Smart Cookies: A Wireless Sensor Ecosystem for STEM Education

We're developing "Smart Cookies," a wireless mesh sensor network that will help bring STEM education to low-income students.

 

Technology Overview

The Smart Cookies ecosystem is a highly integrated and decentralized mesh network of wireless sensor nodes. Built with students in rural communities in mind, it is completely self-contained and self-working, requiring no programming, downloads, or even Internet access to work. This platform allows students to use each sensor node as an instrument to measure a variety of environmental metrics, including temperature, pressure, humidity, altitude, and air quality. Real-time data from each Smart Cookie is displayed through a tablet, phone, or laptop.


While an individual Smart Cookie can act as a standalone data collection tool, multiple Smart Cookies within close proximity of each other self-organize to form a decentralized, distributed sensing mesh network. When powered on, each Smart Cookie activates a local WiFi network which, when accessed by a tablet or computer, displays a dashboard interface that allows users to visualize realtime telemetry and data analytics from all Smart Cookies.


Engineering

Each Smart Cookie is comprised of an ESP8266 WiFi module, rechargeable LiPoly battery, and onboard sensor array. Current prototypes contain temperature and humidity sensors, although any low-power sensor chip with a digital interface may be used. A recent addition to the newer prototypes is a power management controller IC for onboard charging of the battery.


Mesh Networking

While a single Smart Cookie can be used as a self-contained data collection tool, using multiple Smart Cookies in close proximity with each other automatically creates a decentralized mesh network that intelligently routes data packets through other Smart Cookies to a root node that emits its own local hotspot. Connecting a tablet to the hotspot will allow users to visualize realtime telemetry from all Smart Cookies connected to the mesh network and send commands to each node. This allows the system to accommodate a virtually limitless number of sensor nodes, enables hardware homogeneity, and extends the effective range of data collection far beyond the estimated 100m signal radius of a single WiFi module.


Embedded Web App

Students can visualize realtime data and interact

with it through a lightweight web app that manages all the data streams and displays them on a user interface. This web app is stored within the microcontroller's internal filesystem, and is served by the ESP8266 in access point (AP) mode. Current prototypes use the Bootstrap framework for front-end interface elements and Chart.js for realtime data visualization to achieve a responsive, clean, and functional user experience.

 

"Smart Cookies" is a continuing project of our Innovation Initiative.