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Need advice: PC to remote embedded modules via a wireless technology

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Junior Member level 3
May 12, 2010
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Just started design work for a project for Burning Man 2013. It involves a central controller which will be a PC, and about 36 remotely scattered microcontroller-based modules that must communicate to the PC wirelessly. Here are the requirements:

1. The maximum distance from PC to module will be about 150 feet.
2. This is a "low noise" environment with minimal, if any, interference from other radio sources
3. Data to/from each microcontroller module will be very small, probably bytes or kilobytes per second. This is not a streaming application, it is command and feedback based
4. Each module must be individually addressable
5. Cost for the embedded transceiver needs to be REASONABLE (say, no more than US$40 each). The PC transceiver can be more expensive since there's only one of those.

So... what route do I take? Any recommendations for specific transceivers, brands, or technolgies?

I've considered Zigbee, WiFi, Bluetooth, and a few proprietary formats. I've mostly ruled out WiFi-TCP/IP because I'm concerned about the overhead and learning curve involved with programming many layers and having to learn more complex protocols. The ideal technology would have simpler protocols and good support libraries for both the PC and embedded sides. The closer to plug-and-play the better. :)

Thanks for any advice!

Of the 3 technologies you cited, Wi-Fi may actually be the easiest to implement. You can get Wi-Fi modules that have on-board TCP/IP stacks, so you don't need to deal with the underlying layers. Many are designed to act as "smart sensors" and send data stand-alone, so for some applications you may not even need a microcontroller. The Roving Networks RN-171 Wi-Fi module costs $25-$30 depending on quantity.

On the PC side it's easy to setup a web server to communicate with your modules. Or you can write your own program - under Windows it's fairly easy to open a TCP connection and send/receive data.

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