Smarter overhead bin to reduce to flight boarding time or airlines delay

bin fullMost of the time the overhead bin capacity plays a major role in flight boarding time or even flight delay, especially in domestic flights in USA. What if the overhead bin is little bit smarter, and can inform the gate agent if it is getting filled. So that the gate agent can ask the passenger to check-in the bags there itself, and issue the check-in tags.  Hence the passengers don’t have to carry the bags till the flight, and at a later stage realize that there is no place in the overhead bin. It can be even smarter. For example, when I scan my ticket at the gate, and I  see the current status of the overhead bin right above my seat.

I tried to solve this problem with a cost effective technique using Intel Edison and Microsoft Azure.  Lets watch the demo video first, and then I can explain the technology behind this.

The display unit is supposed to be placed at the entry gate, so that gate agent can see the live update, and mobile employees can have the smartphone app.  I have used the Intel Edison Arduino expansion board for the demo. In production, this entire setup can be a tiny one. Gate agent only need the display unit along with the Edison chip, and the flight agent only need the Edison chip with a button.  All the bins should have a Edison chip and a light sensor. This is optional if we want to automate everything. If the flight agent / cabin crew member is pressing the button, we don’t need the Edison chip inside the bin.  All the devices are connected to WiFi, and it should go to airplane mode before the airline takes off, so that we are not breaking the existing regulations.

Implementation details

I have used the Intel XDK IoT edition with Node.JS to develop this prototype. All the devices are connected to Microsoft Azure cloud. I have configured the Azure Service Bus topic, and the devices connected inside the bin (and the device carried by the cabin crew member) are sending the message to the service bus topic. This article should provide the details on how to send the message to topic, and subscribe the messages.    We don’t have to create the topic as mentioned in the above mentioned article, instead create the topics using the Azure management portal, and initialize the service bus using the connection string as given below.

Then we can send the message to topic as give below.

Here is the code snippet for the LCD RGB display unit for displaying the status with background color.

Let us hope that our airlines become smarter and cabin crew members don’t have to use the walkie-talkie system to interact with the gate agents.

Smart green house with Intel Edison and Microsoft Azure

I have attended the Intel IoT Roadshow here in Silicon Valley during last weekend, and made this cool project – Smart Green House. Intel provided a bunch of sensors, and I thought of doing something with green house. We had done similar hack earlier during AT&T Developer summit hackathon at Las Vegas, but that was for industrial farming.

Project description :- I have placed various sensors inside the green house, and the system will monitor current condition (soil Smart Green Housetemperature, moisture, light, ph level, ultra violet, water et ), and report to the back end cloud.  Backend knows the current profile of the green house(I have used radish plant for demo), and if there is anything abnormal, green house system will adjust the settings. For example, if the temperature is high then the system will turn on the fan. If the water level is low, then the system will automatically turn on water pump. I have placed the LCD display unit outside to see the current health level, and if anything unusual with green house then the display will be red, and notification will be send as SMS.  Let us dive into more technical details. Following diagram shows the hardware pieces used in this project.Smart Green House components

Implementation details:- Core of this project is the Intel IoT developer kit which they have provided to the first 150 attendees, and I was lucky enough to get one. In addition to the default kit, I have managed to get the mini water pump, water flow control, fan, light etc.  I have used Intel XDK IoT edition for the development and used the Node.JS / Java script to read/write to hardware/sensors.  Intel SDK team did pretty decent job in documenting everything, and enough sample codes, and I could set up the first sensor up and running in couple of hours including the XDK and drivers installation.  Here comes the code sample to read the temperature value from the sensor connected to the analog pin.

Similarly, I have read values from all the sensors, and sent the same to Azure Event hub. I couldn’t find any AMQP 1.0 node package to connect to the Azure event hub, hence I used the REST api to post the reading in every second.    During the start of the app, green house system will connect the Azure backend to retrieve the profile for the current plant, and in this case it got the profile for radish plant.  Since the green house system already got the plant profile at the start, any reactive action (eg:- turn on water pump, turn on fan etc) don’t require network/backend connectivity. Hence we don’t put the plants on risk incase if there is any network outage.

Once I get the sensor values at Azure event hub, data gets forwarded to Stream Analytics service, and then the output of the stream is directed to the Power BI for dashboard. dashboardHere is a dashboard from my demo.

Even though I am an electronics engineer by degree, I didn’t seriously worked with the electronics components after the course. IoT hackathons are really helping me to do some amazing things, and I am enjoying it. Hope to write some more articles pretty soon on IoT.

 

WordPress on Microsoft Azure – Web App Vs Virtual Machine

Introduction

WordPress is one of the most popular open source blogging platform (or CMS), and we have couple of options when it comes to deploying the WordPress in Microsoft Azure. The easiest and straight forward deployment option is to use the WordPress template from the Web Apps gallery. I have used the same when I moved sreesharp.com to Azure, but after couple of weeks I realized the catch, and this article explain why I switched to Virtual Machine based hosting.

 Deploy WordPress from Apps Gallery

WebAppCreate

When we create the WordPress app, we get an option to select an existing database or create a new MySQL database instance. I have created a new MySQL database, and in couple of minutes I could start writing my first blog entry. Everything went fine, and I became the happy user of WordPress on Azure.WebAppCreate2

Page load performance hit

In order to improve the page load performance, I enabled the caching using WP Super Cache plugin, and configured most of the recommended settings.WP_Cache_settings

Unfortunately after enabling the cache support, page load performance became worse. Then I upgraded the Azure web app service plan from basic to standard, and even increased the capacity (1 core to 2 core), but no luck. Problem was not related to the Azure Web App, instead it was related to the default MySQL database. When we create WordPress app, we are using the MySQL service provided by ClearDb and it is their Mercury plan with 20MB storage and 4 maximum connection with low performance. Yes, you read it correctly. When we activate multiple WordPress plugins, and when they do background tasks, we might easily hit the limits set by the ClearDb default plan. Even I had tough time in getting connection with MySQL Workbench to take the db back up.  In short, default WordPress app from Azure Web app gallery is not good for production sites.

Performance Improvement Options

I can think of the following options, so that we can really take the benefit of Azure cloud platform to WordPress application.

  1. Upgrade the ClearDB plan from Mercury. Remember the subscription cost is only for the MySQL database, and we still have to pay for the Azure Web App.ClearDBPlans
  2. Create a virtual machine to host MySQL, and connect from existing WordPress app.  More details can be located here (Windows VM) or here (Linux VM). Again, we need to pay the monthly subscription for both Azure Web app and VM.
  3. Create a virtual machine, and install WordPress (including MySQL).  More details can be located hereVMCreate

Apart from the DB performance, there are bunch of items we can do to improve WordPress performance on Azure. Checkout this blog as well to learn about other techniques.

Below links provide the plan subscription info, and you do your math before choosing the option.

Azure Web App (Web Site) pricing

Azure Virtual Machines Pricing

ClearDB on Azure pricing

Conclusion

I have selected option 3, and configured Ubuntu VM, and installed the LAMP stack, and WorPress. No more worries on MySQL connection limit and monthly credit card bill. I have configured the auto scale option, and alert rules as well to  monitor the virtual machine performance.  Now SreeSharp.com is on Azure VM, and hopefully I can get the best out of the Azure hosting now.

Connected car with Microsoft Azure ( CAN Gateway to Stream Analytics)

Introduction

Couple of months ago, I had attended the Toyota hackathon here in Silicon Valley, and learned about the new capabilities Toyota is building in their car. Recently I spent sometime with Azure Stream Analytics as well, and thought of connecting the car with Azure cloud. Once we get the live car data (eg:- engine speed, location, vehicle speed, fuel level etc) to cloud, possibilities are end-less. This article will provide simple visualization using Power BI, and we can extend this use-case to any of the telemetry  platform use cases (eg:- travel safety, predictive maintenance etc).

CAN-Gateway ECU System

The CAN-Gateway ECU allows users to read data – including GPS location, fuel cCan_Overviewconsumption, engine revolution speed, odometer and more – from various sensors in the vehicle. The CAN-Gateway ECU has Bluetooth LE interface, and smartphone application can send the signals to the CAN-Gateway ECU, the Gateway provides the data requested by the application.

CAN Gateway to Android Application

For this demo, I will be using drive simulator application( on Android) which acts as CAN Gateway ECU system.  I have another Android application to read the data from the Gateway (or Simulator).  Here comes the snippets about the data buffer formation, and reading the signal.

Android Application to Azure Event Hub

Please refer my earliest post about Android to Event Hub interaction, and I am using the same approach here as well. Here I am adding many more attributes as part of the JSON as given below.

 Azure Event Hubs to Stream Analytics

Create the new Stream Analytics from the Azure portal as shown below. We could save some data transfer cost if we keep both Event Hubs and Stream Analytics in same region.  NewStreamAnalyticsOnce we create the new stream analytics, its time to add the input, output and query.

Input:- Click on “Add Input”, and select “Data Stream” and “Event Hub”, and select your Azure subscription and Event hubs name.  Select “JSON/UTF8” as event serialization format, and test the connection.

Output:- Stream Analytics provide different output options ( including Power BI), and in this demo, I am using the Table Storage option, so that I can play around the data at later stage as well.

Query:- Query is integral part of the Stream Analytics, and this is where the live data filtering really happening.  In this demo, I am selecting all the attributes from the event hub.  But we can do all sort of filtering here (eg:- find the cars who are crossing speed limit in specific area)

 See it in Action (Demo Time)

Now we have connected all the required pieces for this demo.

  • Start the Stream Analytics by clicking “Start” icon at the bottom portion in Azure portal.
  • Start the car simulator in Android phone
  • Start the sample app in another Android phone and connect the app to simulator via Bluetooth
  • Check out the Table Storage Explorer to see the live data or even Power BI dashboard

Summary

You might be wondering what is the big deal in getting the car live data to Azure table storage / Azure SQL and this can be even done easily with Azure Mobile Service. Then you are missing the point.  Think about a vehicle fleet system, where hundreds of car data (read it as Uber car data) coming to the Event Hubs, and fleet administrators configure various queries in Stream Analytics service to process the live data, and take further action.  With Azure Event Hubs and Stream Analytics, Connected Things (IoT) got better future, and looking forward to see many more awesome apps.

Send events from Android app to Microsoft Azure Event Hubs

Event Hubs is a highly scalable publish-subscribe ingestion system that can process millions of events per second. This article will explain how to publish event from an Android application to Azure event hub.

Create an Event Hub

  1. Log on to the Azure management portal, and click NEW at the bottom of the screen.
  2. Click App Services, then Service Bus, then Event Hub, then Quick Create.create_eventhub
  3. Enter the event hub name (eg:- AndroidHub) , select the region and namespace, and create the event hub.
  4. Select the newly created event hub, and select the Configure tab
  5. Create the shared access policy (eg:- android). We will require the policy name, key, namespace and event hub name at later stage to create the signature.shared_access_policy

Create Android application

Let us create anew_project simple android application using Android Studio. Select the minimum SDK (eg:- API 19), Blank Activity template, and  default activity (eg:- MainActivity), and then click “finish”to create the project.

Now add a button to the main layout to send sample event to Azure event hub.  Updated layout is given below.

We need to update the manifest file to support the network operation by including the following permission.

Connecting to EventHub:- Sending events to an Event Hub is accomplished either using HTTP POST or via an AMQP 1.0 connection. The choice of which to use when depends on the specific scenario being addressed. AMQP 1.0 connections are metered as brokered connections in Service Bus and are more appropriate in scenarios with frequent higher message volumes and lower latency requirements as they provide a persistent messaging channel. I will be using the HTTP post to publish the events.  I have been using the Android AsyncHttpClient library for a while to do asynchronous operation, and thought of using the same here as well. Let us update the build.gradle file with the following to add the AsyncHttpClient package.

Now update the button click handler with the following code.

Replace the namespace and eventhub name with the actual values from the Azure portal, and ClientId can be anything to identify the publisher. In real life scenario there will be multiple devices/apps publishing events to same event hub.   I have created another Azure website to generate the SAS signature, and let us use this site to create signature for this demo application.  In production application, it is better to generate the signature in Android app itself (or get it from a secure cloud service).

Once we update all the placeholders, it is time to execute the application, and eventhub_dashboardclick the button to send events. We should see the updates in Event hub dashboard as shown here. If not, check out the AsyncHttpClient callback handler and see the response from the server after the POST request.

Hope, many more Android apps will start publishing events to Azure Event hubs 🙂