Public Lab Research note

XbeePal ready for monitoring

by claf | April 05, 2015 16:40 05 Apr 16:40 | #11743 | #11743

This project could be useful for ways citizens can monitor air quality, for example, specific elements used in fracking, and to combine collection of IR video and gas sensing in one box, or scatter many different sensors over a large area.

XBeePal is a low-power, fairly low cost system for Zigbee 2.5 stand-alone mesh networking (no need for a micro controller). There's a user-friendly interface that automates complicated API messaging. It's built with MaxMSP and is Mac based, but could be ported to Windows fairly easily. With a bit of further development, the system can send data to internet sites.

Accomplished * Low-cost, can run for extended time periods on battery power…can be deployed in outdoor areas with no power or internet access.

  • A coordinator collects data and manages remote devices from a home-based, powered location.

  • Tested over at least a mile in a tree-covered rural area

  • An infrastructure for any type of sensor-based monitoring, including infrared video (SD card), audio, and other analog and digital sensors.

  • Can switch on/off higher power components

  • Optimize sleep and wake for power efficiency

  • Survive extreme weather conditions (rain, humidity, heat)

  • Automated radio discovery, communications/decisions, data collection



What’s next I’d like to find a way to measure air pollutants specific to oil and gas drilling with a system that can be powered for days.

Libelium has developed a very expensive “Smart Environment” system that isolates several components and works with the Zigbee mesh.

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  • Oxygen (O2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Hydrogen (H2)
  • Ammonia (NH3)
  • Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S)
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
  • Ozone (O3)
  • Hydrocarbons (VOC)
  • Isobutane
  • Ethanol
  • Toluene
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Pressure atmospheric

Libelium encloses the sensors inside vacuum chambers, to survive high humidity, something that quickly degrades sensor readings.

Help is needed The gas sensors are not that expensive, but how can sensors be vacuum-packed inexpensively? I can share circuit, software, and package designs, and can work with you to test it.

If you have ideas for other applications, I'd like to hear from you.


Hey @claf I'm doing some air monitoring work in areas of intensive fracking here in PA (weather variables, formaldehyde, ultrafine particulate matter) let me know if we can be of help. We will be doing community monitoring of fracking infrastructure beginning in mid-may.

I didn't see any data sheets on the "Smart Environment" website. I worry that the detection limit on those sensors would be too high (ie the exposures would be below the lowest reading).

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would a vacuum pump for food packing work? alternatively, can you pack the sensors in rice?

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Thanks Nick, I appreciate your advice. Would a combination of sensors be more useful? Seismograph, water, noise level...other?

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Might work...will look into it.

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It depends how far from the infrastructure you will be monitoring and what infrastructure you will be monitoring. Some states have the geology for earthquakes, some don't. Some have wet gas (gas and oil) others have dry gas (just gas). Where are you planning on monitoring? Noise is a pretty cheap sensor and is a very good indicator of activity. Also some rural counties have a decibel limit regulation for noise so it could actually have some traction. Everyone seems to be gaga over sensors for gas detection.

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also you probably don't need to vacuum seal the sensors. you could just cut wholes on the bottom of those tupper wear and it will probably be weather tight enough and also will have sufficient air blowing by the sensors. in my old job we had sensors out over the winter in a mailbox with holes drilled in the bottom of it and it was just fine. a faraday cage is also probably a good idea.

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I'm in central Texas, in a rural area (county). Companies have been hitting this area hard, 3 sites within a quarter mile of each other and a small neighborhood in the middle. These are horizontal drilling operations for oil and gas. The noise is incredibly loud, the entire house vibrates to low level frequencies. I expect this to go on for some time as I have mapped permits both approved and in progress. County noise regs are geared toward firing of guns rather than low freq vibration (if I recall correctly, somewhere over 75-100 decibels in the living space is the limit). These experiences have alerted me to the need for citizens to have some sort of evidence ...thanks to PublicLab for recognizing this! Thanks for leads on alphasense, will check those out.

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Hi @claf

I'm wondering if you have any updates on this work? I'm glad that you are incorporating audio and video into the box. Video could be useful for things like truck counts, and audio for the roaring of flaring coming from wells and compressor stations. Does this prototype that you've put together have any air quality sensors? I've been working with a group that's using PM2.5 monitors (Specks):

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Hello @JacobMatz, In searching for air quality sensors it seems most of them are intended for indoor use. The Specks looks interesting. Have you tested them outdoors? Things I've dealt with include high heat, high humidity, and insects like wasps and spiders liking to attach to the enclosures. I'd be glad to work with you on a test if you're interested.

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