Homebrew — My 50-Acre Wi-Fi Network

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I started a series of DIY projects aimed at making life easier at Misty Brae Farm, a large horse farm and pony club riding center in Virginia. I have found that there are many aspects of life on a farm that can greatly benefit from technology. The farm owners had some specific requests, including a wi-fi network, video camera system, and riding lesson schedule management system. RiderNet is the first of these projects, which added wi-fi throughout the 50-acre farm.

To cover the entire farm, several of the wi-fi routers needed to be outdoors, mounted on trees and exposed to weather extremes. I looked at many enclosure systems and couldn’t find the right one, so I decided to make my own using mineral oil as a medium. When submersed in mineral oil, the electronics work perfectly fine, and the oil provides thermal stability even when conditions are –50 or 150+ degrees (tested). I added a small pump and heater to keep the system above freezing in blizzards, and the custom waterproof acrylic tanks also prevent dust, bugs, and everything else from getting inside. I used acrylic for show, and because it’s easy to see what’s going on inside.

RiderNet is managed by an Arduino Mega, an Ethernet shield, and a custom RiderNet shield combo with a PowerSwitch Tail and five sensors, including internal/external temperature and a custom float sensor to detect the oil level. The wi-fi routers are linked together using XBees, Adafruit XBee adapters, and my XNP protocol, creating an out-of-band network that can be used to power-cycle wi-fi routers and get power/temp/oil sensor readings every 5 minutes from each unit. The management system was inspired by LadyAda’s tutorials, and we plan to use RiderNet to carry data and instructions around the farm for all kinds of pony-related DIY projects!

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