What is a Gateway? Connecting The Earth To The Cloud

We recently wrote about why people shouldn’t have to learn a whole new set of technical skills in order to understand what’s happening in the world around them. 

Our goal at Temboo is to empower anyone to quickly and easily build environmental software systems that monitor and provide insights about the physical world, without them needing to become an electrical engineer or computer scientist along the way. 

We deliver on this goal by automatically generating complete environmental monitoring systems that visualize environmental sensor data in a friendly, approachable, and engaging manner. A key piece of this technical puzzle is the Temboo gateway. The gateway serves as a bridge between environmental sensors that live in the air, soil, or water, and the Temboo data visualization and insights platform that lives in the cloud. 

In this post we’re going to take a closer look at the Temboo gateway and present the many jobs it does while you’re focused on understanding and improving your environment.

What is a gateway?

The Temboo gateway—a bridge between the physical world and the cloud

First, let’s define what a gateway is in the context of a computer system. Generally speaking, a gateway is a computer that serves as an access point to another network, often involving a change in networking technology.

Here’s a simple analogy to make that much clearer. If you have a wearable fitness tracker like a Fitbit, the fitness tracker will connect to your phone via bluetooth, and your phone will then use another network (cellular or WiFi) to send your fitness data onwards to the cloud. In this example, the fitness tracker is your sensor, and your phone is the gateway between the physical world and the internet. 

The Temboo gateway is conceptually no different from your phone in the example above. It provides a bridge between the wireless sensors that collect environmental data, and the Temboo cloud platform that receives and processes the data generated by those sensors. 

What does the gateway do?

Now that we know what a gateway is, let’s talk about what the Temboo gateway does. 

In short, it takes data from wireless environmental sensors and sends that data over the internet to the Temboo platform. You might be wondering why we need a gateway at all if the sensors themselves are wireless, and that’s a great question!

The reasoning here is the same reasoning that explains why your wearable fitness tracker doesn’t connect directly to the internet. Wireless sensors typically run on batteries and with resource-constrained processors. Consequently, they need to conserve as much power as possible, and that means using a low power wireless network, not the sort of network that you’d use to connect to the internet. 

This means that while our sensors are generating data about the environment, we don’t have a good way to see that data unless we are physically close to them. 

One option is to require a smartphone to be nearby, but a better option is to use a dedicated computer with an internet connection to act as a bridge between the sensors and the cloud. With this dedicated computer in the middle, not only can we send environmental data up to the cloud, but we can also take advantage of all its spare computing power to offer a range of other valuable features. 

So, now that we know about the high level responsibilities of the gateway, let’s dive in and look at some of the most interesting things it can do for you when it’s not sending your sensor data to the cloud. 

Air quality sensors in the wild, invisibly sending data to the nearby Temboo gateway

Hardware-Agnostic Sensor Integration

Wired or wireless, bluetooth, Sub 1GHz, Modbus TCP, and more—we have you covered. The Temboo gateway is hardware agnostic by design and can integrate with effectively any type of wired or wireless sensor so that you can gather the environmental data you need without being locked into a specific sensor manufacturer. This means you can choose the sensors that best suit your needs. 

Better still, by building the gateway in this flexible manner, Temboo makes it possible to create environmental monitoring applications that mix and match data from different sensor manufacturers.

When you start to combine data from different types of sensors with the public data streams already available in the Temboo dashboard, and then layer on the ability to upload data you’ve collected offline (a new feature that we added recently), the Temboo dashboard starts to provide a comprehensive view of your world.

A wireless air quality sensor, supported by the Temboo gateway

Offline Storage

Some environmental sensors work by sending data directly to the cloud via a WiFi or cellular connection. This is great because you don’t need a gateway at all—it’s one less piece of equipment to worry about. 

However, if those sensors lose their network connection, you’re at risk of losing the data they collect while disconnected from the internet because sensors often don’t have much onboard data storage capacity.  

With a powerful gateway computer in between the sensors and the cloud, there’s lots of space to locally store sensor data in a safe, secure manner until the internet connection can be restored. At that point, the gateway automatically uploads the saved data to the Temboo platform and backfills it into the sensor data graphs as if the internet never went out in the first place.

Over-The-Air Updates

With a powerful computer out in the field talking to both your sensors and to the internet, it’s possible to send significant software updates from the cloud to the gateway. At the push of a button, we have the ability to completely upgrade the entire operating system that runs on the gateway, as well as any aspect of the behavior of the Temboo gateway application itself. 

This fault-tolerant, secure over-the-air update mechanism makes it possible for us to add new features to existing gateways, without anyone having to go out in the field and retrieve the gateway hardware. 

This means that anyone can benefit from all the new features we develop without having to either upgrade their hardware or perform any other manual tasks. 

Remote Control

The same bidirectional communication channel that enables us to send over-the-air software updates also enables us to offer remote control features. 

While most of our customers are interested in monitoring their environment i.e, collecting sensor data and visualizing it within their Temboo dashboard, it is also possible to use the dashboard to remotely control physical devices in the real world. You can turn machines on and off, adjust valves and dimmer switches, and lots more. 

Remote controls in the Temboo dashboard

Going even further, you can associate control actions with specific sensor data values, so that real world actions can trigger automatically whenever the state of the local environment changes in a significant manner e.g., the soil is too dry, so turn on the irrigation system. 

As we’ll see in the next section, all of this rules logic is brokered by the gateway. 

Local Rule Triggers

Without a gateway in the picture, most remote monitoring systems rely heavily on the cloud to ingest data, analyze it, make decisions, and push those decisions back down to the physical world. While this model has many advantages, it means that data cannot be analyzed locally, and that all data needs to be sent to the cloud. This can lead to security, data storage, and data transmission compromises i.e., you need to send more data to the cloud than would otherwise be necessary. 

Since the Temboo gateway can run application logic locally, all of the rules that you set on your environmental sensor data can be evaluated locally. The cloud only needs to know if something interesting has happened. This architecture enables you to discard data points that don’t change the state of the system, reducing bandwidth consumption and data storage costs, since you’re only sending important data points over the internet.

Setting rules in the Temboo dashboard to execute on the gateway

Data Compression

Another benefit of having a powerful computer in proximity to your sensors is being able to save on bandwidth consumption by aggressively compressing, or shrinking, the data you’re collecting before sending it to the cloud. 

The Temboo gateway has the ability to locally store data points for a given period of time e.g., one day, and then to compress them into a batch before sending them all to the cloud in a single action. Once this batch hits the Temboo platform, the compressed data is reconstituted into its original form, and all the data points appear in your graphs as if they were sent up one at a time. 

The ability to locally compress data before transmitting it over the internet can be a great cost saver when operating over more expensive internet connections like cellular or satellite.

Wide Range of Internet Options

Finally, with a small but fully-fledged computer acting as your gateway, you have a wide range of options when it comes to connecting your environmental monitoring system to the internet. 

Most of our customers use WiFi or ethernet, since they are most widely available and typically the most affordable. However, the gateway software itself is completely indifferent to how its internet connection is provided. This means that if you don’t already have an internet connection in place, or you’re in a hard to reach area, then you’re free to use cellular or even satellite to connect your gateway to the Temboo cloud. 

This flexibility around how the internet connection is provided makes Temboo a viable option for a diverse range of environmental monitoring scenarios. 

Wrapping Up

OK, so that was a whistle stop tour through some of the Temboo gateway highlights. Each of those features could be a blog post of their own because there’s a wealth of technical detail under the hood. 

However, the great thing about being a Temboo customer is that you can pay as much or as little attention to those details as you want. Temboo is designed so that you can focus on what’s most important to you, and you can leave the technical heavy lifting to us.