Intel Inside the Blue

Intel: Inside The Blue

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The world is filled with waves that are not visible to the human eye, including technological waves such as WiFi, 4G and LTE. Kanish Patel and Paul Ferragut, talented UNIT9ers and avid members of the Maker community, collaborated on Intel’s “Inside the Blue” project with agency Noise to help visualize what WiFi waves look like. The project was displayed at Intel’s Developer Forum and the World Maker Faire in late 2014.

As Ken Kaplan, Intel iQ Managing Editor, explains, “The concept behind Inside the Blue is an ecosystem of creatures that live inside the ocean — like a jellyfish or a whale — which detect different invisible waves using the sensor capacity of the Galileo. The invisible waves are converted and displayed into light, sound or motion, making the invisible world visible.

Together, they designed the Signal Fish,  giant flying fish that seeks out WiFi waves and then visualizes this data using light and movement. It communicates wirelessly to a Brain Coral base station via the XBee module. The Intel Galileo, an Arduino-certified prototyping board, analyses the data and directs how the Signal Fish should act. The Signal Fish, essentially a signal-seeking balloon, lights up when it detects quality WiFi.

“The Signal Fish is an autonomous WiFi-detecting flying machine that lights up when it likes the WiFi it is detecting.” ‘Like’ in this case indicates a quality signal that triggers the Signal Fish to play an animation. (How exactly this occurs is that the Signal Fish ‘finds’ the WiFi signal and relays that information back to the Brain Coral.)”

Kanish Patel, UNIT9 Tech Lead

The 7-foot flying fish was created from custom-cut mylar (the same material helium balloons are made of), with 3D-printed propellers that enabled it to fly. UNIT9’s Christian Bianchini designed the circuit and sourced the necessary materials, while our very own Paul Farragot worked on creating an animation so that the Signal Fish would light up from front to back when it detected WiFi waves. Patel wrote the software and led the project.

There are two components to the Signal Fish: An Arduino-based flight rig that is attached it, and a Node JS server that runs in the Intel Galileo. The Arduino component reads and sends the wifi signal levels to the Galileo board, as well as from other sensors such as the compass, altimeter and depth sensors. The Galileo then processes all the data and sends instructions back to the Arduino board to move, fly higher, turn away from a wall, or play a particular WiFi animation.

The Node JS server then allows users to take manual control of the flying fish using their tablet or phone. On the other hand, they can also let the Signal Fish explore the space on its own.

Q&A: Kanish Patel, UNIT9 Tech Lead

What was the impetus behind the project? What about it made you feel like it was worth investing in?

The purpose of the Inside the Blue project was to create tutorials for all levels of the maker community that showcase the capabilities of the Intel Galileo development board. The idea was to create something that people could do at home, with parts they could pick up online or at RadioShack, not to create something that looked fantastic, but was unattainable by someone at home. I enjoy teaching, and building things, so this project appealed to me greatly.

What was the research process like? 

We spent a lot of time building prototypes of different blimp shapes and working out how much weight we could add to make the blimp neutrally buoyant (i.e. doesn’t float upwards, doesn’t fall to the ground).  We used bottles of water hanging from our blimp prototypes to find the best place to position for our Arduino and how heavy the flight rig could be.

Were there any big challenges on the way? How did you deal with them?

The biggest challenges were shape, weight and balance. The problem with blimps is that if the shape is not balanced on both sides, the bigger side just wants to float upwards. We bought hundreds of feet of mylar and cut each piece out by hand, and then used a hot iron to manually join them together for each of the many prototypes and multiple iterations of the final shape.

At the same time, we had to consider that the shape had to be big enough to generate enough lift to hold the final hardware including LEDs all around the shape. The final shape had 28 individually cut and joined pieces and was over 2 meters long.

What was the feedback like at the World Maker Faire?

Everyone loved it. We flew it inside the Intel tent, and people didn’t see it until they walked in. It was quite windy, even in the tent, so it was fun watching it bumping around trying to overpower the wind with its tiny motors.