Building On The People's Network with IoT Off-Grid
This is an interview between IoT Off-Grid & Grants Program Manager, Clarissa Redwine.
It was our first time testing our hardware at the Breakneck Ridge Trail. Breakneck Ridge Trail is located in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, overlooking the Hudson River Valley, a trail we had spent months researching and arranging to climb. To prepare, we interviewed trail experts and novices alike and knew that this trail was steep, difficult, and dangerous due to rock scrambles over ledges. But, after dozens of interviews and our research, we soon found we were still terribly unprepared for the physical challenge. In plain sneakers, we climbed the first leg of the trail carrying a few Helium mappers. The trail became so steep at several points that we had to use our hands to scale our way up. Drenched in sweat, we finally reached the peak. We looked down for what felt like forever — our eyes traversing the cliffs we'd managed to scramble up. Our hearts pounding, we stood amazed by the beauty surrounding us. We were standing at the highest point we'd ever hiked, looking down at the gorgeous views of the Hudson River Valley and surrounding Sugarloaf Mountains. Once we caught our breath and could break away from the mesmerizing vista, we looked down at our mappers and were amazed by what we saw. We had coverage at 1,269 ft of elevation. We knew then we would be able to build an IoT solution that would enable more people to experience life's best views and maintain the safety they require during challenging ascents. This is why and how IoT Off-Grid was born.
Who is Iot Off-Grid?
Today, Iot Off-Grid is a hotspot outdoor enclosure manufacturer. IoT Off-Grid launched a platform as an IoT service provider for the Breakneck Ridge Trail managers to keep hikers safe. The team resides in the greater New York and New Jersey areas. While they have succeeded with outdoor enclosures and trail safety solutions, they are expanding their business with research and development for real-world IoT devices on the Helium Network. They primarily focus on solutions for Agro-based systems, environmental conservation, hydroponic systems, and remote monitoring. Iot Off-Grid is a grantee with the Helium Foundation.
What does IoT Off-Grid do, and why did you start this project?
Initially, we sought to give a convenient and manageable option for hikers and nature enthusiasts to enjoy the great outdoors with the addition of security; knowing that if they happen to wander off the path and get lost in the beauty of nature, there is a way they can be found by safety patrol. We designed a platform that decreases the injury toll at the Breakneck Ridge Trail and can do the same for other trails in the future. For us, this platform's existence and meticulous construction were of great importance as it takes the tech burden away from IoT users. Previously, technological expertise, time, and money were necessary to stand up a similar solution, but today, the entire Helium community has an open-source option that provides a full experience of what the Helium network is capable of, free of charge.
How are you building a tool that hikers and trail managers want to use?
We focused on streamlining the user experience to make it as simple as possible. Those with minimal to no knowledge of IoT or Helium can use this platform and, in turn, learn about the technology and the network. Simplicity was the key driver in our development stage. This took long hours of coding and grueling physical testing on the trail to refine and optimize the UX, a continuous process we are still improving today.
How has the People's Network helped you build a strong IoT solution?
The existing hotspots provide adequate coverage for the Breakneck Ridge Project. The trail managers are beta testing our platform plan to use our devices on trails across the country and possibly abroad, so contiguous wireless coverage is critical. For the initial launch, we planned on deploying 100 sensors. But the impressive community response to our upcoming beta test encouraged us to deploy over 1,000 sensors within the months following our full launch. Pun intended, scaling was the most difficult part of this project. The challenge of making something scalable and easy to improve based on community feedback was crucial but not easy. Our platform is a piece of firmware that is in continuous evolution. Helium provides the most extensive continuous coverage across the globe, which is exactly what we needed for this project. As we continue to grow and as LoRa coverage in "off-grid" areas continues to grow, we will be able to expand deployment to more and more hikers across the globe.
Can you share a couple of memorable moments during the initial project launch?
There have been a few exciting moments for our team. While mapping the coverage in Hudson Highlands Parkway, the team went for lunch (and ice cream) in the neighboring town of Beacon, NY, at the end of the day. We forgot to turn our mapper off during the drive and unknowingly mapped the entire area. When we examined the data we'd accidentally collected, the Helium mapper perfectly captured the path we traced going from lunch to ice cream. This made us laugh and gave us an important glimpse into how well the Helium network has spread loRaWan coverage. Another fun moment that comes to mind is when we were on the trail and talking with a seasoned hiker who had completed trails across the entire country. He stopped to ask about the hardware devices we were carrying, and after we explained the project, he was adamant that something like this would be great for the Appalachian Trail, which has thick wilderness. He gave us hope that this platform could one day save lives.
Do you have any advice for other IoT creators across the Helium community?
When developing any project, engaging the relevant local organizations, groups, and individuals in conversation is vital. What real issues are they facing? What type of application may this member or group in your community need? Please do your research, and figure out what's most important to them. Work off that information to create a potential solution specifically for them. We're still learning how versatile a project like this is and how endless the possible use cases are within the Helium network. We've been inspired by the generous amount of community interest in getting involved in projects that build the network and help the community. Finally, and very importantly, we can now recommend the following to all reading: If you plan on going hiking, wear hiking boots!
This interview was transcribed by the Helium Foundation and will be a part of a series of interviews with ecosystem builders and Foundation grantees.
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