has been a long term balena-champion since 2018 for multiple R&D projects across the company. We recently sat down with David, Chris, Mohammad, and Fred from Dyson to discuss one of their recent Balena-based projects: air quality monitoring backpacks.
Building an air quality backpack
In 2018 Dyson was invited to participate in Breathe London
to contribute to a project measuring the air quality in schools around London. Dyson’s approach was to create a backpack that school children could carry around with them to measure the air quality on their way to school and back, as well as in the classroom. Over time, this helps create a complete picture of the air quality that children in London are exposed to.
Initially the SBC of choice was a Raspberry Pi; however as the project developed, it was clear that a lower-power board was required—one that would give the backpacks a full week of battery life so it would last a full school week. Because balenaOS supports heterogeneous architectures they were able to move seamlessly to the Varasite IMX 7, without re-architecting their application.
Using the companion app added an extra layer of complexity since transmitting data back to the team at Dyson and to the app in real time required both Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity. But balena’s containerized approach made it much simpler—the prototype backpacks are now being used day-to-day by people all over the world.
Developing on the go
A key feature of balenaCloud for the Dyson team is being able to develop their prototype remotely even while it's being used. Chris said, “I've been living with the backpack as my main carrier for a year and a half now. I'll be on my walk home and Dave will SSH in, looking at the debug data, looking at the gps. I'm less technical, and all it would take was to hotspot my phone while I’m out and about and the team would be able to jump on any issues, feed that back, ask me questions and resolve the issue on the go.”
Chris praised the balenaCloud UI, as a less technical member of the team he finds it easy to navigate and work with. This was echoed by David who said the training required for the team to get started on the dashboard is very minimal stating that “It's really easy and intuitive to use.”
“Balena really sped us up”
Being a prototype product at Dyson, the team working on the air quality backpack was small but they were able to speed up the process using balena. David said, “[balena] gave us all the fleet management and OTA stuff that we knew we would need. For example, we've got devices deployed across the world now and we can roll out fixes or software updates or support them anywhere in the world sitting from our office in Bristol.”
Dyson have used balena for multiple projects across the company, this experience enabled them to reuse software and pull resources from other projects, as well as Blocks from balenaHub, to get their application up and running really quickly.
The Dyson team doesn’t shy away from jumping into the balena support queue when they hit a blocker or need help from our engineers. Mohammad said, “The support we're getting from balena is awesome. We're always trying to do new and quirky things so whenever we get stuck or we need help we just reach out and we get answers straight away.”
The future of Dyson is connected
Often for products in development, the teams for the MyDyson App and hardware teams are working simultaneously to deliver a fully connected experience. When the final product isn’t ready, balena has been able to support this process by running product emulators to scale up the number of prototypes they could work on and test.
“So we used some of our reusable components to mock out and create an emulator of the Dyson zone with just a Raspberry Pi and screen, which, because we are using balena, we were able to scale up massively in a short time. So we've got app teams in Poland, Shanghai, Singapore, and quite a few here in Bristol, Hullavington, and Malmesbury in the UK using emulators run on balena while the hardware is being worked on.”
The team has been building solutions on balena for 5 years so far and have noticed significant improvements to balenaCloud during that time. David told us, “Even just little bits, the way you can flash an SD card straight from the console, before, you'd have to download the image and then use Etcher. But now it’s built right into the console. It really speeds up our provisioning process.”
We continually enjoy seeing the future of air quality products come from the research teams at Dyson. If you are interested, try balenaCloud for yourself. Sign up
to deploy and manage your first 10 devices for free.