WxMonitor: An Open Source Weather/Home Monitoring System

station pic

Overview - In my rural community, it is not possible to get immediate local weather data. The nearest weather monitoring stations are 30 miles away and only update at about 30 minute intervals. Commercial weather monitoring systems are too expensive and not flexible (ie. hackable). To solve this problem, I decided to design and build a weather monitoring system with a goal of keeping the system flexible enough so that it could be easily adapted and used as part of a home monitoring/control system. I currently have a functioning prototype that is composed of client and server components.

The server is composed of a PIC Micro-Controller and sensors serially connected to a Debian Linux box. The server contacts the PIC to request a new sample from one of the sensors at some periodic interval. The PIC takes a voltage sample from the specified sensor and returns it to the server. The server then does the necessary calculations and filtering to update the value of the parameter.

The client prototype is running on a SparcStation5 NetBSD machine. The client contacts the server via TCP/IP to request the latest values of the monitored parameters at a configurable interval. The client logs the values in a file and generates plots of the parameters via Gnuplot. The client then updates a static html webpage.

The prototypes are a bit kludgy and probably not worth keeping around. My plan is to rewrite the client and server using the Ruby OO scripting language. The web page is still up in the air. Any of Perl, Python, PHP or Ruby would be great for the web page.

Project Goal - The goal of the project is of course to get others involved, and to provide a high quality, low cost, flexible, open source solution to the problem.

Design Intent - My intent is to keep the design as generic and flexible as possible, so that it can be easily adapted for other uses. Some other uses that I currently have in mind:

Software Overview

This is a very high level view of what I envision for the software components of this system. Most of this is based on what I currently have prototyped (hacked) and needs to be refactored.

  1. Server - The server will be written in Ruby. It will be multi-threaded to allow for independent sampling frequencies. The server will probably use Kalman filtering to eliminate noise from the sensors. Client communication will be handled through TCP/IP, but this will probably be configurable so that a person could use UDP/IP instead if they wanted. Client/Server interactions will be logged. The server should be able to dynamically re-read its config file by sending the process a signal. Dynamic reconfiguration would be beneficial because it would allow a person to experiment with the sampling rates and filter parameters. At this point I have a somewhat solid design for the main components of the server.
  2. Client - If I design and write the client it will also be written in Ruby. If someone else does this, they are free to use whatever they prefer. The client will basically serve as a wrapper around GNU Octave or GNUPlot. It will contact the server (TCP or UDP) with requests for updates at some configurable interval and log the responses either in a file or database. Once the client gets an update on the parameters that it is monitoring, it will perform some action, which typically will be to generate plots for a webpage.
  3. Web Page - The webpage will at least display the current plots of the monitored parameters. It would be nice if a person could request the recorded parameters/plots/statistics of some day in the past from a database.

Hardware Overview

This is a listing of the components that I used for the prototype. It has been working well for quite a while. The server software will be generic enough so that the exact type of micro-controller and sensors used will not matter. From the viewpoint of the server, any micro-controller could be used. The PIC 16F877 seems to be a nice fit because it has on board A/D converters and an on board USART. The construction of the hardware and housing is simple and only requires bacic tools. Here is the electrical schematic.

  1. PIC 16F877-20/P - This is an inexpensive and robust micro-controller. See the datasheet for exact specs. It costs approximately $10 USD. It is programmed using assembler (See wx.asm).
  2. MPX4250AP - This is a linear atmospheric pressure sensor. It costs approximately $20 USD. This sensor does not have the required resolution for atmospheric pressure. I ordered the wrong sensor by accident. The MPX4115 ($20 USD) should be used instead.
  3. HIH-3610 - This is a linear humidity sensor. It costs about $20USD.
  4. DS18b20 - This is a digital temperature sensor. It costs approximately $8 USD.
  5. MAX232 - This is a TTL to RS232 serial line driver/converter. Very cheap but requires 5 tantalum capacitors. If you use the MAX233 it has the capacitors built in.
  6. 7805 - This is a 5 Volt regulator that is used to provide voltage for the Micro-Controller, sensors and a stable reference voltage for the A/D converters.
  7. Additionals - Additional supplies are: circuit board, 20MHz clock, phone wire, serial port connector, power supply and wire.

Help Wanted - This is a listing of some of the areas that I could use help with. If anyone is interested, in these areas, or if you want to get involved in some way, or if you have questions/feedback, please feel free to contact me.

  1. Cheaper Electronics - It would be nice to be able to bring the price of the weather station down as much as possible. Any help with doing this would be great.
  2. Client - If anyone would like to help develop the client let me know. If you just want to play around with the server, you can open up a TCP/IP connection to www.bkbryant.net port 8000 and do a read to get a string with the servers latest values.
  3. Web Development - Web stuff is not my strong point. It would be nice if the web front end was connected to a database and could retrieve previous days measurements, display max/min of parameters, etc.
  4. Wind Speed - I plan to add a sensor to measure wind speed. I believe that it could be measured based on differential pressure. I think that this would be easier than dealing with moving parts.
  5. Wind Direction - This can be measured by mounting a 360 degree potentiometer with a windvane attached to it. I have not been able to find a decent 360 degree potentiometer.
  6. Lightning Detection - One easy way to do this is by using a cheap AM receiver chip tuned to a dead portion of the AM band.

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