The story of our connected crane started in October 2019. The Witekio team was commissioned by our parent company Avnet to create a demonstration for CES, the famed Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas. The demonstration had to illustrate the breadth of the Avnet group’s entire IoT offer with a couple of strict technology constraints:
- We had to use Microsoft Windows 10 IoT Core
- We had to use Avnet’s IoTConnect
- We had to use the NXP i.MX8 (MaaxBoard MX8M electronic board)
And, of course, it had to come together fast.
This is the story of how we answered Avnet’s challenge, the demonstration that we built for CES, and the way that demonstration grew from a software project into a real-life, 3D-printed, working model of a connected crane.
Brainstormin’ Across the Universe
For any trade show, the difficulty faced by the vendor is to choose how best to illustrate their software know-how in a concrete way. This calls for a concrete example – the closer to real life, the better – so that a visitor to the company booth can imagine themselves benefiting from the software.
To choose the best example use case, we started with a brainstorm. These sorts of sessions are always enriching experiences because they allow everyone to step out of the daily grind and give free rein to their imagination. It is a real moment of free exchange within a team and the ideas that emerge can be incredibly valuable.
The idea that caught the most attention and that, in the end, we settled on was a connected crane. We planned to build a demo that illustrated the possibilities for remotely managing a fleet of cranes. We would be able to draw on the knowledge that some of the Witekio engineers had established working with one of our clients in that industry, Manitowoc. We knew that the connected crane would be a great example of the way that the feedback of field information toa. Service hosted in the cloud could enable remote monitoring of a fleet of devices. It would also offer the chance to illustrate some of the associated and high-value add-on services.
We had a perfect idea – now to put together a plan.
Two Elements to Build + One Out-Of-The-Box Idea
We planned to design a demo that would immerse a visitor in the crane operator’s cabin. To achieve this, we needed to develop two elements:
- a crane cockpit, with a 360° view of what the crane operator would see when at the controls
- a supervision screen allowing remote management of a fleet of cranes.
While we would stick to the technical constraints that Avnet had placed on us when it came to controlling the crane from the cockpit we got a little creative. I had sent the weekend playing on an old Nintendo Wii with my son and, on returning to the office, it occurred to me that the Wii’s joystick, the Nunchuk, was perfect for the crane project. What’s more, it would be simple (and fun!) to do a little hacking and interface the Nunchuk to the hardware.
The Nunchuk joystick would power the rotation of the crane as the user tilted the Nunchuk to the right or to the left. Managing the position of the crane’s caret as well as the height of the hook was possible via the dual up-down buttons of the Nunchuk. Thus, with a single handheld remote control, the crane operator would be able to change these three key parameters of the crane.
Our key hardware choice complete, we were ready to start writing the software.