15 Nov

Re-branding: “Root Kit?! Not on my network, pal!”

root kit complete

This is our physical product. We are calling it a Root Kit. The Root Kit is a do-it-yourself environmental sensor kit for schools to be able to wirelessly monitor rain gardens and other vegetation in real time on the web. On the left is the data receiving unit; it sits inside the school and receives sensor data from the object on the right, the sending unit. It is contained in waterproof case and is equipped with a temperature sensor and three soil moisture sensors. The soil sensors get buried in the ground and almost act as roots. This is the Root Kit.

Now, tech-savvy people will howl at the name, because a “rootkit” is a dirty word among IT and network security professionals. You see, a rootkit is techspeak for malicious software that invades and attacks servers and computers. Tell a school district IT person that you’d like to install a Root Kit at the local elementary school, and you’d better be prepared to run.

We still like the name. Much like the term “hacker,” we want to turn the meaning of “rootkit” on its head and have a little fun with the terminology. So who wants a Root Kit?

01 Nov

8 Microamps


Learning new technology has a way of making you feel both highly intelligent (such as when you realize you can install entire software packages by typing three words) and monumentally stupid, often in close proximity to each other. I’m not sure if our battery-power problems exactly fall into the latter category, but let’s just say that the solution was not obvious to me, even after reading countless posts on Arduino forums and looking at many lines of code.

To refresh your memory, our JeeNode (formerly Arduino) and sensors have been drawing too much current from the battery, effectively killing our rain garden monitor within days. Even when we put the JeeNode into sleep mode, which is the vast majority of the time (sensor readings are taken once every 30 minutes), there was a current draw. We weren’t truly shutting it down.

I talked it through with James Tyack, and it didn’t take him long to figure out a solution: The digital pins on the JeeNode can be set to output a voltage (power); you can also toggle a digital pin on and off (“high” or “low” in Arduino terminology), so it either delivers 0 volts or 3.3 volts. If we power the sensors from the digital pins instead of the “power” pin, we can completely shut down power to the sensors when readings aren’t being taken. It’s a simple idea that just escaped me entirely.

The result? Instead of drawing 10 milliamps when idle, the JeeNode and sensors now draw 8 microamps. Forget about days of battery life—it’s possible that three AA batteries can provide power to the sensor for years.