it has been removed or returned to its rightful position.
- To improve health and safety standards by alerting people when they have entered a hazardous area.
On top of this, we also had to consider that the project needed to exist within the 5G lab space alongside other showcase partners which meant we had to adhere to the physical limitations as well as support the proposed user journeys of the visitors.
When our design team finally mixed these requirements and ideas together, we managed to land on an unique interactive floor plan concept.
Visitors to the 5G lab will be given a lanyard with an IOT enabled device that will keep track of their position in real time. We envisioned that as the visitors walked through the space, the lanyards will automatically detect areas of special interest nearby and fire off proximity events which are then presented in a timeline feed.
To highlight our two IOT application scenarios, we planned to attach similar trackers on a hazard cone and crate object. As visitors entered a specific radius around the cone, they will receive warning events alerting them that there is danger nearby. If visitors moved the crate around the lab, our system would keep track if the crate has been misplaced or returned to its rightful position.
All of this activity and information would be presented in an 3D digital floor plan that can be manipulated and used to directly search for people or objects through its UI. Users can also view the historical paths of objects for further analysis. With this feature, one can also imagine this solution being used to help optimise interior layouts. The business applications of this IOT concept are very real.
This project involved many different engineering disciplines and technologies. Everything needed to successfully come together perfectly at the right time in order to pull it off - exactly the type of project that gets us excited!
For the backbone of the project, we utilised existing Decawave sensors to do most of the heavy lifting for position tracking. These sensors operate using an anchor and tag system and can achieve an accuracy of +-10cm. Simply install sensors around a room and you’ll be able to pick up the current position of tags within the space.
However the base Decawave units only operated via bluetooth which was unsuitable for our desired goal of achieving real-time accurate tracking. Therefore, we added an ESP-32 feather board with our custom firmware to the tag unit so that we could connect and send position data through the network via Wifi. We soldered all of these components together on a custom designed circuit board and housed it in a custom FDM 3D printed case.
Interactive Web content
Our frontend team developed the virtual floor plan using three.js with 3D models and animations created in-house. This approach gave us the ability to easily deploy to different screen sizes and devices. It also gave us the freedom to push out quick updates directly over our server without dealing with mobile app update processes.
For this project we set ourselves a goal to build the entire backend service using AWS serverless technology and AWS IOT services. The position tracking data was calculated using lambda functions and pushed through using MQTT. Position history data would be saved periodically to Elastic search and proximity event states saved to Dynamo DB which Alexa could also query at the same time. The end result is a scalable backend solution that is fast and cheap to run.
We only had 2 months to execute our concept before the launch of the 5G test lab so after a flurry of rapid prototyping and frantic development, on Monday 19th of November, we successfully deployed the full solution to a prestigious crowd on opening night.
As visitors entered the lab, they received a lanyard tracking sensor. The visitors’ movements throughout the 5G lab were all captured and displayed on a 3D rendered map built by our frontend team. We also modified the project to run on tablets so visitors could also pick up an iPad and use it to guide them throughout the lab by following their sensor. The cone and crate objects also proved to be highly engaging as visitors were instantly able to grasp the practical application of this tracking technology as we demonstrated the two narrative scenarios.
Per our usual habit of delivering above and beyond expectations, we even added in an extra Alexa integrated search function to tie the entire experience together. Simply ask Alexa where a certain person is and Alexa will direct you to their current location both verbally as well as zooming in on the 3D floor plan. This feature proved to be the most entertaining one for our guests.
This project proved that not only is IOT technology suitable for practical business scenarios but it is also available right now for adoption. We at Roam are very excited by the new potential that this has unlocked and we are running around with a ton of ideas of how this tech can used for health, inventory management, live interactive experiences, logistics tracking, entertainment and so on. We foresee many new projects focused around building IOT ecosystems for our clients in the near future. Bring them on!