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Disruptive Technologies Sensor Starter Kit, hands on: IoT in a box


If you’re looking to explore how IoT technology could benefit your business or home, and you like tinkering and app development, the Sensor Starter Kit from Norwegian company Disruptive Technologies could be the launchpad you need. For £579 ($649 in the US, €669 in Europe) you get five small sensors — they’re the size of Scrabble tiles — to measure temperature, touch, proximity, humidity and the presence of water; these talk wirelessly to a 4G/LTE Cloud Connector gateway, which uploads data to the DT Studio web app where you can create dashboards, configure notifications and integrate data streams with your own applications via webhooks or a full-blown REST API. It’s all remarkably straightforward.

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Disruptive Technologies’ Sensor Starter Kit costs £579, US$649 or €669.


Image: Disruptive Technologies

Sensors 

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The sensors — temperature, touch, proximity, water and humidity — are about the size of Scrabble tiles, and are designed to stick to flat surfaces.


Image: Disruptive Technologies  

The sensors are small tile-shaped devices, measuring 19mm by 19mm by 2.5mm and weighing 2g, with a protective film on the back that you peel off, allowing you to stick the sensor to a flat surface. They’re identified by name and a QR code printed on the front, but if these should wear off, you can identify them via touch (when connected to a Cloud Connector). 

Disruptive Technologies’ sensors use a proprietary wireless connectivity protocol called SecureDataShot (SDS), which, the company says, is a better fit for high sensor density installations with high data collection frequencies in a limited area (an office building, for example) than the popular LoRa technology, which is more suitable for longer ranges, and lower sensor densities and data rates. In Europe, SecureDataShot uses the 868MHz ISM band, while the 915MHz band is used in the US.

SDS provides end-to-end encryption and seamless roaming across Cloud Connector gateways. According to Disruptive Technologies “The SDS protocol is designed to allow up to one million sensors to operate in a small, geographical area”.

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You can identify any of the sensors and check they’re working by touching them and checking for a response in Studio.


Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNet

The sensors are durable and waterproof, with an IP68 rating, and have Wi-Fi-like range indoors (~25 metres) or, in ‘high power boost’ mode, up to a kilometre outdoors with no obstructions. The range is 300m in standard mode, which consumes less battery power. Battery life will vary depending on conditions, but is rated at up to 15 years in the default configuration, which makes a standard-mode radio transmission every 15 minutes. 

The temperature sensor operates between -40 and 85°C but will deliver reduced performance outside the recommended -25 to 50°C range (longer recovery time and reduced range at low temperatures; reduced battery life at high temperatures). Also, the humidity sensor, which measures both temperature and relative humidity, has a standard-mode battery life of up to 10 years, rather than 15 years for the other four devices.

Cloud Connector 

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The Cloud Connector — we had an EU 4G version in our review kit — measures 65mm wide by 130mm deep by 40mm thick and weighs 200g. It comes with a Power-over Ethernet (PoE) adapter, UK and EU plug attachments, an RJ-45 Ethernet cable and fasteners for wall mounting. This device relays data streams from the wireless sensors to the cloud-based DT Studio app via a 4G LTE or Ethernet connection.

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The Cloud Connector relays sensor data to the cloud-based Studio app over Ethernet (above left) or 4G LTE (above right).


Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet & Disruptive Technologies

The Cloud Connector connects automatically to within-range sensors and its installed 4G LTE SIM roams between mobile networks to find the best connection to the cloud. If mobile coverage is poor where you live and/or work, you can use a wired Ethernet connection instead. I relied on Ethernet and my fibre-based home broadband during this review, as the mobile signal — in a rural area just 45 miles north of London — is poor on all four mobile networks.

The Sensor Starter Kit comes with a year’s subscription for the mobile connection, which must subsequently be renewed at €24 per year via the DT Studio app. 

DT Studio

DT Studio is where you organise your sensors and Cloud Connectors, set up organisations and projects, manage access, and make external integrations. It’s a functional web app that, once you’ve set up your account, presents you with a default Inventory project containing all of your sensors. If you buy new sensors, which cost £49/$59/€59 or £59/$69/€75 each, they’ll show up here first.

We were quickly able to set up simple projects, such as one to measure temperature and humidity at a first floor east-facing window — which reported some startlingly high temperatures during the recent UK heatwave.

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A DT Studio project measuring temperature and humidity.


Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNet

You can invite new project members to be administrators (who can move devices between projects and manage access), developers (who can edit devices and project settings) or users (who have view-only access). Notifications are also available — for example, we set up email alerts for various temperature levels, and for the presence of water in an area of the loft where we suspected a roof leak.

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Inviting new project members in DT Studio.


Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNet

Sensor data is stored in the DT cloud for 31 days, but if you want to forward your data to external services, in real time, you can use Data Connectors. These are similar to webhooks, but with an additional delivery guarantee, low latency and TLS encryption.

The DT Studio app is built on Disruptive Technologies’ REST API, which, once you’ve set up a suitable service account, can also enable the same array of capabilities. You can interact with DT’s REST API and a range of endpoints using tooling such as cURL, Python API and Postman. 

The Sensor Starter Kit isn’t exactly cheap at £579/$649/€669, and of course if you decide to install hundreds or thousands of sensors and multiple Cloud Connectors, you’ll soon run up a serious bill. That said, the SSK is easy to get to grips with, even for a non-developer, and should prove valuable in proofs-of-concept and pilot programmes where organisations are exploring how to optimise the layout and management of their premises.

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