Pinoccio – an upcoming Mesh Networking Platform

10th April 2014
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The Pinoccio platform is based around the Pinoccio “Scout” board – a small, inexpensive microcontroller development board based on the Atmel ATmega256RFR2 microcontroller with built-in 802.15.4 2.4 GHz radio, aimed at quick and easy development of wireless, mesh-networked systems and projects without worrying about common challenges such as efficient battery power management, FCC certification and mesh networking protocols.

This hardware offers an integrated Web platform and API so you can easily get started talking to the Web with your project right out of the box, and a built-in lithium polymer battery on every board that is recharged via the same micro-USB port used for programming, with a battery runtime from days up to over a year depending on the software configuration and how the microcontroller and radio are used.

Pinoccio aims to provide an inexpensive but powerful, FCC-certified, power-efficient, mesh-networked and Internet-ready platform for easily accessible Arduino-style development, wireless sensor networks and Internet-of-Things experimentation.

A network of Pinoccio nodes are connected together via a lightweight 802.15.4 mesh network, using the 802.15.4 radio incorporated in every board to network with any other board that shares its Personal Area Network (PAN) ID.

At one or more nodes in the network, the Pinoccio node is equipped with a Pinoccio Wi-Fi board, based on the Gainspan GS1011MEPS 802.11 WiFi module, that connects the 802.15.4 mesh network to your wireless LAN. This means that every Pinoccio node is connected to the LAN and to the Internet, but with a substantially cost and substantially lower power consumption than would be needed if every node in the network was equipped with an 802.11 wireless LAN chipset.



The ATmega256RFR2 draws less than 20mA of current with its microcontroller and RF transmitter running during active transmission – about 10% of the current consumption of a typical Wi-Fi device. The ATmega256RFR2 can be put into sleep states with far lower power consumption as well, with “wake-on-radio” capability to wake up the microcontroller when the wireless network indicates.

With a WiFi connection on at least one node, every Pinoccio board in the mesh network is connected to the Internet. Routing between nodes is supported, so if board A and board C are out of reach of each other, but they can both reach a board B, then B will route packets for A and C to reach each other.

Even if one of the Scouts is out of WiFi range, the others will route its data up to the Web. Pinoccio uses a lightweight mesh networking stack by default – not ZigBee, for example, although there is no reason why advanced users can’t deploy a ZigBee stack on the Pinoccio hardware if they wish.

This coordinator-less mesh network stack is a lightweight alternative to coordinator-based network architectures. Several network configurations are possible, including the traditional coordinator/router/end-node, as well as a completely decentralised peer-to-peer mesh network with routing.

All Pinoccio Scout nodes can be programmed wirelessly, over the air, in a way that is fully compatible with the Arduino IDE – each node in the 802.15.4 network simply appears, with the Pinoccio networking software installed, as a virtual Arduino-compatible serial port in the Arduino IDE.

Without WiFi connectivity, however, users do still have the option of programming each board directly from a PC, via the USB port, just like any Arduino-compatible device, and more advanced users can talk to the chip via traditional hardware interfaces like ISP and JTAG.

You can have your Pinoccio boards scattered all over an area on a wireless mesh network, each doing their thing, and when you need to update the code on one, some, or all of them you can just do so wirelessly from your computer.

If you have Pinoccio boards within an installation, which are difficult to get to, you can easily update their software over-the-air, post-installation, offering a level of convenience that is hard to achieve with other microcontroller development platforms.

You can update a range of boards by listing several of them, or send an update to all boards in the network at once, sending out a single update broadcast. A single update could be sent out to 100 Pinoccio boards if they all need to be updated, and they would all receive the broadcast and update themselves.

The real value of the Pinoccio platform doesn’t just come from the Pinoccio Scout boards, but from the entire stack – from the physical hardware to the API and Web service and back. This includes features like over-the-air firmware updates, optimised mesh networking and the ability to easily move data between multiple Pinoccio boards across the mesh network, to the Web and back again.

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Along with easy routing, discovery and beaconing, provisioning a new Pinoccio WiFi bridge node to the larger Web, and the use of low-bandwidth-friendly protocols like MQTT, Pinoccio is a platform that provides a high level of openness and interoperability.

Pinoccio is aimed at being very easy to use, power efficient, Arduino compatible, and completely open source, providing a complete end-to-end ecosystem for building the Internet-of-Things, but with open standards and without proprietary lock-in.

The Pinoccio API completes the last mile between your network of Pinoccio hardware and the Web, allowing you to send and receive messages between your board and the API. However, using the Pinoccio API is totally optional – you own your data, and you can run your own web server to talk to your Pinoccio devices if you wish. Every Pinoccio board can have its own REST-based URL, and it can respond to HTTP POST and GET requests, with the 802.15.4 mesh network and the WiFi bridge doing all the routing for you.

Pinoccio aims to support websockets and webhooks, allowing easy connectivity with Web services, and saves and logs all the data pushed to the API from your devices.

Unlike some other options on the market such as Electric Imp, Pinoccio offers a pre-baked end-to-end platform and Web service with a tightly integrated web-hardware experience to allow everybody to easily, quickly get up and running with a network of devices talking to a Web service – without locking you in and forcing you to only use their servers and Web services with their hardware.

The Pinoccio Scout is open-source hardware – you can download the hardware schematics, board layout and bootloaders freely. Pinoccio strives to use open, industry-standard protocols that are standardised by groups such as IETF and OASIS where possible.

Pinoccio currently uses MQTT as the core messaging protocol for the Pinoccio API on top of Atmel’s Lightweight Mesh Protocol and the IEEE 802.15.4 MAC and radio physical layer, and is considering moving towards 6LoWPAN and RPL in future once these standards are more mature and more work is done in this area in the IETF working group.

One vision of future work that the Pinoccio team has is to have each board accessible from the Internet with a unique IP address, using IPv6/6LoWPAN and a WiFi bridge at one node. Shying away from non-standard protocols, Pinoccio supports HTTP and MQTT-S (MQTT for Sensor Networks) out of the box – but, again, without locking you into any particular choices, if you’re willing to put a bit of work in yourself to implement other protocols.

Pinoccio has good security capability available in every part of the network stack, which is attractive for automation networks and Internet-of-Things applications. The ATmega256RFR2 microcontroller has hardware-based AES128 encryption, along with a true hardware random number generator.

It’s simply a matter of defining a shared secret in your code to enable encryption for the entire mesh network. With the support for TLS sockets in the Pinoccio WiFi module, complete encryption is supported from the device to the Web.

Although still in the beta stage, the Pinoccio system holds great promise as an inexpensive and open mesh networking system which could be applied to new or existing IoT-enabled products.

If this is of interest, or you need guidance for any or all stages of product design – the first step is to discuss your needs with our team of experienced engineers that can help you in all steps of product design, from the idea to the finished product.

To get started, join us for an obligation-free and confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.

LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design.

Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.

LX GroupPinoccio – an upcoming Mesh Networking Platform

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