Update and Configuration Strategy for Future Nodes

As you may know I’m playing around with different node platforms from Arduino Pro (Mini) / Seeeduino Stalker based boards over Cortex M0 systems up to ESP8266 and ESP32 SoC.

This boards have to be programed via FTDI, USB, WiFi. This is for Arduino experienced users not always easy going as we have seen on the two different COM ports of the Feather M0 or a non-standard FTDI connection of the bare LoPy.

In the rising sun of the BOB project I am worried about “normal” users or “just beekeepers” that want to use our hardware.

In the most cases you will always have to tweak some settings:

  • for WiFi devices: set SSID / password and the endpoint for data transmission
  • for GSM/GPRS devices set APN
  • for TTN different keys in case there is no “central” TTN application
  • for all systems with scale: adjust / calibrate your device

So it is a straight learning curve to get familiar with the IDE, 5 V vs, 3.3 V cables or adapter or FTP connections to get your new device running.

Among the shades of the recently published WPA2 vulnerability KRACK and the discussion around we have to think about firmware updates also.

I hesitate a bit with this decision but for a really user friendly configuration without too much external help I see only the chance to do it via WiFi with a tool like WiFi Manager there is a nice description also. You have a graphical user interface without any IDE or cable and library stuff, perhaps you can upload also firmware packages (I have to figure this out).

But is it worth to carry a full WIFi stack with you only for an initial configuration perhaps once in the lifetime of the device? What do you think? How can we make the life easy for non-hackers or lower at least the barrier for novices? This would also be a clear decision or at least a favorite role for ESP based nodes.

Any suggestions or comments about that?

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Hey @clemens,

thanks for bringing up this topic again. In order to refer to other resources about this topic, i want to drop some links here.

A similar discussion from a while ago:


This would be almost ready for prime time, we worked hard in spring 2017 to make this thing fly:

In order to make this work with the Open Hive firmware, this pull request is still pending:
https://github.com/hiveeyes/arduino/pull/17

Let’s go and merge it? It would be cool if you would acknowledge it! Just call me if you have further questions about it.

Cheers,
Andreas.

Thanks, @Andreas for pointing to this discussions. But my point is a step before. In case you have a running device updates (e.g. other measuring intervalls) are remote via some kind of “back channel” possible. But to establish this channel you need in the most cases to upload a sketch to the device with WiFi cedentials or with mobil network specifications like APN. My suggestions are: How can this be done without uploading a new sketch.

For firmware updates you are right, ther we need a kind of firmware builder and we have to evaluate if an update is possible via WiFi. OTA for RFMxx radio modules would be also possible but I think this is for advanced users only and so not the target group I had in mind with the first post.

Thanks for writing in. The firmware builder was designed for this very use case as it doesn’t require to set up any toolchain at all. It’s not about updating anything using a backchannel or doing OTA updates, as this is an advanced use case.

It’s really about the “getting started” step for users not that tech-savvy without touching any code or compiler at all. After that, the AVRDUDESS program would be the way to go for uploading the compiled program to the microcontroller:

As this is a program with an user interface available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, this is way more accessible to users without any experience on the command line.

So the whole process would be:

  1. Visit a web page for putting in the required configuration variables
  2. Press the “Build firmware” button which will trigger the download
  3. Upload the firmware using AVRDUDESS

It’s really the most easy way following the KISS principle i can imagine - at least for non-networked microcontrollers.

For MCUs being on any kind of network (Ethernet, WiFi), it’s obviously a totally different story and we should very well think about embedding a captive portal like WiFiManager or using a firmware framework already bringing one along like Homie.

I see, it is much more easy to use this scenario than an IDE and getting confused with librarys and board management. But it could be still complicated to connect the board or having no FTDI cable on hands Thanks for the described step-by-step scenario … just thinking how it could be as easy as possible.

Right ;]. That’s the reason we wanted to have every single bit (libraries, build chain, etc.) available in a single repository (GitHub - hiveeyes/arduino: Arduino-compatible MCU code for sensor and telemetry nodes.) for supporting this scenario on the backend side from the very beginning.

It was a pleasure. Same with me.

That’s right, but i can’t think of any way making this even more simple other than shipping pre-flashed MCUs which would require way more logistics on the upstream side.


But let me drop some more links for sparking more ideas ;]:

In any case, proper wiring and additional hardware for programming the microcontroller will always be required. With FTDI and AVRDUDESS, we are already standing on the shoulders of giants here.

Here is an additional link for the ESP8266 and OTA:

http://s6z.de/cms/index.php/homeautomation-homecontrol/hardwareplattformen/esp8266/133-ota-esp8266-over-the-air-flashen

reminder:

Dear Clemens,

would you consider having a look at the pull request mentioned above so that we can think about merging it? Thanks in advance!

Cheers,
Andreas.