Synapse Wireless

There’s a New SheRifF in Town and Their Name is Synapse Wireless

By skaterj10

It seems that we in the hobby industry have been a little naive as to think that Digi International’s reign as RF Networking King would last forever? Not only have Roving Networks under cut them on pricing with their new WiFi node but they now have some stout competition from Syanpse Wireless in the 802.15.4, 2.4 GHz node market as well. Many companies are closing the gap on Digi, and even surpassing them in some cases.

The 802.15.4 RF network node that I’d like to talk about is the Syanpse Wireless RF100PC6 RF Engine. These nodes are very unique in that they not only house a RF network transceiver chip but also a user-programmable microcontroller (uC) as well. The RF100 nodes are actually configured by uploading code to the uC in the form of SNAPpy scripts (a programming language that is python based) using the freely downloadable Portal Software. These scripts can very quickly uploaded to the nodes and will configure the network without the need for a serial monitor, API, or drop-down system. Although, in Portal they do include a drop down system if you’d like to program nodes that way.

One huge benefit is that the nodes can do self-healing mesh networking right out of the box and can also do an RPC (Remote Procedure calls) to make another nodes in the mesh toggle or generate a pulse on an unrelated pin and do transparent serial communication at the same time. This feature is like both Xbee AT and API modes at the same time. One other amazing feature is the massive transmission range, they can transmit even further than WiFi nodes.

Another benefit of the RF100 nodes is that they can be configured OTA (Over the Air) as long as you have a node that is fresh (meaning it’s been erased or has never been user-programmed yet) and hooked the PC/Laptop side via a COM port (or through a USB-serial device). So say you want to modify the code on a node that you just recently placed on the roof of a building, no worries, because it doesn’t even matter how it’s configured the Portal Software will pick it up (making sure you have a fresh node on the PC-side) and you can re-upload to it.

The RF100 nodes have several other interesting features and applications including, as we just recently found out, being able to wirelessly program the Arduino UNO when setup up as a transparent serial link (with other additions) and when using Arduino1. The SB Freeduino and Arduino Duemilanove can also be programmed wirelessly using the same SNAPpy scripts but with minor changes to the UART baud rate (from 115220 to 57600).

And for all the Arduino hateboys out there, the fact is that Arduino is just a Atmega328p with a serial bootloader that talks to a free and simple IDE. These Syanpse Wireless nodes can be used to program ANY uC with a serial bootloader and all that may be needed is an adjustment to the reset timing. Oh yes, and level shifting for the serial lines (Tx/Rx) would be a good idea if a 5V logic uC was being used with these 3.3V based RF100 modules.

Notable Specifications and Info

Power consumption: Down to 1.6 uA with internal timer running.

General purpose Input/Output Pins: 19 GPIO with 8 being available for 10-bit ADC (Analog to Digital Conversion).

Code space: 60kB programmable flash, with 20kB available free for user applications , the rest of the flash holds the code for the Self-healing mesh networking and other synapse features.

Range specs: 3 mile outodoor LOS (Line of Sight) Range, 1000 ft. indoor range with an F type PCB antenna. Note: even the newest 2.4 Ghz Xbee modules with external antennas can not meet this kind of transmission specification.

Operating temp: -45 to 85 degrees Celsius (a very healthy range for outdoor applications)

Other communication types: Has SPI and I2C capabilities but unfortunately they aren’t tied directly to the onboard microcontroller SPI/I2C lines, rather they are common I/O transmitting these signals that are bit-banged out which makes them more of a one way communication. The RF100s also have an extra UART for a second serial communication link to other devices.

Code examples: Along with many code examples included with the Portal Software, Synapse Wireless has also sponsored an open source repository of SNAPpy scripts.

Warning: Because of their increased transmission range there’s a silver lining which is that you’ll have to be aware that Synapse nodes do have an FCC warning that they should not be within 20 cm of the body when active.

Purchasing Options: Currently there are only 2 places in the world to buy these modules, Future Electronics and the Open-source Hardware and BEAM robotics company Solarbotics. I’m not sure why all the nodes have “Call for Pricing” at Future, but at Solarbotics pricing is available.

I think this up and coming company Synapse Wireless is definitely going to give Digi a run for their money in the industrial and hobbiest communities.