How an Independent Developer Built a Remote Monitoring System in Jamaica

/ Written By Mike Ryan

Here at a Hologram we love stories about solving real world issues. More than 2 billion people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water and developers in our community are part of the affected areas. Faced with these challenges and armed with cellular IoT connectivity, developers become a resource for their local communities to improve living situations. Darwin Dowdie is one such member of our Hologram community.

Darwin was born and raised in Jamaica. One of his high school chores was to climb a two-story ladder to check that there was enough water in his multi-story building’s water tank for that evening. Showers, cooking, dishes, and other resident needs were at risk if the tank went dry. The tenants’ water supply consisted of an unreliable water main, trucked-in water from the water commission, and rain catchment. Darwin wanted to automate the process and develop a water management system that monitored water levels. He saw other opportunities for improvement with continuous pump diagnostics. This would route water automatically to optimize water levels across the system. Darwin started designing this system before pursuing a degree in electrical engineering outside of Jamaica.

The system worked exceptionally well, allowing Darwin’s mother (and the building owner) to expand the size of the property and turn the building into a hub for student tenants. As the system grew, Darwin tinkered with new hardware, new enclosures, and constantly refined the system’s efficiency.

“The water pump and remote monitoring system that I have built ensures that there is consistent access to water throughout the house by moving water between pumps,” says Darwin. “It is controlled by a combination of sensors and unique monitoring tools that switch gears when failures happen.”

“Telematics” and Applying the Internet of Things

Darwin’s first encounter with Internet of Things (IoT) technology was under a different name entirely: telematics. Early iterations of the system were plastic enclosures with cutouts for an LCD screen and simple interfaces. The convenience of replacing a two-story ladder with a ground-level LCD screen are obvious from a safety perspective. The building’s caretaker preferred to look at the screen from the ground, read the levels off and send an email or place a phone call when there was an issue.

The updates were inaccessible because the data upload rate was too slow. This made it difficult to stay on top of any issues with the water system. Darwin decided he would redesign the system. The physical enclosure was halved, with no need for an LCD screen. Information was to be sent via email and text message when a low water alarm was triggered.

This system was based on a cellular modem, which sent data back to the building owner. Darwin began using prepaid SIM cards in his prototype. Through his work with Hughes Telematics, Darwin knew that global SIM cards were a good choice for telemetry. His search for affordable IoT SIM cards led him Hologram’s open source hardware environment and software platform.

“I focused on core functionalities first,” says Darwin. “For instance, I found email and text notifications sufficient, so I did not build an app interface. As time goes on, I will build more features into it. I tried using a prepaid SIM for the first couple of prototypes, but that did not work out very well for me. I went online looking for a SIM card that was dedicated to end-to-end applications at a reasonable price. I came across Hologram.”

How Hologram Empowers Darwin’s Water Monitoring System

When Darwin came across Hologram, he was building out a personal server to receive and forward notifications from his tank monitoring system. Using Hologram’s cloud-centric architecture, that need was quickly met and satisfied. He was able to iterate faster and even started leveraging Hologram for all his other IoT pet projects.

Equally helpful to Darwin was the Hologram network’s massive global reach, which allowed him to keep costs low while paying for bandwidth all over the world. In keeping with Darwin’s build-only-what’s-needed mentality, Hologram’s seamless email and text notifications have invalidated the need for building out a full app interface.

“Now, the caretaker no longer needs to take on this responsibility as the Hologram cloud server sends text messages directly  to my phone,” Darwin says

Here are some real photos of Darwin’s remote pump and water monitoring system.

 

Darwin continues to crank out IoT-based hardware systems, targeted at improving the convenience of property management and improving the lives of his fellow community members. Hologram’s SIM cards, hardware and software services will be there every step of the way.

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